Social Media: War of the Ages?

I start and end my days by reading and watching the news. As I was leaving my office tonight, I hopped onto Google News and one particular story caught my eye: 11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media.

The only thing that makes me cringe more than being called “Alex,” is being referred to as “kid.” I’m often hesitant to share my age, because while it may reveal biological youth, I’ve been more successful than people several years my senior, so please, spare me any patronizing rhetoric.

I’ve worked in social media and digital PR for almost 5 years, 3 of which have been spent working for a major firm in New York. As an ambitious 20-something, I’ve made a point to carve out personal guidelines for social media etiquette that have overlapped into professional practice.

Despite some scattered gray hairs and bags under my eyes that I’d be charged for if traveling, please take my word that I’ve not yet hit 30, and yet I’ve been tasked with more than running several successful digital media campaigns or maintaining social profiles for clients, I ran an entire division devoted to new media for a book publicity firm.

To assume that someone at age 23 has not had formal training or experience is short-sighted.

I’ve been stewing since reading the article 3 hours ago, and would like to take a moment to respond to each of Hollis’ 11 points:

1. They’re Not Mature Enough – I’ve been called a lot of things at my age, but immature has never been one of them. Maturity is not at all reflective of age, nor is it reflective entirely of experience. I’d prefer to work with someone who was clearly on a path of self-exploration, than someone who was entirely content with life at present, because the explorer would likely bring that same open attitude into the workplace, and hopefully discover new skills and strategy in navigating the social space.

2. They May Be Focused on Their Own Social Activity – Paranoia is never healthy, and neither is micromanagement. I take two social media breaks throughout my day — one is usually at lunch, the other closer toward day’s end. At each break, I allow myself 10 minutes to peruse Twitter or Facebook for news to comment about and share across my personal platforms. In communication, you build a pedigree of relationships and know-how, none of which can be accomplished without staying informed and connected throughout the day. On top of which, an all-work, no-play environment is not conducive to productivity or workplace happiness.

3. They May Not Have the Same Etiquette –or Experience – My personal feed on Facebook should not be seen as an indicator of my ability to succeed on the job. Talk to me about who I know, who/what I read, what trends I’m following, which platforms I use. If you were to look closely at my Facebook, you’d see many more Instagram photos of my dinners than my social media two-cents. And that’s just one reason my feed is private.

Any good agency or brand should have a social media policy in place, and a strong on-boarding program for sharing that policy and its best practices with staff. In an agency setting, each client should have its own respective social playbook or list of best practices.

The development of these policies is the responsibility of the company, the employee should then be trusted to implement accordingly.

The standard etiquette of appropriate subject matter may be just as absent for a 23 year old as it is for a 50 year old.

4. You Can’t Control Their Friends – Most friends and family engaged to join a page or follow a feed don’t interact beyond the follow or “like.” My experience is anecdotal, of course, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t hold up. It’s more likely that my friends will be crass directly on my personal feed, which should not be reflective of my ability or behavior, especially if I don’t indulge the profane post in a response.

5. No Class Can Replace On-the-Job Training – Young people are consumers, and experience and observe many elements of marketing, customer service, PR, branding, and crisis management. Experiences are transferrable, and can help inform and grow a skill set.

6. They May Not Understand Your Business – Again, that’s the job of the employer. To set goals and procedures. A campaign shouldn’t even be considered before goals and true needs are explored. That all said, each job should be accompanied by a fair learning curve.

7. Communication Skills are Critical – Communication is indeed an art, but it’s unfair to assume that someone at age 23 is ill-equipped to form a sentence.

8. Humor is Tricky Business – Boundaries with respect to content, especially as it relates to humor, should be set up by the employer as part of a policy. With a strong editorial calendar in place, any questionable content can be flagged as a precaution.

9. Social Media Savvy Is Not the Same as Technical Savvy – Well, duh. This goes back to the need to establish goals. When goals are set, metrics are defined for measurement, tools are chosen for efficiency, and so tech savvy is born.

10. Social Media Management Can Become Crisis Management – Sure, there are some great examples of people screwing up on a company handle. This, among other things, is why it’s important to have a crisis plan in place for social media channels. No one is perfect, and that’s a fact that doesn’t change with age.

11. You Need to Keep the Keys – The one point I agree with. Be informed. Stay in the loop. Ask to learn about the trends your social staff is staying on top of. And really, if you don’t understand social media to begin with, perhaps you owe it to your company/brand to educate yourself — at least on some level — before hiring someone who will ultimately know more than you.

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2 thoughts

  1. As a social media intern with a LOT of hands-on access, I am absolutely loving this. I think it’s also important to note that there are some companies out there that absolutely NEED a youthful energy on their social media outlets that only a young person can deliver. Some examples that come to mind are Chegg and MTV. You wouldn’t hire a fifty-something to handle the social media for a brand geared at high school students!

  2. People always underestimate youth or put them down because of their lack of ‘experience’ or ‘age’, but isn’t that ageism? If anything, young people might be MORE equipped to work because we grew up with Facebook and iPhones rather than having had to switch to them as a result of a shift in media.

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