Too old or too young to run your brand’s social media?

Well, I guess someone had to say it. Check out this post:

11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media. 

I’m not sure what’s more amusing – the audacity of the post itself or the tirade of self-righteous protests it elicited from its intended targets – which ironically serves to prove the author’s point.

Let’s remind ourselves that this is not an unprovoked assault. This is the inevitable response to the gauntlet that had already been thrown down by the NextGen-ers here:

Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25

Let’s remind ourselves that the context for this debate is that the employment market is on its arse. Youngsters and oldies alike are vying for a piece of the same woefully inadequate supply of positions out there, each as frustrated as the other that employers are either valuing brand strategists over facebook enthusiasts or vice versa, depending on which side of the fence you are on. So now apparently, the gloves are off.

Does it really matter how old the person doing the job is as long as they have the required skills? Surely the onus is on the employer to determine what skill-set the role requires, then make sure they hire the most suitable available candidate to wear that hat, be they 24, 44 or 64 years old – and while we’re at it, male, female, black, white or green.

It seems reasonable also that the brand’s target audience has everything to do with who the best person for the job is. You probably don’t want a 55-year-old trying to disco-dance with your teeny-bopper fan-base any more than you want a 23 -year-old college grad selling stair-lifts to geriatrics who don’t know their shift-key from their car-key…OMG LMAO 😉

Arguably it is safe to remove technical ability from the equation as a meaningful qualifying criterion for selection on the basis that:

1) let’s face it, it’s all piss easy to learn and use (unless you have been living in a cave – which presumably could be the case whether you are 22 or 72), and;

2) it changes so fast that whatever your technical knowledge is today it’s redundant tomorrow – so all that really matters in terms of technical ability is your aptitude to stay current (see point number 1).

A pertinent point that is overlooked in this debate is that your brand’s social media strategy is (or probably should be) merely a single component of your broader marketing communications strategy. This point relates to the degree of judgement that is required by the social media manager. For example, if your brand’s messaging, tone of voice and content plan are developed by senior marketing professionals at a higher level of your organisation as part of your overall communications planning strategy, then it is left to your social media manager simply to follow guidelines. This doesn’t seem beyond the capacity of a responsible and mature twenty-something. However, if you are asking someone with two year’s professional experience to manage your entire brand’s voice without a set of guidelines and grown-up supervision, then it is probable that you need a head examination. Nor is that very fair to the person in the role if they are hoping to learn and develop on the job.

The young Gen Y-ers claim that ‘old’ people just don’t get social media, is worthy of exploration. They believe that too often the crusties view it as a platform to blast out crude sales messages instead of engaging in meaningful and credible dialogue with brand followers. This can be true sometimes, particularly of non-marketing oriented senior managers (to whom the social media folk often report) whose expectations are out-of whack with conventional wisdom. However, you are about as likely to encounter a seasoned marketing pro (let’s say 35+) these days who doesn’t understand this concept as you are to get hit by a chocolate lightning bolt. Not a very compelling case really.

I lamented just last week that too often ‘Internet Marketers’ fail to appreciate that the second word in that title is the one that really matters. We’re all handy with the Internet Mush – even my Gran writes a blog and tweets about extreme-knitting. But can you sell stuff to profitable ends? Social, digital, traditional – all parts of the same tapestry, underpinned by common principles about brand building and woven together for one holy purpose – improving the bottom line. If you don’t have a grasp of the importance of brand attributes and the interconnectedness of your various media platforms in a business context, then how can you manage any one of them, social or otherwise? It is unfortunate to observe that nowhere in the rants and cries of the NextGen-ers is this depth of understanding evident. Yet by stark contrast, this principle underpins 8 of the 11 points made in Thomases’ article, who reinforces the truth that there is a world of difference between engaging in lightweight puffs of dialogue and ‘running a brand’. I know who I’d employ.

To underscore this point, nextGen-er, Ms Sloane, while reasoning that all social media managers should be under 25, explains:

“After all, it is called social media; the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies’ heads.”

I’ve got a fair command of the English language. Hell, I’ve written speeches for Heads of State. But I’m not sure if this sentence even makes sense. ‘Incorporating comforting social aspects’? Does this refer to using a friendly tone of voice? ‘Professional usage’? Does she mean business communications? Nay matter. The point is that pish like this is not the kind of communication you want your brand to be associated with, on social media or anywhere else in public view. That’s why you hire a grown up (let’s say, 25+). Ur social media ain’t gonna work if the ppl doing the tlking can’t communic8 professionally.

Whilst it is a cliche that youth is no substitute for experience, unfortunately there is little evidence in these two articles to suggest that things are any different in the social media world than they are everywhere else. The following conclusions are my take-aways:

1) neither the Internet or social media are the exclusive preserve of under-25’s (76% of social network users are over 25-years-old with the largest category (25%) being in 35-44 years-old (the ones with all the spending money) age range – source)

2) social media management is more about communications than technology – hire the communications expert, not the technology expert. The technology bit is easy. The communications bit not so much.

3) hire the right person for the job, regardless of age

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