By now you have likely read the controversial article by Cathryn Sloane arguing that all social media managers should be under the age of 25. While most of the internet has strongly disagreed with this argument (especially those over the age of 25,) some older marketing experts are actually in agreement with Sloane, including Kevin Hillstrom of Seattle.
When I first read this piece by Sloane, I chuckled a little and thought to myself “here we go again”. And we did, and the article generated a bit of a kerfluffle, probably more than it deserved.
As one of those dinosaurs she’s kindly suggesting should not exist, my reaction to the article probably wasn’t what you think. In fact, what it reminded me of was me, when I was that age. Enthusiastic, full of energy, convinced of my opinions and able to see life as very white or very black, without much gray area in the middle. And frankly, more than a bit arrogant that I knew how this stuff should work better than everyone around me. Sometimes I was right, too.
The biggest problem I see in her article is the naive thought that social media and community management didn’t exist before Facebook, and therefore, people who didn’t grow up in the Facebook generation shouldn’t be doing this stuff. She kind of forgets that there are a lot of us old farts that were involved in actually building the stuff that led to the Facebook generation, or the tools that it was built on.
I’ve been involved in community management stuff going back to the 1980′s. That was long before anyone called it community management, and the kind of information sharing that became social media didn’t spring forth out of nothing, it was built on many systems and tools that were refined and improved over the years. Believe it or not, we’ve done this kind of stuff for a long time — it’s just we did it in black and white on kinescope film.
A good social media team needs both the enthusiasm of youth and the nuanced thoughtfulness of the graybeards. It’s not an either/or situation. If she had worked with me, and if she had shown me the article, I would have pointed out to her that she was setting herself up for a fairly emotional reaction that would obscure the point she was trying to make and leave her on the defensive — and then tried to work with her on how to mute those issues so the message came through without all of the heat.
And that’s my point for this piece; a good social media team needs both the exuberance and energy of youth but the perspective and thoughtfulness of experience. There is an value to the experience of “been there, done that, wore out the T-shirt”. There’s also a lot of value to the high energy of “let’s stop talking and try something”. Finding ways to mellow the raw edges of the enthusiasm with the tempering of experience gives a good team the best of both worlds.
When I was her age, I was a lot like her. Today, admittedly, I sometimes look back and who I was and wince, for tied up with the enthusiasm and skill I put into what I built, I also carried around a hunk of ego and a fair bit of arrogance to go with it, but it was easy to see what the right answer was, and nuance was for dummies. Today, the raw edges have been sanded smooth and where before there were black and white, easy decisions, I see immensely complicated, nuanced opportunities and challenges. There are times when I miss the simplicity of youth, but I have to admit I mostly prefer who I am today, and my ability to steer through the issues to a solution instead of shifting into overdrive and plowing over them to get to the next problem.
The one thing we graybeards need to remember, though, is that it’s important to keep working at it and stay relevant. Re-invent yourselves. You don’t have to be young, but you have to understand and be able to relate to them. If you don’t keep at it and keep upgrading your skills and attitude, you’ll end up one of those “get off my lawn” guys that nobody pays attention to any more. There’s no free lunch. the core truth of the “Facebook generation” gap is that this gap really does exist, and if you’re still arguing about how the good old days were better, you’ve made yourself ignorable. you have to stay up to date with your skills, and move with the world as it moves forward — and if you do, your experience and worldview from having gone through these generational changes a few times makes you more valuable to those who get it. But if you’re still riding on the skills you took from college and you’ve stopped innovating yourself, you have nobody to blame but yourself that people like Cathryn see you as expendable… Because you probably are…
And no, staying up to date isn’t easy, but if you want to stay relevant, it’s not optional.
Update: here’s another interesting take on this situation.