Last summer, a college student named Cathryn Sloane managed to point both barrels of Internet professionals’ collective ire at herself through an article she wrote on NextGen Journal, entitled Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25. In the article, she advocates that her generation learned to use social media casually as it evolved and are therefore, as they now enter the workforce, the best choice for positions as social media managers.
Backlash from the 26+ crowd was swift, and rightfully so.
Many were quick to use her own rationale to point out, because of her age, her looming obsolescence. Others shared plentiful examples of those with more experience doing social media better than a recent college grad could ever hope for. Still others called her argument a mix of ignorance and arrogance and dismissed it as silly.
I, for one, disagree with her premise that only first-generation users can truly understand and properly use social media, but she does–perhaps unintentionally–raise a good question. Is there an optimal age for marketing in the social media game? Can you be too young or too old to get it? And if so, what does this mean for you as you attempt to navigate the tricky waters of marketing your business online?
You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
On May 14th, 2007, Nola Ochs graduated from Fort Hayes State University alongside her 21-year old granddaughter to become the Guinness World Record holder as the oldest college graduate at the age of 96. As if that accomplishment were not enough, she then began pursuing her Master’s Degree, which she received in 2010 at age 98. As of her 100th birthday, she was a M.A. student and a graduate teaching assistant.
Nola Ochs is living proof that if you want to learn, age doesn’t have to be a factor. You are only as old as you feel.
The same is true with social media. Who cares if you were still wearing braces and passing notes to your friends in class when Twitter came out? The web is full of examples of people who were late to the game, but have learned how to use social media like experts.
It is never too late to learn. Your age is only an excuse if you allow it to be, so don’t be naive enough to see social media as a youngster’s game. Because it is not.
You Are Already Marketing…All The Time.
One thing I learned early in my career–and am still learning–is that everything you do matters. You are always marketing yourself. Sometimes you are marketing your personal brand, and sometimes you are marketing your business, but whatever you do, you are always marketing.
If you have a brick and mortar store location, what do people see when they walk in? What to they hear? What do they smell? That’s marketing.
If you are in sales, you already know full well that how you look, how you carry yourself, what you say, and even how you say it leave big impressions on clients. That’s marketing.
But even more subtle things like how you drive, the kind of things you watch on TV, how you treat your spouse, and what you value most all speak volumes about your character and who you are as a person. People see those things, and yes, even this is marketing.
Notice that all these things transcend age.
If anything, I would argue that leveraging social media to market your business is best done by someone who is mature enough to think like an owner and produce valuable, measured responses, lest you create more problems for yourself by posting the wrong things on social media. So your success as a social media marketer has far more to do with character and temperament than your age.
First-Gen Fluency Has It’s Place.
In her article, Sloane does raise a valid point. First-gen adopters of technology tend to think of themselves as owners. They somehow feel endeared to it, and feel that they know it in ways that any latecomers can only hope to emulate.
Think about it. For Gen X-ers, what if classic 8-bit Nintendo titles suddenly became cool again to middle schoolers and high schoolers now? What if you saw them wearing 8-bit game t-shirts and having Nintendo parties, thinking they had discovered something new?
On some level, perhaps deep within, you’d want to say, “Kid, I was doing the up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A-start before your parents even met. I grew up on Nintendo!”
Yeah. You did. So did I. And so there is a nostalgia and a sense of ownership we feel there. So in that regard, I understand that part of Sloane’s argument: if you’re born into and grow up speaking a language, you’re going to be (or at least feel) more fluent in it.
But what I want to emphasize is that even if you are not first-gen social media fluent, you can still learn to speak, think, and thrive as a social media marketer. So don’t be intimidated if you lack first-gen fluency. Social media marketing is a big table with a lot of room. You don’t have to have grown up with it. You only need to be a good learner.
Experience Is Valuable, But It Comes With Age.
I realize at this point that I have made my case for those of us over 25 who, perhaps, bristle at the idea that social media should only be a young person’s game. But we were all once young, fresh out of college, and ready to conquer the world. If you are like me, you look back and shudder at how little you actually knew.
If you are reading this and you are in your early to mid 20′s, should we assume you are too hopelessly inexperienced to use social media to speak on behalf of a business or corporation? If you can never be too old, can you be too young?
I am a firm believer that experience is the best teacher, and there is just something to be said for earning your stripes. I don’t believe that the college grads and interns should always be the ones making the coffee runs and other grunt work, but there is incredible value in being a part of an organization for a while and learning the ins and outs of business first-hand.
So while I wouldn’t say that a grad fresh out of college is hopelessly inexperienced to manage your social media streams, I would think the qualified grads who are trusted with that much responsibility out of the gate will be rare.
It is natural to think of the position of Social Media Manager as a job for a younger person, but we must all understand that your social media presence is a mouthpiece for your business. You wouldn’t give the keys to the building to just anyone, and you should hire your social media manager with an equal amount of care, if not more.
After all, if we’ve learned anything from almost 10 years of social media, it’s that what you post, update, and tweet can break you much faster than they will make you.