The Positive Side to the NextGen Social Media Debacle

Image credit: Funny Eye

A Millennial-oriented website got way more than it bargained for a few days ago when Cathryn Sloane, a graduating senior at the University of Iowa and a writer for NextGen Journal, wrote an article entitled “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25”. Just in case the title didn’t give it away, Cathryn’s argument is that Generation Y – which, for full disclosure, includes myself – grew up with social media and therefore we have a better understanding of social media marketing and management than anyone regardless of how well anyone else thinks they do.

The backlash was as immediate as we’ve come to expect on the Internet. Everyone from newbie marketers to the likes of Mack Collier and Peter Shankman took to the Facebook comments to object to Cathryn’s position, which resulted in a follow up editorial and plenty of rebuttals. Surprisingly, the implication that someone with no marketing background or experience was better qualified to manage social profiles than people who have been in digital marketing for ten or more years upset people.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m glad people are upset. I’m glad they’re upset because regardless of your views on Cathryn’s article it is indicative of a pervasive stereotype about social media that is thankfully starting to go away. As social media marketing has boomed, we’ve had to deal with the ugly approach of people assuming they’re qualified social media marketers or managers by virtue of simply knowing how to create and maintain Facebook or Twitter pages and because they believe “content creation” is being able to string together status updates. I think it’s safe to say I speak on behalf of digital marketers everywhere when I say this has to stop, and it’s good to see people calling out articles like this.

I’m not going to tell you to love or hate the article itself and I won’t bother to analyze it myself, but the resulting discussions have been fascinating to read and I’m happy that these discussions about younger generations and social media marketing proficiency are happening. As someone who works in digital marketing and social media management for a living it’s been tiring to see companies choose to automatically delegate “doing social media” to the youngest employee and then blaming their lack of results on social media itself rather than the individual they chose to maintain and promote their channels.

Youth does not and should never count as digital marketing experience, regardless of who grew up with which network. I tend to harp on this quite a bit because knowing how Facebook or Twitter works is like

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knowing how your phone or E-mail works. It’s what you do with those tools that matters, and people who only have experience with using social media, phone, or E-mail personally are not marketers. My hope is that Cathryn and perhaps other people who read about this controversy will walk away wiser and more enlightened about the constant research, learning, and hard work that goes into social media marketing.

The good news is that as social media becomes more integral to the marketing mix, more and more businesses seem to be becoming more careful about who they allow to handle their social media marketing and how seriously they take it. Businesses would never let the 22 year old write the press release for a major new product unveiling, and it’s gratifying to see the same respect being given to social media channels.

So regardless of your position on the article (and many of you have made it clear already), I think we can all agree that this has been an enlightening experience for at least some people. It’s common to say that we’re all learning new things every day about social media, and helping to dispel the persisting myth that youth begets social media marketing expertise may be one of the most important things we do. As commenter Andrew Healy said, “Glasses raised to the bright future that is Social Media for all of us!” Personally, I’m enjoying every second of it.