Should Every Social Media Manager Be Under 25?

Cathryn Sloan’s post “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25” has certainly stirred up some controversy. The recent University of Iowa graduate still has a lot of learning to do.

If you missed the post, I recommend reading it first. Also of interest is NextGen’s response from Connor Toohill and an intriguing response from Augie Ray.

It’s not fair to personally attack Ms. Sloan or even NextGen Journal. I am disappointed in the seasoned marketers who have taken such a route, and still flabbergasted by many of the millennials that support Cathryn’s opinion.

As an adjunct professor at Marquette University and a hiring manager at Laughlin Constable I have to say that the editors of NextGen Journal, Connor, and Cathryn need to weed through the personal attacks and listen to the advice from their peers and marketing veterans.

In the past I’ve talked about ongoing education in the marketing field, and the importance it has for everyone involved. Whether it is a peer, a client, an intern, or a friend – we are all responsible for our integrated success.

For the most part, the social media team I’ve built at Laughlin Constable is made up of millennials and they do indeed manage many of our client’s social media channels. They have many great ideas and a very good understanding of the channel(s).

Cathryn seems to think that just because millennials “spent [their] adolescence growing up with social media” they are better suited to manage the presence of a brand in social media channels. I appreciate that the experience growing up with a technology may make you better suited in understanding and applying it. But that’s like saying because I use my car everyday that I could run Ford, GM, or Hyundai. I’m sure their stockholders would disagree, and so would I.

What I hope Connor and Cathryn come to understand is this, the incredible response you’ve received with the article is because you are wrong. Now this isn’t to say that you are not better suited to understand the technology or tools associated with social media, unfortunately that isn’t the sum of all the parts.

Many marketing veterans have read and responded to the article because we’ve been in your shoes before. And instead of scolding you, we want to offer some advice. Maybe I’ve just lived long enough to become the “old guy” offering that advice, but I hope you read and digest it.

I remember the eagerness and excitement I brought to my first marketing job. The little wins make you feel important and like you are accomplishing everything you set out to do. It’s important for you to have these moments, it will drive your future success.

However, you need to find the veterans in the company you work for. Find the ones willing to talk with you. These people may have gray hair and wrinkles. Do not be afraid. In fact they may have a Twitter account with more followers than you, and their rolodex may even have more contacts than that.

Not everyone seems a new graduate the same way. Perhaps some people only expect you to get them coffee. Others may expect you to do only mundane tasks. But some of us see the potential. We want to help shape your future. Much like your parents, we may also want to protect you and help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made.

Marketing may start with understanding the channels you work in, but it will never trump knowledge and experience. That may come in may forms; including knowledge about a particular industry, experience with past campaigns, depth of knowledge and experience with a particular brand, or years of working in an agency and creating connections with others – including the consumer.

This isn’t to say new thinking isn’t appreciated. It is. But know when and how to share that and you’ll become a trusted source for your team, your superiors, and the company.

I know you may want to be in client meetings, you want to share all of your great ideas, and you think you are ready for the next step. We are here to help you get there, but also let you know when you aren’t quite ready.

Unfortunately I see a growing trend of entitlement, ignorance, and arrogance from many graduates. Perhaps as I’ve aged I forgot how I was essentially the same. But I can confidently say that your degree, age, or experience with Facebook isn’t enough to have any brand hand over the keys to their brand. It takes time, education, and immersion.

Perhaps we should be more disappointed with the managing editors at NextGen Journal for posting the article. They had the opportunity to prepare Cathryn for the type of response this article may receive. The poor girl hasn’t tweeted since last week and likely has taken much of the response and internalized it.

I urge Cathryn, Connor and everyone at NextGen Journal to find the positive comments and advice. As marketers, and practitioners, it is our responsibility to educate, encourage, and offer opportunity to those eager (and young) hires.

On the flip side, I encourage people like Cathryn to focus on the process, method, and research instead of just the tools or channels. Understanding the intersection of marketing, technology, strategy, and research will help you in your career and with your clients.

If you really want to prove yourself, continue to provide the critical thinking necessary to apply your strengths and skills to the strategies and marketing plans your elders have crafted.

This has been a “controversial” topic because so many experienced practitioners have been in your shoes and see the flaw in your thinking. Accept it and understand that we are all trying to make you better. And that starts with a little bit of openness from all parties, and continued listening and education.

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  1. I wasn’t that taken aback by Cathryn’s article – here’s the thing, that mentality is why Community Managers need to have more experience, why they shouldn’t be under 25.

    I think that there’s too much of an aire about recent graduates – thinking that they deserve high pay, the immediate job, convenient hours, etc. There’s no sense that they need to earn things.

    Trust me, by earning your place you’ll not just earn your salary, you’ll earn your experience and earn an understanding of what good marketing is and isn’t.

    I scrubbed mold off a basement floor as an intern, cleaned bathrooms, etc. I made copies, I answered phones. To be good at what you do – you have to understand where others come from.

    • Not sure I could have said it better myself. You hit on everything I’ve been thinking and at times saying.

      About all we can continue to do is share our experiences with people like Cathryn and hope they listen. I hope her silence on Twitter doesn’t mean she isn’t listening to some of the good advice coming her way.

      I do think it was probably a poor choice by Connor and NextGen Journal to publish the story without warning her, or thinking through the responses. Or perhaps they were just interested in high web traffic. Either way, it’s ignited a conversation.

      Thanks for the comment. And I wholeheartedly agree with you. Understanding, experience, and some humility can take you a long way.

  2. Very interesting idea. Tiffany I also wholeheartedly agree. My generation is definitely in the mindset that we are entitled to a great job upon graduation. It’s scary to see a lot students in my graduating class do basically nothing to develop what they’ve learned in class and are dead-set that they will find their dream job. Cultivating experience takes not only time but a lot of effort.

    But is it really better to have someone who grew up with social media running channels? Sure it’s great experience, but I feel like those whole only grew up knowing them for their social experience find it difficult to differentiate between using it to keep in touch with people and using it to build up a brand.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Conversely. Those who learn to use social media soley from the aspect of using it towards the good of a brand are very savvy on how to do so although they might be slow to pick up on social media “etiquette.”

    Great read though!

    • Thanks for the comment Josh. Responding to your last point, I would think those that are savvy enough to use social media for a brand, I would think they would know all about etiquette. (Or at least you’d hope)

      BTW, congratulations on your new gig. There were lots of conversations and e-mails going around about it.


  3. I interned for $250/week at a TV station for 6 months (after graduation!) before earning my first full-time gig. Then I worked nights, weekends, holidays and 50- and 60-hour weeks until I was nearly 30. I was humble and learned from those who understood the craft better than me – because they had been broadcast journalists long before I was even considering it as a career.

    I EARNED their trust through those long days and nights in the newsroom.

    What did I learn working those long hours for low pay? Adaptation. Any job I’ve had since seem like a breeze compared to those first humble years. I’m a better person for it.

    Be careful what you wish for 25-and-unders. Getting handed prestigious job titles and responsibilities BECAUSE of your age (and NOT your experience) could prove costly. You might just be setting yourself up for failure down the road.

    • Well said Tom. I think there is something to be said for hard work and dues, within reason. And your last point is a great one. I’ve seen far too many people rewarded with a promotion just because their boss disappeared or because they climbed the ladder too quickly. In the end a majority of them fail because they are not up to the task.

      Thanks again for the comments,

  4. As a millennial who grew up on social media, studied communication as an undergrad, and started diving into social media as a graduate student, I feel like there are multiple levels that need to be understood here.

    1) Social media is a platform…or rather a library of platforms. It is interactive, just as going to the grocery in a small town can be. Certainly, it offers new opportunities (I am continually fascinated by the reach and network that can be created from social media), but, above all else, it is a communication platform. In order to use a communication platform, one must understand communication. Which is complicated. Can a young person learn enough about communication to be well suited for a social media job? Sure. Can someone who has been studying communication techniques either in theory, practice, or both for a long time be well suited to work in social media? Definitely.

    2) Using social media for personal use and for business use is nowhere near the same thing. We grew up using it socially. That’s puts us a mere step ahead of many older people, but not to a point that they can’t reach us. In fact, they can. Quickly.

    3) Should a social media manager be under 25? Not necessarily. Should they be over 25? Not necessarily either. It depends on the knowledge they have sought out as an individual, their ability to think strategically and creatively, and their knowledge of communication. On this point, I will agree with Cathryn Sloan…there is no need to require 10 years of experience for someone to work in social media. Require skills instead, as young people often have a level of excitement, passion, energy, and creativity that may benefit your company in ways you don’t currently realize.

    • Great points Angela. I was really curious to see what some of ADPR4300 had to say on the subject. I think you and Josh do a great job addressing the article. And I do agree with you, 10 years of experience isn’t likely required. I’ll often choose experience when I can, but we can not forget about passion. Unfortunately passion doesn’t always translate to success for many.

      In those cases, I’ve realized the students (and younger candidates) all had one thing in common. They were not quite sure what they really wanted to focus on, which kept them from succeeding at any given task.

      As usual, you always provide great thoughts and insight.


  5. I can appreciate the author’s perspective but wholeheartedly disagree with her. Passion cannot be determined by age and experience helps you “get it” from different perspectives. I know many people over 25 whose passion for social ignited them to embrace it and become experts. Age and experience will also help you influence key business leaders to adopt and productize social. Just because you grow up with a technology doesn’t mean that you have the necessary business skills. That said, there are many under 30 who do and are doing it right. In my day we said… don’t trust anyone over 30. Now they are saying don’t trust anyone over 30 with social?

  6. The statement that social media managers should be under 25 is age discrimination pure and simple and reflects the immaturity of the writer. I am over 65 and and working successfully in social media. I do know why anyone would take her views seriously. Each age adds its own perspective and unique views that only enrich the total picture. If anyone followed her advice that would rightly be sued.

    • Thanks for the comment Bill. At face value we all know she is wrong. Age discrimination not withstanding, I’m curious what her future plans are when she reaches the ripe age of 26. 😉


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