So evidently, the ideal age for a social media manager is under 25.

Wait… no… the ideal age for a social media manager is over 25.

Are you kidding me? Age? We’re talking about age? Like… the ideal age to be a CEO is 45-65? Or the ideal age to be an HR manager is 43-52? Would anyone with the slightest bit of credibility ever write a piece like that? No. Not without concrete research to back it up, at any rate. So why is it acceptable when it comes to social media? Why? Because it’s still en vogue to write complete nonsense about social media management?

There is no ideal age to manage a social media program, just like there is no ideal age to manage a PR or marketing or HR campaign, program or department. Unless you’re a professional athlete, age is pretty much irrelevant when it comes to your ability to do a job. Any job. Some people are already good at 20. Others still suck at 40. There is no magic formula. What you are looking for is competence, professionalism and a sharp, agile mind. That is what you should focus on. Not age.

Let’s take a look at this piece published by Inc. just a few days ago: 11 Reasons a 23-year-old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media, by Hollis Thomases.

So first… who is this Hollis Thomases person, and more importantly, why does Inc. feel that she is qualified to write an article on this topic? Well, there’s this:

Hollis Thomases is the President & CEO of Web Ad.vantage, which provides outcome-based digital marketing and advertising services to up-and-coming brands. She is also the author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, a contributing expert to Social Media Marketing Magazine, and has been a Media Planning columnist for ClickZ since 2005. She has taken her subject matter expertise to television, radio, and trade conferences. Here is her Twitter account: @hollisthomases (6,820 followers).

Note the url, by the way, which is different from the title Inc. eventually went with: – don’t put intern in charge. Ah, well. We’re already off to a killer start: what’s a 23-year-old good for? Being an intern. Great.

Now don’t get me wrong: anyone who puts an intern in charge of their social media program is clearly being negligent. But we aren’t talking about interns here. We are talking about 23-year-olds and “young hires.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that hoodied 23-year-old you just crossed in the hallway might not be the intern anymore. In this day and age, he or she might be the CEO, and a solid one at that. There are “kids” right now building  companies at 23 that will reshape the face of business, technology and communications in the next ten years. There are guys leading combat teams at 23, and I can tell you from experience that they are supremely competent and plenty mature. There are young women right now, today, already on their way to revolutionizing dozens of fields, from particle physics and presidential campaign strategy to industrial design and popular fashion. A few of them even won Olympic medals in London over the last few weeks. So how about this: instead of discounting young twenty-somethings as quasi-worthless, not particularly dependable assclowns, why not get to know them instead?

But no. It’s much easier to fall back on crap stereotypes to write a poorly researched article, and then somehow get Inc.’s editorial staff to give it the go-ahead. And thus begins an 11-point exercise in shameless clichés and assumptions. Let’s have a look-see:

  1. They’re not mature enough.
  2. They may be focused on their own social media activity.
  3. They may not have the same experience – or etiquette.
  4. You can’t control their friends.
  5. No class can replace on-the-job-training.
  6. They may not understand your business.
  7. Communications skills are critical.
  8. Humor is tricky business.
  9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy.
  10. Social media management can become crisis management.
  11. You need to keep the keys.

Where do I begin? Do I even need to explain how absurd this is? It seems that professional, capable twenty-somethings have suddenly become as immature as ninth-graders on a school field trip.

1. They’re not mature enough. Right. Based on what data? And compared to whom?

I have a friend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim is 48. Tim has been going through a mid-life crisis for the last four years. You want to talk to me about the maturity level of a 23-year-old? You don’t get to unless you’ve spent a Friday evening around Tim. Tim is a CEO, by the way.

But that isn’t even the point. The real point here is this: if someone isn’t mature enough to manage your social media program, regardless of their age, don’t be an asshole and put them in charge of your social media program. Instead, hire someone who is qualified and well-suited for the job. Is that too simple? Too obvious maybe?  Or should we keep going on the stupid stereotypes?

Okay. Let’s keep going then.

2. They may be focused on their own social media activity. Yeah, and they also may not. Because age has not a damn thing to do with that.

Not hiring unprofessional assholes usually takes care of that problem.

3. They may not have the... oh, whatever. If they don’t have the experience or etiquette, why did you hire them to manage anything, let alone your social media program? Regardless of their age, if they don’t have the skills or experience or etiquette, don’t put them in charge. But if they have the experience, skills and etiquette, and they happen to be 23, don’t be stupid: hire the shit out of them before someone else does.

I know. This stuff is really hard to grasp.

4. You can’t control their friends. Really? Is that because 23-year-olds are just party-going loudmouths who will post obnoxious updates on Facebook? So naturally, yeah… a 23-year-old is going to be a liability to your brand, right? Nice!

Except, no. Show me the data that supports your theory. What… no data? Hmmm. That’s too bad. My next question would have dealt with how you intend to “control” angry customers and trolls.

Ms. Thomases, your personal prejudices against this age group suck.

5. No class can replace on-the-job-training. I have no idea what that even means or what it has to do with age.

6. They may not understand your business.

This article is starting to give me a headache.

What if that 23-year-old has been a fan of your business since they were a kid? Say you’re Nike or Disney or Nintendo, you really think a 23-year-old managed to live their whole lives without knowing what you do and how? Why do you think they’re applying for a job at your company in the first place?

Here’s another one: a 40-year-old new hire and a 23-year-old new hire are going to go through the same onboarding process. Why would the 23-year-old be somehow less qualified than the 40-year-old to manage the company’s social media program solely based on “not understanding the business?” Is there something physiological about 23-year olds that makes them incapable of learning your business model?

If you are hiring someone to manage your social media program, they’ll need to understand your business, regardless of their age. Train them. Get them ready to manage that function. This is not an age issue, it’s a preparation issue.

This argument is invalid.

7. Communications skills are critical. I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Let me just quote the writer and see if you can make any sense of it:

“Communication is critical to solid social-media execution. Before you let a young hire take over your company blog posts, take stock of his or her writing skills. Also: Many young people have not yet learned the “art” of communicating. Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

That’s it. That’s the whole explanation.

Between you and me, I have no idea what half of that means. “Many young people have not yet learned the ‘art’ of communicating?”

“Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things literally?”

Let that be the point: communication is indeed critical to solid social-media execution. Which is why social media professionals who write expert commentary for Inc. should learn how to express themselves clearly. “Make sure they know how to read” between what lines, exactly? Is there something about 23-year-olds that makes them read everything literally? And can we at least get some kind of idea as to what the “art” of communicating is? I wonder if it involves learning proper comma usage. Here’s an example: “Make sure they know how to read between the lines rather than taking things too literally” instead of “make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

I know a bunch of young 20-somethings with terrific communications skills and a shit-ton of people my age with horrendous communications skills (and many of them are in PR and marketing). So can we please stick to competence and skill instead of crapping on young twenty-somethings for the sake of it?

8. Humor is tricky business. Let me guess… because young twenty-somethings are incapable of understanding the boundaries and cultural nuances of certain types of humor… As opposed to 35-year-olds or 50-year-olds?

You’re right. Humor is tricky business. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with age. Not one thing.

Something just occurred to me: if you took that piece and replaced “young hire” with “women” or “old people,” it would be taken offline immediately. Prejudice is prejudice, and the opinions listed in these eleven points reek of it.

9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy. Excuse my French, but… (cover your ears) what the fuck does that have to do with age?

This argument is invalid.

10. Social media management can become crisis management. Yes. It can and it does. What does that have to do with age? Do you want me to list every PR crisis in the last ten years that was completely botched by people over the age of 25? Here’s a taste: BP, Nestle, Enron, Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Chic-Fil-a, United Airlines, Eurostar, FEMA… We could be here all day.

This argument is frightfully invalid.

11. You need to keep the keys. Yes. That’s a basic social media program management 101 lesson that is applicable regardless of your social media manager’s age.

This argument isn’t just invalid, it isn’t even an argument.

Here’s an idea: instead of writing (and publishing) pointless pieces of hateful, misinformed garbage that fail to a) offer relevant reasons why young professionals under the age of 25 are somehow not qualified (or under-qualified) to manage a social communications program, and b) provide evidence to back up the writer’s opinion, why not write a piece that outlines the qualities and skills you should look for in someone who will help you build and manage a social media program? You know, things like competence, skill, talent, personality, adaptability, resourcefulness, even cultural fit with the company, for instance?

But no. Let’s focus on age instead. Let’s talk about age as a qualification to run a social media program… Good grief. How did we even get here? Really. WTF.

I can’t leave you like this though, so here’s basically all you need to know about the ideal candidate for your social media management job. Are you ready? Here it is:

Hire someone wonderful and competent. Who gives a shit how old they are?

Okay? And if you want some pointers on what to look for, I’ll be back tomorrow with a few.



*          *          *

As an aside, you can find some pointers on how to hire (and train) a social media manager in Chapter 6. (Pages 73-82.)

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in yourOrganization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

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