Cathryn Sloane, a student from the University of Iowa set off a social media firestorm recently by saying that nobody over the age of 25 should be doing social media as a profession. Her article on NextGen Journal "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25," has garnished over 400 comments and put a bee in the bonnet of every single social media maven from here to Antarctica.
Her premise is this:
You might argue that everyone, regardless of age, was along for the ride (of social media), or at least everyone under the age of 30. I'm not saying they weren't, but we spent our adolescence growing up with social media. We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.
The key is that we learned to use social media socially before professionally, rather than vice versa or simultaneously. After all, it is called social media; the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies' heads. To many people in the generations above us, Facebook and Twitter are just the latest ways of getting messages out there to the public, that also happen to be the best.
Ouch. Hey, you old farts... You don't know how to use Twitter or Facebook because you're old and out of touch!
Naturally this set off a massive influx of comments on the original post from VERY angry social media pundits who were eager to tell the young punk to "get off their lawn." Oh, and they did. Some going as far as to throw the "you'll never work again in this town, kid."
Really people? Are you that threatened by a 25-year-old student with a fresh, albeit wrong, but fresh idea?
Then of course, came the responses. Not from Cathryn herself, who appears to be missing in action (ironic, eh?). No, the responses came from the NextJen journal themselves. In this piece, Connor Toohill defends his author:
On Friday, we published an opinion piece by recent University of Iowa grad and NextGen Contributor Cathryn Sloane entitled, "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25." That opinion proved to be quite controversial, with thousands of Facebook shares, hundreds of Tweets and scores of angry comments. We've run thousands of pieces since NextGen Journal launched in September 2010, but nothing has generated quite this much fierce resistance. So we wanted to take this chance to clarify a couple important points.
Number one, a number of people have referred to this piece as the opinion of NextGen Journal, or a particular take that we endorse. That's a simple misunderstanding of who we are and what we aim to do. NGJ is, above all, a platform: we vault the diverse voices, perspectives and priorities of our generation into the national dialogue. We don't agree with every Op/Ed we run, and our goal isn't to communicate an institutional stance. Our aim is to give a better understanding of where members of our generation stand, what we've experienced and what we believe.
Applying this to Cathryn's article: whether you agree with her or not, she was describing a belief that a number of young people share. In conversations across college campuses and with young professionals, these ideas often come up: that young people naturally grasp social media more effectively, that members of our generation are best suited to fill positions in the rapidly expanding social media profession, and that employers too often value prior work experience above all else.
But it's not over; far from it. Mack Collier has advice for the young author.
Your core message, that 'your generation' is familar with social media because you've always used these tools, is a good one. As are your thoughts that as such, 'your generation' has much to offer on how companies can and should be using these tools. A very good and valid message.
Unfortunately, due to the tone of your article that wasn't the message that 99% of your readers heard. Here's what most people thought your message was:
"Dear Old People Over the Age of 25,
You are screwing up Social Media. Stop it. Companies stop hiring these clowns to do social media, because they have no idea what they are doing. Hire 'my generation'. We are smart, we are hip. Besides, we have always had these tools, so we should be the ones using them, not these old farts over the age of 25.
Recent College Graduate Under the Age of 25 That Gets It"
Of course, there's nothing young people love more than older people telling them what to do, right?
Then there's the the official "angry old guy" response.
Dear NextGen: A Rebuttal From the Social Media Old Folks
I am the Angry Old Guy representative, folks.
I'm the 47 year-old social media professional who read Cathryn Sloan's piece on Friday "Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25" and was angered by its content. Angered enough to comment -- twice, as well as to read through what are the now more than 400 comments. Like many of you, I probably used words in writing that I may have tempered more were Cathryn standing in front of me.
I'm a guy who followed the debate and also read and commented on Connor Toohill's own piece "On the Controversy: Cathryn Sloane's Social Media Article" that appeared the day after. And was still irritated because it seemed somewhat tone-deaf.
But you know what? I'm tired of being mad or offended at the piece and am going to try to make good by the 30 or 40 or 50-something social media pioneers, the generation that was not, as written by Cathryn, "up close and personal with all these developments [and]... the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come." I'm going to offer up some observations and lessons learned that will hopefully dampen the controversy and let us get back to what many of us do well -- regardless of our ages -- design, develop and execute successful social media campaigns.
What's your take? Sound off in the comments.
Follow Jim Kukral on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jimkukral