Why Age Shouldn't Be a Factor in Hiring Your Social Media Manager
There's been a debate raging within the social media world lately about the "right age" for a social media manager. The debate began with a blog post from recent University of Iowa graduate Cathryn Sloane, which argued that all social media managers should be under the age of 25. Sloane's main argument was based around the fact that the under-25 demographic has grown up with social media since its infancy and is thus the best equipped to engage on social channels. As a counterpoint, Hollis Thomases recently published an article on Inc., which argues that new graduates simply lack the maturity and experience to handle social media management for a large company. Personally, I think both authors are missing the mark. As a mid-twenties community manager myself, I'd like to take age off the table. There are a lot of factors that go into hiring a good social media manager (which I'm going to define as a community manager for the sake of this article), but age should not be one of them.
Familiarity Does Not Equal Talent
To begin with, I'd like to make a distinction between familiarity and talent. I can honestly say that I'm familiar with the concept of horseback riding; I can abstractly understand the concept of horse + me = motion. That being said, putting me on a horse in a vaulting competition would be a sure recipe for disaster. By that logic, Sloane's argument that recent grads are the best equipped to manage social channels because they are familiar with them falls into the same trap. On the flip side, familiarity with traditional advertising or PR does not guarantee that someone will be a good community manager. Talent is a combination of nature and nurture, and not everyone is cut out to be a good community manager.
Understanding Social Media Is a Continuous Process
Social media is definitely the scarf-wearing hipster at the party of traditional advertising mediums: it's young, trendy and generally misunderstood. Anyone diving into the world of social media who claims to be a "ninja," "guru" or other similar epithet is probably overly confident in their abilities. Social is new and fluid, and anyone entering the field is faced with a steep learning curve and a constant struggle to keep their knowledge base current. This fluid nature can put a recent grad and a more senior ad exec in the same spot – they both have to put in the time to understand the new medium before they can claim they are qualified to work in the industry.
Generalizations Help No One
Perhaps the biggest error that both Sloane and Thomases commit in their articles is that they (intentionally or not) make sweeping generalizations about individuals in different age groups. Not all recent grads are going to be unprofessional, immature and unable to make the distinction between their personal and professional lives. Similarly, individuals who are older than 25 aren't going to be out of touch or at a disadvantage in the world of social media simply because they did not grow up with it. Hiring a social media manager requires the ability to recognize talent or potential in an individual. Judging them based on their age colors your impression of their abilities before you even begin the interview.
The Right Criteria
Ok. I've spent plenty of time talking about Sloane's and Thomases' incorrect assumptions, but I haven't offered an alternative. To find someone who will be the right fit for your company, ask yourself these four questions:
- Does this person understand my company and am I confident in their ability to communicate on its behalf?
- Do I believe this candidate can stay calm under pressure and handle a crisis in a professional and collected manner?
- Does this individual have a healthy understanding of their own abilities? (i.e. Are they over-confident or unable to express their own capabilities?)
- Are they open to continually learning about social media, my business, and how to do their job better?
If you can mentally check off all of these boxes, then you are probably on track to find the right candidate for your company.
So, when hiring a community manager, let's take age off of the table. Whether 25 or 45, your community manager should be knowledgeable, confident and able to communicate your brand messaging across various social channels. If you find a candidate who has these attributes, then age shouldn't be a factor.
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