After digital strategist Hollis Thomases wrote “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media” for Inc. magazine, a firestorm of controversy and outrage ensued. Tens of thousands of people shared the article, many of them social media experts in their 20s criticizing the author for being too harsh on younger people, specifically when she suggested that young people these days were less mature than those of earlier generations.
Thomases also wrote that young people may be too concerned about their social media activities, may accidentally post something inappropriate on your social media accounts, and may have friends who might post something untoward to those accounts as well. But older people can make gaffes with social media and use it inappropriately, while there are indeed younger people who can handle such accounts with grace and savvy.
Because of Thomases’ emphasis on age in the article, many of the negative responses on the article turned into an old vs. young debate. However, if you take age out of the equation, a few of the points that Thomas made come across as reasonable, no matter what company you work for.
Specifically, she wrote that when you hand over your social media to somebody just out of school, there is much the person “needs to understand beyond the social tools themselves,” like what are the “nuances of your products or services,” what do your customers expect, how do you handle customer complaints, and “what does your company stand for?” She writes that “no new hire will be able to absorb these issues overnight, of course–but a brand-new graduate will have an even steeper learning curve.”
She makes some good observations, but the point shouldn’t be about age, though. It’s about understanding the company, and buying into what the business is about. Would you allow, say, a summer intern to be speaking at corporate events on your company’s behalf? Of course not, because that person isn’t qualified to be speaking for the company as a temporary staffer. Yet that is what happens when businesses entrust such interns to their social media. Some companies get involved with social media as part of performance based SEO, but don’t think out the issue as to who will be their “voice.”
Thomases also writes that since at times “social-media management can become crisis management,” using such tools could quickly turn into a “public relations disaster,” as has happened so often these days. Thomases cites when McDonald’s had its McDStories Twitter hashtag idea blow up in their face with negative comments. She is absolutely right that whoever comes up with such ideas needs to be able to handle crisis management, as well as social media management. However, the McDStories debacle had nothing to do with age, but with a strategy that was not thought out enough.
Our point is that the type of person who should represent you in social media should be the type of person who should represent you in your PR department, or at corporate meetings, or when dealing with the public. It’s not just a matter of technical skills for social media; it’s a matter of social skills, and stability, and grace under pressure. Because after all, whoever does that job will be a “face” for your company. The right 23-year-old could very well do the position, as could the right 43-year-old or the right 63-year-old. Your focus should be on finding somebody to do social media who understands your company, and can speak well for it. Not on choosing – or rejecting – somebody on the basis of age.