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Dear NextGen: A Rebuttal From the Social Media Old Folks

by Mark Story (guest author) | The University of Maryland

F Posted in: College, News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: July 22, 2012
Mark Story Mark Story

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.

Why me?

Why am I the self-appointed messenger, the Last Angry Man?  Well, in short, I was there.  I emailed Connor, offering this article, and despite the venom that he undoubtedly has received of late, he responded immediately and cheerfully.  Good on you, Connor.

Second, the perspective that I offer is one of a soon-to-be 48 year-old male who started in what was not called social media in 1997 and has progressed up to being new media director for a large government agency.  I have taught and mentored people Cathryn’s age as a professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland, University College and I have just finished a book that will be published on September 1, 2012, “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager.”  It is 250 pages of career advice for aspiring social media professionals.  So yeah, I think I got this.

What Cathryn Got Wrong

It’s time to turn the corner on the negative comments on Cathryn’s piece (there are more than 400 of them as I write this), but Cathryn, you got two major things wrong.  First, you confused familiarity with using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter with the ability to turn that into offering actionable, solid communications advice for internal or external clients.  There is a BIG difference between posting Facebook Timeline updates and telling General Motors what to do with their own social media presence in the midst of a crisis.  Or a trade association.  Or even the boutique down the street.  Moreover, you will have to explain and sell social media wherever you go, and that means having enough savvy to turn your knowledge of the tool into a strategy and set of tactics that resonates for someone higher-up than you.  And then make it work not for 25 year-olds, but for whomever the target market of your employer is.  THAT comes from experience.

Second, comments like “the seemingly obvious importance of incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies’ heads” is pretty incendiary because you intimate that younger people could do a better job, that we fuddy-duddies just don’t get it.  Of my peer group, many of the smartest and most experienced social media professionals are in their 40s.  “Experience” is the key part of that last sentence because it is accumulated from a career based upon learning, trial and error, success and failure.  You try, you learn, you apply, you move on.  There is no substitute for experience.

Moving On

I am moving on from the controversy and humbly suggest that others do as well.  Connor, I appreciate the chance to offer a different perspective, but I hope that you understand that when an online crisis hits, people don’t want to hear from someone else, they want to hear from the person at the center of the crisis.   I don’t know if Cathryn was willing to offer up a second post, but I can guarantee you plenty of eyeballs if she decides to write a follow up piece.  It’s part of the learning process.  She screwed up and when you do (especially on the Internet, which we know is forever), she should write a piece that apologizes, furthers her point of view and creates another record that future potential employers can read – hopefully one that will be well-written, concise and show some understanding of the firestorm that she created.

My big idea

Many of us in my generation (a lot of folks led off their post with their age and experience) and who used “young lady” in our comments likely have children.  Maybe children Cathryn’s age.  What would you want for your child if she made a mistake?  I would advise my daughter to explain her point of view, apologize and then tell the offended people to move on.  I think that the original article was off base and offensive, but I am moving on.  I think that Connor’s follow-up piece was well intentioned, but still a little tone deaf and came from the wrong person.  But I am moving on.  With a suggestion.

Rather than (as I did, admittedly), firing off angry comments that are the equivalent of telling the young kids to get off your lawn, how about contacting her (she’s on LinkedIn and Twitter) and offering her some career counsel, an internship or a job – where she can learn, first-hand and in a controlled environment – where her views are so woefully wrong.  There is no substitute for experience and the social media pioneer generation of which I am a part has quite a bit of time-tested wisdom to impart.  Turning a negative into a positive and showing Cathryn how it’s really done is better than telling her that her career just went up in flames.  Just a thought, but do we, as the pioneer social media generation have a responsibility to ensure that this sort of view does not take hold?  I hope so.

And Cathryn:  I am pretty sure that you will read this, so I will lead by example:  contact me at mark@startingacareerinsocialmedia.com and I will do what I can to help you understand why this has all gone so terribly wrong.

Mark Story is the author of “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager,” to be published on September 1, 2012.  He is a new media director, blogger, podcaster, professor and Social Media Old Guy. He can be reached at mark@startingacareerinsocialmedia.com.

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