As a 25-year-old person whose professional career is in large part devoted to social media, I wanted to briefly respond to that NextGen piece by Cathryn Sloane. You know, the piece that all the old geezers hated (JK, y’all).
Cathryn’s article was controversial because she made an obvious observation, then gave it a presumptuous spin. On the topic relating to our generation’s (people born around ’86/’87) early adoption of social media, she did the math correctly. We were the first Freshman class to get Facebook before showing up at college, meaning some of us were the first to ever meet somebody on Facebook before meeting them in real life. We used LiveJournal and MySpace in high school as our hormones flared; we hid behind screens and instant messaged strange boys (or old men?) whose real names we could never be sure of. As we matured socially and intellectually, so did social media. Yes, we were there from the beginning, so we had a better chance at learning the ropes and becoming comfortable. It was survival, and that’s obvious. We figured out how to text 40404 to constantly keep our friends in the loop about where/what/how we were. We became addicted, and we never stopped. SO maybe in that respect, some of us do have “10+ years of experience with social media.” But of course, there’s more to the story than that. We all also grew up with access to cameras, books, and computer games. Does that mean we’re all amazing photographers, voracious readers, or game programmers? Nope.
On a related note, I feel it’s important to point out that a lot of my 25-year-old friends are really not exceptional at communicating through the language of social media at all (sorry, guys). A lot of said friends have Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/whatever accounts, but have never developed the interest or the skills to truly dive in and “get it” on a level that goes beyond the topical sharing of “I did this,” “look at this,” or “check this out.” (How many dinner conversations have plummeted away from the comfort zone as I attempt to interest my fellow 25-year-olds in the “Why Twitter is not just a giant waste of time” topic? 10, 20, 30…?) Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. If you don’t love social media, more power to you– it’s definitely not for everyone, and if you don’t have that unrelenting urge to share your life, you may be one of the lucky few who escaped the contagious plague of the digital age.
So, coming back to Cathryn’s article, I’d like to articulate what I see as two fundamentally different types of social media usages. IMHO, personal and professional uses of social media vary greatly, and being an active social media user DOES NOT necessarily mean you would have a clue how to take the reins as a professional social media manager. “Social” media in the professional context does not mean throwin’ ’round Internet slang (you see what I did up there?), but rather it refers to the ability to speak on behalf of your company in the right type of voice in order to deploy the right information to the right group of people. You must know that your audience is not just yourself + your friends, but rather an entire global group of eyes, minds, and fingertips waiting to respond or passively skim over. What will the response be, if any? If you can predict this, you might have a chance at being an effective social media manager.
However, as with anything, other skills are at stake. To be a good social media manager, you need to understand that the best use of social media platforms takes users beyond a passive SPLAT of information into a dynamic, exciting terrain of collaborative information sharing/building. To be an effective social media manager, you must be a skilled project manager and networker. You have to know the basics of marketing and PR, of tracking ROI, and you have to know how to prove your worth (as social media jobs will constantly be evolving, you need to be able to see where you fit in to the larger puzzle). You must also be creative in all senses of the word. You have to know how to take good photographs, how to be funny + respectful, and you have to be a ROCK STAR copyeditor. If you can’t spell, do you think it’s a good idea for you to have instantaneous access to communicate on behalf of your entire company or institution? Absolutely not! You also have to be inventive, interesting, and be able to figure out what other people will like (or dislike!). And finally, you must be constantly on guard; you must be a ninja of the Internet, proactively seeking out the best of the best while deflecting the worst case scenario (such as accidentally Tweeting a pic of Hilary Clinton w/ Sesame Street characters to your institution’s half a million followers).
Essentially, spamming content out onto the internet is what most 25-year-olds are naturally good at, but it is not what a social media manager does. Rather, the job of managing social media is a finely honed craft, where content must be carefully developed and sensitively deployed, or you risk looking like an idiot. Most 25-year-olds have still not figured out that last part, myself included.