One of the advantages of being on vacation during a social media storm that garners national attention is that you have some time to take a step back and think rather than diving head first into the tempest. This was the case with Cathryn Sloane’s misguided piece for NextGen Journal, Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, an article that still managed to find me while careening though the Black Hills with my family. 

Ageist and absent of any supporting facts, the biggest problem with her rant is that it fans the flames of the false theory that young people are the only ones who can get a handle on this social media thing. Sloane, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, states “No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services” other than those under 25 for the sole reason that these platforms emerged during their adolescence.

While it’s true that some businesses mistakenly treat social media as just another item on the marketing checklist, there’s no correlation between those who aren’t effectively using social media and the age of their team. If anything, something could be said for the reverse.

At the heart of the piece — and perhaps the author’s very reason for writing it — is her beef with employers hiring for social media positions who have the nerve to ask for “five to ten years of direct experience.” The experience requested isn’t simply a log of who’s spent the most time on Facebook. Rather, it’s marketing experience and campaign management.

Organizations taking social media to the next level are executing integrated campaigns with strategies and tactics tied back to measurable business goals. A study from Altimeter Group cited that most social media marketers have at least three to six years experience in digital marketing and have multi-disciplinary backgrounds. Actual experience with social media ranked fifth on the list of skills.

The biggest pitfall for marketers is this erroneous belief that social media is some kind of mythical sphinx that can only be decoded by youth. To be clear, I’m not proposing reverse ageism either, though I have recently sounded the warning not to farm social media out to your intern. Instead I’m coming out for the principles of marketing.

Social media is a marketing channel that can be used for great things, whether it’s global brands like Ford launching new products or local brands like New Pioneer Co-op delivering exceptional customer service (FYI – both are led by marketers over the age of 25 who are doing phenomenal things in spite of this impairment). But these are complex business strategies requiring marketing experience not simply a birth certificate with the right date stamp. My four-year old daughter is a digital native that can navigate iOS (despite the fact she can’t read) but that doesn’t mean you should hire her as an app developer.

Brands looking to leverage new media channels need to remember that we’re not simply talking about the broad category of social media but rather the very specific discipline of social media marketing.

What about you? How has age been a factor when it comes to social media at your business? Are you guilty of being ageist — one way or another — when hiring for social media positions at your organization?

Photo via Flickr user Cappellmeister