In early August, Inc. Magazine's online edition published an article written by one Hollis Thomases with the provocative title, "11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn't Run Your Social Media." Needless to say, the post has caused an uproar among Gen Yers (aka Millennials). In essence, the article trashes the idea of entrusting any aspect of a company's social media management to young college grads with little or no business experience. When phrased this way, the question is reasonable enough to entertain. However, Mrs. Thomases chose a more combative approach that seems to be increasingly emblematic of the Baby Boomer generation's perspective vis-a-vis the Millennials, at least in the business world.
In the post, Hollis provides 11 reasons to bolster her argument. Here's a taste:
- They're not mature enough: Here she asserts that today's 20-somethings are not as mature as those 50 years ago, "who were eager to enter adulthood and settle down." Rather, today's youth are "unstable and self-focused" and as such not to be trusted to manage your company's brand image.
- They may be focused on their own social media activity: Riffing on the last point, Gen Yers are likely to channel their unadulterated narcissism into engagement with their own social media networks rather than your company's.
- They may not have the same etiquette-or experience: Millennials may get Facebook and Instagram, but they surely lack substance in their posting. She urges that your company implement a social media policy to mitigate any forthcoming substance-less vapidities.
- You Can't Control Their Friends: Hollis warns against the possibility of Gen Y interns' friends wresting access to your company's social accounts and posting something "inappropriate." Unfortunately, she didn't offer any further guidance on this point; perhaps it is to be covered in the proposed social media guidelines.
- Humor is a Tricky Business: Ain't that the truth. Hollis questions whether a young hire is able to understand the subtle nuances of humor, risking offense to your company's audience and ruining your brand image.
- You need to keep the keys: If you let a new grad set up your company's social accounts, make sure they use the company email address and share the passwords with you, lest these wayward jackals sneak off in the dead of night and leave your social platforms bereft of their dubious ministrations.
23 AND LOVING IT
Never one to pass up a chance to refute accepted orthodoxy, I think Hollis is playing a dangerous game when she equates youthfulness with uselessness. Here are just a few examples of past 23-year-olds who would make the short list of many an executive's social media marketing team:
- Alexander the Great: At 23, the then King of the Macedonians had already defeated the great power of the day, the King of the Persians, twice. In doing so, he was well on his way to conquering a large chunk of the known world. Aside from being a brilliant commander, he was a first class intellectual and rhetorician- after all, his personal tutor was Aristotle. For that alone, I'd let him manage my Twitter feed.
- Mozart: He composed his first symphony at 8; it's safe to assume that by 23, he was pretty accomplished. I might have him do something on the AV side of social...maybe lead up my company's social podcasting initiatives.
- F Scott Fitzgerald: The great American novelist penned his first work, "This Side of Paradise" at 23. I'd probably let him craft my auto-posts.
- Steve Jobs: Baby-boomer media-type fav, co-founder of Apple, and no sloucher, Jobs had helped create a cutting-edge computer firm and was worth a cool million by the time he turned 23. I think it's fair to say that he proved his tech marketing chops - a must have for any social media maven.
- Mark Zuckerberg: (I couldn't resist) It's possible I wouldn't even be writing this blog had good ol' Zuck not pilfered the Winklevoss twins and started Facebook. At 23, Forbes listed Facebook's net worth at over $1 billion. Admittedly, just because he had a hand in inventing the world's largest social media network doesn't mean he'd be any good as a social media manager. Throw in his education in Classics and genius IQ, however, and I'd probably take my chances on the guy (but strictly as a probationary intern).
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
The Inc. post has drawn over 16,000 social shares and scores of user comments since its August 10th publishing date. Significantly, almost every one of the user comments left on the post are from Gen Y-ers, and highly negative toward Mrs. Thomases' thesis.
Sifting through the comments, I begin to form an understanding of the fundamental gulf in perspective between Baby Boomers and Gen Yers (or perhaps more accurately, pre-Millennials and Millennials), at least with respect to social media.
I have a suspicion that a large portion of the 16,000 social share buttons clicked were from disgruntled Baby Boomers in semi-silent recognition of a person who finally gave voice to their growing annoyance with the new "Digital Class." Technologies such as the Internet and Social Media have upset many long-held business orthodoxies in a brief space of time, causing a number of abrupt disruptions that are bound to breed a healthy dose of resentment and anxiety among those being disrupted.
As is often the case, the disruptors are oftentimes ignorant of the disruption they are causing. Many of the comments from Gen Yers were a mix of offense, incredulity, anger, and confusion. Taken together, they seemed to say, "Why is she attacking us?" What did we do to deserve this?" "How dare she say this about us?" and most importantly, "This chick is crazy."
Hollis Thomases (by my calculation on the Gen X/Baby Boomer cusp, it should be noted) wrote a piece that reflects the heightening anxiety held by many aging businessmen and women about an uncertain future best characterized as "growing digital chaos."
The Millennials have grown up with this chaos; it's part of their DNA. Try as I might, I will never have the organic understanding of digital that my younger colleagues possess; they in turn will say the same of my even younger sons.
If I could sum up the pre-millennial attitude toward digital/tech in general, and social media specifically, it would be: "Why do I need to know this? Why should I care?"
Whereas the attitude of most Millennials and their younger cohorts would be: "Why don't you get this?" "Why don't you care?"
Here's the problem. In the business world at present, the pre-Millennials enjoy the lion's share of the position, money, and power. The Millennials, on the other hand, have two powerful allies on their side: technology and time.
Both groups need each other for different reasons, but are having trouble understanding each other's perspectives and motivations.
I don't know how this generational clash of cultures is going to play out, but one thing's for certain: the digital "cold war" developing in its wake will play a large role in shaping the future of social media and the Internet.