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Working in Social Media at 27: Yes, I Am Over The Hill


I’m 27 years old, and that’s me pictured at right pouting. Why? Because according to Cathryn Sloane, I am too old to be a social media manager. In her post yesterday, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25,” Cathryn writes,

“You might argue that everyone, regardless of age, was along for the ride, or at least everyone under the age of 30. I’m not saying they weren’t, but we spent our adolescence growing up with social media. We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.”

Of course, outrage ensued. Nearly all of my social-media-savvy friends commented on this story on Facebook, with most linking to it and some even writing their own blog posts about it. On the New Media Expo Facebook page, there’s currently 50 comments on our share of this story…and counting.

In other words, people are not happy.

A New Understanding

Cathryn is right that every generation has defining events and overall themes. These events or themes shape the way you think. I would go even further and say that this is not age-related. When you belong to a certain group, you have experiences that shape the way you think. I’m from a rural area, so I’m going to think differently than someone from a large city. I’m female so I’m going to think differently than a male. I’m tall so I’m going to think differently than someone who is short.

I’m 27, so I’m going to think differently than someone who is 67.

These differences do not wholly define us, nor do they make us better or worse than someone else. But let’s not pretend that these differences aren’t there at all, and age definitely leads to a different way of thinking. We don’t always understand why someone older or younger than we are acts a certain way. This lack of understanding is not a problem unless we fail to acknowledge it.

In fact, I don’t like the term lack of understanding. I would instead say that with each generation, there is a new understanding of the world. Not better, just new. We need to be honest about that.

Generation Y has a new understanding of social media. When we dismiss this fact, we fail to see the whole picture.

How Generation Y is Different

Social media is nothing new. At the heart of it, marketing is marketing, whether you are doing it on Twitter or on in a print ad campaign. But when marketing to different age groups, you wouldn’t do it the same way. Think of an extreme case, like promoting a product to a 70-year-old grandparent versus a 7-year-old grandchild. If you use the same technique, you will probably fail because these people are at different points in life and want different things. But these people also want different things because of how and when they grow up. If you take that 70-year-old person and rewind until they are once again seven years old too, he’s probably going to respond to the same marketing differently than the 7-year-old from current times.

As the age gap narrows, these differences aren’t as stark, but they’re still there.

So a member of Generation Y is, in general, going to have different needs than a member of Generation X. In fact, studies have show that there are stark differences between Generation Y and other generations.

  • Less than half of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed during the summer of 2011. This is the smallest percentage since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment at such high rates during young adult years is a unique experience for this generation. (Stats source)
  • About 5.9 million Americans aged 25 to 34 lived with their parents as of 2012, according to the U.S. census. This is a whooping 25% increase from 2007. Studies also show that Generation Y adults are putting off marriage longer than their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts. Again, this “delay” of an independent life with family responsibilities is unique to this generation. (Stats source)
  • On average, 18-24 year olds send or receive about 109 text messages per day. This number drops to about 42 for 25-34 year old, and then drops even lower for Generation X and Baby Boomers (about 26 for 35-44 year olds, about 14 for 45-54 year olds and under 10 for older cell phone users). And keep in mind that this is just looking at cell phone users, not averaging in zeros for people who don’t have cell phones. So, one of the main ways Generation Y communications is not nearly as readily used by older generations. (Stas source)

These are of course just three examples of how Generation Y is different. Why does this matter when it comes to the age of social media managers? Because these differences aren’t learned and can’t be unlearned. They are natural and inherent. Many members of Generation Y don’t remember what it’s like to not have a cell phone in hand and they aren’t on the same life paths that members of older generations were on when they were leaving high school and college.

A Discussion, Not a Debate

I’m not afraid to admit that Cathryn is right: at 27, I’m already over the hill. How do I know this? Because whenever I’m visiting my family over holidays, I take the time to talk to my younger cousin, Katie (pictured at right), who is now 17 years old. Technically, we’re both members of Generation Y, but I find picking her brain is fascinating and enlightening.

Did you know that when her and her friends want to plan something special, they don’t send out evites? Okay, maybe not so surprising…but how about this: they usually don’t create events on Facebook either. It’s not for lack of checking Facebook. They’re just not into it for anything casual. They instead start a text message chain and invite people and track RSVPs that way.

Did you know they don’t have email? Part of the reason they definitely don’t do evites or any other party-planning that requires email is not because they see it as out-of-date. It’s because most of them do not have email addresses that they check with any level of frequency, just throw-away accounts they can use to sign up for stuff, but they never check.

Did you know that there’s an immense amount of social pressure to be “seen” with the right people online? If someone who’s not part of the “in” crowd in high school likes your Facebook status, your other friends will automatically NOT like your status unless a third person steps in and also likes the status? It’s seen as a social stigma if you and a single other undesirable person like the same status.

I’m not ashamed to say that I did not know any of that stuff until Katie told me – and I don’t understand it. I grew up liking evites and Facebook events. I grew up liking email. I grew up without social pressure online. I am different than she is. I wouldn’t know these things without a discussion because they don’t come naturally to me.

And that’s what we need: not a debate or all-out war over who understand social media better, but rather a discussion so we can education ourselves about how different age groups view social media differently.

Opening the Doors

When you write definitive and defensive posts about how your generation is better, you close the door to this discussion. Similarly, when you leave comments on said post that are patronizing, you close the door.

I think Cathryn’s post was poorly written and her argument was full of holes, yet every commenter who called her a child, claimed that she needs to grow up, or otherwise dismissed her opinions based on her age just proved her point that the older generation does not know how to effective communicate with the younger generation. We can’t respect your experience if you can’t respect our fresh point of view.

Where Cathryn ultimately fails in her piece is not in suggesting that companies need to consider hiring younger workers for social media management spots. I actually agree with her on that one to some degree. I do think that omitting younger people from this industry based on lack of professional experience is the wrong approach. Practical experience with social media should be worth as much as professional experience.

No, where I think she goes wrong is in asserting that there is nothing to be valued in professional experience at all. Being in the workplace, no matter what your job, teaches you valuable skills like team work, leadership, and organization. I know several people way past the age of 25 who do a lovely job as social media managers. What they lack in social media immersion they make up for in real-world education.

The solution is to open the doors to discussion in the world of social media. As a business owner, it’s important to hire people who “get” social media. This might translate to mean hiring a 60-year-old candidate who has been active online in a professional sense for several years and was a marketing professional for decades before that. Or it might translate to mean hiring a recent grad who has a passion for social media and understand your consumers. Better yet, it might translate to mean hiring a team comprised of people from several different backgrounds.

In any case, in the new media industry, we need to open the doors to discussion more often. Instead of talking about why we’re better and what we can teach one another, let’s talk about why we’re different and what we can learn.


  • lashaugh

    Hi Allison – thanks for this well written response to Cathryn’s post. 
    My biggest problem with her post wasn’t that she said anyone over 25 can’t be a social media manager (although I didn’t agree with that). What bothered me most was that she put out a random collection of her thoughts  with no facts to back up her assertions and expected people to treat it like a serious article.
    If she had included facts or acknowledged that professionalism is needed (even in social media) as you did, it would have been received better. Or at least opened the door for a conversation rather than defensive attacks.
    But, if her goal was simply to get her name out there, she definitely succeeded there! 🙂

    • allison_boyer

       @lashaugh I think that’s one of the things you learn with experience – the need to back up your opinions with statistics and real-life examples to write a successful op-ed. I certainly wasn’t taught that in school either, and I think it’s an area where I’ve improved through professional experience. So this perhaps proves a point that there is something to be gained from experience, even for people who grew up with Facebook.

  • danielmclark

    What do you think you’re DOING? Get back in bed, you’re supposed to be mending that broken hip from the fall… you old people are always falling and breaking hips and such. You’re supposed to be enjoying your retirement, not popping in with new articles, no mater how well thought-out they are.
    Didn’t you know 25 is the new 65?

  • ChrisMedley

    applause. A well-written, insightful and informative response! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • RebeccaSavastio

    The under 25 set thinks that they are very very brilliant, can multitask effectively, and are the most historically important generation ever. Unfortunately, they’ve been proven wrong on all counts (I guess they’re too busy being geniuses at social media to read the studies). Social media is a trifle. The vast majority of businesses never see any ROI from their social media efforts, and social media is just that- SOCIAL. Being great at being social doesn’t make someone intelligent or important. I wish the under 25 set would focus their attention on curing cancer or ending world hunger rather than coming up with ever more banal ways to “express” themselves like making fake virtual vintage photos and apps that track them everywhere they go. The truth is, they’re the most narcissistic “me me me, look at me” generation, and Cathryn Sloane’s article proves it. What good will it do anyone or society at large to have millions of young people who are fabulous at Tweeting and Facebooking if all they ever do is praise themselves for that very fact? Ms. Sloane should get off her high horse and put her writing skills to better use.

    • allison_boyer

       @RebeccaSavastio “The vast majority of businesses never see any ROI from their social media efforts” – I’m not sure about that one. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on that.
      I would be careful with negative generalization without stats to back them up. For example, about 50% of Instagram users are 35+ years old.

      • RebeccaSavastio

         Yes, of course there have been studies done on it and it is a well-known fact. Many people even say “there’s no such thing as ROI in social media”
        The studies I have looked at show that ROI from social media is very difficult to measure and that most businesses do not even attempt to measure it, believing that its purpose is simply to build social relationships, therefore, the majority of businesses do not see ROI from it. It’s really not that difficult to Google this, you know.
        What did I say about Instagram other than it is a trifle? I didn’t make any claim on the age of its users, did I? I really don’t care how old Instagrams users are, nor does the age of its users have any bearing on its helpfulness to society at large.

        • danielmclark

           @RebeccaSavastio  @allison_boyer There’s a certain level of irony when someone posts a rant that points out how studies aren’t being paid attention to but opens the rant with a bunch of insults levied at an entire generation of people. I’m pretty certain studies will show that not everyone in the “under 25 set” “thinks that they are very very brilliant, can multitask effectively, and are the most historically important generation ever” or that they are “the most narcissistic “me me me, look at me” generation”.
          You don’t prove your point by denigrating an entire generation of people.

        • danielmclark

           @RebeccaSavastio  @allison_boyer Oh, and “It’s really not that difficult to Google this, you know.” is not a valid response when someone challenges a statement that you’ve made. The valid response is to say, “here’s why I said what I did, I got the information from <this source>”. Telling someone to do the work to prove your premise is lazy and insulting, presuming you already have the proof (which you claim to) and can simply present it yourself.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           Here you can see results of a social media study. You’ll note that only 26% of social media marketers themselves cite “sales” as a benefit (that means 74% do not see an increase in sales). And these results are from the social media MARKETERS, not even from business owners: http://www.marketingcharts.com/direct/marketers-lack-standard-social-media-roi-metric-20834/

        • allison_boyer

           @RebeccaSavastio I would certainly like to read these studies. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying that I haven’t read them and I’d really like to. All of the studies I can find seem to indicate that although ROI might be hard to measure, companies are doing it.
          For example, in this study: http://www.splashmedia.com/resources/blog/social-media-study-roi-of-social-media/, “58% of marketers using social media for more 3 years report it has increased their sales.”
          Another example, as reported by Forbes: “The overall average social media ROI reported by CMOs who are measuring it is a whopping 95 percent.” (Read the whole article here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaarthur/2011/05/17/study-marketers-reporting-social-media-roi-of-100-200-even-1000-percent/)
          There are also some really interesting case studies about Social Media ROI here: http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/07/16/the-roi-of-social-media-10-case-studies/
          My point about Instagram was that if you’re going to make the assertion that the under 25 crowd should stop wasting their time on it, than you should realize that most of its users are not under 25. On a post about age and generational differences, this matters.

        • allison_boyer

           @RebeccaSavastio I think there’s a difference between return on investment and direct sales. “Return” can be things other than money that eventually leads to money – brand awareness (which leads to future customers), loyalty (which leads to repeat purchases), better product development (which leads to future sales), etc.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           @danielmclark  @allison_boyer
           Since you seem rather incapable of Googling and/or researching to find information on your own, I can point you in the direction of a great book on this subject, which cites many studies- “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerline. In addition, there are many, many studies available on multitasking, including studies which prove that yes, indeed, students think they’re great at it, when, in fact, they are not. All you have to do is Google “mutlitasking studies” to read all about it. And in reference to “denigrating an entire generation”, what exactly do you think Ms. Sloane did in her article? Unfortunately for her and her defenders, I have actually studied this issue rather extensively, and am able to point to books and studies which prove my point.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           @danielmclark  @allison_boyer
           As you can see, Mark, I posted a study for Allison below.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           Allison, the creators of instagram are in their 20’s. Did I not say I wished that the under 25 set would spend time finding cures for cancer and ending world hunger rather than coming up with things like Instagram?

        • debng

          Stepping in with my Community Director hat – please keep it to respectful disagreement. Personal attacks on the BlogWorld/NMX blog will be removed.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           The issue with these studies is that the majority of them seem to be funded by social media companies. Here is one recent one from Europe, which states that only 10% of businesses measure ROI results: http://www.episerver.com/About-Us/Press-Room/Press-Releases/Only-10-of-UK-businesses-measure-social-media-ROI/

        • RebeccaSavastio

           I apologize. I was deeply offended by Ms. Sloane’s article, and wasn’t even expecting a response to my comment. I was caught off guard.

        • danielmclark

           @RebeccaSavastio  @allison_boyer Who said anyone was incapable of using Google? My point was that it is lazy and insulting to tell someone to use Google to verify the information that *you are presenting* when you should have simply provided a link to back you up in the first place.
          Lastly, as incensed as you are with Ms. Sloane for the content and tone of her article, I’m surprised that you would adopt that same tone, make your own baseless generalizations about her generation that she was making about those older than her, and then justify it with the “but she did it first” argument. If you’re wondering why a couple of people here are put off by your post, that’s why. You are not presenting yourself well, to say the least – “get off her high horse and put her writing skills to better use”, indeed.

        • allison_boyer

           @RebeccaSavastio  @debng We try to be part of every conversation and reply to all valid comments here on the NMX blog. That’s what my post was about, after all. If we’re not actually having discussions where we learn from one another, what’s the point?

        • RebeccaSavastio

           @danielmclark  @allison_boyer
           Daniel, I posted two studies for Allison for the purpose of our discussion. Additionally, here are just a couple of studies on multitasking:
          There are many more available. My response to Ms. Sloane’s post expressed my frustration upon reading it. When someone posts an incindiary article, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an incindiary response. I apologize for any offense caused.

        • RebeccaSavastio

           @danielmclark  @allison_boyer
           Sorry, that should say “incendiary”

        • danielmclark

           @RebeccaSavastio  @allison_boyer Oh, please no… don’t apologize. We’re just talking here, that’s all. We use a few heated words, but we’re cool like Fonzie.
          It takes a lot to offend me 😉

        • allison_boyer

           @danielmclark  Hahah, I read “cool like Fozzie” and was completely confused. Waka Waka.

  • JTDabbagian

    I agree that older generations need to be more receptive to younger people, but I think Sloan was a bit out of line with her post; she arrogantly assumed that only younger people would understand social media. 

    • allison_boyer

       @JTDabbagian I definitely agree with that. She’s not necessarily the person I want representing my generation, even if I do agree with some of her points.

    • debng

       @JTDabbagian I don’t think older people aren’t receptive of younger people necessarily. As one of the older people on our team I can tell you that I’m inspired and motivated by the people i work with who are much younger than me. And I think many people from my generation are happy to recognize talent and brilliance in those younger than us. I’ll even go as far as to say we know there are people under 30 who can handle a brand’s social media account – but it’s dependent on experience, skill and ,yes, maturity.
      But the generalization that someone out of college should be able to waltz in to a brand and land a social media management position is just off on so many levels. A management position is one that’s earned not demanded, and it comes with experience.

  • netcrit

    @fondalo am teaching #socialmedia at 47 … So over the hill I came back around from underground and bit some from below.

  • jshatswell

    @fondalo this is a good article

  • DarrylSEllrott

    Ah, lassie.  You’re a baby, still.  I’m getting into social media @ age 45!

  • arthisoftseo

    I was looking for something like this. Thank you.

  • Arth ISoft

    I was looking for something like this. Thank you.

  • JudyHelfand

    Hi…I have been more or less following this discussion. @allison_boyer I appreciate your post and also  @debng post…for the record I am almost 63! I would have chimed in earlier, but I have been too busy helping my clients with their SMO!  Somewhere in the comments here, there was mention of the existence or lack of same of ROI and social media. The best post I have read about ROI and social media was published last December on Copyblogger. Here is a link. A lot of good food for thought…
    Thanks for keeping the discussion open.

  • katzni

    Interesting about your cousin Alli! I think there are serious gaps in different age groups – as my daughter and all her friends DO use email. And DO use eVite! I’m sure some of it is in what they are taught by us – and what their friends have. 
    I do spend a lot of time working with my daughter on the peer pressure/real-time popularity gauge of social media. A LOT of time. Because that’s my biggest fear.

  • joostharmsen

    i don’t think that age is important, social media work for everyone! my dad (62) uses serveral social media websites and i have to say he’s pretty good at it! :)) tnx and keep up the good work!

  • eve gelman

    Wow, did a post from this young college grad hit a sensitive and insecure nerve in social media professionals! In the past few weeks, her post received more than 600 comments and thousands of tweets, mostly negative, reflecting the growing chasm between the generations in the social media world.

    Time to get over it, all of you naysayers from Millennials to Baby Boomers. The world doesn’t revolve around you!

    As someone well over 25 who manages both public relations and social media for my company, I am grateful that Cathryn’s post started this hot button discussion.

    This is a wake-up call for social media managers everywhere. We should be talking about this issue openly–and honestly examining our attitudes–in every workplace, institution and organization, not just to clear the air with Kumbaya moments but because the synergy of the experiences of all ages can only benefit the work we do.

    Although I don’t agree with Cathryn’s post, I respect her opinion and have learned a great deal from this controversy. After reading some of the nastier comments, I found myself not only feeling empathy for this young woman but for all of the younger people who grimaced when they read the mean spirited stereotypes about their generation.

    I remember the thrill I experienced as a 23-year-old when a senior manager accepted my ideas and complimented my work. I carry this memory with me when I work with and mentor younger pros. I respect their opinions and often ask for their feedback. As a manager now, I see it as my responsibility to provide leadership and create an environment for all of us to learn together and grow our social media skills to achieve our goals. Because that’s what it’s all about, no matter how old we are and how many years we’ve been working in social media.

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