Don’t be Too Hard on Sloane. We Were All Like Her Once

By Jason Menard

I know exactly who Cathryn Sloane is, even though I’ve never met her. I know exactly what she thinks, why she thinks it, and what her strengths are. But unlike Cathryn Sloane, I also know what her weaknesses are.

The reason why? Because I once was Cathryn Sloane.

Ms. Sloane posted a piece in the Nextgen Journal titled, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25.” Her argument, in summary, is that because people in this demographic grew up with social media they natively understand how to best use it.

“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,” Sloan writes. “No one else will ever be able to have as clean an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.”

It would be easy to pick holes in this argument for so many reasons, but perhaps the truth of the matter is that her “We know better than anyone because we grew up with this” argument is a perfect representation this social-media generation.

They honestly believe they’re the best and the brightest because everything they’ve done has been treated like a revelation. That belief, combined with the natural arrogance of youth, is a dangerous mix.

Those of us over 30 remember a time when our weekend exploits weren’t published on Facebook; we remember when our every thought, action, and experience was kept to ourselves or shared with a few friends — not posted in 140 characters or less. And, most importantly, we remember a time when recognition had to be earned through effort – instant gratification was the exception, not the rule.

Compliments, when received, meant something. And rarely did we go fishing for them. Now, teenagers post semi-inappropriate bathroom-mirror shots, just to receive the inevitable stream of affirmations. This culture of positivity has its good points, but when all you hear about is how great you are, it makes it tough to put things in perspective.

And that’s from whence Sloane’s piece comes. Of course she thinks that 25-and-unders are the best because they’ve spent their lives (and, in many cases, so have their parents) telling each other how great they are.

In her closing statement, she says, “… sixth-graders… know nothing other than timeline… adults in their 40’s [sic] who are tweeting with their iPhone apps have no idea that the old way to do it was by texting 40404… The mere fact that my generation has been up close and personal with all these developments over the years should make clear enough that we are the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come.”

One would think of the natural extension of that argument. There are those of us who were around when the Internet first started kicking off. We remember when Google was a library; when Facebook and Twitter was a message board or an IRC. We remember newspapers, typewriters, pens, and paper.

And we should also remember when we were just as arrogant.

I remember my first post-university job. I knew it all. I was fresh from being the editor-in-chief of Canada’s only daily student newspaper. I was the future of writing and I was going to revolutionize communications.

I also remember that I very quickly found out what I didn’t know. Which was a lot.

If anything, the best thing I got out of school was the ability to learn to learn. Education wasn’t about the right answer – it was about the process it took to find the right answer. It was the search, the process, and the hunt for new and better ways to do it.

Our early Web sites may have been rudimentary, but we learned what worked. We did SEO before SEO was a thing, because through trial and error we figured out what worked – and we applied old-school thinking to a new world. I learned how to lay out a newspaper and a magazine, where to place photos (and which direction they should be facing), and how to flow articles – all of which became important as the Web and social networking grew.

Most importantly, we learned not to believe the here and now is the be all and end all. We had our world-changers and saw them change; we experienced our revelations and learned that they weren’t so revolutionary. And through it all we learned that the most important thing to learn is how to use these items as part of a greater, overall strategy.

Social media is a wonderful tool – but it’s just one tool in a toolbox. It’s great if you’re looking to engage a specific demographic, but what about your other customers, clients, or markets? In business and in media, your goal is to reach as many people as possible – not just to pick and choose who to reach based upon the one tool you know best.

We all believed we knew it all when we started our careers, which is why I can’t fault Ms. Sloane for her unintended arrogance. And when you grow up believing that social media is the entire world, as opposed to just a small part of it, it’s easy to see how the seed for that belief can be allowed to bloom.

My ideal social media manager has no defined age. The only thing that matters to me is that person’s experience – the ability to effectively use all the tools at his or her disposal and to learn from the lessons taught in the past.

Growing up with a tool doesn’t mean you know how to use it. The key to any effective communication is in delivering the right message to the right person in the right way – and that takes experience.

Most of us look back at our youth and laugh at how certain we were about… well, everything. As we age, we learn how much we don’t know – and the most effective of us tend to search out answers and improve with age.

Don’t be to hard on Ms. Sloane. We were all her once. We just didn’t blog it.

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