How Old is the Perfect Social Media Expert?

How Old is the Perfect Social Media Expert?

baby social media expert computer 300x199 - How Old is the Perfect Social Media Expert?So, there I was. Listening in on a fascinating conversation online with one of the business world’s most well known thought-leaders, some of his most famous books on the shelf above my desk as I soaked in his words coming through the speakers of my computer. His wisdom and perspective on the importance of respecting and empowering one’s employees and customers were inspiring. Most of his advice wasn’t new, yet being reminded of what I’d forgotten to focus on can be immensely helpful.

His talk was hitting all the right notes, exceeding my expectations, when he began to discuss the need for transparency for corporate executives and the critical opportunity, and must-have piece of their communication strategy, social media now represents for everyone in the C-suite. (Having come from a corporate management background myself, he definitely had my attention now!) And then he said it.

“If you don’t understand social media, find a social media expert. Get someone in their twenties, or even your grandson, to teach you. They’re all social media experts today.”

Really? Did he just say that? Oh, yes he did, and I wasn’t the only one listening online to take notice.

This really isn’t about this one guy. I’m not even going to name him, because he’s not the point. The point is that I’ve heard the same thing from many people, young and old. It represents a real misunderstanding of what it takes to effectively incorporate social media into one’s online presence, whether it’s for professional, branding, political, marketing, customer service or other purposes. Frequent and persistent clicking does not make anyone a social media expert.

Insert Statistics Here (or not)

I could easily link to all sorts of statistics and studies which show the demographic breakdown of who is using social media the most, who grew up with it, who’s adopting it later in life and on and on and on. I’ll go out on a limb and submit for your consideration that no one from the Baby Boomer generation used social media online as a child, that many under the age of 30 (or so) used computers early in life and the younger ones in that group were texting, Facebooking, and LOLing while still in elementary school. We don’t need numbers to prove this to be true. It just is; no judgement, no prejudice, it just is.

Doing It Often vs. Doing It Well

Do you know any really bad drivers? You know, the ones who roll through stop signs, drive too fast and can’t seem to stay in their own lane while barreling down the highway? You may even love them, but you don’t feel comfortable sliding into the passenger seat when they’re driving. They drive often and have driven for years, but does that mean they drive well? Would this be the person you’d trust to teach a new driver? How would you feel if the name of your company was emblazoned on the side of that car for all to see?

If someone uses Facebook often and has used it for years, does that mean they’re doing it well?  If that person has grown up posting updates and photos to Facebook for much of their life, would this person be the one you’d trust to teach an executive how best to utilize social media for business purposes? I’m hoping your answer is either No or Hell no.

If you don’t want someone who knows the mechanics of operating a car, but doesn’t respect the rules of road, to drive your car, why would you give them the keys to drive your brand?

Experience, Perspective and Skills

Forget age and focus on finding the right person to help you. Success in leveraging social media requires many things beyond simply having grown up online.

Here are just a few of the key things I’d suggest you consider in your quest for the perfect social media expert:

  • Voice – The ability to understand your brand voice, especially if this person is to be entrusted with the duty of interacting on the business’ behalf. Countless brands have suffered terribly when that voice was left in the hands of an intern or someone not adequately prepared.
  • Reputation – While it can feel as if everything happens in-the-moment online and then is swept away quickly in the flow of social media content, the fact is that most of it lives on forever in one form or another. Assume that anything shared online by you or about you will be archived and can be found again forever, often through a simple Google search. You will want your social media expert to fully grasp the long-term value of a reputation and how it can be damaged with a single click.
  • Culture and Etiquette – Each social networking platform has its own pace, culture, best practices and etiquette. Does your social media expert fully grasp the nuances of each, as well as the upside and downside of different approaches to sharing and engaging?
  • Objectives – Before embarking on your social media journey, aligning your use of these new tools with your overall business or professional objectives is key. Posting stuff for the sake of posting stuff probably isn’t going to achieve meaningful results (unless posting stuff happens to be your objective).
  • Learning – Everything about technology and the internet seems to change weekly. From privacy settings to the latest applications, analytics and gadgets, it takes time to stay on top of the latest news and best practices. Either invest ongoing energy in staying current or work with someone who does.
  • Mechanics – Of each of the items listed here, this may be the easiest to learn. This is all about how to post a tweet, how to set-up a page on Facebook, how to upload a video to YouTube. Don’t be intimidated by any of this and don’t select a social media expert because they are a master of mechanics, but are missing other critical skills.


The Right Age

What is the right age for the perfect social media expert? I have no idea.

The right social media expert for you will be defined by their skills, vision, experience and fit, not their age or generation. When you find someone who has what you need, work with them. Whether that person is 24 or 54, hire them. You’ll be glad you did.



Image courtesy of chimothy27

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  1. Barbara Saunders June 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this! I hear so much silliness about age and computers. That includes coworkers who use their age as an excuse not to be comfortable with computers. I remember one colleague complaining, “I never used a computer until I was 40.”

    I pointed out that blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – the tools she expected me to use for her while she stayed in her comfort zone – were not around until I was over 40!

    • Irene Koehler June 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm - Reply

      So true, Barbara. Age can be used an an excuse by multiple generations. Those who are open and motivated to learn can and will.

  2. Joseph Gier June 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    First, great piece I enjoyed the age thing is only a place mark. I think you nailed the “qualities” of a superb social media marketer with practiced expertise; as opposed to being an expert . We all, as human being, have the potential and the very qualities that your man possesses. These qualities are endemic, even necessary to most successful endeavors. They are simply leadership attributes in my mind, the strong ability to lead and the humility to follow and to continue to learn and adapt to conditions and the changing circumstances.
    The takeaway here is that your expert is ageless but possesses the attributes and is born in an age where he might be able flourish within the C suite as a full partner and foster adoption as part of his company’s culture rather than be a peripheral portion of a much smaller marketing and sales group or worse, a speaker striving to convince others of his message; no matter how articulate.

    Thank you for writing this. I really enjoy your work.

    • Irene Koehler June 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      The only reason I used the word “expert” is that this is the word the speaker used; otherwise, I try to avoid it at (nearly) all costs. Thanks much for chiming in, Joseph, and thanks for your kind words.

  3. Joseph Gier June 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    punctuation is our friend
    sorry about that awkward first sentence.

  4. Jennifer Blank June 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Hi Irene,

    Thanks for your post. I listened to that webinar as well, and although I thought there were many good points, I agree that one struck me as odd. Social media should be integrated into all of one’s business. As you stated, if you understand the goals and objectives, as well as vision for the company, then you will do well…no matter your age. It can take some time and experience to get to that point, though.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


    • Irene Koehler June 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Hey, Jenn. Good to know I wasn’t the only one taken aback by that one remark in an otherwise valuable talk. You’re right on the mark suggesting that social media should be integrated into the business.

  5. Alastair Goldfisher June 24, 2011 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Some good points. Most definitely my 14-yr-old son might be on the computer a lot, but he’s no expert, at least not yet. But computers and mobile phones and social media are all he’s ever known. He’ll one day know more than me.

    As for your last question, about “What is the right age for the perfect social media expert?” Well, hopefully, it is whatever age I am when journalism spits me out and I have to find a new career.

    • Irene Koehler June 24, 2011 at 10:12 am - Reply

      You’re right, Alastair. Your son is learning. He’s probably got the mechanics down cold and, if delving into the finer points of etiquette, reputation, community, etc. interests him, he’ll learn those aspects as well. My kid long ago knew more than me (in many areas) and I couldn’t be more proud.

  6. Shel Holtz June 24, 2011 at 9:48 am - Reply

    A great post, Irene.

    I guess this all comes down to semantics at some level. I’ve heard about a number of companies engaging in reverse mentoring, pairing younger (and lower-level) employees with older (and senior) executives to help them get the hang of social media. The thinking is that these younger employees can help the newcomer/older exec learn how to do a Facebook status update, upload a picture, like a page, and so on. Does this make the younger employees “experts?” Well, perhaps in the use of the tool, but certainly not in the strategizing or execution of a social media effort designed to achieve a business objective.

    I like the reverse mentoring idea if it’s applied to goals it can reasonably achieve. Expecting these same people to guide your company’s implementation of social media as a communication channel, though, is like expecting someone who reads a lot of magazines to become the editor of one.

    • Irene Koehler June 24, 2011 at 10:24 am - Reply

      Shel, I love the way your turn a phrase! The magazine editor is perfect. I just may have to borrow that one from time to time.

      I completely agree with your thoughts on the reverse mentoring strategy. Without specific objectives and guidelines, as you mention, this approach can work if the goal is to teach the older executives how to use Facebook the same way that the younger employee does. This strategy doesn’t necessarily make any sense, as their approach to messaging, privacy, etc. may be entirely different. This feels like a superficial program put in place without much thought by someone who “heard” that it was being done at another company and thought it sounded like a great idea.

  7. Danny Skarka June 24, 2011 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I teach social media to grad students. 20-somethings. I havent been 20-something for, oh, 20-something years.

    The students know the platforms exist. In a class of 15, all are on Facebook. Maybe 2 are on Twitter. And none of them use the platforms for more then “went to see Cars…”.

    Most are targets of marketing, not designers.

    • Irene Koehler June 24, 2011 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Now, there’s some math I can relate to, Danny. ๐Ÿ™‚ I speak frequently and have had similar findings when polling audiences of college and high school students.

  8. Gwen Gyldenege June 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Irene – I totally agree with your assessment. It’s not about age, it’s about environment, interest in the subject, and ability to translate it well for others. You are as good as you want to be at any topic regardless of your age or generation. I know many amazing social media folks who are baby boomers. I know lots of teens & early 20’s who don’t have a clue about social media and how to most efficiently and effectively use it. The “find your grandson” comment is probably an off the cuff statement that wasn’t given much thought. Great job at taking something that bothered you and turning it into a learning opportunity. Love the spark & conversation!

    • Irene Koehler June 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Well said, Gwen. It’s now about what triggered me to write the post, it’s about where we go from here.

  9. Theresa Dias June 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    My grandfather bought one of the first commercially available calculators. He also bought one of the earliest laptops. He always knew more about computers and the internet than we grandkids did. Like you said, those who are motivated to learn, will learn.

    • Irene Koehler June 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm - Reply

      Theresa, your grandfather sounds like someone who wanted to stay on the cutting edge and was always learning. An open mind and a passion for learning can be powerful assets in any field.

  10. Will Russell June 27, 2011 at 10:59 am - Reply

    Nice post Irene, I think you address an important point. One of the things I love about social media is that age is irrelevant. If you’re committed to learning and passionate about what you’re doing, you really can create your own success.
    Unlike many other jobs and industries, in social media everyone is genuinely starting on a level playing field – and where you go from there is completely up to you!

    • Irene Koehler June 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Well said, Will. We all have a lot to learn as these new tools continue to evolve.

  11. Mike DeSousa June 28, 2011 at 7:54 am - Reply

    Nice article, Irene – you’re preaching to the converted.

    Your readers may be interested in “Crush It!” a good Social Media book written in plain english by Gary Vaynerchuk, a non-techie: “Crush It!” along with his step-by-step 2 page Social Media Strategy Plan). I heard him speak & he was true to his Personal Brand: low-tech with not a single PowerPoint slide!

    As you know, any technical or how to questions can often be addressed via YouTube…with a little searching.

    Keep up the great writing!
    Career Social Mediaยฎ Blogger
    *articles in french can be read with Google Translate ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Irene Koehler June 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Mike. I’ve seen Gary speak several times. He’s always incredible.

  12. Judy Curtis June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Irene, what a great post. I’m enjoying the comments and metaphors that your readers have found, as well.

    Staying tuned to this channel!

    • Irene Koehler June 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Judy. Like many bloggers, I live for the comments. They always add immense value and create a conversation.

  13. Bret Simmons July 1, 2011 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Your expert was wrong about young folks being social media experts. I teach personal branding courses to undergraduate and MBA student and almost none of them know anything but how to goof around on Facebook. Twitter is a mystery and most have never heard of Foursquare. About 50% might already be on LinkedIn but have no idea how to use it.

    The social media expert is the one that preaches what they practice and practices what they preach.

  14. Mana September 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Well said Irene. And thank you so much for the G+ mention. :). I too have no idea what the perfect age for social media is… But yes, if you see someone good, and you’re hiring and they’re looking… grab them!

  15. Emily W October 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    I really think this post hits the nail on the head. As a student in the field of communications, I think it’s important to not put an age minimum or maximum on who should lead a company’s social media efforts. If a recent college graduate knows more about social media than a 40 year old with an MBA, then hire the young kid. But if a 50-something is the pro and the college grad is all talk, then hire the one with more knowledge. It’s all about what you know and now how old you are. And I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg would agree. Great post!!

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