Many companies have staffed their social media teams with Millennials, believing that members of younger generations who have grown up with social media platforms are in many cases better qualified to manage its use.

But is this a bad idea?

In a PR Week guest post, William Ward, director of education strategy at Hootsuite, suggests that Millennials "aren't the social gurus you think they are." They often suffer from "social ADD," "whimsically jump[ing] from Twitter to Instagram and then onto Snapchat."

They can struggle to understand brand voice and craft integrated campaigns that work well across social platforms. And they're prone to oversharing, or sharing inappropriately.

None of this, Ward says, means that Millennials aren't the "social generation."

But companies shouldn't assume that their seemingly innate abilities to use social platforms and identify meaningful social trends will translate to effective use of social media for marketing purposes.

Social media marketing isn't what you think it is

Ward's observations are particularly interesting in light of an AdAge op-ed piece by Mike Proulx, director of digital strategy at ad agency Hill Holliday, in which he declares, "social media marketing is now advertising."

Proulx explains:

[Social media is] largely a media planning and buying exercise – emphasizing viewed impressions. Brands must pay if they really want their message to be seen. It's the opposite of connecting or listening – it's once again broadcasting.

"Marketing on social networks today requires a shift in mindset – one that considers social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, as any other ad-supported media properties," he advises.

Measurement is important and brands shouldn't "get caught up in posting (and promoting) innocuous content because it's earning what feels like a lot of social currency. The art of creativity and the science of brand strategy shouldn't be tossed out the window just because you can now instantly publish."

If Proulx is right, and social media is just an advertising channel, the notion that youth is important to social media success is worth questioning even further.

After all, if social functions similarly to other ad channels, the application of brand strategy is crucial.

Younger employees, however, are more likely to lack brand strategy experience, leaving them unable to connect the dots and conceptualize how the social campaigns they create fit in to the bigger picture.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that there's no room for youth in social.

To the contrary. Identifying worthwhile new platforms and crafting content that is likely to resonate is of real importance and these are two areas where Millennials are able to greatly contribute.

But it's important to differentiate between the tactical and the strategic and consider that younger staffers may be better suited to the former and not the latter.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 April, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Lewis Bertolucci, Head of Social Media at Humana

Patricio, you just characterized an entire generation by their inability to create a strategy or 'connect the dots'. Millennials span into their 30's and to represent this group as you have, is offensive and short-sighted. I’d be like me saying Gen Xers are incapable of understanding social. Also, in the op-ed, it’s important to note that Social Media “Marketing” was characterized as becoming ad-driven, as opposed to the larger scope of Social Media and where Brands should focus thier efforts, in addition to social as an advertising medium.

Not sure I can draw the correlation between that article and what you’ve written here that includes zero factual information. If it were written more about recruiting the right talent and being wary of potential Millennial experience or skillset it may have been more easily digestible.

about 3 years ago

Duncan Wright

Duncan Wright, Director at BSA Marketing

As with all aspects of business, it is impossible to generalise on the basis of age. Whilst I can agree with William that creativity & brand strategy are still key in the age of social, I can't agree that this concept is only understood by people over the age of 30!

Speaking form experience, the energy and drive for our social media activity most definitely comes form the younger members of the team, and the understanding they have of the social media world is vital in developing successful campaigns. By working in a team with others who have a clear understanding of marketing and brand strategy, we are able to generate campaigns that are fresh whilst at the same time fully supporting the brand. Would I put an 18 year old in their first marketing role in charge of our social media activity without support and guidance? Absolutely not, but that's about experience not age!

Regarding his second point about Social Media being simply another form of advertising, I have to say I totally disagree. Our biggest successes in social media have been about engagement, and 2 way communication. Using social purely as an advertising medium is, I believe missing the point somewhat!

about 3 years ago

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

If you view social as just another chance to spend advertising dollars to get more interruption advertising in front of eyeballs, then inevitably the increased spend will lead to more pressure to prove ROI. Yes the end of viewing social as 'free' means it won't be given to the intern or the new graduate, but given as most ad agencies staff that manage millions of dollars of ad spend are often in their 20s, I don't think we will see social media moving to colleagues with grey hair (or 'no hair'). But it is good that finally people realise that social is not free - it never was if you consider the costs of listening tools, time to write and post, creating content to share. But if we move to thinking of social as just another 'ad network' brands are missing a great opportunity to make offers social by incorporating co-creation, tiered rewards, gamification and communal targets. In working with over 80 leading brands at Buyapowa, we have found these are the elements needed to make offers go viral. The key thing with social is that even if you pay to seed the offer, if you create social offers these encourage sharing and you won't be paying the social networks for each click.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

If you view social as just another chance to spend advertising dollars to get more interruption advertising in front of eyeballs, then inevitably the increased spend will lead to more pressure to prove ROI. Yes the end of viewing social as 'free' means it won't be given to the intern or the new graduate, but given as most ad agencies staff that manage millions of dollars of ad spend are often in their 20s, I don't think we will see social media moving to colleagues with grey hair (or 'no hair'). But it is good that finally people realise that social is not free - it never was if you consider the costs of listening tools, time to write and post, creating content to share. But if we move to thinking of social as just another 'ad network' brands are missing a great opportunity to make offers social by incorporating co-creation, tiered rewards, gamification and communal targets. In working with over 80 leading brands at Buyapowa, we have found these are the elements needed to make offers go viral. The key thing with social is that even if you pay to seed the offer, if you create social offers these encourage sharing and you won't be paying the social networks for each click.

about 3 years ago

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Mark Hawkins,

Fascinating discussion to be had here. Another key factor, particularly in small and medium sized businesses, is budget: how much they value and are willing to pay for this social media thing. Again, the approach could be largely influenced by the age of people holding the purse-strings, and their level of engagement. Widening generation gaps in the workplace today are creating all sorts of challenges.

about 3 years ago

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Michael Semer, Consultant at MichaelSemer.com

It's a matter of balance. Mike Proulx' observations (his post has already ascended to meme status in marketing circles) are right, fortunately or unfortunately, so coordination, strategy and brand voice matter more than ever in social channels. But let's not forget that younger personnel still have a crucial place if you're trying to engage younger audiences by demonstrating an authentic voice and persona.

about 3 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Lewis,

I wrote:

"Younger employees, however, are more likely to lack brand strategy experience, leaving them unable to connect the dots and conceptualize how the social campaigns they create fit in to the bigger picture."

Note the "more likely." This doesn't mean that there aren't exceptional people in their late 20s and early 30s who have great capabilities. But realistically, younger employees are less likely to have a ton of high-level strategy experience, especially if their experience has been limited to the day-to-day management of a particular channel, like social.

As for what social media is, the op-ed I referenced suggests that social media has effectively become an advertising channel. There's obviously debate to be had around this, but if you generally accept that it's getting more and more difficult for brands to reach consumers via social media unless they pay gatekeepers like Facebook, the idea of a "larger scope of social media" kind of takes on a "If a tree falls in the woods..." dynamic. It's great to think holistically and assume that there's an authentic aspect of social that doesn't require spend, but ultimately brands still need to prove that their efforts are reaching people and producing ROI.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

I think its less a question of age but experience handling large budgets and directing strategy. When social was erroneously seen as 'free' and too difficult to sell through, it was often palmed off to the most junior person around on the basis that their generation 'got social'. More senior staff would deal with areas where you spend large sums like PPC, SEO, Affiliates, Display, TV etc. By contrast the social person was lucky if he or she had a budget for a listening tool. As the 'paywalls' have come down on social it has become more apparent that it is not free, and hopefully people now accept that you can and should sell if you go about it in the right way. The fact that the social person will now have real budgets to play with rather than just responding to tweets should mean that more senior people will be involved. In some cases that might mean instead of a 21 year old being in charge of social, a 26 year old is not running the show.

about 3 years ago

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Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

'not running' = 'now running'!!

about 3 years ago

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