You Can’t Become a Digital Native

2 Aug

Or, Who Owns the Social Media Jobs?

Risk by avyfain

Photo credit to anyfain

Recently, I wrote about Facebook’s generation clash, in which teens are abandoning Facebook as their parents embrace it.  But, there’s another generation clash going on in social media, too; this one taking place in the professional world of digital marketing.

Last week, Cathryn Sloane, a student at the University of Iowa, wrote “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.”  She argued that social media was created by our generation, for our generation, and that we’ve grown up with it.  That, by virtue of being digital natives, the younger generation has an innate understanding of social media that our elders cannot grasp.

No Hiring by

Photo credit to

She’s frustrated by seeing job postings asking for years of experience in social media and, frankly, so am I.  I’ve seen companies asking for 15 years experience in social media.  But here’s the thing: no one has 15 years experience in social media because it hasn’t existed for that long.  That is, unless you take the broadest possible definition and include things like Geocities or MMORPGs.  And, I highly doubt that anyone’s listing “Dungeon Master” on their resume.  (Sadly, mine does not include a reference to my, long defunct, Geocities Spice Girls fan page.)

Realistically, I understand that the people who post jobs with these impossible expectations don’t really mean 15 years social media experience – they mean “please be a real grown-up, not just a kid who’s ‘really good at Facebook.’”  The “grown-ups” of social media marketing responded to Cathryn by making just that claim, saying that it’s their years of experience and broad understanding of marketing tactics that make them better suited for these positions than Twitter-happy fresh-faced grads.

Follow Your Cancelled Dream by Chris Devers

Photo credit to Chris Devers

Meta social media at its best, the debate spread like wildfire.  Most reactions to Cathryn’s article were strongly negative, but I see her point.  It’s an economic one.  It’s the same way that my generation looks at the Baby Boomers and rolls our eyes, knowing that we’ll never see the money that we pay into Social Security because they’ll consume it all.  At its core, Cathryn’s argument is this: on a broad scale, our generation has suffered from a failure to launch, caused by an economic situation that was not of our making.  We need jobs, and these ones should, rightfully, be ours.

While the forty-somethings of social media responded to Cathryn with scorn, they’re the same ones waiting for the Baby Boomers to retire so they can slide into the CMO and VP spots that they’ve long been coveting.  If the economy were in better shape, people with 15 years experience wouldn’t give a second glance to many social media positions.  But it’s not, and they do, and that makes it really hard for kids to get a foot in the door.

Bad Translation by nivlek_est

Photo credit to nivlek_est

While I totally understand the economic battle lines that are being drawn, I’m not sure about Cathryn’s claim that we really are better at social media.  Initially, I dismiss it out of hand; but then I compare it to another type of nativeness: language.  If you’re not a native speaker or don’t learn a language at a very early age, odds are that you’ll have an accent.  And maybe that’s the issue – that people who aren’t digital natives… they have a digital accent.  That you can hear the analog in their posts.  You know that they’re working to translate from their native, paper language to the one of the web.

I’m not sure if that comparison holds up, but it’s been kicking around in my head for a few days.  So, what do you think?

Questions of the day: Are you a digital native or an immigrant?  Do you think there’s such a thing as a web accent?  And, to Cathryn’s original point, who should the social media jobs go to?

Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact or connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me, Maggie O’Toole, an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam

9 Responses to “You Can’t Become a Digital Native”

  1. monolithbooks August 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    I think the analogy that you make to not speaking the native language is accurate. I also think that when dealing with some who is responsible for marketing on social media they should be someone with a full understanding of the capabilities of the media. Just like Radio is not just people reading ads from a newspaper and TV is not just radio with pictures. Social media has it’s own abilities and limitations and if you are going to work with it you need to know them backwards and forwards. As to the add for the person with 15 years of social media experience, that just sounds like someone with too much money and not enough brains. It reminds me of the story of the President of a Web Data-Mining company who was frustrated by no one doing anything during a blackout, the head of IT told him there was nothing to do with out the computers, and he responded “What did we do before computers?”

    • Maggie O'Toole August 4, 2012 at 6:34 am #

      Haha love that story. My job is probably 99% on the computer, so she. We have black puts at work, I organize my desk for about a half hour before wander aimlessly.

      Also, I really hadn’t given too much thought to social media as its own medium. But, the medium is the message and all that, so I probably should.

  2. lostintheservice August 3, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    I agree with your premise, and have often thought the same things – though less eloquently than you worded them – about social media and how it relates to generational gaps. While I don’t agree that someone with 15 years of experience would be able to bring the same things to the table as a digital native, those with more experience do have certain advantage. I would argue that the best candidates for social media positions would have at least 5 years experience with social media behind the scenes… To carry on with your analogy, just because I’m a native English speaker does not make me qualified to teach English to anyone. I think that a recent graduate seeking a social media position would be most successful as part of a team that has more experience, but is receptive to trying new approaches. You can’t get the fresh, realistic approach from anyone other than a digital native, however, by virtue of his/her youth, that candidate is unlikely to have a complete toolbox necessary to do the job alone.

    Something else to think about… Just because I’m a digital native does not mean that I am fluent in all of the internet dialects. I stutter on Twitter, I stumble on Tumblr, and I haven’t even ventured into Digg or Reddit or 4chan. The social media sites I use regularly are limited to Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and WordPress. I don’t even have an iPhone! Not all digital natives are equally as versed in the language of social media.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 4, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Very good analogy about teaching! I’m currently reading “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and, in it, the characters have this argument about whether you have to be a native speaker of a language to be able to teach it. They end up saying that a non-native can teach the basics to other non-natives, but shouldn’t try to teach other natives. Wonder if the same rules apply…

      Also, yes, there definitely are Internet dialects. At work, I prewrite social media posts of our team members to post on their accounts. I always send them the same message, slightly tweaked for FB, Twitt, and LinkedIn. They probably think I’m crazy, but I’m trying to avoid it looking like they’re speaking in the wrong dialect. Using hashtags on LinkedIn definitely makes is look like you’ve got a Twitter accent

  3. Jon Plsek August 3, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Ooo! That’s it exactly! Whenever marketing pretends to be a status or a tweet or a conversation you can spot it right away. They know all the words but they don’t quite know how to use them. They always have that accent. Love it!

    • Maggie O'Toole August 4, 2012 at 6:42 am #

      As someone who’s paid to tweet about something I don’t fully understand (financial services),I wonder how. Uh I come off sounding like that. I may be fluent in social media, but no in taxes.

  4. minnesotatransplant August 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I appreciate your perspective, and I wanted you to know I was talking about you!

  5. John Baker August 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Ah, an interesting question — thanks? I have been online for over forty years. I was sending email back in the 70’s and, at my first real job in the 80’s, I encountered what would now be called online communities. We didn’t have slick graphics or pop-ups but all the essential ideas were present. The new things are scale, obviously there are much larger numbers of people involved, and exhibitionism. Moderns typically heap scorn on quaint notions of privacy and implore old farts, like myself, to get over it. I’ve always understood the “insecure” nature of computer communications and have never written a single email, text message, or blog post that I wouldn’t mind having read in court. I suspect many of your generation will come to grief when you start running for political office.

    I agree with your complaints about HR’s silly requirements. Forget about HR. It’s a largely farmed out cost center in most companies. Feel free to construct whatever identity best serves your interests in bypassing these cretins because once you are through they have close to zero influence in most companies.

    Your larger issue of inter-generational conflict is dead on. I have children, now in their twenties, that are learning first hand just how brutal things are going to be for them. If I was their age I would seriously considering leaving the country rather than pay a lifetime of earning deductions into black holes like social security that are already bankrupt and will have a value close to zero when you need it. As a boomer I never bought into such nonsense and actually spent large parts of my working life out of the US. I fully expect 401ks and other government managed, let the peons keep some of their money, programs to be severely discounted and taxed away to pay for our diaper changes. Alas my exposure is minimal because my trust in third parties was always low. If you don’t control it you cannot trust it.

    I’d suggest suffocating boomers with their pillows at the first available opportunity. God knows many of my peers deserve it.

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