Thoughts and Notes

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Marketing to Millennials Doesn’t Require Hiring Them

In a 2012 Inc. Magazine article “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media“, Hollis Thomases makes the argument that a digital native isn’t necessarily the right pick for your social media work.  Having worked with Millennials in every marketing discipline over the last five years, there is a lot I recognize in her article. I don’t believe it to be a function of strictly age, but of work experience— it’s a simple numbers game.

I would like to add a couple of points, observed in the field.

• Expertise at operating a social media platform does not equate to expertise in the general marketing world.

Regardless of the tool used, social media only works when the operator knows how, why and when to tell a story.  A recent graduate may be incredibly skilled at creating and delivering content in his own voice—but that’s not the same as the brand voice.  Does she understand conversion, the target personae, and loyalty development?  Does he understand integrated marketing, and how the social is expected to play with the print is expected to overlay the promotional event is intended to drive traffic?  It isn’t enough to just “be rilly good at Instagram”.

• Enthusiasm ≠ strategy. 

(Now, this isn’t limited to Millennials by any means. There are surely plenty of wild-eyed Gen X’ers and Boomers out there who aren’t able to think strategically either.  But those people are also less likely to get handed an entire marketing stack and be told to run with it simply because no one else in the company understands it.)

Millennials are known for a lack of attention span.  The very technology that makes them good multi-taskers and social media adopters has also trained them for instant gratification and jumping from shiny object to shiny object.  This will never be a productive mindset when it comes to analyzing goals, developing strategies, implementing tactics, measuring results, and refining campaigns. What 25-year-old wants to wait around to see if Platform X is working, when Platform Y has just rolled out awesome new features? Patience is a virtue in the still-nascent world of social media strategy… and Millennials don’t always have it. They will someday; just not today.

• Conflicts with the C-suite

Have you ever put a 25-year-old and a 55-year-old at the same table and asked them to discuss social media? It would be humorous if it wasn’t so painfully awkward… and if real dollars weren’t at stake.

Just like the college grad and her grandmother don’t always speak the same language at the dinner table, the two generations don’t always connect well at the conference table. Whereas, the Gen X’er in the room can often bridge the gap, relating both “up and down” to the two different professional styles in the room.

All that said…

I have worked with some absolutely brilliant Millennials (ones who have probably already texted me to berate me for this post). Age doesn’t define their professionalism, and they have life and work experience on par with older and more senior colleagues… with the performance to prove it. If you want to find and hire one of these wunderkind, call me and I’ll make an introduction.

And of course similarly, I have worked with Boomers who aren’t confused stoic Luddites, refusing to grasp the technological shifts of today’s marketing world. There are always exceptions to these generational stereotypes.

But overall, I maintain my agreement with Hollis Thomases: it’s one thing to put a Millennial in an entry-level content creator role, or a closely-supervised community manager position. It’s another to hand over all the digital keys to your brand’s client-facing marketing, and just hope for the best. Hire for experience, demonstrated outcomes, and general management ability; never just assume that a young person with a dozen social media accounts is going to meet your needs.

Always use the right tool at the right time, whether it’s platforms or people.

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