Digital Native, Digitally Naive?

Say, for a moment, that you need to hire someone to lead your company’s nascent social media effort. Quick — picture what that individual looks like. Did an image of a young digital dude (or dudette) come to mind? If so, you’re likely making a mistake.

digital native vs digital immigrantYou’re not alone, the majority of the hiring decision-makers (HR talent recruiters and hiring managers alike) whom I’ve come across, with little personal understanding of social media themselves, believe that this type of job is best filled by a digital native — one for whom the Web and social media have been a part of their lives from early on.

Now, consider these job requirements that I read today on an actual position listing (identifying details altered):

  • Develop a comprehensive social media and community management strategy leveraging your background, experience and knowledge of social media trends and emerging technologies
  • Partner with individuals across the company (management, development and research) to strategize and educate the team on relevant social media techniques to drive adoption and increase thought leadership
  • Manage the day-to-day activities for Facebook, Twitter, Company Blog, LinkedIn and other social media sites
  • Research and write content for social media channels
  • Track and analyze performance of social media programs and activities to drive continuous improvement
  • Manage web and Facebook advertisements
  • Help direct a grassroots street team to promote the [product]
  • Interact with our PR team
  • Monitor trends in social media tools and applications and appropriately apply that knowledge to increasing the use of social media at the company

Did that change your thinking? Sounds like a great job with plenty of opportunity to create strategy, implement tactics and lead the social media initiative for this company for years to come, right?

In fact, this is a great spot for someone like me, a social media professional paid to curate communities, engage with customers, build brands,  develop brand ambassadors and promote products via social media as a career (in my case since 1997).  So why didn’t I immediately submit my application and resume? Because of this next line: Career Level: Early Career (1+ yrs experience) 

Whoa, you want to trust this job — and the reputation of your company, its brand and products (the success of which is essential for the future survival of the company itself) — in the hands of an entry-level individual? Really?

The disconnect comes when companies fail to understand that digital natives lack the necessary business acumen and experience to actually get the job done. They instead believe they need to hire young because, you know, when it comes to social media ‘young people get it’.

That’s a fatal flaw that sets up both the individual hired and the company for failure. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to developing a digital roadmap or building consensus among varied internal stakeholders to insinuate social media throughout the enterprise (the long-term goal for success). And do not for a minute discount the institutional knowledge an experienced person brings to the table regarding what’s worked (and failed) in the past to better be able to recognize the next big thing.

If you want a leader; if you use  phrases like “create strategy”; “implement tactics”; “develop policy” or “lead the organization” as part of the job description, set yourself up for success: hire the digital immigrant —  a social media professional. 

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

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