The Gen X social media talent gap–and what it means for corporate America

Fri, Mar 8, 2013

HAPPO, PR

I’ve noticd an alarming trend lately–there seems to be significant amount of good YOUNG social media talent (22-30 year-olds), but very little strong social/digital talent between the ages of 30-45.

Talent

Good news for me, I guess–I’m 40 and fall right in the Gen X sweet spot. I have 18-plus years of experience in the corporate and agency worlds in marketing and communications. And 4-5 years experience with social/digital (not a ton, but enough considering the discipline hasn’t been around that long). Only problem is, I’m not looking for a corporate or agency job :)

But, what I continue to see if a lack of talent at the mid- to senior-levels in the social/digital arenas.

Why do I say this? I get emails from friends/colleagues around Minneapolis/St. Paul and they’re all looking for the same person. That mid- to senior-level digital/social media counselor/director with deep experience in marketing and some experience in digital/social.

Except they don’t exist–at least not in big numbers.

And that has huge consequences for corporate America. Here’s why:

Kids may be leading your social media work

I’m not saying this as a blanket statement, because obviously it’s not true across the board. But, more often times than not, the agency teams I’ve seen pulled together by big and small agencies alike are built with junior-level talent. Nothing wrong with that–and I’m not judging these younger pros. In many cases, these junior-level folks are smart as all get out. But, they are still kids with a handful of years of experience in many cases. They simply lack experience. So, you just have to know what you’re getting into–and what you’re paying for.

A lack of social strategic thinking

Listen, I’m not saying the junior-level folks are incapable of strategic thought. Like I said, they’re smart as hell in some cases. But, they’re also inexperienced. I mean, it is what it is, right? We were ALL inexperienced at one point. And that has a downside. We need more mid- to senior-level folks who understand business and marketing strategy and can integrate digital strategy seamlessly. As I think about all the requests I’ve received locally lately, I can honestly say there just aren’t that many people around (that aren’t happily employed) who can do that in the 30-45 year-old age range. And this, in a market (MSP), where we pride ourselves on creative and digital talent. If that’s the case here, what’s the pipeline look like in St. Louis, or Denver, or Cleveland (no offense to those markets)?

 

The wrong people in the wrong roles

When companies can’t find ideal fits for these senior social/digital roles, they turn to the next best thing–people with *some* of the skills, but not all. And right now, that’s the only option they have because of this talent hole. The long-term effect–you get people in senior-level roles within organizations that have no business being in those roles. This surely isn’t the first time this has happened in modern history, but I’m seeing a need for this senior social/digital role. And, to be frank, the supply just isn’t keeping up with the demand.

What do you think? Is there really a significant talent hole for digital marketing/PR talent in the 30-45 year-old age range? Or, am I just making that up? And, does that hole have consequences for corporate America? Would love everyone’s thoughts on this one…

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89 comments
KirkHazlett
KirkHazlett

Some good questions in this post, @arikhanson , but I also have to agree with what @ValerieSimon says. Social media, although it has been with us for what seems like forever, is still an evolving piece of the total planning process. Those of us who are have been around longer (my students say "old"; I say "experienced") are still to some extent wrapping our collective heads around effective incorporation of social media into our corporate/client planning processes. While the Gen-Xers want things to move more quickly, we (Boomers) are still, to a great extent, in the driver's seat. As we move on to greener retirement pastures, the younger, more social media savvy pros will step in and step up. I believe that is when you will start seeing more calls for senior, "experienced" social media pros for leadership positions. The next five years will be very interesting...just be patient!! :-)

ValerieSimon
ValerieSimon

Interesting post. After reading, I decided to go back to the recent Pew Social Media Demographics  report from Feb. Statistics do show that a higher percentage of those in the 18-29 category use social networking sites than the 30-49 category (83% vs 77%), Significant, but certainly not a tremendous difference. I believe the reason you find fewer experienced dedicated social/digital professionals is not because of a lack of talent, but that  there are fewer high paying jobs that are exclusively social/digital. In most corporate organizations a social media specialist, ( sometimes a SM manager and less frequently a SM strategist) reports up to a Director or VP of Marketing (or possibly PR, Advertising, Communications etc). While there are certainly some organizations that have senior level positions dedicated to social, I think many companies do not have the resources and are embracing an integrated strategy where leadership positions require strategic responsibilities across channels. 

keithprivette
keithprivette

So here is the biggest problem. The people hiring do not know really what they want because A. No vision, goals, objects, and tactics to execute. B.evaluating the team that is necessary to drive out and execute those business goals, objectives and tactics. C. Reputation and budget.  So A and C are the critical components to delivering. C. is the most problematic.

 

The reputation of most companies they have no clue how to do business in this new world. Yes it is a new world of getting shit done. Now  there some things we should still be doing honest, ethics, and building good business relationships. Companies have not adapted how to do business which affects who they hire. If they don't really know what they are looking for and this really evident in interviews and job postings, do you really want to work there?

 

Arik this happens a lot in the career skill set I have. Companies need to look at results data to find the right people, very few companies know how to do this!

kristinlenander
kristinlenander

Interesting post. There was just a story on the news that the current HR reasoning of "we can't fill positions because people don't have the skills" may not be as widespread as once thought. 

 

I think that many corporations and hiring managers are QUICK to assume that younger folks don't have ability to be strategic, simply because of age/current role. When in reality, they have the abilities but aren't (allowed? encouraged?) to participate in strategic decisions because of their position on the totem pole. Not saying it's the norm, by any means, but certainly probable for a few.

 

I'd also argue that there are a lot of Gen Xers that lack strategic abilities - at least judging by some "social media strategy" presentations I've been to lately.

adamkmiec
adamkmiec

@kmskala @arikhanson I have a LOT of thoughts on this. Better over a beer. I don't think Arik is too far off. Easier to explain in person.

mplsgossipgirl
mplsgossipgirl

My opinion:  If you cannot hire the talent you want because of cost, train the talent. Most younger people don't have the experience but with a little training could be the right person for the job.

Erocdotusa
Erocdotusa

%s %s I'm also perplexed by this. No such thing as having 7-9 yrs %s experience. 2-4 is more realistic.

BabsSegal
BabsSegal

This is an age old problem indeed. Many agencies and corporations have yet to understand the importance of the social/digital role.  I don't believe it has anything to do with what you refer to as "the talent hole."  These agencies and corporations are recruiting and posting the digital job position with a salary and description of a junior-level experienced resume. The results is a pool of applicants with little if any marketing, communications, and public relations experience.  Those of us who work in social/digital know that in 2013 the social media hemisphere is moving past the set backs of inexperienced social media people handling corporate relations. The Super Bowl set the corporate standard of what's expected in a fast digital world today. It's the agencies and corporations that are miss-forecasting the digital and social media position roles within the corporate structure and or organization. Talent is sought out, and rarely is talent looking for a open position on LinkedIn. Companies may have to go back to corporation recruiting for this is a top talent position, a seasoned experienced digital applicant  "senior social/digital role" will be found online. Using Minneapolis/St. Paul as an example,  not many people find long, harsh winters appealing...thus Agencies need to recruited accordingly.  Yes, indeed this is an old Ad Age... problem. Talent costs, and finding a candidate to work at any agency may cost them relocation expenses, car allowances, and other salary benefits.  

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala Right, but your point about @tsauce makes my point. How many Tony's are walking around in MSP? Not many...

lisa_ray
lisa_ray

%s And I work in student affairs, too! %s

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @keithprivette OK, I'll play Devil's Advocate because this is hardly the first time this "reputation" issue has come up. My question: how are companies supposed to adapt if the talented individuals won't go work for them and help them turn it around? At some point, doesn't that need to happen? How else is it going to happen? I'm not ready to throw companies under the bus on that point yet. But, it also plays to my main point: Talent is in the power position. Especially senior talent. They have their choice of jobs. And they can pick and choose for this very reason. You could almost make that argument among A-list talent at the younger ages, too, right now.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @kristinlenander I hope I was clear in saying I don't think younger folks are incapable of strategic thought. I just think you need some experience under your belt to participate at a certain level consistently. For some younger people, they can rise to that level. But, I'd say most can't. Not yet. They just need that time. Call it a maturation process. Side note: I've never understood why younger people are in a big rush to get higher on the corp ladder. They do know that those jobs entail sitting in meetings ALL DAY right? That they're very stressful. That they will have no life. I mean, what's the big rush to do THAT? And I would definitely agree with your point about Xers. We are certainly not off the hook. Which goes straight to my main point: A lack of talent at that level.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @mplsgossipgirl Eventually, yes. But you can't really have a 25-year-old in charge of digital at even a mid-sized company. Not slamming Millennials, but it's a simple business experience issue. 

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

 @BabsSegal First, you don't like long, harsh winters? But the 3-month summers are so beautiful here! :) I disagree--I see a big talent hole on the senior side and it's gaping. And, I don't think MSP agencies need to recruit outside MSP. We have a TON of top-flight creative talent here. Just because we're "fly over country" doesn't mean we don't have talent :)

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson I see bigger gap being able to fill mid-level roles. Far fewer talent nationally, IMO.

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson We have about 5-10 locally. But "top talent" is always smaller pool -- in all industries. That's why they're the "top"

paulschantz
paulschantz

%s Student Affairs and %s REPRESENT!

paulschantz
paulschantz

@arikhanson As a native Californian, I can't relate to hard winters. Earthquakes, fires, riots, sure…but cold weather? No way!

keithprivette
keithprivette

 @arikhanson I agree to a certain extent, but talk with some of those a-Players and see why they left most companies, because they did try this and it is exhausting and becomes less fun and challenging about 8mos into trying to help the company turn.  Think about it how much the outside world changes in 6mos. You spend 8mos beating head against the wall building the "coalition of the willing" - David Armano then the world changes and now you are behind again. A-Players want to be on the leading edge of things and when it takes 12mos to even get a company to 3 years behind the curve, the A-player is now a year behind the curve also. It is tough. Companies that want to change, change from both directions and you see that by how they hire at the top and bottom. When a company only makes a couple of key hires every year or so, they are not doing with a company shift in mind. Technology helps, leadership helps, but ultimately sociology, psychology a behaviors have to change for any of this to be effective.  Let's face it A-Players go where other A-Players are at because they see the shifts and want to be apart of it. That is why you see more and A-Players being attracted to the startup communities. High impact, put A-Player skills to the test, and make real impacts that are seen almost everyday. I agree Arik this is a tough egg to crack especially for those Fortune 1000 companies.

BabsSegal
BabsSegal

 @arikhanson I said, "using Minneapolis/St.Paul as an example"  since the conversation is taking place there.  I know first hand what a great town Minneapolis is, however isn't the conversation about a shortage of talent.  

arikhanson
arikhanson

@adamkmiec I'm also on record: We need fewer Adam Kmiecs. Not more. Can you imagine an army of Kmiecs? God help us ;)

arikhanson
arikhanson

@adamkmiec You're prob right there. I also think my third point is prob the biggest issue right now...

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala That's my point, the good talent pool for senior digital talent is very small. Much smaller than demand right now.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala Right, but isn't that what everyone company wants. Does Great Clips want "mediocre" talent at the top of its teams?

arikhanson
arikhanson

@adamkmiec "social media has made it more challenging to find amazing talent." Contrary to most things you hear...

kmskala
kmskala

@nathaneide @arikhanson There's issues w\/ candidates & companies. But that's why it's an exciting field to be in. Beats being in accounting.

kmskala
kmskala

@lulugrimm I would also like to win the lottery, but I can't get everything I want ;)

nathaneide
nathaneide

@kmskala @arikhanson someone who understands business objectives & how an integrated strategy can solve. Not someone who wants to tweet

arikhanson
arikhanson

%s Not really. I'm not in a position to hire folks FT (contractors, yes). But I see a lot of it via %s

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson I want a younger @lulugrimm who's interested in people and behaviors as opposed to someone who's interested in Pinterest.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala the first one is tough. Not everyone can work at Target... but the data piece is a big one for many orgs, i think. Increasingly.

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson Biggest issue is they are more interested in how tech interacts with people instead of how people interact with tech.

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson Lack of enterprise integration\/knowledge; data; failure to understand consumer behavior.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide Right, and that was EXACTLY my third point in the post. Wrong people in the wrong roles.

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson then you have a bigger problem. Companies under paying and stretching to put people who aren't qualified into upper roles.

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson talent isn't scarce, sourcing has a screwed up concept of "requirements". 12 years digital with an MBA and 8 years in social? OK

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson Jobs are going unfilled because talent doesn't want to leave their current situation for a posting that is lacking

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson as someone who receives dozens of "career opportunities" in sr digital positions each month, they aren't compelling.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala what are the top areas of deficiency in your view of these jr-level candidates?

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide If talent were abundant they'd be taking those jobs with crappy companies because they'd have to.

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson Number of apps is staggering. Number of quality apps is different story.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide But they're still jobs. And you're highlighting my pt. Talent is in the driver's seat because it's so scarce.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide who says companies are posting all these open jobs? For sr roles I'd say they often ARE NOT posted publicly.

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson because the jobs they are posting aren't compelling and\/or the companies have serious reputation problems

arikhanson
arikhanson

@kmskala how many apps do you typically get for a junior-level position right now?

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide I don't disagree the talent is out there. But, it's just not in big enough numbers. Demand is outstripping supply.

arikhanson
arikhanson

@nathaneide If that's true, then why are companies struggling to find good senior talent?

kmskala
kmskala

@arikhanson Personally, I think it's a lot harder to fill entry & jr level roles right now.

nathaneide
nathaneide

@arikhanson @kmskala disagree. There are a # of talented people across the Midwest. They just don't brag about it. They're too busy working.