The Cathryn Sloane Firestorm-Where Are You Ms. Sloane?

The technorati are not amused over recent college graduate Cathryn Sloane's blog post that all social media managers should be under 25. I wont enter the fray on that argument; suffice to say that in my experience, usage of social media for personal interactions does not equal qualifications gained over time managing a brand. (One of the complaints I often hear from Marketing and Communications Directors who have young staff working under them is that their team excels at understanding how new media tools work, but they don’t always know why they should be using the tools in the context of brand management.)

What fascinates me about this story, is that more than 500 people commented on Ms. Sloane’s article and numerous folks took the time to write articulate rebuttal articles, and even linked back to “prebuttals” such as this oneIn short, it’s been a veritable link fest, engendering the kind of response to a piece of content that most of us who work in social media hope, and work hard for. Yet the crowd that she so successfully engaged has received nothing but radio silence from Ms. Sloane since the article was posted. She even went so far as to block followers on her Twitter account who had a dissenting opinion to her article. 

This is a problem.

I tell my clients to compare "engaging" on social media to going to a large, in-person networking party. There’ll be important people there that you should get to know, as perhaps they could be the key to the particular nut you’re trying to crack at the moment. You may know a few people already, so you shouldn’t ignore them, but you also have to have conversations with people you don’t know–whether it’s by listening in on an existing conversation to see where you can add something of value, or approaching a stranger and striking up a dialogue. And you have to do this in a respectful way; you have to be smart, interesting, funny and a really good listener and someone who can keep a conversation flowing. You must also hold people’s interest, so they feel a connection and start to see something in you. You never know who’s going to be there, and what role they could have in your life and career, so you wouldn't go to this party dressed in a risqué outfit, you wouldn't share intimate and inappropriate details about your personal life and you certainly wouldn’t start throwing out incendiary remarks to get attention unless you really had a good reason for doing so, and were prepared to defend them.

What Ms. Sloane did was the social media equivalent of dropping a politically incorrect bomb at an important cocktail party, then making a run for the door. While the dropping of the bomb itself might have been a strategic move to encourage link bait, her response seemingly was not. Not only did she not explain her position further–something anyone who has taken an undergraduate critical thinking class knows is, well, critical to credibility–she also missed a golden opportunity to engage and continue the debate with her detractors which could have created meaningful dialogue and provided a lot of value across the Internet. The fact that she eschewed such rigorous discourse is more damaging to her reputation than her actual article because we have to surmise that she’s either intellectually lazy or thin-skinned, and maybe a bit of both–it certainly doesn’t help her argument that young people just “know” how to be social, better than their older counterparts, because they are digital natives who’ve been using social media from a young age. Ultimately, the fact that she hasn't yet stepped up to the plate to take responsibility for and address the impact of her provocation, makes her look, at best, inconsistent and certainly not someone you’d want to be in relationship with–which is still a lot of what being in business is all about. 

The mind boggles as to what exciting things may have come her way–interviews, speaking engagements, job offers, book deals, etc., but I hope that no-one offers Ms. Sloane a job in social media–at least, not yet, anyway–until she’s learned (or displays) better etiquette. Her behavior is the antithesis of how networking and making real connections works, whether it’s in person or on the Internet. In professional settings it could seriously damage relationships and ultimately a brand’s reputation. In any case, it’s behavior that shouldn’t be rewarded.

And that’s true, no matter how old you are.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at


Marta said...

Your analogy linking networking/cocktail party and behavior on social media is very apt!

And it's why anyone can be great at social media, no matter their age. It's about being an interesting conversationalist, good listener and actually getting to know who you're talking with.

Natalie Zensius said...

Marta, I agree that anyone has the potential to be facile with social media tools if they possess the attributes you describe.

When the tools are being used to accomplish business objectives however, it's critical to understand consumer behavior and what sort of forces are at work in the marketplace that can influence that behavior, in order to develop the most effective strategy for employing the tools. It gets back to the "why" versus the "what" in my post.

Knowing to what end the tools are being used for comes with training and experience, something that can only be acquired over time. Young people have a steep learning curve as they are just entering the workforce. Similarly, someone changing careers to marketing would face the same learning curve, regardless of their age.