Age is no barrier to becoming competent in digital and social media

Why should it be news that a 70-year-old woman has become a social media manager – asks Scott Guthrie

Earlier this week BBC News ran a video news story about a woman who has a job. It really shouldn’t have been a story at all.

This isn’t a post about Theresa May, the UK’s new prime minister, though.

Instead of ‘dog bites man’ non shocker it was ‘woman works with animal charity’. The story’s twist is that the woman, Angela Laws, will celebrate her 70th birthday later this year.

We learn that Angela has come out of retirement to become a social media manager for a global start-up.

“The only barriers that we put in are our own psychological barriers because all of us are capable of learning new skills. We’re never too old to start another journey.” Angela explains to the camera.

 

I’d quibble with two minor parts of Angela’s thoughts:

  1. These psychological fetters are not just of our own making; they are drummed into us. The media forms our mindset. 
  2. The ‘start another journey’ bit sounds altogether too X Factor contestant for my blood.

The rest of it, yup bang on. Yes, yes, yes, we are all capable of learning new skills.

 

The dis-service of the digital native

Marc Prensky did us all a disservice when he heaped us all into one of two camps: digital native and the more disparaging digital immigrant in his now-famous 2001 paper.

A more helpful moniker is digital natural. It describes anyone comfortable in an online environment. Here age isn’t a yard stick. It’s an absurd condescension to ever suggest that how old we are should have anything to do with how we use technology.

Being natural in digital depends on how we’re equipped through experience and exposure to both digital’s cultural norms and the technological competencies required to operate it effectively.

 

Experienced & New PR practitioners need to learn from each other

On hearing of the French Revolution William Wordsworth wrote the lines “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” We continue to deify the young.

Both seasoned and new public relations practitioners need to learn from one another. To blend experience with technical ability.

Younger PR practitioners may be digitally savvy – but they may not yet possess sophisticated PR skills.

Senior practitioners will have a developed capacity for contextualising issues in a broader corporate or societal sense. Context becomes increasingly important the further we climb up through different levels of learning. But, senior practitioners may need to learn technical ability from their juniors, too.

There reaches a point when the embarrassment factor kicks in. As social media and digital becomes a generalist rather than specialist function some senior members realise they haven’t kept up with evolving requisite skills.

The result? They delegate to more technically savvy but often less strategically sophisticated team members.

 

Need for technical ability and business experience to come together

In today’s social age there is a desperate need for technical ability and business experience to come together.

Gary Hamel, the iconoclastic business thinker, says there is a mismatch between what science knows and business does. Linkedin’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, hints at the danger for businesses who fail to grasp the nettle. He speaks of “the increasing gap between the skill sets people have and the skill sets that businesses will need.”

At this point I usually trot out a favourite quote about change. I shan’t disappoint now. “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

It’s a line usually attributed to social philosopher Eric Hoffer. It encapsulates our world today. Keep up or fossilise.

I remember 30 years ago my mother having to regularly drive a round trip of 100 miles so as to take cash out of the ATM for her parents – my grandparents. They had allowed themselves to become out-of-step with the world in which they inhabited. They had opted out deciding not to use cash machines. Yet needing the use of them.

Today for each of us the offline/online world transitions seamlessly, interchanging imperceptibly throughout the day. To discount people’s technical ability based on age or to highlight a septuagenarian’s new career as an oddity is socially irresponsible.

My mother is now a similar age to what my grandparents would have been in the ATM years. But Carol has always endeavoured to embrace change. Try getting her off Whatsapp, Skype or selling off clobber on eBay.

No, age is no barrier to becoming competent in anything.

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SABG bio

About the Author Scott Guthrie

Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. That's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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2 comments
David Sawyer @zudepr says July 16, 2016

The ATM Years, there’s a show in there somewhere. Good one, Dave

David Sawyer FCIPR | Director, Zude PR 0141 569 0342 | 07770 886923 Sign up to receive Zude’s Top 4 here http://bit.ly/1DN37zI

Reply
    Scott Guthrie says July 16, 2016

    I like it. I think Reg Varny from On the Buses was the first person to use an ATM. Maybe there’s a tie in there for our show?

    Reply
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