Experience and Expertise Matter

Over the weekend, Cathryn Sloane wrote a post on why every social media manager should be under 25. Seriously, that was the title of her post and it didn’t get better from there. Here’s a little excerpt:

You might argue that everyone, regardless of age, was along for the ride, or at least everyone under the age of 30. I’m not saying they weren’t, but we spent our adolescence growing up with social media. We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.

As time has gone on, the age groups jumping onto these sites have gradually grown older – and frightfully younger as well. Sixth-graders who are now creating their Facebook profiles know nothing other than Timeline, and adults in their 40’s who are tweeting with their iPhone apps have no idea that the old way to do it was by texting 40404. The mere fact that my generation has been up close and personal with all these developments over the years should make clear enough that we are the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come.

Yes, it’s ridiculous and plenty of people have told her so. There is a great, balanced reaction here, though, that explains precisely why experience matters.

Of my peer group, many of the smartest and most experienced social media professionals are in their 40s.  “Experience” is the key part of that last sentence because it is accumulated from a career based upon learning, trial and error, success and failure.  You try, you learn, you apply, you move on.  There is no substitute for experience.

This whole situation is pretty familiar. As someone who studies and teaches religion, specifically early Christianity, I often meet students who think they know the Bible better than I do simply because they grew up going to Sunday School.

But just as someone’s years of experience in marketing and customer engagement coupled with their knowledge of how best to handle crisis situations for companies make someone a great social media manager, so years studying the Bible academically, learning numerous languages, and working to understand the sociological implications of an ancient text mean that I probably understand the 1st century text we’re studying a little better than someone without the same experience and expertise.

I’m not saying I know all there is to know about the Bible. On the contrary, students often have fantastic insights that influence my reading of a text. What I am saying, though, is that experience and expertise matter. I am not uniquely qualified to be a financial adviser because I’ve spent money my whole life; I have a financial adviser for that. I don’t presume to know more about my back pain than my doctor simply because I’m experiencing the pain.

Someone who grew up writing cute Facebook posts does not inherently understand how to be a social media manager, and someone who grew up studying an ancient text devotionally does not inherently understand the ways in which this text may be engaged in identity formation. Experience, knowledge, and expertise matter.

Let’s make sure we’re appropriately deferring to people that know more than we do and not assuming we are somehow uniquely or inherently qualified for a position because we grew up with a tangential relationship to the field.

Thomas Whitley

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Thomas Whitley holds a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University. He is currently working on a PhD in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University. He regularly writes on religion, technology, and politics at thomaswhitley.com.

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