Today’s guest post is written by Mark Story.

Cathryn Sloane’s article “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25” caused a bit of firestorm last month.

The debate surrounds how experienced – and old – someone should be to succeed as a social media practitioner.

I weighed in, as did the Huffington Post. and most people took Cathryn to task for suggesting young people “get” social media and are the ones who are best suited to incorporate it in a business setting.

I’d argue there is a bigger point here: You have be a social media grown-up; and that may or may not be tied to years of experience.

Being a social media grown-up means you have the essential skills to be a really good practitioner. Most of these skills are gained with time and with experience, but just like “you can’t fix stupid,” you can’t teach smarts. When seeking to fill social media positions, I would rather hire someone junior with less experience who is bright, because I can’t teach someone to “get it.”

So what is “it?”

Three Critical Traits

1. Excellent verbal and written communications skillsTwitter and Pinterest may have lulled some people into thinking words don’t matter anymore. Wrong. They matter in social media more than ever. You must have good verbal communications skills because you will be engaging in conversation, teaching, and evangelizing. In order to do so, you must be articulate and clear.

As for written communications skills, you cannot be successful at social media without being a good writer. Almost every aspect of online communication (more so in client-driven work, which makes up a large part of the social media world) involves informing and persuading people via the written word. You will need to reply upon your writing skills to tell a complex and compelling story; and sometimes you’ll have to do it less than 140 characters.

2. Tolerance for change and intellectual curiosity. In social media, the only constant is change. Today’s successful Pinterest was yesterday’s much-discussed Quora or Empire Avenue (read: #fail). New tools and tactics come along monthly.

If you want to have a career in social media and be a grown-up, you need to stay on top of what is out there, if for nothing else to make a recommendation to your boss or your client on adopting a social media platform.

Way too many organizations become entranced by the latest shiny object. The social media grown-up knows what’s new, how it works, and if it might add value to the company or clients’ social media efforts.

3. You must provide sound advice. Cathryn Sloane’s controversial statements stemmed from this: She referred to her generation of digital natives as those who are most comfortable with, and fluent with, tools such as Facebook and Twitter because they grew up with them.

True as this might be, knowing how to post status updates in Facebook is vastly different than offering social media advice to a Fortune 500 company, a government agency, or even a  shop down the street. Each client has differing communications objectives, constraints, and sometimes legal requirements.

Experience helps to inform the counsel you give. This is not to say that someone who is in their 20s is not as seasoned as someone in their 40s, but let’s not confuse being fluent with the tools with getting paid to give strategic advice and execute tactics on a very large scale.

I could continue, but I’ll stop at these three core competencies to be successful in social media. These are the “must-haves.” You can be a social media grown-up in your 20s or in your 40s, but don’t forget that good communication, intellectual curiosity, and sound advice are all at the heart of being a good practitioner – and a social media grown-up.

Mark Story is the author of “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager,” to be published on September 1, 2012.  He is a new media director, blogger, podcaster, professor and Social Media Old Guy. You can follow him on Twitter at mstory123.

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