I read a recent post by John McElhenney about the supposed death of the social media strategist. Many of his complaints and frustrations are valid, and ones I have had myself. Thankfully, he backs away from the stance that the social media strategist is, in fact, dead. While I agree with this, I would suggest that a reinvention or evolution will likely happen over the coming years. It may even be required to avoid the demise the post originally suggests.
Everyone Can Do Social Media
One phrase that stood out in the post was “Everyone Can Do Social Media.” Just because you have a Facebook account or you were on Twitter once last year, it does not mean that you can now lead the social media team for your company. To be fair, many people within corporations were either tasked to figure it out or chose to figure it out because nobody seemed to be leading the charge. For those tasked to figure it out, it meant that social media was added to their responsibilities, whether they wanted it or not, and oftentimes without increased compensation or relief from other responsibilities. Over and above their other activities, they have learned as much as possible and are approaching social media as best they can, but that sometimes means on an ad hoc basis.
Just take a look at the social activities of a variety of companies and you will find many posting sporadically, broadcasting only their own content, responding late or not at all to inquiries, and allowing their communities to flounder, or not even get off the ground in the first place. Sadly, this is what many firms are doing — paying lip service to social media. Do they have a corporate Twitter account? Check! Do they have a Facebook page? Check! Do they have a community manager? Check! That’s all well and good and many people do, in fact, know and understand how to use social media. However, the gap comes when social media has to be tied to corporate objectives.
Things Get a Little Fuzzy
Things get a little fuzzy at this point because tying social media to corporate objectives often highlights the shortcomings of a company’s operations. Whether it is related to a campaign or more everyday activities, if a company is doing a poor job of managing and measuring their efforts, social media will only shine a light on their problems and do little to offset their poor performance. In fact, their social media efforts may likely be doomed from the start. In the case of customer service, I don’t need to know your 1-800 number. I simply need to tweet my issue to you and the onus is on you to figure it out.
This is another area where social media illuminates the disconnect between different business units not accustomed to collaborating to solve a customer’s problem. Some have described social media as a bit of a silo buster and, in this instance, there may be some truth to it. This disconnect between business units and departments was another strong point that John McElhenney stressed in his post. The customer does not care how your organization is setup internally. They simply want to be served and have their problem resolved. You can’t make your internal problems their problems. The customer does not need to know, and frankly doesn’t care, about what happens behind the wizard’s curtain. They don’t care how you solve their problem, just that you solved it in the end. I have had numerous conversations with key decision makers within firms and with other people in the social media and agency space and there seems to be a perpetuation of activities happening in isolation.
People talk about omni-channel and integration, but if the operating and compensation models are not aligned with such approaches, then you are dead in the water. Bring on the finger pointing and the fluffy metrics to hide the fact that you came up short. Increasingly, companies will have to become more collaborative, either out of necessity or by choice, but nonetheless driven by the need to be aligned around serving the customer rather than aligned around outdated operating models that run counter to today’s business landscape. Easy to say, but likely very hard to do. However, I’m a patient person and I look forward to seeing what happens.
1995 B.G. (Before Google)
If I sound snarky, it’s not intended. I am not feeling snarky so much as frustrated. However, despite any frustrations I might have, I remain excited. I have been immersed in emerging technology for the last 20 years and I am excited for the possibilities ahead, just as I was when I launched my own e-commerce company in 1995 before Google and before paying with a credit card on the Internet was commonplace. I just get frustrated when I, and many of my digital colleagues, know what is going to happen, because we’ve been here before. Nobody believed me when I talked about what I was trying to do with my e-commerce business. I don’t know how many times I heard “You want to do what?” Many people have reacted similarly when I have evangelized the power and value of Twitter, and social media more broadly. They dismiss Twitter and social media as time wasters and places where people share pictures of their lunch and take way too many selfies.
It is not about whether those same detractors will eventually come around to taking pictures of their lunch or selfies. It is about getting them to believe that what they think and feel does not matter, but rather that what their target audience or market thinks and feels is really what matters. That is part of why the social media strategist is not dead, and, frankly, isn’t dying anytime soon. There is too much at stake. While people may dismiss, ignore, or only give modest support to social media, it is not going away. The Internet is not the fad that many suggested it would be. How many people do you know who said “Do we really need a website?” Now that has changed to “Do we really need to be on Twitter?” The answer is unequivocally “YES!” but the conversation needs to focus more on the why, and those involved need to make certain that corporate objectives, key metrics, and accountabilities are not overlooked or forgotten.
There’s Still Time
The marketer has become a digital marketer out of necessity. In a recent conversation with someone in career services for an Executive MBA program, I heard that students are asking what they need to learn to be more marketable. The answer they are getting suggests that it used to be that they had to understand traditional marketing but then they had to learn about internet marketing. Now what they need to learn includes email, mobile, and social. While still categorized as marketing, it is multi-faceted, complex, and fast paced. This poses a challenge for many to keep up with the pace of change.
How do you deal with a moving target? Should you staff for it or hire outside experts? What is the right approach? Today’s right answer may not be tomorrow’s. Nobody really taught me. I was just really curious and fascinated by what was happening. I was a sponge. I asked a lot of questions. I did research and read a ton. I tried stuff and figured it out along the way. I shared what I learned with others and they shared their learnings with me. I continue to learn, share, and learn from others every day in my work and in the teaching and training that I do. It’s that cumulative experience, whether mine or that of other learned practitioners, that companies need to be leveraging in staff roles or in a consultative capacity.
Not Dead Yet
Don’t start measuring the digital strategist for their coffin just yet. There is still a huge gap between what companies are doing with respect to social media and what they could be doing. I remember asking a C-level executive client if he wanted the firm to be like or on par with their competitors or to surpass them. He told me that he had promised the corporation’s board that “they would be a leader in social media within five years.” He left the firm before his vision could materialize, but I am still hopeful for the future of that firm and so many others. If you are feeling snarky, frustrated, excited for the future, or think that I and/or the role of the social media strategist could be doomed, let me hear from you.
A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.