The Social Media Strategist – More Than Just “Being Cool”

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Recently I read and thoroughly enjoyed the book The Social Media Strategist by Christopher Barger. Anyone in a social media management role will find this book of value because of the size and scope of some of the issues Christopher Barger faced at General Motors.

Previously, I was consulting to one of Canada’s largest banks and headed up their social media strategy so many of the issues and experiences that Christopher Barger had certainly felt familiar to me.

A number of things stood out from the book that I would like share and add some additional thoughts as well. There are certainly other notable insights in the book, and ones that others might suggest should have been mentioned, but these are just a few that stood out to me.

Cool Every Minute

If you are in a social media management role within an organization, you probably get the periodic comment that “you get to play on Facebook all day”. We all know that is not true. While it is certainly cool and exciting to be involved in emerging technologies and trends that are being disruptive, there are a lot more mundane things that are still part of the job when you are rolling out social media in a large enterprise: policy development, meeting with risk management, and the approval process, for example.

Public vs Private

I really appreciated Barger’s candor when it came to some of the dynamics he faced within GM such as the delineation between public and private. There are times, and you may have experienced this yourself, where someone will make a decision that you disagree with privately but you have to live with, and that decision means you must take a position publicly in social media channels that you don’t agree with yet it is one that the organization wants taken.

At times, your job will be to disseminate a message that is corporately mandated despite how you may feel about the message or the manner in which it is to be delivered. Suck it up! Your job can’t be roses and unicorns everyday. We have all been in situations at work where we had to do something we did not agree with but that is what senior management, or the company more broadly, wanted to do. Such situations will still come up and social media won’t be exempt.

Four Questions

Christopher Barger suggests that there are four fundamental questions to ask before beginning a social media program.

– What data will you be collecting?
– How will you be collecting it?
– What kind of analysis will [you] apply to it?
– How will [you] report it?

If you are being asked to prove the ROI of social media then these questions are a good place to start. Often times, companies do a poor job of measuring their current activities and social media can be overburdened with having to be the solution to their problem.

If you determine what you are looking for, how you are going to get it, and what you are going to do with it then you will be able to create a “closed loop” that can prove ROI over time. You will be able to say to senior management that if we do this then we get this kind of outcome and that translates to the following ROI.

As long as you can identify what you want to measure and confirm that the means exist to capture the required data then proving ROI should not be that elusive.

Getting Hung Up On The Numbers

We have all heard people compare likes and number of followers to competitors as a way of gauging success. While that is one metric of success, it is not the only one. Companies need to tie social media activities to corporate objectives.

When working with a client, most of my preliminary questions do not even mention social media. I am trying to understand their corporate objectives, how they do what they do, how communication flows, and get a sense if the organization’s readiness to adopt social media usage.

Likes and followers can help you keep score but what you really want to know are such things as whether or not you are increasingly driving leads to landing pages, what your conversion rate is, your click through rate on distributed links, which channels perform best and when, the costs being driven out of customer service or technical support, or the value of the earned media garnered from your efforts. Those are much better numbers to get hung up on.

A Seat At The Table

My favourite chapter was Chapter 13 and part of me feels that if you were to read only on chapter then this would be the one to read.

As social media continues to become more commonplace and organizations actually staff social media roles, companies will have to recognize the importance of having representation from the social media team at the table when corporate objectives are being discussed or major issues are developing and communications strategies are needed.

This is not to suggest that social media takes the lead but increasingly people are taking to social media channels to discuss issues with companies and sometimes these are conversations companies would rather not have in a public forum but now there is very little choice in the matter.

Barger’s team were heavily involved in the GM bankruptcy crisis and managing the communication activities in social media during that time. By being actively involved with other collaborators, determining what was and wasn’t possible, and understanding the broader picture which would inform their strategies, they were able to deliver a praiseworthy performance.

There were times in my role at the bank when we were dealing with major announcements coming out and we had a seat at the table with corporate communications to determine where and how social media could play a role and what kind of monitoring and escalation procedures needed to be in place post announcement.

Each time such situations arose we were able to prove the value that we brought to the table and the collaborative relationships grew stronger.


For me, the book was enjoyable because I saw so much of what I have experienced working with larger enterprises. For others looking to capture insights and guidance on where to start, what to avoid, and what to do if things go sideways, you will find this book to be very helpful.

Good luck and good reading!

0 thoughts on “The Social Media Strategist – More Than Just “Being Cool”

  1. These are 4 good questions “to start with” but hardly adequate to design, develop and deploy a social content marketing strategy that will deliver the type and quality of social engagements most SMBs seek to maintain the effort

    • jenkinsandrew says:

      Social Local Video SEO Agreed. These are just to help get organizations get started but sadly organizations often don’t ask themselves these or similar questions before they jump into it.

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