Why some social media experts are good.
I read Peter Shankman’s “Why I will Never, Ever Hire a Social Media Expert" earlier this week, and it struck me as pretty silly, but the more I’ve been thinking about it through the week, the more I realize that it is good for a nice, cathartic snark (because I mean, seriously. How tired are we of self-proclaimed social media experts?). But it’s actually pretty seriously misguided about what the job really is. Lord knows I love a good cathartic rant, and there are some zinger lines in there ("Will you please shut up before you make me vomit on your shoes?"), but the arguments are myopic.
Shankman’s got two main arguments: First, “Social media is just another facet of marketing and customer service.” The second argument is a bit more esoteric, but basically he implies that you can do it yourself and don’t need an expert. Or your trusted marketing buddy can do it. Shankman goes on to state all the obvious hallmarks of good social media: relevance, brevity, customer insight and good writing. All true. But all just part of the picture.
Let’s delve into each one.
Now, I am a marketer. And we offer social media services. But even I know social media is about much, much more than marketing and customer service. The obvious third example is PR. And yes, this is different from marketing. Things are blurring, but marketing is still about talking to a large (ish) group of people, whose individual characteristics are more or less unknown. PR is about talking to known, influential individuals. They are different arts, practiced in different ways.
Let’s just go look at any large company’s twitter account. Let’s pick Delta. Right off the bat, you will see there are two accounts for delta - a marketing account and a customer service account. They do different things, differently. So yes, Social Media touches marketing and customer service. Let’s pick another one. Let’s try a hotel. Let’s go with Marriott. Right now, a quick glance at the Marriott account shows that they are dealing with marketing, reservations, customer service and billings issues. They also have separate accounts dealing with the activities at an individual hotel or resort. Things are now more complex. Let’s pick a really tough one: Samsung.* Go ahead. Google “Samsung Twitter.” Here you see a massive array of twitter accounts. Maybe too many, but right away you see that things are infinitely more complex. Reviews of different products. Customer support. Tech support. Warranties. PR. Marketing.
So. Now. Here we get to truth one. Social Media is not just about marketing and customer service. It’s not just another facet of marketing and customer service. Every conceivable part of your company has social media implications. Manufacturing. Supply chain. Tech Support. PR. Warranties. Advertising. Promotions. PR. Shareholder relations**. HR.
The most obvious example is the most frequent stumbling block with social media: the out-of-nowhere-PR-disaster. The Jet Blue debacle. The Amazonfail. That one happened over a weekend while everyone was off. In just 48 hours. This is social media lightning in a bottle. To avoid these, a company must monitor social media 24 hours a day - a business process neither Marketing departments nor Customer Service departments are traditionally organized to do. They must have lightning fast response times, and a direct line to the CEO: ditto. And you must build these processes into your company. THAT is social media too, and it is totally different from marketing and customer service.
Where you put it in the org chart, of course, is up to you. And maybe you arbitrarily put it in with the marketing. That would be semi-logical. You might also put it with customer service. Ditto. Both of those places, however, are going to cause complications if, say, Gizmodo is hounding you for the latest intel about your new device. Did you just put that in marketing? Does your PR firm mind? I’ll bet they do, and I’ll bet your head of PR minds very much as well. Never mind the actual marketing manager for that new Tablet, or the actual PRODUCT manager. Or HR, who is busy trying to use the account to recruit talent.
And here we get to the second argument: you can do it yourself, more or less. Yes, you can, at a small organization. Our company is now 100+ and I can still handle most of it (though I do have 2 people helping part time)***. But you know what? You absolutely cannot handle it yourself if you are 500,000 workers with 5 major divisions, pushing out over 10,000 SKUs into 4 industries across 50 countries every year, managed by some 4,000 marketing managers on 6 continents, with PR, Customer Service, Marketing, Tech Support, Crisis Management, Blogger outreach, community support, security, payment and developer relations needs in each of those 50 countries, needing to be monitored 24 hours a day. Can you do that yourself? What do you call all of those people who DO do that work? They are social media experts. You can title them what you want but that’s what they are. If you hired anything less than an expert, you are not one yourself. Also, where do you house them? Are they in your organization? Your ad agency? In one country? In 3 or 4? In every market? How many languages? And one tiny little screw up and you have some irate blogger with 10,000 followers bitching and moaning saying “how hard can it be? Don’t they get it?”
So. Who figures all of this out for you? You’re the CEO of a giant multinational corporation. You’re smart and you’re busy. Hopefully you’ve realized this stuff matters, but you can hardly do it yourself. You want to delegate the whole setup to an underling to figure out these questions. Who is she? Boom. A social media expert. I mean, I guess you could just hand it to bob, over there in the marketing department. That might work.
Now, I don’t know where Mr. Shankman works. I assume he’s a small businessman like myself, and, like me, he could probably handle it himself. But you know what? If I were magically promoted to the CEO of a major company, I would totally freakin’ hire a social media expert. Immediately. And if I didn’t, I shouldn’t be CEO.
Not every social media expert is out there going from small business to small business, huckstering people who don’t know better. Some are out there actually figuring out some really complicated shit for massive corporations who need to radically transform their ways to deal with a new world of constant two-way communication, and are smart enough to realize it.
* Full disclosure, we handle a small part of their social media. but so do lots of other people. Read on.
** Oh god. Just THINK of that one. Any shareholder would love it, but imagine the challenges of identifying whether a Twitterer is also a shareholder, and then DMing them the relevant info. Any company that pulls that off, I will salute you, and I guarantee you’re not gonna pull it off in your marketing or customer service dept.
*** And this is without actually having warranties, and only a handful of customers and a limited number of journalists for us to engage with.