Caught In The Webb

Lay off the Social Media Experts

 Lay off the Social Media Experts

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

It’s happening again. While perusing the never-ending flow of tweets and Tumblr blogs that make up the collective consciousness of the internet, like I do, I’ve noticed that over the last few weeks, it’s become fun again to mock “social media experts.” And so, in the wake of another successful Social Media Week, now seems a good time to stick up for this much-maligned digital wage slave. I admit I have gone on this rant before, and if you’ve heard me before, I apologize.

But it’s time to toast the Social Media Expert.

First off, yes, it can seem silly for someone to go charge a small business to help them set up a Facebook page or a Tumblr or a Twitter. I mean, I guess by the same logic lawn mowers, dog walkers, hairstylists and house cleaners are mockable positions too. I mean, I can do all of these things. There are people who are better at it than me. Why not have them do it and do something better with my time? Something that I am good at? I guess the counter argument is that “Social Media Experts” are annoying in a different way since there’s some perceived sense that they are ripping people off. Anyone could learn these skills, they’re not actually that hard, and so-called Social Media Experts are preying on the ignorant. At my old agency, my partner has a small business on the side, and he commented that handling the social media marketing was so simple it was almost like a zen-like exercise.

I have been advising a great new company in the fast casual dining area. The woman starting the company is super smart, and a great entrepreneur. She knew, in the abstract, that social media was a great opportunity for her. But she didn’t know where to start. She felt helpless. Have you actually tried to set up a Facebook page for a company lately? It’s gotten so comically, hella complex. I was happy to help her – and I did it for free – but first off, it was not actually that simple, and secondly, she knew all too well she needed someone to help her with it. Because she, like many people, has a real business where social media is only a single component. This woman needs to hire, and find real estate, and source different quality foods and actually prepare them. She needs to make business plans and raise money and find partners and actually run her business. She knows she needs someone to help her with her social media marketing. Why on earth is that unreasonable? Why is it crazy that she would want to pay someone?

But the real reason this anti-social media marketing zeitgeist irks me is because everyone who says it has obviously not made an attempt at grasping the ramifications of social media marketing for a global corporation. Imagine a giant company, operating in, say, 60 countries, in 15 languages. Imagine the infrastructure that needs to be in place to make sure, say, a tweet in French from a Belgian journalist gets to the right person in your global organization in a timely manner. Imagine if you have multiple lines of business – say televisions and cell phones and laptops, all running in separate business units. Imagine making an organization that rapidly responds to a PR crisis in your television business in Australia while also launching a new cell phone with a Facebook campaign and blogger outreach in Europe while Walt Mossberg just tweeted at you asking for some tech support on his new laptop? How do you staff this? Do you work with agencies? Small agencies around the world? One big one? Do you run 24 hours? Do you run in each country or in regions?  What software do you use to manage the whole thing? Should you have one master Facebook page for your whole company around the world, or in each country? Or for each line of business? How do you even begin to ensure your 100,000+ person company responds to journalists, politicians, influential bloggers, and your customers in a timely manner, 24/7, around the world, in their language?

And meanwhile, all the while, irate customers are talking about how simple it is for your company to just answer them right away about their complaint. Worse, imagine if, over the course of a single weekend, some new PR debacle explodes while you are taking a day off, and “OMG why haven’t they answered these grievous charges yet?” It happens.

Finally none of this even gets into social media MARKETING. What’s the best place to run a campaign? How do I get more followers on Facebook? What are they even worth? Should I try and get their email address? Should I run a contest? What’s a Twitter follower worth? If I give away 10 laptops to gain 100,000 new Facebook likes, did I come out ahead? How do I even do that math? How do I coordinate with my ad agency to launch this new product? Should I let them set up a new Twitter account? Should I let them tweet on the same account as my PR people and customer support people? What happens when the campaign ends? Who even hires the person tweeting? Is all of this cheesy? Should I even be doing marketing? Does it work?

These problems require complicated solutions. They require the perfect mix of full time staff in social, agencies to augment them, and clear  lines of corporate communication to the PR, customer support and marketing departments, among others. And to do this in the way that responds with apparent effortlessness and spontaneity, with appropriately rapid turnaround, requires a massive amount of politicking, bridge building and diplomacy. Never mind the software installation.

So, the next time you take a swipe at Social Media Experts, imagine you had just been stuck in the job of responding to all the tweets sent about Sony – Playstation and films and phones and televisions and hacks by Anonymous and their record labels and semiconductor operations. Imagine even finding the person in the organization that should answer each of those tweets. Imagine writing the guidelines for those people. Imagine accidentally asking a product designer a question, posting his answer, and then accidentally launching a press frenzy.

It’s a thankless, crappy enough job without people insinuating that you have no skill.

So, hats off, social media expert. And thank you, for in your spare time, making things like cash cats.

Follow Rick Webb via RSS.

Comments

  1. Scott Kidder says:

    The problem with “Social Media Experts” is that they generally aren’t experts. They’re focused on how many Twitter followers one has, versus actual metrics that can drive business performance.

    Alas, real Social Media Experts are few and far between.

    1. The reverse problem is also true. Rather than vile service providers tricking companies into overestimating their worth as a contributor, many companies underestimate the skill requirements of managing a social presence. Though it could manifest in many ways, including nearly instant abandonment of social profiles, it usually happens like this:

      A series of very motivated interns are assigned to the role of managing social profile content and social communication, which they do, but often clumsily because they are college juniors who probably know less about communications than the average worker in that company. So, the people managing social media are inexperienced, meagerly paid (if at all), and are constantly shuffled every couple of months. No one “serious” has hands-on involvement under normal circumstances. 

      A variation of this is when customer support workers are assigned to social profile channels to perform support and CRM functions, but these people often aren’t particularly great at communicating, they have little power to fix serious issues, they act as if style/enthusiasm are good substitutes for substance/control, and they generally do little more than mash together phone support functions with corporate cheerleading. 

      It’s the latter variation that usually shows up to the conferences along with the kind of clown consultant that Kidder mentioned. Sad interns never get to go anywhere. :(

      With all of those kinds of “social media experts” dominating the field, it’s become rare to find the type of consultant who knows which goals are the best ones to set and how to execute a strategy.  Frankly, I’m not sure there’s enough documentation of case studies yet to evaluate strategies. It’s all so new. But someday, there will be documentation, and with proof-in-hand we’ll laugh reading about how ineffective most of the current social media experts were lately. 

      1. Anonymous says:

        If your support people aren’t particularly great at communicating and can’t fix issues, you are clearly hiring the wrong support people or not training them correctly.

        It’s been my experience that the support staff actually knows the most about the ins and outs of the business and knows the most about how to address and resolve issues.

        That being said, I do agree that you can’t just throw anyone who has a Facebook page into social media management and expect them to succeed.  Social media management is daunting simply because of the sheer volume of the information involved and the breadth it covers throughout the internet. 

        You DO need someone who is not only plugged in to the medium, but also adept at communication and conflict resolution as well as being intimately familiar with your business and possessing the ability to solve issues or the knowledge to find those who can.  On top of all this, they need to stay abreast of the latest news and trends. 

        It’s a pivotal role that’s constantly evolving and it can make a huge difference to how your business is perceived online.  It’s not a job that everyone can do.

    2. I think, Scott, that’s the difference that matters.  I’ve had more than one prospect as me how fast I can get them xxxx followers and I respond that *that* isn’t the aim.  The true aim should be growing an audience and a following authentically, because what you’re saying/sharing/selling  starts dialogue and gets people interested.  

      But I also say regarding how many of us aren’t experts, I consider that even doctors must stay fresh, re-certify and continually educate themselves.  In the same way, truthfully, there can be no true expert in such a field.  I don’t care what metrics one knows or or how many accounts someone *masters*, because there’s a new game-changer just about every few months.  Sure, there are the mainstays like Facebook and Twitter for now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to know about the newest and latest to at least be able to determine their pros and cons for certain goals.

    3. Jenny McCoy says:

      Saying you’re an expert at social media is silly. Having ideas based on real experience is what makes you valuable to a company.

      The problem with people who look down on the profession is that they are often the same people who don’t understand why we have to add a Facebook button to their beautiful design. “What does it even do anyway?” As a social media professional (and former copywriter/SEO specialist), I’ve learned most things from a mixture of blogs/doing it myself. The nuances learned on the job while live-tweeting events, driving discussions, calming angry hoards of teenage tweeters – those are the things that make you knowledgeable. Never an expert, but knowledgeable.

    4. Jenny McCoy says:

      Saying you’re an expert at social media is silly. Having ideas based on real experience is what makes you valuable to a company.

      The problem with people who look down on the profession is that they are often the same people who don’t understand why we have to add a Facebook button to their beautiful design. “What does it even do anyway?” As a social media professional (and former copywriter/SEO specialist), I’ve learned most things from a mixture of blogs/doing it myself. The nuances learned on the job while live-tweeting events, driving discussions, calming angry hoards of teenage tweeters – those are the things that make you knowledgeable. Never an expert, but knowledgeable.

    5. Scott Prock says:

      I agree most “experts” are focused on the wrong metrics, but there’s also a difference between those who are self proclaimed experts / gurus and those who are given such titles by their peers and clients.

      To a business owner who doesn’t understand social media, anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account may be considered an expert. It’s important for any business considering social media to at least educate themselves on the options available.

      I’ve never liked the term expert or guru anyway. The speed of change online makes it impossible to master it all. I too (like many others) prefer the term specialist, or strategist.

      Contracting a social media specialist may be less expensive than assigning, or hiring a full time employee. When you look at the entire picture of what an employee costs, contracting can have more of a benefit than just dollars.

      It all boils down to research, anyone looking to delegate or hire should do their due diligence, just as they would for any other professional they add to their team.

      … Scott

    6. While I’m sure everyone here already agrees, it’s worth saying.  Another real advantage to having a social media strategist at hand is that we are (or damned well should be) the customer’s pulse as to what’s being said at all times about the brand, company, event, etc.  Keeping an eye on those RSS feeds etc. means we’re the first to greet, respond to and/or thank those who are making comments.  

      An excellent example I’ve seen in play lately is by blu, the electronic cigarette company.  I’ve been using blu since September and a couple times when I had an issue or needed a replacement, I expressed (politely) my discontent with the product (kinda to see if they were awake).  Sure enough both times they replied and I was given A1 service by customer support as they were made aware of the issue.  Now that’s cool and every company should wish to be able to respond so fast.  True, not every issue will turn out positively, but a public post of kudos or discontent should be responded to swiftly so that viewers note those prompt responses.  They might like to do business with such a company as well.  

      And again, as with everything and it’s already been said as well.  There are just so many examples of what someone can do for her- or himself but the truth is many are still in new territory as far as social media goes so having a social media manager observe and report in this way is invaluable.

      As an aside, I just had another exchange with blu and as electronic cigarettes are new in general, so what, I’ll deal with the tweaks.  But I’m most impressed with how they very well they are using social media that it’s honestly a pleasure dealing with them and knowing I have a direct line to them in short time.  That’s the power of social media.

  2. I liked the part where your article title is the exact opposite of your argument.

  3. I liked the part where your article title is the exact opposite of your argument.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Um, that’s actually NOT a skill. I’m still aghast that’s it’s even a JOB.

    1. Jenny McCoy says:

       I’d be surprised if you have a job in five years. Good luck, dude.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Wow, that’s an amazing assumption, given that you have no idea what I do for a living or what my skill set might be. #kudos

    2. Ashley Wade says:

      You clearly missed the point.

    3. Ashley Wade says:

      You clearly missed the point.

  5. SillyRobin says:

    Rick, please, please change the hed on this! Doesn’t make sense grammatically, and like @twitter-11776472:disqus says is the exact opposite of this article. unless that was your point when posting on social media ;)

  6. I like your article and I appreciate you putting it out there. I have to say that while I thought I was good at Social Media before I took a fulltime job doing it, I wasn’t. I was just barely scratching the surface. Now that I manage multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, a Pinterest account and more, I can easily say that this is one of the most challenging positions I’ve ever held. @johnnieutah:disqus – I was around when it was “weird” to have a fulltime job as a web producer. That’s commonplace now, dontchya think? All new media needs to be learned & assessed to get the best out of it for your business needs. Social Media folks are doing just that. The good ones will truly look at what works for your business and what doesn’t.

  7. I like your article and I appreciate you putting it out there. I have to say that while I thought I was good at Social Media before I took a fulltime job doing it, I wasn’t. I was just barely scratching the surface. Now that I manage multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, a Pinterest account and more, I can easily say that this is one of the most challenging positions I’ve ever held. @johnnieutah:disqus – I was around when it was “weird” to have a fulltime job as a web producer. That’s commonplace now, dontchya think? All new media needs to be learned & assessed to get the best out of it for your business needs. Social Media folks are doing just that. The good ones will truly look at what works for your business and what doesn’t.

  8. Jamie Kelly says:

    Setting aside the rampant charlatanism in the “Social Media Expert” field and the fact that setting up a Facebook page can hardly be categorized as complex, there are some good points here, particularly re what a follower is worth. The reason it can be a job isn’t because it’s complex, exactly, but more because it’s time consuming and there’s more to it that meets the eye…

  9. Rab says:

    Thank you. (I work for IBM)

  10. Sherra Scott says:

    I hate the term “expert”, which is why I prefer the term “specialist”.

  11. Sherra Scott says:

    I hate the term “expert”, which is why I prefer the term “specialist”.

  12. Jsherman12 says:

    I’m fine if they really are experts, but they often are not. My company just paid to be on webinar how to raise funds w/Facebook, except the presentor spent 2 seconds on this and the rest on how to set up a Facebook page. Total Facebook 101 which was not what we paid for & we are well beyond. Plus he gave e-mail advice that I’ve heard others advise against (and when I asked about this in q&a, thinking spam words have changed, he back peddled & told people not to use that word). I’m all for experts, but are there any real social media experts out there?

    1. Jenny says:

      Most of the webinars with good advice are free. Most of the good advice can also be found on blogs.

  13. Thanks for taking the time to talk about the elephant in the room.  If our colleagues would spend just half the amount of time supporting the industry and each other, we would have made much more progress for our clients and our own businesses.

    Who cares what your personal -ego driven expectations are around labels and words. Get over yourselves already.  You are embarrassing the rest of us with your whinny complaining.

    Talk about things from the solutions perspective more.
    Talk about what are the benefits.
    Talk about how to make the best decision in hiring social media help.

    What I have learned is that the quote by George Bernard Shaw is still “right on.”

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man adapts the world to himself.  All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    I see too much “having to be right” in our industry.

    My own observations have been people who have to be reasonable have to be right. ( this illumination has come from authentic leadership training with Pauline Serice) Pauline says, “Reasonable people spend most of their time complaining and explaining why they can’t be the authentic leader they truly want to be and by default are putting on an ACT every day.”

    What if we explored how we can help clients without all the labels, name calling and temper tantrums already.

  14. Mark says:

    Mr Webb I salute you. As the owner of a Social Media marketing Agency It’s often difficult to justify a price for firstly something that business owners say is easy to setup and manage and secondly that don’t or won’t see the benefits of incorporating Social Media into their overall marketing plan. My day just got a whole lot better thanks to you:)

    Mark Hughes

    http://www.funkysocialmedia.com

  15. FlairMedia says:

    You’re my new hero.  I’ve  started using the broader term “Social Business Marketing” to convey what I really do for clients, and helps re-frame things.  Example: If I set up a Facebook page it will reflect approved branding and messaging, agreed upon strategy and metrics (um, no, not how many followers you have), and workflow for customer service issues…just to start.   Anybody can do that, right? :)  

  16. Hats off for you Webb. An interesting article with a good description of what you need to think about and taking care of, if you are in a position to guide a company through the mysterious and foreign land called Social Media. 

  17. Rhyme & Reason Design says:

    Although as previously mentioned this headline is disconcerting, I do appreciate you pointing out the management complexities of social media. I certainly won’t pretend that what I do most of the day is rocket science, but nowadays social media and instant responses are the way of the world and someone has to monitor and manage the details in order to keep businesses relevant in this environment.

  18. This is an interesting post and this discussion should carry on in earnest. I can see both sides of this issue even though I’m on the provider side (I don’t like the expert moniker much either because that’s such a subjective and over-used appellation). Just take a short web cruise and you’ll soon be lost in a sea of experts and that makes it supremely difficult for clients to discern who to start a dialogue with. From the provider side, the level of cynicism is pretty high – to the point where it makes it more difficult to establish meaningful dialogue with prospective clients.
     I’d be real interested to know what type of small business your old partner had and exactly how well he did with his zen-like execution of social media. It’s claims of this type that fuel the cynicism.

  19. Philsdesk says:

    While acknowledging the value of social media – it has a time and place – let’s also admit that there are a lot of “social media consultants” wandering around, but very fewprofessional social media experts to be found.  Most of the latter, BTW seem to be self-taught people who take the time to learn about their rapidly changing “science,” something few “consultant-types” bother with.

  20. DavidTomen says:

    Thank you Mr. Webb.  You nailed it.

  21. Amen! I just created this to illustrate:

  22. Anonymous says:

    good one! :)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Here Here Mark! Excellent to see a fellow social media champion facing the curmudgeons. A lot of the hysteria in these comments seems to focus rather pointedly on debasing the idea that any one can be an ‘expert’. The ‘community manager’ moniker has the laudable advantage of not setting up its bearer as an omnipotent deity of all things SM. Perhaps if we SM types took a further step up the humble ladder and labelled ourselves ‘social media grubbers’ everyone would be a lot less vitriolic about the whole thing and focus on aligning the advantages of fostering a community around a brand with their deliverable business goals. Upwards.

    Luke Winter
    Community Manager
    http://www.onedesk.com