social-mediaSocial media is an incredibly diverse field: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblrs, blogs, forums, Flickr, YouTube and literally hundreds of other apps, tools and networks, presided over by hundreds more gurus, ninjas, mavens, managers, engagement specialists. Even the (very) odd Producer.

It’s a young discipline, it’s evolving quickly and new innovations and methods of integration are arriving on a daily basis. With all this going on, it can be hard to find someone qualified to run your social media successfully at a strategic level.

While HR departments are working hard to fill new positions, how exactly do you decide who is qualified?

A fantastic blogger may not have a clue about instigating relevant Twitter listening programs, and a standout analyst might be useless with YouTube.

With little formal training available many professionals are self-taught, and while I’m not suggesting that they are doing a bad job (quite the contrary, I see amazing, insightful and innovative campaigns every day), it can be difficult to ensure you’re covering all the angles and managing things effectively. 

Our own Social Media and Online PR report shows that a majority of adopters are ‘experimenting’ with social media. Rather than becoming heavily involved, they are testing the waters while trying to determine value and usefulness. Likewise, while this isn’t my first social media job, my current position is vastly different from any I’ve held before and is consistently evolving.

With this in mind we thought it would be useful to take a look at what it is I actually do for a living. Both the day-to-day nuts and bolts procedures, and the strategic and theoretical thinking behind it.

Hopefully by detailing my own practices and speaking to various social professionals from different industries here, I’ll be able to provide insights and ideas that you can apply when writing job descriptions for new social media staff and rolling out campaigns. On the other hand it could turn out that social media professionals really are just making it up as we go along – let’s see what happens...

As this is my first post on the subject, I’d like to take some time to outline exactly what I think a social media manager should be responsible for, and how social media should be integrated into a company. Let’s start by defining some terms:

There are several continuing arguments about who should ‘own’ social media, about which level it should operate at and what functions it should fulfil, but ultimately these attempts to pigeonhole things or categorise them as another addition to the marketing toolbox are ill thought out.

Regardless of platform, audience, subject or industry, social media is about engagement

It’s about fostering a valuable, long-term relationship with your customer. Many B2B’s struggle to find value in social media, but at its heart social media represents a chance to develop and expand new relationships, a core tenet of successful B2Bs.

Many will suggest that it’s unwieldy or impractical to expect long running one-on-one relationships to develop from a social channel and cite the ‘weak-links’ theory. However, it’s important to remember that while anthropological evidence suggests an individual can only hold down around 150 ‘deep-rooted connections’ , larger B2Bs have thousands upon thousands of clients and maintain a meaningful relationship with them.

There are levels of engagement at work here that are far more subtle than simply ‘online’ or ‘offline’ and it’s narrow-minded to categorise them as such. Instead, different channels should be viewed as part of a larger ecosphere of available touchpoints. If I want to contact a friend I might phone them.

Or email, or tweet, or text.

Just because I speak to someone on Facebook less than by SMS it doesn’t change the nature of the overall relationship or the depth of trust.

When we look at it this way, it becomes obvious that the more you engage at all levels, the greater value you’ll receive. If your ‘experimentation’ comprises an irregularly-run Twitter stream, then it stands to reason that you won’t make many close friends there.

In offline terms, if I go to the pub once every two months, I’ll be drinking alone. Join the darts team and over time I make friends and become part of the community.

If you take the plunge and integrate social media as part of your wider business and organisational strategy, then you’re onto a winner. The companies that succeed on new platforms understand that it isn’t about the channel or even the message; instead, it’s about engaging people.

Listen. Learn. Respond.

Simple but effective.

Of course, wide-sweeping statements like this are part of the reason social media gets tarred with the snake oil label. Anyone can use buzzwords. Instead, let’s consider things on a more granular level.

A social media manager’s first responsibility should be to craft a strategy. If you are recruiting a social officer, then it’s a good idea to have them show you a strategy outline during the interview. Ask about which platforms they feel are useful for the company and how they intend to use them.  This can be broad or extremely targeted, but key points to consider are:

  • How is the company currently involved in social media? Which platforms do you currently use, and more importantly, are they the right ones? Are you on Facebook because it’s useful, or because it’s the biggest network and you think you should be?
  • Are any employees currently using social channels? If so, are they using them in a ‘semi-official’ way, for example letting their own network know about products and services? It’s important that the kind of material they tweet is in line with your business ethos.
  • Where are your customers and how can you reach them? In terms of business growth, this is the big one. The first thing a social manager should do is to take a few days of pure research time. Consider what Twitter searches you can run, which forums you need to be active on – do you have a very specific community that is active on certain forums, or do you have more general information available? Find general-use business networks like LinkedIn and Xing and become active there (I’ll be talking about how in a follow-up post).
  • Consider long term goals. Ultimately, why is this company involved in the social space? What measureable return can you gain for them by being there and which metrics are you going to use to track that return? A good social media manager needs to know their way around analytics as much as Twitter.

These are simple points but are absolutely crucial.

It’s simply no good hiring someone because they know their way around a given channel. Ignore the technology and really focus on the engagement and integration into a company. Think of ways that every employee can get involved. Above all, forget about follow counts and worry about what value you can provide for the customer. Why would they want to use your social media service?

A good social media manager shouldn’t just be responsible for updating Twitter and Facebook.

Instead, they need to be able to roll out a cross-company strategy that fits with your culture, that adapts and changes according to needs and wants, and be able to implement that strategy on a daily basis.

In the next post I’ll detail my daily routine and give some examples of new processes we’ve been developing, and show you the sort of goals we’re setting and why, as well as the ROI we’re receiving.

Matt Owen

Published 8 October, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (15)

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Laura Price

Great post on the role of social media managers. As social media manager for Honda I have read so many articles where people ridicule companies for being so short sighted as to recruit people "to play on facebook and twitter all day," so it's great to see our corner being fought properly. I think our role is as much about forming engagement strategies on facebook and Twitter as it is about appreciating the fact that social media doesn't revolve solely around these two platforms exclusively. I spend quite a bit of my time advising our European markets NOT to start setting up facebook pages if they don't have the time or people resource to manage it properly. As you say, it's all about the long term goals, not a short term "me too!" Looking forward to future posts, particularly on ROI!

almost 8 years ago


Brad Lohaus

umm... they do nothing.. they play on facebook and twitter all day and come up with excuses and explanations on how 'it's working' .. when in fact, it really isnt... 

almost 8 years ago


Rick Bukker

Let's be honest here and state the fact that while social media should be a part of your marketing strategy, hiring a team of 8 people to post news updates and 'engage the public' is not a good strategy. Yes, you have to monitor your brand name and industry online and it can help to interact with customer through top social networks but it is no when compared to other advertising channels it is not up to par. 

Look at what Comcast did with their social media program, yes it was great that people responded to me via Twitter when I complained, but their product still sucked, when I called their customer service department it still sucked, and when the technician came out to my house he still couldn't fix the problem. 

I agree that things need to be monitored and you should 'engage in conversation' with your customers, but come on, with the now 100,000 Social Media Consultants out there preaching the same BS it is a little ridiculous. 

almost 8 years ago


Andy Jacobson

Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I look forward to future postings on this subject as I'm currently involved in some social media "hand-holding" with existing clients.

almost 8 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Hey Brad- well, hopefully you'll return for the next couple of posts. To be honest I'm worried that there are those out there who use buzz words and aren't really accomplishing anything. I'll go into detail about eaxactly what sort of return we get from the various social campaigns we have in action in a post next week, it worries me that there's so much hot air constantly doing the rounds, and it undermines the efforts of genuinely hardworking social media managers . My intention here will be to show exactly what I (and fellow SM professionals) do day to day, and exactly what the return is - and yes, I'll provide hard figures! Rick - I quite agree. I'm not familiar enough to cast aspersions on Comcast, but frankly it sounds as though they were failing at social media. Given the choice, I'd throw the term out and just go with 'engagement'. If they had a bad product, they should have taken the feedback and improved it. If they had poor customer service, they should have looked at ways to improve and streamline that service. This is exactly what I'm talking about; It isn't enough to simply monitor and respond, you have to use the tools to improve your service, it's about providing the best, most personal service you can, responding to the customers needs -it certainly isn't about posting endless updates into the ether (you can do that on TV...). It has to be actionable.

almost 8 years ago


Kyei Amoako

To Laura's point about people's impression (worse if it's management's) that all SM managers do or could do is update FB and Twitter, that opinion varies by industry and person. And for as long as a marketer will have to explain to people that a marketer is not necessarily a salesman, SM managers will have to "fight" for respect. In the auto industry (and pardon me for using Ford as an example), most brands understand SM and so the SM manager is expected to know and do more than a SM manager for say a local coffee or pizza shop. Of course, the 'me too' factor is the key thing that drives most organizations to get involed. And that's totally fine. Once you get involved, you need to manage your involvement (thank you Laura) by actively listening, learning, and responding with exciting engaging content (thank Matt). As a SM professional, I believe one has to drive the perception/expectation because if my employer thinks all i am good for (as a SM manager) is posting updates, that's a good sign that the organization's SM plan is due for revision.

almost 8 years ago



Thanks for sharing. I think the point that social media is about engagement hits at the heart of it. Anyone can learn how to use Facebook,..., but to be an effective social media manager you need to know how to engage with clients and potential clients, how to find out where they are and where they are going. Some very critical thinking needs to be involved.

almost 8 years ago


Gabriele Maidecchi

I think this and the next posts will help people realize the growing importance of social media in the business world. Thanks for taking time to write it, can't wait to read the followups.

almost 8 years ago


Geoffrey Wu

As Social Media Manager of Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, this is a great article because especially in parts of Asia, no one has any idea of what a Social Media Manager actually does ona day to day basis. As above post states, these people literally think that we sit around and play facebook, tweet all day long.

Trust me, there is more work than that and I particularly enjoy this article on how it stresses on engagement, so many companies miss out on this crucial point. There should always be 4 simple steps -listen, learn, analyze, react & respond. Such minor things can be a big bonus & special touch in particular to hotel guests.

almost 8 years ago


Kiran Voleti

These are quite impressive points.Social Media Manager must need vision and the future perspective.

My points...

  • Ability to face Challenges
  • Should explore new trends
  • Should be Creative
  • Must have clear idea on ROI
  • Ability to build an audiences engagement

almost 8 years ago



While social media managers are important I feel the job has inherited many of the negative values associated with the web in general. This problem is the general lack of qualifications and professionalism across the industry as a whole.

For every well trained hard working skilled web professional out there I could show you 20 useless ones which call themselves, expert, advisor or some other term. This in fact that they have little to no real skills or training. Many of these people have failed to deliver for their organisations and have left upper management with a general disdain for the web in general. Social media seem to be following in that path unfortunately.

almost 8 years ago

Peer Lawther

Peer Lawther, Digital Content Manager at StepChange Debt Charity

The "Social Media Manager" title is much-maligned but from setting up social media outreaches in a variety of diverse sectors I've found that an important part of the job is the internal PR (both of my role and also of the power of social media), to help get over the "Head of Facebook" tag.

This can help in obvious ways - such as buy-in across the business - and less obvious ways - building an understanding of the importance of a social media strategy and its implications for the organisation. It's vital that people understand clearly what I do.

To return to the main topic a SMM is one of the most important links between the customer/client and the company. It can be in much the same way that good marketing, PR and customer service departments should form good customer relationships.

As the article say, it's about dialogue. This dialogue focus isn't new (I was working on forums and messageboards - proto-social networks and communities - ten years ago, and I'm sure others on here have had a longer career in "being social"), it's just the tools we use are changing.

SMMs need to know how to use the tools effectively for the job (and what's coming next), how these tie into the organisation's ethos/goals and how to measure their effectiveness.

But most importantly, it's about the dialogue. Without that, it's just talking to yourself.

almost 8 years ago

Adam Qureshi

Adam Qureshi, Founder & Creative Director at Qureshi Media

excellent post ! i cant wait for the other parts . Social media is about ultimately about people even cognitive / social psychology  and it has to be a good personality fit for the )social media manager " meaning the person is a connector , like to socialize with people in the real world has a passion for tech and is innovative . yes it is a very new field but the ones for the passion for the job will eventually shine through because that's what they love to do , its not for everyone . 

almost 8 years ago


Abhishek Ratna

I think the big challenge lies in correlating social media communications with customer retention metrics or their direct impact on sales. While most companies talk about digital advertising and the need for social media, few address the 'how' piece and fewer talk about measurable results. I shall be reading part 2 shortly, but do any of you have links to good articles on drawin up an effective Social Media Plan?

almost 8 years ago



Fantastic ideas in this space. Very resourceful site.

over 7 years ago

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