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.