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What to do about the “social media expert” conundrum

Let’s say you can hammer a nail straight into a 2×4 with one hit. Does that make you a contractor?

Let’s say you can fly a kite, does that make you an areospace engineer?

Let’s pretend for a minute that you have never been in a car accident, you’re a good driver,  does that qualify you for the Indy500?

Probably not, yet this is what is happening within social media.

Social media is a deceptively sophisticated marketing medium, one that even those who do it all day are just now beginning to harness. Its hardly all smoke and mirrors, but much like building a house is more than hammer & nails, a social media strategy requires many different types of skills. Further, as the social media landscape continues to evolve, it takes considerable dedication to stay up to date on the changes in applications, tools and abilities within social media, much like the ability to fly a kite does not make you an areospace engineer. And, even with the best strategies in place, what makes social media so exciting, is that ultimately, your dealing with PEOPLE not machines. People who have their own goals, lives and priorities. People who have feelings, family and dreams.  People are the “X” element in the equation. For every brilliant campaign, there are 200 that are “meh”, even from the big guys and that’s because it isn’t easy. EVERYONE has a Facebook page, because that’s the easy part. Developing a campaign, building community takes more than tweeting. Engaging a community takes more than a Facebook page with snazzy apps. Understanding who your customers are, what really makes them tick and how you can tap into that energy is a process that has nothing to do with 140 characters. That’s not to say there isn’t a subtlety to a well-crafted tweet, because, indeed there is, but without the strategy, the tweet is meaningless. Dealing with people takes shrewd judgment, social intelligence and flexibility, much like that Indy 500 driver is different from the average “good” driver.

But just because you use social media, does that make you an expert?

Many people deride the term “social media expert” and there are many good reasons for that. One argument is that social media is such a new marketing and PR avenue, few people have been doing it for much more the 3-4 years. Even full-time professionals will say that there is a constant risk taking and experimenting in social media. In fact, if you find someone who tells you there is a one-sized solution for your social media objective, that’s not a good sign.  Yet, there are social media professionals whose full-time job includes creating communities, campaigns and analyzing the data you receive from social media efforts. These full-time professionals take seriously the medium of social media and the objectives that can be reached through social media.

While it doesn’t take an MBA to send a tweet (over 18 million Twitter users can attest to that), you might consider making that person more qualified than 6 months out of college. Critical thinking, savvy communication skills and judgment are paramount to the overall stew of a successful social media professional.  Creating a social media strategy and executing with marketing savvy is a more sophisticated process than most people give credit for. There are subtleties within social media communication that are simply lost on those who don’t have previous digital or marketing experience. A good social media professional can help you define your goals, develop a strategy and even train your staff (over a period of time) about how to execute a brand presence within social media.

But why do we constantly see those with very little marketing experience in social media roles?  I think there are several reasons for that. The first is that social media can appear deceptively simple. Its easy to believe that because you have a Twitter account your an expert, but its not that easy to actually BE the expert. Also, I suspect its because social media budgets are just now emerging and few people understand that being a social media professional requires more than a proficiency with tools. I think its also because those hiring don’t yet know how to quantify the skills needed for social media; identifying critical thinking skills is much more difficult than identifying the ability to use a tool. Hiring a fresh-faced kid with a Facebook profile is easier and less expensive than hiring someone with 20+ years of marketing experience. The same goes for hiring a consultant, it can be overwhelming.

So? What’s the Solution?

Distinguishing committed social media pros with established marketing backgrounds shouldn’t be so difficult, but it is. It will continue to be a challenge as the medium matures. But in the meantime, if you are considering hiring a staff person or a consultant, I encourage you to consider your local Social Media Club as a resource (full disclosure: I am a volunteer board member of the Hawaii Chapter). There are several reasons for this. First is that the professional members of your local Social Media Club have made a commitment to professional development. Also, Social Media Club members are typically well connected and they will be the first to point you in the right direction for what your looking for without any flack. Most social media professionals draw on their previous backgrounds, they know what they are good at and consider their co-members as resources for other areas. Most importantly, they are committed to developing the industry and putting their years of experience to work in social media. In other words, when you hire a Social Media Club professional member, you’re probably hiring a team of resources. Committed and experienced social media professionals may not be the cheapest, but they are worth their weight in gold when you consider the wealth of knowledge they bring with them.

Instead of looking at the costs of a social media expert, consider the costs of an errant tweet which causes a PR nightmare, or  the cost of hours of staff time with little information to show or report about your customers and clients.  Consider your digital brand reputation and consider utilizing your social media professionals as resources.

Resources:

http://socialmediaclub.org/

http://socialmediaclub.org/

Regardless of where you find your social media professional, I wish you all the luck in finding the right one for your objectives.

If you found a great social media professional, please tell us how you found them and why you thought they were great!
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