I paused as I was writing the title for this blog post over whether to use the word ‘marketer’ instead of communicator. I tend not to like the use of the word marketing when it comes to talking about social media, but to some extent that’s exactly what most companies have as their core objective in some way, shape or form when they come to think about engaging audiences through social media. I’m always more comfortable with the words ‘communication’ and ‘engagement’, so we’ll stick with those but with a nod to marketing as we work our way through this.
I have the luxury of spending all day every day absorbed in social and digital media. This is my job and my passion. But, on a regular basis I come across communications, PR and marketing professionals telling me that they’ve now been given the responsibility for social media for their organisation and they’re just starting to get to grips with it, or they don’t know where to begin. I would go so far as to say that some look like bunnies in headlights, and amazingly I’ve even had one such person telling me they are thinking of packing in an entire PR career because they’re so scared of the pace of change. Often at this point (preferably before) I am drafted in to help, and I’m certainly not complaining as I have a lot of fun and make a reasonable living from providing such support.
So, as directors of marketing, communications and external affairs search for the person in their team to turn into their digital champion, I thought I’d reflect a little on the qualities and minimum requirements that I think it takes for someone to take the lead on this for an organisation.
1. An ability to rethink everything they’ve ever learned
Okay, so this is a gross over-exaggeration, but a willingness to rethink at least some of what they’ve learned is important. Traditional ‘push’ marketing tactics do not work in social media communities, nor do many traditional PR approaches either (press releases do not belong anywhere in social media – even the journalists, for whom they are lovingly written, typically don’t want them there). So, whoever is doing this job needs to be able to immerse themselves into the communities that they are engaging with, get to know them, and get to know how to build connections with them through providing useful, interesting and relevant content, not marketing messages. Then, they need to develop a strategy to ensure that what they’re doing is aligned to organisational goals and objectives.
2. The ultimate powers of multitasking
There is a trend here. I’ve noticed that every time I meet up with other social media professionals, we share one thing in common (other than our geeky passion and complete range of Apple products): the ability to multitask and concentrate on more than one thing at once. Social media pros are typically really quite efficient with their time and able to switch quickly from one thing to the next. This is essential when you’re working across different platforms, communities, and projects, switching between them at pace. At a glance this looks like attention deficit or an inability to focus, but please rest assured that we do concentrate, we just do it in different ways and using technology to help us.
3. A widespread knowledge of the organisation
When you take the decision as an organisation to engage with audiences through these spaces, they (your audience) think that they are engaging with the whole organisation, not just the marketing team or the press team. So, when someone posts a question on your facebook page asking about accommodation rates for the next academic year, the person managing that page needs to be able to answer them. Providing the accommodation officer’s email address and asking them to ask their question again, somewhere and somehow else is not good enough. You have come into their space, now you need to play by their rules. As such, the person managing this needs a holistic approach and needs to be well connected in order to answer all questions in a timely and accurate manner.
4. A willingness to work ‘out of hours’
Social media is not Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. I don’t think I need say anymore on this…
5. A strong will and a persuasive nature
Just as there are still people who think the world is flat, so there are people who think social media is a passing fad and a waste of time. The job of the social media professional is to champion appropriate uses of social media, and it will work best when the whole organisation gets it and gets on board. To do this a strong will and the ability to argue what’s in it for them is key.
6. A willingness to give as much as they take
Social media is about giving and providing to a community of users. While we can take a lot from it – meeting new prospects, gaining new knowledge, making a ‘sale’ – we will be best accepted by the community if we are seen to be generous and giving in nature. This means that they have to contribute content themselves and not just be reactive to what others are saying or doing. It’s an act that appears to be altruistic, but will have returns.
Google famously gives all of its engineers ’20 per cent time’. That is to say, engineers working for Google can spend 20 per cent of their working week on projects that fall outside of their job description. From this ‘headspace’ time they claim some of their best developments have been born. Social and digital media is a fast moving world and successful communications and engagement activities using it require careful thought and creativity. In order to keep apace with development and develop new ideas, social media professionals must have headspace, or their own creative thinking time.
8. The right technology
This is a surprisingly simple piece of the puzzle for the complete social media professional but it’s quite staggering how organisational purchasing policies and IT policies put barriers to this in place. All social media professionals need to be able to install software and applications to help them track, monitor and engage with social media (tweetdeck, for example). And because this job isn’t 24/7, no self-respecting social media professional would (or could) be without their smartphone or iPad. Having the right technology is essential for the task in hand.
Pickle Jar Communications is launching a cost-effective coaching programme for marketing and communications professionals who have been given social media as part of their remit to help them get started, but feel they need a little extra help to begin with this new part of their role. Please email us for further information.