So… Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 2)

Would you hire a social media strategist (Part 2)

Two weeks ago, it started with a simple question we’ve probably all had at the tip of our tongues: “Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 1)”

The motivation to asking this comes from how social media has such a fluid definition, that its legitimacy for concentration would often come into question. As users ourselves, we naturally feel some form of reciprocity from our participation online; we are social creatures after all. On the flipside, there are also many reasons to be critical about the hype, myths and evils of Web 2.0, even on how it could even negatively affect the media industry itself.

Today, I’ll be sharing a consolidated report from around thirty responses I’ve received my initial LinkedIn Q&A (private responses), previous blog comments, as well as through the one-on-one interviews I conducted via video Skype over the past two weeks.

The more I write, the more I realized that one simple question has spawned so many more. As such, for your reading sanity, I’ll be sharing the entire report over a series of blog posts. The parts are as follows:

Part 1 was the initial question. Part 2 is what you’re looking at now, which features initial responses to hiring a social media strategist. Part 3 will allow me to give an elaborate response to the emergent themes in today’s post. Part 4 continues with the interview report on expected qualifications and measurements (ROI) for social media engagement. Finally, Part 5 should complete the series with a short video documentary pulling together in-depth interviews with several social media practitioners as well as related communication professionals.

Please note that instead of interviewing just the social media practitioners (i.e. their line of work), I went for a “wisdom of the crowds” approach by asking professionals across the board, including industries of entertainment, broadcast, design, education, IT, non-profit, marketing, advertising and public relations. Consequently, understand that these opinions do not represent my own; my role in this report is to present any emergent themes.

For busy readers, these interview responses were found to mention how…
(A) not all industries would be appropriate for social media
(B) social media should be a portfolio fixture of every PR / Marketing executive
(C) social media should be a cultural shift for the entire organization
(D) there are social media consulting opportunities abound

If you’re ready, the first interview report is right after the jump…

1. Do you see a need for a social media strategist today?

Yes was the most popular response, though many added the caveat that it should be part of public relations and marketing communication mix. While most agreed that there should be attention towards social media-based interactions, most respondents believe that social media participation is still demographic-specific. As such, they believe that (A) not all industries would be appropriate for social media communication

Gabriel Seah, bizarro blogger / Honours student, National University of Singapore:

Social media is a powerful way to promote your company, especially to the young and internet-literate. It’d depend on the company though. I doubt ICI or Tata Steel could be helped much by social media.

Lucian Teo, Web Management, civil service sector (Singapore):

It would depend on the type of product I was putting on the market. Products with a niche market where all the players are known to each other need not tap on social media. Products which are intermediate products (like zippers which are not end products in themselves) are also unlikely to tap on social media. Products that need to utilise social media have a broad base and deal with the public directly most of the time.

Stephen, Business Manager, major international biotechnology company:

[We] are very traditional brick and mortar and have not evolved to the point of finding a use for social networking. […] Quite frankly, even if they had a need, they have other more pressing problems that need to be addressed before they could undertake such a project.

Gregory Tan, previous project manager, major digital communications consultancy:

Yes definitely but in limited uses. I see the need in the same way certain companies need PR services while others don’t. Social media to me is a subset of public relations or corporate communication however you want to spin it. PR targets the media as its audience so that there will be a spillover effect from the media to the consumer. In the same way I see social media strategist as someone to guide a company through the social networks and eventually coming out looking good and selling more in the long run. Companies that need this the most would probably be in the tech space, consumer electronics, and MNCs or maybe just any company that wants to sell to the world.

I have counter-arguments for this particular theme (A), but I’ll save it for later. Along similar lines, many also believed that (B) social media should be a portfolio fixture of every PR / Marketing executive

Jiahao Chen, Ph.D. candidate in chemical physics, computational science and engineering:

Yes, although it would seem to be a position subsidiary to that of public relations. Most people appear to regard social networks as yet another medium of communications.

Priscilla Tan, Senior Communications Manager at a global Internet company:

I think social media is a powerful medium – something that is essential for marketers/ communications folks to understand, involve in. However, unfortunately, many don’t. [I]f I am managing a company and my PR/ Comms/ Marketing folks are not up to date with social media, then yes, I believe that hiring a social media strategist (in-house or agency) can help improve communications strategies.

Walter Lim, Corporate Communications, National Heritage Board:

I think that I would hire one only if he or she comes with other more traditional skills in the areas of marketing or Public Relations. And the person should also have an existing network of relevant contacts in the social media space, or be somebody who is actively blogging/facebooking/twittering and understands the reactions of his or her community.

Ben Koe, Consultant & New Media Specialist at Hill & Knowlton:

[M]y answer is no. If today’s marketeer can handle customer events, lead generation, advertising, PR, and CSR campaigns, why should they not also have the social media in their portfolio? […] At the end of the day, the social media is still media and any PR practitioner worth their job should know about its influence and know how to utilise it. To require a social media strategist is like having a “newspaper strategist” or “TV strategist”. The value of a the social media strategist should be similar to PR/corp comms. Reputation building, influence, and communication.

Ben had previously blogged about how he “told the team and the boss that [his] goal is to be redundant“. For ammunition, he cites Steve Rubel’s “demise of social media jobs” (Mar 23rd, 2008), and points out how media agency MindShare is disbanding its digital unit in order to blend its interactive services with all parts of the company (Apr 17th, 2008).

Taking this idea further, some respondents reflected on (C) social media as a cultural shift for the entire organization, where a holistic approach is needed for social media to work effectively…

Coleman Yee, Design Consultant at PebbleRoad Design Studios:

Yes, in a sense, as that would be quite a narrow title. I’d say the person needs to be know change management etc, since for social media strategy to work, there may need to be a fundamental change in the org’s structure, esp for larger companies. Just hiring a ‘social media strategist’ is really a band-aid.

Linda Law, Account Director for major advertising / marketing firm:

I suppose that would fall under a media planner’s job at a media buying house or a planner’s job at a creative (advertising/digital) agency. It doesn’t sound financially viable for most companies to put such an expert on permanent headcount.

Discussing this further with Linda revealed a possible strategy where social media could occur at different levels:

  • Client-side marketing: more day-to-day, passive communication
  • Agency side communication: more experimental, campaign-oriented, active active communication. These campaigns could be undertaken by agencies with marketing services and digital capabilities, including: OgilvyOne, Iris Nation, Tequila, XM, RGA, Blue

Swinging over to those of us working in the social media space, we find a general agreement that organizations should ideally practice social engagement online and off. However, there is still be a need for social media specialists, where such an individual would need the necessary skills to access the realms of media publicity, community engagement, co-creation / peer production, and market intelligence. While a question of whether the trend of social media mimics that of the bubble, the fact remains that (D) there are social media consulting opportunities abound

Damien Tan, Programmer and Business Owner:

Yes I would if my company’s success is highly predicated on online crowdsourcing. Just because its “bubblish” doesn’t mean there’s no money to be made. In this I take the low road. […] The real issue is how to take advantage of transient bubbles and make a profitable exit. If there’s a lesson to learn from the dot com bust, its the heightened respect for exit plans. The social media strategist will be the sentinel who sounds the alarm when the tide recedes.

Oyvind Solstad, Technology Advisor / Producer, NRK Norwegian Broadcasting:

Yes, I would. My answer is yes because I do this kind of work myself. And I see lots of needs for it. People need advice on how to use different social services, be informed of the “tone-of-voice” at different sites, features, what is possible?

Ken Westin, CEO / Founder, GadgetTrak:

Yes. I see a social media strategist as someone who manages a company’s reputation online, however has broader implications offline. I can speak from experience on this issue as I am my own company’s social media strategist, it is how my company got started. If it were not for social bookmarking sites [and] blogs, GadgetTrak would have never become a company. Your reputation is on the line, and being online, your can appear to be bigger than you really are.

Christy Dena, Cross-Media Specialist / PhD Candidate, University of Sydney:

I know a few social media strategists that are quite busy. […] I believe social media strategists are required worldwide. […] a company does need a dedicated person in the company – at least to be working with the community they’re creating. […] What I’ve noticed is that worldwide there is a heck of a lot of effort (money, education, training etc) to ‘conversion’. That is: training practitioners and educating producers who are skilled at traditional media to learn new media. […] What I see as a problem therefore is that there is a lack of time, money and resources going towards making those who are already working in the area better, and giving them opportunities to develop great projects. The area is full of newcomers who create on the most part poor projects, while the experienced people lack support to create great projects and therefore progress the area.

Personal thoughts
Off the top, I find that the theme (A) on “inappropriateness of social media for every industry” a little problematic, but I will elaborately explain why in a subsequent blog post. On the other hand, in increasing agreement with more social media practitioners, you will find me having no doubts with (B) social media as a portfolio fixture of every PR / Marketing executive as well as ideally (C) social media as a cultural shift for the entire organization. Points (B) and (C) are crucial for the survival of the media industry especially (see Mark Deuze’s warning in MediaWork). The situation where (D) might happen more so for startups which tend to be agile and willing to take risk, as well as multi-national corporations which can afford venturing into social media with dedicated staff. For instance, Australian firm, ABC Innovation, is hiring User Generated Content (UGC) Technical Specialists. This trend is something which I’ll delve into in the next few posts for this series.

Stay tuned! Coming up next…

  • So… Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 3): An elaborate response to the themes raised in this article, particularly to theme (A), where I’ll show how social media has been used in industries you’d least expect
  • So… Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 4): Interview report on qualifications and measurements (ROI) for social media engagement
  • So… Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 5): Video documentary featuring interviews with social media practitioners

I’ve split up the study into several part because there’s just too much to cover. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to drop me a comment.

6 thoughts on “So… Would you hire a social media strategist? (Part 2)

  1. Very well written Kevin. How come I’m the only resounding “no”? =) It’s odd for me to say it too because that is my job today. Not that there isn’t work as a social media strategist, in fact there’s too much for a single person to manage which is why social media to Microsoft isn’t (wasn’t) Robert Scoble, but every employee. Not Jonathan Schwartz at Sun but every employee blog.

    Just to ask my fellow Singapore practitioners, of the guesstimated 250,000 blogs in Singapore, how many have you engaged? How many can you engage? =) It’s not going to work for me until every consultant in H&K starts getting to know their bloggers as they know their journalists. That’s social media strategy.

    Benjamin Koe’s last blog post..Blogger relations best practices

  2. Kevin,
    Very interesting and well written!

    I agree with Benjamin Koe’s remark that need to get to know bloggers as well as we know journalists, but I see that as a daunting task because I work for a small organization. On the one hand, it seems that the Internet and all its related opportunities allows small organizations the ability to compete with larger organizations. After all, with just an inexpensive Web site, a small organization can reach a world-wide audience. On the other hand, social media is labor intensive, and that’s where the big organization has the advantage.

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