Would you hire a social media strategist? Discussing emergent themes (Part 3)

Would You Hire A Social Media Strategist (Part 3)
Welcome back to Part 3 of “Would you hire a social media strategist?”. We’re halfway through, and I hope it’s been useful to you as it has been for me.

Episode Guide
Part 1 introduced the initial survey questions. Part 2 featured responses to my cross-industry survey on hiring a social media strategist. This is Part 3, which is an elaborate discussion of the emergent themes from survey responses. Part 4 continues with the interview report on expected qualifications and measurements (ROI) for social media engagement. Finally, Part 5 would complete the series with a short video documentary pulling together in-depth interviews with several social media practitioners as well as related communication professionals. The series should appear on a weekly basis.

I wanted to be able to determine the sentiment and commitment of friends across industries towards social media use, and more significantly, to understand the kind of rewards they get from establishing relationships and conversations online. Since social media appears to be a rather intimate medium, there’s the confluence of personal and work relationships that I’m also interested to examine.

Emergent Themes
As seen from the survey interview responses in Part 2, after the jump we’ll discuss the emergent themes from my cross-section of respondents, which include 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

(A) Not all industries would be appropriate for social media communication (I don’t think so!)

Since survey participants consisted of friends across various industries, the responses reflected certain extremities (i.e. polarized results). Understandably, most respondents might dismiss the Web 2.0 phenomenon as simply not aligned with their business, possibly citing leisure as their expected primary motivation for social web use.

In the instance of twitter, Public Relations blogger, Steve Rubel, highlighted this point when he mentioned how “WSJ reporter Kara Swisher surveyed her dinner party and found out that no one there uses the micro-blogging site. Meanwhile Gina Trapani on Lifehacker is running a survey asking if Web 2.0 benefits only the tech elite.”

Regardless of this populist notion, this is one case which I have to refute. Throughout media history, traditional media channel (e.g. tv, radio, newspaper) has never been known to be partial to particular industries and has been universally used to similar effect, yet simply because the term social media was of recent creation, how can it be any different?

First, media is agnostic. Every industry, from steel manufacturing (see nerds of steel) to biotechnology (see biotechblog) to even wood craftmanship (see Keith Burtis the woodturner), have used social media to with great success to reach their niche group of fans. Note how these might not be your average Internet-savvy entities, but the same need for communication, specifically conversations between like-minded individuals, is undeniably ingrain for any business.

Second, industrial networks tend to be hidden. The social media communication we often think of refers to web services we assume to be popular with the general public, for instance Facebook and Myspace. There exists the long tail of niche social networks for almost every interest and industry (see 350 niche social networking sites). This list isn’t exhaustive, and is clearly missing the industry-centric social networks which is likely to be part of the hidden web (not publicly searchable).

Third, there’s the internal public. Besides using social media to reach out to the long tail of fans of niche products and services in an affordable fashion, let’s not forget that it could be used to enhance internal company communication (e.g. internal social network, wikis). This was best demonstrated by Jeremiah Owyang, a well-known online strategist and Forrester researcher. Jeremiah was interviewed about his community-building role at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) where he explained that “[a]s dull and mundane as data storage may appear to an outsider, […] every community has it’s passions and evangelists. I reached out to these folks and in so doing, I think I helped bind the relationship between them and HDS”. Jeremiah’s best-known program was creating the Data Storage industry wiki, which was intended as a resource for storage practitioners.

MindMapping: The Wealth of Networks (Chapter 1)

Fourth, don’t forget about enabling peer production. The crux of the problem lies in the perception of social media, for it might not pay obvious attention to the concept of peer production. This is where collective intelligence, mediated through social media such as wikis and social networks, could help solve higher abstract problems companies might face. While Yochai Benkler has a more societal approach to peer production in “The Wealth of Networks” (2006), “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” (2006) by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, explains peer production with a deluge of successful business case studies, including how:

  • P&G is reaching its goal of sourcing “50% of its new innovations from outside the company”, where for every good scientist on salary, there are 200 outside whose skills should be harnessed.
  • InnoCentive is a website where companies offer money for solving scientific problems posted online. Freelance scientists can earn up to $100,000 per solution.
  • IBM gives labor and money for developing free computer operating system Linux. It then loads Linux on much of its hardware.
  • Boeing and BMW open most design work on new products to the companies they partner with.

(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

The theme (B) is a direct given, but theme (C) is where an important realization of a holistic approach has begun to emerge. From my interview in Part 2, Ben Koe pointed 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).

BBC radical restructuring (2001 & 2006)
Click image to enlarge…

In a larger case study, I put together the charts above which compares BBC’s organizational structure between 2001 and 2006. Notice how simplified the organizational structure is, largely because recreating new departments would just create more unnecessary chaos and complexity. I had recalled how back in 2006, the BBC underwent radical restructuring of their organization where BBC director general Mark Thompson once described the term ‘new media’ as an anachronism, saying that “much of what we call ‘new media’ is really present media and it belongs in the main content divisions alongside linear TV and radio”. It wouldn’t be incorrect to assume that the same approach would go for social media adoption at BBC.

Finally, social media educator, Beth Kanter, noted how the Indianapolis Museum of Art have integrated social media strategy into its communications strategy. She pointed out that…

[p]arceling the workload – whether it is blogging or managing a Facebook profile has lots of benefits. […] Furthermore, it is a great strategy for engaging people in the organization to discuss and own the organization’s social media strategy. […] Having everyone participate leads to understanding. […] I’m talking about not putting the social media strategy in a little box that is separate from the organization – that “thing over there.” To be successful, it needs to be a part of the organizational culture and people need to experience to some degree.

(D) there are social media consulting opportunities abound

Based on my interviews, those of us who were professionally engaged in the social media space were able to explain how “social media” as a terminology faced the problem of “presentism“. That’s where such mediated relationships and conversations have always taken place regardless of today’s information communication technology (ICT). The same mistake was made when scholars Frances Cairncross proclaimed that the Internet had led to “the death of distance” without realizing that most community ties and many business ties had been transcontinental and even intercontinental for many years. For reference, see Barry Wellman’s “Physical Place and Cyber Place: The Rise of Networked Individualism” (2001).

Today’s blogs and social networking services were yesterday’s forums, instant messaging and meetups. A key difference now lies in how there seemed to be a new renaissance, where the social media movement didn’t come so much as a technological innovation, but as a social phenomenon instead.

We can justify this by looking through the history of social media, where blogs as a medium have been available publicly since Aug 1999, yet its prominence only exploded after socially disruptive events. In the case of blogger.com, the event happened on Sept 11, 2001 (otherwise known as the 9/11 tragedy). The difference truly lies in how we able now, more than ever before, to recognize the patterns and structures that allude to greater participation within particular mediated spaces.

Even as we use the same tools today, much of what we know of traditional, new and social media have not been completely explored (thus their individual new-ness still exist). In each of these media eras, the exploration through media arts continues to test the boundaries of each media, after which commercial ideas start to develop where attention and feasibility coexists.

Today’s media is highly malleable. Not that prior media had no space for this to happen, but it’s more realized today. From service APIs to focus on simplicity, twitter makes a great example of how something designed as minimalist has been distorted by third party uses in way previously unimaginable by other media channels (see TwitterHacks, now known as MobilityHacks). In a similar fashion, the way a social media strategist / consultant thinks would require an overarching understanding of the media from a sociological standpoint.

For a rough idea of how to approach this, Christy Dena, a cross-media researcher / consultant, accounts her understanding of this particular social media space through literature such as Rob Cover’s “New Media Theory: Electronic Games, Democracy and Reconfiguring the Author-Audience Relationship” (2004), Norbert Elias’s ‘interdependencies‘, as well as something I’ve used in designing my academic courses before, Amy Jo Kim’s “Community: Building on the Web“.

Social media strategies are deep as the rabbit hole goes. In the case of someone consulting in this field, Christy notes that looking at techniques game designers use to facilitate social interaction is very fruitful for anyone interested in using social media to encourage participation / engagement with their relevant public / fans. As an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) researcher, she has started outlining social interaction mechanics for ARGs.

Stay tuned for Part 4 and 5…
We’ll continue with the interview report on the expected qualifications and measurements (ROI) for social media engagement. Part 5 would complete the series with a short video documentary pulling together what we’ve experienced so far.

Chris Bogan: Some Differences Between Pitching Mainstream Press and Bloggers
Jaffe Juice: How many social media experts does it take to change a lightbulb?

8 thoughts on “Would you hire a social media strategist? Discussing emergent themes (Part 3)

  1. “Understandably, most respondents might dismiss the Web 2.0 phenomenon as simply not aligned with their business, possibly citing leisure as their expected primary motivation for social web use.”

    Or perhaps, their business is simply not aligned with the Web 2.0 phenomenon?

    coleman yee’s last blog post..Web Ribbon

  2. Great writeup. Where we’re headed is possibly social media becoming as ubiquitous as corporate communications itself. I think Benkoe and Walter made a good point in part 2 that they wouldn’t hire social media experts because it would soon be a common prerequisite skill for comms executives.

    I think this middle ground of realigning social media expertise from specialist to something everyone does is a possible career opportunity – someone who trains the internal staff to manage the external communications.

    Lucian’s last blog post..Second Thoughts

  3. I believe most of us agree on the general dispersion of social media practices throughout organizations.

    Furthermore, I think we will probably see various levels of social media engagement in companies:

    Lower level where social media engagement becomes a daily practice by employees throughout the company, mostly passive and in response to feedback.

    Higher level where more deliberate social media training and engagement is choreographed by specific consultants, where online campaigns are formed for peer production / co-creation with relevant communities (e.g. blog /twitter conversations, remixing branded media).

  4. Great report and focus on the relationships that are the core of the social movement. We will continue to see that concept driving social media strategy deeper into communucations strategy.

  5. Great report, i agree with points C and D. Having just done a post on “Crisis Management: Is social media the way to go?” I think an organization might only truly realize the power that social media is able to cut through traditional media and reach out to consumers, making it a more personal response to build a relationship in tough times.

    For companies neglecting social media’s use, a crisis might present an opportunity for an organization to realize its usefulness and might hire a specialist to guide them through troubled times.

    Looking forward to the next report!

  6. BradMays, I’m “following” you on Twitter. We do need more integration between blog commenting and twitter.

    OldSkoolMark, Interesting article, though in a crisis, I think managing communication across all (360 degrees) media is necessary. What social media does especially well in disasters, is to let victims coordinate and take care of their own need extremely well, with little effort from the top.

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