Recently I read a blog post by Jim Louderback entitled, Why You Should Replace Your Social Media Experts with Wild Animals. In support of Peter Shankman’s view that social media strategists are unnecessary at best and charlatans at worst, Louderback suggests that companies discharge any so-called social media expert on the payroll and, instead, do what’s “natural” by allowing employees to release their “inner social animal.”
In defense of his stance, Louderback calls upon some basic theories of social psychology that most will agree with – that humans are social by nature and are capable of communicating successfully with one another. However, his post also asks reader to assume that:
- Social media strategy and social media interaction are interchangeable terms.
- Everyone instinctively knows how to communicate in online environments and has plenty of time to do so.
- When left to their own devices, people will socialize and network online with an “authenticity” (genuine, transparent persona) that reflects positively on your company.
Strategy vs. Interaction
Creating a social media strategy and interacting with people using blogs, social networks and social sharing sites are, in my opinion, two different things. As a social media strategist, I recognize the basic validity of Louderback’s position and strongly advocate that companies do their own tweets and updates. After all, no one knows your products and services the way you do. Plus, outsourcing actual social media interaction may place your company’s online reputation in the hands of someone who doesn’t support your values. Chrysler and Aflac know first hand how painful this can be.
Conversely, social media strategy is:
- Looking at your company’s goals and deciding how (and if) social media fits into the marketing plan.
- Reviewing all the content marketing and social media options (blogging, microblogging, social networking and social news and bookmarking) and deciding which ones best match your goals.
- Researching best practices and mapping out guidelines for implementation.
- Analyzing the success or failure of social media strategies and then tweaking strategies based on results.
So, while wild animals may be the right choice for social media interaction, they may not know how to create a well-crafted social media plan and assess the results. That’s where an experienced social media strategist can come in handy.
Capability vs. Skill
Once you’ve got the plan down, carrying out the interaction in a “natural” way via online posts, updates, links and comments should be the easy part, right? For some people, it is. But, contrary to what Louderback says, not everyone is a born communicator. There’s a big difference between having the capability to be social and actually being good at it.
Add in these additional considerations:
- Time commitment. You must be active in social media on a regular basis – daily, if possible – to realize positive results. This requires purposeful effort and investment.
- Learning curve. To get the most from any channel, you need to know the rules, etiquette and jargon, as well as what tools and techniques are at your disposal.
Tackling all this with the finesse of a wild animal can be fun, if you’ve got the time, patience and some average-to-gifted communicators in place. One way to streamline this social media onboarding process is to consult with a strategist who can show you and your team the ropes, help you avoid pitfalls, and, if necessary, assist you with honing online communication skills.
Authenticity vs. TMI
When you place your company’s online reputation in the hands of employees and encourage them to go wild with it, you still are trusting them to network and socialize responsibly. Yet, the very thing that makes wild animals unpretentious (and so freakin’ dangerous) is their unpredictability. That’s why in an online world – where personal and business personas are blurred, comments are posted 24/7 and search engines index everything – it’s important remain aware of who’s saying what on your behalf.
Your company’s tweeters, facebookers and bloggers walk a fine line daily between achieving that coveted authenticity and sharing TMI (too much information). Anyone can have “filter fail” – you know, that post someone thinks is hilarious, genuine or valuable but instead is perceived as off-color, offensive or a breach of privacy. Just ask Honda, Kenneth Cole and Anthony Weiner how important good judgment, solid interpersonal skills and a modicum of professionalism can be.
One of the most important things you can do to avoid filter fail is to establish a meaningful social media policy. Beyond that, you may find it beneficial to have a social media strategist available to assist with online reputation management. Sometimes that outside perspective is exactly what you need when you’re trying to keep something from getting out of hand or dealing with it after it already has.
So, are you ready to go wild with your social media efforts? Consider having your favorite social media strategist on speed dial.