When Did Social Media Become An Entire Department?

It’s a really funny Jack-in-the-Box commercial: A keyed up young woman bounces into an office copy room and rambles on to Jack about pictures and trends that culminates with her snapping a selfie of them. The Jack character says “Let me guess: the new social media intern?” and instructs her to make copies, which leads her to mistake the glass scanning surface of the copier for a touch screen.


Tee hee. I laughed. I watched it again. I laughed again… hey It’s funny!

But I’m afraid that stereotype is becoming the impression a lot of experiences managers and executives have of social media experts. I could be very offended at the several implications the commercial made, but I guess I’m too lighthearted for that. If she was my social media intern she’d be way too busy to make copies. Also, the commercial has a modicum of truth. Five years ago social media was just on the major uptake with a lot of companies and a lot of the available pool of “experts” were just hipsters clinging to first-generation iPhones.

But the industry has matured a lot in a very short time. Just as we saw “webmasters” in the 90’s go from being one 40-somethings man who plays Dungeons and Dragons to a wide array of web specialists, we’re seeing the same phenomenon in web content (including in itself Social Media). A few years ago a company had the social media expert. But now, thing’s they’re-a changin. Let me give you a quick peek.

The overall trend is the Publishing companies of yore are now being replicated in social media agencies and companies with agency-sized social media departments.

But with this is a further realization that there is a union with web content, and that the latter has been largely neglected over the past decade. So now both are being brought into focus as the industry matures.

I’m going to take this from the bottom up because these teams exist by reason of the tasks they perform:

Content & Engagement is what we think of first when we think social media experts. These people sit around and think of everything fun, clever, juicy, informational, and sometimes promotional to publish. Under this general umbrella they perform three major tasks: 1. They find, collect, and monitor news sources and trends. 2, they schedule some content while rapidly producing timely content. 3, they respond to positive comments.

Then we have brand monitoring. These people are the bloodhounds of the internet. Their software is always looking for any mention of the company. But beyond that, they also monitor competitors and may be authorized to communicate to customers of those competitors on social media.

Customer service has a chair between brand monitoring and engagement. They field the complaints and escalate them accordingly, usually within the mechanisms of the conventional customer service department, though some companies are merging their entire customer service departments into social media.

Akin to brand monitoring are the lead gen agents. They scour the interwebs for people seeking the products/services offered, or those dissatisfied with the competition. They employ strategies to soften a prospect and develop them as a sales lead when appropriate.

Finally there is the gray-area position of web marketing. This isn’t strictly a function of social media (it’s part of e-commerce) but because of the many options for advertizing and various promotions on social media, there is a very real connection.

In a larger company or agency these roles are staffed by teams, each with layers of middle-management and possibly even one or two executives. It is easy now to imagine how a larger company or agency can keep 30 people busy, and why having one expert is as inadequate as having one webmaster would be now.

Companies like Delta Air Lines, Symantec (Norton), Dell, and Gatoraide have impressive “mission control” type arrays for their monitoring efforts alone. I gotta get me one of these!

Photo from cnn.com

Assumptions Wanted: Dead or Un-Alive

In my blog post Online Content: Dogs Are Not Horses, I began by mentioning the danger of assumptions. I’m here to tell you they are more dangerous than they think.

Assumptions are not just the poison pill of outdated marketers and executives, they affect everyone, even, yes even, the social media expert! Yes, I catch myself making assumptions regarding social media content or strategy that seems intuitive to me, but I later learn is counter-productive.

Snap! Is there any hope for anyone?

The answer is in the long fancy term: mitigation. We make so many decisions and judgement calls there is no way to eliminate them. Who in any industry can achieve that? But we can educate and challenge ourselves so that we have the fewest assumptions of anyone in the room. That’s a good start.


Read. Read and read and read. Read this super-fantastic yet redundant blog. Read books with a better than 4-star Amazon rating.

Analyze. Let your reporting tools confront you. If you went down the wrong track, it’s more professional to admit (to only yourself if you’re lucky) you were wrong. Label your assumption as an “experiment” and call it conclusive: that you eliminated a possibility and are pursuing another, because you are.
It’s not always easy. There have been times I’ve looked at the statistics and started to experience the 5 stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, remorse, and acceptance. Your ability to confront your own assumptions will determine whether you are a professional in the truest sense, or a mistitled lackey. The key isn’t to always be right the first time, but to have the right response to feedback. That can require courage, but will have positive career implications for you in the long run.

Online Content: Dogs are not Horses

I see it again and again; an executive, or a manager, or a sole proprietor, making an assumption about their social media or web site content. Often they follow a pattern of logic, steeped in sometimes decades of experience and best practice. The problem is, it’s best practice in their area of expertise, not content.

Let me tell you a true story. For a couple thousand years civilization has been very focused on horses. They were for a very long time the means of getting around. When you went a-courtin, you would borrow your dad’s Mustang to impress the girls. Generally anyone who was interested in transportation knew at least a few things about horses, and probably a lot.

Now we’re in the age of the automobile, and horses, while still abundant, are the thing of niche enthusiasts. Many of these same enthusiasts also breed the higher lines of champion dogs, which led to something that negatively affects dog’s in general to this day: their quality was and sometimes is based on physical features of horses.

This illustrates a classic rift in experts. The equestrian dog breeder can point to extensive knowledge acquired over dozens of generations. The relatively new experts who explore dogs as dogs see progress in a different light. They have the advantage of specialization without equal benefits of general or multi-generational experience.

This brings us back to our crusty old marketing managers, some of them multi-millionaires, having built companies with billions in revenue, staring down an upstart web content editor with starkly different ideas. If the old school wins, you get something that is neither a dog nor a horse and everyone loses. Often this is exactly what happens, and the company deems the web and social projects as ineffective, not realizing they guaranteed that result before the project started.

The key is a mutual respect. The seasoned executives must grant the freedom and have the patience to let the professional content producer to their job according to their specializations’ best practice and strategy for maximum long-term results. Content creators should look to veteran executives and managers for business experience and understanding of their industry.