This post actually started out in my head as a comment on Jason’s great post last week entitled Social Media Is The Responsibility of Public Relations. The post sparked some great discussion in the comments, with a lot of opinions on both sides. I think Jason’s main point was to cattle-prod his PR brethren into taking responsibility for all communications strategy, instead of leaving social media as the elephant in the room that they pretend isn’t there. Which is sadly the case, too much of the time.

But part of the discussion centered around the idea that there are too many disciplines with a stake in social media to expect everyone to concede ownership of it to PR. Jim Tobin of Ignite weighed in with a contradictory post. Brian Solis had what was probably the best sound bite of the whole conversation:

Truth is that Social Media is the responsibility of the champions that demonstrate how it will benefit the company and the brand.

Kipp Bodnar also pointed out that here at Doe, social media is actually a completely separate department. Which is true. Jason comes from a PR background, and I come from an online marketing/copywriting background, but now our sole focus is social media.

Which got me thinking.

Those champions that Brian mentioned are, invariably, going to come from different backgrounds. We enter it with strengths and skills developed in our previous fields, and also with biases and blind spots.

I also think that most champions of social media spend a certain amount of time where it’s just a part of their total responsibility at work-and probably a part that they’ve taken on voluntarily, in addition to their existing workload. The evolution that I see from most people working in the field is:

  • Person becomes the social media champion or explorer at their organization;
  • As he or she develops expertise and demonstrates the value of that, it gradually becomes more and more of his or her total workload until;
  • In some cases it actually becomes the person’s primary responsibility.

There is this evolution between “being the PR guy who is exploring social media” (or the SEO, or the copywriter, or the web developer/IT person) and “being the social media specialist with a background in _________.”

So I’m wondering, is there a time when you need to burn the ships? Because the truth is, social media does have too many implications for too many different parts of the business to be relegated to any existing department’s “pet project” status.

Recently, our point of contact for a company regarding their website was the CFO, because the CFO managed IT, and IT managed the website. It seems odd to me that the Marketing Director isn’t the final authority on the website, but a lot of companies still have that structure. They still haven’t caught up to the little piece of Web 1.0 wisdom that the website is primarily a marketing tool, not a piece of software…

Well, technically, the website is a piece of software, but that doesn’t mean it belongs under IT. IT has a stake in that pie, as does marketing, as does sales if there’s a CRM element, as does PR…

Which is why corporate websites take a really long time to build or redesign, folks. Too many cooks in the kitchen. And I can easily see a corporate social media strategy going the same route.

So to be that (relatively) impartial overseer, do you need to jettison your previous identity and loyalty? Should Jason say “good luck, Chuck” to all the PR folks who still think social media marketing is spamming the heck out of bloggers? Should I just cluck my tongue at agencies who launch a “social” app with no actual social element, or search firms whose flavor of social media marketing ignores the customer to chase the click or the link?

The truth is, there was a time when I didn’t “get” it either, and I’m sure that’s the case for Jason as well, and there’s a lot left to learn. But that’s not to say that my background didn’t bring some great assets to the table. I “got” story and context. Jason “got” relationship-building.

So for those who are working in social media in some capacity, what do you think? What did your previous background bring to the table, and what are some personal “blind spots” that you’re going to have to account for moving forward?

img courtesy polska1 on sxc

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    A perfect example of why I hired Kat – To reel my loud mouth in on occasion. But I will never claim ever having a time when I didn't “get it.” Heh.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    A perfect example of why I hired Kat – To reel my loud mouth in on occasion. But I will never claim ever having a time when I didn't “get it.” Heh.

  • http://www.metzmash.com Metz

    I came to this “arena” (as small as it is) from an tech sales and education background. So far, I've either been a consultant or the only person in a service organization that handles social media. One of the biggest challenges that I've run into is that marketers (my client-side contacts) sometimes have trouble selling social media strategies “up the chain,” i.e. within their organization. I give strategies to do this in “There Is No Secret Sauce.”

    As far as the whole 'burning the ships' notion goes, I believe that if the new “marketing” VPs don't have what it takes to simultaneously be the new “social media” (or whatever you want to call it) VPs, then they may find themselves looking for work within a few years.

  • http://www.metzmash.com Metz

    I came to this “arena” (as small as it is) from an tech sales and education background. So far, I've either been a consultant or the only person in a service organization that handles social media. One of the biggest challenges that I've run into is that marketers (my client-side contacts) sometimes have trouble selling social media strategies “up the chain,” i.e. within their organization. I give strategies to do this in “There Is No Secret Sauce.”

    As far as the whole 'burning the ships' notion goes, I believe that if the new “marketing” VPs don't have what it takes to simultaneously be the new “social media” (or whatever you want to call it) VPs, then they may find themselves looking for work within a few years.

  • http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com Jim Tobin Ignite Social Media

    Good question Kat. I ask my clients to consider the background of who is giving them advice (even me–I came from PR and advertising). But at some point, those who are doing this full time do have to acknowledge how different it is than where we came from.

    For me, I intentionally hired people who were not from PR. Programmers, SEO people, A/V people, so that whatever idea we bounced around would be considered from lots of angles.

    ~Jim

  • http://www.ignitesocialmedia.com Jim Tobin Ignite Social Media

    Good question Kat. I ask my clients to consider the background of who is giving them advice (even me–I came from PR and advertising). But at some point, those who are doing this full time do have to acknowledge how different it is than where we came from.

    For me, I intentionally hired people who were not from PR. Programmers, SEO people, A/V people, so that whatever idea we bounced around would be considered from lots of angles.

    ~Jim

  • http://blog.techrigy.com MartinEdic

    It's interesting: My title is Director of Marketing and I have been doing something called 'Internet marketing' for as long as it has existed yet what I'm doing these days bears little or no resemblance to what I know as PR or marketing. Given that we are a social media company it made sense to pursue social media as the primary way to promote ourselves. That didn't mean advertising- it meant participation on a very granular level. Commenting, blogging, tweeting…talking basically.
    So instead of writing copy, showing creative, buying media (other than Adwords), I am conversing. It works and it has helped us grow awareness of who we are and what we do in exactly the places where we want that awareness.
    That contextual relevance and targeting is what makes this new marketing model so effective. But it only works if you are honest and transparent.

  • http://www.whattheyresaying.com MartinEdic

    It's interesting: My title is Director of Marketing and I have been doing something called 'Internet marketing' for as long as it has existed yet what I'm doing these days bears little or no resemblance to what I know as PR or marketing. Given that we are a social media company it made sense to pursue social media as the primary way to promote ourselves. That didn't mean advertising- it meant participation on a very granular level. Commenting, blogging, tweeting…talking basically.
    So instead of writing copy, showing creative, buying media (other than Adwords), I am conversing. It works and it has helped us grow awareness of who we are and what we do in exactly the places where we want that awareness.
    That contextual relevance and targeting is what makes this new marketing model so effective. But it only works if you are honest and transparent.

  • KatFrench

    JasonFalls – I'm still not convinced that reeling you in is a one-person job. ;)

    Metz – You know. your comment reminds me of a blog post I read earlier today about the fact that even the Pope is now using social media. Yeah, when you're making the Pope look like an “early adopter,” it could be a sign you are not keeping up with the times adequately to do your job.

    Jim – That's a smart strategy–diversity is never a bad thing.

    Martin – So you're saying you've evolved out of your old role and mindset entirely? That's interesting.

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

  • KatFrench

    JasonFalls – I'm still not convinced that reeling you in is a one-person job. ;)

    Metz – You know. your comment reminds me of a blog post I read earlier today about the fact that even the Pope is now using social media. Yeah, when you're making the Pope look like an “early adopter,” it could be a sign you are not keeping up with the times adequately to do your job.

    Jim – That's a smart strategy–diversity is never a bad thing.

    Martin – So you're saying you've evolved out of your old role and mindset entirely? That's interesting.

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

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  • http://www.onebyonemedia.com Jim "Genuine" Turner

    I come from the legal department where I worked for 22 years but I got into social media consulting because i had a knack for it. The hats i wear on a daily basis vary from advertising, to PR to SEO to trash taker outer. Yeah Social Media consultant has far more hats than many department heads can even imagine.

  • http://www.onebyonemedia.com Jim "Genuine" Turner

    I come from the legal department where I worked for 22 years but I got into social media consulting because i had a knack for it. The hats i wear on a daily basis vary from advertising, to PR to SEO to trash taker outer. Yeah Social Media consultant has far more hats than many department heads can even imagine.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Jim –

    That reminds me of a conversation Jason and I had last week about the fact that social media seems to attract folks who are “jacks of all trades.”

    Maybe we're the “anti-specialization specialists.” :)

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Jim –

    That reminds me of a conversation Jason and I had last week about the fact that social media seems to attract folks who are “jacks of all trades.”

    Maybe we're the “anti-specialization specialists.” :)

  • Jonathan Trenn

    It seems to me the desire to pigeonhole social media and where is should reside and what who should lead it ends up creating yet another silo. At least a silo in the mindset.

    This and Jason's posts have inspired me to write two posts of my own.

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/soc

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/so-

    To paraphrase social media types, I'd say that if one first “listens” to the “community” of social media types to see what they're saying, and then “engages” them in “conversation”, and does it with “authenticity”, they would probably be “genuinely” equipped to embark on social media. To me, that's “transparent”.

  • Jonathan Trenn

    It seems to me the desire to pigeonhole social media and where is should reside and what who should lead it ends up creating yet another silo. At least a silo in the mindset.

    This and Jason's posts have inspired me to write two posts of my own.

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/soc

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/so-

    To paraphrase social media types, I'd say that if one first “listens” to the “community” of social media types to see what they're saying, and then “engages” them in “conversation”, and does it with “authenticity”, they would probably be “genuinely” equipped to embark on social media. To me, that's “transparent”.

  • http://www.digitalcapitalism.com Kipp Bodnar

    Thank you for the mention in this post. I think you have brought up a great point and an aspect of social media that really excites me. We our fortunate to be apart of an industry that is in its very beginning and because of that, we will work with people that have vastly different types of backgrounds.

    We don't need to throw away are past experiences and disconnect with folks in those industries, but instead we need take the best practices from our past and integrate them into social media principles. We also need to work and educate others in our industry to reduce the types of bad practices that impact everyone in an industry.

  • http://www.digitalcapitalism.com Kipp Bodnar

    Thank you for the mention in this post. I think you have brought up a great point and an aspect of social media that really excites me. We our fortunate to be apart of an industry that is in its very beginning and because of that, we will work with people that have vastly different types of backgrounds.

    We don't need to throw away are past experiences and disconnect with folks in those industries, but instead we need take the best practices from our past and integrate them into social media principles. We also need to work and educate others in our industry to reduce the types of bad practices that impact everyone in an industry.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Jim –

    That reminds me of a conversation Jason and I had last week about the fact that social media seems to attract folks who are “jacks of all trades.”

    Maybe we're the “anti-specialization specialists.” :)

  • Jonathan Trenn

    It seems to me the desire to pigeonhole social media and where is should reside and what who should lead it ends up creating yet another silo. At least a silo in the mindset.

    This and Jason's posts have inspired me to write two posts of my own.

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/soc

    http://marketingconversation.com/2008/07/30/so-

    To paraphrase social media types, I'd say that if one first “listens” to the “community” of social media types to see what they're saying, and then “engages” them in “conversation”, and does it with “authenticity”, they would probably be “genuinely” equipped to embark on social media. To me, that's “transparent”.

  • http://www.digitalcapitalism.com Kipp Bodnar

    Thank you for the mention in this post. I think you have brought up a great point and an aspect of social media that really excites me. We our fortunate to be apart of an industry that is in its very beginning and because of that, we will work with people that have vastly different types of backgrounds.

    We don't need to throw away are past experiences and disconnect with folks in those industries, but instead we need take the best practices from our past and integrate them into social media principles. We also need to work and educate others in our industry to reduce the types of bad practices that impact everyone in an industry.

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