Burn the Ships! Should Social Media Specialists Jettison Their Backgrounds?

by Kat French |

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

About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.