In a recent blog article, Ryan Holmes, the CEO of HootSuite, argued that the Social Media Manager is dead. In short, he argues that due to the ubiquitous adoption of social media by the masses, anyone who specialises in social media skills and is looking to get a career in a social media capacity is foolish and short-sighted.
His argument is that if everyone is skilled to a greater or lesser degree in using the social networks, why would you hire a sole person for that function or interface? And, precisely because social media is so ubiquitous, Holmes believes that it will soon be fully integrated in all professions and disciplines. I, however, disagree.
While there is nothing inherently wrong or inaccurate with the trends Holmes cites, he does seem to be missing the point of a Social Media Manager. For me, the role of Social Media Manager is not about being the sole authority or knowledge base for social media within an organisation; it is about coordination, style and strategy.
Yes, it is true to say that everyone of a certain age in a society that has access to the internet will have social media skills, but the real questions are what are they doing with them and how will they be applied professionally?
There is also the delicate subject of proficiency; people may have a skill, but it does not necessarily mean that they are good or masterful with it. For example, I have been legally certified to drive a car on public roads here in the UK, but it doesn’t mean that I am qualified or suitable to be a Formula One driver. That example may seem facetious, but it is no more so than Holmes’ argument that everyone can ‘do’ social media. We may all be able to post on Facebook, but what matters is what we intend to post on Facebook (or replace ‘Facebook’ with any popular social network of your choosing).
What does ‘being skilled in social media’ mean anyway?
Aside from the subjective and charged discussion of what being ‘skilled in social media’ actually constitutes, the real justification of retaining a Social Media Manager is one of co-ordination, control, and data management/analysis. It is an overly romanticised idea that by setting your workforce free to do what they want on social networks you will see sudden growth in brand recognition, along with increased productivity and a sense of stakeholdership amongst your workforce.
Depending on the size and sensibility of your organisation, such a liberation of the workforce can lead to improvements for the business, whether that be in terms of profits, marketing effectiveness or general buy-in from its employees. However, I would argue that this approach is only beneficial to a few particular sectors, in particular the creative industries. As those involved with the creative industries tend to write about such things and are notably enthusiastic about the potential of social media in general, it is no wonder that the debate has been framed in the manner that Holmes has adopted.
However, for those of us who have moved in less rarefied professional circles and in sectors of acute commercial or political sensitivity, the notion that all of a company’s functions take place on or utilise the semi-public medium of the social networks is a potentially apocalyptic nightmare riddled with risk and with no obvious benefits over other methods available.
Organisations and companies need to have a curated, singular and co-ordinated voice if they are to be effective at what they do and be able to handle difficult situations or precarious commercial environments. We probably know this more commonly as ‘branding’, but such a mentality should go deeper than policing a colour scheme or the dimensions of a logo.
I am aware that this may come across as somehow sinisterly autocratic or small ‘c’ conservative, but it is the duty (not only the job) of a marketing team to ensure that a public profile is co-ordinated and articulated on pre-agreed lines, often set by senior management. It is one of the ironies of the modern age that many creatives who extol the ‘set the people free’ approach to professional social media are the same people who fete Apple, one of the most tightly controlled and rigorously policed brands since the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.
As Walter Isaacson’s superb biography demonstrates, Steve Jobs had complete control and sign-off of every possible public facet of the Apple brand when he came back to the company in the late 1990s, transforming it into one of the most respected and identifiable brands in the world. I am not about to launch into a hagiography of Jobs (I have my reservations), but the notion that a company can somehow thrive in a ‘liberty hall’ mentality to its public brand is in direct contrast to one of the defining commercial success stories of our age.
Having a Babylon of voices representing your company online without someone’s oversight is as irresponsible as it is radical. The role for such oversight and coordination is obviously one of Social Media Manager, and I feel that the need for this role becomes even more pressing (not less) as more and more public-facing staff engage with customers, suppliers and others online via the social networks.
And let’s not forget that social media is meant to be as much about listening as it is about broadcasting. All professional interactions on social media are heavily content rich, and should be archived and analysed in a controlled, methodical manner. Even if great leeway is given to an organisation’s staff in what they can say or do on social media on behalf of the company, there still remains a need for a central point in which all such information and outcomes can be logged, recorded and analysed so the company can improve its products, services and process… let alone its marketing.
The Social Media Manager is Alive and Well, and Living on the Internet
Indeed, it is Holmes’ very own HootSuite that has become one such vital tool in the marketers’ toolbox to coordinate and monitor their own campaigns, and it has created the needed for a central coordinated role, not eliminated it.
As I clearly stated in my opening remarks, Holmes is not wrong in detecting the trends and attitudes he has described, but I think he has incorrectly interpreted them with an almost Panglossian liberal fervour.
The debate is still to be had as to whether Social Media Managers are too stifling and controlling or whether they are a fundamental necessity to a successful online campaign, but, to paraphrase that old saying about Jacques Brel, I think it is safe to say that the Social Media Manager is alive and well, and living on the internet.
Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in social media marketing as well as offer professional management of social media feeds. To find out, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07970 839137.