Are you social or anti-social?

Last night I spoke at the British Computer Society, at the invitation of Dr Sue Black, on a panel with fabulous ladies of tech, Jemima Gibbons and LJ Rich.  It was a lively night with a big crowd and fun discussions afterwards.  Thanks go to all the staff at BCS and a special thank you to Jeff Pulver for coming to see us 🙂

Here are the notes from my presentation.  Hope they’re useful!


Are you social or anti-social?

Speaking on: How to employ a Social Media Strategist, and how you should measure their performance.
Basic argument: Social media isn’t going away. But some Social Media Strategists should go away.


In the next 10 minutes I’m going to answer 4 basic questions. I’m happy to address more in question time, but I think this topic raises some really key questions:
1. Why is social media not going away?
2. Why it’s irrelevant to say that social media will be everyone’s job;
3. How do you find a legitimate social media strategist?
4. How do you measure the performance of a social media strategist?

1. Why is social media not going away?

It’s not going away because people like accessing information as and when they need it, and it is natural for humans to share information and assist one another. Social media facilitates all these things. It’s quick, it requires remarkably little in the way of technological literacy to participate, and as the digitally connected population gets more mobile, it’s the sort of short-hand communication which is affordable and low bandwidth to be supported by mobile technologies.

Important to note: Peter Sondergaard from Gartner spoke at the Orange Business Live event last June, and he said that by 2014, 80% of users in the western world and all affluent consumers (20%) in emerging markets will have smart phones.

Let me say that again: in just three years time, 80% of people living in the UK will have smart phones. This means they will have internet connections and social media communication capability, whether or not they are connected at home. Just as a basis of comparison, right now, only 69% of households have broadband access at home.

Moreover 20% of people in emerging markets – that is, all the affluent people in those markets – will have smart phones and internet access. It may not be terribly fast. But it will be fast enough to support simple social media communications.

So social media isn’t going away simply because it has a very low barrier to participation in technology terms, and it resonates with natural human desire to communicate and commune.

2. Why it’s irrelevant to say that social media will be everyone’s job

I get rather frustrated when people just dismiss the role of a social media strategist saying that social media will form part of everyone’s job. The reason why I get frustrated is because it’s stating the blindingly obvious, as well as demonstrating complete ignorance of what strategy is, and what it’s for.

When everyone has access to the technologies and everyone is responsible for what they say when they use those technologies, then of course it is ‘their job’ to use and manage social media. But just because everyone will be using the technologies doesn’t mean that users are working strategically, or that they have time to do the things that a strategist should be doing.

So let me just go through the tasks of a Social media strategist
– they develop and continually update social media policies for organisations;
– they set procedures for issue escalation arising from conversations in social media;
– they respond to queries in social media and contribute content to social media either on behalf of their company or industry, or in a quasi-political fashion to forward the interests of their company, their clients or their industry sector;
– they keep an eye on all the contributions to social media of their workforce and act to ensure that policies are upheld or that concerns of staff are dealt with;
– they conduct ongoing investigations of emergent technologies, identifying risks and opportunities, and either embedding such new technologies into professional practice within the firm or communicating how such technologies can be used among an organisation’s personnel;
– they conduct regular reviews of company social media performance and adjust strategy in accordance with review results;
– they map social media activity with sales conversions (using the term ‘sales’ loosely, as it can apply to non-commercial firms), and report on ROI of social;
– they become the public face of the organisation and the person who can ensure that the right external people access the right internal contacts or information held within a firm.

This is more than a full time job.

It requires:
– teaching/training skills
– marketing understanding
– strategy understanding, and ability to produce strategic plans
– tactical implementation and project management
– ability to read and produce financial statements
– ability to read and produce business plans and marketing plans
– ability to use and review technologies, as well as having substantive technological expertise.

… this all leads me nicely to the next question…

Q3. How do you find a legitimate social media strategist?

Very good question. You need someone with evidence of all the skills I just mentioned, or someone who you can train up with these skills over time (preferably rather quickly). There are remarkably few people out there with all these skills. They do exist. They are just few and far in between.

Trouble is that the majority of businesses who are employing social media strategists are getting people who may have some marketing background and may have some technology background, but they’re highly unlikely to have the ability to develop business plans or indeed have any understanding of strategy. Strategy occurs at corporate level, business unit level and functional or dept levels, and it involves a very specific process of going from mission and vision analysis to environmental scanning, to strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation. Frankly, if you don’t know what PEST analysis, VRIO analysis, and Value chain analysis are, and if you don’t know what Porter’s 5 forces and generic strategies are, then you don’t know what strategy is.

So if you want to find a decent social media strategist, then do your research. Find out who is saying interesting and useful things that other people refer to, and check out their portfolio history.

HERE’S A BIG HINT: if you can’t find the contact details of a strategist on their website then it’s probably not worth talking to them. Strategists who don’t know how to filter their own email addresses for spam are seriously worrying.

Q4. How do you measure the performance of a social media strategist?

This is actually the hardest question to answer, not because it’s difficult to find metrics, but because it’s contextually specific. It comes down to priorities of the business. If your business is about sales, then you need to measure the ROI of a social media strategist who is delivering conversions. Sounds pretty obvious and in fact is obvious. But ‘conversions’ is not a matter of raw sales.  Instead, it’s a matter of optimising social media practice within the organisaton to facilitate maximum number of conversions.

Similarly, if your business is about providing a service, then you measure your social media strategist by how well they support and facilitate services. If the strategist can evaluate a service provision process and find new ways of optimising that process then you have a valuable asset. If a strategist is delivering lots of reports but they’re not helping the people who provide your service to end customers then they’re not terribly useful.

Social media shouldn’t be an end in and of itself. It’s a tool, and it supports your core business. Your social media strategist should be someone who deploys social media in such a way that it becomes transparent. They train, they plan, they respond, they foster and they report in such a way that the social media strategy they prepare improves all aspects of business. That’s also why they need to be senior, because they need to liaise with all departments of an organisation and they need to have enough clout to be able to make decisions on behalf of the organisation.

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