Social Media will Normalize –Why Dedicated Roles and Direction are Required

Normalization in corporations
Dan Schawbel eloquently writes his position on why he believes that in the future that there will not be any social media experts within corporations. He asserts that these easy to use communication tools will normalize and be adopted by everyone –without having a centralized resource. He uses the metaphor of email experts in the 60s and how they aren’t needed now. He’s not the only one to think this, this is a stance Edelman’s Steve Rubel also takes.

Trendwatch: Roles are appearing
I respectfully disagree, as I’m seeing something else happen: centralized groups of social media decision making, budgets, best practices, and training are emerging within corporations –some are centralizing. One thing is for certain: full time and part time roles are being created at enterprise class companies, and my list grows each week. (I started with 8 ).

[As real business goals, budgets and resources are put towards social media, corporations naturally react with dedicated roles]

Examining email usage as a model
The metaphor for we don’t have ’email experts’ in 2008 isn’t quite true, as there is a whole class of marketers that have appeared called Direct Marketers that focus on email marketing. While email certainly has become a ubiqutious tool, it takes a certain skillset to masterfully (and often not) derive effective email marketing campaigns. While everyone can fire off an email to customers, planning, care, and experience are required when sending emails to thousands and millions of prospects and customers –as they are representing the brand in an official context.

Why coordination will be more successful than not
While I agree every employee represents the brand, we’ve got to realize that in many cases, brands that adopt social media are using it for marketing efforts, campaigns, and programs –all in a coordinated way. As a result, they have to pitch to management, assemble budgets, get headcount, and measure the accountability of their actions. Without having a real plan and strategy, you risk creating a fragmented experience to your customers, having redundancies from different folks in your organization, and lack true organization.

In fact, I had breakfast with LaSandra Brill of Cisco who has one of these dedicated roles, and she already sees that “Social Media roles will likely centralize, and in some cases in MarCom”. I’d add that’s similar to what happened to email marketing, after years of normalization with all employees.

Take for example some companies that encourage blogging from many employees, brands like IBM, Sun, Microsoft, and HP. While each could be argued to have major success from this open discussion, while they may be everywhere and talking to everyone, it’s hard to hear a single consolidated voice from the many small waves. I could quantify this by adding up the sum of comments and trackbacks for the thousands of public blogs, then divide by the total number of blogs, to derive a conversation rate, which I’ll guess would be lower than many top tech blogs.

Summary: Expect dedicated roles to appear –but as a guide, not a force
So in summary, while it seems like these tools should quickly normalize, and spread to each individuals, companies that are organized will be more effective than companies that are not. In the future, most employees will uses these tools as gracefully as email, when it comes time for comprehensive swell –internal leadership to guide the many ships will be needed. An important caveat: for success, these roles are more of coordinators, educations, and internal resources –not forceful controllers.

Related Resources

  • Trends: Corporate Adoption of Social Media: Tire, Tower, and the Wheel
  • Growing list of Full Time Social Media Professionals at Enterprise Corporations
  • A Complete list of the Many Forms of Web Marketing for 2008
  • Understanding the difference between a Task, Project, and Program
  • Forrester Report: How to Staff for Social Computing
    • I just had another thought:

      When I was writing this blog post, I noted that social media experts needed to apply their skills in new areas, just like email experts had to apply it to marketing (direct marketing/mail).

      The basic skills won’t be enough to allow for full-time positions unless they touch a specific business function.

      i.e.

      Social media specialists in PR, HR or Marketing

    • We absolutely agree on that Dan. In most cases, since this is a new role, they’ve come from other areas of the company, leveraging their diverse skills will bring a broader strategic way of thinking.

    • well put Jeremiah.

      The last part of your post – that these roles are going to be a guide, not a force, is important.

      To be overly simplistic, I see two models. The first is to try and create a small number of rock star quality social media experts within an organization and have them be the face to the world. The second model is a more distributed approach, where many people use social tools to interact, learn and engage with the world. Depending on the circumstances, either could be the appropriate model for a corporation.

      I think the larger the organization, the more important the latter approach is. Which gets to the last part of your post.

      as someone who has one of these centralized social media roles within a large organization (IBM in this case), I see my value in trying to be a guide to the larger community – in trying to get these skills more normalized throughout the company. I know that if I can help drive greater adoption of social media throughout the organization, that will be more important than trying to anoint a few people to be the most visible people on the planet for the company.

    • My take is that Webmasters appeared with web1.0, and that Community Managers will emerge from web2.0.

      This analogy may give us some hints about the future role of these experts, don’t you think ?

    • Well I agree with you but for a slightly different reason (This is the topic I am speaking on at Web 2.0 next week).

      I believe that there needs to be one Chief Social Network Officer because web 2.0 does not belong to any one area within an enterprise, it can and will be used throughout ALL departments, and not necessarily a marketing driven initiative (full post on my blog)

    • Jeremiah

      I agree that these “experts” will be a guide. MarCom will probably get a lot of influence, but I see customer service being the biggest area by far. It will not take much time to get applications built that listen to social media (much like comcastcares on twitter), but the data is fed to an internal ticketing system. Reputation and brand management are the precursors to this as they are typically targeted at MarCom. However, marketing is what you do to get people to think a certain way. On the other hand, good customer service builds a reputation that is hard to tear down.

    • Jeremiah,

      I agree with Andrew. There will be many social media positions (the title will change over time) and they will be embedded within many different functional divisions across a company. Maybe not for small businesses, but certainly for large, enterprise corporations. It’s an easy analogy for me. Every group in a company has a role in operating the corporate Web site. Different discipline, but it’ll touch every facet of an organization from marketing to market research to communications to legal. We’re already seeing this happen now.

    • Three sets of skills involved: using, deploying, and managing. (Four if you consider developing.) Using becomes “normalized,” of course. Deploying (including the strategy component) is a discipline, and it evolves as the tools change and evolve. Managing is a discipline too, as this blog (and many current failures) abundantly demonstrates.

      I often say that, as a business challenge, management is the only really “new” thing about social media. The community manager role is similar to a leadership role inside the organization, but aimed at enabling, inspiring and organizing voluntary participation of customers in pursuit of goals the company and the customer share. That’s still a discipline-in-the-making, and (I think) never goes away.

    • My interpretation of what Dan is saying is that the use of social media currently requires skills that is not yet pervasive and thus is currently limited to a few “experts” or early adopters. But he suggests that sooner or later, when people get educated/trained, technology improves and more successful adoptions to show best practices, that there will be a larger pool of skilled practitioners and not just the current exclusive club of a few experts. Email in the very early days was unusable to most people except for a few that could navigate through the command line prompt. Technology and time will normalize use of social media.

      But I also agree with Jeremiah that the genie is out of the bottle and power is in the hands of just about anybody. You can’t control it anymore but companies do need to provide COHESIVE guidance so that those using the tools for the intended purpose to help meet business goals will do able to do so in a coordinated way. And providing that guidance is indeed another expertise in itself.

      But I suggest the guidance itself or coodination mechanism (whether it is a person(s) or a system) is more of resource or business tool for employees to leverage rather than a command and control structure since my premise is that control is elusive in this age.

      C.H. Low, CEO, http://www.orbius.com

    • CH Low

      Good synthesis.

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    • Well I agree with you but for a slightly different reason (This is the topic I am speaking on at Web 2.0 next week).