photo: Bob Elsdale

From Linda Zimmerman, in response to Is Your Social Media Director Qualified?

One point you made in the video I’d like to highlight. You mentioned Frank at Comcast who has taken his knowledge of customer service and social media and meshed them together. This is key. EVERY professional needs to understand social media in their own context so they can *interpret* it into their profession and job. This by the way should be part of a social media director’s job – educating.

I must take you to task on one point however. I think you fall into a common trap in your definition of “first type” using “recognized thought leader” as a criteria to be considered “first tier.” I see this generalization of “celebrity” in social media equating to “first tier” as an equally disturbing problem in the social media profession.

I have the privilege of working with many professionals who equal or often out-think those “thought leaders” every day, who have been evolving with the web culture longer, who deeply understand and interpret social media in a broader business context, and who are plodding away profoundly changing the way businesses run, understand and interact. They are behind the scenes, quietly affecting change. They engage with the tools to understand consumer trends and cultural shifts, then interpret them for the business.

I applaud your list of competencies (marketing focused as they are), as they get at the heart of how to identify these “invisible giants.”

In my world view, a Social Media Director needs to be able to broadly address your point about cross-functional impacts – marketing is only one application of social media.

Brilliant. I love it.

So, two points:

1. Social Media “thought leaders” and rock stars have their place, sure… and I have to tread lightly since I might have a toe or two planted on that side of the fence, but beware the “blogger-turned-Social Media genius” syndrome. It’s one thing to evangelize Social Media, even if you do it extremely well, but another COMPLETELY to work within an organization at the Director or VP level actually INTEGRATING and OPERATIONALIZING Social Media (or anything, for that matter).

Before you can be a Social Media Director within a Marketing department, you first have to be a Marketing Director. Before you can be a Social Media Director in a PR department, you first have to be a PR Director. Same with HR, Business Development, IT, etc. See where I am going with this? An individual with “extensive” Social Media experience (please forgive my liberal use of the term “extensive”) cannot function at the Director level without prior experience at that level outside of “Social Media.”

Your knowledge of the function of a department (or group of departments) takes precedence over your knowledge of Social Media.

Why? Because the function(s) of one or more department don’t change when you add a social component to the mix. How they go about doing their work, sure, Social changes the strategies and tactics, but not the function. Look at it this way: Social ENHANCES Marketing, Customer Service, HR, IT, Sales and PR the same way that web and mobile do. If you don’t understand how a Marketing or PR or Sales department works – from the perspective of a Marketing/PR/Sales Director or VP – you aren’t ready to be a Director in that department, no matter how comfortable you think you are with FaceBook, Twitter, Radian6 and ScoutLabs. This is a FACT. You need a rich blend of both worlds – “Traditional” and “New/Social” – if you are to be successful in this space at the Senior level.

Hiring a Social Media “rock star” who understands how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendfeed, Google Buzz and a dozen other tools and has a really good blog about it but has ZERO experience working as a Director in the type of environment you expect them to operate in is a disaster waiting to happen: Nothing will ever get done. Politics will turn every project into a time-suck. Nothing will click. Your Social Media experiment will be all pain, no gain, with your rock star complaining about how you need to “chaaaaange” and “let go of your oooooold ways,” and how he “just can’t function in that kind of environment.”

Apparent knowledge of Social Media (the ability to talk at length about Social Media) doesn’t trump operational expertise (the ability to actually turn knowledge into action – and successful action at that).

First, as Linda brought up in her comment, there is a HUGE difference between Social Media Evangelists and Trained executives with a practical understanding of Social Media integration and management.

Second, there is also a huge difference between Social Media practitioners who can operate at the junior level, and Social Media practitioners who can operate at the senior/executive level. Huge. Massive. Humongous. (Category 1 vs. Category 2 in my previous post.)

How do you tell them all apart? Simple:

1) Establish that they do in fact know what they are talking about in SM (Google them, read their blog, see where they are in SM and what they do there, how they behave, what they talk about, if their content is their own or a constant rehash of someone else’s work, etc. Don’t forget to see HOW LONG they have been in the space. A self-professed “Guru” with all but three months of activity on Twitter, no blog to speak of and a network of twenty people on LinkedIn, for example probably shouldn’t move on to the next step in your selection.

2) Dive deeper into their content. Are they really a master of their trade, or are they little more than a cultural evangelist inspired by other people’s blogs? (Is their advice practical or theoretical? … assuming they provide advice at all.) Do they actually solve problems, or muse about what could be? Are they truly THINKING about Social Media from a strategic or tactical standpoint, or just yapping about the latest tool they read about on Mashable?

3) You’re going to laugh, but yeah, look at their CV/Resume. (I know, it’s old school, but bear with me.) Where have they worked? What have they done? What level of management have they reached? Just because someone understands Social Media through and through (and shows tremendous promise for your organization) doesn’t mean they are experienced enough to be given a Director level position. Could they be mentored and fast-tracked into the position after some time? Sure!  Make them a Social Media advisor to the CMO if that works. An in-house consultant, even. But BE CAREFUL how quickly you promote or hire someone for a key leadership position with a) P&L and staff responsibilities, and b) a need for a tremendous amount of change management savvy (which comes with a need for serious political Kung Fu skills). Even someone with lots of community management experience isn’t necessarily ready for a Director-level role.

Among the things you should look for in their CV/Resume, apart from their Social Media savvy: Director-Level experience or above, change management experience at the corporate level, a capacity for adaptation, solid leadership experience, crisis management experience.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Social Media is an integration piece. It needs to be embedded in the organization. If it isn’t, it won’t do a damn bit of good to anybody. Can you outsource some elements of it? Yes. All of it? No. You don’t outsource your email, do you? Everyone still has a phone on their desks too, right? Okay. This is no different. Agencies can handle some of this for you, but the kernel has to be managed within, and someone with operational savvy has to help you build a framework to do just that.

Consult with with Social Media rock star bloggers if you must (and there are some great ones out there who can help you out,) but when it comes to HIRING a Social Media Director (who will take you from “talking” to “doing”, look for folks with REAL EXPERIENCE in the corporate world, who have figured out how to bring Social Media into their field(s) of expertise. Those are the folks who will actually make Social media work for your organization. The folks who will put it into practice and into action. Those are your “invisible giants.” (Though be ready: They won’t stay invisible long.)

2. If you still think that Social Media is a Marketing function, start over from the beginning. You still don’t understand how this space fits into your business or the way your customers expect it to fit into their lives… and we need to get you back on track fast.

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Incidentally (and please forgive the self-promotion since I am behind these events), if you are still curious about how to plug social media into your organization or business, Red Chair training events are launching in the US this year, starting with Portland, OR. These events are usually broken down into two sessions:

Day 1 – “Red Chair: Executive” is a one-day course specifically designed to teach CMOs, CEOs, executives, VPs, Director level professionals and senior-level consultants how to properly build, integrate, manage and measure Social media programs across their organization.

Day 2 – “Red Chair: Studio” is a half day course specifically designed to teach Department Managers, account-level managers and junior consultants how to build, manage and grow specific social media programs based on their specific departmental needs.

Unlike the types of presentations you usually sit through at conferences or via webinar, Red Chair training is designed to teach you how to actually plan for and manage your Social Media infrastructure. This is the real thing. No evangelizing, no rehashed theory, no Facebook 101 junk… Real training for real world applications, from the perspective of running a business.

Stop Number one is in Portland on March 11 and 12. If you or someone you know in the Portland/Seattle area is interested in actually having someone show you how to do this properly, consider registering. (If you want to fly in from another part of the country, that’s cool too.) Go register now.