4. Expertise is specific, not general. Understand this before hiring someone for a Social Media oversight role.
Of the four Cardinal types of roles we mentioned at the beginning of this post, none requires a Social Media “expert.”
Let’s define what a Social Media “expert” is: …
Is an SM ‘expert’ a blogger/public speaker/author whose blog used to round off the Technorati Top 50 back in 2005? (Remember Technorati? Bonus points if you do.) It could be. In many cases, that is exactly who companies look to for advice and insight on Social Media prowess and savvy. But ask yourself this: How does writing a blog qualify someone to help you build a multi-platform Customer Service center? How does chatting up friends on Twitter qualify someone to both engineer and bring to fruit the inevitable and incredibly complex change management process that comes with the integration of a Social Media program across a global organization? How does knowing how to optimize a Facebook page qualify someone to create a measurement practice based on business performance, not just a set of canned “Social Media metrics”? (Why do you think so many SM “experts” keep coming up with made-up equations and bogus R.O.I. calculators instead of developing measurement methodologies based on real objectives?)
Is an SM “expert” someone whose last job title was “Social Media Director?” Maybe. If your name happens to be Scott Monty, absolutely. Unfortunately, working in this “industry,” I see the flip side of that coin as well. Not everyone with that title on their resume is worthy of the title. I am reminded of more than one PR tour de force in which non-existent Social Media programs were repeatedly cited in a number of publications for their outstanding contributions to the companies they serve… yet didn’t actually do anything with Social Media.
Let me illustrate: One American company’s Social Media program notoriously made a fairly well-read publication’s Top 10 list of the best Social Media programs in the US… while not actually having a Social Media program. I don’t want to embarrass the writer, the publication, or the company in question, but here are the facts: Almost two years into appointing a full time Social Media Director, this company is still “doing research” into Social Media. Its activity across Social Networks consists only of press releases being pushed out (occasionally) across Facebook and Twitter. The accounts there respond to no one, follow no one, and are for the most part abandoned. The Social Media role at this company is either accountable to no one, that “someone” doesn’t care, or perhaps that “someone” doesn’t understand enough about the role to know they are being taken for a ride.
Beyond the company’s wasted resources and the C-suite’s dashed hopes as long as this individual remains in the role, here is the real threat:
Behind this program is an individual who can now claim to have been “Social Media Director” at a major company, even though no Social Media program actually exists. On paper, they look to an unsuspecting recruiter like a pretty solid catch. They could be the next A-list applicant for a similar position at your company. The result: A year from now, you may be no further than you are today, while your competitors might be eating your lunch.
The Emperor’s New Clothes isn’t just a children’s tale. In Social Media, it is a common mode of subterfuge: False expertise managing either imaginary programs or anemic ones, reporting success to the C-suite by pointing to irrelevant (and sometimes fabricated) metrics, and using PR slides-of-hand to round off the trick.
I have dozens of stories like this one, each one all too real.
I have spoken by phone and face-to-face with several of these “professionals’ and found the depth of their BS astounding. You will typically find them at every major Social Media event, sitting in the crowd, attending lectures, conspicuously present at “industry” dinners. Their companies may even co-sponsor some of these events, providing swag, products and entertainment. Budgets have to be spent, after all, and sponsorship = PR = mentions = Social Media metrics.
Note: A common M.O. is this. Buy attention, record the Social metrics that resulted from traditional media campaigns, and call that a Social Media win quarter after quarter. (Sponsorship = PR = mentions = Social Media metrics.) Because these individuals do not measure R.O.I. the way any other department would, they manage to fly under the radar.
The motive isn’t complicated: There is good money to be made at the Director or VP level in the corporate world. Social Media offers a very fast advancement track right now, and few executives understand the space well enough to smell a rat.
Ask yourself why Scott Monty comes up as one of the very few legitimate Social Media directors with a track record of excellence. With hundreds of well known brands actively jumping into the Social Media space in the US alone, (and by their own accounts, all rocking it out,) why is it that so few Social Media Directors garner the same recognition as Scott? Where are the other professionals? What are they doing?
We saw last week how McDonald’s own Rick Wion seemed confused about something as glaringly simple as the difference between Foursquare Check-ins and actual foot traffic at McDonald’s 13,000+ restaurants. (Not to single him out, but the story is so fresh in everyone’s minds that it makes sense to use it here.) His error is made abundantly clear in a post by Thomas Baekdal, in which he frames the problem with basic numbers:
Before the campaign, McDonald’s had an average of about 2,000 check-ins per day, on the day before the campaign they had 2,146 check-ins, followed by a spike of 719 check-ins – or 33.5% – a number that then quickly drops back to “normal” only 3 days later.
In other words, McDonald’s recorded an increase in 719 net check-ins on the day of the promotion.
719. Remember this number.
This prompted Rick Wion, McDonald’s Social Media Director, to state last week at the Mobile Social Communications conference that:
I was able to go to some of our marketing people — some of whom had never heard of Foursquare — and say, ‘Guess what. With this one little effort, we were able to get a 33% increase in foot traffic to the stores.’ (Source)
A statement he repeated again on his personal blog on September 17th, the day Mashable originally reported on his 33% foot traffic increase claim, without initially verifying his numbers.
Not a 33% increase in “check-ins,” but a 33% increase in “foot traffic.”
An astounding mistake for anyone working for a company the size of McDonald’s. Here’s why:
The underlying problem is that McDonald’s has about 26 million customers per day, meaning a 33% increase equals 7.8 million foursquare users. But, Foursquare has only a total of three million accounts (and only one million active users). You don’t have to be a math wiz to see that something is wrong.
Not so for Rick, who explains in a tweet last week:
We consider checkins the same as a person entering the restaurant.
This level of confusion from a Social Media Director – especially one working for a global superbrand – is staggering.
Even assuming that 100% of all 719 check-ins were legitimate (no one gamed the system by remotely checking-in, which is an assumption I would not be comfortable making), that figure is a far cry from a 33% increase in foot traffic, which would equate to over 7 million net new visitors to over 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants on Foursquare Day.
What do you do when your Social Media Director – your in-house “expert” in all matters of Social Media – cannot tell the difference between a campaign that yields only 719 net new visitors, and one that would yield over 7 MILLION net new visitors? Between a Foursquare metric and a net physical metric?
Again, not to single out Rick Wion. The timing of this post just happens to coincide with his unfortunate error.
All this to illustrate that just because someone is or has been a “Social Media Director” doesn’t mean a whole lot. Many of them are very nice folks, competent in other areas, and insightful to boot. Not a bad bone in their bodies. They just don’t need to be doing this.
Want to see who does it right? Check out what Starbucks, Ford, Old Spice, DELL, The Home Depot and Virgin America, for starters.
Social Media “expertise”: Bloggers and Social Media evangelists vs. Social Media-savvy Executives
Are there solid bloggers out there? Yes. Are there people who know how to sell themselves as “guys who were there” before Social Media was even a term? Yes. Are there people who can speak intelligently about Social Media and how it can help business and evangelize its adoption? You bet.
But none of this qualifies a user of Social Media to develop, manage and measure a company’s Social Media program.
What I see a lot of is blogging expertise. I see commenting experience. I even see online publishing and online conversation expertise. Plenty of people will convince you that because they chat on Twitter and Facebook, they are Social Media experts. That because they did it two years before everyone else, their 140-character conversational skills are superior to the majority of Social media neophytes. Social Media expertise, however, no. The field is too broad. Too new. The term “Social Media expert” means nothing. It is a fabricated notion. Anyone who claims to be an expert because they have a blog and 100,000 Followers on twitter and has spoken at such and such event is trying to sell you something fishy.
There are, however, individuals who have developed true expertise in very specific areas: Frank Eliason – Formerly of Comcast – for example, brilliantly pioneered the integration of Social Media into Customer Service departments. As I have mentioned before, Radian 6’s Amber Naslund is an expert when it comes to Community Management. Ford’s Scott Monty is an expert at not only developing and managing complex Fortune 500 Social Media programs, but being the face of Ford in the Social space. Mari Smith (yes, someone whose activities and motives I have criticized on this very blog) is an expert when it comes to optimizing, even managing a Facebook page. (Credit where credit is due.) My good friend Scott Gould is an expert when it comes to producing events using Social Media and online communities as their main promotional drivers. They – and others like them – are not Social Media experts. They are experts in very specific niches that touch on Social Media, and well rounded in other areas as well.
Expertise is specific. Like focus, it cannot be broad. Experts are the first people you call when faced with a specific problem. For Social Media R.O.I. measurement, I would look to FH‘s Don Bart or John heaney for a second opinion. For Twitterface Intefy integration or WordPress magic, Kristi Colvin and the folks at Fresh ID. To create word-of-mouth movements, I would call Geno Church and Brains on Fire. These are all brilliant, very well rounded folks, but their expertise is specific. You can tag them in 3-5 words:
Social Media R.O.I.
Twitterface Intefy Integration
Word of Mouth Movements
This is expertise: Specificity, not breadth.
Yet, the type of expertise required of someone hired to be a Social Media Director is ironically NOT one that primarily deals with Social Media.
Back to our original point: A Social Media Director role does not require a Social Media “expert.” What it requires instead is a very specific skillset based on the function it aims to perform for the organization, coupled with a fluency in Social Media that pertains to that specific role.
Just as all Social Media backgrounds are not the same, no two Social Media Director roles are the same. Organizations looking to hire a new SM Director need to take into account the company’s culture, its current state of SM adoption, its primary and secondary objectives, and not least on the list: The operational, cultural and political hurdles this SM Director will have to overcome in the process of creating and managing a well oiled SM program.
An accomplished blogger may make a fantastic Community Manager for day to day activity, but be completely out of their depth when a serious PR crisis hits. They may understand how to build communities but not how to integrate business development into what they do. A visionary strategist (the idea guy) may be completely incapable of navigating the inner politics of an organization to put his ideas into practice. Change management is hard. No amount of blogging and public speaking can prepare you for the dysfunctional politics of a siloed, risk-averse corporation.
The ideal candidate for a Social Media Director or VP role is thus something much more complex than someone with a combination of influence on Twitter, blog traffic, or even a previous Social Media management role on their CV. These things are important, and they help tell a story, but at the core a qualified candidate must be qualified well beyond the world of Social Media. A balance between Social Media fluency and business management (or program management) fluency is required. The individual must be a student of business strategy, be able to bring value to every department with his/her Social Media activity, be able to form coalitions in difficult political environments, be able to hire and develop outstanding talent, be clever and imaginative, be ethical, be fluent in PR management, customer service management, customer experience management, marketing management and business measurement, and must be adaptable to the company culture they are about to become a part of. (And yes, they MUST be fluent in Social Media measurement – from being able to tell the difference between a check-in and an actual visit, to knowing the difference between R.O.I. and non-financial outcomes. measurement fluency speaks to a manager’s capacity to plan, analyze, adapt and report, four activities without which adequate program management are impossible.)
Beyond that, the ideal candidate must be genuinely fascinated by Social Media and the role it plays in both the business world and the consumer world. We are talking about insatiable passion and curiosity for this medium. You want pioneers. Folks who, while meeting every requirement I have mentioned in addition to those of your choosing, will explore this space and its capabilities faster, deeper and better than everyone else.
I repeat: Hire carefully.