Social Business, Social Media Staffing and Operations

Debating the Future of Social Media Management

Join Mark W. Schaefer (whose {GROW} blog is a must-read) and me for a fireside chat about social media centralization vs. decentralization. While Mark and I agree about nearly everything, we have a difference of opinion on one particular topic: social media management and the role that social media will play within organizations. I contend that social media will one day be a component in everyone’s job no matter where they reside in an organization’s hierarchy, Mark notes that due to social media’s rapid evolution and innate complexities the practice is more niche-oriented.

We really want your feedback and ideas on these important issues, so sound off in the comments please.

Just some of the challenges we tackle in this conversation about social media management:

  • Is social media too complex for one person to handle?
  • Are companies better off having one or a few social media practitioners, or many?
  • What’s the role of third parties (including consultants) in social media management and strategy?
  • Is Chris Brogan crazy when he predicts social media consultants have just 2 years’ of relevancy remaining?

(thanks to the awesome folks at the Northern Kentucky chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America) for my T-shirt. Follow them at @PRSSA_NKU)

Related
  • http://www.hellobloggerz.com/ Obaidul Haque

    Hello Jay. So, there are two different views (from you and Schaefer) about what social media management is going to be like over the next few years. It makes me think that tasks like SEO strategy planning can be accomplished with the help of third party consultants and strategists, since it doesn’t have to have a human side to it.

    Other the other hand, social media engagement is all about adding a real human side to the way you respond to your consumers. Will it, therefore, be a pragmatic approach for brands to outsource their social media requirements?

    Regards,
    Obaidul

    • Mark W Schaefer

      A hot topic. In fact, that is the issues we were beginning to broach at the end of the discussion. A real customer need but flies int he face of “authenticity” doesn’t it? Thanks Obaidul.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Very good Obaidul. There is a big difference between SEO and social. Social is about people. SEO is about algorithms.

  • http://twitter.com/lievenswinnen lieven swinnen

    I agree with Jays view that social media will be part of everyday live and will become part of our jobs just like other communication tools did. This means that there will be private and public communication everywhere. It’s the public part that companies are worried about because this means more transparency. I think it’s the fear of this transparency that leads to a demand of consultants and when the fear disappears the demand will disappear. On this point I’m agreeing with Chris Brogan’s opinion, but I’m not sure about his prediction that this will take 2 year.

    When Social Media will be part of every job description, that should mean there’s no need of a job title Social Media Manager. When you’re responsible for marketing you have to understand what role social media has in marketing, when your responsible for customer service …and so on.
    I totally agree with Mark though that because mid size companies cannot afford fulltime specialists the demand for consultants and specialist will remain because of economic reasons.

    Great debate guys!

    • Mark W Schaefer

      A split decision! Thanks! : )

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I think that’s how Mark and me ended up too. We’re both right about some parts of it – we think.

  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com Nick Robinson

    I think there will be a role for consultants for some time. Since I am seeing where many SMBs are now in regards to social and content marketing, there is a lot of undiscovered territory for small business owners. If we look at Chris Brogan’s point of view from a big business standpoint, then yes the years might be limited. We will see…..Just read the chapter about process of decentralization (splitting up teams of people for different tasks)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Nick. The way I look at it, there are still SEO consultants, right?

      • http://twitter.com/RyanCritchett Ryan Critchett

        Right. And I think there always will be. SEO is still a very thriving business. Without it, a company I’m working with would be NOWHERE in the engines. It matters.

      • http://twitter.com/RyanCritchett Ryan Critchett

        Right. And I think there always will be. SEO is still a very thriving business. Without it, a company I’m working with would be NOWHERE in the engines. It matters.

    • Mark W Schaefer

      Good point Nick.

  • Anonymous

    I hate playing the predict the future game, because it’s impossible to say where it will go with certainty. I will say this though, building technology for engagement and for standard advertising are a bit different. I imagine within an agency they role will still sit in its own world- but perhaps shift to a “guerrilla/wom marketing” type role. Essentially a good social media campaign is really digital guerrilla marketing, isnt it? Why not just tie the two world together and assign a more important senior leadership position to it. It’s early and I am mind babbling, but right now this all makes sense to me. Maybe in a few hours it wont ;)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Yeah but it’s so fun to predict the future! For example, I will go on record right now and say that the Diamondbacks will finish last again. See how easy that was!

  • Radu Mailat

    I guess if a company wants a powerful presence in social media must have at least two person to manage all the accounts. First, a social media presence requires diversification and timely responses from the company. Second, different opinions about a topic draw many followers

  • Jenn @ Frugal Upstate

    I completely agree that consultants have a limited lifespan-that job will have to become internal to agencies and companies. I myself am doing consulting, concentrating specifically on blogger outreach-but I’m doing it with full knowledge that this is not a long term career strategy! However at present it fits into my lifestyle. . .eventually I will either have no clients, take on much lower paying local small business type clients or transition from consultant to employee.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I wouldn’t be too sure that blogger outreach will be taken in-house. PR firms are growing bigger, not smaller. Companies often like to outsource traditional and new media relationship building.

  • http://twitter.com/tpagakis Tasos Pagakis

    Yes they are complex, because there is the fad of creating posts, views, retweets, portals, semi-sites in millions, so to speak, everyday and that dilutes the focus and the strategic management of the channel activity. Companies first have to become more educated (2-5 years) and then, yes, have an internal function to develop really long-term strategic plans. Third parties are by default short-time span and usage facilitators, in the sense that they familiarize their new clientele with the new media scene and at the end it is sure that among the millions of “media” few will become center of attention to companies.
    Socia media consultants, gurus, social enterpreneurs, social -you name it- create an unbelievable clutter and do not progress the market categories (marketers, corporate owners) understanding on how to use, monitor and develop engagement campaigns in the web communities and channels. A colleague was telling me that he is fed-up with the “XXX social media rules” he is hearing every now and then….
    These all reveal a huge structural market problem: while adland, PRland, and new breed of companies fight over market share and their importance the rising problem is the lack of strategic understanding, value added strategies and ideas …in other words real scarcity of communicators …that can be equally effective in any media.

    Thanks for the valuable issue you raise. Best / Tasos

    • Mark W Schaefer

      An interesting take, but I wonder if ther problem is social media consultants or BAD social media consultants? : )

      If social is an important priority for a company, bringing in outside help can be essential to cutting down the learning curve, providing focus and a prioritized plan. I agree that the market is flooded with people repeating social media myths that mean nothing in the context of many companies. But if somebody looks at the business priorities, marketing strategy and company culture, wouldn’t outside counsel help?

      Thanks for listening to the video and providing this insight Tasos.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I wish you were wrong Tasos. But you’re not. I concur that many of the social media consultant set cause more confusion and tools focus than they should. I’m sure I’m guilty as well, but I definitely try to answer more questions than I create.

  • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

    I think Brogan is dead on. Most bigger companies (or even mid-sized) can only get so far with consultants. There needs to be folks on the inside driving the culture change. It can take a long time and be nearly impossible for someone who is not involved with the day to day activities, politics, etc.

    The writing is one the wall…and notice how many consultants are making the jump to their clients.

    Just my $.02.

    • Mark W Schaefer

      Nate, what did you think about my comment on the rate of change? Are SMB’s going to be able to resource this type of a function? I could be wrong but if you think through the economics I’m not sure it’s completely an in-house function.

      • http://nateriggs.com nateriggs

        I agree with you on rate of change – things change almost weekly it seems. That said, you don’t necessarily have to be a consultant to keep up with the changes either. From what I’m seeing in Columbus and with some clients, the need is for implementation. Strategy can be in-housed as long as it’s with the right person who is out there and working to stay in the know. That person also needs to have an established network of the specialists (to Jay’s point somewhere in the video) that have niche skills — web video production, SEO, WordPress development, creative development, CRM, etc. That in-housed strategist also needs to be up on the new tools and have the internal audience to really make the sell through the politics of the organization. It comes down to relationships across different departments and the folks who hold internal power. But again, that’s just my opinion. :)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      I think the shelf-life for consultants is infinite, but the service offering will have to shift to social business design, not social marketing.

      • http://twitter.com/lievenswinnen lieven swinnen

        Perhaps we tend to look at the marketing communication side of the social web too much because of the “media” in “Social Media”. Changing the mindset to engage in social business strategies is the real change.

      • http://twitter.com/doulosmarketing Dave Wellman

        Jay – I agree with you completely. It will be very interesting to see how that shift will occur. (ie. how much resistance, how much innovation, how much really new thinking, etc.)

  • Anonymous

    Love “expose the sweatshops”!

    I feel like it’s not an either-or situation…much like accounting or legal functions, companies are going to have to decide where their financial and strategic comfort level is for social media. Companies that already tend to have a large, in-house legal team might follow that same model for social strategy, and companies that tend to have a small, core in-house legal team supplemented by “big guns” might do the same. Regardless of whether they supplement with outside help, they will need to get as many in-house people on board with social media as possible (the same way everyone needs to have at least passing knowledge of the legal ramifications of what they’re doing—just to extend the analogy).

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Very good analogy Rosemary. I like that in-house vs. out-of-house legal angle. Very applicable.

  • http://twitter.com/bobfetter bobfetter

    Social Media cannot be centralized function, as many different functional areas within the organization use it. Social Media processes and methodologies can be managed from a best practices standpoint, but every part of the organization can and should engage customers, suppliers, partners, etc through social media.

  • http://twitter.com/teds027 Ted S

    Social Media, or rather the concept of engaging with, and drawing from, your collective customer base, should grow into something shared throughout the organization — advocacy is a product focus, a sales focus, a support focus as much as it is a marketing one. With that said, social will remain a primarily centralized program over the next few years, much like any other function within an organization, no matter how much “experts” push.

    Why? Aside from a few organizations that regularly make the headlines and set the bar for doing things “right”, most companies are simply unwilling to trust in their entire staff to speak for them publicly and unable to scale out even if they are more “transparent”. Conversely, many employees, including key contributors, are simply focused elsewhere, and in many cases, afraid. If you take away things like social support, which while immensely useful, are simply a channel tactic for an existing program this becomes even more true.

    Now mind you I said primarily centralized. Social media does differ from other areas, customer service, sales, or such in it’s ability to deliver back direct value.

    Formally organizations are starting to bring together diverse, cross-functional teams into central “social media war rooms” and informally spreading out tools, guides and how-to information to larger groups. By showing a sales manager how they can keep up with and even close more accounts, social becomes a part of their lives. Over time that sets a foundation to find more contributors and further decentralize the program.

    Companies succeeding in truly spreading out social are those that have found a way to bring applicable, fairly safe, uses around the company and at the same time bring back ideas & input from outside of the marketing / social team on where to go next.

    As long social remains something that’s considered expert domain, which will likely be for some time to come, consultants and “leads” make sense to have around. The titles and perception of the role (strictly marketing vs impacting broader areas) will however change as businesses come to realize that social is ultimately about evolving to match the customer’s expectations in order to build advocacy and not just a new channel to push out messaging.

  • http://www.slice-works.com Meredith Rabil

    Really great debate guys! I remember reading Chris Brogan’s blog about the shelf-life of SM consultants and not being totally sure I agreed with that. But Jay, I agree completely with what you said in response to a comment below in that the role of consultants will shift to social business design.

    As to both you and Mark, I feel like I’m right in between of how I feel. I feel that a core group inside the business is needed to set the goals and that getting everyone involved will ultimately be better for the company. But then, I know that for the company I work with (Sliceworks), we need help with certain aspects such as accurately measuring metrics and that’s where we’d call in someone from the outside.

  • Robert

    I think the points discussed have been valid and I agree with many of you and Mark’s comments. I think that social media may well be split into two areas; one being the content creation section which is likely to still be created by agencies, take a look at print adverts. The second part of social media, the interaction part of it, may well be taken on by many large companies. Dell have a team of people monitoring what is happening on the social net and are making sure they reply to each comment. Many staff can answer queries and stop any issues from customers whether these same poeple could come up with clever related content is another question.

    It is likely that companies will set up social media centres (like call centre’s) in LEDC if they can teach staff how to deal with complaints through social media. However with all of this data being shared on open networks such as twitter, the companies will probably divert to their website or phone and not have conversations in the open.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanCritchett Ryan Critchett

    So I think you both have valid points.

    Great video by the way, Jay.

    Here’s the thing. Consultants will always be around specifically because social has no definitive rules. At the same time, I believe you’re going to have younger people who, based on their massive exposure to social and the fact that some of them are growing up on it, actually make it quite financially intelligent for companies to hire full time, Mark.

    Consultants are going to become useful for the purposes of specialization. In other words, consultants will develop their own special strategies that apply to certain things, and the immersed young person who grew up on social media may not have the same strategic advantage, thus, the specialist, or consultant is the best choice.

    Then you have people, like myself for example, who’s foundation for creating awareness and change (at least initially) is the internet and who become their own social media experts; one capable of making it all happen by him/herself, without the need to hire either a specialist or a full time guy.

    Overall, I think you both have great points. Since there is no playbook, people will invent their own ways of doing it. Some will hire specialists, and some will hire experts, to come in house and be their staff force.

    I just may have to do a video response to this ;)

  • Freshpaint2003

    Thing is everybody will one day soon see themselves as a brand, and will on a on going bases communicate through advertising. Think back In the days old Hollywood when the actor/actress were shook from the Grasps of the studio and branded themselves as independents representing themselves, and as you said finding people to handle different tasks. So with ideas that will flow from the lower ranks people will need to know how to effectively communicate these ideas and changing dynamics of social media. Now the smartest guys In the room should be thinking and seeing all 500 mill users on fb as celebs and asking how do I make stars…
    Get at me.

  • Freshpaint2003

    Thing is everybody will one day soon see themselves as a brand, and will on a on going bases communicate through advertising. Think back In the days old Hollywood when the actor/actress were shook from the Grasps of the studio and branded themselves as independents representing themselves, and as you said finding people to handle different tasks. So with ideas that will flow from the lower ranks people will need to know how to effectively communicate these ideas and changing dynamics of social media. Now the smartest guys In the room should be thinking and seeing all 500 mill users on fb as celebs and asking how do I make stars…
    Get at me.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual office assistant

    Great video! Social Media is not a platform to deliver sales pitch. It’s not about talking about yourself. Listening to the audience to find out their needs and then responding to them to fulfill those can result in a healthy relationship in between the business and its customers. And Social Media is the right place to practice that.

  • Coolkat24

    I think the way we are seeing social media at the moment will change dramatically and quickly over the next couple of years. Really we are only touching on the ice berg of the whole thing. It has only started the shift how peope take it on from a business and personal perspective will change as more technological advances are made. Businesses need to USE it or Lose it. Large buz need to have some guides and differng opinions, but be adventurous. Try things out. Push the boundaries of it within your space. Small buz your lives have just opened up to the masses faster then ever. If the small buz has a neiche market then bam your out there…. viral wants of consumers will drive business to shorten turn around time on products hair scrapingly thin for all…
    but beware…… people have shorter and shorter attention spans. And are continually looking for the next latest and greatest

  • http://www.ryanhattaway.com Ryan Hattaway

    I don’t think that social media is too complex for one person to handle depending on the size of the company, and whether that person is actually creating content or just managing interactions on each of the sites. I think companies are better off having more than one social media practitioner as long as there is a content strategy in place that keeps the overall goals aligned. Having different genders and age groups involved in the management process that are within a company’s target demo can help broaden the content range and personality of a brand that might appeal to different market segments.

    I believe the social media consultant’s role today is still largely educating companies about social media strategies and how to integrate their brand seamlessly since there is still so much confusion around best practices. As with any “bubble” I believe that as more consultants enter the space and general awareness increases around social media, only the experts and consultants who can truly add value to clients will stay relevant in years to come.

  • http://www.ryanhattaway.com Ryan Hattaway

    I don’t think that social media is too complex for one person to handle depending on the size of the company, and whether that person is actually creating content or just managing interactions on each of the sites. I think companies are better off having more than one social media practitioner as long as there is a content strategy in place that keeps the overall goals aligned. Having different genders and age groups involved in the management process that are within a company’s target demo can help broaden the content range and personality of a brand that might appeal to different market segments.

    I believe the social media consultant’s role today is still largely educating companies about social media strategies and how to integrate their brand seamlessly since there is still so much confusion around best practices. As with any “bubble” I believe that as more consultants enter the space and general awareness increases around social media, only the experts and consultants who can truly add value to clients will stay relevant in years to come.

  • http://www.allstar-mailing.com/variable-data-printing variable data printing

    To me it seems like every time someone talks about social media marketing, they talk about how it can benefit large companies and household names. I completely understand how social media could play a large role in the marketing of well known companies. I have yet to hear from anyone how social media can have an impact on the marketing of smaller, unknown businesses.

  • Anonymous

    I think that social media marketers will have to go back to the basics and become social engagement specialists, for a change. Interaction is quintessential these days…

  • Anonymous

    I think that social media marketers will have to go back to the basics and become social engagement specialists, for a change. Interaction is quintessential these days…

  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late reading this, and I have learned a TREMENDOUS amount from Chris but I think he’s wrong on this one. So many companies have yet to embrace Social Media, or any New Media for that sake… I deal with clients on a DAILY basis who are overwhelmed and want someone to set it up, train them, and be there to answer questions as the platforms change and new developments arise.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Amy. I think you’re right. We still have courses that train people how to use Quickbooks, and that’s been around for a loooong time.

      • Anonymous

        Do you personally answer every single blog post? :)

        • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

          Not all of them, but I try to get to most of them. Harder when I’m in the air so much, but I’m home today!

  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late reading this, and I have learned a TREMENDOUS amount from Chris but I think he’s wrong on this one. So many companies have yet to embrace Social Media, or any New Media for that sake… I deal with clients on a DAILY basis who are overwhelmed and want someone to set it up, train them, and be there to answer questions as the platforms change and new developments arise.

  • Anonymous

    I know I’m late reading this, and I have learned a TREMENDOUS amount from Chris but I think he’s wrong on this one. So many companies have yet to embrace Social Media, or any New Media for that sake… I deal with clients on a DAILY basis who are overwhelmed and want someone to set it up, train them, and be there to answer questions as the platforms change and new developments arise.

  • http://www.blog.bulkofficesupply.com/ Adam Ekerr

    There is definitely room for consulting and always will be. Just like major corporations have their own marketing departments and don’t need consulting as much, it is the same for online SEO and SMM.

  • letstalkandchat

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  • Dave Lawyer

    I think more or less everyone in a company will be involved in one aspect or another with social media, be it inside the company, doing company-business or even within their personal time, and adhering to company social media policies, branding, reputation management principles, etc. I also feel their will also need to be a (or a social media group) social media manager, coordinator, project manager, ‘traffic cop’ whatever, that helps organize and coordinate efforts in a company, between varying groups, campaigns and departments. There has got to be some sort of coordination. I can’t imagine just cutting all departments and personnel loose in the social sphere without any organization or coordinating with other other groups, communications, etc. My opinion anyways….. Good discussion…