Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of posts discussing training employees to handle the social media role within an organization.

The theory goes that if someone is going to be the “face” of a business, they need to be carefully instructed how to actually portray that business, articulate corporate messages and, even further, need to go through a rigorous “this is how we communicate” program. That probably explains the army of social media gurus who make a living telling large corporates how to “do this social stuff.”

Perhaps I’m just a grumpy old curmudgeon, but I can’t help but hear things like this and want to call bullshit. It seems an opportune time to, yet again, to call out these social media gurus for the snake oil merchants they really are.

Is there in fact a need for this sort of learning?

Well the author of a post on MyVenturePad raises some interesting points to consider. According to Brian Rice:

Plain and simple the social media person needs to “fit” the role of the company, naturally. In other words, they need to have good chemistry with the rest of the “team.” They are on the front lines and interact directly with the audience.

Now Rice’s post doesn’t specifically say organizations need to go out and teach people how to do all this talkin’ stuff. He makes the case for using a trained spokesperson with the understanding that social media manager a company hires must reflect the personality of that company (all the while being able to inject their own personality into the mix as well). Many of the ideas he presents in his post, however, do play into the hands of those aforementioned social media gurus, especially when you hear Rice’s story about a large car dealership in Dallas that recently ran an advertisement that read:

Lookin for college kid to twitter, do our emails and Facebook. You can do this from your dorm-room or wherever…

That’s really scary and if that dealership’s advertisement is the norm, then yes, let’s set up an entire university devoted to exclusively teaching all of us about social media.

But my observation of social media within traditional businesses sees them falling into two distinct camps:

  1. The ultra conservatives who don’t really know how to do anything related to social media, aren’t sure if it’s wise or safe to do anything with social media, and would much rather continue to dictate emails to their secretaries.
  2. The quasi-mods who are keen to socially mediat,e but consider it just another role to farm out, like clearing the trash and scrubbing the toilets.

Both need to understand that social media is the voice of THEIR company. It is the way that, depending upon your particular industry, the majority of your customers and prospects will communicate with the organization…if not today, next year or the year after.

As Rice says:

This is REAL! This is marketing, business development, crisis communication and PR ALL wrapped up in one platform! Until people realize that, companies will continue to struggle to find the right approach and truly get ROI from social media

Over on ZDNet, Phil Wainewright wrote a typically excellent post about social media for enterprises. In it he bemoans the fact that enterprises are spending lots of time and money evaluating different social media offerings and omitting to spend more time on organization culture. As he says:

Perhaps they should focus their deliberations more on their own companies’ operations and culture. It’s always been true in computing that, if the process is broken, automating it won’t fix it. The maxim holds true for social computing. The tool is only any good if you know what it’s good for

Yes, social media is an immensely powerful tool for an organization. Social media reduces the distance between your company and your customers. Social media is a fantastic way to broaden the impact of PR, marketing, and sales operations, but it’ll ultimately be a doomed experiment unless the company thinks about itself and its message.

There’s very little those annoying social media gurus can do. Your social media voice and strategy ultimately has to be decided and developed in-house, in sync with other departments, and given the kind of thought and innovation that any major campaign would require.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • I’ve been advocating that companies start with the big picture of the organisation first then drill down to Social Media. Otherwise there is no alignment to corporate strategy. Sadly there are so many Social Media folks who sell quick fix Social Media in 7 days, 5 days, so many mintues a day, that client expectations are ruined when presenting a holistic business focussed roll out concept (corporate strategy to full implmentation, engagement and content creation including video)that is naturally a higher price. They reckon they can get a Rolls Royce for a Mini price elsewhere. They end up with lack lustre results, but as they have no benchmark they think they did well.I have seen name calling and accusation of charatan (without cause) to the more expensive! Ben, let’s start educating the market more and more on this!?

  • Great post Ben,

    You’re spot on quoting Phil Waineright here. Social media (or connected media as I prefer to call it) are just tools. It’s the organisational culture that Phil is referring to that needs addressing.

    I was lucky enough to attend the AMPLIFY Festival in Sydney last week where I caught up with Ray Wang who I admire greatly. Ray talks about “disruptive technologies” and his post on the 5 Simple Rules of Social Business is a very good read. See I particularly like the point that “building community is the goal” and this is the area where many so-called “gurus” will fall down with their short term solutions.

    In my day job as “Chief of Happiness” at online accounting company Saasu, building community is one my goals – we firmly believe its the path to long-term success. For example I recently blogged about communicating in business using Twitter, which may be of interest to your readers:

    Thanks for sharing this post – connected media is my passion!

    Best to you,
    Tony Hollingsworth
    Chief Happiness Officer –

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