As always, some thought-provoking research is coming out of the Altimeter group around the maturing (and increasingly frustrating) role of the social media strategist. At the crux of Jeremiah Owyang’s report is the notion that the growing challenges of the social media strategist role could push him/her into a reactive corner, just responding to the increasingly demanding needs of the business (being little more than a ‘social media helpdesk’). Less strategy, more blind execution.
Here at IBM there are a number of strategists dotted around the organization (although with a strong cluster around the marketing function), and I’m sure most would agree with Jeremiah’s research. Indeed, brand social media strategist Steve Lazarus was one of those interviewed. So, what is it exactly that keeps us so busy? (I say ‘us’ as I hold a tangential role currently). I’d broadly categorize the functions performed as follows, with the caveat that the functions can vary depending on the position in the organization and personal aptitudes:
Due to limitations in resource and product knowledge, it’s unrealistic to expect social media strategists to engage in all conversations across all channels. Adopting the ‘teach a man to fish’ maxim, it can make sense for the strategists to engage product experts across the organization and teach them how to become proficient in social media communications. This could take the form of education on the use of tools, the sharing of best practice and what’s worked in the past, discussing how to react to potential scenarios, the list goes on. In fact this post on Bloomberg BusinessWeek does a good job of listing ways of engaging employees. As a trainer and educator, the strategist moves into the role of a facilitator rather than a practitioner.
Analytics – monitoring, ROI and energizing practitioners
There are various components to analytics, each with its own specificities.
Strategists can monitor the social space for conversations around the brand. If there are any conversations requiring immediate attention (eg. a crisis looming), they can pull together the experts/execs that can respond. Monitoring also helps define the social landscape and strategy that makes most sense.
Analytics can also be employed to prove the ROI of social media efforts. This could be looking at increased share of voice on a given topic measuring traffic delivered to a campaign web page from Facebook and Twitter, or calculating the value of the traffic delivered to a blog ranking prominently for target terms on Google (obviating the need for paid advertising).
A further role of the strategist can be to feed analytics back into the organization to help energize practitioners. As an example, showing bloggers how much traffic their posts are attracting can help generate posts more frequently!
Process optimization and workflow
Social media touches many parts of the organization. You may have customer feedback that could help product development and should be forwarded to product management. Maybe there are support issues/discussions happening on external forums which require the input of the support team. Organizational processes should be put in place to deal with these kinds of scenarios. For instance interlocks need to be built between functions like marketing and support which traditionally have existed at opposite ends of the organization.
In addition, workflow tools need to be put in place to track individual conversations and issues to ensure these are dealt with effectively. This could be as simple as a spreadsheet recording each issue together with the response (when deemed necessary), but as these issues grow in number and complexity, more powerful tools will be required.
Web marketing integration
As Jeremiah points out in another part of his analysis, 2011 will see an increase in the integration of social elements into websites[
]. In its simplest form this could be the addition of Facebook Like or Tweet This buttons on web pages. Whilst some web marketers may be savvy to this, in many cases social media strategists can offer valuable insights on what conversations should be highlighted and the format used to display social elements (eg. a sidebar showing the latest 5 entries from a blog may be more effective than a mere button).
As the mobile space continues to become more important, consistency and tie-ups across mobile, web and social presences will also need to be managed effectively. For instance, adding QR codes on event web pages could help attendees transfer information from the PC to their smartphone.
With employees engaging more and more in social media on behalf of their company, someone needs to make sure the management/executive team are cool with this and hopefully promote this interactivity. A strategist may propose and promote an incentive program for employees. They may also gently advise the executive on where their involvement would make most sense. As one social media strategist here at IBM explained it, a major part of his role involved keeping the corporate forces out of employee social interactions (unless of course there are policy violations requiring intervention).
Social media campaign marketer
A strategist can help bolster campaigns undertaken by the marketing team. This could take the form of creating a social media kit around around a campaign that is then emailed to experts and evangelists across the organization. Or maybe a YouTube strategy developed in conjunction with an agency would make sense. The role in this instance is one of energizing employees and major stakeholders to supplement the work of the marketing team.
These, to my mind, are the core functions of the social media strategist. In addition, a strategist will also have to juggle a number of managerial/administrative demands, as any manager in the organization has to perform: eg. collaborating with internal/external teams, reporting on performance, people management.
It’s worth pointing out that the role of the strategist can be significantly different to that of the social media evangelist. An evangelist tends to be much more hands-on: many in this role excel at using the different social media channels to get the message out. Whilst they may have considerable following on their Twitter account or blog, they may be less proficient at energizing others in the organization to get involved, or analyzing conversations and defining processes to deal with these.
As Jeremiah points out in his report, the role of the strategist is due to change in the near future. We may see something in the social space akin to what has happened to web marketing over the last ten years: a splintering of roles and responsibilities. Some may focus on developing processes and implementing tools to help the organization effectively deal with its social ecosystem. Others may extract value by focussing solely on integration between web and social. Others could focus more exclusively on training.
On a positive note, this role is definitely not going away. There is a supply imbalance for the social media strategist skillset with more companies chasing the rare individuals who have the requisite skills and experience. Against this, the fact that social strategists are a rare commodity means that they are stretched in their roles and risk falling into becoming what Jeremiah calls the ‘Social Media Helpdesk’.
I can see two main ways the social media strategist can avoid this. One is to facilitate rather than execute. For example, spend time ‘persuading’ knowledgeable experts to blog, rather than blogging yourself. The other is to pick a specialty and follow this. eg. become a trainer and focus on this area. Teach the web marketing department how to integrate social aspects, rather than get buried in the weeds yourself.
Do you agree?