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Friday, November 20, 2009

Skip the Social Media Staff

In the past few weeks I'm hearing discussion in our company and elsewhere about the potential need for social media specialists of some sort. I believe we should heed the history of technological innovations, get ahead of the curve, and skip this expensive and soon to be outdated step. Social media is on its way to becoming a required and ubiquitous skill set in several job families, not a position or department.

I see similarities between this technological development and two others I've experienced in my career; the use of interpreters and the adoption of the personal computer.

In international business the model was often that people of different cultures transacted business in some neutral third language or utilized interpreters to facilitate communication. It may seem a quaint notion if you're under 50, but there was a time in business where executives working in foreign countries actually travelled with a person who was paid to help them communicate. Early in my career, about the late 70's or early 80's, we saw a shift in that companies began to train staff members in foreign languages, or hire bi-lingual or tri-lingual graduates. The last interpreter I hired was in 1991; after that it was required that you speak more than your native language for almost any foreign assignment, and no mono-lingual staff members were considered promotable to positions with international responsibility. The bar was raised and has never lowered since. Companies then had to cope with the unwinding of interpreter staffs through layoffs or reassignments.

We saw a similar situation with the personal computer. Again, a quaint notion for younger readers is that we used to pay people just to type memos and other documents. Skilled staff and managerial positions required no typing skills. When the PC broke on the scene it was embraced by skilled knowledge workers first as a way to improve all manner of graphic and calculating work (engineering, design, architecture, etc...) and a way for the average office worker to escape the control of the Data Processing department (another quaint notion) who controlled the main frame computer.

Within a very few years the idea that a company would pay someone to type for you became as ludicrous and paying someone to speak for you. Typing became "keyboarding" and became a requirement for practically any office job. Later the integration of spreadsheets and presentation software with word processing led to the "office suite" concept of prepackaged integrated software. Now the price of admission into any career working in an office was working knowledge of Microsoft Office, Word Perfect Suite, or similar product. Within a staggeringly short period of time about half the "secretary" positions in the country disappeared as the bar was raised for skills required to work in office positions. Today you don't think of hiring someone for a knowledge-worker position who can't keyboard and use office software.

This brings us back around to Social Media. This new technology continues to develop and morph into whatever it will become. When it finally matures the communications between people who share some affinity or commonality will never be the same. Positions like marketing and recruiting, those that connect a company with those outside its own walls, will require the people working in them to have social media skills. Those companies who decide right now to hire social media staffs to help them leverage this new technology will, by the time they build those staffs, find themselves with an expensive and outdated apparatus. They will be unwinding and disbanding their social media gurus like the interpreters and secretaries of past technological periods. I won't have a social media specialist to help my recruiters search LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for talent; I just won't hire a recruiter who can't do that for themselves.

What makes the most sense now is to discern the essential skills necessary to communicate and mine for information on social media, and then teach that to our staffs. We should not consider for entry-level employment anyone in marketing, PR, publicity, recruiting, and business development who does not know how to navigate social media. If done right we'll be hitting our stride in mining on-line communities for business while others are expending energy downsizing or disbanding their social media groups or departments.


Eva Ulian said...

Not trying to minimize this post- I totally agree with you- but as the Roman Catholic Catechism has long been out of print, have you not thought of a reprint? It's a lovely little book which brings back a lot of hidden memories to us "oldies".

Katie Bond, @KSBond said...

@stephnewton @jayemarie and I just attended @PRCamp in NYC yesterday. One of the more helpful of the handful of these we've been through--more theoretical discussion for PR pros than training, already assuming working knowledge of the media platforms, and led by agencies and in-house pros from companies like Google, Mastercard, JetBlue, and Loews Hotels. One high-profile PR agency rep spoke about the frequency with which he was hearing from potential clients "we need to hire you to develop a social media strategy!" Or better, that they wondered if they needed to hire a recent college grad who's "obviously comfortable with the technology" so she can "do that Twitter and stuff." No, he tells them, you need to figure out how to update your already existing (and good!) communications strategy to include social media practices and train existing employees. Spot on here, Jim! For recruiting practices, finding employees who are comfotable in this realm is part of Nelson's commitment to attracting world-class talent.

Michael Holmes said...

Absolutely right Jim!!

Social media will morph, mature, and become obsolete. Its an unnecessary use of the organizations cash.

Great post!

johnflurry said...

Excellent point Jim, As an online community specialist I have the role as Online Community leader for my company. As the person who developed the social media platform for the company I was the natural fit for the management of it. Titles like social media manager just don't sit right for me. The name itself will eventually change. One thing that does not change is what it is all about, community. My main goal at the company is to teach and help others to engage and listen to the community. Really I see myself as a party host. Thanks for the post

David P. Leach said...

More of your usual brilliance, Jim. If we're not adept at social media, you might as well give us back our Underwoods.

That said, playing on Facebook isn't the same as using Feedblitz to promote your blog or creating a Ning community. Companies will need a way to strategically aggregate or appropriate their employees' conversation and assist in SEO and programming issues rather than focus only on 'corporate' conversation.

Will we all have to be programmers? If so, I better get on the stick.

Vonnie Thomason said...

Sorry to disagree Eva, but as personal assistant to our parish priest, I can assure you that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is far from out of print. You must be refering to a particular publishers version, but the copy of this "lovely little book" that we use in our office is 904 pages long and published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. In the interest of full disclosure, I am also Jim's wife.