So, there I was. Listening in on a fascinating conversation online with one of the business world’s most well known thought-leaders, some of his most famous books on the shelf above my desk as I soaked in his words coming through the speakers of my computer. His wisdom and perspective on the importance of respecting and empowering one’s employees and customers were inspiring. Most of his advice wasn’t new, yet being reminded of what I’d forgotten to focus on can be immensely helpful.
His talk was hitting all the right notes, exceeding my expectations, when he began to discuss the need for transparency for corporate executives and the critical opportunity, and must-have piece of their communication strategy, social media now represents for everyone in the C-suite. (Having come from a corporate management background myself, he definitely had my attention now!) And then he said it.
“If you don’t understand social media, find a social media expert. Get someone in their twenties, or even your grandson, to teach you. They’re all social media experts today.”
Really? Did he just say that? Oh, yes he did, and I wasn’t the only one listening online to take notice.
This really isn’t about this one guy. I’m not even going to name him, because he’s not the point. The point is that I’ve heard the same thing from many people, young and old. It represents a real misunderstanding of what it takes to effectively incorporate social media into one’s online presence, whether it’s for professional, branding, political, marketing, customer service or other purposes. Frequent and persistent clicking does not make anyone a social media expert.
Insert Statistics Here (or not)
I could easily link to all sorts of statistics and studies which show the demographic breakdown of who is using social media the most, who grew up with it, who’s adopting it later in life and on and on and on. I’ll go out on a limb and submit for your consideration that no one from the Baby Boomer generation used social media online as a child, that many under the age of 30 (or so) used computers early in life and the younger ones in that group were texting, Facebooking, and LOLing while still in elementary school. We don’t need numbers to prove this to be true. It just is; no judgement, no prejudice, it just is.
Doing It Often vs. Doing It Well
Do you know any really bad drivers? You know, the ones who roll through stop signs, drive too fast and can’t seem to stay in their own lane while barreling down the highway? You may even love them, but you don’t feel comfortable sliding into the passenger seat when they’re driving. They drive often and have driven for years, but does that mean they drive well? Would this be the person you’d trust to teach a new driver? How would you feel if the name of your company was emblazoned on the side of that car for all to see?
If someone uses Facebook often and has used it for years, does that mean they’re doing it well? If that person has grown up posting updates and photos to Facebook for much of their life, would this person be the one you’d trust to teach an executive how best to utilize social media for business purposes? I’m hoping your answer is either No or Hell no.
If you don’t want someone who knows the mechanics of operating a car, but doesn’t respect the rules of road, to drive your car, why would you give them the keys to drive your brand?
Experience, Perspective and Skills
Forget age and focus on finding the right person to help you. Success in leveraging social media requires many things beyond simply having grown up online.
Here are just a few of the key things I’d suggest you consider in your quest for the perfect social media expert:
- Voice – The ability to understand your brand voice, especially if this person is to be entrusted with the duty of interacting on the business’ behalf. Countless brands have suffered terribly when that voice was left in the hands of an intern or someone not adequately prepared.
- Reputation – While it can feel as if everything happens in-the-moment online and then is swept away quickly in the flow of social media content, the fact is that most of it lives on forever in one form or another. Assume that anything shared online by you or about you will be archived and can be found again forever, often through a simple Google search. You will want your social media expert to fully grasp the long-term value of a reputation and how it can be damaged with a single click.
- Culture and Etiquette – Each social networking platform has its own pace, culture, best practices and etiquette. Does your social media expert fully grasp the nuances of each, as well as the upside and downside of different approaches to sharing and engaging?
- Objectives – Before embarking on your social media journey, aligning your use of these new tools with your overall business or professional objectives is key. Posting stuff for the sake of posting stuff probably isn’t going to achieve meaningful results (unless posting stuff happens to be your objective).
- Learning – Everything about technology and the internet seems to change weekly. From privacy settings to the latest applications, analytics and gadgets, it takes time to stay on top of the latest news and best practices. Either invest ongoing energy in staying current or work with someone who does.
- Mechanics – Of each of the items listed here, this may be the easiest to learn. This is all about how to post a tweet, how to set-up a page on Facebook, how to upload a video to YouTube. Don’t be intimidated by any of this and don’t select a social media expert because they are a master of mechanics, but are missing other critical skills.
The Right Age
What is the right age for the perfect social media expert? I have no idea.
The right social media expert for you will be defined by their skills, vision, experience and fit, not their age or generation. When you find someone who has what you need, work with them. Whether that person is 24 or 54, hire them. You’ll be glad you did.
Image courtesy of chimothy27
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