Lay off the Social Media Experts

Mr. Webb.

Rick Webb co-founded The Barbarian Group, a digital ad agency, and is now a writer and angel investor in the tech industry.

It’s happening again. While perusing the never-ending flow of tweets and Tumblr blogs that make up the collective consciousness of the internet, like I do, I’ve noticed that over the last few weeks, it’s become fun again to mock “social media experts.” And so, in the wake of another successful Social Media Week, now seems a good time to stick up for this much-maligned digital wage slave. I admit I have gone on this rant before, and if you’ve heard me before, I apologize.

But it’s time to toast the Social Media Expert.

First off, yes, it can seem silly for someone to go charge a small business to help them set up a Facebook page or a Tumblr or a Twitter. I mean, I guess by the same logic lawn mowers, dog walkers, hairstylists and house cleaners are mockable positions too. I mean, I can do all of these things. There are people who are better at it than me. Why not have them do it and do something better with my time? Something that I am good at? I guess the counter argument is that “Social Media Experts” are annoying in a different way since there’s some perceived sense that they are ripping people off. Anyone could learn these skills, they’re not actually that hard, and so-called Social Media Experts are preying on the ignorant. At my old agency, my partner has a small business on the side, and he commented that handling the social media marketing was so simple it was almost like a zen-like exercise.

I have been advising a great new company in the fast casual dining area. The woman starting the company is super smart, and a great entrepreneur. She knew, in the abstract, that social media was a great opportunity for her. But she didn’t know where to start. She felt helpless. Have you actually tried to set up a Facebook page for a company lately? It’s gotten so comically, hella complex. I was happy to help her – and I did it for free – but first off, it was not actually that simple, and secondly, she knew all too well she needed someone to help her with it. Because she, like many people, has a real business where social media is only a single component. This woman needs to hire, and find real estate, and source different quality foods and actually prepare them. She needs to make business plans and raise money and find partners and actually run her business. She knows she needs someone to help her with her social media marketing. Why on earth is that unreasonable? Why is it crazy that she would want to pay someone?

But the real reason this anti-social media marketing zeitgeist irks me is because everyone who says it has obviously not made an attempt at grasping the ramifications of social media marketing for a global corporation. Imagine a giant company, operating in, say, 60 countries, in 15 languages. Imagine the infrastructure that needs to be in place to make sure, say, a tweet in French from a Belgian journalist gets to the right person in your global organization in a timely manner. Imagine if you have multiple lines of business – say televisions and cell phones and laptops, all running in separate business units. Imagine making an organization that rapidly responds to a PR crisis in your television business in Australia while also launching a new cell phone with a Facebook campaign and blogger outreach in Europe while Walt Mossberg just tweeted at you asking for some tech support on his new laptop? How do you staff this? Do you work with agencies? Small agencies around the world? One big one? Do you run 24 hours? Do you run in each country or in regions?  What software do you use to manage the whole thing? Should you have one master Facebook page for your whole company around the world, or in each country? Or for each line of business? How do you even begin to ensure your 100,000+ person company responds to journalists, politicians, influential bloggers, and your customers in a timely manner, 24/7, around the world, in their language?

And meanwhile, all the while, irate customers are talking about how simple it is for your company to just answer them right away about their complaint. Worse, imagine if, over the course of a single weekend, some new PR debacle explodes while you are taking a day off, and “OMG why haven’t they answered these grievous charges yet?” It happens.

Finally none of this even gets into social media MARKETING. What’s the best place to run a campaign? How do I get more followers on Facebook? What are they even worth? Should I try and get their email address? Should I run a contest? What’s a Twitter follower worth? If I give away 10 laptops to gain 100,000 new Facebook likes, did I come out ahead? How do I even do that math? How do I coordinate with my ad agency to launch this new product? Should I let them set up a new Twitter account? Should I let them tweet on the same account as my PR people and customer support people? What happens when the campaign ends? Who even hires the person tweeting? Is all of this cheesy? Should I even be doing marketing? Does it work?

These problems require complicated solutions. They require the perfect mix of full time staff in social, agencies to augment them, and clear  lines of corporate communication to the PR, customer support and marketing departments, among others. And to do this in the way that responds with apparent effortlessness and spontaneity, with appropriately rapid turnaround, requires a massive amount of politicking, bridge building and diplomacy. Never mind the software installation.

So, the next time you take a swipe at Social Media Experts, imagine you had just been stuck in the job of responding to all the tweets sent about Sony – Playstation and films and phones and televisions and hacks by Anonymous and their record labels and semiconductor operations. Imagine even finding the person in the organization that should answer each of those tweets. Imagine writing the guidelines for those people. Imagine accidentally asking a product designer a question, posting his answer, and then accidentally launching a press frenzy.

It’s a thankless, crappy enough job without people insinuating that you have no skill.

So, hats off, social media expert. And thank you, for in your spare time, making things like cash cats. Lay off the Social Media Experts