I read a ridiculous amount of social media news – from Google Reader indexes to the pages I fan on Facebook; from MyAlltop to the influx of Twitter updates and links that flow through my Hootsuite groups – I probably read (or skim) more than 100 articles and blogs a day, maybe more. While the topics are wide-ranging, there are two which draw my attention every time: measuring social media and the debate over who is most qualified to be in charge of social media.
The first area is one in which I am still learning. I would be suspicious of anyone claiming to have measurement all figured out. Cookerly uses a pretty good model for capturing the reach and engagement quality of our social media successes, but new tools, tricks and products flood the marketplace daily. This is still a work in progress, and not quite ready for commentary.
So that leaves the “who’s in charge” debate. Within this topic there are actually two debates: in the first, the “who” refers to which marketing discipline is most suited: PR firms, advertising agencies, interactive firms or social media “specialists.”
It will come as no surprise to you that I am strongly in favor of PR leading. But my reasons go well beyond the fact that I like being employed. To me it’s a no-brainer: social media is all about communicating with your publics. And the definition of public relations? According to Wikipedia, it’s “the practice of managing the communication between an organization and its publics.” Simple, huh? So, yes, while there are bells and whistles that interactive firms can add to energize Facebook pages; creative value that comes from a video production company that produces online videos, it is public relations that provides the value when it comes to strategy, messaging and implementation – and strategy should always come first. Still not convinced? Read this great post from POP! PR Jots.
But wait. “Who’s in charge” also refers to a “who” that is based on age. On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune ran an article on Edelman’s Rotnem program – reverse-mentoring where younger staffers teach older execs about social media. The response has been wide-ranging, including (possibly unfounded) criticism of Edelman for putting younger staffers in charge. I bristle a bit when I read articles like this. I am definitely not a 20-something, but I certainly don’t feel like that has inhibited me from learning and living in the digital world. I tweet, I text, I have YouTube subscriptions and a Four Square profile; I even have an above-average number of friends on Facebook. In some instances, I know more than the 20-somethings with whom I work. But not always. The point is, knowing how to use the tools is not the same as knowing how to use the tools strategically. So should 20-somethings be in charge of social media simply because they grew up in a digital world? I don’t think age should have anything to do with the decision.
In our case, I may have the Director of Social Media title, but I have a team that includes several 20-somethings. I look to them for new and creative ideas, and I value their exceptional skills at taking video viral, writing witty tweets and engaging Fans on Facebook pages, among others. Everyone is also smart, savvy and strategic in his or her work and approach to it. We are collaborative in achieving our clients’ goals, and it works exceptionally well. Ultimately though, the final strategy decisions need to – and do – fall to senior staff – those of us with whom “the buck stops”. “Who’s in charge” of communications – social or not – needs to be based on who is most knowledgeable and skilled, not who is of the appropriate age – whether 23 or 53. Old dogs can learn new tricks (and widgets).