Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Whose Role Is It Anyway?

Whose Role Is It Anyway?
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There’s no shortage of excitement when it comes to social media—pity most of it fades away once the work begins.

“We’re falling behind by not having a social media presence, and we need to catch up,” is a phrase I’ve heard from far too many otherwise sensible, clear-headed, normal seeming folks. Sadly, most are as powerless against this frenzy as a tween at a Justin Bieber concert.

As you read this, you likely roll your eyes in your head, wondering if yours truly has any intention of sharing something meaningful, or, if this will be yet another lengthy tirade on the state of social media. I appreciate that, and will indeed attempt to deliver the former. My topic today: once we have the plumbing in place, who actually manages this thing?

Engaged in moments; married forever

Part of my discomfort with the race so many are in to build a social “presence” relates to the way this whole deal is framed. It takes terribly little time to flip the switch on social media—in fact, that’s part of the problem.

Given how easy it is to get started, many do so on impulse, without taking time to consider the implications: Now that we have a blog, what do we post? Are we using our Facebook page to share news about our industry, or, updates on our company? Does our agency post for us, or, do we do it ourselves? Who vets the content before posting? How do we maintain a consistent voice? Oh right, and who’s monitoring Twitter on Sunday mornings to respond to pissed-off customers?

The lack any standardized practices makes this one massive conundrum for all of us… and don’t expect this to change anytime soon. Every situation is different, and audiences are fickle. What works for one group will not for the next. This makes it nearly impossible to establish a repeatable process for social media activation that’s actually effective.

Yup… I said “symbiotic” (next time I’ll chuck in “synergy”)

Social media presents a thrilling opportunity, and a logistical nightmare. Part of this is the (forgive the verbiage) symbiotic relationship required between agency and client in this landscape. We’re both necessary, but determining who takes on which tasks is kind of tricky.

If we’re honest about it, most will admit that organizations often suck at telling their stories. They tend to want to pitch, instead of engage. Part of this relates to a lack of experience. Any capable communicator knows there’s more to be gained by telling a good story than by getting overly “salesy.” Most businesses, however, lack the patience for this. Wanting to see faster results, they make offers and communicate in vague superlatives, when they should tell stories and interact.

The tricky part here is that while agencies tend to be adept at storytelling, most of us don’t know the specific dialect of each industry our clients are in. Can you, for example, fill in relevant posts for a pharmaceutical company? (Didn’t think so.) Perhaps greater than this, is that we don’t actually know the stories—it’s not like these are our businesses or experiences.

Set it up, lend a hand, and step aside

In order to make it work, we need to collaborate more than we ever have with our customers. We also need to start thinking of ourselves as facilitators of communication. This is a bit of a strange thing, but in my mind, the only way we’ll be able to lead our clients to success.

At the outset, this means tedious tasks like theming social media pages, setting-up Google Alerts, and explaining the difference between a DM and an RT. You may snicker at this, thinking such things would be obvious. I argue that our immersion in the social space leaves us blind to the very real challenges faced by our clients. They need answers, and you may to have to slow it down considerably and help them with some rather mundane seeming tasks.

Then comes the fun part: getting them to talk about their stories, and look at which ones might actually resonate with their audiences. One of our clients recently shared a story with me about their early days: They had to change diapers on a newborn calf named Fred. (They aren’t in agriculture.) It was a brilliantly funny story, and it had never occurred to them that these were the kind of things they should be blogging about.

People like you and I don’t have these stories, but we can tease them out of our clients, helping them shape and share them. In a way, I wonder if our role increasingly becomes like that of an editor. We do the leg-work of pinpointing the audience and their interests, determining which stories are appropriate for the brand, and establishing an editorial schedule of sorts that our clients can actually maintain.

When it comes to social, we aren’t there so much to craft the message, as we are to build a framework that we can slowly step away from. They should be telling their stories; we’re just the training wheels while they find their way.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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