One of the current (and long-running) debates I’ve been reading a lot about recently is about whether there really is, in fact, such a thing as a “social media expert.” I have some mixed feelings about this. Part of me says yes, there are. These are professional people who understand the complexities of scoping, building and managing a social program, and can guide a company through the social landscape. They know the opportunities that platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and Amazon can create, and have an idea about how to capitalize on these opportunities.
But, a bigger part of me says “no,” or, at least, there are far fewer than we think there are. Right now, there aren’t many companies that really have the infrastructure and institutional knowledge in place to be truly effective in social spaces; far fewer have the ability to embrace social as part of a more holistic customer strategy.
There are a lot of social media professionals who understand what this means from an academic standpoint, but few who have had a genuine opportunity to execute against it. This is no fault of their own, but likely a result of the institutional state of readiness of their companies and clients.
For a social media professional to claim to be an expert, and consequently, for a company to claim to be a leader or innovator in the social space, they must be able to demonstrate the following:
- An ability to prove the value of social in the context of broader strategic efforts, particularly in customer management, revenue realization and channel management;
- An well-communicated and implemented data flow across key corporate operations, specifically marketing, sales, customer services and product development;
- An ability to deliver real, actionable business intelligence from social efforts;
- A clear set of social KPIs which are well-aligned with broader institutional KPIs;
- A clear view into market/audience segmentation, and a deep understanding of their motivations and sentiments;
- A strong “test & learn” strategy with the business metrics to validate efforts;
- An ability to identify how and where social initiatives are effectively driving goals.
On top of this all, there is so little we don’t yet know about social media and how to be really effective (i.e. a lot of the measurement tools that would allow us to track real impact just don’t exist yet, or at least not in a perfected form), that I find it hard to say that the market is full of “experts.”
If you’re out to set up a Facebook and Twitter account, and want someone to help you manage them, you’ll find a lot of experts. If you want someone who can help you define and deploy programs that are genuinely focused on real business intelligence, you’ll have a hard time finding a real partner. Make sure you know what you want. Short-term, tactical help will be easy to find. A long-term partner focused on your strategic goals will be hard to come by.