The social media manager debate: Can’t we get the fundamentals right first?2008-03-28
Steve Rubel and Jeremiah Owyang are at odds over the future of a job labeled, “Social Media Manager.” The job description of a social media manager revolves around the coordination of a company’s activities in the social media space.
Steve believes the job will be extinct in short order:
Who should “manage” these sites? Is it the social media specialist or someone in PR with specific vertical sector expertise who also gets digital? My strong feeling is that it’s the latter.
Owyang—who held a social media manager position with a previous employer—disagrees:
While I agree that social media skills will eventually become a normal bullet point in nearly every marketing resume in the future, today, and (for) the foreseeable (future), we???re needed specializing for the following two reasons: 1) The specific duties are foreign to most other marketers 2) Online communities (like the support team) require a dedicated role.
It’s an interesting debate, but one that I believe misses a bigger picture. Jeremiah is right that full-time focus is required for some online communities. Even Southwest Airlines had to hire staff just to handle the moderation of comments to its blog, “Nuts About Southwest.” But Steve is also right that the day is coming when anybody engaged in communications will include online social skills in their toolkit, right along with good writing skills (the entry-level requirement).
Ultimately, though, whether engagement with people is online or off, social or traditional, one-way or multi-directional, multimedia or text, it all comes down to one thing:
I have heard calls for companies to create a C-suite position called “Chief Conversation Officer,” someone to manage the various online social channels that produce conversation. Again, that misses the point. What companies need is a Chief Reputation Officer to ensure all communication with core publics is coordinated in the company’s best interests.
This is not an original concept. Charles Fombrun, chief executive officer of The Reputation Institute and author of books like “Corporate Reputation,” has been proposing the job for years. To this position, through single- or double-solid-lines, would report anybody in the organization who engages with publics. The idea is not to make sure they all utter the same corporate jargon, but rather to make sure the company’s plans, strategies, values and actions are addressed honestly and consistently. A social media manager is a fine idea, but if he says, “Our product is shipping late because of manufacturing issues” while a media relations manager tells a Wall Street Journal reporter, “Our product is shipping late because we’ve had to redesign a part,” that inconsistency will spread through the cycle-less media space—online and off—like wildfire. Whether it’s conversation or a traditional press release, the communication channel must be used to communicate honest, transparent, accurate information.
Few organizations have anybody in a position like this. Even if there’s a senior-level public affairs person, Human Resources and employee communications often don’t report to him, and both communicate to vital publics (employees and prospective employees). Community relations often reports elsewhere, as does investor relations and government relations. And all those employees with their individual blogs? Who’s providing them with the resources they need to represent the company accurately and fairly?
Who ends up managing social media spaces is an interesting argument, but seems to me less important than making sure whoever does it is part of a network through which accurate and candid information is funneled. It’s time to look higher up and beyond the niche. We should get the basics right before worrying too much about the details.