Why Most Social Media Departments Fail
A few years ago, a colleague of mine was given a tremendous responsibility to oversee the social media department at a prestigious well known NYC-based public relations firm. Less than a year later, she was sent packing up her desk, a casualty of a company that jumped into that shiny toy syndrome that people call social media.
As more companies jump into social media, they, too, hear that “social media departments don’t execute” which results in the failure of a social media department that was never meant to be. I’ll be exploring some of those reasons below.
You could be the biggest and most well-paid social media consultant out there, but if you don’t know what the specific goals are for the client project, you should never sign an agreement with the prospective company. A recent statement of work I encountered read just like this:
- Manage and grow the our following on Twitter
- Manage and grow our fan base on Facebook
- Manage and grow our fan base on LinkedIn
- Possibly manage the presence on other platforms
The social media consultant could follow every single one of these directives to an absolute tee, doing everything they were asked and even going above and beyond to build bridges with prospective customers via direct relationships, phone calls, and face to face interaction. But the bigger question goes to the client: why do you want someone to manage your social media presence? What are you trying to get out of it? If your client has to hesitate and cannot answer this question in a few sentences, and worse, doesn’t even give you a reply at all, any social media promotion you engage in will ultimately fail. As hired help, it won’t be your fault, but if you’re trying your best to understand the goals without any feedback from your client, it will hurt.
For your sake, consultants, don’t even bother with that relationship. It won’t end well even if there are “no hard feelings,” especially if you’ve made the effort to understand the goals of the engagement.
One thing that needs to be defined from the beginning is the target audience. As a client, you must be able to give your consultant information about your target audience via an audience profile that can be found with survey tools and market research. Keep in mind that this audience profile may be broadened through exposure to social media, giving you as a business even greater reach than thought possible.
However, clients, no, it is not the consultant’s responsibility to determine your goals and it’s highly offensive to suggest that “we hired you to tell us!” A new employee or consultant, especially someone who is new to the company culture, would not possibly be able to know your company goals, your mission statement, and your objectives from the offset. It’s your job to guide them, to give them the insights needed to truly shine in their role. And a list of “here’s what you should do” which is motivated by the latest and greatest social networks just isn’t enough. That’s why we call it shiny toy syndrome.
Do you truly want to succeed? Before you even consider a social media engagement and hiring an employee to take on this engagement, you need to set SMART goals. Any job descriptions and statements of work do not have a place without an itemized list of desired outcomes that benefit the company line.
What are SMART goals? To those unfamiliar with the phrase, these are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Perhaps it would make sense to see a 10% increase in sales over a 6 month period or an increase of 5,000 visitors to your website for the month. For your social initiatives, a brand new Twitter account may aim to seek 50 qualified followers by the end of November versus 50,000 followers with no end in sight.
Let’s talk about qualified followers for a moment. Anyone can buy Twitter followers and artificially inflate the numbers on your account, thereby making your social media consultant look like a true social media rockstar, but once the money is invested, in all likelihood, how many people will actually buy your product or use your service? None. Similarly, you would never want to buy Facebook fans; Facebook employs an algorithm known as EdgeRank which makes your content prominent if and only if people actually engage with it. If you’re buying followers and they’re not interested, that content won’t show up in their news feeds or in the feeds of people who truly do have an interest in your product. You’ve just wasted your money and gained nothing but short term satisfaction that the numbers are up — but are they sustainable?
No, if you want to be successful in social media, you need to understand from the get-go that it’s a relationship building process which takes time. You’ll see growth and followers, but will you really see growth and followers at an exponential rate? Realistically? It’s 2011.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
That brings me to my next point: if you joined the party late, you’re not going to be as popular as the people who already have established presences on social networks. It’s the sad truth of a saturated marketplace. Those who joined the social media party in 2007 are thriving; those who join in 2011 often find themselves at a complete loss. When finding new companies to follow for a client of mine, I was shocked at how many companies whose social profiles were featured so prominently on their websites weren’t engaged at all, seemingly because they have given up social media engagement because their efforts (almost totally of a broadcast nature in the examples I’d seen) were being made almost entirely in vain.
If you’re aiming to join the social media space with the primary goal that you’re going to make a real difference on Twitter and Facebook, I have news for you: you’re going to be working very very hard. Millions of businesses have done the same exact thing before you, and consumers (and even businesses you’re trying to attract the attention of) are savvy enough that they’re less trusting from the get-go, which is why you have to work hard not to just get their attention but to keep them attuned to your news and updates.
Relationship building is harder and a longer process in an already established community. You’re lucky to be there when it’s just being started; everyone is still trying to find their way and everyone helps each other. When you come 3-5 years after it’s already well known simply because everyone else is doing it, do you really think it will be a walk in the park? You and 4 (40? 400?) million other people are trying to do the same exact thing. It comes across as self-serving, even if you’re sharing valuable content. That’s why you need to put forth a tremendous amount of effort.
Social media alone doesn’t cut it anymore. In fact, it’s been predicted for years now that social media marketing will merge into public relations or some other marketing discipline. Are you really just a “social media expert,” and if so, are you prepared?
Social Media Marketing Coexists with Other Integrated Marketing Programs
While I get pitches all the time to offer “social media services” to clients, I rarely, if ever, exclusively offer social media marketing. Social media is here to stay, but it’s not something you can do in isolation of other marketing initiatives. I’ve been offering services in the full realm of digital marketing, from SEO to PPC to video marketing to blogger outreach to action plans to public relations, and of course, social media. But social media alone should never be treated as a standalone marketing method; it must coexist with other marketing strategies. An integrated digital marketing approach is the best way to see success online for any business.
If you’re just hired to handle social media, have no fear! The best client-contractor relationship is one where the consultant is fully aware of every single marketing initiative and is able to weigh in on these campaigns while they’re happening, ensuring that your responsibilities for outreach go in tandem with these other marketing tactics. That means that as a social media consultant, you should know if Facebook PPC is in play. You should know what SEO phrases are being targeted. You should know if your client is running a deal on a daily deals site. You should get a heads up about an infographic that your graphic design team is launching, and you should know the specific date of launch so that you can collaborate and ensure it reaches the social media audience as well.
And if you’re not being made abreast of these developments in your company? It comes down to them not valuing social media… and them not valuing you.
But don’t worry! They’re also setting themselves up for failure. You’re just going to be coming along for the ride.
I have news for you, social media experts: if social media alone is what you’re selling, I hope you start getting other skills under your belt.