Sunday, September 8, 2013

Social Media Career Myths

I would like to dispel very common misconceptions about social media: it is not a skill set independent of other forms of communications and it is not a lower level skill. Social media skills are communications skills and accomplishment in social media is evidence that your skills are transferable -- and often evidence that your communications skills in general are advanced.

It's evidence, especially if you explain your goals, process and outcome, that you know the importance of targeting audiences, of fulfilling their needs to support a cause, a business, an interest. It's evidence that you can research and write and that you know how to build relationships with partners, donors, other stakeholders and the public. It shows you know how to manage content; you're organized, efficient and you can complete any task remotely and under time sensitive, fast-paced conditions.

Unfortunately, despite the high awareness of the impact of social media and the complex strategy involved, I strongly believe that many people think that social media requires less skill or entirely different skills than other methods of communications.

Social media is a means through which you can plan and identify goals and the appropriate objectives to meet those goals. It's not a piece of technology that you can pass off to an intern or apply without integrating it into your overall communications strategy. It is one of the best research tools there is because it allows you to find your audience and target them directly. This is called outreach, a communications method used by non-profit organizations.

Social media also allows you to accurately track your success.

Say your readership of a community newspaper is 22, 000. Well, that information alone is probably not useful. This number can refer to the the number of copies you printed, how many were delivered, how many were requested. But it doesn't tell you how many people actually read it. Most importantly, it doesn't tell you if people actually acted on what you and your stakeholders wanted them to act on: did they buy a pizza from the store you advertised? Did they write a letter to their member of parliament, as you recommended? This is called conversion, a very important observation tool in business.

Of course there are ways that you can monitor the success of a non-web related product. But the best way to do this is often by using the web, like emailing surveys. And it's even more effective to evaluate the success of web products using web tools. You can evaluate your web traffic using Google Analytics and other tools to see how many people are visiting your site, if they're buying things. You can see the search terms and referring websites people are using to find or discover you. Some tools, such as Facebook, even allow you to track your visitors' gender, age, location, etc. You can also use a tool like Crazy Egg that takes Google Analytics one step further by helping you see why people are leaving your site and not converting. It could be something as simple as your website is difficult to navigate.

And you can often reach out directly to people on a personal, individual level. Want to pitch a cooking device to a food blogger to gain higher visibility for your product? No problem. Research her blog and see if she's interested in new devices. Find out what she likes, then pitch accordingly. You can pitch the same way to a newspaper columnist. For me, this transfer of skills is obvious.

I'm not sure how any communications practitioner or successful social media user in general could explain their goals and accomplishments in social media without explaining it in the context of communications, yet we have much more work to do to prove that social media as a communications tool is on the same plane as a news release, annual report, meeting, request for funding, etc.

If you prove you have successfully targeted online media, you have proven you at least know the basics of targeting media in general. I would take it even further and say that if you've had success online, you have a solid foundation for a position in media relations, fundraising, marketing, etc. At least entry level.

Of course, there are many strategic and logistical differences within the communications field. One cannot say that because one is highly proficient in social media communications, one can do anything in the field. Certainly some areas of all branches of communications require more skill and experience than others.

I think social media or any communications experience on an individual level can reasonably be interpreted as a lower level or less transferable skill, depending on the objectives of the role and the complexity of the messages and relationships, but the simplified, general social media - novice communicator/strategy - advanced communicator dichotomy I often see is just not valid.

I am not "good at social media." I am a skilled communications practitioner and I specialize in using social media as a research, outreach and organizational tool. I have a lot to learn, but my work in social media and the web has prepared me to transition to additional methods of communications.


  1. While I am only marginally proficient at ANY kind of communication, I think I agree with this.

    There are feedback loops that happen with any communication - whether I am talking to you in person or tweeting - where I recognize what worked to get my message across as I wanted it to and why.

    I'm actually okay at that in some media. I suck at twitter. I mean REALLY suck.

    We all have our gifts, I guess.

  2. Katy - Thanks for yet another insightful comment! You hit the nail right on the head: it really is about messaging and how you make that messaging work for each medium, audience, objective, etc.

    You don't "suck" at Twitter! And just look at the following you have and how well you write and promote your message.