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Do Companies Need Social Media Managers?

There are few institutions in the modern world that are not being transformed today by social media.

Shel Israel, Global Neighborhoods, 5 New Social Media Turn-ons for me.

Encouraging use and engagement with [social] tools is an area that all organizations find they have a need for at some point and time. Use of these tools and engagement by people in an organization often does not happen easily. Why? Normally, most of the people in the organization do not have a conceptual framework for what the tools do and the value the individuals will derive.

Thomas Vander Wal, vanderwal.net, Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

Social media is taps into a deep well of user knowledge and innovation that previously had been limited to people’s close offline contacts. FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, del.icio.us and others have not so much invented new ways of thinking as they have created new ways to surface intellectual energy and creativity, and significantly expanded the conversations one has.

How does this translate into the workplace? Thomas Vander Wal’s quote above hits on one of the biggest hindrances. Just throwing tools at people and saying “have at it!” will be a colossal failure. For many people, social media requires a slow romance before they become wed to it. Want to see how much romancing is needed? Read this guy’s comment about Twitter on TechCrunch.

The thing about social media is that once people get it, they really get excited about it. Facebook has experienced terrific growth. Twitter is edging more closely to early mainstream. FriendFeed is rapidly growing. But all of these companies had a chance to incubate and grow an enthusiastic set of early adopters, which leads to broader usage.

There are two issues for companies to address in the adoption of social media:

  • Slow internal adoption can cause the initiative to die from lack of focus and budget.
  • The real benefit of social media comes when many people participate. Slow adoption means companies won’t see good benefit for a while.

How can companies accelerate adoption of social media inside by employees? An enthusiastic group of innovators is always a requirement. In addition to that, how about creating a new position? The social media manager.

The Social Media Manager?

I know such a suggestion will get eye-rolls by some. Fair enough. But hear me out.

I mentioned this idea of an employee emerging as a social media manager to someone the other day. His response was that it sounded like another version of the head of knowledge management inside a company. That was interesting take. The role of the Chief Knowledge Officer seems to include a role for social media adoption, at least as I read the definition of the role on wikipedia (here).

I’m not nearly literate enough in the field of knowledge management to know what works and doesn’t work. But I suspect there’s a big difference between a knowledge manager and a social media manager:

The social media manager is a personality-driven role

Getting people out of their shells to participate in social media will take more than a handbook and a set of best practices. The successful social media manager will be someone who can engage a wide variety of personality types. Who can handle a variety of viewpoints. Who has a thick skin, because…

The social media manager should have some skin in the game

By that, I mean the person should have some opinion about what’s best for the company. Not an absolute, draconian opinion. But a confident feeling for what makes sense for the company relative to its customers, markets, competitors and products and services. And that confidence extends to entertaining differing positions from her own. A social media manager should exemplify F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

After reading this, I realize that it makes the social media manager seem like some sort of uber-participant, eclipsing all others. If that happens, then we have social media FAIL. Rather, a good social media manager will have the ability to stir up enough interest in subjects to get people participating amongst themselves.

Work of the Social Media Manager

There are three basic functions of the social media manager:

  1. Initiate discussions
  2. Participate in discussions
  3. Report on discussions

Initiation is particularly important in the early stages of the social media rollout. People need a jump start to participate, and someone willing to show how it’s done is important.

Participation keeps the social media manager relevant and build connections with others. In a large organization, no one will know everybody. So participation – the crux of social media – is a requirement.

Reporting is a way to show the benefit of participating. The social media manager can report out all sorts of things to foster interest and participation:

  • Good discussions
  • Tag buzz – hottest tags right now
  • Interesting activity streams (e.g. sales closed)
  • Rising wikis
  • Etc.

Reporting occurs via RSS and that reliable corporate communication method…email. Why report? Make sure people are aware of good stuff. And ensure good participants are recognized. This latter point is important, as it speaks to the motivation of employees. Employees are ambitious and want to succeed. Burnishing reputations via social media is a strong motivation.

It turns out this motivation dovetails with the goals of the company as well. Good social media usage benefits companies in a number of ways.

Final Thoughts

Ideally, the social media manager likely emerges organically from early users. Someone who’s a natural. If needed, someone can be appointed to the position. I’d also expect the position to change hands over time.

Note that there are those out there on the web who serve these de facto positions for a lot of us.

The thing about social media out on the world wide web is that it attracts a large number of people from all over the place, all around the world. It just takes a relatively small percentage of people to get social media going. Inside companies, more motivation is required to get things moving because there is a much more limited pool of users from which to draw adoption.

What do you think?

[UPDATE – this article mentions someone who has exactly this role: http://tinyurl.com/5zehew]

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