8 reasons I hate working in social media

Does it bother you that people assume social media is cheap and easy, or that a single department can own social media? This author shares your frustration.

I’ve worked in social media for quite a while now. I’m not saying I was here first, but I’ve been doing social media since before the market was as saturated as it is now.

Here are a few reasons why I hate what the industry has become:

1. Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but we keep acting like it does.

It’s frustrating when people act like social media is its own platform, with no influence from the outside world. This comes from both sides of the fence. We see claims of “Facebook leads to an X percent sales increase” with little quantification about how the company has ensured independence from other channels. We also see brands doing silly things after ignoring external factors.

The infamous #QantasLuxury debacle is a great example that when you have a massive brand issue in the real world, trying to run a happy social media campaign won’t go well.

2. Social media isn’t new, yet many people say it is and use that as an excuse.

In the grand scheme of things, Facebook, Twitter and the new Myspace are new. But social media is not.

Social media has been around since before the Internet as we know it, in the form of Usenet boards, dial-in servers and chat rooms. The idea of developing an online community and facilitating engagement and conversation for a particular purpose has been around since the early 1990s.

Sure, the channels are new, but the concept underpinning it all is not.

Anyone who fails to acknowledge this loses the opportunity to capture the well-established knowledge and theory about effective online communities.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new to learn. As with any role, you should learn new things and challenge yourself daily with different viewpoints. There is always a new platform, way of doing something or perspective, and they are all worth exploring.

3. Social media will not solve the world’s, or a company’s, problems, yet many people suggest it will.

Between the Arab Spring, assorted uprisings and a range of other events, we’ve created the idea that social media causes revolutions, and is so powerful that if any company uses it, it will magically solve all the company’s problems.

Social media is a great communication channel, and has certainly helped coordinate people. But was it the root cause of these events? No. It was a channel that happened to be effective in these particular cases.

Social media won’t make your product better, or instantly change consumers’ attitudes or behaviors. Believing that 10,000 likes will somehow turn around your huge safety issue or internal culture is ludicrous.

4. Social media is not for everybody.

Some companies will never be social. Nowhere is this more evident than in the many recent reports about how shockingly low the use of social media is among ASX200 companies. Not all companies have a business case for social media. You can argue that you can use social media for investor relations, but that doesn’t mean there is a business case to do so.

Not all companies provide the kinds of products or services that would suit external-facing social media. Similarly, not all companies have the right internal culture to use social media either internally or externally. Changing a culture takes time, and you certainly can’t do it overnight.

5. “Social media consultant” has lost all meaning, and often equates to “snake oil salesman.”

I’m a self-professed social media consultant. I am proud to say I have never called myself something idiotic like “social media ninja” or “community empowerment digital guru.” Social media consultant works for me.

I don’t sit around promising clients viral campaigns that will produce massive returns, which some consultants happily promise to their (and the client’s) detriment.

These days, anyone can be a social media consultant. The guy who did search engine optimization (SEO) last week is now the social media guy. You can get away with this in new media (see No. 2), and thanks to the attitude that any monkey can do it, you get a guffaw from most people when you say what your job is.

Equally, you can attend hundreds of conferences and seminars from “the No. 1 Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn expert” who will tell you his 15 secrets to social media fame and fortune, but it’s often a business pitch with no useful content.

Sadly, you do not always get what you pay for in social media. Price, whether for a conference registration or a consultant’s hourly rate, is not always related to experience or knowledge. It’s often what someone can get away with charging.

6. Measuring social media is complicated, but we rarely acknowledge that.

People receive doctorate degrees in measuring social media’s impact on consumer behavior. Social network analysis was around long before social media of any kind, but people rarely use it to measure campaigns’ effectiveness. Instead, they focus on easy-to-measure statistics like reach, number of retweets, engagement percentages or likes.

You need to work out what you want to do. Measure return on investment in a simple sense, and you end up with an almost infinite range: Do our 10,000 likes give us greater than or less than zero return?

You can measure as little or as much as you want (there’s no wrong amount), but acting like you can easily extrapolate a basic analysis across a massive group suggests you know nothing about statistics or data analysis.

7. People assume social media is cheap and easy.

Social media requires a significant investment to start and sustain. That includes internal costs (resourcing, training) and often external costs (marketing to consumers, prizes for your communities and even a consultant or two).

But the attitude that you can easily create a social media strategy for an organization with more than $10 million in turnover in a half-day workshop is ludicrous. Sure, it’s doable for a tiny nonprofit, but not for a large brand in need of a strategy that will reach across many marketing channels for a vast range of products.

Similarly, the idea that no one department can own social media is nearsighted. Yes, you have a PR department that manages media inquiries, but does the PR department actually provide quotes to the media or complete interviews? Generally, no. The job of the PR department is to facilitate connections and liaise with a range of internal departments.

While some group has to own and be responsible for social media, that doesn’t mean that a small, defined group controls the purview of social media.

8. I hate speculation.

So much of social media is speculation, and I hate it.

Will Facebook be around in five years? Nobody knows.

You can make probability models or assumptions galore, but who knows-and who cares? The statistician in me hates to see any report on how social media will look in the future.

Hugh Stephens is the director of Dialogue Consulting. Troll him on Twitter @hughstephens. A version of this article originally appeared on MarketingMag.com.

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