‘Social strategist’: Has the term become overused?

The self-assigned label seems to be the new black.

The early ’90s were a good time for me.

Having rocked a “not preppy, not punk, but kinda goth-before-it-was-called goth” look in high school, the ’90s brought us the age of “alternative” and, all of a sudden, what I had been wearing for years started to look pretty cool.

I ran into an old high school classmate at the mall during that time and she commented, “Looks like fashion finally caught up with you, Jen.

Unfortunately, as with any trend, eventually “alternative” fell out of fashion and, as quick as you can say, “hit me baby one more time,” my look was out. (Although I’m still willing to argue that the color black is eternally cool.)

The birth of the ‘social strategist’

I’ve been reminded of that time in my life lately as I’ve watched the rise of the words “social strategist” in bios and profiles across the interwebs. (Last I checked, there were more than 22,000 people with that term in their titles on LinkedIn).

You see, I’ve been a marketing strategist for more than a decade and began incorporating social media into the mix of things for which I strategize a few years ago.

In the past, I never found my job title to be particularly hot. In fact, “strategy” has been historically hard for me to sell clients. Over the years, most clients just wanted me to give them a new toy, rather than try to explain how to fix the one they already had.

So imagine my surprise when I realized that, once again, I was positioned to ride a wave of unplanned popularity.

But then I looked around and realized this wave is really damn crowded.

  • Who are all these “social strategists”?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What makes them “strategists” and not just “people who use social media a whole lot?”
  • What does being a “social strategist” even mean today?

Stop talking and—you know—go strategize something

Oftentimes when I meet a fellow “social strategist” for coffee, I’ll notice one of two things (if not both) right off the bat: They can’t sit for more than 10 minutes without checking their phone, and they never stop talking.

I often wonder, “How in the world do they manage to do this job?”

For me, strategic thought requires deep attention, empathy, understanding and, oftentimes, silence.

Yes, I need to participate in conversations and chats in social channels, read feeds and posts on an ongoing basis and keep abreast of trends that change seemingly overnight. But I also need to hold all of that information in my head and let my neurons wrap around them until a strategic path forward emerges.

This is a process that includes…

  • Reading industry articles, books and blog posts (um…the whole thing, not just the first paragraph so I can tweet a sound bite) and attending industry conferences, seminars and webinars.
  • Researching, testing and reading case studies on new social tools to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Analyzing quantitative and qualitative data on my client and their customers, competition and brands, looking for trends, traffic and red flags.
  • Listening carefully to my client’s story, both the parts they voice (“This may be a challenge for our department to launch.”) and the parts they show me through their nonverbal clues. (This person behaves as if they were told to launch a social media strategy, but don’t really want to. I’m going to need to identify a back-up champion to include in the planning process.)

So I have to think that some of the people who are trying on the sexy new “social strategist” hat for size might be inclined to gloss over some of these tasks.

What strategy means to me…

I don’t think of “strategy” as helping someone get from Point A to Point B—a simple task of learning where they are and making a map to get them where they want to go. I think of strategy as helping someone find success.

It is the art of translating the macro seamlessly into the micro. In that process you not only show people how to get what they want, but you also remind them of why they wanted it in the first place.

But maybe my definition of “strategy” is wrong.

  • In a medium that moves in time to a hummingbird’s wings, maybe a thought or sound bite that sounds strategic is strategic enough.
  • Maybe our clients’ “houses” no longer need to be build with strong foundations, since we’re all building our brands on sand.
  • Maybe silence is overrated.

If those things are true, then yes, I am totally out of fashion. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

What do you think? What do the words “social strategy” mean to you?

Jennifer Kane blogs at KaneCo Conversations.

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