Social media is a funny animal; it’s a skill set, an attitude, a group of tools, and the ability to be proactive and… well, social.
It’s also an amazing way to get more business. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves to take it seriously. This is not a fad.
There is a bit of a cancer in this industry though, in the form of self-titled “Social Media Experts” who have demonstrated success in some niche or another—whether it be in a single industry or on their own personal blogs—and figure they have what it takes to sell the snake oil to others. It’s the .com boom all over again (PS: The bust is coming, but that’s another blog post for another day).
How, then, does a company who wants to engage in this space and get their message out to more people using these new tools know who to turn to for advice?
Nerds vs Jocks?
I’ve found that there is a line in the sand in the social media world. On one side you have people who come from traditional PR or marketing backgrounds, and who know how to write well, talk to people, form a message, and get the word out. On the other, you have the technologists—people who know the tools in and out, know the ebb and flow of the internet’s whims and cultures, and who are always on top of the trends.
One would think that true success can be found somewhere in the middle, then. That’s partially true, but the thing we have to take into consideration is the fact that social media exists on the cutting edge of technology. Not the cutting edge of marketing, PR, or writing. Therefore, I believe that true success can only be achieved by being a techie.
I have a lot of friends with traditional PR/Marketing backgrounds, and I know this is going to irk them, so please allow me to explain.
A person who doesn’t have technical skills is always running into frustrations and roadblocks that they have to call in outside help for—whether it be IT or the support line for a software product or going to Google to search for “how do I…” This takes a lot of time and saps efficiency; an especially poignant point when you consider how fast this world moves and how real-time social media can be.
Let me give a real world example that happened here at Trademark:
I noticed a glaring problem with our blog; our commenting system isn’t that great. You can’t reply to an individual comment and commenters are not notified when someone else posts. That makes conversation basically impossible, and encourages a “come once, post, and leave” mentality. I wanted to fix that.
I saw a great commenting system on SpinSucks the other day. I posted a comment and was enamored with the richness of the conversation. 173 comments, people arguing and discussing, and just a great deal of activity. It’s called Livefyre, and I wanted it immediately. I’m convinced that the commenting system was partially responsible for the great conversation (yeah, and the great content didn’t hurt either…)
Always bet on the nerds
See, now here’s why I’m lucky: I work at a web development company, which means that it’s full of techies. Everybody here is extremely skilled in a variety of tech disciplines. That enables us to implement technology to get things done in a very quick fashion. We’ll very likely have Livefyre up in a day or two. This will be a massive improvement in our blog system, it will empower conversations, and it will be good for business.
Now, I can recall working at other places in the past, where implementing platform changes was an onerous and foot-dragging process. First, I would have to make a case for the tool. I’d have to write a proposal explaining why I think it would be helpful. Then I would have to explain how it would fit in to our sites. Then I’d have to get approval. Then I’d have to start a conversation with our contract, off-site IT person. Then … you get the idea.
So many steps, and any one of them would put a standstill to the project if something broke down; and you know how these things go—something always breaks down.
Of course, this is not just a tech thing, it’s a culture thing. But still, having the tech equation “out of the way” means that I don’t have to explain this tool and why it’s a good thing to everyone. They spent the same five minutes I did looking at it, checking out the demo, and immediately understanding why this would be helpful—because we’re all techies. We just know how this stuff works.
Having developers in your pocket is pure gold, of course; you need a change implemented and they can make it happen without having to bring in anyone.
Ya kinda gotta be a nerd
When people think of “social media” they usually assume “Oh, that means you use Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and stuff to spread your message and talk to people.” What they never seem to remember is that you need a solid infrastructure to make those things work for you—you need lots of technology to create video, lots of technology to have a solid blog that works well, and so on.
Even using the basic tools becomes more efficient if you’re a techie. Crashes, speed issues, bugs, and other things can make non-techies throw their hands up in the air and say “Ugh, why won’t this just work?”. Techies know how to fix things, and if they don’t, they know where to go to find out how.
If you’re doing social media and you don’t have a strong tech background, it’s time to embrace your inner geek. Shrug off the last vestiges of your reluctance, get a book on the TCP/IP stack, learn how to say “Hello World” in Ruby or Python, learn how to hack a WordPress plugin with PHP. These are not bonus skills in today’s social media world. I believe that when the bust happens, those of us who have the tech skills will be the ones to survive it.