**Social Media Skills and Roles**
Slowly but surely, companies and brands are understanding there is something profound happening in this new media world, and increasingly it’s something they want to be a part of. But how can they know to whom to turn for advice on engagement? Is it their PR or marketing agency? Their technical group? Or is it someone else entirely?
If you are a marketing manager, it will help to understand a few things about this vast space we call “social media” before you throw your chips in with any individual or organization to assist with your social media strategy and tactical executions.
**Dinner Time: Social Media Locations**
An important point to frame the discussion is that social media is not a single monolithic channel. It is in fact quite the opposite, and it can be a bit daunting to consider reaching out to your consumers through the many networks, user generated content and media sharing sites, blogs and other properties that seem to spring up nearly every day.
Because social media is, well, social, a useful metaphor is that most universal of social situations — sharing a meal. Broadly speaking, there are three places you could ordinarily dine with others — at a third party establishment such as a restaurant, at your home, or at someone else’s home. Social media can also take place in three broadly defined “places” — third party networks (e.g. Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, Flickr), properties you control (e.g. a corporate blog, a company discussion board, a customer user generated content (UGC) contest to create your next commercial) or properties controlled by consumers (e.g. their blogs or podcasts).
**Helping You Help Yourself: Strategic Direction**
Once you’ve decided you want to join the social media conversation, it’s time to start thinking strategically. It’s possible one of your agency partners already has a strategist on staff who can assist in thinking about social media, or you may have to bring someone new into the mix. But which agency group? David Jones, blogger/podcaster and VP Digital Communications at Hill & Knowlton Toronto, points out that “encouraging dialogue and building relationships are what PR people attempt to do.” On the other hand, marketing agencies, particularly those that specialize in digital, often bring technical knowledge and design expertise along with a broad understanding of online channels to the table. Either way, you’ll want to evaluate whether you have the right person or people at the table to help you define your needs.
Whatever discipline they come from, make sure it is someone who understands and hopefully has experience with the places online where you think you may want to be. For example, if you have a feeling your consumers might be well served by a Facebook execution and your strategist has never used Facebook, you may want to look for another strategist. But the most critical thing thing to understand about any self-described strategist is whether they are actually strategic. One tell-tale sign to watch for — if they don’t ask any questions about your goals but rather jump directly to recommending using a particular technology, you might be talking to a smart person but not necessarily a strategic one.
**Making Everything Work: Project Management**
Once you have a strategic direction and rough of idea of tactical execution, it’s time to make sure you have project management in place. Your project manager should be brought in as early in the planning phase as possible. Again, this could be someone from one of your agencies, from a technology group or someone you have on staff. Strictly speaking, it isn’t necessary for this person to have direct experience with the specific tactics or locations you are using in your execution, although it certainly doesn’t hurt. What’s more important is that your project manager has comparable experience managing the various disciplines the project involves. They should be able to speak with equal confidence and clarity to the client, technologists, designers, copy writers, and whoever else is required to execute the project successfully.
**Many Hands: Multidisciplinary Execution**
As outlined above, the social media space is broad, and the skills needed on a team vary depending on what you are doing and where.
If you are working on a third-party property like a social network, you will likely need someone to create and maintain profiles and/or group pages, as well as manage interaction with your community. A moderation service service might be retained to delete anything objectionable such as hateful remarks or pornographic or obviously copyrighted images from your space on the network. Depending on the nature of the execution, you might also need graphic designers to customize your profile, developers to create custom widgets or media specialists for photography, audio and video production.
Creation of your own property will often require many of the same skills as working on a third-party environment — moderation, design, development, media production and so on. If you are doing a blog or podcast,the person or people in charge of the messaging are of particular importance. Ideally it should be someone directly associated with the company or brand rather than an agency or other representative. Brand conversations are most effective when they happen with someone who is a part of the brand, the higher up the better. If it isn’t your CEO blogging, it should be someone in a position to speak authoritatively for the brand, andcan ideally influence change based on discussion from the blog. The greater impact the conversation has on the brand, the greater the impression it will have on consumers taking part in that conversation. In addition, you will need a reliable technology infrastructure and support to maintain your own property — hosting and technical management should be handled either by an internal group or a trusted supplier.
If you are going the route of posting comments or otherwise contributing to consumer blogs, podcasts and other properties, a different set of skills are required. Media monitoring is a must, either through a paid service like Custom Scoop or free tools like Google Alerts. You will need someone who can craft comments and other other messages, but it needs to be someone who will be sensitive not only to the reaction of the individual blogger but also of the community around that blog. This person must keep in mind that the community may or may not be sympathetic to your brand. Ideally the customer service group for you brand should also be very engaged in this effort, if not leading the charge.
**Change is Constant**
The social media space is evolving very quickly, and even so-called experts can’t hope to understand every trend. When formulating your strategy and selecting your tactics, always execute in a way that respects people’s time and attention in these new digital places where they work and play.
*Thanks to Travell Perkins (http://travellperkins.com/) and David Jones (http://www.prworks.ca/).*
*Jay Moonah is a blogger at [Media Driving](http://mediadriving.com), and the Digital Information Strategist at Toronto new media agency [58Ninety Inc.](http://www.58ninety.com/)*
**Social Media Skills and Roles**