A few months ago, Steve Radick and I gave mutually-exclusive lectures about social media to two different audiences and posted our dueling presentations to slide share.
Yesterday, Steve posted an article that reiterated one of his points from a few months ago: “Social Media” is not a career option. I argued otherwise. This time the formulation of his argument went to the Far East, and he declared “Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas” And here I am again, arguing otherwise.
In a certain sense, actually, I agree with Steve. I think that the time of silliness, frivolity, and simple unprofessionalism surrounding social media is coming to an end, if it hasn’t already (as this crude-language but very funny video attests). So, yes: no more social media ninjas.
But the larger point Steve is making (again, for the second time), is that Social Media is a subset of communications. He says:
Instead trying to be a social media ninja, try being a communications specialist. Try being a knowledge management professional. Try being a recruiter. Try being an information technology professional. Because guess what – THAT’S what you are doing.
But the thing is, that’s not what I’m doing, and that’s not what Social Media Experts should aspire to. In post from a few months ago, Steve wrote: “I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.” I think what’s implicit in that sentence is a two-word phrase at the end: “I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media for communications.” But, as I pointed out, Social Media Experts touch upon more than communications, more than knowledge management, more than recruiting. These are uses of the tools we make it our living to understand.
And that knowledge is essential not only to communications, but to nearly every aspect of business and government operations. I’m not saying that Social Media is bigger than communications, I’m saying that it’s more like a Venn diagram in which social media overlaps with communications, HR, internal operations, marketing, IT, KM, and other business areas.
You may know the communications aspect of social media, but that doesn’t make you a social media expert. And if your focus is always on communications, you’re going to miss what’s on the horizon in social media, because you’re going to look at what works, and not what is going to work, or what is coming down the pike and will not work.
The problem you identify, however, is that there are a lot of people who were billed (or, more subversively, who billed themselves) as social media experts, when in fact they were just people who used social media tools. I would point out that just because you can swing a hammer, you are not necessarily a builder, and certainly not an architect. If you want to be an architect, you should probably know how a drill works, but you’re actually very unlikely to be in charge of installing all the sheet rock in the house you design, much less to paint all the walls, install all the lighting, and keep the lawn mowed once people move in.
That analogy holds for social media. I don’t monitor the facebook pages for every team after I help them develop their strategy. I don’t run the social network analytics on microblogging platforms after I recommend that an office install that tool and then train their staff on how and when to use it rather than sending around an email. I don’t generate the traffic report that I’ll analyze to see how many visitors are coming to a site from Twitter. But my job is to make sure that all of those things happen, that they are thought of and incorporated into operating procedures.
And then there’s this: what tools do we need to develop? I doubt we’d have drills were it not for screwdrivers. And what about the intermediaries of the gimlet and the brace? Or the variation that is the dremel?
Steve also may think that we’re further ahead than we really are. When Bill Keller of the New York Times wrote “The Twitter Trap” surely there were many communications professionals around him; perhaps, though, if he had had a social media specialist, she might have said (as I did here) “there is no Twitter Trap (and if there were, it would be called a “Twap,” as I’m sure you could surmise).”
So, no, I’m not a social media ninja. Never have been, never wanted to be. But I am a social media expert, and with new tools coming online all the time, and new uses being devised for tools yet unforged (and even unimagined), I think my career path still has room for ascent, and is wide enough to accommodate many peers.