8 reasons I hate working in social media

I’ve worked in social media for, relatively, quite a while now. While I’m not saying I was there first (in any way), I’ve been doing this since before the market was as saturated as it is currently. Here are a few reasons I find myself hating what it’s become.

 

1. ‘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 titled myself something idiotic like ‘social media ninja’ or ‘community empowerment digital guru,’ but social media consultant works for me. And I don’t sit around promising clients viral campaigns that will produce massive returns – which some consultants will happily promise, to their (and the client’s) detriment.

But these days, anyone can be a social media consultant. The SEO guy last week is now the social media guy. Luckily in this ‘new media’, you can get away with this (see #2). And as a result, you get a guffaw from most people when you say that’s what your job is – thanks to this attitude that any monkey can do it.

Equally, you can attend hundreds of conferences and seminars from ‘Australia’s #1 <Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn> Expert’ who will tell you their ’15 secrets to <social media service> fame and fortune’. But even when you do (and this even applies to paid conferences…) it’s often a business pitch, with no useful content anyway.

Sadly, you do not always get what you paid for in social. Price (whether conference price or consultant hourly rates) is not always related to experience or knowledge: it’s often what they can get away with.

 

2. Social media isn’t new – stop saying it is and using that as an excuse

In the grand scheme of things, Facebook is new. ‘New Myspace’ is new. Twitter is new. But social media is not. Social media has been around pre-internet-as-we-know-it, in the form of Usenet boards, dial-in servers – even IRC chat rooms. The idea of developing an ‘online community’ and facilitating engagement and conversation online for a particular purpose has been around since the early 90s. Sure, every second brand didn’t have its own community, we didn’t have interactive intranets, so the channels are indeed new, but the concept underpinning it all is not.

So anyone who fails to acknowledge this loses the opportunity to capture the knowledge and theory that has been well-established about effective online communities. And that’s before you even talk about abstracting existing community identification and development knowledge from ‘traditional’ communities into the online space – look at the relationship between ethnography and social media research and you’ll get what I mean.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new to learn. As with any role, I think you should learn new things and be challenged by different viewpoints daily. There’s always a new platform, a new way of doing something, a new perspective, and they are all worthwhile exploring.

 

3. Social media will not solve the world’s problems, or your company’s, so please stop suggesting 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, they will magically solve problems. And sure, it’s a great many-to-many communication channel, and has certainly helped in many of these cases to coordinate people. But was it the root cause of them occurring? No. It was a channel that happened to be effective in a particular case.

Social media won’t make your product better, or instantly change consumers’ attitudes or behaviours. 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’ and that’s perfectly fine

Nowhere is this more evident than in the many recent reports about how ‘shockingly low’ the use of social media by ASX200 companies is. Not all companies have a business case for social media. You can argue about how it can be used for investor relations for any listed company (which is a legitimate argument) but that doesn’t mean that there is a business case to do so through this channel.

Not all companies provide the kinds of products or services that would suit externally-facing social media. Similarly, not all companies have the right internal culture to be using social media internally or externally. And changing things like that takes time, and certainly can’t be done overnight or even in weeks.

 

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

One of the frustrating things at times is when people act like social media is its own platform, with no influence from the outside world. And this comes from both sides of the fence: we see claims of ‘Facebook leading to a X% sales increase’ with little quantification about how they have ensured independence from other channels, and brands doing silly things after ignoring external factors.

The (infamous) #QantasLuxury debacle is a great example that when you have a massive brand issue occurring ‘in the real world’ (the IR dispute and subsequent groundings), trying to run a happy fluffy social media campaign (to win some pyjamas) isn’t going to go well.

 

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

People do PhDs in measuring social media’s impact on consumer behaviour. ‘Social network analysis’ is something that has been around long before social media of any kind, but is rarely used in any way to measure the effectiveness of campaigns, instead focussing on easy-to-measure stats like reach, number of retweets, engagement percentages or likes.

So you need to work out what you want to do. Measure ROI in a very simple sense, and 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 to measure), but acting like a very basic analysis can be easily extrapolated across a massive group just suggests that you know nothing about statistics or data analysis.

 

7. People assume social media is cheap and easy

Social media requires significant investment to start and sustain. That includes internal costs (resourcing, training) and often external costs (marketing to consumers, even prizes for your communities, God forbid even a horrid consultant or two). But the attitude that a social media strategy for an organisation with more than $10 million in turnover should be easily written in one half-day workshop is a bit ludicrous. Sure, it’s doable for your tiny not-for-profits, but they aren’t expecting something that will represent a large brand across many marketing channels with a vast range of product offerings to many target markets.

Similarly, the idea that social media can be ‘owned’ by one department is nearsighted. Sure, you have a PR department, and they manage media enquiries. But does the PR department actually provide the quotes to the media or complete interviews? Generally, no. Their job is to facilitate connections, and liaise with a huge range of internal departments. So while some group has to ‘own’ and be responsible for social media, that doesn’t mean that the purview of social media is controlled by a small defined group.

 

8. I hate speculation

So much of social media and the future is full of speculation, and I hate it. Will Facebook be around in five years? Nobody knows. Sure, there are probabilistic models or assumptions galore that you can make, but who knows – and who cares anyway? The statistician in me hates seeing any report on how social media will look in the future. I remember a really frustrating conversation with someone at a conference about how they were currently modelling what the internet would look like in 10-40 years from a major ‘big four’ consulting company. Anyone who believes that kind of nonsense needs to learn what a confidence interval is.

 

Comments

  1. john varcoe says:

    Refreshingly honest…. are you sure you’re an SM consultant????? : )

  2. hughstephens says:

    @John, yes I am :) but looking forward to hopefully moving “the sector” toward being a bit more realistic!

  3. fyawnym says:

    Hi Hugh,

    Thank you for this very honest review. I couldn’t agree more. Social Media is just a small piece in the increasingly complex world of business culture. To kick the snake oil doctors out of the game, what we really need is an enlightenment campaign that will help customers make informed decisions, rather than fall for the latest spin.