Social media consultant or snake oil salesman?
It was flattering – and a little embarrassing – to be called a social media guru in The New Zealand Herald recently. It was even more flattering when communications veteran Courtney Lambert told a crowd of marketers at the Auckland Search Engine Bootcamp that she and I were the only New Zealand social media consultants who knew what we were doing. It got me thinking… who really does know what theyre doing?
As a consultant, Ive only got one answer for that: it depends. An awful lot depends on where were coming from. But even more important is where we see this stuff going.
Weve come from so many different places. People like Courtney and I come from a communications/marketing background. Others started in technology or knowledge management, then progressed to the persuasive arts. If you know anything about technology adoption, youll know its not such a long distance to travel – theres a fair bit of persuasion involved in knowledge management.
And lately were seeing some great talent coming from the areas of design and media – two areas that social media calls on a lot. Then there are the ad guys and the PR chicks (spot the gender stereotypes, but theyre true, in New Zealand at least!). Theres some good thinking going on in the advertising/PR world but, with a few rare exceptions, not a lot of engagement. And thats a real shame for the clients of these agencies.
Its a shame because we tend to learn better together, and yet collaboration doesnt fit the dog-eat-dog world of advertising or PR where knowledge and networks are power, and are to be guarded at all costs.
Its also a shame because there are some things you can only learn by doing. And thats particularly important in our industry – making connections with people.
Say you wanted to open a business in Ghana. You could easily find out through research its GDP, what other businesses operate there, which languages are spoken, the average lifespan of a Ghanaian.
And yet, when you finally arrived to set up shop youd still be a foreigner. Because on the streets of Ghana, they dont just talk about the GDP or what businesses operate there. They talk about the things that matter to them – things that may seem trivial to you.
The same is true in social media. Unless you get your hands dirty, your strategies wont be as powerful as they could be. Dirty hands may even make the difference between success and failure. Now Ive ranted from a New Zealand perspective, where agencies have been very half-hearted in their embrace of social media, please, tell me this isnt the case in Australia!