Will social media specialists go the way of the blacksmith? Yes, if you
Rubel, the well known Edeleman blogger. He believes the social media
manager will be extinct in a few years. Where will they go? Absorbed into the corporate marketing and PR machines, says Steve.
Steve is one of my favorite bloggers and always seems to be on top of the latest trends. But this is one I'm hoping he misses.
Steve's argument is that PR professionals at most companies will soon be well equipped to manage social media activities as well as a lone-wolf specialist. These skills aren’t rocket science and can be easily picked up by a savvy inhouse communications manager. Most companies don't have the "luxury" of these specialists when instead they can sweep it up into existing PR or marketing organizations.
I think this would be a huge mistake.
Social media requires different skills and mindset than PR--in fact, it's the antithesis of PR. Ever hear of a PR manager who really believes in letting go of the messaging or allowing employees free reign to engage in wide-open conversations? PR is about message control and spin. Don’t try to disguise it as anything else. Public relations and “transparency” are like oil and water.
There’s no reason we can’t continue to have separate positions for social media marketing managers or strategists, and that public relations organizations can't be involved of course. As social media strategist and Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang points out, we already have specialized marketing managers in large corporations sorted by industries, mediums, and channels (ex: web marketing, search marketing, event marketing).
Here's what really bothers me.
With social media, we truly have a rare opportunity to change the way companies connect with the public, shareholders, the media, etc. But do you think this will happen if social media becomes just another marketing or PR function?
My experience in this area hasn’t been all that positive. When I was a marketing manager at Intel in the 1990s, I had a very successful—if eccentric—educational outreach program absorbed into the PR program after three solid years of success. The "PC Dads" program was a free-wheeling, engaging effort that caught the public’s attention in 30 plus states, and we were on our way to some national acclaim. But once it got pulled out of marketing (actually the Intel Inside program) and into PR, it was soon watered down and eventually died.
I fear the same thing could happen as social media gets bottled up
in these organizations. Truth is, there's not that many social media
specialists vs thousands of Rubels and huge agencies like Edelman that
have been at this a long time. Giant, well-heeled armies vs the odd
few. We've seen this movie before.
The good news is that social media is already pretty far along, and
I think the forces of nature are in our favor. Look at companies like
Sun where the CEO is
blogging like mad, minus the restraints of PR (or HR or Legal it
you can see where I think we're headed. Several companies I’ve run into
lately (Intuit, Intel, eBay,
etc) have hired social media specialists and plan to stretch their
this area—actually, they already are. And truth be told, there are many
companies where PR groups and these specialists seem to co-exist ok
(yes, there are inevitable clashes, but what else is new?)
It’ll be hard once this train’s rolling down the track to get it stopped. People (employees, investors, etc) will demand more. Call it transparency. Authenticity. Openness. But like freedom, once people get a taste of it, no one wants to turn back the clock. We're having too much fun to spoil it now.