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A Response to: 'Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25'
Posted on July 23rd 2012
Over on NextGen Journal, a young woman named Cathryn Sloane has kicked up a lot of dialog with a blog post entitled, "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25." In it, she complains about companies that post social media job openings "looking for five to ten years of direct experience" and asserts that "the candidates who are in fact best suited for the position actually aren’t old enough to have that much experience."
I was going to respond to Ms. Sloane but then I realized I already had. Three years ago. When she was a sophomore in college.
In July 2009, I wrote a blog post about a social media blunder caused by an intern, and I urged companies to consider the importance of social media and the need for mature, experienced leadership. I was going to edit my old blog post to update it just a bit, and then I realized I didn't need to do so. While the social media world has matured in the intervening years, the need for true leadership and not just social media familiarity (which Ms. Sloane fails to recognize are not mutually exclusive) has not changed. In fact, it has increased.
So here is my response to Ms. Sloane, written three years before she wrote her her own blog post:
Caveat Emptor: Do You Know Enough to Buy or Hire Social Media Expertise?
We've been through this before. A decade ago, with the power of search engines surging, the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) became evident to marketers everywhere--and they had no idea what to do about it. The Internet was still new and some were yet debating its importance, so the ways of managing a brand's searchability and findability were unfamiliar and strange to marketers accustomed to print ads and FSIs. They, of course, turned to "experts" (either external agencies or new hires), but many had no basis upon which to evaluate that expertise. Disasters ensued.
This brings me to one of my favorite stories of my Internet career. Many years ago, a client asked my agency for an SEO proposal. Their goals were lofty--they wanted the top spot for several very common search terms. We responded with an appropriate proposal based on the best practices of the day; it was not inexpensive, nor did we promise the top spot on Google.
We lost the contract to an "SEO agency" we'd never heard of that was cheaper and made promises to match the aggressive (and unrealistic) goals set by the client. You can probably guess the rest of the story--within months, the black hat tactics used by the other firm (such as hidden text and link farms) resulted in our client's site disappearing from top search engine databases.
This story returned to mind as I read about the trouble in which Habitat has found itself with Social Media spamming. As described on Mashable, the furniture maker was caught seeding Twitter's top trending terms as hashtags into tweets promoting a sweepstakes for those who would join Habitat's email list. If you are reading this post and didn't understand that last sentence, then this should be a very clear warning sign to proceed with caution when contracting for Social Media services or hiring a social media expert, because this action proved to be a PR disaster for Habitat.
With dozens of blogs with tens of thousands of readers complaining about Habitat's spamming of Twitter, Habitat was forced to apologize. The company's note to bloggers said, in part:
The top ten trending topics were pasted into hashtags without checking with us and apparently without verifying what all of the tags referred to. This was absolutely not authorised by Habitat. We were shocked when we discovered what happened and are very sorry for the offence that was caused. This is totally against our communications strategy. We never sought to abuse Twitter, have removed the content and will ensure this does not happen again.
In this case, the error in judgment was not made by a johnny-come-lately fly-by-night Social Media agency (although it could've been) but by an intern.
One of my biggest gripes nowadays is the mistaken belief that I have heard repeated time and again in a form similar to this: "Young adults are so clued into Social Media, so we're going to hire an intern to handle Social Media for our brand." Again, if you are reading this blog and have found yourself thinking an intern is the solution to close the Social Media gap in your organization, this is another warning sign to proceed with caution and seek expertise where you need expertise. Social Media is the most important change in human and marketing communications in a decade, and trusting your brand's presence and reputation to the maturity, expertise, knowledge, and judgment of a 22 year old is as dangerous as it sounds.
Habitat found this out the hard way. Not only did they leave an important marketing channel to an intern, they also completely failed to monitor this channel or their employee. It is evident no one was subscribed to and keeping tabs on the company's own Twitter feed, or if they were, they lacked the Social Media wisdom to recognize a truly horrible and painfully apparent Social Media mistake.
Habitat's reputation has been stung. There have been thousands of tweets and blog posts accusing them of being spammers and exploiting some of the most sensitive and timely situations in the world--including the Iranian elections--for their own gain. Tweets in just the last five minutes as I type this include, "We've seen your apology, but telling us who didn't post them doesn't tell us who did post them. Why did Habitat let this happen?" and "Are u kidding me? @HabitatUK gets an intern to work on the Twitter acc. with no clue and then get rid of him?"
Much like brands stung by improper SEO tactics in years past, the use and abuse of Social Media can result in the kind of disasters that cost money and harm brands. How can a marketing organization with little or no Social Media expertise prevent this from happening? The solution is actually very simple; it's just not necessarily cheap:
Mistakes are costly and unnecessary, so it is vital that marketers make smart decisions. Finding someone with the ability to tweet is easy; finding the right agency or employee to furnish insight, judgment, and experience in Social Media is not. Securing the maturity and experience your enterprise needs might be the difference between a Social Media presence that builds your brand's influence or destroys it.