What Do You Mean, Exactly, by Social Media?

A colleague cornered me the other day to declaim, “My team needs to do more Social Media.” This puzzled me as we’re pretty well known for being good at this stuff.

“Define exactly what you mean by ‘doing Social Media,’” I replied.

“Define Social Media?” they asked incredulously.

“Yes,” I said. “When you say we need to do more Social Media, exactly what services are you suggesting? Community Management (i.e., manning Twitter and Facebook)? Content creation? Creating social apps? Doing even more sophisticated monitoring and analytics? All of the above? None of the above – something different?”

We went back and forth on it for a bit. My colleague acknowledged that we “do a lot of social strategy and creative social brainstorming for clients” but their team wanted to be even more hands-on.

“In other words,” I concluded, “your team wants to hit ‘tweet’ or ‘publish’ more often? — You’re essentially suggesting that they want to be more tactical, when everyone else in the world seems to wish they could ‘be more strategic.’”

No, thanks.

While I firmly believe that agencies can play a compelling role in Community Management (which is what I deduced the team was looking to do more of), i.e., research, monitoring, content calendaring and creation, analysis, crisis comms, and so on, I also firmly believe that the workaday Community Management stuff is best handled by in-house corporate pros. That’s not to say we won’t do it — we have, we do, and we will, when called on — but it’s not an industry best practice, imho.

I raised this issue on Twitter today, and I think Steve Farnsworth said it best:

Just because it’s snarky, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

What do you mean, exactly, when you tell people you “handle” Social Media?

Posted on: May 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm By Todd Defren
19 Responses to “What Do You Mean, Exactly, by Social Media?”


  • Matthew West says:

    As a customer of yours, perhaps I can provide a bit of counterpoint. I am the social strategist for a global brand. I have to deal with any number of things on a daily basis, from working with our lead generation teams to concept marketing programs, to helping small regional teams develop social strategies for their parts of the world, to updating our CEO on which way the wind is blowing online. I lack human resources. I’m not complaining about it, but I don’t have a team of people helping me manage accounts and post things to Twitter or Facebook or whatever. I have to somehow figure out how to make that happen in between working on strategic projects, consulting, evangelizing and analyzing data.

    One of the things the SHIFT team does is handle some of my daily proactive posting activity, especially with regard to curated content. Sure, I could do it myself, but I would have to either work longer or stop working on higher-level projects to do so. And the SHIFT team helps me do some of the legwork that might not get done if everything was left up to me. It’s a service I value highly, and just because it may not be the most exciting thing for the folks in the Boston office to do, please don’t think that it’s not appreciated.

    In response to Mr. Farnsworth, I don’t have more money than sense. I have the latter in abundance, and that sentiment seems to indicate a lack of understanding as to what the reality is on the ground at companies around the world. What I lack is time. help me get my work done and you’re golden.

  • Sara Evans says:

    I often wonder the same question, “What do you mean “do” social media?” and this article is very clear on the answer; that every answer is different. I also agree with your stance on being more strategic than tactical. I appreciate those who use social media to capture the attention of most followers some of the time, instead of a few followers all of the time.

  • Mario says:

    Well, I guess that colleague of yours doesn’t really understand what Social Media marketing really is, you cant be more popular just by tweeting about a products/services (well some do, but not all) , you need to have huge amount of followers like Justin Bieber, and some really famous if you want that to happen, but it would be costly to use celebrities as advertisers. You need to have that special strategy if you want to be recognised in the social media nowadays

  • Janae fuston says:

    Taking a few moments to ponder I have concluded that the phrase,
    “We do social media for clients, which means __________” is not so simple to finish. But here is my best shot:

    We do social media for clients, meaning we provide a service that enables clients to communicate efficiently, relevantly and in a timely manner. In “doing” social media we take complex thoughts and turn them into simple and credible statements for the general public.

  • Patty Jenness says:

    I think organizations hire public relations professionals to administer its social media because it seems like an ominous task with no beginning or end. Executives think they have to sit in front of a computer all day monitoring Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, which would be seemingly unproductive. Organizations would do well to hire and train in-house PR reps to handle the everyday tasks of commenting and monitoring.

  • Good post, Tood. There’s another side as well. There’s a struggle at most enterprises about who controls social media – marketing, communications, customer service, etc…

    We can avoid getting into a larger philosophical debate about ownership and control for now.

    But one thing we can say – whoever owns the keys to the car, usually gets to drive it. At this stage in the game the department/division/unit pressing the publish and tweet buttons is probably the same one setting the strategy.

  • Frank Strong says:

    What we are seeing is the evolution of a true PR consultancy. In the old days, we could pitch, seed, write, but in social media an agency can only suggest. Having been on both sides, more than once, this is pretty much my conclusion. Spot on TD, as usual.

  • Anna says:

    It means they read the Twitter section on how to get more followers and now they are going to take money to do something that you could have done in the first place…. Just sayin! Lol… Follow @annainpr

  • This may be true, but the real question is how can you convince a client of this fact? As Steve pointed out, there is an element of common sense missing in the clients who don’t immediately recognize this (I will refrain from saying all clients, but it is safe to assume a majority), so sending facts and figures their way won’t do any good.

    Should you just continue doing what they want, regardless of whether it is the “right” course of action? It is sort of a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, but is there a different solution?

  • Most companies are better of hiring Social Media practitioners (not to say ‘experts’)because they are aware that they can’t create equally engaging and concise content. They have the story, they have the passion but they are not creative enough to be able to deliver the right message.

  • Lee Nugent says:

    As ever, you’ve hit the nail on the head Todd.

    Not only is the ‘tactical’ work you discuss best placed in the hands of the pros you describe (and that’s the important point), from an agency POV this is work that will quickly commoditise where it’s outsourced.

    And, unless we agencies have vast scale, we’re not going to be able to make a margin. And if that happens, it’s time to pack our bags.

    We should focus on where we can deliver value to our clients AND run our businesses successfully.

  • PAUL says:

    Spot on. As an agency one of the ways we are trying to work with clients (new and old) is to develop and train their in-house teams. It’s almost a form of new-age media training!

  • Alex says:

    I’m not sure I see the point exactly… By the sounds of it I think I’d rather pay someone to proactively research my target market and tweet on behalf of my business. Paying you to do “creative social brainstorming” sounds even more mythical! What is that?! I’d rather see you hit ‘tweet’, that way at least I would see what I’m paying for!
    Plus, you agree people looking for this service ‘have more money than sense’ yet you also say you are more than happy to take the money off your clients ‘when called on’. I hope none of your clients read this!

  • David King says:

    Witty response by Steve. Bravo.

  • Todd, as usual, you’re spot on. Clients aren’t really “engaging” in social media if it’s all done by surrogates. I advise my clients that if they are not directly participating in social environments, they are missing out on its best value: listening to what others have to say.

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