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I left for vacation right when the blogosphere was going nuts about Cathryn Sloane’s article in NextGen Journal: Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25. Because I was under a strict no-social-media rule imposed by family, I had to surreptitiously read the hundreds of comments – and I couldn’t blog about it. That’s right. Dad said no Facebooking or texting while on vacation. He (my husband) and my two Millennial sons had demanded my undivided attention for the week. NO TWITTER!! So, now I have the wraps off. What about what Cathryn actually said? Should only people under 25 be Social Media Managers? What are the skills required for a first-class social media team?

English: Cheek Piercings.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


No, I’m not under 25. But I have been in digital media for longer than Ms. Sloane has been alive (and I do remember 40404; I also remember phone couplers and 8088 processors, but that’s another pre-Web story).

Naturally, the controversy captured my attention, but not just for Ms. Sloane’s point of view or the vitriol of the over 25 crowd. I was really struck by the partisan nature of the debate. (Occasionally, I had to make sure I hadn’t stumbled onto C-SPAN.)

Let’s recap: Ms. Sloane argued that the under-25 crowd was best suited for managing social media at companies. The counter-argument (minus the spitting anger) was that Gen X and Boomers were quite capable of using social media successfully for both business success and for making personal connections.

The debate got me thinking about the ideal makeup of a social media team. The way I see it, it’s not an either/or choice. A first-class social media team needs both Millennials and Boomers.

Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group last year conducted research on the composition of social media teams. The analyst firm surveyed 144 global national corporations with more than 1,000 employees to understand how their social media teams break down.

They discovered that the average size of a team was 11, and it was led by 1.5 Corporate Social Strategists. The rest of the team included:

  • .5 education manager
  • 1.5 business unit liaison
  • 3 community managers
  • 2 social media managers
  • 1 social analyst
  • 1 Web developer

Two years ago, Mr. Owyang also researched the Social Strategist role and concluded that this person must have a strong digital or marketing background and focus on business objectives over the latest technologies. In other words, this is not a junior position and proficiency in Facebook isn’t a priority.

In fact, if you look at many of these roles, or read through the Creative Group’s list of social media job descriptions, all but a few require some experience. But it’s not the kind of experience that Ms. Sloane extolls in her post. It’s the kind you get from running marketing campaigns, handling crises or interpreting Web analytics reports.

However, I can think of one strong argument for incorporating a young 20-something into your social media team. Ms. Sloane argues that her generation has been “around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us.”

She’s right, although she isn’t articulating this idea exactly as I would. Watch a teenager’s fingers fly across a smartphone keyboard – or a toddler play games on an iPad – and you realize that these generations have activated an innate ability to use technology and social media. To them, it comes as naturally as breathing, as an extension of self.

That comfort level can be an advantage. In my experience, only a small percentage of business professionals over the age of 40 are as comfortable and enthusiastic about social media as the under-25 crowd. In my corporate life, it was always difficult to get senior executives to tweet or blog consistently. They were always excited about it, but it required a lot more effort for them to stay connected than the 22-year-old that we hired right out of college to keep our social media channels pumping.

It’s worth noting that we didn’t put our new social media coordinator in charge of strategy. She didn’t yet have the knowledge or the experience to design campaigns that would assist in meeting our business objectives. Experience trumped technical skills.

Here’s the composition of my ideal social media team. It’s not much different from what Mr. Owyang outlined in his research. Smaller organizations would need to seek individuals with several of these skills, as a team of 11 – or even four – is likely to be beyond their budget.

Lead strategist. This role is focused on developing a social media strategy that links to corporate objectives, ensuring that the team isn’t tweeting just to tweet. Whether it’s crowdsourcing R&D, providing customer service, or driving sales of this year’s fall fashion line, the lead strategist will develop a strategy that is purposeful and measurable. Length of marketing or PR experience: 10-15 years or more.

Community manager. I’d like someone with a public relations/crisis management background for this public-facing position. The individual in this role is the liaison between the company and the communities. Mr. Owyang notes that experience is one of the most important qualifications. I’d be looking for someone with five to seven years of PR experience.

Content producer. This is the writer, blogger, podcaster, and videographer. I’d want someone who is very creative and committed to high-quality. Experience can vary widely.

Analytics manager. Not only should this person have a strong understanding of Web analytics and measurement, but they must be able to decipher trends and make recommendations. I’d want someone with five or more years of experience.

Social media coordinator/specialist. This role works within channels to execute campaigns. A marketing or communications degree is helpful, but not required. This is a good starting place for the new college graduate.

What does your social media team look like?

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Diane Thieke

About Diane Thieke

Diane S. Thieke is a professional communicator with a gigantic passion for language and the ways in which human beings use it to connect with and understand each other. She firmly believes that the Internet is the greatest disruptive event in communication since the invention of the printing press, which explains her obsession with brand journalism and the current revolution in news.

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