The Unbearable Lightness of Being “Social”
Searching for my next challenge following the untimely demise of my position at Lithium after 4 months on the job (10% haircut throughout all departments) is not what I’d call a blessing in disguise. Truth be told, it sucks the big one. Or does it?
The beauty of such predicament is it really forces you to re-assess and possibly re-align your career. And do some soul searching. And understand your industry better - which is key to survival. What do I mean by that?
Picture the party I was at several weeks ago where someone asked me what I did for a living:
- oh, I’m a social strategy consultant
- I talk to businesses about their digital presence and strategies
- oh, okay, you mean like Facebook and Twitter
- ahh, no not exactly. I work with very large brands like walmart, microsoft, intel, cisco, you know…like a consultant
- I see, so you tell them how setup their facebook pages?
- no, no it’s got nothing to do with Facebook, it’s really much higher-level, it’s about their overall digital strategy - where to be, when, why, how it aligns with overall business objectives, etc.
- ah, ok yeah, right. interesting. okay talk to you later.
I thought long and hard about this encounter - especially since it wasn’t the first one of its kind - and the difficulty i had quickly articulating what I did for a living.
Now, in the old days when I was in hi-tech, I would tell folks I was a programmer - and everyone would nod and get it (and then ask me how to remove viruses from porn-infested machines). Many people didn’t understand the specifics but everyone understood what computer programming meant.
When I was a sales engineer and evangelist in the BI world, everyone got that pretty quickly. But then I started wearing that “social media” shroud. “Social media <insert term of the day>”. That’s when it got murkier.
There’s one thing I’ve always said about career obsolescence: once you stop being able to explain what you do in a single sentence to a twelve year old - you better start watching your back. I should have heeded my own advice.
In reality, what I should have told people is that I was in marketing. That’s a concept everyone understands, including twelve year olds. Plus it’s true. Why?
Because Professional Services, under which social strategy consulting fell, is really a marketing function. You’re either marketing to prospects trying to get them to buy your stuff, or marketing to customers trying to get them to renew or buy deeper into your stuff. You do this by convincing them you know better than anyone else, by sharing your point of view on things (so few vendors have them), by showing them (yet again) the value, and basically building thought leadership in the industry. It’s not rocket science. But it’s not charity work either - it’s marketing.
What IS rocket science, however, is trying to figure out what’s going on in the “social media” career industry lately. There are too many meaningless titles - with even more nebulous job descriptions - flying around.
Yet the organizations who need help - large or small - don’t give a crap about “social strategy” or “digital strategy” or “social media experts” or “social media managers” or any other such nonsense. What they care about is solving really hard business problems. Like staying relevant, increasing market share, beating competitors, and making customers and shareholder happy. If you happen to have social and digital skills to boot, then so much the better.
Companies don’t need “social strategy” - they need business strategy! They don’t need digital marketers, they need more efficient, adaptive marketers with strategic minds. People who “get it” - with or without social or digital whatever.
So from where I sit, if you’re a “social anything”, that’s very nice, but your future is precarious at best. Especially if there’s strategy in there. Essentially, if you do your job right, and turn your company into a genuine social business, you become obsolete. That’s it, the strategy worked! Wonderful. Now what?
Unless you can move up to the executive ladder, your six-figure salary is going to become really hard to justify sooner or later.
So looking for director or VP level social media/strategy is fine, but I know most large companies already have top notch people at the digital helm - I’ve met enough of them - For the others, they’ll likely be out of business shortly. There’s a need for soldiers out there. But the commanders are pretty much all commissioned. And I’ve met and heard about enough out of work or “re-purposed” “social strategists” lately to start wondering.
So what really has staying power in this social economy? How do you remain meaningful, understandable, valuable, beneficial and different? To me, it’s two things: content and customer experience. I had a key principle on my team at Sprinklr: product marketing is mostly about helping customers succeed while telling stories in between.
By customer experience I mean help, support, service, training - everything it takes to get hassles out of customers’ way and help them succeed faster and more often. Simple enough.
This concept might not be popular among the more traditional marketers, but in this day and age, that’s what “social” means. And he (or she) who createth and deployeth content while helping customers succeed rules the world. For ever.
Content and customer happiness won’t go obsolete and neither will those who know how to drive both - digital, analog, any which way you can think of.
That’s why the next train I’m taking will have to serve at least two stops: content central and customer experience station. Two criteria: does it entertain customers? Does it help customers? I have a pretty good advantage there, I’ve lived at the intersection of technology, social, and marketing all my life. All areas that impact content and customer experience.
So if that’s called marketing, or anything else for that matter, as long as I can explain it in one sentence to a twelve year old, that’s fine by me. Because I’m convinced that’s the future. It’s that simple. And everything else, as we say in French, is flute playing :)