Social Media is Nothing New – But Get On Board!

Business is buzzing about this “New” social media. It’s sweeping the world and every firm has to have it but few understand where it came from and how it actually works. There’s infighting in large corporations for which department will own the social media outreach and people are hanging placards on their profiles that tout themselves as “social media experts”, but their tweets are more like twits and the practice has yet to be defined in terms of how it’s effective and how it can be gauged as successful. The answer is to ask the creatives who have been doing it for many years.

Social Media

Social Media is Nothing New

I keep hearing “social media experts” writing about how the practice is so new, there is no way to measure the effectiveness and other lame excuses that won’t allow the light of professionalism and intelligence to illuminate their mediocrity. I apologize for that statement. They would be lucky if they could reach the heights of mediocrity.

This isn’t a rant on how social media is a sham of a mockery or a mockery of a sham. Social media is a fantastic practice that has been around since the first caveman waved at the second, showing that he held no sharpened rock to cut the other’s head off (decapitation in the world of the internet, it’s called “flaming”).

Social Media Machine

The term, “social media” is new, having replaced the popular term, “not blowing you up with nuclear weapons” that was so popular during the cold war, followed by the practice of putting a “baby on board” sign in one’s car window to keep other drivers from intentionally ramming into your car at full speed. Still, there is a humanness to it that is sweet and kind and totally misunderstood by those who are none of the above.

I was in dread as someone I knew in a networking group ran up to me. She had a new career every month. She bought a Mac computer and Adobe software and suddenly was a “graphic designer.” She bought an expensive camera and was a “photographer”. This time she panted in excitement to tell me how she was now the “Social Media Diva”!

She didn’t have to buy anything but her thought process was that she tweeted fifty times a day and therefore was adept at “social media”. Her tweets consisted of famous quotes and the hashtag, #justsayin. Certainly we all have followers who do the same. One of my now-blocked followers would tweet, “working”, “eating lunch”, “running errands”. Hardly news or a reason to take interest in having her take up precious column space in my tweet feed.

Then there are the people who have to tell you where they are at any given moment. Another follower constantly tweets, “at Starbucks”, “at the supermarket” or “getting my medication.” I had finally had enough and, while he announced he was “at lunch”, I replied, “I’m robbing your house!”

He was not amused and tweeted back, “that’s not nice!” and unfollowed me. More precious column space freed up.

As with the practice of design and the threat of wanna-bes cheapening what we do, social media is wide open to charlatans who merely name themselves such.

Design has always been a major part of communications. From 8th century signs in the shape of feet, pigs or burning witches that told consumers what a shop had as its services or wares to the web sites, magazines and print ads we produce today, designers are on the forefront. While companies fight over which department will “own” social media and who will direct it, we have known for centuries what it is and who runs it: design and copy.

It’s Marketing!

Social media is marketing. Not in the design-by-committee, "make this red bluer", sense of marketing. Social media is a way to reach consumers AND a way to listen to what they have to say. Not through analytics that come at the end of the quarterly sales figures, which is too slow for these economic times. The world and the web is fast, and social media is the practice of putting out information, listening to how people react and adjusting marketing to meet the needs of consumers.

In most corporations, marketing is the tail that wags the dog of design and writing. I hate myself for using that analogy as an old boss use to say it to get his way when he wanted to wag any department he chose, but it has validity. Marketing is sales and customer service and social media is the love child of all of these. Still, there’s little understanding of the new tools being used in social media.

Tweet Crushed

A new client of mine, while talking about his needs for social media, said he didn’t understand how Twitter worked. “It’s a billboard on the highway you drive past at 70 mph,” I replied.

“Oh!” he said. “Now I get it.”

Well, it was a very quick and simple analogy. There are many applications and creative uses for Twitter but I wasn’t going to give those away until he signed a contract for me to handle his social media. One thing I had to convince him of was that it’s not all about Twitter or Facebook pages or a blog. It’s about the content and how it’s designed. It’s not all words – it’s designs and photos and visually pleasing presentations that make the consumer engaged in what you are saying. It’s navigation, user interface, web sites, direct mail, advertising and… marketing. But, isn’t that what a web site does already? Yes, it does!

Don’t Use A Hammer To Do Tooth Extraction!

There was a time when a hammer was used for tooth extraction and holes were drilled in your head to allow the evil spirits to escape. Not that that’s where Twitter stands. MySpace, maybe, but not Twitter! The newness and wonder for evolving tools for social media grabs attention like a shiny golden object attracts my ex-wife to men she doesn’t know. Some executives hear about Foursquare as their kids chatter on while their DSI recharges and thinks that’s the best tool for their company’s social media. Part of a creative’s new challenge is knowing how to best use design on these tools and which one is a waste of effort and which will best serve to gain consumer input and engagement.

Why Us?

Companies are hiring “Social Media managers.” Who are they? In many cases, they are communications graduates who have studied journalism and marketing… if the company is lucky! After several heated debates with people on the Social Media Today group on LinkedIn, I wonder if there are any standards at all. It seems that many of these experts have a Twitter account, blog and signed up for one of those “you-write-and-we’ll-pay-you (12 cent a year)” content sites, like The Examiner or Suite101.

Social Media

In a recent exchange on one discussion thread, entitled, “Is There Such A Thing As A Social Media Expert?” There were many varied opinions and many totally uninformed. Odd for members of a group about social media!

One uniformed douche bag posted:

The term "expert" implies reaching a certain destination. And as you all noted, social media is too young, and therefore changing too often, to have any set course for mastery. Social media is still a game of trial and error.

Someone with brains countered:

Social media is not that young. Facebook started in 2004, Twitter started in 2006. LinkedIn is 8 years old, and blogging is at least 14 years old. Before that, AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and Genie all started in the late 1980s. AOL became a powerhouse in the mid-1990s.

People have been doing online marketing for a couple of decades now, and social media is just an extension of that, not anything completely brand new.

A person who actually works in social media added:

Understanding how to use social media for business takes more than a blog, a few tweets and a fan page. Social media is a tool. You need experience in other areas (i.e. marketing, customer service or PR) to understand how to apply this tool to achieve your business objectives.

Another sound answer was:

Considering "social media" has been around for 20+ years the question may be "why can someone not qualify as a social media expert?" Does it really matter if someone who has been "doing" social media (online) marketing since 1988 is an "expert" or not if they have that much experience? I say, purposefully, I am not an expert. Mostly because I am still learning, every day. Secondarily because most people who claim to be experts, gurus, whatever - simply are users. Maybe power users.

Read his article: Your Online Experience Sucks Because Your Advice Came From A Doosh.

Personally, I like what author Paul Carr, from Tech Crunch had to say:

Across America, and the world, thousands upon thousands of people are current employed as “social media representatives” or “online brand ambassadors” or whatever title we’re giving to this army of 19-year-old, disaffected, invent-your-own-job-title millennials this week. In almost every case, those responsible for the Twitter accounts of giant companies have absolutely no access to customer accounts, nor are they in any way able to make the decisions required to resolve complaints.

Taken from the article: The Scandal Of Toothless Social Media Representatives Ends… Now

Are these our new overlords? Will they become another layer of design-by-committee with inane decisions on design that we now accuse marketing of when we bemoan our lives at work? Of course, and that’s why we need to educate ourselves. Perhaps we need to educate our employers?

It’s More To Learn

Let’s face it – our industry is changing. Outsourcing, crowdsourcing and easy to create blogs are all effecting the way we make a living. Some say it’s all eroding the industry. Some say it doesn’t make a difference. Social media is the new buzz in communications, so why not use what we have in abundance – creativity and a knowledge of communications – to elevate ourselves in the corporate structure and grow with technology. Our strengths are all there:

  • We create websites, write content, design ads and banners.
  • We all tweet… except for the morons who constantly post quotes from dead people or use one word tweets like “working” or “typing.”
  • We have listened to marketing initiatives for years, so something of the practice must have sunk in!
  • We all have blogs, judging from the 2,635,022 articles on the Joomla tips and tricks that appeared last week.
  • We know how to listen and use that knowledge to create something from nothing, except for half the freelancers I’ve hired who didn’t even come close.

With all of this knowledge and talent, why shouldn’t we be able to run not only an effective social media campaign but do it better than 90% of those who claim the “social media expert” title because they can spell “Twitter” but not jQuery?

I know too many print designers who have been shut out of the creative field by not being able to create websites and other digital initiatives. It is only a matter of time before the evolving field cuts out more. Let’s look at some issues often discussed among creatives. We all complain that non-creatives encroach upon the creative process. In short, we believe they see themselves as “creative,” so doesn’t it stand to reason that those who will be in charge of social media will see themselves as creative enough to build sites via easy drag and drop programs or pre-made blog templates? Are changes in business passing us by not because there is no need for creative input, but because there is a growing belief that the technology has evolved past the need for special creative input because “everybody can be creative?”

Web

Conclusion

It’s a step in evolution we must face and face quickly. It can be as easy as including the words, “social media” in our résumés but it should be backed up with reading and perhaps some courses. As with print designers who ignored training for web applications, web designers will face the same problem of obsolescence as business needs keep changing. Are you willing to evolve? Is there a need? Time will prove me right or wrong, but by the time it happens, it will be too late to wonder how to get on board.