The Seven Year Itch

Back in May, Digiday published an article called “Confessions of a social media strategist” in which the writer expressed a great deal of frustration and exhaustion at the state of the social media profession; that social media professionals were wasting their time and everyone else’s by chasing after meaningless social media metrics and posting toothless creative for non-existent users to “engage” with:

From the article:

The underlying issue is that social departments place too much value on engagement. Those “likes,” “comments,” “shares,” “re-tweets” and “pins” are the metrics that social content creators use to 1) judge success and 2) dictate what future content looks like. Here’s the catch. The people who are engaging with that content are predominantly worthless. Seriously. That’s not to say that all users on social are worthless. But the ones who mindlessly “like” a brand’s Facebook post because an overt call-to-action told them to are. And wouldn’t you know it, those are the users who are dictating a brand’s social content strategy. This is why the last five years have brought an influx of mindless social creative like “SHARE this post!” and “RT if you love Brand X.” They get engagements, and engagements supposedly equal success. And the vicious cycle keeps on turning.

Predictably, the essay had a mixed response, with a few commenters complaining that the writer needs to “look in the mirror” to solve the problems with the so-called social media industry.

Well, I’ve been working in social media since 2007 and I can say for a fact that all of the looking in the mirror I’ve done since I’ve started working in this field hasn’t done a thing to change problems with this directionless industry.

Let’s face facts. For all of the individuals that tout their professional credentials in social media, social media isn’t an actual profession. There’s no guiding principles, no theoretical practice, no basic skill set to refine. nothing to build from so that professionals can develop their skills.

The standard for being “good” at social media these days isn’t about excellent marketing skills or even communication skills, it’s a feedback loop or information gathering and reacting: figuring out what new changes Facebook has made to their algorithm and adapting content to fit said algorithm, or even worse, creating/selecting content based on its ability to go viral, rather than its actual worth or relevance to your audience. And this is the standard now, to push against it, to strategically nurture the growth of audience is to guarantee you won’t be hired at a lot of places, even though not long ago it was considered a “best practice.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t social media professionals that excel at their jobs. There are plenty. But many of them do so without the guidance of a social media industry standard or the structural support of their workplace.

Social media professionals are part copywriter, public relations professional, advertising media buyer, brand marketer, and business analyst. Yet if you read an average job description for a social media manager, you’re more likely to read “must live and breathe social media” as a job requirement. That is, after seven years, social media managers are still mostly fumbling in the dark, without much to help guide them to do their jobs better.

And to a certain extent it’s understandable. Facebook, Twitter and the like are still searching for an economic model to keep these companies solvent for years to come. The eagerness of agencies, companies, and organizations to use these platforms led to a cottage industry of sorts. The industry has evolved and changed over these many years, but not towards an industry that’s sustainable. Social’s still the bastard stepchild of marketing as opposed to a marketing tool. And there’s not much of a future in social if the industry norm is to fumble and follow for the next five to seven years.

As for me, I used to think I had the answers to this, but I don’t. I’ve simply changed the focus of my work. Social is a tool of the work I do, but I don’t “do” social anymore because I can’t honestly tell you what “doing social” means these days.

2 responses to “The Seven Year Itch”

  1. Michelle Scott Avatar
    Michelle Scott

    Even after almost a year at WOMMA, I couldn’t tell you what ‘doing social media’ is remotely about…and neither could any of the expert speakers who were at our conferences. They could tell the audience their perception and ways to do marketing in that space, but they couldn’t give an umbrella definition, guidelines, or “best practices”.

    And when you look at how fast everything changes now especially in the world of the internet, there’s not even the real opportunity to do the lengthy studies, analyzing, etc. that has been done in other areas of business (i.e. customer service, marketing, finance, etc.).

    1. yes, and it’s hard to see a future for growth in a profession that after several years can’t figure out what it actually is.

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