No, It's Not Just You--Social Media Industry Advice Really is All Fluff

Gretchen Fox

April 25, 2017

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The social media industry on the whole is so littered with top-ten-ways-to-do-this and five-ways-to-do-that tactical listicles that it's misleading people about the true value and complexity of social. This is a substantial issue and one propagated by too many so-called "influencers".

If you are a social media professional, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Many of the "thought-leaders" in our industry have achieved their position by flooding the internet with fluff content -- an ongoing barrage of tips, tools and best practices -- none of which address the actual issues and challenges facing social professionals.

I'm more than a little hot under the collar on this topic right now after being told by a Hubspot Agency Rep that if I wanted to get more business leads, I needed to join in the drivel and push out bite-sized blog content and top ten lists. It was one of the worst pieces of advice I've heard. It infuriated me because this type of trivial content is doing our entire industry a giant disservice.

To be fair, it wasn't always like this.

Ten years ago, when the first, brave early adopters were tinkering with social, understanding the tactical levers was really important work. How to set up a profile, gain followers, and publish content regularly was new and worthy information. We were just learning how this real-time communication dynamic worked for businesses. The tactics were the starting point. It was a simpler time with fewer platforms and less demands. Good tactical advice could literally show results in a matter of days.

Ahhh, the good old days.

Since then, social has become incredibly sophisticated and highly evolved.

Today, EVERY business must contend with the emergence of the Digital Age. It's created a noisy space with high demand for performance from those tasked with creating and executing social plans.

Top ten lists, cutesy graphics and overly-basic claims about what a big following on Twitter can do for you is out of step with the current state of social and ultimately making our jobs harder. It's time to get serious about our profession. It takes skill and education to master the multifaceted requirements of success in this industry. Reducing it to tips and tricks is minimizing the enormous power of social and the expertise required to manage it properly.

For those that want to join in and start openly communicating about the REAL issues facing our industry, please, read below for the first of a series of articles I will publish covering these important topics and then weigh in with your comments or tweet with the hashtag #RealSocialTalk.

Now, let's talk about the REAL issues in social:
No definitive resources or standards in "social". Take a look at this quick Google image search for "how to build a social strategy". See what I mean?

There is NO industry-wide guide for how you step-by-step build a social program like the 4 P's of Marketing, taught at every marketing school in the nation. Currently, only a hodgepodge of fragmented ideas exist, leaving social pros running around like cowboys in the Wild West. Our entire industry suffers from too many nescient people calling themselves social media "gurus" and "ninjas". We need some industry standards, fast. Social pros at the manager level and below are being told by their clients and bosses to "hurry up" and "just go".

And the worst part? They feel like they have no choice but to do so!

While successful senior pros have no problem taking a hard line, we need industry-wide consensus on how to develop a social program to allow junior staff to push back and say "I need a minimum of X, Y and Z to put together a strategy and for me to be successful before I can ‘go'. Period." CEOs and CMOs need to see Influencers unified in this position so that it becomes a known part of the job. You don't see publishers agreeing to run an ad campaign without a flight schedule, target demographics and materials. We need these same processes
in social.

Unequipped staffers are given keys to the castle. Social pros have the daunting task of being the face of brand -- all day, every day. Yet they are often not given the proper training or policies and procedures that protect the brand -- and the manager. They are thrown in the role and then expected to just know where the lines are. This is a recipe for disaster, as we have all seen, and a risk no business should be taking.

Again, industry standards for social channel brand management need to be defined and agreed upon across the industry. While WOMMA is a great starting point, we need to expand beyond privacy and ethics to protocol and training requirements.

Companies expecting that junior staff and interns can do everything. From community management to graphic design to copywriting to high-level strategy that integrates the entire health of the business.

Expecting junior staff to be a jack of all trades is not only unrealistic, it cuts the social program off at the pass. It's also creating a slew of poor community managers and a lot of bad content. As an industry, we need to be sharing more about department structures and roles that work best for different types and sizes of companies.

A lack of real-time preparedness. While not having policies and procedures in place for real-time communications can put a company at risk of a PR disaster, it can also lead to an opportunity-loss. For example, what happens when your brand is suddenly in the spotlight with a mention on a national TV show? Sadly, often a business isn't even aware that it's happening, let alone prepared to capitalize on the experience. It's shocking how often those opportunities are missed, untouched and unleveraged.

Many companies have only been told to "listen" and "respond" but have not been taught how to implement a Social Feedback Loop that ensures real-time opportunities are able to be harnessed.

Blanket confusion on how to create a successful content strategy. The CMO Council states, "One hundred percent of the marketers surveyed utilize content marketing as a part of their overall marketing strategy", yet a quick glance around social channels will show you that while they might utilize content, the majority of that content has almost zero engagement.

Social pros are asked to focus on generating content and, in my experience, too often do this via a random guessing game. They frequently don't know or aren't told who they are talking to and what messages they are to communicate. And then, when they do "know", the information is given to them as a demo- or psycho-graphic. It's really impossible to make content that is meaningful to "women between the ages of 18-24 who live in a metropolitan area and like fashion." Old marketing methods of targeting don't work for social, yet we aren't teaching social professionals a functional social-specific approach.

Expectation for "quick win" campaigns. This is one of the absolute worst parts of a social professional's job. I call it the "field of dreams mentality": the notion that if you push the "publish" button, a social campaign will organically (read: magically) take off like a rocket shooting across the sky.

While yes, sometimes in a fluke, this happens, it is rare and completely undependable. Expecting overnight success is a fallacy and, even worse, the expectation is like a dark cloud of impending failure hovering over social professionals' heads. All successful social pros know the serious amount of strategy, planning, execution, and resources it takes to pull off this kind of result but somehow we have failed to communicate this to the world at large.

A backwards paid media strategy. Another social marketing fallacy that too many CMOs are making is the separation of owned, earned, and paid advertising.

Too often paid media operates in a silo completely separate from earned/organic and owned social channels. If social marketing campaigns are the rocket, paid media is the fuel. Keeping them separate when it comes to social means social ads that aren't social and social channel feeds that fall flat. We need to better help marketers understand how to tackle this integration correctly, folks.

Nobody knows what and how to measure. Seriously, though. This is one of my biggest complaints about our industry. Where did everyone get so far off track? What to measure? How to measure? It's like a whirlwind of confusion and it's painful to hear social professionals say there is "no way" to measure social when those of us that have been around for awhile have been doing it successfully for years -- we just aren't passing the info along.

The truth is, senior folks who actually work within the industry (not just speak on the conference circuit or write books) have solutions to these issues -- they just don't write about them. The actual issues, challenges, and deep-knowledge in our industry remain something only discussed in closed circles. While I understand the desire to protect the knowledge gained through personal trial-and-error, those of us who know what's really going on are doing our entire industry a disservice by keeping our insights close to the vest.

It's time we step up to the plate and start talking about the real issues the Industry is facing. Ready?

Gretchen Fox is the CEO and founder of MTO Agency.

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Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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