Social media expert (professional? specialist?): What am I?

In creating new business cards to network following my hop across the pond, I found myself in a bit of an interesting little pickle: What, exactly, am I? While that may sound more metaphysical or philosophical than my silly lil’ mind cared to explore at the moment, rest assured that I was thinking only in the simplest of terms.

I’ve been working in marketing and communications for a long time (longer than I care to admit!), and have added social media experience during the past year to those earlier roles and previous knowledge garnered. Faced with putting an actual title on a rather-blank business card, however, I found myself a bit perplexed as to how to succinctly convey all that I can offer a potential employer. That is, were I a CPA, I could clearly sum it up in three letters. Were I a clinician, it’d be just as easy to put down a title that nearly everyone in the world would recognize. (Heck, I could even add a specialty, were I so inclined.)

In this new Web 2.0 (well, really, quasi-3.0) world, it becomes a bit more difficult to give the elevator speech of all I know and can do.

Following a quick Google search to compare terms and titles, I came across an old entry by Michal E. Rubin, “Is the social media expert going the way of the dodo?” In it, he makes the point that social media “experts” will fail to be experts in the next few years as social media moves  “to be a part of the basic skill set in which anyone who communicates for a living will have to have a decent amount of knowledge and expertise.” He believes that social media will just be yet another piece of the marketing mix pie. I think it already is…or should be.

The comments which followed agreed with his stance and made some more interesting points:

  • “Simply owning a Twitter and Facebook page doesn’t necessarily qualify one as an expert.”
  • “It’s not enough to just understand how to use Twitter. (C’mon people, it’s 140 characters and a great big ‘Update’ button.) The ‘expertise’ has more to do with strategy.”
  • “Every search I’ve done so far but one has been a marketing, technology, or PR search with social media as a needed skill set, and not a pure social media job…”

I’ve interacted with some of the true “leaders” in social media. Their strategies and creativity will always put them in  great demand. However, I don’t think it’s because they have the most Twitter followers or site diggs, but rather they understand the virtual world (which still values “do unto others…”) and they know what they’re doing.  They offer advice, insight, and dialogue with members of their communities. They build relationships. It’s not just a push-push-push of tweets and blog entries into a virtual universe which may ignore them, but rather a true interaction, offering value and unique expertise to others…which should be the goal of all of this. Simply stated by @MarksPhone in a healthcare social media (#hcsm) Twitter discussion this evening, “If we are talking to ourselves, we aren’t using social media correctly.”

My business cards have shipped and will be ready for me to hand out to those I meet in real life. The title used? “Marketing | Social media | Communications.” That’s it. No expert, professional, nor specialist. Soon enough, I agree that we’ll all be experts in social media (or should be, lest we all go the way of the dodo!). While I may have acquired some knowledge of what works — and what doesn’t — relatively early in SM, I also bring an MBA in marketing to the table, for which I worked very hard, plus a wide range of mar-comm experience. Besides, that degree describes more what I am and what I know…in just three letters.

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Social media use in tragedies

As I write this post, I’m re-watching Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which if you’ve not yet seen it, I highly encourage it. It’s extremely powerful, though incredibly hard to watch at times.

I remember when Hurricane Katrina happened, and I remember surfing the online news to see what new information we could get. It seemed with each day, with each hour, it was unraveling into a horrific situation that should never have occurred in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I’ll hold off on my social commentary for now, however.

It was during this event that I first learned the importance of what we now term social media during a crisis. I was, of course, looking for information on the standard news sites like CNN, MSNBC, etc., F5-ing constantly to see if there were anything new posted.  I then found something more informative and personal: the blog updates from an employee of the Internet domain name service, DirectNic (who have, since 2004, hosted my own personal Web site).

DirectNic was headed out of New Orleans and some of its employees had stayed behind to ensure the data center would remain functional. Michael Barnett was using his blog (through Live Journal) to let his friends know he was okay. However, his blog turned into much more than online notes to his friends and family. His updates were read across the nation, particularly after the site link was posted on Fark. He had more information, it sometimes seemed, than the media and was sharing it openly with the rest of the breath-holding nation.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in tragedies that affect our hearts and our health. One twitpic image tweeted by Janis Krums moments after Capt. Sullenberger heroically landed the USAirways flight in the Hudson was circulated across the globe in a flash. A few years earlier, we had the tragic events of September 11. This was PT (pre-Twitter), where nearly everyone communicated simply through e-mail, and blogs were more related to the geek set. I recall, for example, a friend sending out periodic group e-mails to all of us, as we desperately awaited her next communication.

Let’s fast-forward back to the present. We can now track hurricanes through iPhone apps, weather-related Twitter streams, sites tailored for mobile browsers and, of course, plain ol’ Web sites. I suspect that if Hurricane Bill had turned out to be anything greater than a Category 1 storm, we’d be looking for information from our neighbors – the everyman who’s actually experiencing the event – rather than the media. CNN’s iReport.com is set up for that, but breaking news will likely come from our Twitter and blogger friends. Perhaps we just leave the hourly updates to the traditional media channels. (Aside: The folks at Mashable gathered a great Hurricane Bill list together last week.)

At my own company, there’s a specific, multi-faceted disaster plan in place that is constantly reviewed and updated as needed. One component of it is an employee-only (i.e. private) Twitter stream that we can use to tweet out instructions or updates in the event of an emergency.

As a side note…Yet another thing I’m particularly proud of with Premier was the quick response by staff during Katrina (although I wasn’t employed there at the time). Member hospitals unaffected by the storm volunteered supplies and medical employees and, in fact, clinical staff from Premier went down to help as needed. Another VP was instrumental in orchestrating suppliers to transporting desperately needed items to the area, even speaking on two phones at once to quickly get the information passed. That quick, innovative response was what was needed. It raises my eyebrow that it was arranged by private organizations, rather than the federal government, though.

Making sure your social media efforts are “quality”

I entered into an interesting Twitter conversation this evening with @MarkHawker following a RT I’d posted from @EdBennett, an authority on social media (SM) in US health systems. The RT link went to a slide deck presentation discussing the ROI of social media. One of the particular points I found interesting from the slides was, “Instead of ROI, think of ROC – Return On Connections,” a point we’ve been discussing recently at Premier. In fact, our VP of IT devised a formula to better track engagement for the SM channels we’re using rather than the typical number of Twitter followers or blog page views – neither of which provide an accurate picture of reach, interest, or loyalty. Rather, his metrics include a summation and ratio of retweets, blog posts, comments, trackbacks, etc., to give a better picture not only how people are viewing our efforts, but how they’re sharing them with each other.

In any case, Mark replied with a quick note that such ROI results have not been similar in his experience in the UK. To make a long story short (though more than 140 characters), Mark and I exchanged a few e-mails. I’d provided some background on Premier and my impending move next month. He advised that he’s already working in a focus area near and dear to my heart – social media as it relates to healthcare organizations. His work in the area includes writing research papers, reviewing case studies and meeting with folks on the cause. One thing he said that caused some raised-eyebrow interest on my part was, “There’s market for social media people *if*, no offence,  it’s less American and more British i.e. focus on quality and not quantity.”

My first thought was quality, vis a vis healthcare performance. Then I realized he meant content.  Oh.

Wait…what?

Is it truly common perception that most US organizations using social media (whether healthcare or otherwise) are using it in exactly the way that I believe to be…well, wrong..?

Lately I’ve worried that in the near future more folks are going to jump on this sinking bandwagon (wait, that didn’t make sense) and use social media as a commercial-y, one-way communication channel to tout new products. Perish the thought! That’s not the intention, in my view. Let’s inform. Let’s connect. Let’s share. But for goodness sake, let’s not talk at people. Like a friend recently said, “The people who are on all of this stuff are pretty tuned in and can sniff out garbage from a mile away.” Maybe everyone should be required to review these ten helpful little pearls on how to avoid being a “twidiot” on Twitter.

While we’re at it, let’s learn from another valuable blog post by Robert Ferguson, entitled “Is listening to patients too risky for healthcare marketers.” In it, he touts the need to begin a patient-centric insight gathering program. “Insight gathering is about listening and asking intelligent questions.” Few people really care if you’re yelling in the virtual world. (Save that for some online Speakers’ Corner.) The first step to involvement is listening.

In the super-succinct words of Maryann Kuzel of Marketing Profs, it’s really just three simple steps: Listen, Participate, and Learn.

Three words. Learn ’em, love ’em, use ’em…