Wednesday, February 24, 2010

If you are a communications professional who chooses not to use social media, will you have a job in ten years?

I'm beginning to see more and more organisations and their various advertising and PR agencies look seriously at social media as a core communications channel for their campaigns and other customer, client and citizen engagement activities.

This is beginning to make me wonder how communications professionals who know little or nothing about social media will continue to be able to give good communications advice to their employers into the future.

If you don't use social media, how can you critically assess its comparative worth as a communications tool? How can you help your employer avoid and rebound from embarrassing social media mistakes?

Of course there's an argument that you needn't be hands-on with a medium to know a good strategy from a bad one, however this doesn't stand up. Today's communications professionals have grown up consuming traditional mass media from an early age - radio, television and print. While they mightn't be hands-on as in running a TV channel, radio station or newspaper, they have 20+ years experience, starting from early childhood, of normalising their use of these mediums.

This level of immersion, together with theoretical and practical experience, goes a long way to help long-time communications professionals make good decisions and critically assess communications options.

However if these communications professionals aren't using social media they aren't developing the same level of familiarity with new communications channels.

Where will this leave them in ten years time, when we have university educated communications professionals who have been using social media for up to fifteen years seeking more senior roles?

Some of today's experienced communicators will move far enough up the chain so that they can rely on their subordinates to exercise this judgement. Others will leave communications altogether for other pursuits. However most will potentially find themselves unable to function effectively as communications professionals - and may face more limited career options.

If you're a communications professional aged 40-50 and expect to be working when you're 50-60, it is probably worth considering whether you should step out of your media comfort zone and start building expertise in social media - by getting hands on.

11 comments:

  1. I wonder if the question in the title could be rephrased: "If you are a communications will social media mean you won't have a job in ten years?"

    I think comms as a distinct activity's days might be numbered.

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  2. This isn't a black and white issue: I doubt there's a communications professional out there who doesn't use social media in some way. So the real distinction is between someone who gorges at the social media through, against someone who picks and chooses their involvement.

    I'm reminded of a comment from rec.food.cooking back in the early 90s: never trust a skinny chef. The assumption was a chef who didn't enjoy food enough to over indulge couldn't be a good chef. This is just wrong, confusing quantity with quality. Just like the critic in Ratatouille, some chefs are more selective about what they consume, but this doesn't mean that they have less passion or ability than their more indulgent peers.

    So the real question is: do we measure social media professionals by the volume of their engagement with the medium, or by the quality of their engagement. McDonalds (an international chain) vs. Vue de Monde (50 seats in Melbourne). Do you need to tweet 50 times a day to be considered a guru? Or will one well placed tweet a day qualify you?

    Personally, I'd prefer the advice of someone who demonstrates knowledge and insight into the medium, and I'll measure that insight by what they publish. The volume of their engagement is a secondary concern.

    r.

    PEG

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  4. Nice post ! I doubt there's a communications professional out there who doesn't use social media in some way. So the real distinction is between someone who gorges at the social media through, against someone who picks and chooses their involvement. I'd prefer the advice of someone who demonstrates knowledge and insight into the medium, and I'll measure that insight by what they publish.

    Distance learning university

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  5. I am unemployed but I love the area I live in and started twittering as @bluemountainscc (the cc stood for caring citizen) bringing info to people about the great work that council does in the area. After 8 months my twitter account was suspended. In no way did I seek financial payment nor did I want to impersonate the council. Never once did I post any malicious content. A few followers thanked me for pointing out draft proposals to which they knew nothing about. Blue Mountains City Council choose not to enter the social app of Twitter over the last 8 months and now the account is suspended.

    I believed that I showed insight into the medium that's is Twitter and showed it was beneficial for the community even Blue Mountains Biznet had RT some of my comments.

    Might as well go back and join the Centrelink dole shuffle!!!!

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  6. Hi Peter,

    I agree it's not black and white. I'm not suggesting that communications professionals be on social media 24/7 or anything near that.

    However I am suggesting that they give it a very decent go in order to be able to apply critical judgement. Signing up to Twitter, Digg, MySpace, LinkedIn or a Google Group and lurking isn't enough - they have to use those mediums for long enough to understand their strengths, weaknesses and challenges more intimately.

    Cheers,

    Craig

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  7. Good post Craig. The 'how much is enough' comments while valid may be a bit of a diversion (and have already been blogged on heavily). The point that you are making is about the need to engage and to actually use the medium in order to understand it.

    Really using social media can be quite daunting at first. It is akin to migrating to a foreign country where you will feel wildly off-centre, you do not speak the language, can't read the signs, they drive on the woronfg side of the road and you do not understand the culture. So, do you stay close to home and mix only with fellow countrymen, or do you get out there, take the plunge, make mistakes, be open and learn to feel at home in your new country?


    Cheers

    Yvonne

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  8. In response to the comment from Parmer

    "I doubt there's a communications professional out there who doesn't use social media in some way"

    I think that is overly optimistic. From what I have observed, which only applies to Australia, the comms folks who actually use social media are still in the minority. (I am not a communications professional by the way)

    Most would seem to be wary of it, or still skeptics, may consider it too radical, too transparent, too risky, too hard to control, too difficult, or too time consuming.

    In their defence, there are realistic hurdles. They may view it as additional work that is not resourced by the organization. Their own IT may be against it (my organization's firewall blocked access to twitter until recently). There is probably no organizational policy in place, and no particular demand comimg from exec level where it may not be understood either. And in very basic ways, is their access supported? For example, being 'mobile' makes social media much more valuavble and accessible. So, does their employer provide a sutable device and pay for a mobile data plan?

    Its like any 'new' thing. Some people, 'early adopters' (idiots like me) are always keen to take the dirt track and jump through the scrub, before any of the supports are in place (this may even be a personality disorder for all I know:)

    The majority wait until things are streamlined, the roads are built and paved. In amny ways this could be thought of as rational behavior, as inevitably there will be social media platforms in which energy has been expended that then go under.

    On the other hand...I rationalize doing it because I am learning and becoming more proficient, discovering, and so I feel I "grow up" with and own the medium differently, as a result of having been part of the process.

    Sorry to rabbit on, TGIF have a good weekend folks,

    Cheers Yvonne

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  9. I think we're all want the same thing, though we're coming at it from somewhat different angles: it's a question of engagement with the new medium, not volume of involvement. And by engagement I mean that style of thoughtful participation which allows people to think about the problems and benefits of the new medium, and how it fits into the broader landscape.

    Communication experts to be avoided include both those who refuse to engage ("there's no value in this" or "it will go away") and those who engage blindly ("it's the new thing, so I need to be everywhere").

    Are there any comms professionals who aren't involved in social media? I'd like to think not, but then I know some senior management people who still get their PAs to print out emails so that they can write then replies on the back. I think I'll try and find some time in the next week or so to dig around and see if there's any empirical evidence to be had.

    As a side not, I heard the other day that Fed Treasury in AU just opened up the firewall to provide access to Facebook, Twitter et al. It's a good sign that social media is going mainstream inside government.

    r.

    PEG

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  10. Interesting post and comments. But I think there is a bigger picture developing - as Dave's first post implies.

    As a communicator, I currently spend a lot of time telling my organisation how to do social media. I figure that if I do my job well, then in ten years I won't need to be playing middleman.

    Surely the whole point of social media is that it creates a new interface for customers and organisations which requires no middleman - no spin or PR. I hope in ten years the parts of my organisation who are wondering whether twitter can help them will be SM-savvy enough to find out for themselves, without my help.

    My job now is to work towards that goal - so right now, I do need to know about it - and agree that I will learn more and be able to offer better advice by jumping in.

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  11. Yvette, re your comment:

    Its like any 'new' thing. Some people, 'early adopters' (idiots like me) are always keen to take the dirt track and jump through the scrub, before any of the supports are in place (this may even be a personality disorder for all I know:)

    Without pioneers, humans would not have the smooth roads and infrastructure - we'd all still be nomadic hunter-gatherers.

    So consider yourself a pioneer and explorer rather than an idiot.

    Without that particular 'personality disorder', humans would not have civilisation (whether human civilisation is good or bad is a debate for a different blog!)

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