Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pfft - who needs to understand social media to be a social media advisor

Over the last year I've observed a couple of good and bad trends in governments around Australia.

The first - the good trend - is towards the recognition that social media is a valid and significant channel for government communication and engagement. This has led to the creation of a new type of role, the 'social media advisor', separate to online communications functions (which primarily concern themselves with traditional website production and content management).

The creation of these social media roles recognises there is a difference in the skillsets needed to manage one or more static and internally owned websites, compared with curating and co-ordinating a range of fast-changing external and internal engagement channels.

However alongside this needed job specialisation is another disturbing trend which causes me significant concern.

A number of those being employed in these new social media advisor roles don't have the mix of skills required to hit the ground running. I've heard of people with little or no experience with professional use of social media being employed as social media advisors simply on the basis of their personal use of these channel and therefore presumed competence.

I don't blame the people who take on these jobs and then work hard to learn the skills they need, it is a great opportunity working in a leading edge field. However the approach raises issues for me as to whether those hiring social media advisors are as yet clear on the skills needed to perform the role - or are clear on what their organisations need to fulfil these roles most effectively.

While agencies are generally sincerely committed to the integration of social media into their engagement mix, there are few employment consultants who can help them quantify their needs, identify suitable candidates and assist them in hiring the most effective people for these jobs.

My concern is that agencies, despite the best of intentions, may end up taking more significant risks, may lose internal momentum or even face social media stumbles - as has been the case in the private sector when social media roles first began to appear.

So how do we as public servants help address potential skills gaps and the resulting risks?

I would recommend that agencies talk to each other, share their goals and discuss the skillsets they need for these roles, they should bring in appropriate interviewers to help screen applicants and begin developing a career path for social media practitioners - with roles for rookies and experienced people.

They should also directly and indirectly lobby employment agencies to upskill to understand their social media needs and build their ability to identify appropriately skilled people for social media roles.

Most of all, they should get their new social media staff across all the great work done in other agencies and in the private sector, across all the governance and advice now available and encourage them to network with their peers across government (including attending the various community events such as Gov 2.0 lunches and BarCamps).

Hopefully what I am seeing is simply part of the growth pains for social media as agencies integrate it into their DNA.


  1. Spot on. And your advice sounds good to me.

    Thankfully, I'm hearing more often from public sector colleagues who are looking for advice from their more experienced peers in social media and online comms. Sadly, it's at the direct level, not sector wide, or organisation, or even recruiters.

  2. Govcamp is also a great event for discussing use of social media in government. Eg this talk by John Sheridan at the Govcampau event in Canberra in September, 2011.

    There are people willing to share their expertise and engage in discussion about how to work with social media. Well worth doing before you engage new fangled social media advisors.

  3. Well stated. I couldn't agree more. Some people think because they have either a Twitter or FB account they are online and active. Along with the skill set is the overall question of resourcing a social media cell which can catch an agency out especially with tight fiscal budgeting.

  4. Hi Craig,

    Great observation - It concerns me that organizations have yet to realize that the they hire specialist communications staff for all sorts of jobs, media, and internal etc, and that they are still not engaging people with the right skill sets for this media.

    Then again, maybe communications staff within organizations aren't doing enough to extend their own capability to deal with this new medium encroaching on their turf? Maybe specialist areas within government need to take a little more responsibility in building their communications capability.

    Just thinking out loud.

  5. I couldn't agree more with your post Craig. I guess the problem starts from within the organisations. Who is advertising these jobs? What do they want to get out of it? Do they have any understanding of the Social Media space? How well can they align their social media engagement with the organisation values and strategies? Are they willing to engage in an open, transparent and inclusive environment with their audience? If all they want to do is broadcast their information then Social Media is simply not for them.

  6. Hi Craig,

    I loved this post. I've been speaking a lot about who should own the social media activity in an organisation. I quoted you in my post last night: