A few weeks ago, one of the speakers at the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals conference in Chicago raised an interesting question:
Is it necessary to live a “social lifestyle” personally, in order to be a social media professional?
I took pages of notes at the conference, but this one idea is something I’ve come back to far more than I would have expected to. As with most interesting questions, I think the answer is yes and no. One could argue either side, and — as I am prone to do — I’ll argue both.
Your social media manager needs to understand the media. What is the etiquette of Twitter? What do Facebook users respond to? What’s different about LinkedIn and what’s the point of a +1? But does that person need to engaged in any of these networks personally in order to gain that understanding? Not necessarily. There are plenty of resources out there with best practices and research to help put you on the right track. And lurking — just observing conversations and taking some time before jumping in — is a surprisingly effective way to learn.
The digital world also moves quickly, so when in doubt, try. For social media managers who are just getting started and may not have a personal presence, there are infinite opportunities to experiment and see what works, and what doesn’t. Using analytics and tracking progress will help ensure that you’re heading in the right direction.
When learning a new tool or skill, sometimes it takes a personal investment to help you connect the dots more deeply. For example, I’ve been aware of analytics professionally for years, but I didn’t really become invested in them until I started my own blog and was trying to understand what people were reading and might read more of. I used Pinterest for fun long before I started thinking about Pinterest for work, so I was already familiar the space. In these cases, living social helped. (Although even a person who’s active in social media personally is probably going to be master of one or two tools, not every single one. So he or she would still need to come up to speed on the others.)
In addition, some of the best brand ambassadors that I’ve seen are people who artfully balance humor, insight, and personal observation with evangelism and support of the college or company they represent. We’re all social creatures, and many of us will respond more naturally to a person than a brand. So in that respect as well: having a social manager who is living a “social lifestyle” is a benefit to the organization. That’s a person who’s going to present a well-rounded, personal view of the values and culture of the organization.
For a brand — be it a university, a manufacturer, or a farm — using social networks for promotion is a tricky proposition. You want to get your message across, but you don’t want to beat the drum too loudly. You want to be entertaining and grab attention, but not at the expense of professionalism. You want to take risks, but not let the train jump the tracks.
A thoughtful approach to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest requires time, attention and understanding. The people that you put in charge need to live comfortably and responsibly in the digital space, whether they live a social lifestyle or not. But there are many different ways to tackle the challenge.