28th June 2008

Why I’m not a "Social Media Strategist"…

posted in Uncategorized |

More and more I’m seeing this title - especially amongst consultants.  I’ve been called one, introduced as one and hired as one many times, but let me state for the record, I’m not one.  Huh?  (and yes, this post is partly tongue in cheek…)

Here’s the deal:

  • If someone asks you what you do and they don’t understand your answer, then you might not have the right description - Seriously, next time you’re on a plane, tell the person next to you that you are a social media strategist and see what happens.   Worse, watch how easy it is to devalue what you know and do when they ask you what that is - “oh, I help companies figure out how to use blogging to talk to their customers.”  I admit it.  I said this once on a plane.  Never since.  I immediately thought - wow, I’m tired.  That was a dumb answer.  That is so not what I do or want to do. 
  • Does the phrase really make sense - “social media strategist” - isn’t social media a tactic?  I’ve asked in many speeches, how does social media or web 2.0 change your business objectives?  Trick question - it doesn’t.  This is of course a big semantic game.  Take my last job at Microsoft.  What was a strategy for one of my direct reports, was a tactic to me.  What was a strategy for me, was a tactic for my VP.  What was a strategy for my VP, was a tactic for his Sr. VP…and so on.  These things should cascade up.  What’s important is that everyone up and down the chain are clear on what true north is and how to make empowered trade off decisions that support the bigger picture. 
  • Does this mean I don’t believe in having a social media strategy or I’m not working on social media strategies for companies.  No, of course not.  I think every company needs to have a social media strategy - but the this work needs to support a broader objective around customer experience.  If you ask yourself why you need a social media strategy, you will likely be a lot closer to the real strategic objective.

So what the heck do I do.  Well, that’s the journey I guess.  In the end, I’m in the customer experience business.  Now, fair enough, a “customer experience strategist” doesn’t really sound any better!  So, let’s push this a little further, how about the advocacy business?  I like that a bit better - easier to explain and more aligned with what I do.  It’s a relationship and experiential marketing world.  Driving deeper and more connected relationships between you and your customers across all the touch points in your business is the best path towards building brand and product advocacy resulting in what really matters - growth, competitive differentiation and affinity.  I’m a big believer that Social Media is one of the most important opportunities to re-invent customer experiences - but, if the answer to every customer experience improvement opportunity across your business is social media - you might have hired the wrong consultant!

What would you call it?


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There are currently 17 responses to “Why I’m not a "Social Media Strategist"…”

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  1. 1 On June 28th, 2008, said:

    Communication, if you want to hear good stories you need to have a good story to tell.

  2. 2 On June 28th, 2008, Andrea Hill said:

    Great post! I’m not a social media strategist either. I’m a developer. well, a developer who makes recommendations on how to leverage emerging technologies ad social media to facilitate communication between brands and their consumers.

    I feel as though the term “developer” is so vague that it really doesn’t reflect what I do. I sometimes like to refer to myself as a user advocate, as my motivation lies in providing the user with a positive experience and facilitating meeting their goals. As you say, social media is one tactic to achieve that.

    I do worry that although ’social media’ is a huge buzz word right now, that it will come to be integrated into conventional marketing, at which point where do all the social media strategists go? I almost feel as though it is a capability, but not a de facto job category.

  3. 3 On June 28th, 2008, Sean said:

    Thanks Andrea…it’s great to read this from yet another point of view - the developer!!

    At some point what is “conventional” will be social.


  4. 4 On June 29th, 2008, Ken Brady said:

    Good points, all around. It’s an ongoing internal debate for me: what facets of what I do best represent my value to those with whom I’m speaking? We sometimes forget that we’re marketing our own buy-in to new, cutting edge ideas.

    I have the added hit of being a “virtual worlds strategist” as well, which is really just another facet of social media. But try telling that to the 60-year-old CEO of a consumer products company.

    I guess, as always, it comes down to knowing your audience.

  5. 5 On June 30th, 2008, Adam Schorr said:


    My response is partly tongue in cheek as well. None of the above is what you are or do. Your final paragraph is way too complicated. I’m a marketer (and theoretically a potential client) and my eyes glazed over several times while reading this paragraph.

    “Touch points”

    Too much consultant-ese!

    It comes down to who you are talking to. If you’re talking to a fellow non-social media strategist then I suppose the above is fine. If you’re talking to the average person who might sit next to you on a plane, you may as well speak Latin. And if you’re speaking to a marketer like me who is very open to the thinking that I bet you would share if I hired you, then you might want to keep the content but tone way the heck down the buzzwords.

    What do you do? You help companies better market their products by showing them how to build stronger relationships with their customers.

  6. 6 On June 30th, 2008, arne said:

    It should all fall into [something] communications strategist, don’t you think? Maybe even strategist isn’t a word worthy of inclusion, perhaps that part of the title needs something else. But at the end of the day, you’re (presumably) consulting regarding some sort of communications platform — social media, customer experience, etc. No one ever defined as communications as one-way only, which is an unfortuantely implicit trait to anything labeled “marketing communications.”

  7. 7 On June 30th, 2008, sean said:

    Arne: totally right:) Strategist is a funny word. Might drop that too.

    Thanks Adam too. The context will always matter - part of why this was “tongue in cheek.” If i’m sitting next to a practitioner, I’m much more likely to dive in examples. I’m not sure “market” isn’t too limited as well, as I also work with my clients on the product dev side and the support side…but in the end, I think those pieces matter in order to drive the marketing piece, so oh well, back to market:)

    thanks for commenting.

  8. 8 On July 1st, 2008, Stacy Draper said:

    Leave it to marketing people to make things so confusing.

    When you get on the plane and someone asks you what you do? Tell them your in marketing.

    If they like marketing stuff they’ll ask you traditional advertising or social?

    I mean afterall you closed by saying that to be a good social media stratigist you have to be so much more. So let people know that you’re more than that. Just put marketing dude on your card and leave it at that.

    Stacy Draper
    Implimentor and customizor for solutions that make sense for the problems at hand.

    (see it’s easy!)

  9. 9 On July 4th, 2008, Connie Bensen said:

    I’m preferring Community Building over Community Management. And I bought ‘CommunityStrategist’. I view the social media tools as part of the means to the end - but people are still needed.

  10. 10 On July 7th, 2008, diane davidson said:

    Great post and something we all struggle with. Key point for me is that developing a social media strategy or plan may start out as a separate activity but as it grows and matures, it becomes clear that it is in fact, a customer, prospect, employee, or developer ‘engagement’ program. Jeremiah Owyang just spoke on this when he said, “listening to, talking with … energizing, supporting, and/or embracing” customers, prospects, or employees. The key here is engagement. Not just advocacy or marketing communications. Integration with other programs is essential for long term success. Not sure there is a good catch all.

  11. 11 On July 8th, 2008, Pat McClellan said:

    Hey Sean, we in “experiential marketing” faced the same challenge a decade ago, before anybody had coined the “social media” term. (The Wall Street Journal actually described our company as the “so-called ‘experiential’ marketing agency.”) I just tell people I’m in marketing, and then describe what I do as helping brands connect with their advocates.

    At various times in my career I’ve had the word strategist in my job title. When asked what that means, I always just said I help people figure things out.

  12. 12 On July 8th, 2008, Sean said:

    How true Pat, this is indeed cyclical. Maybe it should be “Marketing Strategery” :)


  13. 13 On July 9th, 2008, Jason Preston said:

    I know this debate. I’ve been struggling with what my job title is the entire time I’ve been working with the Parnassus Group.

    I’m currently a “New Media Manager,” which is meant to both require a little more explanation and allow for a little more wiggle room (what I do changes from day to day and client to client - never too much, but enough).

    In the end, of course, our titles will all be whatever becomes the recognized standard. I don’t think “social media strategist” is that bad in the grand scheme of things ;)

  14. 14 On September 2nd, 2008, Nathan Ketsdever said:

    I think something that fuses community + customer + communications makes a ton of sense. I like advocate, but think that architect for all the drawbacks of the terms is sometimes more what goes on.

    I found you though Connie Bensen’s shared items…

  15. 15 On November 12th, 2008, Fine Print » Blog Archive » Senior Vice President Of Space Invaders said:

    […] got used to the hierarchy. But now, there are more Conversation Analysts, Community Managers and Social Media Strategists around. Can people pick and choose their own, or will the market level out and we all agree on […]

  16. 16 On November 17th, 2008, Kevin Briody said:

    Sean - I meant to comment on this months ago, but fell down on that goal. Just stumbled back across this now, so here you go:

    Personally I think “social media” is being just abused to death by agencies and consultants right now. It, along with “digital” (Digital Media Manager, Digital Communications Mgr, etc) are both in vogue though I can see them having somewhat short lifespans as they speak to the specific tools and not the desired impact.

    My preference is to characterize this kind of work as community marketing - what you do to is help companies connect to and build relationships with communities (users, potential influencers, partners, etc). “Community” referring to the general idea, and not the tools themselves (forums, portals, blogs, etc).

    That said, it too probably is as good or bad as any of the others. Pot-A-to vs pot-AH-to, and so on. :)

  17. 17 On December 20th, 2008, Jeremiah Owyang said:


    Great post, I’m tracking all the titles (as you know) and here’s how folks in corporate are titling themselves. note: none of them are consultants, these are only full time folks


    I do use the title ’social media strategist’ as a descriptor, although they may have a variety of titles, some which are more tied to the business –not tools.

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