I’m not sure what’s in the water, but there’s a general unrest right now with people in their jobs, careers, and industries. Especially people whose roles involve social, either officially or unofficially.
Actually, scratch that. I know exactly what’s in the water. Or at least part of it.
When it comes to roles that involve social media, community, or similar responsibilities, we made some mistakes in how we glorified them and set the expectations around their role (and dare I say, importance any more so than any other role in the company). It’s natural for that to happen when a new kind of skill set emerges on the scene; we did the same thing with web and e-commerce people in the 90s to a certain extent.
Social roles became the “rockstar” roles in companies, promising a kind of visibility and spotlight previously only reserved for publicists or prominent executives. We took marketers, communicators, and customer service people and put them visibly and actively center stage, making them a core part of the brands they were associated with.
For example, I had a very visible role as the head of social and community at Radian6 before they became part of Salesforce. It was my job to be out there, building the brand, supporting our customers, speaking at events, providing expertise at events and writing content.
But doing that kind of thing requires a keen balance.
Many companies even went out and hired a ‘name’ to lead their social efforts. And that approach was never awesome, but it’s really starting to show its weaknesses.
Me-First Isn’t Sustainable
Personally, I never forgot that while Radian6 was providing me with a great deal of opportunity to build a platform of professional expertise, my primary job was to help them build and grow an enterprise software brand and make sure that the brand was seen as the source of expertise and leadership in its field, not just me.
Social engagement made me more visible online perhaps, but that was an artifact of my work, not the focus of it.
Many people went into jobs like this thinking the opposite. That first and foremost, they needed to get seen. Get popular. Be influential. Whatever.
Now, many years into the maturity curve of social, I’m seeing a lot of people disappointed as these roles become less and less about being remarkable or special as an individual or a “personal brand” (cough), less about garnering some kind of independent fame within their industry or on the web, and more about being the person inside a company that can ignite a movement and make lots of other people shine.
More than once lately I’ve heard a disillusioned social media manager or community strategist confide in me, “It’s not what I thought it would be. I anticipated that I’d have a lot more visibility and freedom and that I’d be doing a lot more speaking and publishing and be more trusted to establish and guide change in my organization.”
The problem is that social within organizations is doing exactly what we’ve always wanted it to do: it’s maturing.
Which means we don’t need rockstars, we need performers. People that can further business goals within a system and build and implement strategies that fit as part of an entire organization, not just their personal agendas.
Behind The Curtain Is Critical
I think we’re in the very earliest stages of work becoming more fluid than it’s ever been before. Right now it’s starting with more distributed workforces and flatter organizations, but I think there’s even more disruption coming (like entire workforces that are purpose-built to be ad hoc, not “on staff”, based on skill sets and expertise vs. ‘roles’ in an organization, but I digress).
We talked in The Now Revolution about social becoming a skill rather than a job. A set of capabilities that every person will have, to some extent, and apply differently within an organization depending on their needs and responsibilities.
It’s already happening.
We need people who can understand social’s impact on an organization, but not just so they can be the ones to use the platforms and engage with customers online.
We need them so that they can socialize that knowledge, form key leadership teams within of centers of excellence and distribute what they know deeper and contextually inside a company so that everyone gets smarter and more immersed in social as a catalyst for better work (not necessarily the solution for it).
The social ‘superstars’ need to be the best enablers we’ve ever seen. Which means they might need to be behind the scenes, not right out in front.
These are people who are polymaths and understand the intersections of social with different corners of the company. People who are skilled in diplomacy and teaching and creating consensus, bringing lots of different people to a table to develop a unified vision and a plan to get from here to there. People who can and will do the hard work, slog through the inevitable trenches, work through the arduous process of resetting organizational memory, and sticking with the sometimes slow process of change.
This kind of talk scares the crap out of the amateurs and those drawn to this profession for the potential “stardom”, because they’re looking at the big picture and wondering where they fit. They’re worried that if they’re not the one with the obvious expertise and the visibility, that they’ll be forgotten. Invisible. Irrelevant.
Or worse yet…unnoticed and uncelebrated.
Finding Relevance in The Next Wave
If you’re a professional working in social right now, you need to think bigger. And you need to think beyond yourself.
You’ll only get so far by protecting your sandbox, worrying about who might be overstepping your job description and whether you’re the only community manager on a team. That’s role- and job-based thinking, which has strict limitations. Because once you reach the boundaries of tasks and projects, you’ve got nowhere to go.
Instead, you need to shift your mindset as a social professional to purpose-based thinking.
To remember that your purpose in your organization today is to help the entire company bridge the gap from social media to social business. In fact, you might even look at it as working yourself out of a job.
That may very well mean setting aside your own visibility in favor of making sure your knowledge and expertise gets in the hands of everyone who needs it in your company. Truth be told, the former probably happens pretty organically with the latter. But like I said before, it’s the artifact, not the focus of what you’re there to do.
This change is happening, and companies are making this shift.
The era of the superstar is giving way to the era of the enabler. The person that can help ignite and sustain this kind of transformation from within and activate others. The person who really understands the difference between being indispensable and being irreplaceable (hint: you want to be the former).
It means your job can be more important than it’s ever been, if you can handle the fact that your fame won’t come on Twitter but on the balance sheet and strategic results you help realize for your company.
That’s a pretty massive undertaking, but it’s what will legitimize social in organizations for the long term, and the professionals who understand its place in business, as well as their own.
Are you up for that challenge?