The Real Business of the Social Professional


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Why the profile of the social professional is changing, what we need in social and community professionals for a new era of business, and the most critical roles these professionals can play in tomorrow's companies. Notes and talking points are included on the notes tab.

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  • The world’s perspective about business is changing, as is the perspective about the kinds of people we need to lead the business world into its very fast-moving future. \n\nSocial professionals - from community managers to strategists to the executives that are increasingly leading these efforts - must represent a new philosophy and a more modern ethos and point of view about their role inside a company and their opportunity to lead companies and organizations in new and progressive directions.\n
  • Because the truth is that as businesses, we’ve run headlong into social media, and most of us weren’t remotely prepared for how it was going to impact the organization overall. \n\nParticipating and engaging in social media has implications for a business, important ones that have an impact on more than just marketing or public relations or even community management.\n\nOur campaigns impact the expectations people have for our products and services. Increased expectations and an ncreased presence online means higher demand for outstanding customer service and speed of response that stretches across all media, no matter where it happens to be. Organizational infrastructure has to get more nimble in order to adapt - from HR to legal processes, even finance or IT. Our leadership needs to see the future of their organization through a new lens, one that puts networks of people at the center and allows them to self-organize, to solve problems, to interact with customers and partners, to communicate openly and use information to their advantage to make better business decisions.\n\nThat’s a hell of a lot bigger than whether or not you’re on Twitter. \n\n
  • With all of those implications comes ever-increasing pressure to be better. To be faster. To be smarter and more aware and more engaged and more collaborative and more responsive. \n\nWe demand more of companies, from their investment in their communities to their responsiveness online. We demand more of organizations as employers and partners, seeking out more collaborative relationships in which we can contribute and invest and be part of something bigger than our jobs or our role as vendors. \n\nAs a result, businesses need strong leadership, really strong stewards of social initiatives, a new kind of professional that not only understands these expectations, but can help their company or organization adapt to those demands and become not just a social media participant, but transform themselves into a truly social business. \n\nThat means that each one of us needs to aspire to understand much more than how to use the tools. Much more than how to write great content. We need to understand how this shift is impacting our companies and the momentum of industry as a whole, and be someone that our organizations can rely on to carry us forward.\n
  • So what is social business exactly?\n\nThere are a lot of definitions out there, but here’s ours: Social business is the creation of an organization that is optimized to benefit its entire ecosystem - customers, employees, partners, owners - by embedding collaboration, information sharing, and active engagement into its operations and culture. The result is a more responsive, adaptable, effective and ultimately more successful company. \n\nAnd it’s not just a theory anymore, either. A couple of years ago, I would have stood up here giving you lots of great ideas about what social business was capable of, but I wouldn’t have been able to give you much that’s tangible to back it up.\n\n
  • That’s all changed.\n\nThese are just some of the benefits that social businesses have realized, according to real research from real companies that know what they’re doing. They’re some pretty compelling numbers. \n\nWhich means that our jobs? They are rapidly becoming not only new and flashy and cool, but absolutely integral to the businesses around us, because we’re part of the team that will help make these things happen for OUR companies.\n
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  • But this scares the pants off of us. \n\nAs professionals, we fear many things, understand a lot of the risks that come along with social media. Really, though, all of the reasons we resist, all of the policies and procedures and guidelines we build, all of the reasons we fight over ownership of social initiatives and stick to our Tweetdeck and our communities comes down to one thing above all. \n\nIt’s not fear of rejection. It’s not fear of trying something new. It’s not fear of failure. \n
  • As professionals, we fear blame. \n\nWe don’t want to be the one who did something different, and did it wrong. If we take a risk, we become accountable for the outcome, and that scares us. It scares us because blame calls into question everything we value: our own capabilities, other people’s opinions of us, even our sense of self worth. So we spend most of our time mitigating risk and trying to avoid the downside of things, and covering our butts so we don’t get in trouble. And we don’t take the strides we could be taking to turn our roles from “just those social media people” into pivotal leadership and management roles within our organization that are focused on true organizational change.\n\nBut we aren’t alone in our fear. Our leadership just has different hesitations.\n
  • These are some of the reasons that hundreds of CEOs gave in the past year or two on surveys and in research studies about why they haven’t yet adopted social programs deep into their organizations.\n\nFunny enough, what you don’t see in here are things like “understanding the ROI of Twitter”. They’re organizational, like finding the right kind of talent to lead comprehensive social programs, or not having the right organizational structure to take advantage of the benefits of social business. It’s *much * larger than just convincing the boss that you should be on Pinterest or that they need to write a post for the blog.\n\nThey care about the impact and the implications across the entire organization, and they care about making sure that these initiatives are coordinate and aligned, and tied to the larger business vision. The single biggest mistake today’s social professionals make when they try to get buy-in? Thinking of social media in isolation, instead of as a supporting, horizontal foundation that the entire business can build upon.\n
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  • So what does that mean for community professionals like us?\n\nHow do we take the pain out of these decisions for management? How do we demonstrate that we’re capable of creating a vision for social media AND social business, and that we’re the right people to be involved?\n
  • First things first: It’s not by asking “what is everyone else doing” and then using that as a template for your organization or as a proof point to give your executive team.\n\nBest practices and maturity models are flawed. If you do x,y, and z then you’re at ‘stage 1’, do this and you’re at ‘stage 2’. Case studies? They’re largely marketing vehicles created by organizations to showcase their eventual successes while deftly skipping over the messier parts, the details of execution, the six failures before the final triumph. Stop relying on them to be a proxy for your own vision. They can be good sources of inspiration, but they’re based on averages, smoothed out basics that don’t consider the unique nuances of your own business. They can be great for initiating questions within your organization about how *you* would do it as compared to someone else. But don’t make the mistake of thinking they can be used as a roadmap. They didn’t have your resources, your people, your capabilities or lack thereof.\n\nTake the time to have and build a plan specific to your organization - even if it means backing up and slowing down. It’s the only way to scale and be effective with social in the long run.establish new ones that complement and build on your existing efforts (rather than becoming a disparate set of efforts that becomes difficult to connect to anything else).\n\n\n
  • Now, onto what we DO need.\n\nAs the representatives of a new generation of business professionals, it’s incredibly tempting to want to be the experts. The go-to people that know it all. How many times have you heard about departments arguing over who should own social media?\n\nThe real answer: We all do. The entire organization. The companies that are finding success with social programs aren’t permanently parking social in marketing and leaving it there. They’re using the individuals or the departments with interest, knowledge, and initiative to be the catalysts for bringing groups to the table that, long term, can own social media collectively.\n\nThat means creating things like social media councils, or centers of excellence (we call it a Center of Gravity), or even steering committees where all areas of the organization are represented. They guide social media from the center, collaborating on overall vision and direction, acting as a center for *enabling* social media in each department’s strategy.\n\nIt’s a model that works in companies large and small, and encourages shared knowledge and expertise while ensuring that each area of the business can use and leverage social in the way that makes sense for their objectives.\n
  • If we are going to succeed in making social an imperative for every business at the very highest levels, we have to stop talking in social media jargon, focusing on tactics and tools, and chasing after the latest shiny thing.\n\nA solitary truth about social: the tools and technologies will ALWAYS change. What’s fundamental is the *intent* of social, which is to close the gap between businesses and their customers, employees, partners, and community. To create an organization that attracts and encourages people to be part of it.\n\nThat means speaking on the level of *business* goals, not social media goals. As you saw before, executives care about top-line objectives that are supported and driven by the entire company.\n\nHow can you increase revenue, sales, value?\nHow can you decrease costs or risks?\nCan you deepen the relationships with your entire ecosystem to make them want to work with you longer?\nCan you engender deeper loyalty among employees and recruit and retain the very best talent?\nHow can you keep ahead of your industry and the competition?\nHow can you better return value to your partners, your vendors, and the people that make your business run?\nHow can you design your organization to be more agile, more effective, more responsive to change and the pulse of the market?\n\nTHOSE are the things we need to be talking about when we’re building support for our programs. not the number of Facebook fans we have. (Back to that in a minute).\n
  • We social professionals also need to be great inquisitors, great philosophers. \n\nWe need to be those who are insatiably curious, who always quest for the “why” and the rationale behind decisions and actions. Who are willing to question the status quo, and let go of programs or initiatives that aren’t working in favor of exploring new territory.\n\nAnd we should be curious for the sake not just of finding an answer, but because we truly want to *understand*. Because it makes us smarter. Because it makes people excited and interested in what we’re doing when we can share our passion, our willingness to dig beneath the surface. And because it allows us to look at old, well-worn problems and tackle them in new ways.\n
  • Insight is a skill and an art. And it’s something that can’t be overvalued in today’s world of so much information, so many streams of intelligence, so much riding on making smart yet nimble decisions.\n\nWe social professionals love to present reports and dashboards, but what we *need* to be questing for are the insights that allow us to make better decisions. That, after all, is the point of measurement. Not the measurement itself, but the intelligence that allows us to be better at business.\n\nWhich brings me to another important thing that’s absolutely central to separating the average community manager from the social professional who is destined for leadership.\n\n
  • People are not marbles, but we love to collect them like they are. More likes! More followers! More traffic!\n\nThe truth is that building online affinity is more about affirming the connections we already have, supporting and nurturing them. But we’ve developed an unhealthy obsession and skewed perspective of success by looking at the easy numbers that are handed to us, turning our business initiatives into thinly veiled popularity contests and gimmicks for votes and coupons and clicks. Clicking ‘like’ is a single click of a single finger; getting that from someone isn’t the same as loyal purchasing, or even community membership over a long period of time.\n\nThe more important question to ask yourself: how are you engaging the community you have, and if it grows, what are you going to do with them once they give you their attention? How do you define success in a way that lines up with the goals of the *business*, beyond your campaign? What do those numbers actually *tell* you that’s of value, if they tell you anything at all?\n\nBe better. Be an analyst, not a marble counter. Let’s put in the effort to look beyond the metrics that are easy, that are handed to us because that’s what the technology people tell us matters (you know who wants you to get more likes on Facebook? Facebook does. Because then they have more people to advertise to). Let’s commit to one another that we can do better than followers and fans and actually look for data that tells us the story of our communities, that unfolds the narrative of why social business is effective for our organizations, that tells us why they like us and how they want to support us and where we can create not just better marketing, but better experiences around our entire company for the people that want to be part of what we’re doing.\n\n
  • (can you prove what you tried, what you learned, what you attempted, what you built...whether or not it was successful? If we can’t prove the outcome of something in advance, we need to take a lesson from the true scientists of the world who have been using this method for centuries.\n\nCreate the question: What are you trying to ask or discover?\nHypothesis: Based on what you can observe, what do you think is going on?\nPrediction: Carried to its conclusion, what do you think would happen if you tested that hypothesis?\nExperiment: Put it into play and *actually* test it\nAnalyze: What happened, and what’s next?\n\nThere’s something important about how science goes about their work that many business people could learn from, including all of us. In order for a scientific result to be considered valid, someone else has to be able to recreate that result using the same data and information. \n\nThat means fudging the numbers, drawing stretch conclusions, or claiming some kind of “secret” formula behind your work to draw convenient conclusions and making assumptions won’t cut it.\n\nNow, I realize that we aren’t in laboratories, we’re in organizations where the data and tools are imperfect, and our jobs are far more demanding than just the evaluation part of things. \n\nBut the discipline and rigor of the scientific method could teach us a thing or two about how we measure our progress and look at our work. And we, as community professionals, can set higher standards for how we illustrate the value of our work, the impact of our programs, and the overall business benefits that social can bring to our organizations. Community and social professionals can lead by example by building smart, accountable programs that can illustrate what goes right, wrong, and everything in-between.\n\n\n\n\n
  • Everyone wants to be a strategist, to set the vision and be the leader and be the person who comes up with the groundbreaking, game-changing plan that will absolutely change our organizations forever. A Fine goal. \n\nBut this kind of change is complex. Crunchy, messy, difficult. Which means that it happens, brick by brick. It’s in the trenches that the hard, messy work of social business transformation gets done.\n\nPlans and vision are important. Contributing to them is rewarding. But social professionals are on the bleeding edge of understanding, learning, and context more often than not. We need to fall in love again with the idea of *doing* the work, executing the programs, getting everyone in the room for the meeting. It’s leading by example and by demonstrating what it success looks like through our own willingness to back our vision with execution. \n\nIt’s critical work that we’re doing and you may not think it’s sexy to monitor the dashboard or do online response or write a bunch of education content and presentations, but we *are* the bricklayers of the social era, and it’s up to us to set a standard for the work that we hope will develop around us.\n
  • You probably feel this already, but one of our chief roles is that of educator.\n\nSure, part of that is training and teaching people about the functional aspects of social media, how it works, how we incorporate it into our work, the dos and don’ts and all that good stuff. But the smartest and most successful social professionals realize that the only way that social works at scale, the only way we can realize it’s potential, is for it to be part of *everyone’s* job.\n\nThat means we’re charged not just with teaching the mechanics, but embedding knowledge about social throughout our organizations and teaching everyone to be a social business expert - to share the perspective about WHY this matters to business as a whole, to your company, to them and their role. Teach from the top down, the why. Stop leading with how to use Twitter.\n\nDoes that make you feel threatened? Worry that you’ll work yourself out of a job? Hardly. We’ll always need those who can help align and lead social business from a central place in the organization. But even more interesting than that, we have another job that will never really end or be irrelevant, no matter how many people “do” social.\n
  • We’re also the most visible, vocal and credible representatives for social’s potential within our organizations. \n\nWe can shape the path of not just what needs to get done and how, but we can rally others to our cause and help them see the ways that social can support and accelerate what THEY are trying to do within the company. Social business’ future depends not on it being established as yet another department in our companies.\n\nIts success depends on building it into the very bedrock of our organizations, helping it establish roots in every department, every discipline, every business unit. WE know that social can change more than just marketing for the better, so we have to work with our colleagues and partners and even our customers to help make that happen.\n\nWe are also in the delicate but enviable position to be smack in the middle of the human element of change.\n\nPolitics. Egos. Insecurity, confidence, excitement, fear, passion, distraction. We must be and become emotionally intelligent leaders and learners that know that change lives and dies among the humans, not the strategic plans or the clever tactics. \n\nSocial business is far more cultural than it is operational. And our discipline can, with dedication and patient work, help shape the culture that is not only receptive but passionate about social’s worth.\n
  • In many ways, the age of the highly-focused specialist are ending.\n\nThink of all the things I’ve told you we have to do well in order to be tomorrow’s social professionals. Great communication. Analysis. Execution. Planning. Asking great questions. Learning to navigate not just the operational side of social business, but being stewards for the all-important cultural and personal side of our work. We’re marketers and business development professionals and customer service people and analysts and educators all at the same time. \n\nIt’s so critical that we keep a broad perspective. There are very few roles in today’s organizations that are truly holistic, that build strategy and direction that impacts the whole organization. The CEO is one. Technology can be another. But community and social professionals have the unprecedented opportunity to become a holistic role that can impact business more than any role has in decades.\n
  • That’s a pretty big charge. And an awesome one. You’re here because you know how important your role is, you want to do it better, and you know that it’s more than just Twitter and Facebook and dashboard reports.\n\nSo quit telling me you aren’t big/little/fast/slow/innovative/well-budgeted/supported/whatever. If you want the results you make the time, you fight the fight, you come to work every day with the audacity to believe that you can change things. That there are no shortcuts. Community and social media are long, slow burns and changes that take time and focus. We have to have the discipline and devotion to see them through, every day.\n\nIt’s our job to spark people to think bigger. We should be inspiring as much as convincing. if we aren’t making the case that our leadership can believe in, that our companies can slowly but surely rally behind and support through their actions as well as their words, that’s partially our fault.\n
  • We are the wayfarers. The agents of change. Those capable of transforming our own organizations from the inside out, because see the potential and want it to be realized. We are the professionals with the knowledge, the passion, the belief that social can and does make a difference not just to our marketing, but to our work.\n\nIt’s true that we often aren’t the captains of our ships, not yet. But transformational change isn’t just pulled from the top, it’s pushed from within. We can either be courageous enough to try to make this happen, or we can let this all happen to us.\n\nI know which I’d rather do.\n
  • So my challenge to you all here today, as you interact in these sessions and hear presentations from smart people, is to see yourselves as more than just someone who does a job that has to do with social media.\n\nI want you to keep thinking bigger. Keep looking at the huge shift that businesses need to make to stay relevant today and to innovate and do incredible things tomorrow. And realize that you can indeed be a critical part of that shift if you’re willing to take on the challenge.\n\nWe are doing the work to pave the way for future generations to have social business be what they know and breathe, not just what they aspire to. And we have a great deal of work to do.\n\nGet to it.\n
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  • The Real Business of the Social Professional

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    3. 3. Resources & Citations eMarketer - Marketers Value Social Media for Both Branding and Customer Acquisition - January 30 Economist Intelligence Unit & PulsePoint Group - The Economies of the Socially Engaged Enterprise - March 2012 IBM - The Social Business: Advent of a New Age - February 2011 McKinsey Quarterly - Rise of the Networked Enterprise: Web 2.0 Finds Its Payday - February 2011 The_rise_of_the_networked_enterprise_Web_20_finds_its_payday_2716?pagenum=2