That’s right. I said it. If your job title is “Social Media Marketer” for a company, your job isn’t real, your life is a lie, and you’d damned well better have a backup career plan for when corporate America catches on. Here’s why.

I recently got into an impassioned discussion on Twitter after a large tech company (no names mentioned) that has typically done an exemplary job of using social networking to serve customers did something very, very foolish. They posted a job opening for a “Social Media Marketer” (or something similar).

Regardless of the actual job title that was advertised, 90% of the job description had to do with the applicant’s ability to make nice on Twitter and other social networks. For this article’s sake, that job title will be referred to as “Social Media Douchebag.”

I should interrupt myself here and clarify that I am not talking about hiring other companies or individuals to develop or execute specific social media campaigns, such as Facebook applications, etc. That’s part of what the agency I work for does, and we do it better than most companies would if they tried to do it themselves. Clever viral campaigns like Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice” or Vitamin Water’s “Great Debate” could probably never have been developed internally, and there is a legitimate purpose to hiring an agency to handle those types of things.

I’m referring specifically to the situation where a company is providing some level of day-to-day customer-interaction support via social networks like Twitter, either sales, or pre-sales or tech support.

This company historically has had an excellent track record for doing things right in social media. They didn’t hire a bunch of outside social media douchebags – they encourage their current employees to branch out into social media, so the people their customers (and potential customers) interact with on networks like Twitter are actual employees with real roles in the company – systems administrators, technical support – the same people they would be talking to if they called on the phone. Their regular employees became brand ambassadors because of their knowledge, openness, and accessibility.

Knowing that there are real people, not social media douchebags, behind the Twitter names is the single most important reason social media has been successful for this company. They got it right – social media became an extension of their current service and support, not some new, pathetic attempt to use social networks to pitch new customers or give lip service to their existing customers.  There is nothing phony, forced or contrived about the people they have on Twitter. And that is exactly the way it should be.

Social networks are OUR turf, boys. They are where we – your customers – live, talk to our friends, review products, and express ourselves. If we let you enter our world, you should know that it is only with our permission that you are allowed to exist here – and that the privilege can be revoked at any time. Treat that knowledge with the care it deserves.

Employees = People

When you follow the folks this company currently has on Twitter, you get to know them as people. They bend over backwards when you need help, but when they’re not saving the day, you learn about their kids’ baseball games. Some might argue that that sort of non-business chatter has no place in a support venue, but I disagree.

As consumers, we will always return to the brands that we feel most personally connected to. It’s a lot harder to fire a friend than someone you never bothered to get to know very well, and when your customers start seeing your employees as people, I think it can actually make life easier for customer and employee alike.

Generally speaking, when you get to know your service providers as actual human beings, you will be more forgiving of their mistakes, and less likely to jump to the conclusion that they are just out for your money and they don’t give a damn about you.

Naturally, if the employee is particularly verbose (or particularly offensive, as I am), I might recommend they set up a separate Twitter account for their very personal stuff. Fortunately for everyone involved, I haven’t been asked to Twitter on my company’s account yet, so it’s a non-issue for me.

That said, not every company chooses to go that route with their social network support. Many keep it all business, all the time – and that is effective at accomplishing their goals, and it works for them. However even if a company takes a less personal, business-only approach, customers will KNOW if the person on the other end of that Tweet or Facebook message is a real service representative, or just a social media douchebag.

Social media douchebags are no more valuable to me than automated telephony systems. They can be useful for answering the same basic questions that a corporate website’s FAQ can, but to real people, real customers, they are as infuriating as getting stuck talking to customer service or billing when you have a technical problem. Sure, let me waste 10 minutes of my life explaining my problem to someone I know from the outset has no idea what my problem is or how to solve it. Let me plead my entire case to someone who doesn’t understand half of the terms I’m using, just so I can finally get transferred to someone who may actually potentially be useful to me, just so I can start over again.

I don’t know about you, but my hourly rate is outrageous. I should send these people an invoice for wasting my time.

Even the ones who genuinely care are still utterly ill-equipped to actually solve people’s problems, whether those problems are technical or sales or pre-sales related. They are the piker stock broker (I can say that, because I used to be one), going through their call lists, making cold calls with no real knowledge of the company or how the company relates to the specific industry. They have a pitch-book of bullshit responses and platitudes, but because the only role they have ever played at the company is that of a social media douchebag (or stock broker), they have no real answers.

Only the people who do actual work have those. Which is why those are the people you want handling your social media outreach.

Fortunately, for the company involved, they immediately recognized that this was the wrong way to go (not without a fair bit of ranting from my end, naturally.) And for that I’m relieved. God help them the first time I reach out on Twitter (or anywhere else) for support and am answered by a Social Media Douchebag. One of the things I really like about this company is that 24/7, I can reach someone online who has extensive, intimate knowledge of the product and wants to help me solve problems. Even the most well-intentioned SMD’s just don’t have the skill set or knowledge to be anymore more to me than wasted time and an additional mouse-click or three.

Do I expect full-service support through Twitter or Facebook? Of course not. But immediately connecting to people who care about my problem and are ready and able to help me fix it is very important to me.

Save yourself the money on hiring some self-proclaimed expert and set up a smart email auto-responder. It will be slightly less annoying for your users to deal with, about as productive, and at least then they can blame the technology if they walk away feeling like their time was wasted.

One size does NOT fit all

So how are there jobs out there for “Social Media Marketers”? If I had to guess, I’d say that many more traditional companies are feeling overwhelmed by the popularity and potential of social networks, so rather than spending the time getting to know how their users (or potential users) use these networks and tailoring a service solution that makes sense for them, they panic and take out a job ad looking for a social media marketer.

I gotta tellya – social media hadn’t been around long enough (with consistent user behavior) for anyone to be considered an expert or a guru. The self-proclaimed “social media guru” means the same to me as “social media douchebag.”

This isn’t voodoo. The only real rule to being good at social media is to not be a douchebag, so clearly, you can see that a social media douchebag is a paradox – and if they continue to exist, a singularity will be formed, and the universe will implode .

The reality is that social media is a relatively new field, and the “experts” are just smart people who managed to guess right slightly more often than they guessed wrong.

Treat your followers/fans/network with respect. Respect their time, and bring something of value to their lives. Honest to god, that’s all there is to it. Finding a way to make that fit into your support model isn’t nearly as hard as you probably imagine.

Are there ways for companies to handle social networking right? Absolutely. Unequivocally yes. And in fact, it’s not just a good, progressive plan – it will be a necessity within just a few years for every large company to have some level of social network support. But expecting a one-size-fits-all answer here is naive. You wouldn’t do that with any other aspect of your business, so why on earth would you do it here, in a place that is more public, more open to criticism, more likely to be cross-posted and nitpicked than anywhere else?

Stop panicking. Social media isn’t fairy magic. This isn’t rocket surgery. It’s simply an extension of what you’re already doing – and no one is more qualified to do that than the people who already work for you. They are invested in your company, and they have the experience to actually be useful to your customers. They are your very best brand ambassadors, and if you’re smart, you’ll offer your current employees a pay raise or additional bonus for taking on the additional responsibility, rather than drop money on hiring someone from the outside who doesn’t know your company, how it works, or what your customers need.

I have no idea where this glut of “social media experts” came from, but it looks like they’re not going away any time soon. There are no degrees in social media (not yet, God help us all), so I am always curious as to the criteria by which these people use to declare themselves “experts.” Whatever color the sky is in their world, the reality is that being genuine is the only thing that has consistently withstood the very public and very close scrutiny of corporate social media efforts.

So yeah – “social media marketing” isn’t a job title. It may be one part of a job description, but it is not a job title. And if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

UPDATE: I have created a new website – SocialMediaDouchebag.Net. Check it out. You might rofl or lawl. Ad Age even posted about it. Be sure to check out the notes page to learn more about it, and the kickass people on Twitter who helped me come up with some of it. It should be mentioned that the SocialMediaDouchebag.Net site is aimed more at affiliate/MLM marketing douchebags, not corporate douchebags, like I’m discussing in this article. Perhaps a “Corporate” version is necessary…

What are your thoughts? Leave ’em in the comments.

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I’m a tech geek/dev/infosec-nerd/scuba diver/blacksmith/sword-fighter/crime fighter/ENTP/warcrafter/activist. I'm the CTO at Mass Mosaic and the CEO of Grokability, Inc. in San Diego, CA. Tweet at me @snipeyhead or read more...

  • Great post! The immediate interest of corporations around social media seems to be a vain attempt to wrestle control of “the conversation” back to where it was with traditional marketing. Of course that approach doesn’t scale, but that won’t stop a few “thought leaders” from making a buck before everyone realizes it.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Social media should be part of the job, not A job. Moreover, I’m so tired of these “social media marketers” who make themselves out to be the most social-media-savvy when in reality, their tweets could bore a dead man. People should follow Rackspace’s lead! They’ve truly set an example.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Social media should be part of the job, not A job. Moreover, I’m so tired of these “social media marketers” who make themselves out to be the most social-media-savvy when in reality, their tweets could bore a dead man. People should follow Rackspace’s lead! They’ve truly set an example.

  • I agree – RS has done a great job of handling their Twitter account – I use them as a good example frequently. Many of their techs are following me (and vice versa), and the do an excellent job of maintaining the brand, being helpful to people who need it, and letting you see them as *people*.

  • I agree – RS has done a great job of handling their Twitter account – I use them as a good example frequently. Many of their techs are following me (and vice versa), and the do an excellent job of maintaining the brand, being helpful to people who need it, and letting you see them as *people*.

  • Pingback: Get a clue (train) about "Social Media Marketing" | Tabled Ideas()

  • lol I like this one…right up my alley.

    The problem with biz and social media is that many businesses have crazy notions of what SMD's can do for their business, and if you don't tell them what they want to hear, then they'll hire another SMD to replace you.

    Frustrating really.

  • This post made my day. I love you, and your infatuation with the word douchebag.

  • LOL thanks 😀