Why I am right and Chris Brogan is wrong.

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(At least about this one thing.)

I wrote this post on a plane to Germany, where I was headed to present at our annual Global Web Summit, where all (or most) of the folks at SAS setting our web direction met to talk about SEO and web analytics and other cool stuff I should know more about. They also said they wanted to talk about our social media strategy, and that's where I came in.

I set my new netbook up to use Google Reader offline with Google Gears, in an attempt to whittle away at that “1000+” unread posts notice that shows up whenever I open it. That's why I was late getting to the post where Chris Brogan, reigning social media marketing rock star, called me a doofus.

Well, not me specifically, nor did he use the word “doofus,” but he asks why anybody would want the title Social Media Manager.

"What are people doing taking titles like 'Social Media Manager?' To me, this is a scary thing. Why? Because it’s like being the fax manager or the email manager. You’re naming yourself after a tool."

fax machine

He thinks people in jobs like mine should use the titles that already exist in the PR and marketing departments.

It made me think, hard actually, and not just because I've become a slavering Brogan fanboy after meeting him in San Francisco.

I debated that title for a long time. I've only had the job for about seven months, and when I started, the backlash against self-proclaimed social media experts was well under way. I think of what I do, what I've been doing for the last 20 years or so, as marketing communications. In other companies I've had titles like Marketing Communications Manager and Product Marketing Manager and Director of Web Sales and Marketing.

I firmly believe that social media are an element of marketing communications. They provide new tools to include in your mix, to support your established marketing goals and objectives. That's the way I've been talking about social media to folks at SAS. I suppose I could have chosen Marketing Communications Manager.

But putting “Social Media Manager” on my (now hideously quaint) business cards sends a message that SAS is making social media a priority. “We have a social media manager. We are dedicating time and resources to this, because we think it's important.”

But it's not just a perception thing. My job is as inward-facing as it is outward. I'm not creating social media marketing campaigns for individual groups and products; I'm working with the marketers and the sales folks and the communicators to help them understand which social media tools might help them meet their established objectives.

I'm also trying to collect and disseminate best practices so that we can learn from one another. And I'm trying to perform a coordination function, so that we all know what one another is doing, and we don't duplicate efforts, or worse, contradict ourselves.

So, I'm managing how we use social media. Make sense?

Right now my title might sound odd to people on the cutting edge, but it sounds pretty forward-looking to the people I most need to influence. By the time it starts sounding odd to them, I'll probably be out of business cards anyway. Plus, I've been saying since before I got the job that if I do it right, I will eventually make my current position irrelevant.

What do you think? Is Social Media Manager a red flag, or a green light?

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/reallynuts/ / CC BY 2.0
Abhisek Sarda

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15 Comments

  1. Eric Miltsch on

    I think its a red flag. A big one. It says "Sheep" to me...your other positions were all standard label positions as well: "Marketing Communications Manager and Product Marketing Manager and Director of Web Sales and Marketing"
    Boring.
    What are you doing to set yourself, and your company apart? Everyone has a SMM; everyone has a MarCom Manager.
    Why not become the Director of 1st Impressions? or the Master of Online Interactions?

  2. Kirsten Wright on

    Couldn't agree more. I read Chris' post and felt he was wrong as well. Although those 'in' social media, may believe it to be a strange and pointless title, for those who are looking for someone who knows how to use the tool, the title makes sense. I'd keep it.

  3. I agree with Brogan that we cannot allow the tools to be the focus. I understand that social media is important... now. In two, five, or seven years will it matter? It may become just another tool but your role within the organization will be the same even if the tools changes or new tools are added.
    Schools are having the same problem right now. Many have technology specialists, Directors of Technology, CTO's, etc. but those titles are shifting the focus away from the importance of the task if those roles are about improving education. It is not about the technology... it is about the learning. Just as your role ultimately seems to be Marketing, not social media.

  4. 1. I'm not sure someone who moderates comments on their blog should be call an SM Manager.
    2. I see something like "Social Media Manager" as a trip-term. So much of social media is more cultural than simply tool based. An agency might have an art director that specializes in the youth market, but it would say a lot about their profound misunderstanding of youth culture if it was "Youth Market Manager".
    When I think of a "social media manager" i think of someone who talks this way:
    "ROI ROI ROI, Facebook, Twitter, ROI, new media, ROI, ROI, buzz word, buzz word, ROI, ROI."
    That sort of B2B, good ole' boy, marketing strategy where everything is a tool with an exact measurement and (that singular measurement is dollar sign to the repression of other signs) is tired news and doesn't score well with those entrenched in social media as a culture.

  5. I have to say I think you are correct. It's just the idea of Social Media can be confusing, so why not have someone manage that?
    Think about this; improper SM tactics can get your domain kicked off from sites like Digg and Reddit, which could really kill a portion of your plan. You need to manage that, make sure no is just spamming out your company..

  6. Nicole DeFalco on

    Hi Davdi. Honestly, I'm not sure whether or not your title raises a red flag or is a green light. In the corporate world, titles and acronyms are the organization's cultural shorthand--the "lingo" or "group speak" we use to quickly share information. Position titles are supposed to make it easier for others to understand what it is we do. If your title is achieving that purpose for your customers (internal and external), then it's probably a green light.
    I think the job you're doing deserves a definite "green light." It sounds like an interesting and challenging role. Your goal to make the role "irrelevant" shows a terrific focus on the greater good of the organization. You've captured the essence of the term "planned obsolescence."
    The only "red flag" in your post is the insurmountable list of unread posts you mentioned. Social media is "social" which means back and forth interactions are required. Are you able to respond to enough of those posts with enough frequency to be building relationships?
    I'm pretty new to this whole scene. Already , I'm having trouble managing my time and avoiding spinning my wheels exploring every possible venue of information and interaction. I think some of the best tools you can give your constituents are ways to stay focused on the applications that provide the greatest return relative to their specific goals for social media.
    Thank you for sharing this post!
    --Nicole

  7. Gregg Morris on

    Well said David. Clearly, you're able to wear the title well and are comfortable with it. And I think you raise a valid point about SAS's support of their social media initiatives via their recognition of your title. Like yourself, I'm a Brogan fanboy. how can anyone not be? But I would disagree with him about social media being a tool. Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, etc. are tools, like email and fax machines. At the end of the day, I would say what I opened with, that your comfort with the title and the way you wear it are what really matter.

  8. David, I think you just nailed Chris Brogan on the head with your post. I agree with you that having a title as a social media manager definitely can have advantages and is able to communicate to customers that social media is important to overall company's marketing strategy.

  9. David B. Thomas on

    You're right, Sharlene. Moderated comments are hardly a best practice. I had it turned on because up until now I was mosly getting spam. It's off now.

  10. Nanna Thorhauge on

    Not appropriate for a SAS employee to comment on another's post? You'll know, you are the social media manager. I am a marketing team manager at SAS Institute, Denmark. I have a good marketing, communications and entrepreneurs network (hey, thanks for calling me a doofus), and i think it's safe to say that social media is not fully adopted and embraced in our professional lifes in Europe yet. Your post proves that not even the cutting-edge Americans figured out all the do's and dont's. That's why its still so darn interesting. So appealing! To me, its 100% positive to have you to talk to. You collect feedback, share and set reasonable guidelines that makes it easier to adopt and experiment. It might have resided with a project manager in marcom...and had that project manager been loud and about and in all the right places, I might have known. But then... I think Social Media Manager is a much cooler title. And it gave you a good spot in the team. Cheers.

  11. Green light and here is why (remember people.....this is an opinion). The job that David does is to manage the Social Media initiatives for SAS. Why make the title anything more than that? His company and his audience want someone to lead the Social Media charge and create a plan for marketing and communications to use SM for them.
    "Director of First Impressions" is a great title for someone who actually directs ALL of those impressions. If David was the comprehensive end all be all for ALL corporate communications regardless of the medium then sure.....that is a new, "edgy" title and would be fitting. Maybe "Interactive Social Community Director" would be more to the liking of the Social Media crowd (or less "The Mannish") but the point is that his audience needs to know what he does for them and also needs to understand what he does as well.
    David is in an interesting position where he gets to lead the charge of an initiative that could potentially, as he put, leave him "irrelevant". His job, as I see it, and goals are to take the SAS marketing and communications teams, provide them with the right tools, knowledge and ability to use SM as a viable marketing tool and create a community of internal and external fans of the SAS brand or manage the social media process for SAS. Is his title "new" and "innovating"? Is he throwing around SM buzz words like "evangelist" or "facilitator"? No. What he is doing is working comprehensively with a group of traditional marketers to create an online conversation around statistical analytical software and manage their ability to do so.
    A title is a title and in my opinion I think David is more concerned with what people think about his abilities and success at SAS as opposed to what he should have printed under his name when he orders that next batch of cards (I am pulling for Social Media Sherpa...leading his team on the online mountain)......I'm just sayin.

  12. David B. Thomas on

    Thanks for your comments, Matt. You're exactly right that in two or five or seven years, everything will change, and I fully expect that my role - and my title - will be completely different then.

  13. David Thomas on

    People shouldn't be surprised that, as your father, I agree with you. Here's a perspective that includes 50 years of experience in marketing, etc.
    Companies create jobs and titles when something is important, new, costly or complicated. They do this to alert people inside and outside the company. There really was a fax manager at one of my employers years ago. Actually, I think she was Facsimile Transmission Administrator. That's because faxing was new, we only had one fax machine, somebody needed to control it and inform other people how it could/should be used. At Exxon in the late 50s we had a Computer Manager. Eventually, some of these titles disappear or change as the function grows or disappears.
    As for the Public Relations department Chris cites, that was once a new function itself. Sales or advertising used to handle it with the left hand, until people realized how important it was and how poorly it was being managed.
    This is definitely the time for social media managers. They have to educate senior management and younger employees about the scope and effect of these new tools, and they have to keep their colleagues from stubbing their toes.
    Carry on.

  14. Brent P. Newhall on

    Coming to the party late, but....
    I think it's a green light or a red flag (lovely metaphor, by the way) depending on who you talk to.
    To folks who grok social media, it's an unnecessary title, as Broan points out.
    To those who don't, it's a critical identifier that tells them exactly what you do, and why you're different from the next guy in a business suit.

  15. Pingback: Enterprise social media predictions for 2010 - Customer Analytics

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