Social Media Experts are risky business

I may be a social media expert myself, but I’m not kidding.

“Social media experts are risky business.”

Luckily I’m not talking about myself as a social media expert.

I’m talking about internal employees within an organization.

This article discusses four fundamental problems that internal social media experts have, along with the types of social media experts that take advantage of these problems and the business risks that are created. This is not a ‘gloom and doom’ viewpoint, but a reminder that there are inherent flaws and benefits that we need to consider.

I hope this overview of problems and stereotypes allows you to make better business decisions and integrate social media into your long term business plans more effectively.

This statement is supported by information collected through four different parts of my professional background:

  • I have personally trained hundreds of professionals on the topic of social media.
  • My team has provided multiple interim support roles to fill in gaps left by these issues.
  • I help coordinate one of the largest in-person social media organizations in the U.S. (SMC Seattle)
  • I have a healthy knowledge of recruiting, executive head-hunting, and human resources.

Needless to say: the digital world has created a gap between traditional models of business and consumer trends.

*disclaimer: this article only talks about the social media risk of having an expert. There are hundreds of articles describing the numerous benefits of having a talented social media expert on your team. I recommend you weigh these elements in accordance to your business model and industry.


THE FOUR PROBLEMS OF HAVING
A SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERT


Problem One: understanding information transfer

In the most basic sense information transfer is the term used to describe how valid and worthwhile information is relayed to other members of the team. Processes around information transfer is most common when new employees enter an organization or when old staff leaves.

In a common situation new entry or departure of employees causes everyone to start asking questions about how they “bring other team members up to speed.”

You want to make the new hire useful as quickly as possible, and you don’t want the old employee to walk away with valuable insight before they tell someone else about it.

Social media experts create a significant hurdle to information transfer, as they often act in totally unregulated projects that are breaching ‘new ground’ for an organization and there is no one except for them tracking, analyzing, and documenting the process of success.

Problem Two: What information do I need to transfer?

In an organization with hundreds of viewpoints and plenty of opinion, the topic of social media becomes quickly contaminated with bad ideas, incorrect assumptions, and a lot of noise. It becomes incredibly difficult for managers to detail who has correct information that applies to the business goals they have.

The connective nature of social media usually places it across several important business silos with conflicting business priorities. The conflicting priorities (HR, Legal, Marketing, IT, PR, Customer Service, Executive) cause a landslide of all priorities becoming non-priority.

This typically causes the wrong information to be documented and transferred (if everything is priority #1, nothing is priority #1.)

Problem Three: experts leave the organization

Professional in social media typically reside in marketing (which is renowned for having a high turn-over rate) or exist in executive strategy roles (also renowned for high turn-over.)

The problem with the segment is that there are A LOT of things to learn and a willing person can really commit themselves to finding ways of using new social media techniques. This educational period can take six to eighteen months.

At some point during this educational period, the professional reaches a few basic wins and manages to “move the needle” on a corporate project. This immediately gets them attention within the organization, but as an aspect of performing social media they have already received ten times this level of attention from outside the organization.

As the learning opportunity for social media is extremely high, it often exceeds the capability for the organization to compensate that person in-line with other departmental employees. Social media professionals often skirt several of the higher paying career silos (executive, sales, marketing, PR) and this causes a bureaucratic barrier to retaining them.

Problem Four: understanding the career ladder

Somewhere within your organization is a person learning about social media (it is a hot skill these days.) As part of researching and applying social media skills, they have entered into a network of highly connective and active professionals. This gives them a chance to explore dozens of other opportunities outside the organization.

No other expert within an organization has the capability to connect with so many people so quickly.

In many cases these new connections are also formed around personal interests outside of an organization, so current employees of an organization can usually find better personal fit (culture, mindset, goals, etc) by using social media on a daily basis.


The Perfect Storm


As we consider all four of the problems above, there are dozens of interconnecting items that help build each element into a stronger and stronger crisis.

Any one of the problems by itself could be easily ignored, yet most businesses have all four problems present.

The accumulation of multiple problems creates a gap between understanding and management of the problems, and this causes the opportunity for one of the “negative’ social media experts to take advantage of the business.


The “negative” internal social media expert


The following examples are a few repetitive profiles that can be found within many organizations. These stereo-types detail some of the areas of organizational risk that executives need to think about when planning a long-term business model.

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Six common types of negative experts:e

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  • The Risk Taker: this person understands how new media is shifting the marketplace. Rather than investigate new tools and services in-depth and applying traditional business precautions to them, they are trying everything they can. This could be black hat techniques that get you banned on search engines, illegal projects that open you up to all sorts of trouble, or simply abusive methodology that will result in consumer backlash. The risk taker is simply looking for personal opportunity and a ‘big win’ knowing that they can jump ship or place failure on someone else.
  • The Kid Who Stole Your Car Keys: this is the person on your team that works diligently on a new project and is looking for the ‘sweet spot’ project. They are doing what any college grad would do: look for a way to make a big impact quickly. The down side is that this mindset has elements of being a risk taker, but the reward they are looking for is a method of monetizing your lack of knowledge as an entrepreneur and launching a start-up.
  • The New Executive: this person usually shares common traits with the kid who stole your car keys. The main difference is that they have the goal of creating a new role within your organization that give them a few bumps up the career ladder. In the right organization this could be completely acceptable, but in a traditional business model it disrupts established employee hierarchies and potentially promotes a “one shot wonder” into a role of authority.
  • Your Competitors Best New Hire: we have all seen this person. Someone spends a year or two learning the exact problems within your organization and then they take a promotion with a competitor. Most of the non-disclosure and non-compete paperwork they signed at hire (if they ever signed it) have any mention of the social media elements they took with them.
  • The Elitist: is potentially the biggest risk and is often the most common. According to them they do everything right. This is the person who keeps everything to themselves and creates a layer of non-communication. No one else in the company really knows how they do what they do. This allows them to control the flow of work, gives them authority to say yes/no to new projects, and develop a team structure beneath them that makes them bulletproof within the organization. (It becomes nearly impossible to terminate someone who has multi-million dollar impacts on your business or can shift profit margins significantly.)
  • The Revolving Door Expert: this is a new hire that HR should have caught before they were hired in an expert capacity, but the reality is that they either lied or misrepresented what they were capable of.  This person actively seeks to hand ‘hot potatoes’ to unknowing team members in an effort to make it long enough to have another resume bullet item. They generally plan on hopping to a new gig every 6 to 18 months (before anyone realizes they don’t know anything.)

Some risks and precautions


If we think about the inherent profiles above, there are a lot of connected business elements that affect the health of your organization.  There are also some basic precautions that can minimize these risks in a worse case scenario.

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Here are some examples:

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Intellectual Property – information collected and curated on social networks highlights elements from your entire organization. This could be project scope and timeline, important contact data, or information about your internal operations. A review of what was intended to be disclosed and what was technically exposed details information that could be collected through API or aggregation techniques.

Solution: define your intellectual property and process points, making sure to update your employee contracts and social media policies.

Social Property- if your social media expert creates a new domain or registers a profile with their name, who owns the social community and exposure related to that entity? Depending on a lot of legal technicalities an employee can sometimes walk away with a priceless asset that represents both invested time and budget.

Solution: establish ‘asset creation’ guidelines and processes that delegate official control and ownership to the business entity. Many instances will require in-depth discussion to what accounts and profiles are used for business purposes and what happens in the event of a willing or unwilling employment separation.

Client / Vendor Portfolio- your social media presence involves a lot of people. Who are they? Has your executive team weighed the pros vs cons of communicating with high value clients and vendors online? Is the act of communicated on certain platforms exposing valuable information to competitors?

Solution: sit down with your sales and legal team to review what types of client data are important to your organization. You need to give thought to what a competitive salesperson would be looking for, along with what legal obligations you have to protect different kinds of data.

Time: if your social media expert walks away (or gets hit by a car), what is the total amount of time it will take to recapture the current asset(s) and exposure channels? In many cases social media channels require a three to twelve month preparation period before it creates a worthwhile asset. This preparation period needs to be weighed against review and project impacts.

Solution: sit down with your team and map out a timeline of important accounts and properties you currently have. Setup a quarterly update to detail additional benchmarks and critical mass points. This will aid your understanding of how long a specific task took, along with providing additional training insight to how long it would take to duplicate.

Crisis Situations: if an independent contributor has access to social media channels, they have immediate communication channels to vendors, clients, prospects, stakeholders, and news reporters with no editorial guidance.

Solution: bring in your legal and public relations team to identify “worse case scenarios” and map those against your current social media policy and employee contracts, along with any crisis plans that you have in place to handle specific situations. This is often a time to brainstorm on “what if” scenarios and weigh the cost of planning vs the cost/chance of occurence.

The Accidental Deletion: social media experts often act outside the realm of IT, using services and tools that have little back-up and failsafe functions. This negates the safeguard of having the ability to restore off-site assets that could exist on social platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, etc.)

Solution: many tools exists to safeguard data even on external sites. Consult with your IT team to talk about common sense and simplistic ways to back up your important data that exist outside the IT infrastructure.

Security Measures: as a social media experts, these team members have unusual access to a wide number of web properties and cloud technologies. The common social media professional accesses dozens of different tools on a monthly basis, using both WIFI and mobile access points. This exposes data on multiple layers, including access to internal email systems and client databases.

Solution: train your social media expert on best practices for accessing and transmitting data. This includes what types of applications they use on laptops and mobile phones, types of security they can have on wireless connections, and methods of encryption they can use to protect sensitive information on different devices/platforms.


Maximizing Your Social Media Expert


The risks and stereotypes detailed in this article are very real and happen every day.

This career shift is not negative in itself, but it does highlight the lost opportunity and capability costs at the organizational level.

On the other end of the scale, most internal social media experts want to perform an outstanding job. If we examine the risky stereo-types above, we can see how most of them began the journey as a well intentioned and meaningful contributor to the business. This is where expert project management and executive leadership plays an important role.

As executives learn to manage employees and gain knowledge of potential pitfalls like those mentioned above, the business gains the ability to train internal social media experts to become long-term assets (instead of short term training and employment costs.)

Do you have any tips for managing social media risks within your team?