Social Media Professionals: How Techie Should We Be?

Screenshot of the Wikipedia Entry for Interwebs

by Shannon Paul on October 3, 2010


It’s no secret that social media has a credibility problem in the business community, especially when most only see the noise generated by so many of us out there on any particular social network. Many of us also lack credibility on the technology side because we may not fully appreciate how integrating social technology adds a layer of complexity to existing processes. People who come from more technical backgrounds tend to see the communications-dominated social media space as lacking in skills, knowledge and patience to bring their projects to fulfillment, and they’re often right.

Social Media is a Hybrid Discipline

I’m not a coder – I don’t build things on the web, but I do need to know how to tell others what I want things built in language that conforms to their standards and processes (not mine). In an enterprise environment, that’s often easier said than done for someone with little-to-no technical knowledge, which describes most of us with traditional marketing or PR backgrounds.

I didn’t learn this overnight. I’ve always been somewhat techie and my mom made sure to it that we were one of the first people in our zip code with an internet connection; in college I thought for some time I might be a science journalist since I had an aptitude for understanding theoretical math and scientific theory, but my passion was clearly on the communications side of that equation. I figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t really have the personality to be happy plugging away in a laboratory environment although I have great respect for those who do.

To learn the things I was lacking through formal education and my regular professional development in communications, I researched on my own time and read A LOT. I also started writing this blog to give me a place to continue experimenting with web-based communication. I still ask a lot of questions.

Developing deep enough technical knowledge became my job within my job. As I began to get stronger on the technical side of managing social media, I also began to understand why so many social media programs and practitioners were still scratching their heads over the dreaded question of ROI.

Where Strategy Falls Short

For the record I’m a huge proponent of having a sound social media strategy, but having the tactical knowledge necessary to execute and deliver the right results and measurements is still extremely important.

For example, lots of companies have great social media strategies that focus on building brand awareness, but they choose to build an online community as a means of delivering on that goal. Most online communities do little to build brand awareness with a new audience. In many cases, however, community might be a great way to deliver on a retention-oriented or cause-oriented goal.

Understanding the Role of Social Media in Other Digital Marketing Disciplines

I have said this before: social media doesn’t have an ROI problem, it has an integration problem. Social media rarely delivers value as a stand-alone discipline, but helps other types of digital marketing and web content work more efficiently and reach the appropriate people IF social media activity can accrue to each of those areas. Silos don’t work.

Consumers exposed to a brand via social media conversations AND search marketing are much more likely to seek that company out when it’s time to buy than if they were only exposed in one of those channels. In Scott Stratten’s new book, UnMarketing, he talks a lot about the importance of having meaningful interactions with people way before the sale and how social media enables marketers to do this in a meaningful way. Traditional marketing needs to be a numbers game because they’re focused on targeting broad segments in order to reach the few who may be ready to buy now.

If you’re working as a social media professional, get ready to understand how search marketing works and educate others as to how a social media presence can support that.

  • Understand the importance of landing pages as dot-connectors between social networks and your corporate site(s).
  • Work as a subject-matter-expert to help inform how to connect the dots between those you interact with in different communities and think of how to make your company more relevant to them based on where they are.
  • Understand how Google determines relevance (no, adding metadata will not help you), “Our technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page’s importance.” If you don’t understand how linking in social networks and blogs can help Google determine the “collective intelligence of the web,” you may be in the wrong business.

Why We Compare Social Media with the Telephone

Marcel Lebrun (and others at Radian6) have done a great job at explaining how brand mentions are a lot like a ringing telephone aka the social phone. Why WOULDN’T you answer if you think of it this way.

In keeping with the telephone analogy, talking to people on the phone doesn’t do much if those conversations aren’t recorded to provide product/service feedback, if people you talk to aren’t informed as to what they can do beyond talking to you on the phone, or if your conversation doesn’t solve their problem.

Turning these conversations into data points that are integrated into other types of business intelligence is crucial.

Social > Techie?

I was inspired to write this post after reading my friend Brian Ambrozy’s post on a similar subject. In his article, he questions the use of Twitter to hold public chats and cites this decision as evidence that those running social media/online community programs aren’t technical enough. I can’t say I necessarily agree, but I found it interesting that one of his commenters said technology is becoming easier to use everyday and that it’s more important to be “social.”

Is there truth in this? Is it better to focus on the social aspect of social media and let the technology take care of itself, or is there much more to developing a sustainable social media strategy?

I have my own ideas, but I’m very interested to know what you think.

Photo Credit: mil8

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

October 3, 2010 Rufus Dogg

I offer an analogy: Someone who works as a public speaker should have enough technical knowledge and proficiency to hook up a laptop to a projector, get a slide show out to the screen and advance the slides without having to make excuses about now knowing anything about technology. I don’t think speakers realize how silly and inept they look in front of an audience being stymied by simple technology. It leaks their credibility a little; it upstages their message.

Same goes for anyone working in social media. They should know enough to work the tools of the trade so that the tools (or the failure of them) never upstage the message. More is probably better, but the audience will never care.


October 3, 2010 Rufus Dogg

or how typos in comments overshadow the message.. oy.. :-)


October 3, 2010 Shannon Paul

Good analogy, but one-man shows don’t scale. At some point it becomes necessary to teach others how to do what you do… for those who naturally have an intuitive sense of how to execute, articulating these things can be challenging.

Also, as someone who uses an iPhone, for better or worse I have become accustomed to typos.


October 3, 2010 shawnee

Every social media professional should have a developer by their side.


October 3, 2010 Shannon Paul

True. Having developers ready to help is necessary, but developers typically build to requirements — knowing how to frame those requirements is also ridiculously important.


October 3, 2010 David Lingholm

While I think it is important to understand some of the technology, I think it’s easy to get bogged down by needing to know too much before getting started. What is really vital on either side of your question is to know when to ask for help. On the social side, we need to be educated enough to know what questions to ask. On the techie side, we need to know enough to involve real people in our solutions.

Social media doesn’t work for a cure all in education either. It’s all a part of an integrated system that has to be well thought out before expectations are set, lest we all be disappointed with results. No matter how social or technical people are, without an understanding of how a social strategy fits in a bigger picture, it is doomed to fail.


October 3, 2010 Shannon Paul

Good point – I don’t necessarily think it’s important to always do a lot of research up front. Most of the education I received around the technical aspects of my work happened alongside executing. The nice thing about social media (and anything on the web these days) is that the culture is shifting from one that is about delivering a finished product and moving onto the next and toward one that is more iterative — in short, sites, efforts, communication plans can be launched while the work is being done to give it roots inside a company.

Nothing about this necessitates a linear path, but going cowboy is only a short term strategy. This doesn’t mean anyone shouldn’t start listening in on social networks or even engaging, but that they should be ready to lay the foundation as they go. I don’t think everyone is necessarily cut out for this type of thing.


October 3, 2010 David Lingholm

You’re right, it doesn’t need to be an exhaustive search for knowledge. Just a simple analysis of what your customers are saying (assuming you keep track) and what your competitors are doing is a decent starting point. The rest of the analysis can be done on the fly. But it needs to happen or you’ll be an awfully lonely cowboy.


October 3, 2010 Ryan Meray

I’m in agreement with the good Mr. Ambrozy. Twitter chats are a great idea, but it become frustrating for those not in the chat forced to see that flotsam in their stream with no good way to divert the flow. Twitter clients offer some solutions like Tweetdeck’s mute button, but simply put, I shouldn’t have to worry about muting and unmuting chats because they shouldn’t be taking place on Twitter. You don’t write dissertations on Twitter, you don’t break blog posts up into 140-character snippets and post them to Twitter, so why do people insist on hosting chat room discussions via Twitter?

I’d posit it’s because that for better (and mostly worse), it’s actually the easiest tool to use. IRC is a bit too techie for most people, and it’s not public-facing per se like Twitter is. Other chat solutions such as embedded chat in websites tend to be fairly crappy as well.

This exposes a real need for a social chat site that can supply the benefits that people are extracting from Twitter hashtag chatting without forcing those on Twitter to endure the firehose of Tweets that come as a result.

So here’s a million-dollar idea, distilled and given away for free in case anybody wants to run with it:

Social chat site. Create chat rooms from twitter hashtags. Integrate with the Twitter API using OAuth so all the chat content gets attributed to the Twitter users properly. Enforce a 140 character limit on each line, make each line have a perma-URL just like Tweets do, but format chat on the site like a traditional chat room (Timestamp | Username : Comments) except with hyperlinks from the Timestamp to the perma-URL and from the Username to the person’s Twitter page.

Then offer a button next to each post that allows, AFTER having posted to chat, to re-broadcast that to Twitter, or to RT someone else’s post. I suppose you could offer a publish to Facebook option too, but whatever.

You can run targeted ads on the side that are relevant to the chat topic, you could add scheduling options so that the chat room appears on a calendar somewhere and sends out reminder emails/tweets about upcoming chats, etc. Each chat session could be archived and read chronologically, which is extremely hard to do via Twitter. And the chat could even pull in Tweets that feature the hashtag so that others not in the chat could contribute before joining .

Then you can promote the chat via the hashtag on Twitter, but when the chat begins, move to the URL to avoid inundating the rest of the Twitterhood with stuff that is potentially irrelevant to their interests and possibly annoying enough to get you unfollowed.


October 4, 2010 Shannon Paul

Not trying to be difficult, Ryan, but getting people to change their behavior because they’re not using technology the way it was intended to be used is probably not likely to happen anytime soon. Besides, I happen to think technology becomes most interesting from a cultural standpoint when people start using it differently than it was intended.

And, I don’t care all that much if anyone unfollows me. Once when I was hosting a #socialmedia chat on Twitter, someone DM’d me to tell me I was being too chatty on her Twitter stream. To me, that’s way more invasive and I couldn’t help but wonder why she just didn’t unfollow me!
Following on Twitter means different things to different people and it’s almost never personal. Some people who are good friends don’t follow me on Twitter and I’m okay with that. People use technology differently and that’s the point :)


October 4, 2010 Ryan Meray

It’s not an issue of not using it as intended; how many uses of Twitter these days arose because people were using Twitter in ways that @Ev and @Biz never even thought of?

I’m critical of Twitter chat not because it’s “wrong,” but because it’s imperfect and yet still the best option. There should be a better way to conduct public chats that ties into and leverages existing social media platforms while taking advantage of the proper format for chat-style discussions.

Once you have the right tool, getting people to change their behavior won’t be about forcing them to do it a certain way because they’ll naturally flock to whatever platform is the most user-friendly and conducive to the functionality they need.


October 4, 2010 Shannon Paul

It’s not true that people will naturally flock to new platforms because they work better — there is almost always a period of adoption, especially when you’re talking about migrating an existing pattern of communication away from one platform and over to the next.


October 6, 2010 Mike

I found this blog from a link on the 140conference website. Very interesting posts from the 3-4 I’ve read so far.

As an answer to the post above by Ryan offering a the “million dollar idea,” I figured I’d share a bit about a startup that I was working on for about six months but that never fully got off the ground (change in course with partner).

The way we envisioned it was a way to take public commenting and chats away from their designated websites (like newspapers) and out of places like Twitter and Facebook, where they are transient and cannot be revisited. Sites like the latter do transient conversations very well, but as someone who’s a bit obsessive about how and why he shares data, I can tell you that email, FB and just about every other option have failed me in that regard.

Diigo ( – homepage) is close to getting it right and that is one of the reasons we decided not to keep it going, but I do not find their interface ideal either.

In my mind, the new solution would have the best elements of social media (access to people you want to share with), traditional message boards in the PHPBB mold (arhcivable, searchable, threadable), with the creative use of tagging (trade secret) to link it all together in a way that was seamless.

This could be used effectively between groups of friends, in the workplace environment, among academic researchers, among students in groups and the list goes on. The meta game in the entire thing is the ability to shove really well-conversed content up to the top a la Digg but without all the trolling and nonsense.

This probably sounds more complicated than it actually is. The elegance in the interface is actually its simplicity. I am of the opinion that someone is going to do this eventually if they are not working on it already. We made good progress but one-half of the brain went on to bigger and better things.

I don’t want to hijack what is already a very interesting thread, but I thought I’d put that out there. I tend to agree with both Ryan and Shannon on this. Technology does improve when it’s used in ways it was never intended, but sometimes more creative uses or mashups are needed to get to the goal-line.


October 4, 2010 Doug Haslam

Hmm, a delicate line to walk: how techie should any marketer be? I could argue that an agency or department should have (ok, nowadays, “must have”) tech savvy- people who can code, design and build, but the marketers themselves simply need to know communications.

However, I found that the more you know about the tools– HTML, FBML, Wordpress sites, graphics, etc, etc, the better– that doesn’t mean you have to be a developer as part of your job, but you need to understand the language of how these things work- if it is to be part of your marketing arsenal. That’s what I think.


October 4, 2010 Shannon Paul

Agreed – I would add to your list, RSS and API (or at least how they work to power different types of features and applications).

I think if you’ve got the marketing/communications skills as a foundation, the technology piece only serves to add to your value as a marketer/communicator, I just wonder if this principle works both ways…


October 8, 2010 Brad Lowrey

I absolutely agree that all social/Internet marketers need to know the basics and lingo for the tools and technology. That said, though, they don’t need to be experts. I learned a long time ago that you can’t be good at everything. I personally love the tech side of social technology which, but I enjoy the strategy and metrics side much more so that is where I have placed most of my focus. I am lucky to have a few good friends who eat, sleep, and breath the tech/coding side. So while my focus isn’t totally on the tech, having the tech background makes it way easier to communicate with them when we work on projects together.


October 5, 2010 Gabriele Maidecchi

In my opinion, it’s obvious that something born from technology, like social media, will be firmly tied to it. Technological instruments allow us to be successful or horrible at it. The difference is of course made by your strategy, by the people behind it, by you.
It’s the human side of social media that builds value, but it’s undoubtedly technology that eventually ties everything together and makes “the magic” possible. I still prefer to draw mind-maps and write strategy drafts on paper, but in the end I need technology to “act”.
I feel, however, it’s much easier for a natural PR to build the technical skills necessary for social media than for a technician without any communication skills to become a PR.


October 6, 2010 Jackie Chazan

Regarding the telephone analogy, it is frustrating when you answer the call and you hear static. Social media, as a telephone, is the conduit for conversations, but as it happens often, you get wrong numbers and prank calls. Being tech savvy helps targeting your call to the right recipient.


October 7, 2010 40deuce

I agree that people who work in a technical industry such as social media should have a good grasp on both the communications and the tech side. I like to think that I fit into both of those categories, but it’s still hard to know everything. Working for a software company I find it helpful that I have developers in-house that I can always go ask questions to.
As well, I disagree that creating a community helps you miss out on potential audiences and instead only focuses on consumer retention. I think that by creating and sustaining a community you’re building up a family of loyal brand evangelists who then help expose you to their audiences. I don’t think that this is the only way to find these potential audiences, companies should still be seeking them out or finding ways to bring them in, but once you bring them in you also need to keep them. I agree with Scott that you need to reach out to customers way before a sale and buy having a community that you can bring these future customers into is a great way to do it.

Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos


October 7, 2010 Sjkato

Nice article. Makes me think a lot about the lack of knowledge I have in social media, i must admit. Or at least how to apply the knowledge I have.
I can say that I agree, though, with the statement that technology is becoming easier to use. New technology comes out all the time, but it is far from easy; look at all the new programming languages for one. You have to learn a new language and if you are lucky, they are similar to those you already know.


October 12, 2010 Judith A Copeland

I am intrigued by your article regarding how techie social media marketers should be, well as your post on needing to have good strategists. I think we have to know what an RSS feed is, how to use analytics, SEO and best apps for ROI measurement. I think when we encounter a company website that doesn’t understand backlinking we need to to get their webmaster to fix that. I know we need to show them where to repurpose blogs and best platforms to use. We also need to create a plan, a strategy like any marketer. Social media is an extension of what we used to do with SMTs, VMTs and press releases. Now there is much more to know. I find two problems, either a company wants someone who is a webmaster, as well as a communications director, 2 different jobs and skill sets or they just want to Tweet and throw up a Facebook page without even thinking about developing a strategic campaign. How do we educate companies to understand that a strategist is not a webmaster or coder? That IMHO the most important aspect of beginning social media campaigns is identifying your audience or target market, listening to them and knowing what platforms they are on. I think Chief Listeners and strategists are essential to any social media effort. How do we make companies understand all these differences?


October 14, 2010 Chris Catania

Nice post Shannon! For me, it’s the communication, spreading ideas and community building potential that gets me excited about social media . I have a communications /media/journalism background, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a “tech” guy or a developer. But I’ve taught myself enough of the tech of social — blog coding, video, mobile integration — which allows me to do many things for myself and think strategically to help clients start communities.

If you’re passionate enough about anything, especially Social Media, then you will teach yourself new tools and gain knowledge along the way. And those who know their talents and limitations well, will known when to focus or ask another expert for help when needed.

Again, great posts, and keep up the good work ;)


October 28, 2010 Glenn Friesen

U m34n 7h@ 17’2 N07 4CC3p73D 70 k0mMun1C473 1n H4x0r-5P34k?

Teh Sad :( But okay!!! 111

Homerun question. Here’s my thoughts on social media.

First, Part 2 of 2 – the “Media” in Social Media:

Everything is media. The Medium is the message, after all. And indeed, “The form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” Yes, I copy/pasted that from Wikipedia. Proving the point of the concept, perhaps.

All media has the characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways. So, how does social media differ from all the rest (T-shirts to TV)?

Answer? Part 1 of 2: the “Social”:

The permanant recording, and portability of public social interactions in this media.

Blogging. Commenting. Sharing. Embedding. “Marketing in a stream”. These are some of the unique characteristics of these social mediums.
But unless people want to do something with these unique characteristics, wouldn’t the technology sorta be akin to a tree falling in a forest with nobody around?

Most everything needs improvement, no doubt. Including technology. I remember thinking that publishing in HTML was the way to go – and writing full suites of content in pure HTML. Then I found .php and blogged (so to speak) in that. Then I found Blogger. Now I’m using WordPress — and have watched that evolve into something extremely useful. Technology evolves, no doubt. And there’s a lot of good work to do to make it better.

But making it better is all about making it better for it’s purpose. Improving the ability for the mediums created by technology to support social interactions.

Now, unless a business wants to invest a ton of resources into developing proprietary technolgoy, or whatever, it seems to me that the business strategy should focus on the social aspects of social media. The WOM aspects. The conversation aspects. The dialogue aspects. KnawwhatImean?

As always, digging your thought-provoking posts! Best,



November 17, 2010 Umidificador

When you approach someone for help career through social media, know what you want to interact and ask specific questions that show you have done your research.


July 24, 2011 Social Media Marketing

Yes you are correct lot of companies have social media strategies that focus on building brand awareness,At the same some of the companies build online community



November 9, 2011 tights

My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on numerous websites for about a year and am anxious about switching to another platform. I have heard excellent things about Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!


November 9, 2011 Rufus Dogg

No, no, no, no, no, no. do not move from PHP to .net. Is your developer solving a problem YOU have or a problem HE/SHE has by trying to move you to .net. I’m guessing the latter.

There is no rational argument that I can make for moving from a widely-supported Open Source platform like PHP to something proprietary and horribly unwieldy like .net. Don’t do it.


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{ 4 trackbacks }

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