Avoiding the Social Media Job Shop Scenario

by Shannon Paul on August 21, 2011


If you’re one of the unfortunate people out there feeling disenchanted and completely disappointed with the day-to-day activities of your social media job, you’re not alone.

The social media job shop is my way of describing a scenario where the social media specialist or team is simply told what to post by marketing, communications or other business area, to social media channels regardless of whether or not the content and approach are meaningful to the people on the receiving end: your customers or other important stakeholders.

I’m very lucky to manage social media for a company that really empowers me to build and execute strategically. But, even though I’m not on the wrong end of the order-filling process in the social media job shop, I had a few near misses earlier in my career. I’ve also heard dozens of stories (at least) from others who feel downright miserable and powerless to set their company’s or client’s approach to social media on the right path.

In social media job shops no real strategy for engagement exists and those responsible for content creation are far removed the social network. The only responsibility of the person tasked to handle social media is to post, publish, upload or tweet. They, in essence, pull the trigger or personally flip the switch on something that has been produced for a mass audience. This doesn’t exactly make for warm fuzzy online conversations (hint: the tools don’t humanize your business) and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to good measurement. Where’s the ROI on this approach? Good question.

How to Avoid Working in the Social Media Job Shop

  1. Set expectations early in your working relationship (preferably during the job interview) that you need to have input on what is being published to blogs and social profiles. Assert your expertise as knowing what is best for the channel, but remember to formalize that approach as much as possible and give it visibility with more people than just your boss (especially if you work in a large company). Remember to keep repeating these things — other people have lots on their plate: they think about you, they just don’t think about you all the time
  2. Take control of your channels (nicely) by meeting with teams early in the process to learn about their needs and put together a smaller strategic plan within your larger plan you feel will help them achieve their goals. Present it to them and ask for approval. If they’re not ready to approve, ask that they provide feedback – compromise a little if necessary and keep reworking the plan to find something that will achieve mutual goals – even if they’re only short-term. Repeat this process as much as possible.
  3. Make your own (better) processes. When you tell others that their existing processes suck, be ready to provide a better alternative that addresses all the things they will care about: how much work will this put on their plate, specifics on exactly what you need them to change, a schedule for re-evaluating your new process to make sure you’re creating a framework that others can actually snap to.
  4. Negotiate (always) and ruffle feathers (occasionally). When others hear “no” you’ll need to hear “not like this.” There’s a certain mentality that looks at layers of bureaucracy, regulation or other organizational structure like a puzzle that must be figured out in order to achieve one’s goals: figure out a way to adopt that. Don’t take things personally, don’t allow people to think what you do is silly, don’t back down from adopting best practices or taking a strategic approach, but DO pick your battles: you probably don’t want to fall on any sword over a single tweet unless it’s ridiculously inflammatory and your brand is very high-profile. Don’t make it about personalities – keep it about what’s best for everyone to achieve their goals.

Help! I Feel Like a Cog in the Social-Media-Job-Shop Wheel

This is the tricky part — once you’ve been relegated to the job shop as the person who simply posts the updates and uploads the videos it’s really tough to get out of that role until a consultant comes along and shakes things up. That could mean a lot of things to someone already in the job shop — it could mean being let go altogether, put into another department or given a new boss and a new team. These may not be bad things, but they each still leave you at the mercy of your professional circumstances.

If you really want a career that empowers you to manage social media communications, social business integration or any leadership position in digital marketing — you need to learn to take the reins and it will never get any easier.

You will need help, but to get help you need a plan. Work on your plan — even if you have to work on it at home during off-hours. When it’s perfect, get some time with the executive or leader you trust most. Present your case and ask them for their help in refining your case so that it will gain traction with all the other leaders in your organization.

If that doesn’t work, find something better. But, don’t quit until you try this: transforming a nascent job shop to a functional business area is how leaders are born. Really going through the process of improving your company’s approach to social media will also ensure that you squeeze every ounce of professional development out of an otherwise stagnant period in your career. You’ll be ready to soar in your next role and good leaders will recognize that.

Are You Punching a Clock or Building Something Sustainable?

Whenever you set out to build a new area of a business or assume a brand new role in an organization it helps to think like an entrepreneur rather than an employee. How do you avoid being relegated to job-shop status?

Photo Credit: Philo Nordlund

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

August 22, 2011 magda research

Hi Shannon,
Very motivating but how do you get everyone involved? Also I find it difficult to quantify goals as they are usually things such as brand awareness. I see most of social expert set goals such as no of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook but does quantity it really matter?


August 22, 2011 Shannon Paul

Your group of everyone is going to be different from my group of everyone. Most of the time asking works. You may have to do a lot of one-on-one asking. Also, the executive sponsorship I outline above can go a long way in many organizations. You’ll need help getting everyone together, that person will often need to be someone in a position of leadership.

As far as the metrics you mention — brand awareness can actually be measured. So can campaign effectiveness as it relates to awareness and information. There need to be actions baked into the campaign that can be measured. If you’re not asking people online to show awareness or including metrics like branded search activity, then you won’t be able to measure the awareness any more effectively than you can a display ad on the roadside.

The number of likes matters insofar as it is something that can provide insight. It should not be the yardstick by which success is measured.


August 22, 2011 Chris Parente

Good post, I just interviewed someone who is stuck in this situation. Will send her link. BTW, is your RSS working? I’m seeing really old stuff in my aggregator. Refreshed, and checked URL, no change.


August 22, 2011 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Chris – I hope this helps your interviewee. It’s not a good place to be for someone who is really passionate about becoming a social strategist.

I think my RSS is working, it’s just been a long time since I posted… April, I think? This is the longest hiatus I’ve had with my blog so it’s quite possible some things are a little wonky. Thanks for checking though!


August 22, 2011 Rob Metras

Nice to see you back in the scene on the blog with such a useful post for cubicle dwellers. Great useful content from a veteran social media doyen.


August 23, 2011 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Rob — it’s good to be back :)


August 22, 2011 Lisa Hoffmann

I, too, am lucky enough to work among people who understand the importance of strategy and integration when it comes to adding social media to the mix. I spend a lot of time on internal education and advocating to ensure it stays that way, and to keep growth on an upward trajectory.

The best line in this post: “When others hear ‘no’ you’ll need to hear ‘not like this.’” Such a useful perspective! And don’t be afraid of starting with a pilot. “Pilot” is a magic word among the skeptical and risk-averse.

Either your pilot will be a great success, thus growing into a full-fledged community, initiative or process, or it won’t – but you’ll learn an awful lot.


August 23, 2011 Shannon Paul

Good tip about pilots — thanks, Lisa!


August 23, 2011 Peter Chee

Very interesting how fast we’ve gone in a few short years from Social Media Marketing Manager being the job that everyone wanted to just a job where the person is now the monkey who gets to pull the trigger which fires off a blog post, tweet, or status update. Sounds like in some companies the big wigs have dumbed it down into simple tasks that a monkey or mechanical turk could do.

I love the fact that you suggest people think like an entrepreneur rather than an employee. The article that you provided a link to is brilliant. Liz Strauss does an incredible job explaining how to think like an entrepreneur instead of an employee.

What you’re describing sounds like a blog post that I wrote about are you “breaking rocks or building a cathedral”. http://thinkspace.com/are-your-employees-building-a-cathedral-or-breaking-rocks. No matter what the industry or job you’ve got to be doing something where your employees have autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


August 23, 2011 Shannon Paul

The funny thing is that the job shop frustration has been felt by those on the inside the whole time. Even though those on the outside always had the perception that social media jobs were so cool, many of us talk behind the scenes of a lot of the same frustrations. I’m thankful that I’ve learned to transcend some of the pitfalls that come along with a job in social media — and that I work with so many people who are much more enlightened these days.

However — that’s always been one of the things that feels pretty crummy about working in a social media job shop — especially when everyone else is always telling you how lucky you are to have that job.

Being an entrepreneur is a must. To create a new business area you have to think much more like you’re running your own business rather than showing up to perform tasks and cash a paycheck.


September 20, 2011 Niall Harbison

Ha good to see somebody else thinking like this about social media. I work with brands and businesses all the time in building large communities and you do it for all the right reasons and then marketing comes along with the big hammer and demands to get their updates or posts up there once they see the size of the community. It’s just the way marketing has always worked I guess!


October 7, 2011 Anna Thompson

There’s a lot of skeptics out there. I’d suggest that you justify your position (not you, btw) you have to demonstrate how effective SM is… above and beyond click-thrus and Likes.

Not sure everyone can do this.



October 24, 2011 Teamwork In The Workplace

So true. It’s always better to be more involved in the whole process.


November 8, 2011 The Nerdy Nurse

I don’t think you used the word, but the key is “passion.” If you are passionate you can move mountains in your organization and can be key in not only social media but in the realization of the goals of the company you are a part of.


November 24, 2011 robinson

What can I say? SocialGO


November 28, 2011 MySocialMediaMentors.com

Social Media is not just a job to accomplish, but we should take it as our daily routine to gain more friends, reach out with other people online,build trust and good relationship. It’s fun sharing and at the same time learning new things through social media.


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