Social Media: Users vs. Professionals?

The other day I heard an interesting story from a friend. He was eating out at a restaurant, talking about Twitter and social media over dinner with a friend. A man comes up to them, and while handing my friend his card, he said “Couldn’t help but overhear. Email me. I’d like to talk about social media for my business”. Seems like a new business development dream, right?

Social media comic stripWhile my friend excitedly shared this information with me, I couldn’t help but think “You aren’t in social media. You aren’t even in advertising. How are you going to help this man?”. I couldn’t help but be a little stressed out that a non-professional social media user was going to be taking the leap into professional social networking. Visions of this man’s potentially ruined online reputation flashed before my eyes.

But his experience begged the question: after the extent at which social media sites like Facebook and Twitter infiltrate the lives of the younger generations, what distinguishes a user from a professional? Is there even a difference?

The First Generation of Social Media Professionals

Since this social media stuff is kind of new, chances are that you can’t major in social media in college. Sure, there might be a class or two on the subject now, but I can guarantee that these are few and far between (at least for now). And I doubt all the “experts” out there learned social media strategy and implementation from a textbook or from a teacher. They likely learned it from early adoption of social networking sites, lots of experience, trial and error, social media conferences, and, let’s be honest, by reading a lot of Mashable. Maybe even by accident.

Don’t get me wrong, social users are great, and can understand the intricacies of web. They are tech saavy, influential, and smart. They are the reason that sites like Twitter and Facebook stay around and become so popular. But their dip in the pool of social media is more for personal reasons than anything else.

The Difference

Professionals, on the other hand, are a bit different. I’m sure that they all started out as a social user, at least to some extent. You’ve got to learn the ins and outs of the web before you can navigate effortlessly. But here is the rub: professionals use social media differently. We have actual training, from professionals and organizations that have been doing this stuff for years. Ya know, the ones who invented this kind of stuff. And now we are the ones doing the training.

We know that there is strategy involved behind every tweet, every Facebook update, and every blogger relationship. We do research and understand principles of advertising and marketing. We know how and when to see the bigger picture: that social media cannot cover all messaging or audiences (we are kind of obsessed with social media and traditional advertising integration). The professionals are the ones you are talking to when you tweet at Comcast about your cable connection. They run blogs for companies like Coca Cola. They create the Facebook page for Starbucks that you “like”. These aren’t college kids; these are marketing and advertising veterans with a keen eye on ROI.

So What Does All This Mean?

Not that social users can’t know these things about social media, marketing, advertising, and ROI. Of course, they can, with experience and time spent at a good ad agency. And while my friend has neither of these, he has continued contact with the man he met in the restaurant, and is looking to do social media consultation for him.  I continue to stop to ask myself if he knows what he is getting into. Is he going to be using the right tools to reach the right audience? Maybe he knows how to create a Facebook ad, but will the ad be compelling, and will it include a clear value proposition and call to action? Does he know how to find any audience on the web? Does he know how to wordsmith his emails, pitch bloggers, promote events, write blog posts, or analyze metrics? Does he have knowledge of how to integrate social media with traditional media? Does he know how to effectively convey an ad message? Does he…ok you get the point.

While some can dabble, we’ve got the ability to research, plan, and implement, and we’ve been in the ad business for over 20 years. Feel free to question our abilities, because we’ve got the case studies to back up our expertise.

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