We can learn more from social media managers than how to sell snake oil
A view from Russell Davies

We can learn more from social media managers than how to sell snake oil

I have found myself horribly guilty of the kind of short-sighted, incurious prejudice I always spy in everyone else, wagging my finger and raising my eyebrows. I should be mocked and humiliated. I am a dinosaur. I must be disrupted. My crime? I’ve always assumed that the job of "social media manager" (or whatever) was a ludicrous one; the province of hucksters and snake-oilers, full of fake science and false certainty. But, in the past few months, I’ve been working with someone who is actually good at it and the scales have fallen from my eyes.

I’ve made this mistake for classical reasons: a big change crept up on me without me noticing – it’s like I’m EMI or something. I’ve taught myself social media, picking it up as it’s being invented, finding things I like, experimenting and discarding, creating a social media presence that’s right for me (ie. almost entirely private).

I think, for instance, I’m really good at Twitter but, since that’s almost all on a locked account with only about 300 followers, you’ll have to take my word for it. And those patterns aren’t exactly replicable for a global business trying to talk to millions of customers.

So, what has my new social media colleague taught me? First, she actually knows stuff. Not just how to write well (and succinctly), which she does, but what works to achieve various things – based on real data and real experience. Tweet this at this time and we’ll get more traction than a couple of hours later.

A good social person represents the place they work for, every day, live, in the real world. That's admirable

Don’t do a video, do an image. It’s all based on deep knowledge of powerful tools and it’s all part of a sophisticated strategic vision. She’s a great example of what advertising has been trying to find for years – creative and strategy integrated in a single role. Painting the big picture through myriad tiny, in-the-moment executions. It’s like pointillism.

But the most impressive thing is the confidence. That’s what I can’t do, and therefore failed to understand. I grew up in a world where any corporate communication was long in the deliberation – layers of approval and delegation – so that, by the time anything actually happened, it very definitely wasn’t my fault. A good social person is prepared to short-circuit all that and go out and represent the place they work for, every day, live, in the real world. That’s admirable and should be cherished.

So, let me testify – not all social media people are chancers and charlatans. In fact, I suspect the percentage of fakers is no higher than in the rest of the advertising and marketing business. Really, really high. But no higher.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
@undermanager