David Armano (@armano) has a provocative post up asking whether a company’s social media leader should be heavily involved in social media — what he calls “eating your own dogfood”:
But if you dig a little, you’ll often times find that some (not all) of the people placed in these positions have very small “footprints” in the space. A recently created Twitter profile with a very short history, a presence on Facebook that looks like an unfurnished apartment, no blog to speak of. You get the point. And it’s got me thinking. Should the people who lead the charge within your organization be active participants in the medium? Does it really matter?
It’s an interesting topic, and I urge you to read the whole thing. David ends up staking out a position on the issue:
I’ll put a stake in the ground on where I fall on this issue. It’s not critical to be a fully engaged active participant before you accept the responsibilities of leading social initiatives, but once you begin, you’d better show an intimate grasp of the space. Because, we’re all out there—Googling, Digging, looking for signs that you know what you’re talking about. Take a page out of Marcy’s book if you are in one of these roles. Engage people in relevant, meaningful ways and add a few notches of credibility to your belt.
But as I was thinking through what David was suggesting, it seemed to me that there’s another dimension to consider as well: subject matter expertise. This is especially poignant in real estate industry.
First, though, we might want to decipher exactly what David Armano is saying.
I don’t think he’s suggesting that a “social media director” who does not have a large footprint in social media is no good. Rather, he takes pains to say that one need not be an active participant before leading such an effort. But he does say that “we” (whoever that is) are “looking for signs that you know what you’re talking about.”
He also mentions “signs of credibility”, but it’s important to note what he focuses on: the level of personal engagement using social tools by the social media person. I don’t believe that David needs to see that the social media director guy is a core Wikipedia editor, or a major Digg contributor, or has profiles setup on all sorts of niche networks. He just wants to see that the person understands the basics: that social media ain’t about the nifty tools and the technology, but about the engagement and the conversation.
About that Credibility Thing…
What I wonder about, however, is that credibility thing. The example that David uses — of Marcy Shinder of American Express — does not clarify the degree to which she has subject matter expertise on credit cards. Do a little research, and you find that she is an incredibly accomplished marketer who has been with American Express since 1993, having served in a number of leadership positions in marketing at AMEX before she took on the social media responsibilities. One can safely assume based on sixteen years in leadership positions at one of the top credit card companies in the world that Marcy is a subject matter expert as well as a social media person.
If Marcy happened to have been an idiot in the world of social media, that would not take away the fact that she has all sorts of credibility on credit cards and the marketing of credit cards. Not knowing Marcy’s personal track record,I assume that for someone to have remained employed and continually given new leadership challenges at AMEX, she has a fairly long track record of successfully marketing AMEX to a variety of audiences, and knows how to deliver results.
What if the reverse were true?
What if Marcy had an enormous social media footprint, was a top Digger, well-known throughout the twitterverse, and so on, but knew next to nothing about marketing credit cards? Had no real track record in being able to sell credit cards to various audience segments? What if she had been brought into AMEX from say fashion retail based on her social media footprint, but had no real track record in marketing financial services instruments?
What if she knew next to nothing about marketing, period, and had no real track record? What if she didn’t know what a marketing mix was, didn’t know how to create a product positioning strategy, or the basic principles of brand management? But she had that enormous social media footprint.
How credible is she then?
Do You First Need to Know How to Make Dogfood?
The question, really, is whether social media credibility has any relationship to overall subject matter credibility.
Does the social media person need to be credible in the industry before the whole social media thing or not?
I write a blog about the real estate industry, but I make it plain that I am not a realtor, have never been a broker in a transaction, never managed a brokerage office, and wouldn’t presume to tell realtors how they should go about their core business of brokerage. And I’ve spent five years doing marketing and technology in real estate. I still feel a n00b more often than not. I do know marketing, branding, the web, corporate strategy, business operations, product development, and so on, and feel I can advise real estate people on those aspects — which includes social media to some extent — but I always feel keenly that I have no particular credibility when it comes to the core deliverable of real estate services.
I think this issue is particularly poignant in real estate because real estate is such a sales-oriented industry. And every salesperson I’ve ever met — myself included 🙂 — has taken the attitude of, “Walk the walk, before you can talk the talk.” This is highly dramatized, but it’s what I’ve seen:
Salespeople only respect other salespeople. People who have walked in their shoes, gone into the trenches, and come out wearing a gold watch worth more than their car. When I was selling suits at Bergdorf Goodman Men, I didn’t take advice from the oldtimer who wasn’t doing shit in weekly sales, but from the guy who was moving $200K a week, selling to the likes of the Sultan of Brunei. Because he was a subject matter expert when it came to selling fashion. I know that were I still doing that work today, whatever some guy whose weekly sales were below mine said about Twitter and FaceBook and social media and whatever would go in one ear and out the other. Whereas, if Mr. BigShot said that wearing women’s perfme was the key to higher sales, then by golly, I’m over at the women’s perfume counter. (NOTE: This is actual advice I received; and you know what? It worked.)
I wonder to what extent this operates in real estate.
I am a marketing expert; I have the track record to prove it. I’ve been in “social media” before the term existed. I do know how this stuff works.
But to a real estate agent, who has more credibility? Me, the social media guru guy? Or the agent from the next town who did $75M in sales last year? Who has more credibility on the social media side for real estate — David Armano, or Russell Shaw?
I don’t know. But I’m askin’ because I don’t know.