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Is it Time to Fire your Social Media Manager?

January 19th, 2011 · 13 Comments

The New York Times has fired their Social Media Manager.  Well not really- Jennifer Preston who assumed the role in May of 2009 has asked to return to Reporting full time.  And the Times has decided not to replace her with a new Manager of Social Media.  So the venerable old news paper has decided to eliminate the position of Social Media Manager.

Why would an organization decide to eliminate the job of social media manager when from all indications it is at it’s peak of interest, hype and attention?  Because Jennifer and the New York Times management realized that they don’t need one manager being responsible for social media any more.  They have decided that it is the job of all of the managers at the paper and doesn’t need a specific manager anymore.

This same thing happened in the 1990′s when email was new.  Back then there were organizations with “Email Mangers” who’s job it was to manage the ebb and flow of electronic messages and determine how everyone would communicate on the new medium.  By the end of the decade the position had all but disappeared.  Today the idea of an Email Manager seems ludicrous, right up there with Photocopy Manager, Word Processing Department, and Long Distance Telephone approvals.

So I don’t think that your organization needs a Social Media Manager, any more than it needs a Social Media Department.  You need some people who understand it to teach it the rest of the organization.  But that’s a temporary position, which can be accomplished in a few months or years at the most.

After all, if you have a good social media manager she will train each of your departments on how to use social media to most effectively enhance their jobs.  Customer Service will start using Twitter and Facebook for complaints and resolutions.  Employees will begin to talk amongst themselves with Facebook Groups.  Sales will look for leads on Twitter and Quora.  And Marketing will monitor it all for competitive intelligence.  Public Relations will manage the overall sentiment management to be sure that people have a good impression of the company and keep tabs on influencers.

But I’m not sure what a “Social Media Manger” will do after they’ve got that stuff in place.  Once you’ve got the whole organization using email, or social media, then you only need the infrastructure guys to keep it running.  That becomes an IT function along with internet and phones.

Sure you can monitor social media, but there should be lots of people doing that.  And different departments have different reasons to monitor social media for different reasons.  So one manager doing it isn’t very efficient, and he or she can’t keep an eye on all of the things the other departments will be concerned with.  It’s best if each group monitors their own patch of social media.

So I’m thinking that a social media manager position is a temporary one with only a couple of years longevity at most.

Give me 1 Good Reason why you think differently?

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rick Wion // Jan 19, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Interesting points. I agree that many of the operational aspects of utilizing social media should be spread throughout the organization and will ultimately be “everyones” responsibility.
    Once that day comes that everyone is humming along the social media manager should a) move to a functional role within the business that is built on core strengths of training or alignment b) evolve their position to that of a CTO and help set strategy/technology courses for the company to continually improve its use of social media as the space evolves or c) move on the the next company that isn’t so enlightened.

    However, your post is based on the HUGE assumption that most companies and departments within will embrace the use of social media AND be able to do so effectively in a short period of time. Having worked in this area for more than four years, I can say I wish companies picked it up so quickly but most will still need years on hand holding.

  • 2 Chris Kieff // Jan 19, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I agree that many companies will need years of work in this area. But I also think that change comes more quickly than we expect. Ray Kruzwiel makes a very good argument that technological change and the societal changes that come with it come much more quickly than people expect. Read this: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns to see what I’m talking about. I think that Social Media will make it’s presence felt more quickly than most people assume.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

  • 3 Aldon Hynes // Jan 19, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Since I was just hired in December as the Social Media Manager for a community health center, I am hoping they won’t take this advice too quickly.

    However, I do hope my job is a temporary job. Five years ago, I took a job as Blogmaster for a Gubernatorial campaign. At that point, I realized I had taken a job that didn’t exist five before. I’ve done that again taking a job as social media manager for a community health center.

    Five years from now, I hope to take a new job that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

    However, in many ways, the jobs, whether it be email manager, blogmaster, social media manager, or whatever comes next have a few common themes.

    Perhaps I should really be a community engagement manager or a communications innovation manager. Organizations will always need to be engaging the community they are part of and adapting to innovations in communications.

  • 4 Chris Kieff // Jan 19, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I’m thinking of the title “New Media Manager” because it’s not tied to any particular technology and allows you to grow into the next new thing, whatever it is.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment Aldon.

  • 5 Jeff Yablon // Jan 19, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Rick, the basis of your ideas is great, but think about the ramifications of “having one person teach it to everyone”.

    The only part of social media that can be “taught” in a cogent and cohesive way is the CYA stuff. And let’s face it: lawyers don’t teach, they lock down.

    OTOH: as you said, the idea of having a social media manager sounds silly in a bazillion ways. Maybe it’s the reason people like me can make a living; it’s a process, not a task.

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy

  • 6 Chris Kieff // Jan 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Jeff, I’ve edited your comment to remove the string of keywords in your signature. I consider that spammy and would prefer if you didn’t use that in the future. However, your comments as always are on target and cogent so please continue to contribute.

  • 7 The New York Times Did It: Fire Your Social Media Manager // Jan 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

    [...] famous) people—hello, David Pogue—be that available.I was impressed then, and thanks to this blog post, I’m even more impressed now. The New York Times has eliminated the position of Social Media [...]

  • 8 Kevin Haughwout // Jan 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I remember the discussions at this year’s PR+MKTGCamp that the best Social Media Managers are the ones who go into their roles knowing that they are supposed to make themselves obselete.

    I agree that companies with mature social media presences don’t need a specified social media lead. However, I think that it’s critical for companies who are newer to the channels have someone to evangelize and direct the implementation. I think that we’re on the same page on this.

    What do you think about large companies like PepsiCo, who are already pretty tied into the social web but still maintain a digital team to partner with their brands and marketers? Will that be the future of the social media manager, or will it just go the way of the dodo?

  • 9 Melanie Phung // Jan 27, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I think some of the argument makes sense (social media should be integrated into every position at the company), but couldn’t you say the same thing about sales, communications, marketing, customer service, and PR? I.e., everyone in the company has a role in helping drive sales; every employee who has any exposure to the public has some responsibility for representing the company, etc. Yet we still have departments dedicated to those functions and department heads who lead those efforts.

    Just because lots of people perform a social media function doesn’t mean that companies might not still need a person (or multiple people) to coordinate and lead those efforts.

  • 10 dominique // Jan 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm


    I’m 100% with you on this one.

    I still don’t understand why companies put in place “uber tower command and control center” for social media, or worse, hire offshore ressources at less than $3 per hour to manage your twitter communications.

    More to come in our blog !

  • 11 Chris Kieff // Jan 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment.
    I think the argument is that we don’t have an email manager or a telephone manager who instructs people how to use those tools. The goal is to have social media become just another tool. Coordinating the outreach effort should be handled by the department responsible for that messaging. If they are talking about a recall, it could be customer service. For a new product introduction it’s usually marketing. For a sale it’s marketing and the sales department. Each department handles their portion and chooses the tools most appropriate for the job. Those tools could include email, telephone, snail mail and social media. And the tools are chosen by the department as they see fit.
    That’s the goal, for social media to become as common as the telephone for the organization to use in communicating with the outside world.

  • 12 Why brands should shut down Social Media Command Centers « Influencers & Community Marketing // Feb 2, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    [...] New York Times firing its social media manager [...]

  • 13 Vincent Kernaghan // Feb 18, 2011 at 1:31 am

    It’s sometimes smart to have a person who oversees the whole program, keeps it on track strategically and stays up-to-date on advancements in technologies and trends so the social media program can expand, morph with the market, and keep up with the times.

    To leave it up to the individual departments to coordinate between themselves is not always the best idea because not everyone will want to pull their weight all the time – there’s more to it than just answering tweets or posts pertaining to a specific department. Having a social ringmaster also helps in keeping staff responsible, accountable and active. Who else keeps track of how well it’s all working without favoritism toward one group or another? Who else cares enough to coordinate and pull together all the metrics and results and monitor the big picture on a regular basis?

    Also having a person who creates/coordinates a cohesive strategy when something REALLY blows up – especially when it involves multiple departments and/or takes a stronger ability to keep one’s head on straight and confront the situation can be invaluable.

    Sure, all departments should have a designated perfect, super-social person that can always carry the social load no matter what their other existing duties are. They should never get distracted, lose focus, say or do the wrong thing, or let their social energies wane. Yea, right.

    All departments should also have a way to factor in staff leaving so their social lead is always covered, but all that’s in a perfect world. For a department to always have it covered there would actually need to be more than one person capable of doing what’s needed. What if someone gets sick, has a death in family, takes maternity leave or a vacation? Who is trained to carry the load then?

    If we’re looking at having multiple staff in each concerned department trained in how to handle social for their group, then it’s closer to being doable and staff turnover could make fully training a department a challenge. And there’s still the lack of someone coordinating the 30,000 foot view – with the input of all.

    I think you’re imagining a perfect world not factoring in the above variables and others I didn’t even mention. Yes, systems and processes help a lot, but putting it all on each department to come together and manage their own, plus coordinate with other departments and never drop the ball, plus somehow stay on top of advancements, metrics, monitoring competition, etc.?

    Isn’t social too important to NOT have at least one person overseeing the program? I agree that if individual departments can expand what they already do and effectively take on the additional duties and responsibilities, then they can use it as just another tool – maybe.

    Tools often get used robotically and automatically. Maybe social will evolve to that some day. But for now I hesitate agreeing with the latest paradigm in how human beings communicate and interact being relegated to “become just another tool”.

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