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Brendan Cooper is Editor-in-Chief at byyd, the leading mobile Demand-side Platform.

Models for working with social media: what works, what sort of works, and what really doesn’t

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how best to work with clients. It strikes me that this is a process that should, at the end, have a client who knows about social media, and can talk about it and use it with confidence. This is important: clients can smell fear at a hundred paces, and if you start talking social media with your own clients, without knowing what you’re talking about, they’ll sniff you out. I know. I’ve been sniffed a-plenty.

But if you get this process wrong, the opposite can happen. Instead of growing, the client loses confidence, and social media becomes the stuff of nightmares. I’ve had enough midnight fears to know this, but I think I’ve slowly dragged myself up to the point where I know what works and what doesn’t, and I’d like to help clients avoid palpitations too.

So here’s my take on what really doesn’t work, what sort of works, and my recommendation for what really works. Naturally, my recommendation is what I actually do for a living, but this is my blog and I can say what I like on it.

Really doesn’t work: Getting someone in to do everything

If you really don’t know a thing about social media, then pretty much the worst thing you can do is get someone in to take over the entire operation. And this is me talking as a social media consultant.

For why? Well, for a start you won’t know what you’re selling in to the client, and as the client continues to ask questions, and you continue not to know the answer, the panic, fear and intimidation you feel now will multiply tenfold.

Secondly, you won’t understand what the social media person is talking about. You’ll feel like having a little cry because it’ll all seem so foreign. You’ll lose confidence because you’ll continue not to understand, because you haven’t invested time in finding out for yourself, or being trained.

Thirdly, the social media person will also want to have a little cry because he or she has to explain everything, all the time, over and over and over and over and over again.

Finally, the pressure on the social media person is immense. He or she has to become the content expert in everything you do, as well as actually do it, and explain everything, and manage everything. Eventually you’ll find you’re actually getting in the way of managing your own account, and you’ll want to have another little cry.

Basically, no one really learns anything and everyone wants to have a little cry.

Sort of works: Learning on the job

‘Owning’ social media in-house is your ultimate objective and if you already have someone who knows about social media – that is, someone who has used it in a professional communications or marketing context rather than someone with a Facebook account – then you’re lucky. Cultivate that person, and make sure they spread the knowledge far and wide across your organisation.

But often, just fumbling through is the surefire way to reinvent the wheel, and we all know how painful it can be, for example figuring out what shape that should be or indeed what colour. So you really will learn about social media, warts and all, but with pain.

Really works: Training and counsel to achieve in-house expertise

I know, I know, I know, this is a blatant sell, but I really think this is the best model. I’m helping several clients through training them in a series of small sessions. Then I’m helping them put into practice what I’ve told them and then, finally, they get to do it for themselves, just asking me occasionally when they get stuck.

This comes after thinking that, by working with clients, they would learn by a process of example or osmosis. They didn’t, because then they think “Brendan does the social media”, and that’s the “Hand it all to someone else” model described above.

But in this model, everyone gains: the client gets clued up and confident without the pain; the social media person feels he or she is actually getting somewhere because they can discuss social media without explaining the basics over and over again; and the client can manage their own accounts in their own way, taking their clients through the options and winning their confidence. No more sniffing.

So, that’s my take on it. Imagine curves going up, or down. Model one, everything goes downhill. Model two, sort of up a bit, down a bit, but you get there eventually. Model three, you grow up, I push you out of the nest, you plummet momentarily then ascend like a magnificent golden eagle. I know which I’d rather have.

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3 Comments on “Models for working with social media: what works, what sort of works, and what really doesn’t”

  1. Richard Bailey August 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    It’s wise to move up the food chain if you’re a consultant (so you don’t get trapped forever doing the same things). Your advice reminds me of the well-known proverb ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’.

    Training and consultancy are the way to go.

  2. Brendan August 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    Absolutely – and that’s why you’ll notice I subtly changed from ‘freelance social media/copywriting blah blah’ to ‘consultant and copywriter’ some time ago.

    The other problem with the ‘hand it all over approach’ is that it’s too expensive. I simply cannot manage a client’s communities on a daily basis and make it work cost-effectively for that client – until/unless I hire someone in to do the run-rate tasks for me, and I just don’t want to go down that route (being respnsible for someone else’s livelihood scares the willies out of me).

    So the client needs to start accepting – or better, demanding – responsilibity. The best way to do this? As you say, training and consultancy.

    So yes, give them fishes and teach them how to fish. I agree. It’s all about fishes.

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