Throughout the last 24 hours, word has spread quickly that the New York Times appointed Jennifer Preston as the news organization’s first Social Media Editor. As usual, the reaction to a positive and courageous first step forward into social media by a large corporation is…
My personal opinion is that the New York Times took a brave step, and they should be applauded and supported.
That said, what fascinates me about the appointment was not the appointment itself. Instead, I was fascinated more by the debate it prompted in the comment areas of all these blogs and on Twitter. The conversation has now turned to the future of individuals designated within large organizations as “social media experts” and “social media specialists.”
This is the question at the heart of the matter: is the era of the Social Media Expert drawing to a close?
For the time being, my answer to that question is a qualified “no.” I do believe that there is still a great deal of need for education and training in what social media can and cannot accomplish. I also believe there is still a huge amount of confusing hype that is hurting its adoption rate in companies both large and small. There is most definitely still a need for someone who can help cut through the clutter, provide examples and case studies of what’s worked (and what hasn’t), and demonstrate a clear-cut case of business value and ROI.
However, my belief is that by 2015-2020, social media is going to be a part of the basic skillset in which anyone who communicates for a living will have to have a decent amount of knowledge and expertise.
There is precedent for this turn of events, of course. In the mid and late 1990’s, you still had graphic designers who were exclusively “print people” and others who were exclusively “Web people.” Nowadays, it’s almost unthinkable for anyone who works in graphics communications to pigeonhole him/herself as “Print-only” or “Web-only”. Yes, there are people who make a living specialized in one area or another, but for all intents and purposes, they all work as Designers, period.
Social media is going in the same direction. Yes, you’ll have areas of specialization, but the day of “one or the other” is rapidly diminishing.
And just so nobody thinks I’m being unfair or biased, I definitely include myself as having to adapt. I am someone who has made his living as a “social media specialist” (note I didn’t say “expert”) with experience in community building. I have adapted my thinking and focusing on how it fits into the bigger picture (online and offline). Frankly, I’m preparing for the days being a “social media guy” won’t matter quite as much. I look at this as a positive development because it will mean that it’s assumed you have a basic level of expertise already. Social media will truly be a mainstream part of a more holistic marketing mix.
We will know this turn of events successfully taken place when the appointment of a social media editor won’t make headlines.
What do you think?