The Inevitable Demise Of The 'Social Media Strategist'

I'm often introduced to my agency's clients as the resident "social media strategist." There are many reasons for this. I've given presentations at social media conferences and been a member of social media panels. I've been interviewed for and written articles on the topic. I'm a digital native through and through, in both my work and personal life. I spend a large proportion of my time thinking about emerging trends and, for the moment, social media is digital advertising's darling. It won't last.

But I object to being introduced as a "social media strategist." Social media should really be viewed as an integrated part of the holistic strategy for a brand, not its own independent realm. This means understanding your customer and their needs, understanding your brand positioning and benefits, and finding the intersection where these two overlap.

If your target audience is not discussing its medical condition through social media, then perhaps it doesn't make sense to include Twitter as a tactic. Instead, start from the customer and work out. There should not be such a thing as a standalone "social media strategy." What your brand should have is an overarching strategy that may or may not include social media tactics depending on whether they make sense for your customers or not.



Similarly, there shouldn't be laser-focused "social media strategists." Instead, brand marketers need to rely on strategists and planners who deeply understand their audiences, including -- but not limited to -- demographics, attitudes and beliefs, cultural realities affecting their lives, and technology adoption, of which the role of the Internet (and subsequently online social media) is a subset.

The proliferation of online social media represents a fundamental shift in the way people obtain information. Instead of relying on companies or institutions, people can now get the information they need from each other -- from those who have "been in my shoes." The number one reason people access social media sites for health used to be "for emotional support." Now, it's for information. Naturally, brands want to remain relevant to their customers, and this means being more transparent and accessible (an unexpectedly painful process for many companies).

Marketing messages had better mesh with what customers actually think, or your brand's reputation will be in trouble. Smart brands want to know what their customers are saying in order to respond and provide value to their customers. Hence the advent of "social media strategists" (or "gurus" or "experts") who are hired to create "social media strategies."

Too often, brands lose sight of the big picture. It's about providing value to your customers, not "doing something social." The answer is not always a Facebook page and, in fact, this tactic may be more detrimental than beneficial to a brand. This is regularly the case in the pharmaceutical industry, where it may not occur to the "social media strategist" that no one wants to "like" a hypertension product on Facebook, and that in fact this is probably not the right tactic for this brand at all.

Conversely, a brand planner would know the role hypertension plays in the lives of patients as well as how the Internet (and social media) fit into this picture. As the voice of the customer, the planner would likely reiterate that -- while this audience is active online -- it is not likely to use Facebook for anything remotely related to hypertension.

So while I admit to spending much of my time contemplating social media, "social media strategists" for brands will ultimately go the way of the dodo. This trend will inevitably be ousted by "the next big thing" (up for debate, but my guess is location-based services). I just hope we don't have "location targeting strategists" next.

16 comments about "The Inevitable Demise Of The 'Social Media Strategist' ".
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  1. Nettie Hartsock from The Hartsock Agency, August 30, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    This is really insightful article. I think it is really important to understand the goal with using any of these tools is to make sure you're using them strategically whether it be offline traditional marketing or online marketing through social media or mobile or whatever the next big thing is!

    Great article!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 30, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    Fine. As long as your employer, potential employer, your insurance company does not read about your ailments. You will be the first not to be hired and the first to go. You are too expensive to keep. So keep your personal information off of FB and twits. There is no privacy.

  3. Shelly Kramer from V3 Integrated Marketing, August 30, 2010 at 3:43 p.m.

    Bravo, Sarah. I'm a marketer with 20+ years of experience, and still oft introduced as a "social media guru." I'm not that at all - I'm a marketer. A marketer who understands where social media fits into the overall equation of an integrated marketing strategy - as well as the fact that those strategies change, depending on the nature of your business, goals, etc.

    Yes, the "social media strategist" will soon go the way of the dodo and, imho, not one moment too soon!

    Excellent job!


  4. Douglas Hull from DMHull Sponsorships, August 30, 2010 at 3:43 p.m.

    Agree completely. The current stampede to social media is normal, and will subside. Marketing is an executive discipline which covers many specialties; the brand strategist has to understand how they fit together within the user's mind, not become a specialist.
    A direct response expert, or social community manager is no more qualified to manage a brand than a tax accountant is to lead a bank.

  5. Kirsten Osolind from RE:INVENTION, August 30, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

    Well said. Social media and apps will not save U.S. businesses -- healthcare or retail. Social media isn’t a strategy; it’s just a tool. And plenty of tools prove more effective (yes, even coupons). U.S. businesses need to get back to basics: good old fashioned hard work, quality products instead of worthless cr*p, value pricing, reverse logistics and smart supply chain management, integrity, ethics, localism, and in-person handshakes.

    Perhaps the new Jeep campaign expresses it best: “This used to be a country that made things. Beautiful things. The things we make, make us.”

  6. Maggie Hall from Legacy Health, August 30, 2010 at 3:52 p.m.

    Hallelujah, a voice of clarity in this sea of digital muck. Social media is a tool/medium/tactic that finds its place within a fully integrated (read online and offline) marketing plan. It is part of your “toolbox.” The product development department can be using social media as a tool as well as the outbound marketing department. However it is used, by whatever department, social media sits as a tool within an executable plan that has been developed to drive certain strategies to achieve your marketing, departmental or business goals.

  7. Sarah Larcker from Digitas Health, August 30, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.

    Thanks for all the responses - I'm glad to hear assenting voices out there!

  8. Eric Head from ForeSee Results, August 30, 2010 at 5:27 p.m.

    Great insights, Sarah - you nailed this one! It is exactly what has happened to the notion of "eCommerce" over time...this function has now been diffused throughout the organization - it is now Commerce without artificial delineation across an enterprise. The only difference with the Social Media dynamic is the speed with which it will be absorbed into a brand's inner-workings.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 30, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

    Attention crowd sourcers: This is supposed to be about MARKETING HEALTH , not a general sysnopsis about marketing. There is another category for that.

  10. Mary Dean, August 30, 2010 at 6:40 p.m.

    Sarah, thanks for saying so eloquently what I've been trying to articulate to clients for months. I particularly liked your paragraph in which you explore the fact that, " Too often, brands lose sight of the big picture. It's about providing value to your customers, not 'doing something social.' "
    I have already passed this on to several clients and will save for future reference.

  11. Steve Schildwachter from, August 30, 2010 at 7:14 p.m.

    Sarah, your article was so honest I had to blog about it, comparing to a more self-serving piece from Sysomos. Here's what I wrote:
    Thanks for being a great generalist as well as a great specialist.

  12. Asten Morgan jr from, August 31, 2010 at 4:47 a.m.

    Great points and I am certain nobody wants to go by way of the dodo bird.

  13. Scott Cone from 247 Ventures, Inc, August 31, 2010 at 8:23 a.m.

    I agree with the caveat that the internet is not just changing the way we's changing all our behavior, whether one to one interactions or one to many we communicate, how we are informed, how we are entertained, how we connect. So, it's not so much about social media as it is seeing the internet as a distribution vehicle for all forms of communication and interaction and knowing when it makes sense to enable a social connection to that communication. Here's how I like to sum it up: You don't need a social media strategy. Your marketing strategy needs to be social.

  14. Mark Chmiel from Gluten Free Bar, August 31, 2010 at 11:24 a.m.

    Sarah---great POV. As you say it's not about Social Media, it's about finding the correct media vehicles to best connect with your consumer. As CMO, that's exactly what I have implemented and preached. One minor note though, I still believe that having a Social Media expert makes sense---not to set strategy for Social alone, but to be able to represent all of the possibilities that exist in digital and mobile for Social. Technology is in a hyper-speed mode of change---and unless you have someone truly watching, you risk becoming obsolete overnight. The key is to give them a seat at the "brand" table, setting strateg not just execution etc.

  15. Karima-catherine Goundiam from three.angels marketing, August 31, 2010 at 1:54 p.m.


    When reading your post, I was nodding my head and saying, *yup, yes, that's it* ; your situation sounds very familiar.

    Agencies and companies need to label people, in general, to make sure they fall in the categories that are known and tried.

    As for agencies, social media is the new kid in town, they are trying to master and add to their client's portfolio. Social media is yet to be understood and valued for what it is. I agree when you say it should be part of an integrated marketing strategy if Marketing is when social makes sense for the company. I tend to think social media is part of the business strategy, so it's integration within the company's strategy, should be global.



  16. Michael Nevins from Smart, September 3, 2010 at 4:13 p.m.

    Loved this post... Just replace "social" with "mobile" and you get one of my favorite rants. Well said.

    From what I've seen, agencies sell the idea of integration to their clients, yet they create "centers of excellence" (silos) for emerging practice areas...Often with their own P&L. Great, essentially another agency at the table fighting for their share of the spend. This stifles integration.

    Same story for Social, Mobile and Search before that...Oh yeah, and that whole internet thing was also in a silo. ;)

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