Stop! Don’t Break Silos Down Just Yet

Photo cred: Manky Maxblack
Photo cred: Manky Maxblack

The social media professional is currently a jack of all trades.

Mix together some marketing, technology, html, a spoonful search engine optimization, a splash of public relations, a hint of advertising, 2 cups writing, and top it off with some digital media, cook it on twitter for a few months and you have yourself a warm delicious social media professional.

Calm down, that highly inaccurate recipe is meant to be funny, but also to display a point.  This space is a mess of practices all mashed together. A while ago, Beth Harte wrote about how “Communication silos don’t work“.  I couldn’t agree more. But now, it’s as if we’ve completely broke down the silos so that their contents are spilling everywhere and messing together.

Is this a good thing?  Should people trying to become “social media professionals” be jacks of all trades? Or should they focus on one area?  Seems most job offers require this wide array of expertise, and if one were to focus on one area, they wouldn’t be qualified for most positions.  Will this just make us practice more things not as efficiently?

A community manager is not a marketer is not a public relations pro is not an SEO expert etc…

It’s great that we’re breaking down silos to integrate multiple practices and open communication but there’s a reason that silos exist in the first place…focus, and that’s a good thing.

We shouldn’t be breaking down silos, but rather connecting them to create a network. I’d rather take one person that focuses on PR, one for marketing, one for digital media, and one for community building and put them to work as a team, than four people who do a little bit of each of those things.

Maybe the “social media professional” is the middle man for the other areas.  Maybe they’re the 5th member of the team team that can bridge the gap between the silos.

Help me out here.  Are we losing focus by mixing everything together in the social media space? Or is social media the answer to integrating the focus of other areas?

9 thoughts on “Stop! Don’t Break Silos Down Just Yet

  1. Social media and social marketing is still so new that it isn’t adequately covered in web design classes in any level of education. We were left with the impression that the look and branding of a site were the areas of focus. Like you say, it’s necessary to learn how to interlink a site with the rest of the web.
    Adam @Advent Creative Web Design

    1. I just graduated and it still wasn’t even being touched on in marketing classes or communications classes either. It definitely hasn’t become an “official” area of professional expertise yet, or at least not in the education system.

  2. I think you pose some great questions, David. I often wonder about the merits of specialization vs. generalization. As you mention, so many job requirements emphasize a varied background.

    In my opinion, there are benefits of a social media professional having a diverse background. Implementing social media can serve as a catalyst for exploring the effectiveness of current efforts in some of the other areas you mention (marketing, technology, advertising, pr). Presumably a social media professional with a background in these areas would be better suited to monitor and constructively articulate the broader implications of what is learned from social media.


    1. I like that: specialization vs generalization really sums the issue up, and social media definitely has a trend of generalization in my opinion. Perhaps social media isn’t it’s own field but rather a combined extension of a number of fields?…if that makes any sense.

  3. First, social media is not new. Think about the words, ” a [often digital] medium where social interaction happens”. That’s been around for a while: message boards, blog comments, Usenet, and so on IMO are forms of social media. In that sense, what’s a social media pro? An expert on every part of the internet where public interaction is going on?

    The proliferation and widespread acceptance of social media is new. I was participating in message boards and Usenet discussions back in 95-96, but I know many of my friends weren’t but are now on facebook/twitter/what have you.

    Anytime there’s a burst of activity around something, people who’ve been doing it for a while stand to profit by offering their experience/advice to others. That’s happening now (and it’s a good thing for everyone), but after a while it’ll die down (and be replaced by real-time pros). There will still be social media pros, just not as many. And social media will still be huge, but it’ll be augmented by other skills.

    Take for instance myself and Stuart Foster. I’m an SEO/web tech sort of social media guy and he’s a PR/marketing/community sort of social media guy. We both use social media and can advise others solely on social media, but our expertise and backed by other areas. I can’t think of a single social media pro, who isn’t also good in other areas. Chris Brogan is probably one of the premier social media pros, but he still has skills in other areas (speaking, writing, networking). It’s not like all he does is tweet and blog and that’s it.

    If you want to climb to the top, you need other skills. The coders who are most successful also have some business skills. The social media people who are most successful have other skills too.

    In the future, there will still be purely social media professionals but not so many. Instead, we’ll see people who can leverage social media with their other skill(s). They might be called social media pros, but they’ll likely have other skills to augment their social media expertise. In your example. if the social media pro is the middleman, than he should know bits of the other 4 areas. Otherwise the middleman gets in the way rather than being an effective liaison.

    1. All very true. I guess any good professional is comfortable in multiple trades. To consider social media a field of its own means that there are professionals that focus on social media while being comfortable in other areas. The other areas that they focus on will determine the different kinds of social media positions.

      I guess the difference is already there as you pointed out by comparing yourself and Stuart, it just hasn’t become “officially recognized” yet.

  4. Technically, my title is director of public relations, but I spend an awful lot of time working with clients on marketing and online initiatives. That said, I have co-workers who are media relations machines — that’s their niche and they’re terrific at at. I don’t know that one is necessarily better than the other. In fact, I think the best communication teams include a mix of specialists and generalists. You need someone on the team who understands from the strategic, big-picture perspective how all the moving parts work together. But, you also need people who can get in the trenches and deliver the results.

    For those people stuck in the “divide and conquer” days, social media helps clarify why that isn’t the most effective way. But, let’s not forget that there were plenty of people advocating for an integrated approach to communication long before social media hit the scene. It’s just a smarter, more strategic approach — one that became even more apparent to a broader audience thanks to social media.

    Another great post, David!

    Heather (@prtini)

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