Social media is one of those terms that landed in the popular lexicon with a bang, a linguistic hand-grenade exploding at a rate of 140 characters per second. It inspires excitement, a certain amount of fear and a great many stunned and confused onlookers. It is a term that is badly-defined and even less well understood even though most of us, if questioned, would say something like “oh, you mean Facebook & Twitter, right?”
To put it in context, by far the most difficult task I perform for my clients is not coming up with technical solutions, but describing what the problems are that need to be solved. I do this through dialogue, research and intuition. Most of my clients, like those onlookers, are still struggling with the technological shrapnel of the internet revolution. They know, on average, about eight or nine keywords which they drop into briefing documents with a terrifying confidence that belies their almost complete lack of understanding. Words like SEO, conversion rates, adwords, viral, social, and crowd-source.
My job is to translate these twisted terms into a set of actions that my team can actually carry out. In doing so, I often find myself re-phrasing the original question so that it better reflects reality. It is a process that, when I get it right, acts as a soothing balm for the technologically baffled clientele.
If there’s one thing that those at the coalface – and their clients – need, it’s for the mysteries to be unravelled and explained, for the act to be dropped, for the terms to be clarified. Perhaps that’s harder to do than it appears. Perhaps, in the end, it’s something more appropriate for a social anthropologist than a programmer. But those that claim the status of Social Media Consultant must be open about tackling the criticisms of this environment – they must build new teams with developers and designers, and above all, they must translate the jargon, hype and confusion into understanding.
If not, they can expect many more blank looks and baffled stares from clients that only want one thing – to get new business without having to learn a new language.