Social Media Evangelists – The Special Forces of New Media

Posted on December 18, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Cover for the 2007 reprint of The Green Berets

2008 has seen the rise of the term “Social Media” appearing in a variety of places that it hasn’t appeared before, most notably in the list of skills claimed by individuals, whether as in house evangelists or external consultants. So what does it take to be a Social Media Evangelist?

Special Forces Training

This might seem an extreme analogy, what do gun-toting, clandestine troops, featured in movies & TV shows have to do with New Media?

Well firstly put aside the images from TV & the silver screen. Special Forces are not sneeky assassins they are called special for a reason, that reason is the breadth of their skills. To be selected they must pass a testing assessment course, much of which has little or nothing to do with “soldiering” directly and more to do with being able to cope with ambiguity. This is where the analogy starts. Often having positioned themselves within an organization or branded themselves as an external consultant, a Social Media evangelist will be told, “We need to do something Web 2.0” – how is that for ambiguous?

The Skills

Linguist

One of the first things that a Special Forces operator has to be is a linguist. They learn at least one and sometimes several languages relative to their area of operation. Social Media Evangelists have to be linguists as well. They need to be able to communicate in both the language of the organization and Social Media and build a comfort level that bridges the gap between the ability of the “locals” to speak the new language and do it in such a way that is perceived as threatening.

Negotiator

This is an incredible important skill, for both SF Operators and SM Evangelists. Whilst the “locals” might have series of demands, needs & desires, the specialist needs to be able to filter this wish list and establish what is possible, what is advisable and what needs to be removed from the list and most importantly be able to negotiate this new list and define why this is the way it should be done. There are bound to be internal conflicts as different parties want to be involved in the changes, working out these conflicts is where the negotiator excels.

Educator

Hollywood & TV often portray SF operators charging in to save the day, whilst there can be no doubt that these situations have existed, most often SF operators work behind the scenes, providing amongst other things education. This again is a primary role of the SM Evangelist. It is not enough to have knowledge of the SM landscape, to know the tools or how to use them. This knowledge must be shared and shared in a way that makes sense to the recipients. Using knowledge only to inflate their own sense of worth diminishes both SM in general and the SM evangelist in particular. The ability to teach new users not only of the benefits of using SM but also the tactical use of the tools, their appropriate use builds not only a broader user base it enhances the user experience of everyone involved in SM. Properly educated organizational users will be better able to engage with their customers and prospective customers – that means us.

Weapons Expert

Ok, so you knew it had to be here somewhere, no mention of SF operators could be complete without a mention of their weapons expertise. No I am not suggesting that SM Evangelists suddenly go out and arm themselves, at least not with guns & knives. However, they do need to be experts in the weapons of their trade, SM Tools. This is difficult, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed and all of the other services, platforms and tools that are available is it truly possible for one person to become experienced in all of them? I would say probably not for every situation, however, knowing the capabilities of these tools, and more importantly the limitations is essential. A SM Evangelist is quickly distinguished from a SM Enthusiast by their recommendations. If they propose that all platforms suit all organizations and all strategies, they are not a specialist. Knowing when & how to deploy particular tools, who within the organization is best placed to utilize the tool and for what purpose is the skill of the SM Evangelist. This is where they can bring real value to an organization.

Anthropologist

The ability to meet the “locals” who have perhaps little or no knowledge of your “country”, or worse still they have only a media presented version and have already determined what you are capable of is the challenge facing both the SF operator and the SM Evangelist. How they overcome this will vary on the situation but a strong sense of cultural sensitivity is essential. Knowing why you are there what the “locals” are looking for and assisting them in meeting their goals will only come from a truly anthropological perspective. The ability to stand outside the internal politics, social pressures, and the vested interests of certain parties to see what is really needed, what will really work and then being able to translate that in to an actionable plan that takes into account all of the knowledge gained through observation and interaction.

The list of skills is not meant to be exhaustive. The skills displayed and used by SM Evangelists will vary from case to case and different skills will be called for in every situation. These are the basics. It should also be remembered that SF Operators do not work in isolation, they work in teams, with specialists spreading the knowledge across the team. Perhaps this is the most successful model for SM as well. An organization seeking to develop real advantage through SM will build strong teams that encompass all of these skills. Equally individual consultants might be advised to recognize where their own skills are not complete and partner with others who have the skill set they are missing, combined they become a phenomenal force.

The whole point of developing and deploying SF teams is as a “Force Multiplier”, this is and should be true of employing, whether internal or external, SM Evangelists. They should act as a force multiplier for an organizations SM strategy.

Are you an Evangelist?

Image via Wikipedia
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