On hiring social media twits

Social media is one of the hottest buzzwords in tech circles. But can you actually get paid to play with Facebook at the office? Don't show your boss this Mashable article written by Ben Parr asking if social media jobs are here to stay. It only validates the lack of any hard evidence. Parr says social media roles — either a single person or small team who comment on blogs, send and receive Twitter messages, maintain fan pages on Facebook, and use other similar Web tools — are capable of increasing reach, users, traffic, and revenue. Examples? None. Numbers? Zero.

Instead, Parr links to analyst Jeremy Owyang's compilation of people with social media job titles at "Fortune 5000" (sic) companies. There's no such thing as the "Fortune 5000," but other than that, Owyang's list is real enough. And yet he has only identified 129 jobs among America's largest corporations. That's hardly a new career category — any company that size has many more people writing the product manuals no one reads.

On increasing reach and traffic, Parr says:

Social media allows people to spread their message to hundreds, if not thousands, of friends, followers, and strangers. Some companies can only dream of that kind of reach, while others pay millions in advertising for the same effect.

Companies pay millions for what? For TV ads, and for a reason: TV reaches not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of people. That's orders of magnitude more reach than Twitter, with proven results. The conclusion that mass media advertising is dead and the kids only trust teh tweets now doesn't come from market research. It comes from social media consultants looking for new clients.

Twitter allows a company to respond to customer complaints quickly (I’ve had personal experience with Comcast’s Twitter account).

That's called Twitter Appeasement. Parr has been glad-handed by a customer service rep in Philadelphia cherrypicking menial problems to address. Southwest Airlines does this, too. Comcast has realized that by fawning over a few select users, they can claim to be turning around their bad reputation for customer service. Three of the country's most-read newspapers — USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post — have picked up the tale.

But what fraction of the company's support load do you think Comcast's lone tweeter represents? He sends about 50 "Can I help?" messages a day, and talks to an average of ten of the company's customers. All too often, he ends up routing Twitter users into Comcast's support email, which they should've used in the first place. As customer service, this is terribly inefficient. As cheap PR, it's awesome.

Parr also claims social media jobs increase corporate revenue — again without any stats to back it up. Which new hire do you think would bring in more money: Another salesman or another FriendFeed guy?

Here's a more realistic conclusion: Social media technologies are new IT tools for the same old roles. Parr and his fans desperately want to believe Corporate America will soon create entire new divisions of social media jobs just for them. They'll be their own special-forces arm of the company, with a Chief Social Media Officer reporting directly to the CEO. Any day now!

Yes, big corporations will adopt social media to stay in touch with customers. But they'll do it by giving social media tools to existing parts of the organization: Customer support. Marketing. Public relations. And contrary to Parr's thin-air claims, I'm guessing that in a downturn, the guy who spends all day on Twitter will be first to go.