Social media may be the hottest new form of communication, but if you think the typical professional in the field is a specialist working on a multinational team, think again.
Sixty-five percent of social media staffers do that job on top of other responsibilities, a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey reveals. Of those who do it exclusively, 82 percent work on teams of three or fewer people.
Most in the field are facing stagnant budgets in 2012 and 2013, participants reported.
The survey sheds light on an emerging field that most communicators and executives take seriously but which many are too swamped to give their full attention.
In the online survey of 2,714 social media professionals, a picture emerges of organizations that are still coming to grips with the media that have upended relationships with the public and placed unprecedented power in the hands of consumers.
Titled "Structuring a Social Media Team," the survey drew an array of participants. Respondents from the corporate world made up 58 percent of the total. Nonprofits amounted to 24 percent, while 7 percent came from government agencies or departments. About 11 percent answered "other."
The survey digs out benchmarking data that communicators "can present to the approvers and their bosses, so they can get what they need: a higher budget, more people," says Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications.
The survey found that companies are cautious about dedicating resources to social media, leaving communicators to add the tasks on top of their other work.
"They're doing events, they're putting out newsletters, they're writing press releases, and now they're handed this task of overseeing Twitter accounts, the Facebook page, the Pinterest page," Ragan says.
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The survey found:
- Fully 65 percent of organizations pile social media on top of other responsibilities, while only 27 percent focus exclusively on the emerging platforms.
- Sixty-nine percent are dissatisfied or only "somewhat satisfied" with how they measure their social media effort. Only 31 percent are "satisfied" or "very satisfied."
- Social media budgets didn't go up at most organizations in 2012, and they aren't likely to increase in 2013.
- Just 13 percent of communicators agreed that their organization was "an advanced, well-run machine," while 64 percent said they use social media regularly, but have more to learn and accomplish. Another 23 percent outed themselves as "newbies."
- Organizations take a multidepartment approach to social media. More than 70 percent of respondents say marketing is involved, with 69 percent reporting that public relations played a role. Corporate communications trailed, with 49 percent.
Our six-part series
Ragan.com will explore the survey in greater detail in a six-part series that will look at staffing, measurement and monitoring, budgets and salaries, platforms and social media efforts, and the question of who owns social media in organizations.
Those taking the survey held titles that include chief executive, chief marketing officer, senior partner, director of public and government relations, social media editor, head of Internet marketing and content strategy, and even a few interns.
The survey highlights the struggle by communicators, marketers, and government officers to figure out this revolution.
"Social media are clearly on the radar of big companies and brands among our clients," says Eric Maillard, managing director with Ogilvy Public Relations in France, who participated in the survey. "Execs are convinced it is not an option not to manage the presence of their brand in social networks, at least for reputation matters. Looking at it in a strategic way remains, sometimes, a challenge."
The survey highlights growing pains as social media's expands and organizations figure out how to integrate the new platforms and prove their value.
"Really, up until probably the last six to nine months, social media has been the icing on the cake," says Adam Brown, principal of adMAGINATION. "It's been the thing that everybody did last, in terms of marketing and communications. You put together your plan, your program, your press activities … and then you add a sprinkle of social media at the end. We're finally starting to see social media deeply embedded."
The survey may offer comfort to overworked communicators and marketers who add social media to other tasks: You are not alone.
"We have people from corporate marketing, corporate communications, and corporate PR contributing to the social media activity along with one outside consultant," wrote one survey participant. "However, we don't have a full-time person dedicated to social media."
What's encouraging is that most respondents say their top leaders are at least somewhat support their social media efforts.
"Our execs recognize the importance and often participate in their own personal social spaces," one survey participant commented. "They often provide feedback or praise efforts that they witness firsthand."
Another, however, stated, "Our social media team is thinking on the cutting edge, but our executives and PR team has chosen not to take social media seriously."
A third wrote that executives are "supportive overall, but [are] still struggling to understand trends and the importance of what social media has to offer. Our CEO is taking more interest for his own sake to keep up his reputation of being competitive and on the cutting edge."
Among the respondents, most worked for smaller shops. Nearly 46 percent said their organization had fewer than 100 employees. Behemoths of more than 10,000 employees made up only 10 percent of respondents. The same percentage listed annual revenue of more than $1 billion.
At smaller organizations, solitary communicators and public affairs officers often work alone feeding the Twitter beast and dealing with Facebook flamers. At the other end of the spectrum are deep-pocketed corporations that have assembled global teams of specialists, among them a 20-person unit that tracks the multilingual Web.
"My official title is 'social media specialist' however I do quite a bit of Web development," writes one survey participant. "I know the things that need to be done, just need to find the time to get them done properly.
"We are a nonprofit with 1,200 employees and just five full-time people in the communications department," writes one respondent. "We are very social media-savvy and know what we need to do better; we just don't have the time!"
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Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.