Feeling swamped by social media? You're in good company.
Fully 65 percent of social media staffers juggle other responsibilities, while only 27 percent focus exclusively on the emerging platforms.
A Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey suggests a digital divide between a class of deep-pocketed companies with the money to hire teams to manage social media, and a majority of smaller organizations that pile social media obligations atop the duties of already busy employees.
The survey of 2,714 online respondents indicates that many are swamped and don't have enough time for social media, something that matches what Adam Brown, principal of adMAGINATION, has observed.
"People who already have three or four or five things on their plate feel frustrated that they have to do this, and that whenever this happens they've got to drop everything and get into it," says Brown, former executive director of social media at Dell.
Though some survey participants work for multinational teams of 14 to 20 people, one harried respondent wrote, "I'm a one-woman show, so I do everything."
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For those who indicated they had a social media team, that team consisted of just one to three people.
Where staffing is concerned, the survey revealed that:
- 42 percent say only one person works exclusively on social media, while only 9 percent report teams of more than six people.
- Most teams did not hire new staff in 2012 and don't plan to in 2013.
- A quarter of respondents say an intern helps with some aspect of social media.
- Communications is the preferred educational degree for a social media staffer, with 76 percent listing it.
Most teams are small
Told about the data on team size, Jeremiah Owyang, a partner in Altimeter Group, expressed surprise. (Owyang was not involved in the creation of the Ragan/Nasdaq survey.) A recent Altimeter survey showed much larger teams, often spread across several departments, but it looked exclusively at larger organizations.
"For people working full-time on social, 11 is the average for an enterprise-class corporation," he says. "We define that as over 1,000 employees."
Ragan/NASDAQ OMX survey respondents ranged from self-employed consultants to corporations of more than 50,000 employees. Organizations of more than 1,000 constituted 28 percent of the total; the vast majority were under 1,000, and 23 percent worked for organizations employing fewer than 25.
Respondents from the corporate world composed slightly more than 58 percent of the total. Nonprofits numbered 23 percent, while 7 percent came from government agencies or departments. About 11 percent answered "other."
Only 3 percent outsource social media, while another 6 percent handle it both in-house and through an agency.
Among those who do have a dedicated team, about 42 percent have just one person shoveling coal into the social media locomotive's firebox. Another 40 percent have staffs of two or three. About 9 percent report teams of four to six people, and a similar percentage say their team numbers exceed six.
Dell towers among the giants. Some 2,000 people have been certified in an eight-hour training course in the area, and hundreds of employees do social media as part of their job, Brown says.
Dell declines to say precisely how many do social media full-time, he says, but it numbers in the dozens, which puts it at the highest end of our scale. This includes people in regional offices and various business units.
Mayo Clinic has a full-time social media team of 10 and will soon hire another staffer, says Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media. They work in the public relations department.
In addition to those specialists, a cross-departmental advisory group of 30 meets monthly to discuss ways to expand social media across the enterprise and share case studies.
Mayo is not alone in dedicating full-time staff to the job. Southwest Airlines has a six-person team that deals with social media full-time, says Christi McNeill, senior communications specialist. But they span three departments: communications, customer relations, and marketing.
"This is a very collaborative effort," she says.
Others do the best they can with part-timers. "No one works 'exclusively' on social media," writes one survey participant, while another echoes, "The social media person also does website, video, and other projects."
Still others seek to incorporate all staffers. "We recently hired an online manager who focuses on social media," writes one. "However, everyone in our office is encouraged to participate."
If some teams are small, it wasn't necessarily for lack of trying. "We tried to add a social media specific position last year but administration did not approve the FTE," one survey participant wrote. "As a result, our media specialist was asked to take on more of a role with minimal results."
Few staff increases in the offing
Unfortunately, no relief is in sight for many. The majority of respondents (68 percent) didn't expand its social media department in 2012, and 78 percent don't plan to hire in 2013.
"We did not expand the department but more of our clients wanted to adopt a social media element for our public relations plans," said one respondent.
Another respondent reported only temporary boosts in staff: "The teams expand or downsize as needed."
Others do see the need to bring on more staff.
"In the process of hiring for one dedicated social media position," a survey respondent stated. "Five perform social media tasks on top of other responsibilities. Outsource completely in the UK."
"Other departments have their own social media presence, but their people have other jobs and do social media as part of their job," said another. "We have a full-time social media supervisor."
At General Motors, Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications, supervises two strategists and a community manager.
In addition, GM's customer assistance social Web team has grown from four full-time staffers in 2009 to 20 today, moving staff from the phone to the Web. They monitor the brand social media pages, and have embedded themselves in close to 100 forums, such as the Cruze and Corvette owners' forums. (Members of the forum were uneasy at first, fearing GM would push sales, Henige says. But they have since embraced the knowledge GM staffers bring.)
Many of GM's brands have staff whose duties also include social media. Even at a major player like GM, people with other responsibilities help out with social media.
"Our philosophy has been that we're trying to teach all our colleagues how to fish," So we want to make sure they truly understand social media channels, how they're used, and what they can do."
Qualifications are often a matter of debate in communications, with some young social media specialists claiming that youth outweighs experience. Although the survey didn't address age, it does reveal that 47 percent of respondents hired staff with experience of three years or less. Forty percent went for those with three to five years in the field, while only 14 percent wanted more years on the job than that.
What is needed, one respondent wrote, is "youth and creativity matched with curiosity about the ever changing landscape of social media. Can you tell I am an old lady? We need youth to lead us in the next manner of communication."
Others emphasized intangibles, saying they wanted "someone we can trust with the brand and who understands not just social media but the relationship we have and would like to have with audiences. Someone we can trust with the passcodes!"
As far as the ideal level of experience, about 47 percent sought one to three years. Another 44 percent required from three to five years. Only 9 percent insisted on more experience than that.
In the era of social media, an education in communications (77 percent) or public relations (76 percent) is most highly valued (respondents were allowed to click multiple answers). Marketing trailed with 65 percent. Sorry, English majors: Only 20 percent felt all those hours you spent poring over "Beowulf" made you a better candidate, compared with 42 percent for journalism.
In hiring, 45 percent say they rely on a combination of degree and experience. Some 25 percent weigh experience above all, and 18 percent consider writing skills foremost. Less than half a percent say they rely on degree alone.
"Our president was the former communications director," wrote one respondent from a nonprofit, "so she probably does too much and should delegate more (if only we had the people—we're recruiting more volunteers and training them)."
Should you hand the keys to Junior?
Talk to the experts, and they fret that organizations often task the youngest person on staff with social media duties. After all, those dad-gummed kids get social media, don't they? But with major contracts and reputations at risk, most organizations don't hand the car keys over to Junior.
Only 25 percent of respondents say interns run some aspect of their social media efforts, with the remainder agreeing to our emphatic, "No way!"
"Don't use," one said flatly.
The lack of interns didn't surprise Brown, of adMAGINATION. Whether to involve them, he says, depends on this question: Is social media simply something you do because you must, or is it an activity that involves interaction with customers and drives business?
"In some instances, if you're a young, vibrant brand, [using interns] could be something that's really great," he says. "But if you're a larger corporation, you really need to consider: … Are those the subject matter experts that you want answering these questions?"
"We extensively use volunteers," wrote one staffer at a nonprofit. "Almost all our social media work is done by volunteers. This is an important distinction from interns, who are usually working for college credit or part of an international exchange. Our volunteers just get love."
Of those who have interns involved, Facebook is the most popular place for them to help out, with 78 percent participating. That compares with 68 percent for Twitter and 29 percent for YouTube.
That doesn't mean organizations are allowing recent college grads to take over their voice. "All intern-created items are reviewed before being published," writes one survey participant.
A university-based survey participant says the interns who run social media are more than just kids who know their way around Instagram and YouTube. The strategy is led by a paid intern on a two-year contract, who delegates to two other interns on one-year contracts.
"Yes, our social media strategy is handled by interns but, no, our interns are not in constant rotation," the respondent wrote. "Each of our interns is a graduate of the university and committed to alumni advancement."
One intern did well enough to land the job full-time, a respondent wrote. "We have yet to hire another intern, but our now-permanent employee did a lot of the technological side of creating web pages and such for blog and video postings as well as editing videos."
Similarly, another respondent said, "One intern is in charge of all social media."
With social media decentralized in many companies, interns can play a role regionally. "Field offices utilize intern assistance for regional blog posts," stated one commenter.
Another is eager to bring in an intern. "Currently handle myself but have hired someone to handle," the respondent wrote. "Am looking for an intern to train."
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Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.