How Social Media Veterans Succeed Where Others Fail

Lately I’ve been writing and talking about the importance of businesses working with or hiring social media veterans instead of social media rookies to manage their social media campaigns. I’ve talked about why social media is not an entry level position, and why it’s important for companies to hire people with several years of work experience to manage their entire social media campaign.

The State of Social Media for Business 2010

Last November, SmartBlog on Social Media released a report called “The State of Social Media for Business,” asking whether social media veterans or rookies — companies that have been using social media for several years compared to a few months — are doing a better job of social media.

While the report is about companies that use social media, not individuals, the same ideas apply to people — especially those who have used it for a few years for clients — versus the people who have only used it for a few months, but think their 100 hours playing Farmville and leaving cookie haikus on the Oreo Facebook page somehow qualifies them to be a social media consultant.

For their report, SmartBlog surveyed readers from a variety of industries and companies, and editor Jesse Stanchak pulled some of the best results from the report. (Disclosure: Yesterday, SmartBlog published my article about six social media tools to monitor your personal brand, and Jesse was my editor on the piece.)

SmartBlog found that companies with more than three years of social media experience — compared to companies with less than six months — are more likely to:

  • Say they have a fully developed or well-developed social-media strategy (65.7% of veterans compared with 13% of rookies)
  • Measure the return on investment of their social-media efforts (36.1% of veterans compared with 9.6% of rookies)
  • Say they would not be able to operate without a strong presence in social media (27.9% of veterans compared with 3.6% of rookies)

(It’s this last sin — operating without a strong presence in social media — that many marketing agencies and PR firms commit when they offer social media services to their clients without practicing it themselves. They claim they can manage clients’ social media campaigns, but have 300 Twitter followers and still run their entire website on Flash, which can’t be indexed by search engines.)

Stanchak attributes these differences in veterans’ performance to five key areas, veterans invest more in social media, have support from their leadership, diversify their tools, and use social media for more than just marketing.

But it’s the fifth point that really caught my eye: Veterans are more likely to listen.

Stanchak said that while both groups are almost as likely to use social media to put out news releases and maintain fan pages, it’s the veterans who are more likely to listen, experiment, and measure. (Stanchak didn’t say measure; I threw that one in myself. But he would have, because he’s smart that way.)

Social media veterans will listen to their networks, their customers, and their colleagues in the industry. They’ll experiment with new tools and new campaigns. Then they’ll measure the results, and make the necessary adjustments and measure again. They’ll make sure it’s the right thing to do, and they’ll use it the right way.

The problem most social media veterans face is the influx of rookies who read a book on social media and get hired by companies who believe social media is for young people.

While I don’t have a problem with social media rookies — after all, everyone has to start somewhere. We were even rookies once — my concern is that too many companies accept their advice. Then, when things go wrong, the companies blame social media and say it was a mistake to ever get started, while the rookie walks away from the problem and finds a new client or employer.

On the other hand, the smart rookie will figure out the problem by listening, experimenting, and measuring, making the necessary changes on the way. The smart rookie has identified mentors and teachers who will show them how to become smart veterans.

For businesses who are looking to hire a social media agency or employee, whether it’s for business blogging or social media management, check their pedigree and history. Ask them how long they’ve been doing social media. Ask them about past campaigns and how they dealt with problems. Ask them about their past failures. (And if they say they’ve never had any, they’re either lying to you, or they’re too new in the business to have any real experience.)

What about you? What have you seen from a social media veteran or rookie? What lessons have you learned? What are you hoping to learn? And if you’re a rookie, am I way off base? How are you making sure you don’t make the same mistakes of your predecessors?

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. Hey Blake,

      Thank you very much. And you make a good point about seasoned folks at smaller companies.

      I’m not saying a small company or veteran is failing because they don’t have an up-to-date website. I understand that completely, as I don’t update this blog every day like I’d like.

      Rather, it’s that the veteran companies/individuals are more likely to do the things SmartBlog mentioned. That’s why there wasn’t even a full 100% of veterans who do those particular things mentioned in the report. And we can at least point to our client work and say we were too busy to help our clients succeed to focus on our own work.

    2. This is a great bit of blogging. The same could be said for graphic design and video production firms. People think their phone toys make them a professional photographer or Publisher makes them a designer. Only when a client sits through the entire process do the realize how much work goes into the art form.

      One point that I might offer in defense of seaoned folks is that for smaller companies sometimes we suffer the sin of only having two hands or too busy to update our own sites. Thus, it doesn’t always mean we aren’t capable, it just means there are only so many hours in a day and client service is always more important than self service.