For the sake of gender-sensitivity, here’s the full title: What does the ‘gets’ in ‘He/she gets social media’ mean?

I have often heard some people referring to some others as a person who ‘gets’ social media. Some have also told me that, and I always offer a bemused expression as an ungrateful response.

Let me try to explain and understand what this ‘gets’ means.

I believe social media is nothing but a set of tools at our (and brands’) disposal. We all worked with word-of-mouth (goes up in the air as soon as they are uttered) earlier. We had other, slower tools like telephone, real life meetings and snail mail too. Brands used them to compliment their one-to-many broadcast-style communication efforts – some of these tools offered limited conversation-styled one-to-one communication too, but scaling was always a problem.

Social media did 2 things to this scenario – it added permanence to the age-old word-of-mouth and removed time out of the equation. Second, it allowed for massive scaling up of conversation-style one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communication online.

Once you realize that basic fact, you’ll start noticing that the kind of things a brand…any brand…can do ‘using’ social media is largely predictable. To roll out a laundry list of tactics,

1. Online communities/embassies
2. Social/online customer relationship management
3. Brand-centric online monitoring of conversations
4. Online conversations based on intelligence derived out of monitoring
5. Using paid media to communicate a message/announcement/contest etc.
6. Building a thought-leadership plank using original content/opinions
7. Apps-led engagement
8. Attempt to make a message go viral using tool-specific features

There may be a few more tactics. And some new tactics will crop up depending on newer tools that allow them – location-based social media tactics are a great example of that, though they may not be all that prevalent beyond a few countries. Another instance could be tools like Quora, which may allow brand handles at one point, leading them to own a domain of their choice, in some form.

I could go on with that list of tactics, but chances are…it may not cross 15 or 20 with the current set of tools and opportunities. The point is that these tactics are open for everybody – brands and agencies alike. These are not what constitute social media engagement or marketing.

When someone ‘gets’ social media, it means something that is several layers above these mere tactics. Yes, it requires ground-level knowledge of the possibilities offered by these and more tools, but what matters a lot more is to know when to use which tactic (or set of tactics) and to what purpose. That is what the real ‘gets’ means.

And that…has less to do with social media and more to do with three other things,

1. Understanding of business, its priorities and objectives
The ability to listen to and understand a client/brand owner’s perspective, ask the right questions and derive specific, actionable insights out of them.

2. Creativity
Look at a broad range of tactics available and select one or more of those tactics that seem appropriate for a specific task/objective at hand. A more obviously crying need for creativity is in crafting the message itself, in whichever form it may be. A simple status update on Facebook needs creativity too – to ensure it is relevant to the brand and a target audience set, and to ensure that it is readable and interesting.

3. Team/people management
In a client-agency set-up, it is all about the managing teams across both sides. In a client-side set-up, it is about managing every other team within the organization and align social media messages based on larger objectives.

Obviously, these three don’t have much to do with social media per se. Social media just ends up being a tool after all these are first evaluated and planned.

We seem to be placing an inordinate amount of importance on tool-level expertise and knowledge currently, but it is no doubt changing – thankfully. As social media starts gaining traction among C-level executives and they start seeing its importance in running all kinds of businesses – as much as they see in advertising and public relations, if not more – the most sought-after skill may not be the knowledge of assorted social media tools and their individual nuances. It may be about the 3 traits above, along with knowledge of tools, with an emphasis on the former, considerably more than tool-level expertise.

If I were to offer an example based on advertising as a function, knowledge of tools that enable graphic design is only a small part of the overall picture. They are no doubt important, but what drives advertising is the ability to understand a client’s needs/perspective, translate that creatively into a piece of communication and to work with assorted teams on both side of the table to execute the task.

In public relations? It is obviously the ability to understand a specific communication requirement, craft communicable messages out of them, help the relevant people communicate those messages to the right people in the media. Knowledge of media and relationships within each media is no doubt important, but you’ll mess those up if what you’re trying to sell (communicate) is not appropriate to them.

Things are not that different from a social media engagement perspective either!