I was chatting to someone last week who is on the social media team of one of NZ’s large corporates. She was telling me that lately there are not as many people within the company expressing interest in joining the social media team and perhaps the ‘shiny’ness of working in social media is wearing off.

I agree. A year ago, placing an advert for someone to work in social media would have resulted in a nervous breakdown for the recruitment consultant. However since then, NZ has experienced the Christchurch earthquakes and the community using Twitter and Facebook has mushroomed in size. This in turn has placed huge expectations on what social media can and should deliver to the community. Organisations providing core services – such as media, telcos, banks or airlines – have been stretched responding and informing the community during a crisis.

Most large NZ corporates have a social media team staffed by just a few people, or several part-timers (in addition to their ‘real’ jobs). We are not yet at the point where scale has forced a change in the operating model but its probably not far off.  Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang depicts the typical social business structures below, and in NZ the majority would be some variation on the Centralised model.

Copyright Altimeter Group http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/

At the other extreme are companies such as Dell, who have been leading the way in embracing social media and becoming a social business. Last week I was fortunate enough to meet with Andy Lark who was responsible for spearheading Dell’s social media success. Dell receive over 24,000 mentions on social media each day so scale was something they addressed a long time ago – they have over 10,000 employees trained and 4 levels of certification in social media. The catalyst for Dell was ‘Dell Hell’ in 2005 which spurred them into action to address the community of bloggers who were writing about their poor customer service, technical support and faulty products. Dell has turned its organisation around to become a social business – a significant  undertaking that took years and a lot of moolah.

From Melbourne’s iStrategy Conference, May 2011

These stories and case studies have held the role of social media up high but its not all champers and roses. There is a darker side to social media which is whispered about in hushed tones in the backwaters of social networks. Comments about fielding work questions on personal Twitter accounts are commonplace, as is the pressure of being forever ‘on’ and connected. Receiving personal abuse from an angry community can be alarmingly commonplace, and being stalked or trolled on social media all comes with the role. You need to have a thick skin and a healthy sense of humour. Biting your tongue off probably will help too.

Then there are the physical effects. A close colleague of mine who works in social media has been diagnosed with what is being called ‘social media elbow’ – although we jest, this is a serious condition of tendonitis almost certainly aggravated by being ‘always on’ and using not only a work computer non stop during the day, but also 2 smartphones, a tablet and a laptop or computer at home as well.

Working in social media is not all glamour. In fact it is not glamour at all. A quick look round the office does not reveal Old Spice Guy lurking in the corner – the sad truth is that often the office has been long empty. There are endless hours, dealing with a range of customer issues and a multitude of internal stakeholders all while under the watchful scrutiny of your employer, your customers and your competitors. Nothing is hidden in social media. Nothing is hidden.

If you love tweeting or are addicted to Facebook then working in social media is not for you. You’ll be disillusioned pretty quickly once you discover that tweeting for a brand is nothing like tweeting in a personal capacity. You’ll find out about governance, policy, procedures, audits, legislation and a ton of other things that will rule your life. You’ll probably find you don’t have time for tweeting on your personal account any more – or if you do that you don’t really feel like it.

But if – and only if – you love your company with a passion then you will thrive. If you believe in your brand, its values and the people behind it, then you will gladly take the bad with the good and will feel real pride in representing your company on social media. You’ll love talking with your customers, hearing their stories, forming a connection with them. You’ll become an expert on every nook and cranny in your organisation and know which haystack to find that needle in. You’ll meet others who work in similar roles who can share your frustrations and your highs. Its more than just being an avid tweeter or being in on the first round of invites to Google+, you are the most visible brand ambassador for your company – embrace the good with the bad.

And if you are able to condense a media statement into 120 characters – to allow for a retweet – and include a hashtag, then that will help too.