A couple weeks ago I was in a meeting with a client and social media guru Charlene Li. We were debating the pros and cons of appointing or hiring a dedicated “evangelist” to be the voice of a company in social media channels as opposed to letting that job fall to the already busy execs and employees who may or may not have a passion for social media. I’ve seen some companies hiring ex- journalists to fill this role, and at other companies, PR people or community managers serve as the company evangelist.
We talked a bit about the qualities that make for a good evangelist – a good listener, humility, humor. I was struck by how the qualities just didn’t seem to match the image you conjure up when you think of an evangelist. I also thought about how the “evangelist” title kind of reflects one of the most common mistakes made by companies engaging in social media – they treat it as another channel for marketing themselves. They want to promote rather than engage.
Following the discussion with Charlene, I posted a question on LinkedIn to gather more perspectives on what makes for a great company evangelist.
Here are the some of the highlights and a link to all responses.
Many people mentioned that you have to be knowledgeable and passionate about the product or company you are representing as well as social media.
But one of my favorite answers came from Tom Hartley, a student at the University of Connecticut School of Business, who disagrees about what kind of passion you need. He said, “Someone with outstanding passion for connecting and helping people in a social media environment [is] far more likely to succeed than someone with a passion for your product or organization.”
Eric Schwartzman of iPressroom said that an evangelists should be “A realist, who is as skeptical of social media as they are excited.”
Most agreed that an evangelist should be a company employee rather than a hired gun. But Lawanda Paterson of Ascenda Capital Partners pointed out that too often a company’s social media currency is too dependant on a particular person, “…what happens if that person leaves the company? I see lots of companies where this role is filled by an employee with an interest in social media, but I'm not sure the companies have a strategy in place for maintaining.”
Consultant Judy Margolis raised a question about how you draw the line between a person’s professional and personal interests when you appoint someone with an established profile to be a company spokesperson/evangelist.
The most comprehensive answer came from Kathy O'Reilly, Director of PR/Corp Comm at Lycos:
- Knows the company brand messaging inside and out
- Excellent writer/communicator
- Established personal brand
- Established social media networks
- Follows the Corp Comm policies established by the company and understands the do's and don'ts of what is communicated about the company in the social media universe
- When in doubt, knows to always turn to PR/Corp Comm with any questions
- Knows about the next big thing/trend and is already a user/member before anyone else
- Most important, the company evangelist takes the positive with the negative when interacting in any social media channel and never ever engages in negative discussions in public
- Remains profession al at ALL times (see point #8)
- Understands the balance between tooting the company brand horn and being a valuable contributor to the community
Do you think companies need a dedicated social media evangelist? Who is the best company evangelist you know?