Your Nephew Is Not A Social Media Expert

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have rapidly integrated themselves into our everyday lives, triggering an enormous shift in how all we share information, both personally and professionally. These channels, uniquely, have empowered brands and customers alike, and, perhaps for the first time in our history, everybody has a voice.

But, much like many other times in our collective past, it isn’t always one that is equal.

I think there are some interesting parallels to be drawn between social media and web development and design, particularly on the agency/client side. Web work came first, of course, historically, and continues to lead, inasmuch as where it is in the timeline of its life cycle – that being, clients increasingly want to pay less and less for the same, and often a higher standard of work, than they’ve received in the past.

I’d guesstimate that how agencies and their clients feel about the value of social media marketing agencies today – in the “we’re prepared to pay this for what you do” sense – lags the web design business by about five years. Which means that by 2017, we could all be fighting over nickels and dimes.

This isn’t anything new. It’s an inevitability of the business relationship. As competitors enter the market, prices are driven down because everyone needs a foothold, and the easiest way to secure that is to undercut everybody else – even if it means you don’t make much or even any money yourself. Budgets impact decisions. Suddenly, to win back old business, you need to undercut. The scope of work doesn’t really change – you just have to do more for your buck. Sometimes, a lot more.

If you’re in the business of social media (or web design), this article might ring some uncomfortable home truths. And if you ever started to feel that this industry might be reaching saturation point, this could be an early warning sign.

Consider this. It wasn’t too long ago when building websites was out of reach for all but a few privileged “webmasters” – a term which still amuses me greatly – simply because it was so new and complex, and only a minority had mustered the necessary skills to do the work. Heck, I remember when even registering your own domain required level 5 NSA clearance, arcane runes and the positioning of the moon to be just right.

Then, at a frightening speed, web hosting became cheaper, ISP control panels became friendlier, and software such as Dreamweaver allowed everybody to “have a go”. Cue wave after wave of sites that made us all long for the glorious days of Geocities, but for webmasters, the writing was increasingly on the wall. They had competition. It may not have been justifiable, certainly in a like-for-like sense, but that didn’t make it any less of a reality.

The same was true for the design elements of websites. In days of yore (i.e., 1990), manipulating images with a computer was a painstakingly difficult process. When Photoshop was released that too was a nightmare at first, but it quickly became easier and (vitally) cheaper. And then, just like that, everybody knew somebody who was a “Photoshop master”. Almost every business now employed their own designer, and even that didn’t matter, as every client had a nephew who was both an “expert” and would “do it for free”. Or near enough.

It was rubbish, of course, but the client believed it. It’s amazing how many decision makers are still, to this day, frighteningly naive when it comes to technology, particularly in the ramifications of low-balling their business. But cheap is cheap. So, the client dumped the agency, hired the nephew, and went ahead and got their website. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred that website stank to high heaven, and the client saw no traffic, let alone new business.