There’s a bigger conversation going on. More important than memes, and more significant than engagement. In our roles as digital communicators we get pulled into a lot of conversations that seem to be critical in the moment, and the best of us have the ability to pull back from those and look at what we’re really doing. We’re not just out there replying to happy/angry guests, or creating content that make people smile. We do those things, but more than that, we’re the eyes, ears, and voice of the organizations that we represent to the world.

That bigger conversation that’s happening? Right now it’s about feminism and #MeToo. It’s about #BlackLivesMatter and equal opportunity. It’s also about gun rights, and gun violence. Last year it was a bit different, and next year the topics will shift slightly, and what’s essential is being aware that every time that we post, every reply that we write, and all of the ads that we create, they are going out into that very same social media newsfeed where those much more important conversations are happening.

So what?

Does that mean that the ambitious social media manager’s role is to seek those conversations out and jump on them with some clever real-time marketing, score engagement points, and maybe a write up in Mashable?

Hell no.

When we’re at our best, when we’re serving our organization in absolutely the best way possible, we are not the ones with all of the answers. That goes against everything that the social media types have been telling us for years, but it’s the truth. Our roles are to communicate on behalf of the brand, which by its very nature means that we are two-way conduits, passing information both back and forth from the public outside the organization, to the leadership inside.

That means that we have a responsibility to both sides of those conversations. To our companies we owe context. We are the ones out there, in the feeds, seeing the conversation, os our teams are relying on us to be their oracle into the online world. Without our voices at the table, they risk coming off as out of touch at best, or accidentally offensive in especially unfortunate cases.

To our followers, and everyone who sees our content, we owe relevance. The fact that we get to appear in people’s newsfeeds is a privilege, even if we paid to push our ads in there, and the way that we don’t mess that up is by pushing out messages that are aware of what’s around them.

Notice that I am very clearly not advocating that your company take a political stand. I’m not telling you that it shouldn’t either. What is clear is that the conversation that’s going on around all of us is so much more nuanced and important than can be pitched in a deck, or mocked up in a sample content plan, that our roles are becoming increasingly more critical to the organization.

We are the direct link between the logo and the world. Yet some organizations are still relegating that responsibility to the side of an entry level employee’s desk. That Junior person, no matter how well-meaning or brilliant, can’t possibly have access to the kinds of information that will allow for meaningfully accurate communications. What she can do is be honest with her leadership.

Let’s take Johnnie Walker, for example:

They redesigned their iconic Black Label whiskey in honour of Women’s History Month in order to make their beverage more “accessible” to the female market.

Jane Walker

A positive hat-tip, sure, and I’m confident that it sounded great in the board room, but what may not have been considered was the fact that a lot of the conversation online is about organizations offering equitable roles and fair pay, and the access to opportunity for qualified women. None of the conversation was advocating for more female figures selling bottles of booze.

So what could the social manager have done about it? She/he could (and may well have) voiced that campaigns that address human rights issues require substance, and that the internet will always dig in to find the truth behind the ads. The social media manager may have suggested a content series that celebrated the fact that many of the world’s best cocktail bartenders are women, or the fact that there are 12 female master blenders within the company already.

What they missed was the opportunity to make the campaign substantial, to make it about more than a bit of art on a bottle and an effort to get more women drinking; they missed a chance to contribute to the conversation. And that’s the role that a great social media manager can play.

I use Johnnie Walker here out of respect — they’re one of my favourite advertisers, and I don’t fully condemn the campaign. It had some merits, but just missed out on the context bit.

I’m sure that we can all quickly pull up examples of much more egregious campaigns, or rogue tweets, that crossed the line into tone deaf. What’s important is not just to sidestep the tragic moments, but to weave our digital communications deeply into our organizations, so that the real life experience, the social media communication, the traditional advertising message, and the core philosophy of the company are all one and the same.

That’s where the social media manager’s true worth shows up and, as the lines between online and offline continue to blur, it’s where that well-connected leader becomes more valuable than ever.