The idea of specialization vs the idea of a more well-rounded approach is a long-running argument in PR and other communications disciplines. is it best to be an all-rounder or to specialize? The answer, most likely, is “Yes.”
One aspect of specialization is organizational, usually represented as silos. I recently got through reading “Marketing in the Round” by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston. The primary importance of this book to me is that it reminds us that no communications function operates – or should operate – in a vacuum, independent of the rest of an organization’s efforts. Alas, most organizations tend to work inside the silos, meaning each specialty or department is often out of sync among the PR, marketing and advertising departments, either duplicating work or sending out mixed – or at least inconsistent – messages. It also means, to social media professionals, that departments are fighting over who owns social, and not letting social media bleed into the overall communications plan, with each department contributing their own expertise.
Another aspect of specialization is the individual’s (and sometimes an organization’s) talent specialization; as much as specialization within social media has proved its importance, the specialization of the players sometimes translates too much into specialization of the game. What do I mean by that? I have observed that so many social media marketers seem to talk about platform over strategy, or over more fundamental skills. In particular, many marketers I come into contact with talk nonstop about Facebook: Facebook ad strategies; Facebook metrics; Facebook Edgerank; Facebook page design. It’s not just Facebook, but that seems to be the prevalent crutch at the moment. What’s troubling is I see whole conversations, agencies, consultancies, perhaps even industries spring up around single platforms. The core skills, I argue, are not “Facebook.” They are communications, writing, design, whatever your specialty is. You had better be able to transfer those skills, as even if Facebook doesn’t collapse at some near-future point as in the wild-eyed Cassandran prognostications, chances are you may be leaving money on the table if you aren’t ready to diversify should the opportunity arise. I suspect most “Facebook specialists have the tools to pivot when needed, but why not just do it – and if they are doing it, why not reflect that better in their own marketing of themselves?
I’m not arguing against specialization. One thing I learned joining Voce Communications (now part of Porter Novelli) nearly three years ago is that specialization is needed to perform properly all the various parts of a larger communications program. And as in “Marketing in the Round,” even if you are responsible for one part – even if you claim that same role over and over – if you don’t have an eye on the bigger picture, including all of communications working together, then you may look up one day to see your specialty has set adrift.