Interview: Lithium CEO Rob Tarkoff Has Some Advice for Social Media Consultants

4 minute read
Blake Landau avatar

Rob Tarkoff, CEO of Lithium, says he always walks away from prospective companies that have a “Director of Social Media.”

You will never have a Director of Social Media come to me and say ‘Hi Rob, I’m the Director of Social Media and it’s my job to save the company 100 million dollars.'”

I sat down with Rob at the New Media Expo and found his views of this role different than what everyone else was saying -- I think he’s put his finger on what is a band-aid type trend in businesses today.

Tarkoff believes anyone with the “Director of Social Media” title is typically not part of a company that takes a department-wide approach to social media. He said they’re never empowered to make the necessary changes across the company -- he also said his company will not pitch a company if they have a Director of Social Media. That caught my attention.

According to Tarkoff, companies who understand social business would sound more like this, “I’ll build my products differently, I’ll organize my sales products differently, I’ll integrate my technology differently, I’ll market differently, and I’ll speak at these conferences (NMX) differently.”

He said that the shift to social media is still about customer loyalty, customer acquisition, affinity, engagement -- all the things that were important to companies before social technologies surfaced.

In his words, social media is not another channel but a new type of consumer behavior.

Some Words of Advice for Social Media Consultants

The New Media Expo held in Las Vegas at the beginning of January attracts social strategists from across the country. One can’t help but hear the words “social media rockstar” or “guru” over and over in these sessions.


Tarkoff had words of advice for social media consultants positioning their own services. He encourages consultants to think about how they are promoting themselves and believes they would have more success by saying “It’s not just another channel, it’s a new way consumers are interacting, and I’m an expert at this this new type of consumer behavior.”

As with any new industry, the explosion in social business technologies has created a ton of jobs with regard to strategy, training, implementation and more. As the technologies evolve, the messaging around the technologies will also change. Many at the #NMX conference talked about how leadership attitudes need to change as well. Part of that is a different approach to customer service.

Learning Opportunities

Customer Service No Longer Banished to the Basement

According to IDC’s 2013 CMO prediction “Eight out of ten companies will report that most social media initiative growth is taking place outside of marketing.”

If you’ve worked with people on the customer service side of a company, you know they are still often kept on tight budgets with metrics like “quality assurance” or the more antiquated metric “average handle time.”

Lithium helps these executives -- who can tend to have an Oliver Twist “more soup please” mentality -- understand customer communities and how to leverage them to create value.

The joke that we have at Lithium is the marketers are the ones with all the money. Customer care has all the data and transactions. They know what’s happening with the customer base. The marketers want to understand how to use that data to drive outcomes.” According to Tarkoff online communities build a bridge between customer support and marketing. “It helps the care people show the value of online networks not just for call deflection but for loyalty and enhanced relationships which is what marketers care about,” he said.

Marketers also care about influencers and advocates, something that came up frequently during the New Media Expo.

Playing Favorites

Tarkoff and I talked about whether or not influencers should be treated differently on social channels. I asked him if he thought it was a case of “mom said no, go ask dad.” That means a customer contacts the call center only to get an IVR (interactive voice response) or unfavorable answer. The customer then proceeds to complain on twitter, Facebook and other social networks until they get the answer they want.

He said that he felt it wasn't smart for companies to treat all customers the same.

The background of the company is based on rank and reputation. Different people have different statuses. That is the theory of Lithium. The sooner companies accept that the quicker they will thrive. It doesn't make business sense. The egalitarian approach is nice on a personal level, but it doesn't make business sense.”

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more by Blake? Check out Steve Faktor on Finding Fulfillment in the Digital Workplace

About the author

Blake Landau

Blake Landau is a blogger, speaker and consultant at Artemis. She’s worked with brands such as Verizon Wireless on social media, branding, public relations and marketing.

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