Rubiks cube with social icons

The "Wicked Problem" of Managing Social Media


A former co-worker of mine sent me a picture of a page from the textbook she was reading. We worked at a fairly good-sized (only in programs, not in budget) nonprofit. The passage was about a “wicked problem,” or “a problem of resolving tension between what is needed and what can be done…the process is driven by some desire or need…expressed in the language of what ought to be done; on the other hand, the process … is constrained by resources – what can be done.”

We messaged back and forth in emojis – lamenting and relating to the definition of a wicked problem. This was our story – we certainly had a wicked problem. We were a budget-squeezed nonprofit with membership goals to meet, programs to run and audiences to reach and it was stifled by our inability to manage it all. What we needed was a project management system, new servers, better email, a bigger marketing budget and more warm bodies to get it done. What we had was a small team wearing multiple hats trying to remember, day in and day out, why we loved our nonprofit. And so goes the cycle of a wicked problem.

A New Wicked Problem

Yesterday, I attended the first-ever Social Tools Summit in Boston because now, as a PR and social media manager at The Brandon Agency (TBA), I have a new “wicked pissah” of a problem (I’m a transplanted New Englander and am still in a Boston state of mind). At TBA, we manage many social media clients and we strive everyday to make the agency the leader in what we do – the go-to source for social media marketing for businesses big and small.

We are well on our way, and our clients do see results, but our wicked problem is we get bogged down in the tactical trench of social media marketing – like so many agencies. Our time tends to get tied up in tasks. We’re in need of a way to streamline our processes and be more efficient with data and reporting. If we could minimize the time we spend on “the tasks,” we could maximize our team’s collective input and devote more time to skill development, industry trends and thought-leading content strategies. Our potential is overwhelming! We’ve got the team, the talent, the dedication and the support from our leadership – what we need is the tool to manage the tasks.

The Mission

At the Summit, I set out, with Twitter in-hand, to speed date the best of the best of social media management, monitoring, listening, analytics and data. I’d already spent countless hours (and have the timesheets to prove it – agency life, am I right?) Googling my wicked problem and feverishly signing up for free trials.

Most of the tools seemed perfect at first but along the way, each one left me feeling disappointed and with a growing wish list. During this discovery phase I was banging around on each tool trying to solve my “wicked problem.” My mission for the Summit was to come back with the definitive answer for our team, the one tool to solve it all!

Good Enough

Want to know how to solve a wicked problem?

You don’t!

During my days at the nonprofit, whenever we were discouraged by lack of progress, we’d roll our eyes at our wicked problem and conclude that our resolution, for the here and now, would have to be “good enough.” Good enough was the author’s answer to the wicked problem theory – a problem that can’t ever actually be solved, but one that evolves and is mitigated by good enough solutions.

On the sunrise flight back home from the Summit, I was reflecting on my opportunity to lament with other like minds about our own wicked problems: frustrations with the social network powers that be, the limitations of the current social tool offering, and general collective strife of working in a field that changes faster than a Twitter feed.

I realized something: We need to change our perspective on our wicked problem.

Do we still need a tool that will help us curate, post, monitor, engage, measure … bring us Starbucks? All yes. But what will be good enough? In this evolving world of social media and community management, it’s clear to us that there’s not a one-tool fix, but a good enough toolbox solution to get The Brandon Agency in a better position to maximize our client’s reach, enrich their conversations and increase that ever-elusive ROI.

The top social networks that we use are still being a little snobby when it comes to access under the hood, and now we have a better understanding (and respect) for what these pioneers in social management tools are up against. One great hammer isn’t going to build a house – you need a great set of tools. As TBA moves forward, we will be gathering a set of tools to help us achieve our goals, grow as individuals and as a company, and deliver for our clients because right now, that’s “good enough.”

Here are the tools we will be exploring (or revisiting) further based on our experience at the Social Tools Summit:

Check out the #SocialTools15 thread on Twitter for some great information from top experts.

What about you? What’s your wicked problem and what can be your good enough solution?