James McKey

Symantec’s Social Media Manager for Support and Service James McKey sat down with us to tell us about his career as a big brand social strategist and to take us behind the scenes of long-time member Symantec’s customer-centric culture.

James McKey started as a Computer Science major at Florida State University before he went on to help start an Internet service provider, become a CIO of a small business, and then work in a technical engineering role for Symantec.

“I don’t think it gets much more eclectic than that when it comes to tech roles,” James explains.

His social media journey began in 2009 when he asked to take over the BackUp Exec Twitter account for Symantec.

“I eventually fooled someone into thinking I’d be a good social media strategist for support across our BtoB product portfolio,” he says.

From there, he began building a social strategy for Symantec’s support organization, reaching out to different BtoB products within the company to roll out a social initiative.

James says social strategy is a part of his DNA.

“Mashable shared this infographic of the DNA of a social media strategist, and it spoke to me pretty profoundly. For example, it says you have to be multidisciplinary and able to wear many hats. That fits me to a T,” James explains.

In addition, he says his willingness to take risks and his love of technology is part of the reason he’s moved from job to job and landed in a social role. And it’s that love of risk that led him to host a few AMAA (Ask Me Almost Anything) sessions on behalf of Symantec on Reddit.

A big brand hosting an AMAA on Reddit? Sure, it’s intimidating.

“That’s one of those facing your fear exercises,” says James.

Their first AMAA focused on a recently launched Symantec product that the community was having some issues with. James got together with people from different organizations in tech and support from Symantec to field the questions and comments that popped up on Reddit in real time.

James explains, “Upvoting on Reddit brings some of the most common questions people have to the surface. Sometimes humor wins out, but there were a couple things that surprised us that were higher up on our consumers’ priorities. That helped us focus on what to do next.”

“There’s no one space that dominates what’s important and what’s going on in the world,” James says.

To James, everyone’s voice is important regardless of their influence or the platform they’re on.

“I’ve seen on Reddit where someone you’ve never heard of before might say something that hits the right nerve and speaks to fellow customers or fellow citizens, and it sparks like a wildfire. There have been several instances where posts like these go viral. You have to think of every one of those as its own piece of content.”

One of the biggest challenges big brands in social media face is embracing fear.

“There’s always that fear that when you engage with negative feedback it’s only going to encourage it — that more people are going to exploit it and get more attention. But you have to let that go, because there’s been case study after case study about this actually being positive,” James says.

James shared an example of a case study where engaging with negative reviews of books on Amazon actually helped increase those book sales. He says that although sometimes companies have to choose not to engage, people care about how brands handle those difficult interactions.

“It’s not intuitive in the originally taught ‘PR 1.0’ world, where you control the message and the platform and the money to pay for advertising on TV. Especially for this younger generation, it’s becoming less and less relevant.”

Social media strategists need the courage to have an authentic voice and be consistent.

James references the ABC’s of Amber Mac’s Power Friending when he talks about some of the most important traits of a social media strategist: authentic, brave, and consistent. He encourages these qualities as a part of Symantec’s customer-centric social media culture.

He says it’s about understanding the right tone, knowing when to be open, and understanding how to engage publicly. In fact, he hopes to embed that social customer service culture in every support role at Symantec.

Eventually, James says you won’t see a social strategist at all. He says, like email, it will become a part of everyone’s responsibilities.

James laughs, “I realize I’m talking myself out of a long term job here.”

Follow James on Twitter and ask him about his favorite subreddits.


  1. Matt Phillips |

    James is spot on when it comes to engaging with customer’s negative feedback – the untapped potential of social lay in its ability to unearth experiences that lead to negative feedback and use it to fix the potholes for other customers.

  2. Dan Rockwell |

    Love this article.

    The issue of overcoming fear with authenticity and consistency really nails it for me. It’s easy to lose our voice. It’s great to see that people in large organizations see these issues.

  3. James Tatum |

    James mentions lots of varied, prior interdisciplinary experience. I also looked at the DNA infographic linked in this article. It was a good overview of what social media strategists have in common, but I’m wondering exactly what kind of experience makes a good social media manager? Anything from your past that stands out as especially relevant?

    I’m a pretty avid Twitter user and it seems a lot of corporate entities are embracing it, especially to take those opportunities to address negative experiences you mention. I am not a regular on Reddit, however. Is it as active as Twitter? Any other services companies monitor as diligently as Twitter?

    • James McKey |

      Thanks for the questions James, and thanks for taking the time to make such thoughtful comments.

      Q1 & Q2: To be a good social media manager takes experience and comfort in tackling challenges that are new and a bit scary along with a certain integrity for truly caring about the customer perspective. I actually enjoy the fact that customers now have more power and can hold our corporate feet to the flame knowing that at any moment their publicly expressed issue could go viral if we don’t address it in a mature and responsible fashion. I think my experience living overseas among kids of 47 nationalities helped build an empathic nature that translates well to standing up for customers and genuinely wanting to improve our practices so that we resolve their pain points.

      Q3 & Q4: There are definitely lots of complaints about products and services on Reddit but to a lesser degree as compared to Twitter. Twitter is just more easily understood as a single community and the 140 characters forces you to be concise and stick to the point. However, Reddit is where things can really get viral and it’s where I most often see video customer complaints (or happy stories) really take off. I also see lots of smart folks there who often seem to predict the curve of where things are shifting.

      There are some companies monitoring Reddit like we do but definitely not as many. Reddit has niche communities, so if there is one that aligns well with a product (like how 3d printing aligns with Autodesk products) then it absolutely makes sense to get in there and get involved.


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