4 skills brands *should* be seeking in their social media talent

2010 was the year when every brand hired a social media specialist. OK, maybe not *every* brand–but we saw a significant uptick in hiring in the social media space in the last year. Just look at Jeremiah Owyang’s People on the Move in the Social Business Industry list for proof.

But, as organizations have hired these folks have they really looked for the right skill sets and talent?

We know larger organizations have struggled with this concept in the past (remember Best Buy crowdsourcing one of its social media jobs a while back?). And, while bigger brands have certainly got a lot smarter about what to look for in social media talent over the last year, I think midsized and smaller organizations still struggle with identifying the skills and talent they need to be successful online (in fact, I’ve seen it first hand a few times this past year).

So, I thought we’d give those organizations some help today by talking about the skill sets these companies should be looking for–instead of the ones they are looking for.

Let’s start with these four:

* Instead of looking for specific Twitter follower numbers or blog stats, seek candidates with a real understanding of how social and online analytics work–and how that translates into action for brands. Instead of worrying about what kind of personal following the person has, shouldn’t there be more focus on finding out if your candidates really understand social and online analytics? And, more importantly, can they take those analytics an translate them into real, viable action steps for brands? That’s the gold many organizations and agencies are looking for right now. My friend, Elizabeth Sosnow tends to agree with me in this guest post from last year.

* Instead of looking for community management experience–seek candidates with journalism and storytelling skills. Sure, community management skills and experience are important, but I’m not willing to put it above storytelling skills in the larger scope of what I’m looking for if I’m a brand right now. Think about it. What’s the one consistent area where most brands fall short when it comes to interaction online? Content, right? Real, compelling content. You’re not typically going to find that skill in a traditional community manager. But,  you will find it in those with journalism backgrounds. They know how to write. They know how to tell a story. And, maybe more importantly, they can write those stories quickly. Remember, speed is critical on the social Web.

* Instead of looking for experience in a specific industry, seek candidates who have a general openness to experimenting and failing. During my time in the health care field, I was consistently surprised by the weight hiring managers put on getting candidates with “health care experience.” I always tended to think we needed folks with different industry experience. That would have brought a whole different mindset to the table. In general, I think “industry-specific experience” is overrated–across the board. My theory: If someone has the skills critical to do the job at hand, I can teach them about an industry. But, it’s tougher to coach up those key skills. Same holds true with social jobs. I’d be more apt to focus on finding someone who’s open to experimenting and failing. With the test-and-tweak method with which many smart people approach the social web these days, that kind of mindset in candidates is absolutely critical. You get a candidate with strong industry experience, but someone who’s a linear and traditional thinker, they’re probably going to fall flat (or run crying) within six months. Do you want that outcome?

* Instead of looking for hardcore HTML or coding skills, seek candidates with a deep understanding of how to interact and talk with programmers and an ability to translate that to the client side. One of the softer skills that few talk about in the social business is the ability to play translator. I’m of the opinion that to succeed in the social industry, you don’t have to be a complete geek. You don’t have to know HTML inside out. Don’t need to know the inner workings of APIs. Or even FMBL, for that matter. But, you do need to know how to talk to those who do know about this stuff. You need to know the basic language they use. You need to know how to give these programmers what they need to do their job–and know how to get what you need to give to the client. It’s that ability to take what you learn from the technology experts and translate it into language the client will understand–that’s the skill set brands need. And, it’s very hard to find.

So, those are my four. What do you think? Am I off-base? What would you add to this list?

Note: Photo courtesy of mringlein via FlickR Creative Commons.

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18 comments on “4 skills brands *should* be seeking in their social media talent

  1. Jon Buscall says:

    Some great suggestions here. I think I’d also add “an openness to experiment”. As the emphasis is increasingly on quality content I’d want my hire to be able to learn new skills like podcasting, video production as well and implement them into a whole portfolio of social communications channels.

    First rate writing skills are also a must!

    As an aside point, how do you feel about age. Here in Sweden there’s a strong tendency to hire young female interns for this kind of work. I personally don’t think age should be an issue but I can see how someone more comfortable on, say, video is going to work better and not all balding 40 somethings would want to do that!

  2. Not off base at all Arik! That last 2 points are really key to building a well balanced team. The last two points are DNA things. Especially the last point about talking with developers and tech types. All persons need to have the ability to weave the tech and process together, so the solution or innovation can get done together. Without this most initiatives will fail or miss the market.

    I have seen as a Business Analyst the last point play out in wrong ways a lot. People putting up walls about job description and not work at hand. Then throwing things over those said walls saying “I only worry about the process not tech stuff” Uh, really? Fail! I also see it on the other side too with the tech folks in statements like this “Hey why are you designing screens that is my job” Uh, really? Fail!

    I really like the industry specific point a lot. I feel the same exact way. I often have this discussion with my wife and telling her that her leadership, decision making ability, mentoring, building great teams, building and implement awesome operations and over all getting things done effectively and efficiently is transferrable across many industries. So it is nice to know others feel the same way and I am going to show her this post!

    Now the two groups you have to get to start thinking this way are the people hiring people and people deciding who gets in the door to get hired. They are the gatekeepers of who is included in the pool to be hired from and I have a feeling your point #3 does not cast a wide enough net. The hope is social recruiting could improve #3. Being that they would see job description, know the team, understand the problem to be solved and say “I know 3 people I am going to encourage to apply for this job” Now since they have been involved across several social communities the folks they are considering may not be industry specific, but more DNA specific.

    One thing I may add to this is understanding “Book Smarts vs Street Smarts” This might be a bolt on to the analytics in point #1. There is one thing reading a bunch of mashable, techcrunch, readwriteweb, HBR, social media today, and blogs from influencers and actually participating yourself. The social world is ever changing, organic, and ambiguous. Because of that I would definitely look at their Google Profile (the profile that is pulled up when I google you) to see their activity and participation. That says way more about a person than followers, friends and connections.

    Question for you Arik have you suggested these 4 points to clients? If so what was their reaction? Sorry so blabby….

  3. Annie says:

    Hi Arik, another skill brands should look for is someone who knows how to INTEGRATE social media into an overall branded campaign. Try to find someone who has a broad experience and background in working across all mediums so that social media truly becomes an integral part of an overall brand experience for the end audience.

  4. Tom Martin says:

    Good starting point Arik,

    I’d add look for people who connect the dots in new and interesting ways. Folks that think of new solutions to old problems (even if they don’t work). As “me too’ism” approaches to SocMe efforts continue to create more noise and less signal in the space, consumers will come to appreciate and reward creativity at an ever increasing pace (IMHO).


  5. Great ideas, Arik. I’m curious – what are your thoughts on years experience? Do you think candidates should have a certain amount of years on them to take these jobs? It’s hard to gauge solid SM experience since it hasn’t been around too long. I did a post not too long ago about companies asking for too much experience: http://deannaferrari.com/2010/08/24/social-media-managers-are-companies-asking-for-too-much-experience-in-job-descriptions/

  6. Bridget Jewell says:

    Arik – what a great post! One thing I would add to this list is being able to think outside the box. Often times being able to reach your target public means coming up with a new and creative approach.

  7. Arik Hanson says:

    I’ve seen job posts where the org is asking for 8+ years digital experience. Now, you could see “digital” as Web/interactive experience (which is what I think they’re getting at), but with a rapidly evolving field like this, I think that’s a tough one. That’s the rub though: There is no one ideal background for this type of job right now. Is it a PR background? Marketing? Interactive? I think it’s more of a skill search–not an experience search which is why companies struggle a bit.

  8. Arik Hanson says:

    Kinda what Bridget is saying below. At the end of the day, brands pay for ideas. Period. No question that extends to social media.

  9. Arik Hanson says:

    That’s the trick though. Do you look for a generalist or a specialist? I’m not sure I want a generalist handling social efforts for my brand. Of course, that sounds self-serving coming from me, but I think it’s a more specialized niche. You need to understand the nuances. Agree?

  10. Arik Hanson says:

    Google is the resume of the “social media practitioner.” I’ve felt that way for a while. What Google says about you speaks volumes. As to your question, I haven’t…yet. I do have a couple clients that will most likely be looking for help in hiring a full-time social media specialist down the road, so we will undoubtedly have this conversation. And I agree, that will be the real interesting discussion. Thanks for the input!

  11. Arik Hanson says:

    Again, I think skill set trumps experience and age. That said, I don’t think you want a 22-year-old setting and managing your entire social strategy. I tend to think you need a bit of marketing/PR strategy experience to navigate a bit. You need to understand how the pieces fit together. And you don’t necessarily get that until you’ve had a bit of experience. So, I guess I wouldn’t say there’s an age *requirement*, but I’d certainly lean toward someone with a bit more experience. Of course, it all depends on the job description and the specific needs of the organization (community management vs. strategy, for example).

  12. ms_morgan says:

    This is a great post–as an Account Executive at a strictly social media communications firm, these are a good base of what I feel like we look for in new hires. Very accurate!

  13. Erik Hare says:

    Since I’m constantly looking for a regular job (consulting gets old quickly) I have to say that I have yet to find someone who is heeding this advice – and I wish I could because you described what I bring to the table very well. Believe me, I’ll keep looking for someone who follows your advice!

  14. Arik Hanson says:

    I think agencies are getting there. In fact, some are already thinking this way. It will probably take companies and non-profits a little longer to get there, but I think this year you’ll see more people adopt some of this thinking–especially the storytelling skill set.

  15. amymengel says:

    I’m hiring a Community Manager right now and these are all great attributes – I’m hoping the candidate I find will have all of them! Instead of being specific about the number of Twitter followers or blog stats, we asked for someone to have a “demonstrated web presence.” If we Google them, we want to be able to find relevant results that show they’re engaged and communicating via the web — whatever that medium or format might be. And the writing piece it *crucial* for us. The cover note is a huge litmus test for how well we think a person can write.

    I think what you’ve captured is the need to find TALENT first, and then skills. If I can find someone who is a great writer, outgoing, smart, creative, ambitious, etc., then I will gladly take the time to teach them how to use a specific tool or the ins and outs of a given industry.

    (And anyone who’s looking for a cool Community Manager position with a fun start-up in NY’s Capital Region hopefully has those skills that Arik mentioned.)