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Hiring A Social Media Manager

I think we can all agree by now that social media is here to stay. As such, the importance of formulating a social media strategy, executing on it, educating and aligning the whole organization, is paramount. This is why your social media manager / director is going to be a crucial hire. Someone asked me on Wednesday night at the SFAMA event: “How do I find someone good to lead social media and community building efforts? What are some success characteristics?” This is a very big question, and one I hear often, so I thought it merited its own blogpost. First of all, let me preface the below by saying that some of the characteristics for success in your field will be particular to you, as well as a lot of the differences will be dictated by whether you are a B2C or a B2B (otherwise known as B2B2C) organization. Based on my observation, however, all successful social media and community people share the following characteristics (although this post skews a bit more to social media management than community management). There are definitely overlaps between social media and community management, but it’s important to realize that they are fairly distinct disciplines. For differences between community management and social media management, check out a post I’ve written, as well as this post by Rachel Happe.

  1. Passion: You may agree or disagree here, but I think the single most important characteristic in any people-facing job is passion. If you are truly passionate, you will easily develop a lot of the other characteristics below, as well as learn competencies. It’s also one of the most difficult characteristics to fake; if you aren’t passionate, people can tell. There are several reasons why passion is paramount. Firstly it’s an all-consuming job, so if you really don’t love it with every fiber of your being, it will be drudgery and you will burn out quicker than you type your next tweet. Secondly, people can tell when you don’t really care, and if you are in the frontlines evangelizing your company, you won’t garner enough credibility in the market. Passion is contagious, and the best sales people are the natural ones. At the same time the toughest sales job you will ever do is on yourself; so if you are truly passionate, committed and knowledgeable, you won’t have trouble influencing others without “selling”.
  2. Domain expertise and credibility: As I mention above, the passionate person with a strong capacity for learning, will learn competencies particular to your company quickly. Therefore, don’t make a mistake of hiring based on a couple of technical skills over the characteristics in this article — those can always be taught. However, you do need to evaluate this person’s professional credibility in the general space you are in. I’d certainly recommend listening to social media conversations to understand who the formidable bloggers, thought and conversation leaders are, and either hire them or rely on their word-of-mouth recommendations. Because this person will be the “face” of your company, you want to make sure they are credible and know what they are talking about. Check out this brief video I created on finding the right people through social media.
  3. Natural Evangelism: Following from above (passion and credibility), your social media / community manager will be an evangelist of your company and  your products. Because this person will represent your company in many ways, ensure that this person’s value system, brand and voice are consistent with your brand and value system.
  4. Service DNA: Because this person is the face of your company, (s)he needs to be infallibly committed to helping people in social channels. Your customers, prospects, partners, analysts, etc. will ask for your help and advice, and you need to be there. In reality, there’s oftentime more than one person can handle, and we’ll talk about building a team a little later. It’s important for this person to realize that customer service is the new marketing, and to be able to instill these values in the rest of the company.
  5. Personal, personable, firm and respectable: Related to the above, your “face” has to be approachable enough for people to want to connect with. This person will be the proverbial “guy/gal you’d love to have a beer (or carrot juice) with”.  At the same time, this person is not a pushover, and knows how to establish boundaries effectively. Being service oriented does not mean that you will entertain foul behavior, or cater to trolls.
  6. Thirsty for knowledge and committed to education: Social tech move at breakneck speed these days; there’s a new social network or product, it seems, daily. As a social media practitioner, you must keep your toolset full of sharp new tools, but also must have enough experience to tell what’s a real trend and what’s a shiny new object that will burn out in 3 months.
  7. Risk tolerance, ability to fail fast: The fast-changing landscape of social technology also necessitates more and faster course-correction. It’s absolutely crucial to commit to social media programs and stay with them long enough to evaluate their success or failure. However, it’s just as important to remain flexible and nimble, allowing to course-correct. Your social media leader must be comfortable with constant change and failing fast, because the faster you fail, the faster you learn and move on to something that works.
  8. Balance of perfectionism with a bias for action: To say that the social media world expects real-time is an obvious statement.  Therefore, your social media leader should have a definite bias for action. While creating quality content is important, it’s equally as important to avoid going into analysis paralysis or get caught in an endless loop of approvals. I am certainly not advocating publishing blogposts without proofreading them; I am simply saying that if perfection means inaction, you should choose action. If you wait on publishing blogpost or tweet, it will indeed be yesterday’s news tomorrow.
  9. Advocate for community and for the company: Your social media leader is in a unique position to be an advocate for both, the company / brand and the community. Although some may think the two goals compete with each other, they really do not. When you are an advocate for the community, you help the company design better products and services. Therefore, you are able to evangelize on behalf of the company more naturally. Providing an excellent and customizable customer experience makes the customer happy, boosting advocacy, loyalty and revenues, and in turn making the company happy.
  10. Strategic: You should hire your social media leader with the expectation that this person will set the strategy for the whole company, ensuring that the right things get done, and that the people inside the company are working together like a well-oiled machine. Strategic, big picture thinking, coupled with the willingness to roll up sleeves and execute, is a must for this position. Either eventually, or from the beginning, this person will be managing other social media and community managers to help execute. Because of its strategic importance, this position will need to provide leadership for senior management as well.
  11. Business savvy: The problem with a lot of self-proclaimed social media “experts” is that they lack a broad-based business education. Ensure that your hire has a general business savvy and understands marketing, sales, operations, P&L, product management, business process and customer support fundamentals. Social media is not a silo, and being able to understand its relationship to other business functions is critical.
  12. Innovative self-starter: Especially if this position is new to company, and because a lot of social efforts are still in uncharted territory, this person can’t wait for directions from the boss. Oftentimes, directions from the boss won’t come at all, because this person will know more about social media than the C-suite. Leading change, being able to build something from nothing, setting and executing strategy, sometimes in the face of internal skepticism, are not easy tasks. Even though it’s important for this person to self-direct, the direction has to be consistent with the overall business’s strategy.

The above is a tall order, and to be frank, there are not too many people who fit the bill. Because it’s a big job that requires a lot of creativity and nerves of steel, you need to ensure that you are providing the right environment for your social media leader to succeed.

  • Support from the C-suite: Many social media initiatives fizzle before they are ever born, because the there’s not enough buy-in from senior management. Make sure that social media is embraced and looked upon as a strategic endeavor, and not just a cost center or a fad. As such, your social media leader needs to also have access to the right decision makers, because cross-functional collaboration is required.
  • Work hours and locations that make sense: The old paradigm of 9-5 is no longer true. Social is on at all times, and many social media people have schedules that are truly erratic. Don’t require your social media people to be in the  office 9-5 (with the exception to face-to-face meetings), but rather give them the flexibility to get the work done at times and in locations that are appropriate for the job. Give your social media people the ability to be creative on their own terms; if they really know what they are doing, they will know what’s best.
  • Feedback tolerance: You have to be open to feedback and willing to listen to the unpleasant. Remember that oftentimes, this person will have a unique insight from the community’s point of view, and you should listen and learn from this feedback, even when it’s uncomforable. The transparency of social media brings a proverbial mirror to your face and exposes more flaws in your organization than otherwise would come to light. And that’s OK. However, it’s not OK to not make changes based on what you learn.
  • Commit to ongoing learning: Like with all other knowledge workers, you need to commit to supporting this person’s ongoing education: with time, as well as money.
  • Empower personal branding: In social media, the distinction between personal and professional is blurry at best. You need to be comfortable with this person’s personal brand and its relationship to the company brand, and give him / her latitude to grow both.
  • Have realistic expectations: More than likely, you will not have an Old Spice type success overnight. Building community and relationships via social media is just like building any other relationship: it’s hard work, daily, and over time. There are no shortcuts, and you need to realize that. While there are certainly tactical things you can do in social media, your investment in it should be similar to your investment in email and phone. After all, social media is a communication channel, and not a broadcast channel.

So what do you think? Did I leave something out that’s important to you? What do you think are some success characteristics? The comments are yours!

Photo credit: moionet