How to hire social media strategists

Klout's a cool tool, but is it the best determinate of a candidate?

Earlier this week my friend  Michelle Tripp, blogger/CD/social media consultant asked how Mullen assesses talent when we hire people to develop strategy, content and online presence for our social media clients.

Specifically, Michelle wondered if we’d starting using tools like Klout to evaluate someone’s online presence, influence, and community engagement, and if not, did we have a formal approach to determining someone’s social media skills?  Apparently, Michelle has clients who are starting to check candidates’ Klout scores before hiring them.

Anyway, the answer is we don’t.

While Klout is a pretty cool tool, and will no doubt evolve,  it appears to emphasize the impact of one’s “push” content on Twitter and Facebook – reach, influence, re-tweeting. But it can’t identify the rest of the qualities – conversation strategy, flexibility, timeliness, and authenticity – that a smart agency or brand should look for in a social strategist.

Obviously there is no magic app or metric to determine whether someone will be good at all the skills you need to them possess: add strategic thinking, creativity, familiarity with tools, writing, blogger relations, and a knack for collaboration to those mentioned above.

Being on Twitter, having a large following, writing a blog, and generating content for one’s self may be a good sign that someone gets how social media, content and distribution work. However, I have met plenty of candidates who were brilliant at promoting themselves and creating a personal brand but would have no clue how to generate ideas for a client.  I’ve also encountered people who were great at knowing how all the platforms worked, but had little or no talent for determining the best way to use them strategically or creatively when challenged with a specific assignment.

Today, everyone in our business should be social. They should have an online presence, a community, and a basic familiarity with the popular platforms. They should know the protocols and acceptable practices for each, embrace virtues such as transparency, and understand how a brand has to behave when it’s earning attention versus buying it. But even that’s not enough.

What we inevitably look for in our social influence group are smart, talented people who have all of those qualities but are then experts at something –strategy, analytics, SEO, blogging, story telling, video content. More importantly we try to make sure they possess a clear sense of how their particular skill contributes to a larger platform or campaign.

Yes we’ve hired social media strategists or practitioners who were early adopters of Twitter and had amassed thousands of followers — people who had Klout, if you will.  But we’ve also recruited people who were masters of technology, tools and SEO techniques. We’ve brought in journalists for their writing and story development skill. We’ve even grabbed participants out of the Ford Fiesta Movement, knowing they could create content across all media. In every case we opted for talent first, then focused on whether they could be essential members of a larger social team.

I guess in the end we don’t care what someone’s Klout score is.  We’re more interested in whether they can have an impact on everyone else they work with and the clients who depend on them.

What about you?  Have any tactics for determining social media prowess and skill?

image by thekenyeung

29 comments
Ron_Hudson
Ron_Hudson

This post echoes a point that has been made by a number of well respected Social Media Practitioners, such as Brian Solis, Maria Reyes-McDavis, Alejandro Reyes, Chris Brogan, and many others. The point I'm referring to is assuming that someone with a larger number of followers on twitter has the social media skills to consult others. It certainly applies to tweeters using software to auto follow and unfollow hundreds of people per day, and as a result they end up with over 50K followers in 3 days. However, they have no real influence because the relationships are very superficial. The driving force behind one's ability to influence an audience is related to the depth of their connection.

One's ability to strategize on behalf of a brand has a multitude of components. The first is understanding the psychological make up of the brand's target audience and how to apply that to the creative so that all campaign objectives are achieved and ROI is handsome. By the way, I also agree with milenaregos comment about finding right person. That's my two cents. Great post, Edward!

milenaregos
milenaregos

Excellent topic and great input from everyone. As social media is fairly new we are all trying to determine what works and where it will go - brands, corporations, social media experts, marketing and communication professionals. Some people have been doing it longer than others, some grasp it easier than others. The main principles however in hiring the right person remain quite traditional in my opinion - integrity, honesty, passion, practice, experience, skills, a desire to learn new things and adapt to change. Then you need to ask for specific skills - social skills being a major one, being able to engage, promoting others, leading by example, marketing and PR knowledge and understanding of how each major platform works. If they "get" it and have been social for a while it will be visible by the size of their network and possibly their Klout score. Yet, I won't hire someone based on a software tool alone. Thanks for the post!

DavidALee
DavidALee

First question to ask someone....define social media. If they start talking twitter and Facebook then they aren't thinking big enough. If they talk communications plan and tools then the potential exists to have a conversation about strategy. You need someone who looks at the tools for what they are...media platforms that are constantly evolving with changing demographics.

mtlb
mtlb

Here’s a brand.

Here’s their current situation/challenge.

Now, take a little time and think of how you would address it/them. (Use social, traditional, whatever.)

In effect, that’s the *software* Jim Mitchem asked about, the one which determines creative problem solving chops, and it's the way I would start the interview process in any agency, regardless of the shop’s focus.

I want to know what someone knows and how they would apply it – not just how they skew their res to fit a particular silo.

So what, they can cite the same 10 social media case studies that 1,000 other people do. The hiring approach needs to be holistic, encompassing *all* of a candidate's being, not just numbers. I’ve seen rookie mistakes on major brands from so-called players in the social space that should have never happened. Ironically, some of them are also people HR uses to compare a candidate’s Klout against.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

This is definitely a topic you could talk about for a long time. Interesting and lots of perspectives. I have to disagree with@Kaitlin to an extent. For me, a person's relationships/network are becoming more and more important when it comes to IDing a social media strategist. That doesn't mean how many followers a person has. But what kind of people do they share ideas with, can they call on, even pitch ideas to? I would absolutely look at that.

Of course, the fundamentals (e.g. writing) are key. And what have they done in the past for clients? "Tell me about a time when you faced a challenging situation with a client," is one of the most cliche interview questions out there. But people keep asking it for a reason.

Agree with Arik on the "special sauce." If the person you're looking to hire doesn't play in the spaces you're asking he/she to engage (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc.) on a client's behalf, then that can be a problem. I love football. Watch it religiously. Play fantasy. But am I qualified to be a football coach? Maybe someday for my son's team if they can't find anyone else. But I've never played. And that means something.

@JGoldsborough

JeffShattuck
JeffShattuck

I'm in no position to hire social media folks, but if I were, I would try to hire at least one person who knew social but also had a good understanding of the business realities of implementing social properly. Far too many times I have seen good ideas die because no one on the client side had the commitment/ability to execute and no one on the agency side could really help. Fact is, social done well requires an investment of both time and money and to succeed you should be able to operationalize an idea well, meaning put it into the machine that needs to run it and change/adjust that machine if necessary. Just me two bits!

P.S. - And no, I would NEVER use software to hire someone!

blogbrevity
blogbrevity

Hello! Great topic. I wrote a post for Odom Lewis, "Who is Qualified to be Your Social Media Strategist?" - http://bit.ly/gcvjq -that specifically addresses hiring for healthcare, pharma

James Sherrett
James Sherrett

The best way I've found to hire a social media strategist is to ask to see their past work. Case studies are gold to find out what they can do, how they work and how they think about their work.

Then talk to their past clients / employers. Connect through mutual connections and see what it was like working with them.

If case studies are gold then recommendations are platinum.

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

I was struck funny by a piece of insight I got regarding a recruiting method used by an agency a few months back. The agency decided to recruit a social media strategist using only twitter. I understood their reasoning. Yet, the decision maker openly criticized applicants who were too “friendly” or “casual” regarding their tweeted responses. He saw it as inappropriate since the applicants knew they were addressing a future employer.

“Ok”, I thought – now here is the director of media strategy and he doesn’t see the fundamental problems here? Admittedly, I didn’t hear about the final outcome – perhaps he changed the approach – but sometimes I think we get too clever for our own good when dealing with shiny new toys.

I’ll bet there is some research somewhere that relates success in business with the ability (often a gut feeling) to recognize talent and hiring the right person. It seems obvious to me but no single score is going to replace the ability of an individual to recognize a good hire. You're dead on right in my opinion.

Jim Mitchem
Jim Mitchem

What's Klout? ;)

It seems like what's going on lately is that the old guard (traditional advertising) is clashing with the new guard (digital networking) and people are looking for an easy way to determine worth, credibility and value. While it would be great if there were an aggregator like this, I don't think there's a simple solution. That said, Klout was pretty savvy in their naming convention. A bit misleading, but savvy.

Can there ever be (just) a software to determine whether a job candidate has the creative problem solving skills and technical and social prowess to put that talent to work? Only the shadow knows.

Janet Aronica
Janet Aronica

If someone is spending all her time building a brand for herself, it is possible she may not be spending enough time listening and *consuming* content versus *creating* content about herself. I think if you are going to be a good strategist creating campaigns for clients you need to be dedicating an awful lot of time reading blogs, books and poking around to get a sense of what is working/not working in social. Quietly thinking, pondering, dreaming and brainstorming...getting creative...getting strategic about where this social media thing can really go isn't necessarily going to catapult you to Twitter fame, at least not very quickly. There are a lot of people with a ton of followers Tweeting a lot but not saying a lot, probably have very high Klout scores and they chatter take up all their time.

I think a lot about Heather Champ, who was the Director of Community for Flickr until recently. She contributed a lot there and as a new Community Manager I look to a lot of what she did in the early days of Flickr to drum up enthusiasm and retention in that community. Famous? No. Twitter followers? Around 3,000... Fewer than you'd expect I think for that position.

Addy Drencheva
Addy Drencheva

Edward, great post on a very important topic.

I agree with Arik that a candidate should not only be fluent in the different platforms and how to use them to align with the client's online and offline strategy, but also should have client consulting skills. And more importantly should be able to gain the trust of his/her clients. Many of the people I know in social media are Millennials, like me, and we do have a hard time gaining the trust of our clients because most of them see us as their children or even grandchildren and think "How am I supposed to trust a kid to represent my brand online?!?!?" I don't have an answer on how to accomplish that. I've had clients say great things about my work but when they see me and realize I just graduated from college they become very hesitant. With that said, the fact that someone is a Millennial doesn't mean that he/she knows everything about different platforms.

There is also a difference if you are hiring a social media strategist for an agency or internally for your brand. In the first case you need someone who is willing to learn everything about each client and be patient, really patient with clients. In the second scenario, you need someone who is passionate about your brand, someone who firmly believes in your brand's values and mission.

Kaitlin Maud
Kaitlin Maud

Great article, Edward.
One point that I struggle with is people judging the legitimacy of a candidate by their social media networks. If someone is already working as a Digital Strategist or Community Manager, it's somewhat unfair to judge their abilities based on their personal accounts. I spend most of my time online representing the clients and communities I work with. When it comes to my personal Twitter account I want to use it as just that- my personal account. I want to tweet about my breakfast and my life and occasionally I will create and share content, but I think the fact that I only have a few hundred followers shouldn't overshadow the thousands I've gained for clients. It would be silly to judge the work of an architect based on their own home, when you need them to design your commercial space. You'd look at what they did for their past clients, not what they do with their personal time.

Kevin Briody
Kevin Briody

Hi Edward,
I absolutely agree, and wrote a related post a week ago (if you'll pardon the shameless plug - http://www.socialmallard.com/socialmedia/do-you-have-to-be-social-in-order-to-do-social/). I hear a lot of people making claims that to be an effective practitioner - client or agency - you need to have some arbitrary laundry list of personal social media accomplishments. X thousand twitter followers, been blogging for Y years, etc.

Your point is dead on - while those *could* be nice indicators that a candidate is active and passionate about social media, they are not necessarily a sign that they have any idea how to do great things for clients. Being an effective promoter of your personal brand is not the same as being an outstanding marketer, strategist, or account manager.

Some of the most talented social media practitioners I know (I'm using that to cover a range of actual jobs) aren't big on their personal brand, haven't amassed large #s of Twitter followers, and so on. But their resume can point to great work with real results doing social where it matters - for their clients or employers.

I'm generally against arbitrary measures used to hire for any job, and I see it far to often in arguments around hiring in the social media space. Thanks for bringing this point up.

Howie G
Howie G

Edward I have yet to find a Social Media Metric Site that is accurate aside from possible reach. Most are garbage in, garbage out. And Klout doesn't automatically update. Your score does not change until you yourself, go to their site, log in, and click to update!

As to the heart of your post, I couldn't really improve your search criteria observations. Because Social is so fractured and will get worse, I think a big picture person who knows how to coordinate the people with knowledge specific would be the key. If they can find the experts for each area needed and steer the overall vision you have close to a winner.

Arik Hanson
Arik Hanson

Funny--I was just thinking about a similar post idea. Basically, the concept of "do you need to be active user of social media tools to be a proficient counselor."

I think I agree with you--short answer: No.

However, I think the special sauce you're looking for as an agency is that special person who is active online--but also has client consulting skills. That's the unique skill set that's probably a little tough to find.

I think there's great power in walking into a client meeting and talking about a particular social idea or strategy and then being able to talk about specific examples that you've seen or participated in (or better yet, CREATED) online to back it up. It's that "practice what you preach" concept--and with clients, it's pretty powerful.

But, as you say, there are all sorts of skill sets agencies need to be looking for. I tend to think multi-media publishers will be HUGE for agencies in the coming years. This is why journalists won't be hurting for work--fast, creative writers who know how to publish in real-time. Those are the people who will be in demand in the months/years ahead.

Thanks for starting the conversation, Edward.

@arikhanson

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