Does Your Social Media Candidate Have the Skills?

Whenever someone says “this guy is really good at social media”, I think “how would you know?” Is it that they know more than you? Don’t a lot of people Doctors know more than I do, but it doesn’t mean they’re taking good care of me. Is it that they’ve worked for some major brands? Then why aren’t they still there? We see lots of people who’ve worked for major brands who aren’t very good at the work; they’re good at dazzling us. They’re good at floating their resume, name-dropping, and proclaiming their skills. They might even be good at social media. But are they GOOD at the things you really need? Are they good at social media in the WAY you need?

Know Before You Bring Them On

Of course, you can go by the numbers. But most social media people prove their worth by getting a bunch of likes and follows. In other words, raw numbers that FEEL good. But those numbers may not be the ones you need. They may not yield ROI. They may not be adequate support of your mission. So how do you know, BEFORE you bring someone on?

One way to gauge their skills in advance is asking them to explain how they’ve implemented each of the basic types of social media activity. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s broader than the conversation most people have before bringing on a specialist.

Ask How They Intend to Handle These

The following is a bullet list of the basic types of social media activity. Don’t explain what each one is to the candidate. Ask them what kinds of things they’ve done in each of these categories in the past. Ask them to be specific. If many of the answers sound similar, and they’re bleeding one thing into another as synonymous, that lack of distinction should give you pause.

Audience Growth

Audience growth is a set of deliberate measures for increasing not only the size, but the VALUE of your audience, and maintaining a positive attitude toward your brand.

  • Influencer Marketing: this is a constellation of tactics for specifically recruiting influencers into your audience, and activating them to champion your brand.
  • Community Management: this is a wide range of activities that maintain the social connections you built, and deepen them so that the value improves over time.
  • Strategic Follows/Unfollows: one great follower beats ten useless ones—this is a set of tactics for accruing high-value followers and replacing the dross.

Social Content

Social content is a constellation of tactics for increasing audience engagement, associating your brand with certain concepts, and creating an expectation of value around it.

  • Campaign Implementation: most social content is random (e.g. famous quotes). Social campaigns match specific audience segments with consistently revisited value propositions, and custom content is created to implement those campaigns over time.
  • Social Storytelling: monologues aren’t human enough for social. A documentarian approach nurtures the audience with frequent “inside look” content from your brand.
  • Audience Response Research: this is about continually compiling insights on what your audience is giving a “hell yeah” to, so you can improve all content output.
  • Social Advertising: this is putting cash behind the portion of your content that gets an audience “hell yeah”. The goal is to get it out of your echo chamber and in front of more eyeballs. Social advertising can also include promotions in lots of formats (e.g. coupons and contests), but those are flash. The substance is managing demographic profiles, bidding strategically on clicks, and creating click-worthy ad content.
  • Strategic Curation: most curation is accidental “I saw this article today”. Strategic curation researches and finds content your audience loves, but that’s rare enough they’re not likely to be getting it from other sharers.

For Your Sales Team

Social Selling *

Social selling is an array of activities that work TOGETHER, aimed at nurturing prospects and cultivating leads.

* This is for the SALES TEAM, not the MARKETING TEAM, and therefore is NOT something you generally engage a social media specialist for. Properly, social selling is the purview of ANYONE at the company who is involved in sales. That could be each of the individuals on the sales team, or it could be everyone in the organization.

  • Thought Leadership: outreach without standing for something expends a LOT of activity to get you a relatively LOW volume of leads, which are generally frenetic (not very committed) and are based merely on the happenstance of the moment. It’s fishing. Thought leadership is a set of activities based on taking a position and communicating it consistently over time in the form of content, without a pitch attached.
  • Group/Community Participation: this is involvement in defined social groups within a social media platform; it is incredibly powerful when executed in an authentic, consistent, non-creepy way over the long term; it’s not very effective when disingenuous or cheesy.
  • Trigger Research: this is a set of tactics focused on timing—researching changes occurring in companies and with individuals that indicate an optimal time to reach out, and then doing so with explicit information about the change.
  • Direct Outreach: this is directly contacting people with a proposition. Done poorly, it sounds like a sales flyer, one of many they get every day. With excellence, it feels like there’s time to cultivate the relationship; it’s a “how about coffee” rather than a “lets’ sleep together”.
  • Influencer Outreach: this is a version of direct outreach that’s aimed at cultivating influential connections, and increasing the influence level of one’s peers, rather than specifically selling them in any given moment.
  • Profile Management: most profiles either sound braggy or like you’re applying for your own job. They aren’t compelling. They aren’t interesting. They aren’t great content. This is about making profiles fun, inspiring, and fascinating so that, when someone looks, they’re WANT to get to know you.

There are all kinds of other activities you can do in social media, but most are flash, not substance. They’re either EXAMPLES of the above items or pivots off of them. If the core is there—the core skill set, the other stuff is fairly straightforward.

Metrics / Analytics / Data

A lot of data is fluff, too. This is why I don’t require the people I direct to provide their own reports. Most reports shared by specialists are culled to show activity but not strategic value. The value of the specialist is not in providing data. Data should be accessed one level above that. In other words, data should be tied to direction. As Marketing Director for other people’s companies, I provide the aggregate and individual data for all the marketing practice areas. I determine what measures we want that correspond to our actual business goals. I don’t leave it to a specialist to determine what we measure, provide those numbers, and then provide the interpretation for them. That’s not accountability or oversight, and it stymies clear direction.

For social media marketing and social selling, the metrics are different, because those serve two different purposes. The reason I don’t list them here is it depends on WHAT you’re trying to achieve, and what is realistic as a method of getting there. For instance, you might just want LEADS! LEADS! AND MORE LEADS! Sure, OK, but how are you going to get there? Tons of marketing dollars are spent every year by companies trying to get from New York to Arizona without flying over Kansas.

Measuring leads in the first quarter of social media activity is often fruitless. Maybe you spend the first quarter going after audience share, so what you’re measuring is the size and quality of your audience. Maybe in the next two quarters, you’re measuring audience engagement, because what you want is your brand to be recognized and your core values understood. Maybe then, in Q4, when you have audience share, and they know you, you can start cultivating leads.

Social Without Strategy is Stunted

That brings up a key point. Lots of social media specialists market themselves as social media “strategists”. So it feels like the strategy is covered. IT ISN’T. You do want someone that can think strategically, contribute to the strategy, flesh out the strategic endoskeleton. But imagine: you’ve got a social media strategist, email strategist, blog strategist, PR strategist, ad strategist… where is the UNIFIED strategy that has everyone going the same way to achieve the same ultimate outcomes? By all means, hire a social media strategist but that DOESN’T mean social media strategy is really covered, even if social is your ONLY marketing activity. Real strategy starts at the C-level, with a set of business goals, and a deep dive into intelligence about the business and the market. A real strategy can be applied across ALL marketing channels and isn’t a separate, stand-alone approach to one thing like social media.

It’s important to note that this meta-strategy in marketing and sales EVOLVES. It is constantly evolving based on the metrics, analytics, and data coming in. Sure, specialists adjust, but they don’t adjust in concert with each other. They don’t adjust as a team. Or, if they do, they end up all trudging two inches off of true North in a blizzard. By the end of a quarter, they’re all over the place and not really talking. There goes the exchange of meaningful intelligence between their practice areas. That’s where Direction comes in. Directing the team is not bossing them. Experts in these fields don’t need bosses; the value of bosses to any organization is questionable. It’s entirely overrated when the implementer knows more than the boss. What marketing implementers need is not bosses but leaders; someone who can direct the overall course of the team the way a coach does in professional sports. The CEO is the team owner; the COO is the team’s manager; the Marketing Director is the coach that ensures the team is successful. He helps bust barriers, provides support, and ultimately keeps everyone on strategy, and gives OBJECTIVE feedback in the form of data and its meaning. That’s built-in accountability.

Recruiting a Social Media Specialist

I think the best people in social media, as in every field, are independent professionals. That’s because the market is unforgiving. It tests and hones people and casts out the ones that aren’t performing. When there are gluts of mediocrity in the market, as there certainly are with social media specialists, it’s because the culture has evolved more quickly than the market can adjust. It’s the same with coaches–anyone can put out a shingle and call themselves a “coach”. If my generation invented social media, still it was pooh-poohed for fifteen years, so many companies of people our age turn to kids who were born into it. Almost any kid will do if you just want someone who knows more than you do. But knowledge isn’t power; power is power. The market is currently full of people who are socially-savvy (don’t we all get sick of that term) that it will soon spit out into other, more suitable professions.

That said, you’re more likely to hit gold hunting among those who take on multiple clients, and more likely to find fools gold in the W-2 realm. That’s because having lots of different clients, that aren’t YOUR brand, operational at the same time keeps the expert thinking and evolving with the whole market. The longer you go with someone who only does your industry, or only does your company/brand, the farther it gets from being tempered by diversity, even if they came from a diverse background initially. You can’t sell coffee the way you sell computers, but you can’t even sell coffee the way everyone else is selling coffee for very long. Ongoing diversity is key. That’s why we ENCOURAGE people to have lots of other clients, across MULTIPLE industries. If all you’ve got is experience “doing social” for prestigious law firms, I probably wouldn’t recruit you for another law firm’s social media. I’d want you to get some more diverse experience. If you’re only doing one client at a time, I’d prefer someone who has six or twelve.

Maintaining Social Media is Boring

There’s a certain disdain for the human qualities of the audience in hiring someone to merely “maintain” the social presence of a brand. It’s the song and dance of a company who can’t commit to a real marketing budget and doesn’t really value building a long-term audience relationship, whatever it may say to itself in board meetings. Usually, this approach posts the occasional article, thanks the occasional follower, and notifies of the occasional sale. Banality is tedious, and it’s fear that breeds neglect. Perhaps the brand made an initial foray into social and now doesn’t want it to look dead when someone sees, but also isn’t really interested in connecting with people that way. Or it’s that Social never really got taken seriously, which you can usually tie to an executive who doesn’t ‘get’ it and says the word “Twitter” with an eye roll. Twitter isn’t just a megaphone for the President to call out his latest personal enemy. And THAT fear also feeds fear of the medium—fear of what one hasn’t mastered. It’s the same fear, in fact. Ironically the person who hasn’t mastered the medium is usually SURE it isn’t useful. That’s fine; we have to make those decisions for our own companies. But recruiting someone to maintain doesn’t require any of the above skills. It doesn’t require a strategy. Its purpose is to assuage fear, and not to achieve a goal, so bothering to check for the above skills would be pointless.

No Social vs. Mediocre Social

I would just like to inject that when most of us (and I don’t mean those of us in marketing) look at a social “presence” that isn’t present at all—it’s just being “maintained”, we aren’t neutral about it. It’s annoying. It’s contemptuous toward us and, if we don’t know it consciously, we at least know it down deep in the place of all-knowing. Is it better to have NO social media presence than a disdainful one? That’s a devil’s bargain. Would you rather be known for mediocrity or just not be known at all? The world is social, friends. Just as their no going back to boy-runners delivering messages in the street, journeys by stagecoach and steam engine, or an economy based on factory-job commodities, there’s no going back to a culture in which ideas are not democratized. It’s game over for the control-mongers, even if it’ll get really ugly while they’re going down. So ask yourself the question another way; do you want EXCELLENCE in social media, or something else? Because the alternatives are each roughly equivalent.

That’s it. If you want help putting together a real marketing department (that’s only moderately difficult) and leading that department to achieve your goals (that’s the rub), it’s what MadPipe does best. Reach out, and let’s understand what you’re working with, and what you’d like to achieve. Cheers!

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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