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5 tips for hiring the right social media manager

5 tips for hiring the right social media manager Heather Eddy

Marketing managers should know by now that the success of their social media program largely depends on the thoughtful alignment of message and medium. Of course, it's not quite as simple as setting up a Hootsuite dashboard and cruising on conversational auto-pilot. More and more, marketing departments are bringing full-time social media or community managers on board to take the helm as conversation-starters, problem-solvers, and customer supporters, all while navigating the choppy waters of building brand equity across the social web.

But the market is currently saturated with so-called social media experts, so how do you find the right fit for your brand?

Looking for killer talent? For more help finding a job or placing a job listing, check out iMedia's Job Connection.

Here are five straightforward tips for refining the pool of hopeful applicants:

1. Immediately discard all resumes for any "gurus," "evangelists," and especially "ninjas"

An April post on the LinkedIn blog highlighted the recent surge of the term "ninja" among the site's millions of registered users (it seems that the term "guru" has been on the down slope since 2008), with a particular concentration among social media-oriented profiles.

Of course there are people who do have certifiable expertise in the constantly evolving world of social media. But it's more likely that they're out there demonstrating, not advertising their savvy. Qualified candidates are participating on an authentic level rather than racking up thousands of followers; they're creating content rather than cranking out "me-too" posts; and if they do have any ninja moves, it's probably from dodging any references to being a "guru."

A good piece of advice is to "fish where the fish are," meaning within your own network. Look around. Might you already have some lively and articulate contributors in your organization who have social media participation baked into their daily lives? Similarly, you might consider exploring your own (or related) social networks for individuals who are already prolific and vocal brand enthusiasts whose perspective is trusted and respected.

2. Follow the path of their digital footprint

Is your candidate's digital footprint a well-worn path, or is it a tentative toe in the water? While most organizations would benefit from the infusion of youthful energy that a plugged-in member of Generation Y could bring to the table, it's important to assess whether or not your prospective social media manager has real influence and reach in his or her networks.

Has the candidate been blogging on some topic of interest for a steady period of time? Is it apparent that the candidate has actively contributed or participated in meaningful conversations in social forums? Have they presented a consistent (and transparent) persona across all of their social networks? 

Helping to build your brand's social currency is not necessarily a numbers game, as recent research (PDF) has begun to reveal. To find the right person, "connectedness" is key, but quality of their content, networks, and interactions speaks more loudly than quantity, and influential networks aren't built overnight.

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3. How's their social life?

No, we're not talking about last night's party pics on Facebook. Managing a brand's social media presence and participation does, however, require some timeless social skills if you're looking for real return on your engagement. Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, makes an apt analogy of the role to that of a gracious host. Your social media manager will be responsible for setting the tone and creating the ambience of the social "scene" around your brand, all while keeping things running smoothly.

Your candidate's personality and communication style should translate seamlessly into the authentic and personal (read: not marketing-speak) interactions they'll be facilitating online. Being a good listener will mean that your candidate will be an expert at anticipating questions and needs, they'll be adept connectors and introduction-makers, and they'll be tuned into finding the right opportunities to either step in and participate or step back and let the good times roll. Your candidate should be clever, engaging, and thoughtful and always know exactly how to make you seem like the most interesting person at the party.

4. Dollars and sense

Up to this point, your social media program has probably been running on the fumes of your already over-extended marketing manager, who is operating outside of his or her comfort zone. At best, you have an eager intern or two tweeting out the occasional press release. Hiring a dedicated social media manager is a thoughtfully considered investment. How do you plan on measuring its returns to your brand and to your organization?

There are a number of outstanding tools and platforms (Radian6 and Sysomos, to name two top choices) for mining the rich and incredibly valuable brand and customer data that are generated via the social web. Your candidate should be an adept observer and interpreter, perceiving the patterns that will turn the data insights into market intelligence. Your social media manager must be able to develop nimble and actionable responses to the trends within your brand's social network -- tweaking messaging, shifting platform participation, and especially reaching out to the brand's key influencers, ambassadors, and promoters to enlist their collaboration and to reward their loyalty.

5. Look above and beyond marketing experience

So where can you find a candidate with such diverse expertise and well-rounded social skills? Really, what you're looking for is a modern Renaissance person who is comfortable with the shape-shifting, hybridized role of brand strategist, project manager, consumer analyst, and community organizer. While the go-to resume would likely point to marketing experience, you might want to consider candidates whose backgrounds demonstrate a set of skills rather than specific functions.

In addition to outstanding communication and analytical skills, look for individuals whose experience indicates a strong foundation in understanding and interpreting customer's experiences, such as a strategist or planner, or even an experience designer.

You'll need someone who has a track record of bringing the right people together to collaborate on projects and facilitating or moderating group dynamics, like resource managers. You'll especially want an effective, efficient, and on-the-ball multitasker, so an experienced product or project managers could be your ace in the hole.


If you're in the market for a social media manager, remember that an applicant's participation, influence, and communication style are key. This article is by no means a complete list of criteria, but it should point you in the right direction for finding the right candidate. 

Ultimately, you'll do better to find a good cultural fit over someone with more refined social media management experience. Your brand needs a passionate advocate -- someone who really understands your business, who sincerely believes in what you do, and who will embrace opportunities to spread the work and build a network of fellow advocates who'll do the same, inside and outside of your organization.

Heather Eddy is senior interaction designer and community manager for Isobar.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Dom Crincoli

2010, May 27

Good stuff, Heather. Thanks for sharing. Because social media tools are so new prospecting by hiring manager is often skewed toward GenY. But I would argue that a strategic mix of traditional and new media skills--regardless of age-- is also something vitally needed and often overlooked when choosing a social media manager.

Commenter: Linda Roy

2010, May 20

Terrific info in your article. It will help me present my case internally as to why I would make a good Social Media Manager -- you need more than a Twitter account!

Commenter: Heather Eddy

2010, May 20

Harry, thank you for your comment. I mention Gen Y because it seems that a young and uber-plugged in recent grad-type would be an obvious choice for helping a fusty organization get hip to Social Media.
However, if you read closer, what I'm actually suggesting is that it's better to dig a little deeper into skills, passion and experience beyond simply being a so-called "digital native". PR and Marcom are absolutely fertile areas ripe for picking a social media manager.

Joe: I agree. Passion is ultimately what makes for a successful candidate for just about any job.

Commenter: Harry Hallman

2010, May 20

Heather, great points. I was wondering how people felt about the age of the social media manager, whether a vendor or an employee. You mention Gen why, but what about a boomer or a Gen x if they fulfill your criteria?

I also think that people who embrace social media marketing and have a solid background in PR or marketing communications have a lot going for them.

Thank you for your Guru, Ninja comment. I have never liked those terms and always immediately tell those that use those terms about me that I am not a Guru, but rather a student as all of us are.