Why is it still not uncommon to attend a social media or digital marketing conference and overhear stories about people with little to no significant experience who recently filled new mid-management social media marketing positions?

We laugh at the absurdity, but if firms can’t differentiate between
experts and newbies, how will they differentiate between the value of social media marketing and a hiring mistake when it all goes awry?

Really people, get it together. These types of hiring mistakes were perhaps understandable a year or two ago, but given the daily diet of social media news and articles available on every front, I can’t believe it’s still happening. How can it be that employers who have Google and social media platforms at their fingertips are still getting snowed?

Clearly, some basic hiring tips are in order. You may think I’ve set the bar too low, but I kid you not, people who are not on Facebook or LinkedIn, or with profiles so new they’re not dry yet, are getting hired for these positions. So yes, there are recent hires who don’t meet these criteria who may be earning twice your salary (at least for now).

You don’t want to hire that social media candidate if:

  1. They’re not on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s pretty much a given the employer in such cases knows absolutely nothing about social media. (Really? No teens at home, no former college roommates looking to get in touch, nothing?). If they were on these platforms, they’d know that at a minimum someone who says they’re a social anything should be at least on, never mind active, on several of these platforms. What’s active? Wild guess, but somewhere on the order of say 300 – 500 or more connections, friends, or followers is probably a good indication they’re actively using social media. If they say they have experience, say on Twitter, check if they have an active account.
  2. They’ve never implemented a social media program. Many a clueless, desperate manager has taken credit for the work done by their savvier team and/or agencies.  Learning via managing might work for other activities, but social is not one of them. It’s more akin to learning how to swim. At some point, you have to get in the water and get wet. Visit the social pages/sites they say they created. Are they active, or ghost towns? Setting up a page/site is easy; getting people to join/participate is the hard part.
  3. They’ve mastered the art of self-promotion, but little else. This is perhaps the most common problem. Employers assume someone who has the ability to promote their own blog or Twitter ID, can, by default, also craft social media marketing plans that will benefit the firm’s bottom line. Not necessarily so. They may have an active blog, or many Twitter followers, but you need to press on and find out how much experience they have coordinating larger social media programs with other marketing activity and/or measuring value. Just because they’re naturally good at it doesn’t mean they know how to get your product development team to join them.
  4. Their expertise, limited as it is, is not what you need.  OK, you plan on dumping the entire effort in their laps. But how do you plan to evaluate their work after you hire them? I pays to familiarize yourself with some basics. There are a lot of great books out there:  Idil Cakim’s Implementing Word of Mouth Marketing: Online Strategies to Identify Influencers, Craft Stories, and Draw Customers or Li Evan’s Social Media Marketing: Strategies for Engaging in Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media. You want to understand at least a little about various platforms. Each has different constituencies and supports different activities. Hence you’ll want to ensure their professed social experience matches your firm’s needs. Community managers aren’t necessarily the best choice for social media crisis management, and vice a versa. Someone who only has Facebook experience is probably not the best choice for a B2B firm, and an IT expert who’s deployed a social application may not be the right person to manage your consumer company’s social customer service program.  ‘RTFM’ may make a brief tweet, but it’s hardly what a distressed customer want to hear.
  5. They believe social media activity = strategy. I’ve seen way too many social media strategies and plans, even from large agencies, that are essentially padded ‘to do’ lists. Here’s a hint: if replacing ‘create Facebook fan page’ with ‘mow the lawn, and ‘set up Twitter ID,’ with ‘pick up milk,’ leaves you with a perfectly good list of weekend chores, it’s not a strategy. These activity lists are, in part, the reason you see thousands of fan pages, community sites and blogs with next to no activity. You might ask the interviewee to outline what they might do to achieve x, y, z. Then pay particular attention if they mention how they intend to generate participation. If they skip over that bit, move onto the next candidate. People, not platforms, add value. Knowing how to get them to participate is in part what separates the pros from the amateurs.

Here’s hoping employers do a better job separating the wheat from the chaff in the future, spelling the end of ‘you won’t believe this’ employment
stories at digital marketing conferences.

Photo credit: flickr/derek138