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In my last post, I claimed you were one employee away from a successful site. I suggested that the employee was an editor-in-chief.
A person who would oversee your online presence, set its direction, implement its roadmap and ensure its quality.
So what makes a great online editor?
I received great feedback on the post. Some suggested that this might actually be multiple roles (which I agree with, if you have the budget), others said that the title of “web manager” or “content manager” might be more appropriate. Again, I cannot disagree with this.
However, one tweet particularly grabbed my attention.
@boagworld completely agree but think there are more hurdles: who makes a good online ed? how do you manage them? how do you hire them? etc— Dan Thomas (@DannyT) December 3, 2012
This raises some interesting questions. It’s easy for me to suggest you need to fill a role like this, it’s much harder to make that happen.
I can’t claim I have all of the answers, because every company faces slightly different challenges. However, I have some suggestions about possible directions.
As I see it, there are three issues here:
- Job description (Who makes a good online editor-in-chief?)
- Reporting (Who does the editor report into and how are they managed?)
- Recruitment (How do you find your perfect candidate?)
Let’s look at each in turn.
The job description
This is not going to be an easy position to fill. As James Carson wrote in the comments of my original post:
I’d say site editors these days really need to be close to expert on SEO, social media and content strategy - which is no mean feat!
James was being generous, keeping the list so short. If you sat down and wrote a wish list of all the experience a candidate should have, you would despair of ever finding somebody.
Instead, lets take a more pragmatic approach. Lets except that the perfect candidate is probably beyond our reach and work with what we have instead.
If you boil down the role to its absolute minimum, you only require the following characteristics:
- Experience managing complex projects. Web projects typically require working with multiple suppliers and many stakeholders. It also involves working with technologies beyond the experience of most people. We need somebody who isn’t intimidated in such a situation. As a result this is not a junior appointment.
- A love for the web. Our candidate doesn’t need to be a web expert, but they do need to be enthusiastic about the web. Ideally you are looking for somebody who is already reading sites like econsultancy.com, who uses the latest social network and isn’t afraid to write a few lines of HTML if required.
- A quick learner. Because of the rapidly changing nature of the web and the steep learning curve they will have to go through once in position, a quick learner is vital. You need somebody with a proven track record of taking on new skills at a fast pace and capable of self-learning.
- Solid editorial and writing skills. You don’t necessarily need somebody from a journalistic background, but they do need to be able to write and edit written material. It is also worth saying that the type of writing skills matters. I would be much more inclined to hire somebody who has been blogging for the last few years, than somebody with a background writing corporate proposals or academic documents.
- Experience managing a team. Whether you have existing web staff or not, it is important that the new editor has experience managing a team. If you have existing web staff (e.g. an in-house developer) these people should report into the web editor. If not, the chances are that over the coming years you will, so our editor will need managerial skills.
I know some of you are cringing in pain at how severely I have pruned the requirements. However, having somebody in post is better than nobody.
I would argue that most of the other skills required can be learnt. There are excellent courses, conferences, tutorials and books to learn everything from content strategy to the effective use of social media.
Also if you have good third party suppliers, they should be supporting and training your new recruit to effectively run the site.
Of course, this means setting aside adequate budget for training. Fortunately this will not be huge, and would be necessary whoever you hired because of the fast pace of online change.
I would like to write more about the kind of person who would make a good editor, but for the sake of brevity lets turn our attention to lines of reporting.
Lines of reporting
The management of online strategy often becomes a hotly contested issue. This is largely because the web does not sit nicely within traditional departmental structures. The web can be as much a customer support tool as a marketing medium. It can be used to recruit staff, but equally could be seen as belonging to the IT department.
Where then should our editor or any other web related staff sit?
As a general rule, I don’t recommend that your web team reports into an existing department. This will skew the nature of the website. For example if the web team reports into marketing it is inevitable that the site will primarily become a marketing tool. Of course if you want the site to be a marketing tool, then go ahead. However, generally it is better to keep them separate.
Who the online editor reports into from an administrative point of view is of less interest to me. That said, from an oversight perspective it makes sense for the role to report into a web steering group made up of all interested parties.
It is important to stress that this is an oversight role, not day-to-day management. This should be a senior enough individual to work largely independently most of the time. However, he or she should be able to demonstrate progress to the steering group and would need their approval for larger expenditure or long term roadmaps.
This arrangement provides the company wide perspective of a steering group, while ensuring that one individual is ultimately responsible.
I am not claiming this arrangement will be easy to setup. I am all too aware that it may require a cultural change in thinking within the organisation. However, I do believe it provides the most effective results.
Now we have a clear idea of the role and how it fits into the organisation, we come to recruiting this individual.
With our cutdown list of criteria for recruiting, it maybe possible to fill this position using your normal recruitment methods.
That said, it is beneficial to take a slightly different approach in order to find somebody with a web background.
Another good place to look for candidates is via social networks. Probably the best of these for this particular position would be LinkedIn, as this allows you to specifically advertise jobs.
You may also wish to consider taking a booth at one of the many web conferences. This is a great place to meet people who are enthusiastic about the web and would have the experience you are looking for.
Finally, do not dismiss recruiting internally. If you have somebody passionate about the web it may well be worth moving them across into this job, even if they are not ideally suited. Most of the skills they will need can be taught and the knowledge they would have of the business will prove invaluable.
I understand that some of my answers to the challenges of recruiting an online editor-in-chief are easier said than done. However, as I conclude in my last post; can you really afford not to face these challenges?
Image credit: Wikipedia