Monday, December 17, 2012

What to Look for When You’re Hiring Your Social Media Staff.

There’s a lot of social media tools out there, but they all rely on one thing. A human being to use them effectively.

I'm often asked how I go about hiring staff for our agency, and how I find the right person I can trust to run a public presence on behalf of our clients. Hiring the right people is just as important for single brands as it is agencies like ourselves. Here’s my basic hiring criteria to find the right kind of person capable of adopting the wide variety of ‘voice’ and brand standards our clients expect. Naturally there is a training process attached to this, and we create very specific brand voice documents and sample messaging documents to make sure each client is represented correctly, but what do I look for when building a team (an international team at that) to make sure we get the right people for the job? Formal qualifications in social media are starting to appear, but what else does a candidate need?

Who Are We?
First interview question, "What do you know about our company". It's a classic, and if they've not at least got the basics from the website the interview pretty much stops there. It's not rocket science to visit and 'About Us' page. Do not pass go, do not collect salary.

Social Experience
A potential new recruit doesn't have to have worked professionally in social media before, indeed college leavers are of just as much interest to us as we need a broad cross-section of demographics, but one of my first ports of call is their own social media channels. If they have worked with brands before this is obviously a bonus, but I'm just as keen to see how they manage their own Facebook hobby pages, their Twitter account, their LinkedIn profile, and how they control their personal brand on-line? Is everything a channel offers 100% complete? If not, why not? Are they engaging? Are they abreast of the new services the social channels offer?

In addition, from a few minutes looking at someone's social media channels I can tell if they blog, what papers they read, what videos they watch, and a wealth of other data.

Strong Written Language Skills
In social we have to write in a variety of ‘voices’, but it’s exceptionally rare that broken grammar or poor punctuation is part of the brand identity. Start a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’ and it’s the kiss of death for me. Accuracy is important, as is the ability to create simple and concise messaging. For this we use a custom on-line accuracy checking system that requires the individual to create and edit a blog post within a given time. If something like this isn't available we would insist on a written test at interview. Without the required results the hiring process would stop right there.

Can I work with this person? Simply, do we strike a bond at interview and are they ‘client facing’? Could this person, further down the line, perform client training? How do they carry themselves at interview? I'm not looking for a suit and tie or pencil skirt here, but are they presentable and do they have an air of professionalism (and a sense of humour) that would fit the rest of the team? People need a certain professional bearing to be taken seriously in on-line media, especially social which is still (to some) an 'unproven science'.

Reporting and Analytic Experience
Anyone can press a button and generate a report. Indeed, there’s a lot of social media software will do this for you, but that’s no substitute for understanding (at least the basics ) of what those numbers mean, and (more importantly) what they might mean to a client. I normally run a quick visual test with one of our larger accounts. We have an on-line gaming client with over 86,000 Facebook followers, and I usually ask a few simple questions like “How would you find what type of content this clients followers engage with the most?”, or “Can you see who the obvious brand evangelists are?” or “This client is looking to achieve blah, how do you think we would measure that?”. This is run of the mill stuff, and if the candidate has the answers it’s a great start.

Branding and Marketing Knowledge
This is something that can often be reflected in formal qualifications. Many marketing degree twenty-somethings are moving towards social and bringing their university skill-set with them. It’s a good fit. Does this person understand the core concepts of what we do? If I say 'brand personality'  or 'brand traits' I need to know they have a grip of the core concepts. Can they tell me 2 or 3 social (or traditional) campaigns they admire or have found push the right buttons for them (and why)? If I say 'brand pyramid' or 'magic quadrant'  do they know what I mean or stare at me blankly? Obviously, resume experience with other brands is a bonus (but not always essential).

What other activities does this person engage in outside of work? Social needs a broad knowledge of a million and one other subjects, especially in an agency environment. Do they fill in knowledge gaps I don’t have, like football, home decorating, women's fashion, vegan cooking, or hobo wrestling, and do we have clients this would suit? Pro-active interests and a diversity of knowledge is always a bonus. My interest is always piqued if I see people have minor acting, LRP, or table-top RP experience; I've noticed engagement seems to come far more naturally to them.

An individual can be trained in the use of social media tools, and I don’t expect a candidate to know everything (unless they are looking for 'everything' money) right away. Individual social tools can be trained, indeed many have their own video courses and ‘universities’ nowadays and this is less important than the elements above. A driven enough individual can soon pick up the interface skills required for the day-to-day, and to produce basic reports. There’s a million books, white papers, industry blogs and webinars out there.  I encourage new recruits to read, experiment with their own projects, and we have a great learning policy here. A curiosity to learn and a willingness to experiment in their own time is a bonus.

Once you have the talent it's important to foster it, but (for any company) getting the raw recruits is key.