Staffing your social media team: the two critical skills you need to look for

Earlier today, Jay Baer published a post about the “overlooked success quotient” in building a social media community: 

[T]he way to win the game for business isn’t through apps and case studies and metaphor and magic. It’s with social media staffing, populating your online community with a cadre of truly outstanding employees who can inform, entertain, and assist your customers. That means you don’t base your social media staffing plan on who is the least expensive resource (interns) or who “grew up with this stuff” (interns).

It’s not unusual for me to agree with Jay’s thinking, but I believe that putting together a team is one of the most important, most neglected elements of a successful social media strategy. In fact, businesses often look for exactly the wrong skill sets, positions and talents when choosing someone to lead their social media teams. For most companies, the most likely prospects to lead the effort are:

    • Interns, because they–as Jay suggests–they’re cheap, they “grew up with the stuff,” and they have time to do the work.
    • Other young staff members, because they too “grew up with the stuff”
    • The person with the latest gadgets and tech tools, because technology adopting is often equated with a special understanding of social media
    • IT, because “they get this stuff”
    • The person with 1,000 Facebook friends of his or her own, because is they made it work for themselves, they can do the same for a business…right?
Now, not all the people who fit this description are unfit to be on a social media team. But most are. Here’s why:
      • One of the most critical skills a social media team member can have is good judgement–and good judgment often comes with experience. How many interns and other of your youngest team members would you trust to make judgment calls on behalf of your brand?
      • If you remember a time when IT was the primary entity designing websites, you know why the tech geek or the IT staff may not be the best choice to lead your social media efforts. They may be vital to the back-end work needed to get your social media presence up and running, of course, but technology skill is tertiary to the skills that are most important to customer engagement and brand building.
      • Getting 1,000 friends on a personal Facebook page no more qualifies you to lead a businesses social media effort than running five miles qualifies you to be the CEO of Nike. The two require different skills and a willingness to put the brand first, which may not be the first priority of your most popular employee.
So, what should you look for in a social media team member? Here are two questions to ask before considering everything else:

1. Is he or she a good employee? Does he or she show up? Is he or she a good team player? Has he or she consistently demonstrated good judgment and a track record that predicts the likelihood of more good work to follow? These may seem like obvious things to look for–but if they were,  you wouldn’t see nearly as many interns being chosen to lead social media strategies.

2. Is he or she a great communicator? Skill in using social media is all about being skilled as a communicator. Your best writers, speakers and listeners tend to perform best with social media because those are the same skill sets needed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc. As Jay Baer states, “Until companies realize the key to online community success isn’t technology, but rather a culture of caring and skilled labor, social media will never fulfill its true promise.” Only when you look to those with a proven ability to communicate will you make the most of what social media has to offer.

Now I’ll say this: there are exceptions to every rule, of course. I once encouraged a client to have someone from IT lead its social media efforts, for example, because that IT staffer was also a great communicator, and the head of its marketing department was admittedly unfamiliar with the social media world. That said, the ins and out of using social media tools can be taught very easily–much more so than the skills it takes to be reliable and communicate well. If you gave me the choice to hire a technology whiz-kid with no proven record or a Luddite who had done consistently good work and showed tremendous promise as a communicator, I’d take the latter every time, and invest in the training he or she would need to master the tools.

What’s your opinion? What other skills to do you think are most critical to consider when staffing your social media team?
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2 Responses to Staffing your social media team: the two critical skills you need to look for

  1. Rob Henry says:

    I think two very important skills are product knowledge and a strong work ethic, it’s not always the easiest job and people often post things and fail to answer questions (or engage with public) because they lack the knowledge or they post and go off line.

  2. Laurie Lacey says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. I think social media team members should be people who are sensitive, have a knowledge of the business, are polite, have excellent life skills, and are able to show a sincere interest in what customers are saying. Those qualities will go a long way in giving customers a satisfying social media experience with your business.

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