When launching a social media strategy, it’s critical to choose the right team members. Like most things in business, your results will be in direct correlation to the intelligence, skills and commitment put forth by those doing the work. Because social media is relatively new to many companies, however, I find that 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’re cheap, digital natives and perceived as having time to do the work.
• Other young staff members because they, too, “grew up with” social media
• The person with the latest gadgets and tech tools, because technology adoption is often equated with a special understanding of social media
• IT because “they get technology”
• Someone with 1,000 Facebook friends of his or her own because if he or she made it work, he or she can do the same for a business, right?
Now, not all the people who fit this description are unfit to lead 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 judgment, and good judgment often comes with experience. How many interns and other young 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 techie 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 business’s 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? Assuming that implementing your strategy is best done in house — and there’s no guarantee it is, as I’ll explain later — here are the primary questions you should ask:
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.
You’ll notice that there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned: skill or expertise in using social media itself. While I think it’s obviously beneficial to find people with experience in using social media platforms on behalf of a business or brand, I believe those skills are tertiary to those listed above. As quickly as social media tools change, platform-specific skills can be perishable.
Also, the ins and outs of using social media tools can be taught very easily — much more easily 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 and a willingness to learn, I’d take the latter every time and invest in the training he or she would need to master the tools.
As I mentioned, there are times when the best decision is to either outsource your social media efforts or join forces with a vendor that can work with your internal team. When should you consider using a vendor, and what should you look for? I’ll discuss that in a future column. In the meantime, take a close look at who’s speaking on behalf of your brand in the social media space, and make sure that they’re in the best position to represent you. There’s no shame in making a change if it’s not working, especially when there’s such a tremendous upside to putting the right people on the job.