Analysis & Opinion

Five qualities to demand when hiring a social media professional

May 10, 2011 Seth Simonds

editor’s note:  first published on creativity|emerging media

How do you hire for excellence today in a space that seems to change overnight? As agencies and brands alike continue their mad rush to hire social media savvy talent it can be difficult just to get the right people on both sides of an interview.

To add some clarity to the hiring process, here are five qualities I strongly believe you should look for in a candidate whether they’re entry-level or a manager. You won’t see much discussion as to the number of friends, fans, or followers a candidate should have. This is intentional.

1. Superior Writing

Traditional readers won’t put a book down because of a bad sentence or delete an email because of a typo. The same can’t be said for readers on the social web. If you want your message to be read and inspiring enough to be shared, demand crisp sentences with simple words, bright verbs, and witty turns.

How you assess a candidate’s writing talent is up to you. But if it doesn’t include samples of published web writing, some on-the-spot editing, and a few real-time responses, you’re taking on a big risk.

2. Emotional Intelligence

Given the regularity with which trolls stir up trouble and web-rustic brand managers freak out in response, you should only pursue candidates who can clearly think through the panic around them.

If you’re not good at getting candidates to ramble on about themselves, you can take a quick temperature check by digging into their social media presence. Do they use sarcasm and stir things up in their public-facing commentary? Capture those remarks and ask about them.

3. A Sense of Humor

Apart from being more fun to work with, a candidate with a sense of humor is vital for success on the social web. Make the time to develop a few examples of dry brand messaging and ask the candidate to rework them to be more fun. It’s not foolproof, but this will give you a quick look at how the candidate thinks and what it might be like to work together.

Yes, this will require effort on your part. But getting it out of the way now is a lot easier than spending the next few months telling your poorly-vetted hire to skip the potty jokes in Facebook updates.

4. Content Marketing Savvy

If you want people to see the messages you’re creating, it’s important to have a marketing plan in place that everyone on the team supports. Be wary of candidates who may have content marketing chops but consider themselves “creative writers” such that they’ll balk when asked to write around key phrases or with a certain tone.

If a candidate has succeeded on some level in marketing personal content online, perhaps through an active blog or other writing project, you can safely expect some baseline understanding of how to make a larger presence thrive.

5. An Appetite for Success

The effort needed to successfully launch a social web presence or even just revamp an existing one is mind-blowing to anybody who has never been in the thick of something similar. If a candidate isn’t obsessed with staying in front of the pack and putting in the work to achieve success, you’ll end up with somebody who may do a decent job during the 9–5 hours but who won’t bring anything else to the table.

Find out how the candidate approached workflow on previous projects. Were weekend check-ins a normal part of work? Were hours flexible enough to allow for a few late nights without resentment?

N.B. Make sure whatever salary you offer takes into account the extent of your expectations then demand the best. It’s worth it.

Custom illustration: Mark Dudlik.