How to Hire Your Social Media Strategist

Though social media is now a legitimate part of the marketing mix, it’s not always readily apparent who should lead a company’s social marketing efforts. Most times, a social-media-savvy employee ends up being the “corporate social strategist,” more or less by default.

But is that the best way to fill such an important role in your organization? That is, when choosing someone to lead the charge on the social media front, would you want someone who is, merely by dint of personal inclination, “good at social media”? Or would you prefer someone who can use social media to achieve business goals?

I would assume that you’d want the latter. The next question, then, is this: How do you ensure that you are picking the right person to get the job done?

In a recent MarketingProfs online seminar, “How to be a Social Media Strategist, Not the Social Help Desk,” analyst Jeremiah Owyang answered that question by offering five suggestions.

1. Hire a business program manager, not a ninja, guru, or maven

Don’t concentrate on the hotshots who are wrapped up in their own sense of grandeur. Instead, when hiring a strategist, “first focus on somebody who actually understands business problems, how to deploy resources, and how to measure their effectiveness,” Owyang suggests.

The definition of a strategist doesn’t have martial-arts connotations. Instead, according to Owyang, a corporate social strategist is “a business decision-maker of the social media programs. She is the champion, and she provides leadership, road map definition, and innovation. She also influences the spending and buying of… technologies in social business, as well as the agencies, vendors, consultants, and research.” The social media strategist directly influences the spending and overall decisions of social business.

The strategist knows that the focus must be on relationships, not technologies, if social media is to work for one’s business. According to Owyang, the old-school way of thinking meant that interaction with customers was transactional, occasional, impersonal, and short term. But a social media strategist understands the passion, constancy, intimacy, and loyalty needed to maintain business-client relationships. (See “Scaling Social Business: How Brands Can Build Their Business Now (and Position for What’s Next in Social Media)” seminar.)

2. Look at the candidate’s background for adopting new technologies

Though the job’s focus isn’t technology, a social media strategist must have an open mind about new technologies.

Owyang suggests considering when the candidates adopted new technologies (Web, email, and digital) and how they helped make those platforms and systems an active part of business.

Anyone can claim to like to learn new technologies, but look at applicants’ actions, not merely their words.

3. Choose someone who is comfortable taking a calculated risk

What you need in a strategist is a person who is both comfortable within the culture of your company and can take a calculated risk. You don’t want “somebody who is there to disrupt the business only, but [somebody who is there] to identify the disruptions and move people in the right direction,” Owyang says.

Why should you want someone who isn’t afraid of taking a few calculated risks? Because risk-taking—stepping outside the comfortable or the routine—is part of growth. And the social media strategist needs the ability to “develop a proactive business program that gets ahead of business and customer requests,” Owyang explains

4. Allow for failure

No one ever succeeded without failing, too. So make room for mistakes… and the possibility to grow because of having made them. “If you’re going to fail, do it so you learn and are constructive,” Owyang says.

It’s important that social media strategists be comfortable with risk, so allow them room to exercise their abilities and imaginations.

For that reason, some companies have adopted a “sandbox covenant.” That is, the company provides a sandbox in which employees can play and experiment, Owyang explains. Executives can tell their people, “You can build things [here], and [they] can break, but here are the parameters of how big that sandbox is.”

5. Compensate your strategist well

Qualified people are in short supply for this relatively new position. Note that the job title is usually at the director or vice-president level.

“Make sure that you do pay them at the top of the pay grade,” Owyang advises, “because this job is in high demand.”

(To learn more about the role of a social media strategist, visit the online seminar titled “How to be a Social Media Strategist, Not the Social Help Desk,” presented by Jeremiah Owyang. PRO members can view the on-demand 90-minute seminar for free; basic members pay just $129.)

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