The Challenge of the Social Media Executive Recruiter

I’m in a fortunate position that I spend most of my days talking to vendors, buyers, investors, and of course, analysts in the social media industry.

But now, I’m starting to talk to more and more recruiters. Some of it’s due to my career series called “on the move” but mainly because that brands are starting to take this movement seriously.

In my recent Forrester report “How to Staff For Social Computing” I outlined two roles. The social media/computing strategist, and the online community manager, I recently met yet another recruiter (read my findings from the first one) who is focused on bringing forth social media strategists to large brands, and they both have the same problem. Coincidently, he read my reports (I realize they are being passed around, without paying)

Challenges that recruiters are having hiring social media strategists

First of all, finding folks is a challenge, to find an experienced social media strategist is limited to just a few folks. What’s the qualifier? They’ve actually deployed this in an existing company already. I’ve a list that I created a few days ago of Strategists, while it’s going to hit over 100 people this week, there’s very few folks on the strategist list. Talking about it on a blog is far different than having done it and brands want a track record of at least once success.

Secondly, going into a company and making severe cultural changes across multi-departments is a challenge. I know, as I’ve done it, being prepared to be an evangelist, and educator, a teacher, a cheerleader, and a leader is a challenge –esp when the culture may not want to move forward. It’s a challenging position that requires more jockeying than most in order to bring about enterprise change. In most cases, executive support (and funding) will be needed, including arguing teaching old school marketers.

Lastly, consultants are having much more lucrative offers by going off on their own, starting their own shop, or joining a smaller crew. Some can make more money by being independent, and not having to deal with too much internal politics.

Some say we’re in year 3 (depending on how you count) for big companies to start to consider these technologies, as such, finding folks that are qualified, and then being able to attract them to go through the challenges they just finished are well, tough.

For more resources, check out my “on the move” posts (celebrating new hires in the space) and my “careers” section where I share what I’ve learned (I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way) or you can find social media jobs right on my job board. Also see this list of Social Media Strategists, Community Managers, and Product Managers.

I share a lot here on this blog, but desire for you to talk back, please leave a comment on what you’ve experienced when it comes to hiring experience social media strategists.

Lastly, he asked me not to blog about the specific job or brand, although it’s Fortune 1000, why? he’s not confident he’ll get the qualified people, so I’m honoring his request.

31 Replies to “The Challenge of the Social Media Executive Recruiter”

  1. Amanda,
    Having been an outsider hired in for the exact purpose of being a social media strategist, I might have a slightly different perspective.

    Yes there were and are several people inside of HP that could do the job I was hired to do. But more often than not one of the biggest reasons a company hires from the outside is because they are looking for someone to be a *change agent*. Someone who doesn’t drink the corporate Kool-Aid and can bring a fresh perspective.

  2. If you’re hunting social media people, you need to start living in their habitat! It’s not like most of them don’t run a blog/twitter account etc to help you find them!

    And in all seriousness, I totally agree with Amanda. I’m willing to bet that somewhere within their company, there’s someone already doing things with social media, and that person already understands their company values and proposition etc.

    I’m lucky in that someone in my company had heard about me and seen what I was doing with social media both within my previous role, and independently, and was brave enough to give me a chance. And having worked within the company gave me a huge insight into the challenges I faced to evangelise social media to colleagues and consumers.

    Having read your definition, I probably qualify as much as a social media strategist as a community manager, if not more. But at this stage of the game, even having someone dedicated to social media, and then deciding on a title, is far from standard – let alone using it to decide employment.

    And if you’re really struggling, keeping it a mystery appointment probably isn’t going to help anyone!

  3. This is either a problem or an opportunity (or both).

    For all the evangelizing about social media coming to large companies, you raise a basic point: just who is going to do it.

    You’ve got a spot-on point. There probably are employees well-versed in social media on their own time but might be blocked (walled) in their cubes at work. Increasingly, large companies are going to have to enable passionate employees to champion the good stuff.

    Does this raise an even larger issue: do large companies really have a long-term future in the Long Tail? It seems that one of the key advantages of social media is that it enhances the power of smaller groups to collaborate as effectively (or more so) than large airships.

    I’m not saying social media doesn’t work for large companies. It can (and does for some so far). It’s just that the Dip for large companies to effectively implant social media into their cultures is a LOT steeper than for smaller companies.

    Aside from the trailblazers like yourself and the 100+ others who have “been there done that”, there’s really no formal “school” for social media. It’s not rocket engineering, but it does require savvy, passion, business acumen, evangelistic excellence, educating, risk-taking, etc.

    Perhaps what is really needed more than specific individuals to recruit and place at businesses is in-house recruiting, training and leading of employees. This would probably have to be led by outsiders with experience who could infect the nucleus of the culture. Someone who could add Vitamin-fortified Kool Aid I guess.

    One advantage of implementing social media: it can be fun (even addictive). Once people “see it” or “get it”, they’re turned on; and turned on people ignite others, spreading their infectious meme.

    So maybe recruiters need to focus on leaders, enticing them with the chance to really shake things up and make a remarkable difference in businesses that are falling behind Moore’s curve.

    I can’t mention names (but it’s a Titan in the financial industry). Today a friend who works there said he overhead a senior manager say this (paraphrasing):

    “What is the biggest barrier to us adopting social media? Us. It’s us.”

    Furthermore, he mentioned that social media (e.g. blogging) really takes a learning curve to acquire the skills needed for successful implementation.


    My question for you Jeremiah (maybe a post topic for you):

    How *scalable* is social media? (and: what’s the curve of cost versus scalability look like?)

    Thanks for your post. It gives us little schmucks way down the tail a chance to participate. That’s no small thing (you aught to be proud for that alone). Enjoy your day! Ciao!

  4. I’ve seen this concern grow from corporations and from clients- the need to integrate social marketing without knowing how or where to go. It’s an interesting post Jeremiah, in that now they know what they want, but where to find it? I also wonder at how online marketers are jumping on this with little technical skill or know-how. Not that you need technical chops, essentially, but that you can really lead a company astray if you haven’t- as you said- done it before.

  5. It’s hard enough to find people to *talk to* about social media and online marketing – never mind finding people to hire! (and yay for the great people I do know!)

    I truly sympathize with recruiters in this field. It has to be tough work.


  6. Jeremiah, I want to thank you for the quality of your research and your obvious hard work and integrity. Your role, in part, as a bridge between those of us exploring and pioneering this rapidly evolving and unusual planet and those organizations wanting to join in the ‘fun’, is invaluable.


  7. Recruiters,
    I™d like to give a perspective from someone searching for a job within the social media playground.

    Having found job descriptions for Social Media Director, Social Media Manager, Community Manager etc., it™s seems to me that every company has their own idea of how social media can or should play for them. For those who get it, their line of questions resonates their understanding of the medium. Those who don™t have their HR manager read the job description.

    I don™t blame them.

    This is new stuff, how do you interview someone for something that you know you want to be involved with but are not necessarily sure how it works?

    From my interviewing experience, many companies want to play in social media because everyone is doing it they don™t want to be left out. However, this doesn™t mean they understand or fully support it and no matter how good the cheerleader, they may only stare and not really listen. To take a quip from Paul Gillin, it is the job seeker™s duty to make sure any social media efforts are supported from the highest level.

    Many companies are looking for the expert and I am not sure if an expert exists in Social Media “ oh sure I could drop a list of names, Brain Solis, Seth Godin and so on. But to your point “ any self made Social Media expert usually goes solo as they are aware that diving into a corporate atmosphere would most likely bring a lot of red tape.

    The point you make about having some street credit with a successful product under their belt is something that I have run into. Fortunately I do have this but it may not be in the particular niche that the company is looking to build their social media house on. So can the candidate adapt and learn about the company quickly enough? Can the company really find someone within their own niche who would work for them?

    Both parties scratch your head now¦

    In my opinion, I think both company and candidate need to meet half way. If a company has a trained and true VP of Marketing or marketing department they need to be open to learning new things. Likewise the eager candidate should take every initiative to learn from the VP or the company. That to me is a winning combination, much like the Jedi Master and his young Padawan “ oh man, geek level rising!!

    The recruiter feedback you shared is a solid check list that I plan to compare against my list of professional achievements. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Great post and fun topic. I couldn™t agree more with the post, particularly with the second and third points. On the first point, I propose what is really needed are Social Media Leaders. What is the difference? SML = Strategist + Implmentor. While elegant strategy is not easy, that is primarily the sign of a great analyst, and a true leader is required to implement strategy. I’ve seen this first hand in the last great brand revolution – customer experience. So, I’m seeing a lot of same conversations come to the forefront. This is a an exciting time in the social and brand space. Good luck to the companies searching out the next Social Media Leaders!

  9. One of these types contacted me to gauge interest in going to a household-name brand. President was excited about it, etc. And the brand was such that they could do some stuff.

    I thought it was interesting that what they felt the job is about is largely internally focused–getting the corp comm and marketing people to think about social media in their programs. Necessary, but sounds like a political battle more than a social media marketing position.

    While they’re trying to find us, many of us are very cautious about going to them…


  10. I am an independent new media/social media consultant, but I have been looking to settle into a more permanent position as a (fill in the blank) strategist, manager, evangelist- I have heard them all.

    What I have been finding for the most part is what has been stated both in Jeremiah’s post and in the comments: companies are looking for someone, but they might not know EXACTLY what qualities that someone will possess. There is still an element of “is this a fad?” that permeates. So much of what is changing in terms of communications, distribution, content production and dissemination, advertising and marketing requires a whole new way of thinking and operating and, frankly, that is a scary proposition. Smaller companies might be more nimble and able to modify their course rather quickly. Great big ocean liners cannot do a 180-degree turn. As Dan Thornton said above, this is a new field and it will require new ways of searching, both on the employer AND employee side.

    The only time I have gotten really nervous was when I heard that a company was looking for someone with 10+ years social media experience. I felt like saying, “Wait 5 more years and then you will have hundreds of candidates to choose from.” Instead, I just politely moved on…

  11. Phil brings up some good points. And Jim is talking about marketing.

    Internal transformational changes to ready the employees for the future is admirable. I don’t think it’s political – I think it’s offering the tools to the knowledge workers that they want & expect to work with.

  12. Suddenly a whole mess of big, entrenched incumbents have an urge to bring in someone who “gets it” and establish some sort of island in a sea of lameness. I think finding the social media talent is the easy part for the recruiter. There is an abundance f it. The challenge is persuading that talent they can make a difference under the oppressive legacy of a command and control environment. I hope they succeed, but when friends ask me if they should join companies like this, I urge them to examine cultural issues on a fundamental basis.

  13. Hi Jeremiah

    We are doing it in Australia at my company…AMP- a financial services company, under my leadership. I hold 4 portfolios that I use to drive the adoption of these tools, namely company Intranet, Communication, Innovation and Knowledge Managements (I have renamed the latter Collaboration- because thats the behaviour we are looking for)

    We are encouraging employees and leaders initially in the internal space, so that people can experiment there and get comfortable with the subculture of WEb 2.0- its NOT intuitive if you have managed in a different way for 20 years of your career- though its not that hard to pick up. Our intranet and internal collaboration is therefore a kind of baby pool before leaping into the big wide ocean!

    Shel is right but so are others- it has been a command and control environment to date, but there are many factors that come into play. Luckily, through many years of innovation work and a track record inside the company of delivering value, I have earned trust and can take people on this exciting new journey with me. But the journey didnt start the day we created the first blog. It started loooong before that. In 2003 in fact, when I first discovered social networking tools and demonstrated them at internal innovation forums, we started these conversations.

    Then came the IT question- and the emphasis on enterprise strength tools (mama mia…thats a story!) and then the cost, then the implementation, and only then, the deployment and the internal culture transformation.

    I dont think an outside hero can walk in and simply succeed unless all the aforementioned ducks have been lined up.

    But, we are going ahead in leaps and bounds and have just built an internal Facebook style app that in time will marry the social layer to the application layer of our enterprise. Stay tuned!

  14. Jeremiah, I recently interviewed one of the recruiters for Marketing Voices. His name: Matt Raggio and he provides some great insight into what people who are seeking social media and marketing positions should be doing.

  15. @Amanda
    I was already at Cisco and was still offered the Social Media Marketing gig. The difference for me was that I wasn’t just talking the talk but also walking the walk – cliché I know – but that’s what made me stand out and gave people the confidence that I could do it rather than hiring from the outside.

  16. Hi Jeremiah,
    I am involved on the agency side of helping corporations build and extend their “employer brands” into social media for the purpose of recruiting talent into their organizations. The talent is across the board and not just focussed on Social Media Specialists.

    Companies are not only trying to capitalize on this medium but use the medium itself to tap into the interactive beehives of talent that they are after. As we build and develop global career sites for major Fortune 5’s, we have seen the evolution of what social power has done to these career sites.

    With social media strategies applied correctly, no longer is employer branding confined to within the browser walls of the career site. The conversation, good or bad, is extended into these talent networks. What most of these organizations are in need of is someone who not only lives their company brand, but can strategize immersive ways to connect key PODs (Point of Differentiations)
    about working for their organizations into these networks in an engaging and relevant way. Then step back and guide their participation with it.

    The message is not blasted at demographic masses but rather 2-way conversations with individuals and their networks. Some companies launch overt hard selling “come grow with us” content into very passive job seeking environments like You Tube.

  17. Like LaSandra, I’m happy to report that Cisco is retooling rather than rehiring it’s marketing staff. My team and I were moved from the mature, buttoned-down direct marketing side to help kick-start social media within Corporate Marketing.

    I totally agree, no one has “Social Media Strategist” on their birth certificate. These skills are built somewhere, someplace. And the sensibility of this “build vs. buy” decision is reinforced by Jeremiah’s point; early adoption is as much about evangelism, credibility and integration with ongoing strategies as it is about time spent in Facebook or blogging. I’d lobby that the right internal candidate can more quickly drive the needed cultural changes. Momentum is needed on many fronts to move these efforts along, especially in a larger company.

  18. I have probably read this post 4 times in the past week. Each time, I have started a comment and just been unable to finish it. Why? Because I just can’t believe that there are people looking for social media types saying that there aren’t any of us out here looking for full time work. (Not saying there aren’t, just saying it is HARD to find them.)

    I am a qualified social media/community manager/evangelist geek. I have the background, experience and desire to do good things for a company that makes products I can believe in. I have years of community experience. I am (somewhat) known in the industry. It is even known that I am looking for a full time social media position and that I will re-locate to where the job is.

    Nibbles? A few. Results? “Over qualified”. “We went with someone internal” etc. More common result? No response. Nothing.

    To make it more blatant: If you are looking for a social media expert, we are out here. There are a large group of us looking to do good work. As of yet, it seems that we just can’t seem to find each other.

    Jeremiah, your blog posts help. The fact that Connie Bensen, Connie Reece and Betsy Weber (among others) are watching out for opportunities for me helps. The problem still remains: I have not yet found a way to connect with those looking for someone like me. If I can’t find a way to connect, I am guessing there are many others out there with fewer skills who are even more frustrated in their search efforts.

    My two cents. Take or leave as desired!

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