Usage and Experience Doesn’t Equate to Social Expertise

Those who are seeking social media careers need to remember to remember that social media technologies are secondary to meeting business and customer needs.

I’ve been interviewing social media strategists at corporations or their bosses for my upcoming report on social skills needed in brands. I also get emails from hiring managers who are trying to hire folks to develop strategy and manage ongoing social programs at large brands. Lastly, I’ve spoken to social media recruiters who have a very hard time finding qualified candidates. One theme comes across many of these conversations: many candidates are incorrectly positioning themselves.

Here’s three rules that social media candidates must know:

  1. Usage of social media doesn’t equate expertise. Many who want to pursue a career in the white hot social space equate the number of fans, followers, or blog readers as a badge of honor –at times, I do that too. It’s an effective indicator of someone’s ability to use the tools, however it’s not an indicator they were able to use them in a corporate setting to meet customer and business objectives.
  2. Long Term Experience of Social Media doesn’t equate expertise. Many speakers and about pages on blogs like to indicate they were using social technologies for years, to demonstrate they were an early adopter. This can backfire to a hiring manager as the duration doesn’t indicate ability to use these tools in a strategic way. In fact, many of the early, early adopters really aren’t the type that may work well in a corporate environment.
  3. How candidates behave online can make or break the deal. Candidates should recognize that recruiters and hiring managers are looking at how individuals behave online –it factors into the decision on why they may –or may not be contacted. So before you post that blog lambasting another blogger, or somewhat questionable photos in Facebook, or talking about recovering from your hangover on Twitter, remember that hiring managers are analyzing how a candidate will represent their brand.  (Update later in day: I gave the Miami Herald my opinions on this very topic)

Although hiring managers have told me that they do look for ability, experience with social tools, they’re also seeking to find out how candidates have used these tools that align with corporate and customer objectives –not just a fondeling of the latest and greatest tools.  In upcoming posts (and the report itself) I’ll discuss what skills –and positioning is leading to getting hired.   BTW: I’m guilty of breaking rules 1 and 2, and sometimes 3 , so this is a good check to keep all of us focused.

Love to hear from you what else candidates should be considering in their social media positioning.

58 Replies to “Usage and Experience Doesn’t Equate to Social Expertise”

  1. In San Francisco, which is where I live and work, I’m often meeting young marketers who are claiming to be social media experts because they’ve have been the early adopters of social media networks and tools and are able to expertly navigate them with their eyes closed and one arm tied behind their backs. But I often find they don’t understand the 5 objectives I help my clients work toward when trying to achieve true participation in the market conversation. I seem to share these over and over again, but maybe that’s because they’re so relevant so often, especially in using social media tools:
    1) Listening to current customers, prospects, industry experts and other influencers in the market space and internalizing what you hear to improve your business.
    2) Speaking to the overall market conversation with quality, supportive and helpful content that people want to respond to, inquire about and pass on to others.
    3) Caring about what is being said about their products, their company, their competitors and their industry, but even more important, caring about helping their customers and prospects fulfill their wants and needs.
    4) Sharing their experiences”positive and negative”and their insights as they grow their company and evolve their product lines.
    5) Building relationships with market conversation Influencers, Participants and Listeners based on the mutual interest of the consumer problems that need to be solved with product innovation.

  2. Just as someone who uses email might not have the necessary analytical/creative skill-set necessary to be an effective CRM marketer, I agree with your point on social media candidates.

    Another approach to see if one is qualified, is to review current job specs for “social media” jobs.

    If it’s useful, here’s a link to “social media” jobs that have been posted to Twitter today –


  3. Many social media practitioners are quick to criticise organisations and businesses for their slow adoption of social media strategies without considering the organisations culture, objectives, unique business rules or point of view.
    Any argument for social media strategic use has to be in accordance to the organisations world view and their objectives. A social media strategist has to build a business case that goes deeper than asking “what’s the ROI of putting your pants on?” That might work with other social media users and adopters, but will not go down well with a CEO or CMO.
    This requires an understanding of real world organisational structure and workings, and building a strategy based upon business cases, real objectives and measurement.

  4. It also depends on how corporates view the social media space. Whether it creates a space within the corporate siloes or is a part of an integrated media effort that spans offline and online activites. If it is the latter, which is how I think corporates tend to go (being risk averse), then the social media positions would depend more on individuals who can think across media.

  5. This makes me nervous as I am guilty of 1 and 2 and I do give personal stuff sometimes.
    But don’t you think how you use it personally is different than how you advise people to use it for business?

  6. Campbellx

    Don’t be nervous. In addition to providing credentials of usage and experience, you must demonstrate “what I can do for you” to your perspective client or employer. Come up with three examples of how you can use social to meet business needs.

    Regarding number three: It’s perfectly fine to share your personal life; just don’t do it in a way that will reflect on you or your employers negatively.

  7. Whew, we’ve seen this first hand in our recent hiring experiences. After going through the first round of candidates and seeing a serious lack of experience (in making the tools work vs. the experience of using them personally), I blogged about what it takes to work in the social media industry on May 28th:

    A key quote:

    “But you have to understand and like business for business sake. Because Social Media is not all about playing with the latest cool technology, it™s about getting results. No results equals no budget.”

    Interestingly enough, our candidate pool quality increased after this entry. Sometimes in the excitement to get into this industry, candidates forget to think about what the hiring company wants strategically. So before you shoot off that resume and linkedin profile link, put yourself in the employer’s shoes and really think about how you could help the employer.

    And while we did hire a great candidate, we’re always looking to add quality people to our staff in Maryland…


  8. This is one of those “chicken and the egg” discussions that is important to a corporation’s strategy for resourcing their social media effort. If you hire from the outside, the challenge is learning the company culture and understanding the market ecosystem it lives in. If you hire from the inside, the challenge is making sure they have enough knowledge and passion for social media to lead the effort. Culture and fit are ultimately the most important to long-term success with any organization. If an employee is a solid marketer and has a passion for social media, might be best to hire a guide (agency, consultant) from the outside to coach and mentor them. I am a strong believer in this hybrid approach and have seen it succeed. Thanks for the post. Excellent discussion.

  9. Mike Rowland, excellent blog post, I also liked this sentence.

    “Success in Social Media requires a focus on results, thinking strategically and executing tactics that achieve tangible results like additional sales, reduced marketing costs, faster velocity of sales, reduced lead generation costs, reduced support costs, etc.”

    Bert, this post comes to mind: How brands supplement their social media training

  10. Would you think that a good social media strategist would also need to have real life interpersonal PR skills?

  11. This situation is kinda like that with China. Until the old guard dies, we’re stuck out-moded thought and policies. sad fact: as a contributing writer for a recent book on international finance, I guarantee you that it’s no urban myth that China pwnt the US through our debt.

    These same guardians of the interests of corporations and clients that you speak of are the very ones who don’t “get it.” We cannot achieve the potential of SN | SM and a new economy – a new normal #isf09 – with these generals leading us all to Waterloo. They are throttling the baby with it’s own umbilical cord.

    I live for the day when management all have tattoos, and pics of those on their sites.

    And I don’t give a damn about my *bad* reputation.

  12. good article. In my experience, when technology is used as a way to replace relationships, it ends up creating a situation where the person has no social skill, and I think social skills are an integral part of the five points mentioned above by another commenter. You need to know how to relate to people, in order to put social technology good use in business situations, or otherwise.

  13. Very good post indeed. And timely too! I have to say I have been guilty of #1 and #2. I have probably shared some personal thoughts as well.

    In general, though, I do feel that it is important to understand the application of technology in different contexts. Most of the “growing digital” generation may have used social media tools for personal networking and interests but not in the business context.

    The context of business is different and is still entrenched into vertically organized hierarchies. IMHO some understanding of the business, company culture, industry and consumer engagement is required before applying the horizontal open hierarchies of social media.

  14. Very astute post. Using social media “socially” is certainly a different skill set than using it strategically for a business objective.

    One of the interesting angles to making this hire is the exchange/merging of brands that happens. The company is essentially saying “I like your brand, Mr./Mrs. social media user, and I would like it affiliated with my own.” And the candidate is making the same decision – essentially “Do I or do I not want to affiliate my brand with this company.” It’s different than most hires in that most employees are obscured by the brand of the company with few, if any, public facing opportunities. But the SM hires will seek to develop a hybrid of their own image and their new company’s that wil be front and center as a part of their job.

    I am fascinated to see what will happen when the 2 brands de-couple. That is, how does the individual position their own brand after departing the SM team at a specific company? And what then happens to that person’s brand when they join a new team? All very interesting topics right now.

  15. Spot on Jeremiah. Also, long-term, “digital agencies” which do not start conversing with clients about their marketing / PR / advertising objectives, prior to developing and launching social media programs, will struggle and not survive. Communication integration is key. And, it doesn’t need to be explained in big fancy words or new, hip terms. It’s just plain old good common sense…

  16. While reading through this discussion the thought that came to mind is that many companies should look at two positions for social networking strategist. One focused on the customer and company image. The other on behind the firewall tools and how they can keep the company focused on their mission and create synergies when unlikely skill sets combine toward a common goal.

    The external and internal focus are two totally different thought processes and involve people of very different temperaments.

  17. I agree with you 100% on this one, Jeremiah. So many of the “experts” I meet are simply repeating the same social media cliches like “you have to be listening” or “be part of the conversation” without providing any details as to how that applies to a business and their objectives.

  18. How has a strategist of any kind created real business value for a client? Our jobs are to solve business problems, and to help interpret new and emerging technologies, while maintaining sound consultative relationships.

    I would look for a Strategist that understands tools for sure, but can put them to work solving problems first.

  19. Think in-house vs agency and tenured vs new hire. Why outsource a source of competitive advantage? Thinking long run, no one is that much better and no one has it figured out. Invest internally to develop the requisite team and skills. The agency model promotes proliferation of good ideas across competitive lines. Who will be the Southwest Airlines-like case study of social media in 5yrs? People, not technologies, achieve business results. For a marketing organization™s social media group, I break the resources needed into three groups. Marketing, Exec/Strategy and IT. Marketing develops and executes campaigns as they would with any other platform. I™m personally into hiring MBAs from full-time, top-25 programs with 5+yrs of experience at a minimum for this. Smart people can and will learn. Exec/Strategy is responsible for reading the evolution of the market and tools….you either are or aren™t visionary, social media doesn™t change that prerequisite. Just as IT brought you the bandwidth to surf the net and in some cases builds and manages your website™s CMS, they will need to learn, support and build tools.

  20. Brian

    Good point. I actually have noticed that most corporations lean on developing their strategy internally –not outsourcing. Leaning on external strategists makes sense, but no one understands the culture, business objectives and stakeholder needs like someone within the corporation.

  21. This is the equivalent with social relationship. Mastering the sociology theory, and even creating more accurate descriptions of people behaviours and theories does not mean that you yourself are good ad relating with others neither one on one neither groupally

  22. Great post Jeremiah, and probably a timely one with all the ongoing attention on social media marketing. My personal take is that the need to understand the business and strategic objectives of the client remains unchanged and is consistent to any solution development process (i.e. from the agency side), regardless of the tools involved (i.e. social media marketing).

    Nonetheless, there’s still hope for all social media junkies who make the effort to understand how the tools work for business. The scope and depth of social media marketing is growing daily, and is definitely not restricted to a Facebook page or Twitter updates. Companies without dedicated social media resources will still rely on social media agencies to manage the entire interaction process.

    This is happening in Singapore (where I am based) as organizations are starting to source for agencies with social media experience. Time will tell if the selected agencies can deliver what many would-be social media experts claim they can do.

    – Darren –


  23. Coming from 20 years in advertising and personally going through many transitions of “tools of communications” (web, print, tv, video, corporate id, publishing, direct, CRM, social media) , I couldn’t agree with you more, “Those who are seeking social media careers need to remember that social media technologies are secondary to meeting business and customer needs.” Each tool has it’s nuances of communication. A smart creative, conceptual and strategic thinker can adapt to the tools and balance the weight and tone in how the message is being communicated to the customer.
    Here’s what I’d look for:
    -A good creative thinker that has a track record of moving from one medium to the next
    – Someone that clearly understands the difference between strategy and tactic (This is huge!)
    – Someone that is engaged and demonstrates they enjoy and understands social media
    – Someone that behaves corporately appropriate in the social media space. If they behave inappropriately, clearly they have other objectives within the medium. (or maybe they just don’t have a clue!)
    – If your looking for SEO expert, find someone with a deep technology background. If you’re looking for someone to engage your customer look for the person you’d want to always have at your cocktail party. An engaging personality who makes all your guests comfortable sharing and listening.

  24. Deb

    You’ve far more experience than I do. I learned a lot from this quote:

    “-A good creative thinker that has a track record of moving from one medium to the next”

    It’s important to find that individual that was quite to adopt the business benefits of email, internet, mobile before others. Also, it’s important as it shows that there will be something after the social web.

  25. Nice to hear someone give this concept voice. I am an early adopter, for reasons having to do with the vision of what is possible with new tools and culture shifts. I’m also a deeply experienced mar-com person. It’s the blending, the integrating, the traversing and connecting of old and new worlds where I believe the greatest value of soc-med lies. My tue cents on a Tuesday morning.

  26. I just want to thank everyone here for their comments. We used a lot of what was written in Jeremiah’s blog post and your comments to build a job description for a new role that we developed. Very timely and incredibly insightful. I guess we just crowd sourced the job description… thanks!

  27. I think in many cases, Jeremiah, companies aren’t really sure of their own needs, so this creates an even bigger issue. If you simply copy a job description from elsewhere and have no idea of what your goals or objectives are, you can’t possibly begin to know what to look for because you don’t know exactly what it is you’re seeking.

  28. Jeremiah – thank you, someone had to say it. I am sick and tired of the so-called experts tout the number of followers on Twitter or some other artificial measure to indicate expertise. In my opinion, some degree of business consulting is a must, technical background (to talk to the IT folks who will inevitably get involved) is a plus. The ability to understand business concerns such as ROI of social media, develop strategy as opposed to jumping straight to tactics,understand budget concerns and the very real trepidation corporations have in adopting social, the ability to persuade and lead change, ability to report to upper management. All of these are indicators of a change agent, and that is what a good social media strategist is (if you buy the theory that social media transforms communications radically).

  29. totally agree that usage doesn’t equate to experience. an understanding of the various technologies and how they can be used FOR the business is most crucial.

  30. can™t help but conclude that it overlooks another valuable contribution the Internet has made to the economy: behavioral data as a source of consumer insight that can radically improve how companies go to market.

  31. Great post, great comments. I think people are really starting to get it and the space is showing the first signs of some maturity as a discpline. One thing I think seriously lacking is illuminated by one of Deb Chusid’s comments above: : “[You want to hire] Someone that clearly understands the difference between strategy and tactic (This is huge!)”
    So much is tactics right now – so much is about a company having a presence on Facebook, etc without understanding if a companies’ customers are even there in the first place.

  32. I wrote a point-counterpoint article on this for PR Week a couple months ago. My premise was that personal branding in social media RARELY translates in the ability to do the same for a corporation or a brand.

    The problem – and we both see it too often – is that companies are so desperate to hire people that work in social media, that they are hiring firms and people that never have done real work, but are “social media gurus” or “social media experts” by having a number of Twitter followers, having figured out to how to milk the system, and blog incessantly … but never say anything.

    And this is the crap that will hurt social media, and other marketing disciplines.

  33. Pingback: » Blog Archive
  34. Pingback: » Blog Archive

Comments are closed.