Seeking a job in social media marketing? Develop skills in these 4 areas

By Todd Bacile | September 28, 2012

Social Media Marketing Jobs - SMM

As an educator at the university level, students often ask a question similar to this, “Which skills do social media marketers and ad agencies desire for entry-level positions or internships?” It’s a valid question. These students want to be prepared when they enter the job market.

My Florida State University e-Marketing undergraduate students were asked which skills THEY believed the job market is seeking in applicants for social media positions. Their answers included being “creative thinkers”, “tech savvy”, “customer service oriented”, and “honing writing skills”. Nothing wrong with these answers, as I can see multiple benefits for a person who possesses these talents.

I then reached out to several professionals I know within education, marketing, and the advertising industry to ask this same question. Interestingly, these marketing and social media professionals, trainers, consultants, and professors provided opinions that were somewhat similar, yet somewhat distinct from perceptions of the students. The following four topic areas were raised as important skills to have and be aware of by the professionals. Are you seeking a job in social media marketing / advertising? Develop skills congruent with these four areas.

Skills Other Than Social Media Usage or Experience

Ryan Cohn, the Vice President of Social/Digital Operations for Ron Sachs Communications, stated the following, “Before a student even starts taking classes or learning skills specifically focused toward social media, I’d like to see them take four classes: communications theory (with a heavy focus on social group interactions), rhetoric, statistics, and applied behavior analysis. Students need a foundation of knowledge that will allow them to understand how people communicate with each other, how to persuade others and change their behavior, and how to quantify and measure it all.” Christian Sack, a technical staffing specialist who has sought social media job candidates, echoes the group interaction aspect. “It really boils down to the intangibles. No longer are the days of ‘sit in the corner and code, develop, write’, today’s workforce is extremely dynamic and interactive. I suggest students be very involved in college, even if it means stepping outside of their comfort zone with joining social groups and/or campus involvement… I see extremely smart candidates with a great educational background (4.0’s, Master’s Degrees) that simply cannot convey thoughts well in interviews or even internships,” said Sack.

Evidence of the Ability to Communicate Clearly

Every professional I interviewed discussed effective communication skills as a must. Neal Schaffer, founder of Windmill Networking, believes students must be able to communicate effectively, “Are they professional in all of their communication, including in-person interviews?” Todd Smoyer, a Social Media Manager at Echo Interaction, must see evidence of clear communication. “I personally look at their ability to communicate, because social media is at its essence a form of communication.  I typically ask for writing samples from their blogs /press releases / or other forms of written work they feel exemplifies their writing skills.” Bryan Bruce, CEO and Founder of the interactive marketing firm Your Brand Voice, prefers to see evidence of written copy as well as demonstrating knowledge of newer communication channels. Bruce stated, “The ability to communicate effectively in tools such as Yammer, Asana, etc. rather than email,” as something that gains his attention as a hiring manager.

The Ability to Engage & Influence Others Within Social Channels

Engagement‘ is a buzzword in the social media business landscape and with these professionals, too. Dr. Lauren Labrecque, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Loyola University Chicago and a recognized expert within the domain of marketing with newer media, believes engagement and influence is key. “Smart companies are looking for students who have any understanding of the drivers of consumer engagement. Oftentimes students feel that they ‘get social media’ just because they have experience using Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The most fundamental skill that students need in this area is to understand the elements that make content ‘sticky’ and sharable. If no one is sharing, re-tweeting, or liking the content, then it’s not doing anything,” said Dr. Labrecque. Schaffer added that he not only would like to see students have the ability to create engaging content, but also do so on relevant social channels. A question Schaffer wonders about applicants is, “Are they themselves members of and active on the social media platforms that are critical to my business?” Bruce agreed and offered, “We feel that if a STAR (social trending assessment representative) is unable to understand how to generate buzz around their personal brand, that they may have issues doing it for one of the brands we represent.  The skills are very similar – once you understand how to engage – it is all about finding the right brand voice.”

The Slippery Slope of Social Influence Metrics: Varying Opinions

Smoyer, among others in industry, takes the position that the measure of a student’s social media influence with metrics such as a Klout score is not only useful to assess engagement, but also important in understanding how marketing messages are shared. “Their Klout score is a great indicator of how skilled they are in delivering a message that will engage users and elicit a response through effective calls to action,” said Smoyer. Dr. Labrecque has a similar opinion of Klout, “Yes, I believe students should have knowledge of influencer scores such as Klout as they enter the market. I don’t believe that it’s essential to have a high Klout score, but I think understanding how and why content is shared is important.” Added Bruce, “We use Klout religiously as a simple metric to track our STAR’s engagement.  We realize the metric is not perfect, but have found that giving the STARs something to focus on allows them to gain traction and grow into generating engaging content consistently. The more students are able to ‘grade’ their own engagement performance, the more empowered they will be to act when necessary to keep things flowing.”

Schaffer also sees value in students possessing knowledge of social media influence metrics, but cautions that some hiring managers may place too great a value on the measures. He stated, “Influencer marketing is a component of social media marketing. The question is: How critical is it to implementing a company’s social media strategy?  I think that students should learn about influencer marketing as part of their social media marketing curriculum and should know that there are companies (like Klout) that are creating algorithms to ‘score’ people to aid in facilitating more effective influencer marketing.” But, Schaffer believes some hiring firms place too great a value on these metrics. “Any company that has a high Klout score as one of their expectations should probably be avoided because they probably rely too heavily on this scoring of individuals in their own marketing efforts – even though it is still a science that is being developed.  Social media marketers need to be critical thinkers and holistic in their practice, not simply relying on any one number as being critical for their efforts – including the hiring of their own employees!”

The author is extremely grateful to each of the professionals who participated in this post, as they are attempting to communicate to students which skills and areas are of interest to hiring managers for social media marketing and advertising positions.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Todd’s research on mobile and social media marketing topics has been presented at or is forthcoming in numerous national marketing conferences and marketing journals, including the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing and Marketing Education Review. Please visit his website for more information regarding his research. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile

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Buzz! Debates! Insults! The Klout in the classroom controversy

By Todd Bacile | September 4, 2012

Klout

Last week Mark Schaefer’s syndicated blog {grow} ran my guest-authored post discussing a Klout classroom project I created for the undergraduate Electronic Marketing course I teach at Florida State University. The story created somewhat of a controversy. Tens of thousands of people read the blog post and thousands of social media conversations gave the story significant reach. Some readers liked the idea of the experiential student project – which I refer to as “The Klout Challenge” – while several other readers were not as supportive – that’s the understatement of the century!

Five days after the blog post was published I presented this class project at a large academic marketing conference: The Academy of Marketing Science – World Congress. The reaction and feedback after my 30-minute presentation was quite different from many on the web: the conference attendees loved the idea of The Klout Challenge. The reaction from one senior professor at a large university summed up the attendees’ reaction: “Just so you know, we are stealing this for our class!” Several other faculty members from other schools approached me with a similar desire.

So Why the Confusion?

The reaction from the marketing conference crowd was much different from the reaction of many online. Somewhere along the way many people online misunderstood my Klout class project and what I was attempting to achieve. Part of this was due to some people reading the blog’s title (and subsequently the text contained within thousands of retweets): “Florida State University class using Klout to determine student grades”. Many people read the title without taking five minutes to read the blog post itself. If one reads only the title and has a negative opinion of social influence scoring metrics I understand why some people would be upset. Other people just hate the idea of social influence and Klout. For those people there was no confusion!

Media Coverage To the Rescue?

Fortunately, multiple media outlets reached out to me wanting to know more information about The Klout Challenge. Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education each interviewed me and ran stories clarifying some of the misunderstandings. However, all of the media coverage was not so kind. Adding to the controversy was a U.S. News and World Report education article reviewing my class project while conveniently leaving out several details. Never let the facts get in the way of a great story!

Clarifying Facts and Fiction

In an effort to clear some of the confusion and misinformation floating around the web, the following presents a fact-versus-fiction comparison for many particulars some people took issue with regarding my Klout student project and the Klout metric itself.

Point #1: Klout is not used in hiring decisions

Fiction: No companies really care about an applicant’s Klout score. Therefore, you shouldn’t be teaching students anything about it.

Fact: Really? Check out this story, this one too, and also this one. Some hiring managers – like it or not, appropriate or not – are using Klout scores as part of the application process and hiring decisions. And some hiring managers have told me first-hand they use Klout when reviewing applications. I would hope a Klout score is not “the” determining factor, as other additional information paints a more complete picture of an applicant. Yet, Klout has entered the real world in some – not all – hiring situations; and I feel obligated to educate my students about it.

Point #2: Nobody in business takes Klout seriously

Fiction: Klout does not matter in the business world.

Fact: Thousands of companies are currently using Klout in marketing activities. In addition, many firms now include customers’ Klout scores inside of CRM systems such as Salesforce.com. That’s right: when you call up your credit card company, your bank, or an airline the customer service reps may be looking at your Klout score on their monitor. This is all in addition to the prior point above that Klout is used in some hiring decisions. In the real world Klout matters.

Point #3: Klout is a secret algorithm and you can’t teach the unknown

Fiction: Nobody knows how Klout’s algorithm works or what the scoring variables are; therefore, it is unfair / impossible to teach anything related to Klout.

Fact: Klout uses hundreds of variables in its algorithm, similar to how Google uses numerous factors in its search ranking algorithm. And similar to Google, Klout.com does in fact discuss several variables and criteria that influence a Klout score. Does Klout give away every factor or each one’s weight? No. Nor does Google! Does Klout give enough information to have a decent understanding of the algorithm’s criteria? Yes.

Point #4: The class project’s purpose is to game the system

Fiction: The purpose of the project is to get a high Klout score; or worse yet, game or manipulate the metric.

Fact: The purpose of the project is to have students apply several social media engagement strategies via their own social networks. This gives them hands-on experience and skills prospective employers are seeking for internships and entry-level social media marketing jobs. How does one grade or quantify social media engagement activity? Enter Klout. I spent several months testing various engagement strategies I lecture about in comparison to the Klout algorithm. I was pleasantly surprised to see a strong positive correlation.

Point #5: You can’t use Klout to assign a grade because it’s flawed

Fiction: The Klout algorithm is flawed. You can’t use it to assign a grade because it is not always accurate and is too ambiguous.

Fact: The business world and higher education are filled with imperfect or questionable metrics commonly accepted and used every day. We live in an imperfect world where complete information in any key decision is rarely known. In the context of higher education, many students who have participated in projects using marketing simulation software will agree. Simulation software uses grading and ranking algorithms ambiguous to students, yet the exercise is a worthwhile experience. Thousands of universities and colleges use simulation software every semester. The takeaway: if all flawed metrics were to be discarded we would be left without any metrics.

Point #6: The overall course grade depends on Klout

Fiction: A student’s entire course grade is determined by their Klout score.

Fact: As stated in the original blog post, this is a project within the course accounting for a portion of the final grade. Had I known there would be such an overblown focus on this aspect I would have included the project’s weight in the title (currently 10% of the overall grade). I believe most of the Twitterverse missed this fact by only reading the title or reading the text within retweets.

Point #7: It’s unfair to force students to participate

Fiction: It is unfair to students and violates their privacy to force them to create content online.

Fact: All students have the option to opt-out of this project. They can choose to write a paper in lieu of the project. However, thus far only two students out of over one hundred have opted-out of the project. I teach an Electronic Marketing / Social Media course; and most students are eager to learn more about social media applications and tools.

Point #8: It’s not fair that changes to the algorithm may hurt students’ grades

Fiction: If the algorithm changes mid-semester and students’ scores are negatively affected, they are unfairly graded down.

Fact: Students are informed this is an experiential project using an external metric beyond my control. The benefit of using a widely known public metric is students being able to take their scores with them to job interviews. The detriment of using an external metric is something may change. The algorithm may update. Klout may go bankrupt. Klout may be bought out and the algorithm axed. Whatever the reason, if there is an unforeseen major change causing students to be in a position to have their grades negatively affected, fear not: everyone gets an A. Not ideal, yet this is the tradeoff of using a public metric to gain hands-on experience which may help them land a job. By the way: nothing negative has happened thus far.

The purpose of this post was not to convince the anti-social influence crowd into thinking more positively of Klout. The Klout haters passionately hate Klout; and I respect their opinion. Instead, the purpose of this post is to clear up a few misconceptions circulating online regarding the class project I created using students’ Klout scores. I welcome all comments, be it a supporting or dissenting opinion.

NOTE: a research paper discussing in-depth details of “The Klout Challenge” will be published in Marketing Education Review‘s special issue on teaching innovations. This special issue will be available in spring 2013.

Todd Bacile

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Aside from social and mobile media research interests, he carries thousands of miscellaneous baseball facts and trivia questions around in his head. Follow or contact him on Twitter :@toddbacile