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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