What to look for when hiring social media tech talent in 2014

And why a freshly minted graduate may not cut it

As social media evolves to become a major platform of engagement with your customers and partners in 2014, so, too, will the skillsets needed to make sure it's being used efficiently and effectively.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and others are still relatively novel for companies in terms of trying to use them to extend their reach and better engage and track customer and partner behavior, says Kimberly Samuelson, marketing director at electronic content management firm Laserfiche.

"From a corporate perspective, it was hard, at first, to figure out how to use social media effectively," Samuelson says. "For many companies, their first pass was, 'Let's use an intern, or someone really young, because they inherently know how to do this stuff,' but it quickly become apparent that wasn't the right approach." says Samuelson.

Because of its newness, many companies initially hired young, less-skilled talent to manage and implement social media strategies out of a misguided assumption that these employees would know intuitively how to use and best leverage social media, she says.

Finding the right skills and experience

Focusing on talent that knows and understands these platforms only from a consumer perspective completely ignores the strategic business applications of social media and the complex psychological, marketing, technical and big data aspects that are a huge part of a successful social media implementation, Samuelson says. That's why it's crucial that social media talent have a specific mix of skills and experience, she says.

"Talent in these areas should have some experience with traditional platforms of engagement -- the typical marketing and communications areas. You need someone who has customer service experience; who can handle customer interactions, complaints and negative engagement.

"But these also are technical platforms, so work should also understand how consumers use technology and have some tech expertise themselves," Samuelson says.

"In addition, there should be emphasis on the psychology of human interaction to be able to effectively use social media to get to customers and partners," Samuelson says. "With all of these skills, an intern or a freshly minted grad just isn't going to cut it."

Social is strategic

Based on the types of social media positions available, it seems employers are starting to understand the strategic role social media can play in their business, says Shravan Goli, president at Dice.com, and they're trying to hire accordingly.

"It's interesting that so many of the jobs on our site that require social media experience are not jobs with social media in their title. Social media skills are going mainstream," Goli says, and these skills are becoming necessary for business pros in general, not just social media specialists.

"Companies are looking to achieve myriad goals with social platforms. These goals range from providing customers with a more seamless experience between digital channels to improving products through the public data available in social media," he says. These kinds of initiatives cross departmental lines and interconnect otherwise separate business units, says Laserfiche's Samuelson.

"You need community-focused people to manage engagement, but you also need the technical skills to develop in certain APIs; to perform SEO successfully," Samuelson says.

"Social media's role should be more strategic -- businesses have all these content channels, data, customer information, but your talent must understand the sum of all this communication and how to best use it to drive business," Samuelson says.

Dice.com's Goli agrees: "Companies that consider themselves social media platforms need technology professionals who understand the convergence of technology, communications and product. So it is less about a different breed of positions and more about different breed of technology professionals," he says.

As an example, he cites a large online retailer hiring for a position that highlights this convergence of skills. Goli says that the retailer is looking for someone that can lead engineers to improve the automation of social media advertising.

"On one the hand," Goli says, "This tech pro needs experience with a variety of skills like cloud computing, scalable services, and mobile development. On the other hand, this professional will be an evangelist of social media at the company."

Because of this dichotomy, social media pros must possess a wide variety of skills and experience, and that can be hard to find. In 2014, it could get even harder, as demand for job seekers with these skill sets rises.

"Many of these social media jobs require a technology professional to oscillate between being a technologist and being a passionate communicator. The social platforms will need similar technology professionals with hands in a number of different fields," Goli says.

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