Hiring for Social Media: The Ugly Side


Wow. A friend (thanks, Ron) sent me today his collection of social media job descriptions that are popping up across the web as more and more companies jump on board the hype train.

Needless to say, many of them are underwhelming. Alarming at worst, eliciting a sigh at best. And I actually think the poorly crafted job descriptions and even more poorly considered staffing needs are indicative of bigger, more strategic problems that some companies have really examining a) where they’re headed and b) what they need to get there. But that for another post.

Rather than turn this post into a useless rant about how “people” don’t “get” how to look at hiring social media folks, let’s look at some real examples of these job descriptions. Today, we’ll look at the missteps. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the more promising ones, and the underpinnings that show them headed in the right direction.

Misstep #1: Heavy focus on Tools

Take a look at these elements of some current job postings:

“Do you Tweet? Have you taken nearly every quiz that Facebook has to offer? Do you strive to create a massive LinkedIn network? If so, then read on!”

I’m looking to hire someone long-term to bolster a site’s presence on Twitter. This is for a successful online commodities and futures newsletter. Your job will be to advise on Twitter strategy and to put that strategy into action to increase the site’s follower count. You will have complete responsibility for our Twitter stream.

Technology is not the leading focus for social media. It’s the use of the technology to further a deeper (and more important) business goal. It shouldn’t be product manager job (the first job description had the word “product” in it 11 times), since the importance is in the use and intent of the technology. Not the thing itself.

Misstep #2: Assuming that “anyone” can do this job (and for cheap)

I’m all about hiring interns, junior staff, and giving up and comers an opportunity to demonstrate what they’re capable of. It’s awesome to have junior folks involved in social media. But putting the entirety of social in their hands? Or thinking that it’s a one and done expense? Both of those approaches imply that social media doesn’t belong among and within several areas of the business (both horizontally and vertically), which is how it makes the most impact.

In the first example, I’m not quite sure you can find a remote worker for $10/hour that really and truly understands the strategic integration of social media across the board. Call me crazy.

Seeking a smart and experienced professional to serve as Social Media Specialist. Understand the integration of social media from a marketing, customer care and public relations perspective. $10-$12/hour. Telecommuting job.

Social Media Project – Stage 2: Seeking social media expert to draft strategy for how to drive revenues for executive education program. (budget: less than $500)

Misstep #3: Neglecting Engagement

In my research, I saw several job descriptions (most, frankly) that focused heavily on how social media benefitted or could impact the company and their aims to be better known. They were largely focused on tactics and tools, and few actually referenced anything from the perspective of the customer, or the notion of engagement and connection with them.

That speaks to me of a wide misunderstanding of what social media is intended to do (or its potential), and a continued focus on “channels” of communication instead of philosophies that open doors to the customers themselves. As an example, read this job description for a community manager for a game company, and note the one (one!) bullet that talks about the community itself :


  • Oversee the design and implementation of social networking features, activities, and events within the online XXX community

  • Develop the monetization strategy for the community’s micro-transactions, subscriptions, virtual goods, events, user-generated content stores, etc.

  • Collaborate with XX design team to incorporate captivating social networking features into design templates

  • Produce blog updates, podcasts, videos, online posts, and newsletters to promote the community, featured members, new content, etc.

  • Establish an implementation strategy for 3rd party content that will enrich the overall user experience and keep the community fresh for frequent visitors

  • Integrate features that synch with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking Websites


  • Leadership experience with the strategic planning and marketing of at least one successful online community

  • Proven ability to create and execute online social media campaigns with growth from zero to 500,000 unique views within a 30 day period and more as time goes on in a viral fashion

  • Achievement of simultaneous and prominent placement on leading social news sites including: Digg, Fark, Mixx, Newsvine, Propeller, Reddit, Shoutwire, Sphinn and Technorati

  • Expertise publishing or participating on blogs, social news, video/photo sharing, social networking applications, widgets / gadgets, viral marketing campaigns, and podcasts

  • Experience implementing online monetization models and a strong familiarity of leading eCommerce systems and potential co-marketing partners

  • Ability to quantitatively assess Web analytics and data to adapt creative and business objectives in response to market feedback and user activity trends

  • Comfortable working in a lean, start-up environment where thinking ‘out of the box’ is strongly encouraged

    Misstep #4: Thinking Content is Inherently Valuable

    The content is just the vehicle. The end game is in closing the communication and relationship gap between your company and the people that drive it (your customers, donors, clients, members, vendors, employees, etc), and great, valuable content is one way to get there (and that “value” is in the eye of the beholder). But there are tons of job descriptions that go heavy on the content production and distribution, but with little discussion about why that content is what’s needed for customers (or, rather, if). Cases in point:

    Our company is looking for a social media manager. The ideal candidate must be able to research the internet to find new, relevant and legitimate content to be posted to various social media profiles (i.e. Twitter and Facebook). We are seeking unique content to fill a full week (approx. 70 Twitter posts). Process: 1. Research the web for content and submit content for approval. 2. Upon approval, break content down into segments of 120 characters or less. 3. Schedule messages to be sent via our HootSuite account http://www.hootsuite.com.

    Or this one:

    This position will lead XXX on line content and messaging from an overall strategic level. As our primary messaging face to the on line community our goal is provide appropriate content that reflects the [company's] brand positioning. Working with the Brand Managers and Creative team to ensure that all online content, promotions, messaging etc., are in line with the strategy. Work closely with Information Management to ensure that content management programs fit within the appropriate architecture. Ensure the appropriate legal approvals have been realized. Work closely with Director of Communication to ensure that we are sending the appropriate message to our online community. Support additional on line marketing messages as appropriate.

    Misstep #5: Making Social Synonymous with Traffic or Lead Generation

    Social media success is not equal to website traffic. Nor is it (solely) reflected in lead generation numbers. It’s part of a business model for better customer relationships across the board. But yet, we see lots of job descriptions with elements like these:

    We are looking for a social media and link building (SEO) talent. This person must be a self-starter, and is expected to work full-time on many, varied and exciting projects. We will ask you for examples of work and success. Key Responsibilities:

    • Work from existing research and link analysis, and build your own

    • Help to structure link building and social media work around keywords (emphasis mine)

    • Daily team updates

    • Develop comprehensive linking strategies and offer ongoing solutions

    • Track and monitor success via lists and ranking reports

    • Investigate and implement new technologies, services as needed


    Own Social Media, interact with outside Online Communities, Blogs, Message Boards, Email Discussion Groups and Live Chats to generate exposure, publicity and traffic. Be passionately in tune with latest social media developments, online behavior and trends. Identify opportunities and develop plans/proposals for implementing scalable social media programs to generate maximum social media optimization. (emphases mine)

    Or even:

    Research and explore emerging online media to increase the effectiveness of marketing, advertising and promotional campaigns

    • Design, implement and monitor innovative online lead conversion methods for the sales team

    • Analyze campaign data and metrics to make appropriate adjustments and ensure maximum ROI

    • Ensure that all online branding and lead generation decisions ultimately support strategic business and revenue goals

    • Increase the sophistication and effectiveness of the company’s web-presence

    Some Conclusions and More Questions

    Based on all the reading I did and evaluation of some of these job descriptions, there is one key thing that jumped out at me, over and over: Companies still don’t know why they need or want social media.

    This is partially due to the nascence of the industry, partly due to the need for more and better education on tool-agnostic social media strategy (h/t Jay Baer), and partly due to our pervasive human desire for the latest and greatest shortcut to awesomeness. Companies are in a big, fat hurry to put social media in the mix, but they’re looking at it tactically, not strategically. Throw a person at it, and check it off the list.

    We also still clearly think of social firmly (and solely?) in the promotions-marketing-advertising-”get seen”-”it’s all about us” category. To me that means you and I have more work to do on the education and demonstration front. Of the nearly 50+ job descriptions I reviewed, a scant six of them even tangentially mentioned the customer or community member experience as a goal for social media. Of those, only two referenced prior customer service experience of any kind as a qualification or a helpful attribute.

    There are some companies that are showing promising things in this realm and I’ll cover some of them tomorrow. And I realize, too, that I’m looking at functional job descriptions that may not accurately display the intent or the culture behind the hiring. But I suppose my question then: if I can’t discern the attitude and approach to social media when it’s the focus of the role (and recruiting for it), where, exactly, should I look to find that?

    Your Turn

    What does all of this say to you? How can we help correct some of these missteps? Job seekers and those of you with aspirations to work in social media, how would you write a job description for the role you think companies need? If you’re a consultant, how are you advising your clients to look at hiring for roles that include social media?

    Share your insights, questions, experiences, ideas for solutions in the comments. (Oh, and if you have friends who can weigh in but haven’t stumbled across this lil’ blog yet, send them over?)

    Hiring for Social Media: The Ugly Side

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