Sunday, May 15, 2011

Three Qualities You Don't Know You Need in a Social Media Leader

It's a hot time to have social media skills.  Over on Simply Hired, there are more job postings containing the term "Social Media" than there are with the words journalism, SEO or Internet Marketing. A recent survey of marketing and advertising executives found that social media is the skill in the greatest demand, with 19 percent planning to add staff in this area.

Many of the job qualifications necessary for a social media leader are quite obvious: Companies want someone who is well engaged in social media, who actively exhibits a passion for the medium and who can demonstrate the ability to see a program from concept through execution with measurable results.

But what really separates the true social media leaders from the mere practitioners?  It isn't tough to find someone who's blogged, managed a community, launched and maintained a Facebook fan page or amassed thousands of followers on Twitter. Those are not the attributes that define leadership in the social media space; instead, there are three essential qualities that can be easy to overlook when hiring a social media leader. (I would be failing to convey a sufficient level of quality #3 if I didn't suggest that these are areas in which I continue to strive to develop in my position at USAA.) The three qualities are:

  • People Leadership:  It may be easy to overlook at this time considering over half of companies indicate they have no or just one person exclusively dedicated to social media, but those hiring a social media leader should beware of candidates who have only filled individual contributor roles in the past. Social is a growing area of expertise and demand, and soon most organizations will find they need at least a handful of people to monitor the social web, manage communities and execute social programs.  Even if many social functions are matrixed across the organization rather than grouped within a single team, the ability to lead, motivate and direct others is essential for social media success. Look for candidates with proven experience leading others.
  • Breadth:  Many organizations continue to hire social media talent as if social media is merely a marketing discipline, but successful social media leaders must be jacks of all trades who understand every corner of the enterprise. It has been too easy to think of social media only as a tool for raising awareness and preference, but the next wave of social media is already breaking, and it's about far more than just communications.  If your social media leader isn't already enabling customer service, market research, product development or commerce within social channels, he or she will soon be called upon to do so. As that happens, the leaders who succeed won't be the ones who can execute a social media campaign but the ones able to partner and collaborate on business opportunities with leaders throughout the enterprise.
  • Humility:  There are a lot of self-declared social media ninjas and gurus out there, and they are to be avoided.  It's not just that someone who takes this title for himself or herself is demonstrating a lack of maturity--the desire to be a ninja should pass around one's tenth birthday--but that it reveals a lack of humility. Too many social media professionals are driven by a desire for fame, increased reputation and higher Klout scores. (I routinely reject any resume that includes a Klout score--and yes, I've seen several!)  Your next social media leader needs to put your company, its brands and its employees first. I'm not suggesting that a social media practitioner with a big reputation must be avoided, but he or she must be able to convey how companies and not just individuals are advanced in social media, because those are different challenges. 
In short, your organization's next social media leader will need to be at least as much leader as he or she is social media expert. It is no longer difficult to recruit professionals at different levels who have social media experience, but finding those with leadership experience, breadth and humility is far more difficult.  The discipline of social media is growing up, and it's time for our social media leaders to do so, as well. 


Cullen O'Brien said...

I am 36 years old, and still want to be a ninja. Should I seek help?

Augie Ray said...

Cullen, if there is any 36 year old who could successfully transition to ninja, it would be you. That said, maybe it's time to upgrade your goals--to assassin or astronaut, perhaps. (I think I am going to change my LinkedIn profile to read that I am a "social media Assassin!")