When I tell people I work in social media, I frequently hear things like “Oh, you should hire my friend so-and-so, he has tons of followers on Instagram.” I’m sure that the friend is a cool guy and all, but there’s an enormous difference between developing a personal social following and being able to use social media for business. Based on the personal, fast-moving nature of the field, that difference is quite often misunderstood.
I frequently see this same confusion in individuals applying for jobs in social media, so I thought I would use my experience to offer some advice for those of you about to graduate or working professionals seeking a job in social media.
Social Media is the how, not the what. Businesses have an end goal, which almost always involves driving revenue. You always need to understand that goal, in order to create campaigns that support it. For many of our clients, that means buying tickets for a movie or tuning into a TV show. That doesn’t mean social media is the right place to hard sell the product, but we need to be aware of that goal to be able to appropriately plan content, cadence and responses. Social can be part of marketing, publicity, customer service, even product development strategies. Knowing why the brand or company is using social before going into an interview will allow you ask well-informed questions. I always appreciate questions from candidates about future plans for a brand’s social strategy (though I may not answer them on site.) You can also find out quite a bit about the company’s approach to social by the professional background of their senior social media team. Twitter didn’t exist when many of us were in college – so ask us how we ended up in this field and you may get an indication of which qualities the brand or agency values in its social team.
Strategy does not mean “ideas.” A strategic social media campaign is a multi-faceted plan driving to an end goal, considering (though not necessarily using) all social platforms and associated digital touchpoints with the consumer. This usually involves a coordinated effort between marketing, PR, paid media, and other stakeholders in brand communications. I frequently see “social media strategy” listed as an expertise of entry level candidates, though after discussion, usually find that they mean that they have a track record of coming up with creative executions for social media. That’s a big strength – so sell it for what it is!
Understand the machine. Social media is a party being hosted by technology. All social platforms and the devices that people use to access them live on a technical infrastructure. Understanding the fundamentals of that technology is critical to success in social media. I’m not saying you need to learn how to write code – but you do need to understand things like how the Facebook algorithm works and the specs for video playback on mobile devices.
Speak the language. Social media is a field overflowing with buzzwords. Some of them are meaningless. Some of them are not. It goes without saying that you should have a working knowledge of traditional marketing terms and be able to speak thoughtfully to each platform’s unique benefits and challenges. In an interview for a social media position, you should also be prepared to speak to content types, engagement strategies and measuring data.
Be connected. Social media lives and breathes on real-time communication and a brand’s ability to leverage it. Showing the hiring manager that you are aware of what’s happening in the world will subtly reinforce their impression of you as someone who can help their team be aware of every new opportunity that social conversation presents. This also means being on top of your own social channels – make sure they are current (and public.) This gives you a chance to show a potential employer what you bring to the table beyond the constraints of what a traditional interview allows.
Be professional. Excessive familiarity and casual language seem to be a unique phenomenon among social media job candidates. Frequently, the candidate is attempting to show personality – but that isn’t the way to do it. Don’t use silly terms like “diva” or “ninja” on your resume when applying to a major brand or agency. Don’t show up late and address the hiring manager with a “Hey girl, shit is crazy right now” (true story.) Personality is important – so is curating perception. Your employer is trusting you to be on the front lines of their communication with the public, so it’s important to show that you will approach your job thoughtfully and appropriately. Sending a thank you note after the interview is not only the polite thing to do, it also gives you a chance to remind potential employers of the great conversation you had and showcase a bit of that sparkling personality.
A final note on job searches: sometimes, you have to stick it out to find the right fit. Don’t just jump on the first offer, look for a match in personality, energy and company values. This is a fast moving business and chances are your job description will look substantially different in a few years. You want to make sure that you are in a role that will allow you to develop a wide variety of skills that will keep you on top of your game. Good luck!
Kathryn Perez-Fraga is Vice President, Social Media at Heavenspot, working with brands including Netflix, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros on what’s next in social. Follow her on Twitter @katpf.