Nine Things You Should Expect From Your Social Media Strategist

This week I read an article on Digiday titled, Confessions of a social media strategist. The article was published by an anonymous author who works at "one of the leading digital agencies in New York." A quick recap:

The author paints a picture of an unhappy employee who feels his or her last four years of work as a social media strategist have been a total waste. The author spends the work week developing content for client's social media channels, commenting, "Over the last five years, the social content populating those channels has gone from thoughtless copy and primitive design to, well, less thoughtless copy and less primitive design."

He or she talks of brands struggling to "remain relevant" while chasing likes and comments, stating, "The underlying issue is that social departments place too much value on engagement."

The reason the author hasn't left the profession is what's described as a light at the end of the tunnel: "We’re returning to a normal advertising structure, where creative is given media support, ensuring it’s seen by the right people...But perhaps the brightest lights are the increasing media and production budgets being allocated to social. This money will ultimately increase the scrutiny from clients, the need to prove what leads to ROI, and it’ll ultimately bring stronger talent to social creative departments."

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My initial reaction after reading the article - you're not a strategist. And social media isn't advertising. You're a community manager or a copywriter. In fact, you're more than likely an advertising copywriter who was forced to begin writing copy for social media channels. A true strategist would have the authority, skill and knowledge to make changes if they sensed what was being done wasn't working.

My second reaction, after some deeper thought - I'm in a pretty good spot. If this person is a social media strategist at a top digital agency in New York, maybe the competition isn't nearly as good as I thought it was. "Top" agencies with strategists who don't provide strategy?

I don't think that's actually the case though. I know of a lot of competing agencies that do very good work and employ actual strategists. This is probably just a case of Digiday making a poor choice of an article and author. Any author unwilling to put their name on something they write raises questions in my mind. This one in particular, may be at an agency where asking questions and challenging the status quo is frowned upon by the corporate hierarchy - leading them to publish anonymously.

While many digital agencies approach client work strategically, I know there are other agencies like the one employing the anonymous author who do not. Strategists exist who do not understand strategy.

There are also companies who don't know what they should be looking for in a social media strategist. It can be tough, especially if it's new territory for you. There are a ton of social media experts, gurus, ninjas and mavens out there, how do you know if the agency you're considering or person you're interviewing "gets it"?

In my experience, there are nine expectations you should have when hiring a social media strategist or bringing on an agency to help with strategy. Here are those nine expectations, as well as ways to decipher if a person or agency can actually meet those expectations.

  1. Experience - Ford isn't hiring the guy who likes to build model cars to design the new Mustang. Why would you hire a new college grad who likes to use Facebook, Pinterest and SnapChat to run your social media program? Ask a prospective agency or employee about meeting objectives and goals and how they tie tactics to those things. Listen carefully to what they say. Are they able to grasp the big picture and how social media fits into your business as a whole or is their comfort level simply talking about tweets, memes and hashtags? Most importantly, ask them for examples of performing in a strategy capacity previously. Ask for references who can speak to their work.
  2. Ability to think critically - Social media has developed a reputation for being very tactical. A true strategist should be able to think beyond a tweet. Present a potential agency or employee with a real world scenario and ask them to develop a social media plan to meet a given objective. Assess how they approach the scenario. A strategist should be a problem solver, not simply go through the motions of everyday actions like posting to Facebook.
  3. Analytical thinking - Strategists should understand how to measure a program - and measure beyond Likes, Comments or Shares. How a program is measured should align to its objectives and your overall business objectives. A social media strategist should understand those relationships and how to apply the data gained from a program to growing the program. Ask a potential strategist how they've measured strategies in the past and for an example of how they used data to evolve or improve a program. Listen for the tools they use and ask questions about how the tools work if you don't know. They should be able to explain that.
  4. An educational mindset - Social media isn't done by one person or one department. It spans departments within a company - PR, marketing, customer service, sales, product management, IT, HR and more. Has the person or agency you're considering ever trained people on using social media tools? This is important. The person you hire as a social media strategist won't become the face of your company online. It'll be the experts in your products or services that do - engineers, product managers, researchers and executives. Some of these people may be hesitant or uncomfortable with social media so some teaching is needed. The strategist needs to train them to fill that role.
  5. An ability to unite - Some people would call this leadership, others would say something more cheesy like "change agent." The person or agency who will be filling the strategy role for you will need to bring many people together from different functions. It's important not only that they're a team player, but that they're able to build a team. Ask them if they've ever had a difficult time convincing someone to participate in a social media program. How did they get that person to come around? Or if they haven't faced that situation, how would they handle it?
  6. Creativity - You're not looking for Mad Men-esque creativity like The Carousel, but you want to make sure they aren't just bringing you a templated program - because some do. This is another expectation that can be surmised from a real world scenario. Ask them to give you several different approaches to solving a problem. What you're looking for is not necessarily artistic flair (though that can be a bonus), but resourcefulness and originality.
  7. Organization - A social media strategist often serves as the project manager for social media projects, working with designers and developers and coordinating with other departments within your organization. They must keep track of all the different moving parts and have a good understanding of the role each plays. Ask your candidate about past projects they've led. Ask how many people were involved, what the roles were and how they ensured timely delivery of the final project. Listen closely to how they describe all of these aspects. They should have a good understanding of all of it.
  8. Social media presence - A presence does not mean a gigantic following. A lot of companies assess a strategist or their agency team based on number of Twitter followers. That's a dated model of evaluation. You should be looking for a presence on the major social media channels, a solid understanding of how they all work, but a big following doesn't represent advanced expertise. Watch out for people who post extremely often to channels. That could be an indication that their personal social media use would come before your company's. You should look for a presence on the channels that matter to your company and ask questions about how they use each one personally. That can give you an indication of expertise with each channel.
  9. Market understanding - This is very important if your company operates in a more specialized industry like enterprise technology or healthcare. Your social media program needs to connect with people, so it's important that the agency or person you hire has worked in that industry before, or has a good understanding of it. Ask for examples of their work from within your industry. If you're a networking company, have they run a social media program targeting network administrators? If you're a pharmaceutical company, have they developed a campaign designed to introduce a drug to physicians?

This post is syndicated from its original publishing on LinkedIn.