What Employers Want When Hiring Social Media Talent

by | Sep 2, 2011 | Blog, Blog Archive, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

Peter Shankman, founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out), a service that links bloggers, journalists,  and content producers (video, audio, digital, print) with expert sources, has said, “Don’t hire a social media expert.  It’s like a deli hiring someone who’s an expert in taking the bread out of the freezer.  Unless they can also make a great sandwich, being an expert on taking the bread out is a pretty useless skill.”

He’s right (as usual).  When it comes to hiring a social media marketing manager, the operative words are marketing and manager.   Here’s the sad truth that all too many hip young social media “gurus” don’t get:  anyone can learn the art and science of social media once they understand the bigger context of marketing.   But if you think that social media is about conversations, followers, and “likes” rather than about relationships, insights into the marketplace, and positioning, then perhaps you’re an expert in the wrong thing.

According to the Harvard Business Review, however, the real secrets to social media success were defined almost 50 years ago by a New York psychologist and marketer named Ernest Dichter who pioneered the science of motivation research with techniques like focus groups.

One of Dichter’s claims to fame was the Exxon tiger and the slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank” to differentiate one brand of gasoline from another after his studies revealed that consumers responded well to the suggestion that a gasoline brand could provide fun, power, and freedom – no matter what kind of car they could actually afford to drive.

In 1966, Dichter published a report on a large study of word of mouth persuasion that identified four motivations for a person to share positive information about brands with their friends, family, and neighbors. The four factors he identified are:

  • Product-involvement (33%). That is, the experience is so novel and pleasurable that it must be shared. (“Love my new car”, “the iPad is the best purchase I’ve ever made”, “The lemon meringue fudge at The Remarkable Sweet Shop is  worth the 14-hour flight”)
  • Self-involvement (24%). Sharing knowledge or opinions is a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, or demonstrate our own judgment, knowledge, or inside information. (“The Leaky Cauldron staff got an advance look at Pottermore, and while we can’t reveal details, we can say that it is AMAZING”, “Tweeting live from the world premiere of…”, “I’ve known Rick Perry for 25 years, and if he enters the race…”)
  • Other-involvement(20%). “Other-involvement” is psychobabble for the desire to reach out and help, to express neighborliness, caring, and friendship. (“To fix the problem you’re having with…try it – I hope it helps”, “…half of every dollar spent on the site will go to tsunami victims”, “Donate now and make a difference for dogs like Buster…”, “Don’t waste your time standing in line for the overhyped food at…”)
  • Message-involvement (20%). The message is so humorous or informative or enjoyable that it deserves sharing. (“You HAVE to check out this video…”, “Did you see the iCloud demo yesterday…”, “Dishwashers harbor killer bugs…”)

Today, word of mouse — that is, where a positive brand experience is shared not just with a few coworkers, friends or family members, but with huge networks of online fans, followers, and connections — has supplanted word of mouth, but the principles remain the same. 

The examples used to illustrate each of Dichter’s motivating factors for sharing brand experience were each taken from recent Facebook posts.  The one about the killer dishwashers, posted by a real rock star who posts on everything from popular culture to music industry gossip, with frequent side forays into science, mathematics, and zoology.  (It’s the delightful, personable, and humble drummer Craig Nielsen who linked to a British scientific paper on bacteria in the home.  It’s one of the best things about social media:  people show their true colors quickly in social media.  Who’d expect a heavy metal drummer  (Flotsam & Jetsam) to be as erudite and interesting as Nielsen has proved to be on a wide range of subjects?)

These kinds of comments are the social media equivalent of the motivators that Dichter described. Of course, understanding the motivation for someone to speak positively about a brand, cause, or company is just the first half of the marketing process. You also need to understand what makes a listener believe what the original person is saying.

Which brings us back to what hiring managers want when they go looking for social media talent:  they want true marketing savvy.   In today’s market, a one-dimensional marketer is pretty useless.  Multi-channel marketing is here to stay, and no matter how well versed someone is in one or even two or three channels, their career ceiling is pretty low until they understand how to turn the tactical execution of a campaign in one medium into a cross-channel strategy that delivers the right message to the company’s target audience in the medium that audience wants to hear it. 

Right now, the vast majority of  potential customers are NOT social media users.  That’s changing, but it will be years (if ever) before social media replaces other media.  So if you love social media and are looking for a corporate or top agency career in the field, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the rest of the tools in a marketer’s tool kit.