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Identify the Right People to Manage Your Social Media Initiatives

This post originally appeared on my external blog, “Social Media Strategery.”

Who leads your organization’s social media initiatives? Is it someone who rose up and took the role or is is someone who was assigned that role?

Social media isn’t something that can just be assigned to someone any more than you can just assign someone to be the homecoming king. Adding “social media” to that junior public affairs officer’s job description isn’t suddenly going to turn your organization into the next Zappo’s. While you’re at it, you might as well add “organizational budgeting” and “legal review” to his job description too – those are two other things that he/she might be able to do well, but would you really entrust those duties to them?

This is why so many social media initiatives fail – not because of technology or policy, but because of people. We talk often about what department should lead social media, how to get leadership buy-in for social media, or what technology should be used, and while those are important discussions to have, you should be focused on identifying WHO should be leading the social media initiatives. Not whether that’s the Chief Marketing Officer or the Director of Public Affairs or the Community Relations Lead, but actual names of people. Remember, social media is driven by the person, not the position.

The best person right now might be Joe over in Marketing, but what if Joe leaves the organization? Who leads the social media initiatives then? The answer isn’t necessarily Joe’s replacement. It might be Kim over in HR. It might be that new guy over in community relations, or maybe it’s your webmaster. The point is that social media doesn’t fit nicely into just one job description. There’s a very real human element to it, and identifying the wrong person, even if it is the right position is often the biggest determination in the success or failure of your social media initiatives.

To find the right person to handle social media for your organization, look for people who:

  • LOVE your organization and really understand its mission – first and foremost, find the people who love their jobs and believe in your mission. This isn’t a job for the person interested in just the paycheck.
  • Believe in the transformative power of social media – it’s not about applying the same old processes to new tools. It’s about fundamentally transforming the way your organization interacts with the public, your customers and with each other.
  • You enjoy being around – If a person is a real butthead in real-life, he’s going to be that way online too, and you can’t afford to have someone like that representing you or your organization.
  • Have little fear of failure – Early in my career, a client pulled me aside after they shot down 3 straight ideas I had and told me, “I want to make sure that you understand we WANT you to continue bringing those off-the-wall ideas because it forces us to think of things we never thought of and even if we don’t take your suggestions now, they all become building blocks for future ideas.”
  • Enjoy working in teams – Social media is “social” – you have to enjoy working with a diverse group of people
  • Are responsive – There is no 24 hour news cycle any more. It’s real-time baby. You need people who you KNOW will reply to emails, tweets, texts, etc. quickly and thoroughly. Interestingly, these are also often the people who are the most ambitious and passionate about your organization too. (*note – these are also the people who may take longer lunches or come in a little late because they don’t just “shut off” at 5:00 PM)
  • Can speak like a human being – Corporate marketing speak, statistics, facts, and figures are good, but when was the last time you got inspired by a pie chart? Find people who can connect with their colleagues/customers/clients on a personal level
  • Are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are open about them – One of the first things I tell new employees is to find out what you’re good at and find out what you’re not good at, and then find people who are good at those things and make friends with them. In social media, you’re going to come across issues regarding privacy, IT, legal, communications, and HR, not to mention specific functional areas of your organization. You can’t know it all – know what you don’t know, and know who to contact for help.
  • Are humble – People mess up in social media. A lot. It’s ok. Admit you’re wrong, fix what you messed up and move on. Not everyone can do this, and very few can do it well.

Now that I think about it,these are many of the same qualities that exist in any leader, right? So, what other qualities would you look for when trying to identify someone to head up a social media initiative?

This post was inspired by Andrew Wilson’s “Innovation Lab | Who Should Be At The Table” post and Lovisa Williams’ “The Intersection” post. Fantastic stuff (as usual) by the both of them.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

A couple of more characteristics:
(1) Understand the social networking technologies and their place in the context of the Internet technologies. The person doesn’t have to be a programmer (would be a benefit) but they should be familiar enough with the technology to understand both the technical advantages and disadvantages of the various apps and platforms.

(2) Project management skills. Yes, social networking is about collaboration, vision, and leadership but the person should also be able to plan the work, follow a budget, and deliver on schedule. Results matter.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Here’s my list in priority order (most important first)

1. Absolutely no ego – knows how to bring others along and take the hit when pilots backfire
2. Visionary – thinks 5-10 years out and takes for granted that the current state of being won’t last
2. Project management skills (echoing Bill)
3. Tenacity – persistence – etc.
4. Networked – peer relationships characterized by trust insisde and outside the agency
5. Best practice/benchmarking oriented – always attempting to learn new things – curious


I’d add experience at organizing people and engaging with people whether that is:
-Leading an online community (could be for karate or skateboards)
-Leading a fraternity, sororiety, or HOA or association
-Starting a Meet-up group, running club, happy hour

Dannielle Blumenthal

Chiming in again. I think Steve is talking about leadership and Gwynne is talking about management. Leaders are personalities. Managers are pragmatists. When leaders and managers work together to implement social media that is optimal.

Another perspective – it takes people skills to manage social media. Because it’s inherently social and trust-based to get people to collaborate. Right now there is waaaayyyy too much emphasis on technical skills and new technology. We need to catch up with the technology that we already have.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Danielle – I agree in part with your last paragraph. Most are always chasing the next greatest thing instead of fully realizing the potential of the tools they already possess. And as the demise of the Google Wave has demonstrated, investments in one SN technology can be lost. I know most consider wikis and blogs to be old hat but we still haven’t fully explored their potential.

But I do believe that people should have a certain baseline of technical knowledge so that they can understand the benefits and drawbacks of the technology. This baseline is also useful when the vendors come by with the latest and greatest in SN Tech.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Gwynne – I don’t believe Steve was narrowing it down to just one personality type but that the social media person should have certain traits in their overall personality. In my experience, I have seen a wide range of personalities in social media and they all seem to work quite well.

But I do agree with your arguments for continuity. I believe that can best be achieved by a good organizational training/succession plan and a well-established community of practice. Social Media should be a team sport after all.

Steve Radick

Lots of great comments here guys – keep ’em coming!

I like where this discussion has gone – Bill’s right in that I was just throwing out some personality traits that I’ve seen among the dozens of people who I know in organizations large and small who have risen up and become a social media “leader.” Are there more traits? Of course there are! That’s why I really like Danielle’s comment – that’s pretty much the level at which I was working from. Steve mentioned “experience leading an online community” and while I think that’d be a great thing to have, it’s almost too granular for what I was trying to do in this post. I didn’t want to create a job req in as much as I wanted to call attention to the fact that personality plays a much larger role than we often give it credit for.

Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Insightful blog, Steve. I like the comparison with the homecoming king… not all of us can be so gifted, right? I also like your comments along the lines of… people’s personalities don’t change simply because they’re online. This is just the kind of short guide or tutorial every hiring manager should have on their desk when trying to identify or hire someone for social media responsibilities.