Question: I’m hiring a product marketer and I want great social media skills.  All the candidates tell me that they have those skills but most of them don’t have much of a presence online.  Does that matter?  Do you need to be a heavy social media user in order to really understand it?

The Short Answer: Yes you do.

The Longer Answer: You do because:

A/  Marketing execution is much harder than theory. Social media isn’t much different from a lot of other classic product marketing skills – the theory isn’t all that tricky, it’s the execution that’s hard.  If you wanted to hire someone to launch a new product into market, you’d talk to people who have done it before.  Taking the course or reading the book doesn’t count for that much.  Practical experience in product marketing counts for a lot.  I read an awful lot of press releases before I started writing them and I was still lousy at it until I’d done it a few times.  My first couple of integrated marketing campaigns were, ah, shall we say, less than perfect.

Social Media isn’t any different.  I thought blogging was pretty easy until after my first (largely failed) attempt at running a group blog for a previous employer.  I’m a better blogger now than I was even a year ago (I’m not saying I’m great, wise-apples, just better than last year).  I don’t think I would have wanted to follow me when I first started using Twitter.  I understood Facebook much better after my first attempt to do a company fan page and many of the things that in theory should have worked, didn’t and vice versa.  It’s hard to know how you are going to react to a Troll online until you’ve been attacked by one.  Experience counts for a lot.  If you’re hiring a person to blog, use Twitter, do things on Facebook, participate in forums, etc. you’d be best to go with a candidate that has done than stuff, rather than a person who’s just watching from the sidelines.

B/ You Can’t Fake Passion. I had a boss that asked candidates in interviews to “sell” him whatever electronic gadget they had on them (cell phone, music player, laptop).  What he was looking for was passion for technology.  His quote was “If they aren’t excited about a piece of technology that they bought themselves then they won’t ever be able to get people excited about our stuff.” People that are passionate about social media aren’t participating because their boss told them to, they’re doing it because they think it’s really interesting and fun.  If your candidates aren’t at least fooling around with this technology by now, I would question whether they will ever really get excited about it.

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