What it Takes to Become a Social Media Coordinator

12 05 2011

 

By Nick Boulanger

With the emergence of social media, PR people have more on their plate than they did ten years ago. For students who wish to get hired in the PR industry, it is important that they contain a skill set in multiple areas. After interviewing a few public relations and social media professionals, it was noted that professionals are looking to hire people who: stand out from the crowd, are enthusiastic, have a passion for social media and online marketing tools, contain some analytic skills, always bring new ideas to the table, and people who are self-starters. All interviewees said that job seekers can prove such characteristics by establishing a strong online presence, keeping up with the latest social media trends, proving that they are credible through good recommendations, showing that they are always looking for new ideas on how to distribute content, and possessing skills in various areas other than tweeting. While the ways of containing a tangible portfolio are still alive and will probably continue to stay alive in the future, everything will become digitalized at some point and job seekers will have to show that they are worthy of getting an interview rather than telling why they are worthy.  As a PR Specialist for the Flagstaff Regional Plan, I have interviewed professionals in the PR industry and have tried to reflect their advice onto my work. 

 “First and foremost, they must have a strong online presence, including strong and active social media profiles. Ideally, they have a personal/professional blog and are actively engaging with people on Twitter and LinkedIn but not only talking about themselves and what they ate for lunch today. They have a strong knowledge of Search Engine Optimization and social media identification – meaning that they can quickly identify which social channels are most relevant to promote certain content,” says Owner of Reckless Abandon Media Jerome Harrison. 
   

As Jerome Harrison says, having a strong online presence is absolutely essential to getting hired as a social media worker for any company. Companies won’t just take a job seeker’s word that they know what they’re doing. Companies want to see that their social media manager is constantly putting working out there for the public to see. This not only shows a job seeker’s past work, but it also shows that they have the tools that are necessary to show people their work.
   

“This is where good marketing comes in,” says Harrison. “meaning that if I give them any content, regardless of what it is, they should have the ability to not only put it in front of people online, but also bring people to it.”
 

The idea of having a strong online presence and always posting material is something that has resonated with me personally for the past year. I now have the WordPress blog, nickboulanger.wordpress.com underway. I use the blog to release all of my past work, including news stories, video news releases I produce for the Flagstaff Regional Plan, sports articles, and curated content that usually entails social media advice or trends. The curated content has become the most common category on my blog, and for good reason. I’ve learned from trend blogs and the Mashable article “Why Curation is Just as Important as Creation”, that curating content can only help raise viewership to blogs. When there is nothing original to post or if another website is posting something before your website, you should still post a link to their content. Yes, this may add viewership to a rival website, but it will also show your readers and employers that you’re putting out the effort to deliver information. Employers rather see that your blog posted something that is informative and may not be your own writing, rather than not have posted anything for two months. Many have the misconception that blogs should only post their own content, but posting non-original content is better than not posting anything at all. In the article, “Why Curation is Just as Important as Creation”, Online Marketer Seth Godin says, 
 

“We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage. There’s always someone who’s going to supply you with information that you’re going to curate. The Guggenheim doesn’t have a shortage of art. They don’t pay you to hang paintings for a show — in fact you have to pay for the insurance. Why? Because the Guggenheim is doing a service to the person who’s in the museum and the artist who’s being displayed.”
   

Another important trait that future PR and Social Media Coordinators should contain is keeping up with the latest trends in social media. Any person can do this kind of research by reading blogs such as, Mashable and Techcrunch. Mashable not only blogs about the latest social media trends, but they also release job postings, send out updates on the latest technology, discover various How Tos, and release information and advice on online marketing. Twitter users can follow many Mashable writers, who all specialize in and tweet a variety of different topics.
   

“It’s extremely important to keep up with current social media trends because the industry is constantly changing. New, often niche, social sites pop up every day, and current mainstays are constantly tinkering with their features and integrating with each other. It is a good practice to set aside time each day, either in the morning or at night, to read through your blogroll and catch up on the latest industry news,” says Harrison.
   

When it comes to the latest trends in social media, Mashable and Techcrunch seem to be on top of the game. These two sites have been up since the beginnings of social media and even the top PR/Social Media people like Wired PR Works Owner Barbara Razgonyi seem to follow and re-tweet their material. However, Jerry Thull, a PR professor at NAU says that keeping up with social media trends isn’t necessary the most important thing to keep in mind as a public relations professional. 
   

“It is important to keep up on trends, but not too make that your main priority,” says Thull. Thull didn’t go into more detail, but he probably thinks that getting distracted by constantly checking Mashable and Techcrunch could hinder someone’s ability to complete other important tasks. On the other hand, Thull said that he never used social media at the Flagstaff Conventions and Visitors Bureau before he became a professor, because it was after his time. “Social media was just coming up, when I moved to NAU. The new person in my position built a Twitter and Facebook presence.”
   

PR Specialist Colleen Powers was a student of Thull’s, but she disagrees with her former mentor about the importance of staying on top of social media trends.
   

“Knowing the latest trends in social media is beyond important. My boss is very in the know so I am always trying to out him with my knowledge, I know this impresses him,” says Powers.
   

Although not all public relations professionals agree on the importance of staying on top of social media trends, all still agree that it is an essential characteristic that will make job seekers more marketable. As the job seeker myself, I can say that sites like Mashable have offered me some very valuable tips during my job search. Not only has the site posted job openings, but it has also shown my ways to stick out. For an example, rather than constantly updating my resume, I am going to create a video resume. If well done, this will show employers that I am creative and think ‘outside the box’. Also, as a Public Relations Specialist for the Flagstaff Regional Plan, I can say that Mashable and Techcrunch have given me helpful bits of knowledge to increase viewership to our main webpage. Aside from curating content, I have conducted polls, and have learned interesting facts. One example of an interesting fact that I have learned is that a Facebook ‘Like’ holds double the value of a tweet.
   

Another key to landing a job in social media is having a good set of recommendations. Not only, typical references one would put on their resume, but also recommendations that can be found on social media sites, such as Linkedin. The Mashable article “How TO: Ask for an Online Recommendation” offers some good tips. Aside from stating why you would like the recommendation, Mashable author Sharlyn Lauby says that people who get online recommendations should have a good balance within them.
   

“Getting a good mix of people -– direct boss, peers, subordinates and customers or vendors — to provide a better sense of who you are as the whole person.”
     In the article, Omowale Casselle, CEO at mySenSay Inc. says that volunteerism should not be dismissed when looking for a recommendation.
   

“If you have been able to achieve results within this environment, the lack of compensation shouldn’t be a limiting factor in asking for a recommendation. This can be especially helpful for those who might be switching careers.”
   

When it comes to job searching, Linkedin is probably the best social network out there that helps you meet people in your industry. While other websites like Facebook and Twitter can be more personal sites, Linkedin is meant for professionalism. Online recommendations from this site also show employers that you are credible and others are willing to take risks for you by saying you are credible.
   

“When you do good work for good people, the word gets out, especially in the social media community. Social media makes it so much easier for reputations and connections to spread. If you are unprofessional or incapable in your dealings with other people, chances are, the word will get out (via word of mouth). Likewise, if you are professional, timely, and do outstanding work for others, the word will also get out (via word of mouth AND SOCIAL MEDIA!) Oh, the wonderful power of the Internet,” says Jerome Harrison, Owner of Reckless Abandon Media.
   

Although social media is a powerful tool in public relations, it is still dependent on how interesting an organization or company is. No matter what, the Facebook site for the Green Bay Packers will have more friends and ‘Likes’ than the Facebook site for the US Census Bureau. However, this doesn’t mean that the US Census Bureau PR people can’t think of ways to make their content more attractive. This is where bringing creative ideas to the table comes in. Colleen Powers believes that one must have thick skin, and not be timid if they want to last in the public relations industry.
   

“When taking on the role of another company you have to be able to say or do anything and not be afraid of what might happen.”
    Jerome Harrison agrees and says that good ideas come from people who are imaginative and are forever students of the industry.
   

“They should be a creative, and out-of-the-box thinker. It is often a social media coordinator’s job to devise creative and unique ways to market or promote a client’s organization or product. But, most importantly, they have a strong appetite for success and are constantly learning.”
   

When a new element comes along in the Flagstaff Regional Plan, I have tried to be as creative as possible by thinking up new ways to deliver the information. I’ve used my broadcast news reporting skills to make fake news stories on things that have to do with the Flagstaff Regional Plan. Although, we don’t have viewership in the thousands, I’m sure that my videos have guided more traffic than just a simple press release on a white sheet of paper would.
   

 In conclusion, being creative, outgoing, and constantly learning new ways to market material is essential in surviving the social media game in public relations.
   

Along with being creative, having skills in areas other than writing is a big part of a social media coordinator’s daily work-life. Duties other than tweeting can include talking to clients, strictly monitoring and listening to what people are saying about their company or their clients, and maybe even making videos. Jerome Harrison says that social media coordinators should also expect to deal with marketing and tactical plans.
   

“A social media coordinator, like any other position in marketing, is just one cog in the much bigger machine. It’s important not to get lost in the day-to-day tactical stuff and lose sight of the bigger picture of accomplishing the clients’ goals.”
   

When I work on the Regional Plan at City Hall in Flagstaff, only a small fraction of my work revolves around the social media world. This is because developments can happen very slowly in government, when things must be processed through the proper channels. As a result, I spend most of my time creating videos on old developments, posting focus group notes onto our webpage, writing up press releases, talking to clients and interviewees, and delivering papers and other materials to coworkers.  Having skills in multiple areas, will only make job searchers more marketable. For people who wish to become social media coordinators, It doesn’t matter what collegiate background they have, as long as they possess skills that relate to the job. People who have skills in such areas as video making, being bilingual, business, marketing, computer science, and advertising are way ahead of the curve.
   

“Journalism (PR/Advertising/Digital Media/Print) is probably the most common background for a social media coordinator, but it certainly isn’t the only route one can take.  It’s not uncommon for students with a background in business/marketing to get into social media marketing. It’s also not uncommon for students with a background in computer science or web design/development. In fact, like any career, the more diverse knowledge and skills you have, the better,” says Harrison.
   

As anyone can see, the duties of a PR/social media coordinator extend way beyond tweeting information.
   

Overall, people from multiple backgrounds can enter the PR/social media industry. However, professionals like Jerome Harrison, Jerry Thull, Colleen Powers, and the writers/interviewees on Mashable seem to agree that social media coordinators must share some common characteristics. Job searchers must prove that they possess a strong online presence by constantly posting material, and possibly maintaing a blog of their past work. Another characteristic that social media coordinators must have is always staying on top of the latest trends. Changes in social media are happening every day. Those who are always reading articles in sites like Mashable and Techcrunch will last a lot longer in the industry than those who do not. Social media coordinators should also be credible and trustworthy.  “This is very important. When you are the face for a brand or product, You need to do all you have to represent it to the best of your ability,” says Powers.
   

Lastly, social media coordinators should demonstrate skills in areas other than writing. After all, knowing how to tweet only makes up a small fraction in much larger world of tasks.

Bibliography

  1. Why Curation is Just as Important as Creation. Steve Rosenbaum. 03/17/2011. http://mashable.com/2011/03/17/curation-importance/
  2. How TO: Ask for an Online Recommendation. Sharlyn Lauby. 05/01/2011. http://mashable.com/2011/05/01/job-recommendation/
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