The Staffing Industry Still Needs To Learn About Social

Donna Farrugia, Executive Director at The Creative Group (a staffing agency) wrote a post over at iMedia Connection this week on finding social media talent.  Some of what she wrote makes sense, however there are a few items that as a practitioner, I disagree with.

Let’s go through some of her points:

What’s not as important? Years of experience in social media, for one. Keep in mind that the most popular social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, iPhone App Store) were launched in the last five years, so be wary of anyone claiming to have “10-plus years of expertise” in this space.

As we have pointed out again and again social media is not new.  The web has been social from day one.  Probably the smartest and most skilled SEO, social media, email marketing and other web pros have been  using boards, forums, blogs, IRC and other areas of the social web for well over 10 years (personally and professionally).  But of course, to those who just stumble upon this social web thing — Twitter and Facebook is all they consider when it comes to social media.

There is far more to social media than Facebook and Twitter – the social web is the read/write web at the macro level and is platform agnostic.  I would argue tenured digital marketing professionals understand how niche and macro, new and old, walled and open, popular and emerging platforms all play together and have been around long enough to see the bigger picture and live through the evolution of the web.  By having this perspective, they have a decided advantage over those who are new.

Instead, focus on what a candidate has done using social media tools.

As someone who has worked to help companies make staffing decisions when it comes to social media hiring, I already shared my thoughts on finding digital marketing talent.  And one of my points runs counter to this:

Don’t ask them about tools

Remember, it’s not about technology, it’s about ideas.  Hearing about the tools used during projects is all well and good, but ultimately I’m more concerned with vetting their communications savvy.  The truth is the tools are easy to use – don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  It is neither unique nor valuable to know how to use WordPress, RSS, Twitter, web analytics packages, AdWords, or anything in between.  All marketers and communications pros should know them by now.  It’s strategy that is the real skill.

Staffing and recruiting pros looking for social media talent need to be savvy enough to talk in strategic terms with candidates if they really want to acquire talented folk.  If looking to fill a role with a high-level individual, as the article title implies, the conversation shouldn’t be about using tools – if a recruiter has done their job they should have that intelligence by this point.  To me, it would be like asking a PR professional if they know how to use Cision or build a media list.  Those things are importing when hiring tacticians, not strategists.  But I have only worked with referring experienced folk, so that’s my take.

Do realize though, if you want a talented person at a high level, asking them if they understand social web basics could put them off – they are going to think you don’t know any better.

One last point from the article:

In many cases, the highly skilled social media professionals you want on your team will not come to you — you’ll have to find them. Attend in-person networking events and check out LinkedIn and Facebook groups online.

This point makes sense – but one major avenue not mentioned by Donna is search.  A strong candidate should have a large digital  footprint, and their participation in the social web and overall quality should become apparent quickly via search.  The social media and SEO intersection applies highly to individuals, and search can be a quick way to vet someone’s digital reputation.  Staffing professionals need to understand the search and social intersection – taken together they can gain invaluable insight into someone’s true experience and talent.

It should also be noted that Donna herself does not appear to be using Facebook, Twitter, have her own blog or participate in forums as far as I could find.  If she is using them, they haven’t been used enough to gain sufficient juice to rank in search.  All I could find was a relatively static LinkedIn profile. I’d challenge Donna to get more involved herself, as this will only help her improve as a staffing pro.  It is my sense you have to participate to truly be fluent in the social web even from a hiring standpoint, but perhaps HR industry pros like Paul DeBettignies who do participate  can chime in and offer their opinion.

One final thought – at this point, you don’t need a “social media expert.”  You just need a good marketer:  modern marketers understand social by now along with practical application.  Those who don’t need to catch up, and cannot be called modern marketers.  There’s not really an excuse, communications professionals are defined by a comprehension in how society communicates.