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It starts off simply enough: a Facebook page here, a Twitter account there. But for almost every small business that decides to invest heavily in the social media world, there inevitably comes a point in time when taking care of those accounts becomes just too important - or too much work - to be managed passively by someone within the business who has an entirely different day job to do. That's when it's time to hire someone to take charge of your social media presence. The question is, who?

Alexandra Samuel helps businesses large and small answer that question. The director of the Social and Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and co-founder of Social Signal, a social media strategy firm, says she generally looks for three qualities in a potential social media manager.

First and foremost, businesses should look for a digital native, she says. "You want to hire somebody who deeply loves spending time online; somebody who's comfortable with the Net, who's already using social media for their personal or professional life."

And since this person will control much of a company's voice online, any candidate for the social media manager job should also be a good writer - somebody who already writes in a voice appropriate for the business, says Samuel. Most importantly, at a time when many companies automate their social media feeds, the person doing the writing should sound like a real human being, not an algorithm spitting out automated posts.

But perhaps the most important quality a company's social media manager can have is the ability to connect with people. It's a difficult quality to define, but given that this person will likely spend a lot of their time starting conversations with critics, customers and potential customers, the ability to get people onside is key.

"You want the kind of person who knows how to talk to someone at a dinner party," says Samuel. "Some people are natural connectors, they're people people."

The position of social media manager is itself a fairly recent development. The City of Vancouver became the first of Samuel's clients to request her help in hiring for a social media expert about five years ago.

Since that time, many Canadian companies of all sizes have poured millions into hiring social media staff. Still, Samuel points out, such employees can be woefully underutilized if a company doesn't develop a clear social media strategy - essentially, figuring out what exactly it wants to achieve through social media - before hiring them. "There's no point hiring that clever young person if you don't know what you're going to do with them," she says.



DO figure out what kind of job you're hiring for

There's a big difference between hiring someone to manage a few social media accounts, and hiring someone to develop a social media strategy. The latter requires someone with far more experience, and possibly an entirely different skill set, than the person running the accounts.

DON'T outsource the job

Although Alexandra Samuel runs a firm that helps people manage their social media strategies, she doesn't recommend outsourcing social media management. Even though hiring an outside firm to develop a strategy can work well, it's almost always better to have someone inside the company run the actual social media feeds.

DO punch your weight

For very small companies, hiring a dedicated social media manager is usually out of the question. But for companies with between 25 and 50 people, it likely makes sense to have someone from the communications department, or with communications experience, take on the job. The larger a company gets, the more resources it can dedicate to social media.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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