The rising need for social media skills: an interview with Steve Ward

All articles | Social Media
Published Dec 04, 2013 | Written by Eric Swain

Seemingly no aspect of business these days is untouched by social media; Steve Ward of Cloud Nine Recruitment, who specialises in placing social media and digital talent, talks here about the growing demand for social media skills in all areas of business.

Can we talk about the changing roles and responsibilities in today’s workplace and focus on some of the skills that are increasingly being required by employers. Have you seen a rise in the requirement for social media skills?

Yes, definitely. Three and a half years ago, when I first looked into this area, it was still a very specialised skill set, a niche within marketing and communications - that “weird bloke or weird girl in the corner” on Twitter and Facebook. Increasingly now, generic marketing, creative and PR roles are incorporating these skills. I would take that even further into the areas of HR and recruitment. So many more customer-facing roles have social media skills as a requirement these days.

What you are seeing then is social media skills are creeping into all roles?

Yes, bit by bit. More and more businesses are recognising that these skills are useful in aspects other than purely marketing and communications. That's what is quite exciting, to see how people are incorporating social media skills within customer service, or their recruitment methodology, and such like. It is fascinating to see how it has become much more of a generic skill set now, rather than a very geeky one.

So what sort of things are your clients saying they are looking for? Are they saying they need people to be able to write better or write for the social spaces? Do they need people to have an understanding of the technology?

The understanding of the technology, the awareness, I think. Businesses are becoming slightly more digital native, so that people understand the technology, but there is a different kind of etiquette involved.  Core skills have started to change now, and writing is definitely one of them. Five years ago a customer service role was purely telephone-based, or possibly sat on the other end of an email stream or a helpdesk centre. But now it is much more public and visual through Twitter and Facebook channels, etc. Jobs like customer service-based roles are starting to increasingly incorporate this social media angle, and therefore require more writing skills, good listening skills, and problem-solving skills. That is, slowly, how this kind of social media revolution is changing job roles across a business.

So I suppose candidates are adapting; are you finding more qualified candidates, or a broader pool? Or is it still a struggle to find people that really have a lot of these skills?

It is increasingly easy to find people who want to work in this sector and use their social media skills in their work. Often it is perceived as fun - if we find something we enjoy doing outside of work and we can put it into our work, then it’s exciting. Particularly in the graduate area, there is a massive clamour to get involved in digital communications and social media.

Obviously in the more experienced candidates, those who have got a long history of traditional marketing or communications/PR experience, there can be frustration in how to adapt to social media in their area. Then, a bigger frustration for a lot of those same guys in trying to compete with the "young guns" in management and senior management roles, when businesses are looking for the digital savvy people to be leaders and innovators in this area.

That is where the challenge lies for a lot of people, who have maybe got more experience in the senior roles.  Not so, for those people who have adapted, and can demonstrate skills in using social media for business, for major brands, etc. So it is increasingly becoming a young person’s game, I guess.

That reminds of the story – some months back – about HMV and their disastrous experience with social media. Perhaps you could elucidate; I know you wrote a very interesting blog post about it at the time. It does seem to illustrate the “established versus new”, “old versus young” issue you’ve just been referring to.

Yes - you may recall what happened in this case, which was live tweeting of people being dismissed at work, as a result of HMV’s financial problems.  It displayed, in a way, one of the apparent dangers of social media, the revolutionary nature of how the younger generation can use social media as a voice or stand against something they do not agree with.

So, in this social context, we saw Poppy Rose Cleere, the social media coordinator at HMV, use social media to make a “siege mentality” stand against the management of HMV for their failures, and the subsequent redundancies that happened as a consequence. She used it quite aggressively, in a way that would probably scare a lot of people; if people have got that kind of access to public profiles with significant numbers of followers, that is a big impact, and if somebody is going to take a hold of that account and use it against the company, then it is a dangerous precedent.

I imagine you’ve seen this issue crop up in discussions with your clients since then. Is there now a greater emphasis placed on responsibilities or specific frameworks that they are looking to include in employment offers?

Companies need an enormous amount of advice in this area. Naturally, there may be a certain fear factor when you introduce these kinds of roles to a business, and HR is there to ward this off.  Social media policy is still developing within business; it is still not there in many companies and where it is, it differs from company to company. There are some companies who say “we do not want to make hard and fast rules because we actually want the freedom, to look like a company that is interesting”. But, in so doing, it effectively opens up themselves up the above situation.

I think the biggest challenge, evidenced in this story, comes when the 21 year old social media coordinator had way more knowledge in this area than the people she was reporting to. When she then took control of that environment, her management did not know how to react - they did not know how to deal with the situation.  The Head of Marketing did not even know how to get hold of the Twitter handle and get her off it; even though she had left the job three or four days earlier, she was still able to tweet on HMV, if she wished to.

Evidently, there is still an enormous amount of advice needed so that people don’t find themselves in these kinds of situations.

Yes, that is certainly true - there is a need for more social media training across organisations. A good example of this is Lego, which encourages their senior executives to complete a whole day of social media training with an exam at the end. That can only be a good thing, for Lego and for all companies, presumably?

I think so. If they are going to use social media, it has to be understood at a senior level. When I talk to businesses about them bringing in a new social media hire, maybe a position they have not recruited before, it is my job to direct people on how they should best select those people. What they need to take into consideration when they employ this person, and then how they control and manage this person whatever their output is.

This is a transcript of episode 6 of The Social Media Show, featuring Steve Ward of Cloud Nine Recruitment.

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Published by Eric Swain December 4, 2013
Eric Swain