Social status: Career Guide 2011

While basic social media savvy is now expected from younger PR pros, Beth Krietsch talks to four experts to identify advanced skills organizations now crave.

Our experts

 Molly Gort, manager of social media business development, National Hockey League Virginia Miracle, SVP and head of digital strategy, Ogilvy Public Relations
 Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia comms manager, Ford  Tracy Shea, SVP of digital creative, Coyne Public Relations

As communications practices become more integrated and nearly all PR plans involve digital aspects, up-and-coming PR pros must employ a strong toolbox of social media skills.

However, basic skills alone are just a start. It's not only navigating social media channels, but combining that with business acumen and solid analytics.

PRWeek spoke with a quartet of influentials in the digital sector to hear their take on the social media skills junior-level pros need to own in order to be successful in today's constantly evolving communications landscape.

1. A strong grasp of analytics.
An understanding of the science behind social media is crucial. Molly Gort, manager of social media business development at the National Hockey League, explains that PR pros should have an understanding of engagement rates in order to determine when and how to speak to the target audience. “The main point is to use the science to back it up, not just your gut,” she says.

2. Know the importance of developing relationships with people across all teams at your company.
Social media is integrated into many layers of any business these days. In order to best implement social media across various channels, it's important for PR pros to develop relationships with people from other teams, including broadcast, marketing, and mobile. “Go out, mingle, and get to know the other departments and see how they can work together,” advises Gort.

3. A fundamental understanding of SEO.
Search engine optimization is an important way to drive up search results for press releases, so it's crucial to understand what affects SEO, and how to best optimize press releases and Web content. “By using keywords, developing optimized headlines, and thinking in the shortened format that works on the social Web, releases are more likely to be picked up and spread,” explains Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford.

4. Twitter skills.
PR pros should have a strong grasp of how ideas and messages are shared and spread on Twitter. Monty points out that the simple, yet highly nuanced platform isn't for everyone, but can be a great communications tool if used wisely. “I've found that, by using it regularly, it improves my writing skills and the ability to distill messages and talking points into short and understandable phrases,” he says.

5. An ability to think quickly and decisively.
Many successful social media campaigns are the result of a PR pro making a quick decision and running with an idea, rather than laboring over the details. Tracy Shea, SVP of digital creative at Coyne PR, explains that a fear-based mentality can give a junior-level PR pro an edge. “Young PR pros should have a bit of a sense of security that they know this stuff better than others in higher offices,” he notes.

6. The ability to make your content or news discoverable.
Journalists today obtain news from a variety of channels, not just press releases, so successful communications pros need to know key social media tactics for getting their stories in front of the right audience. It's important to send information to the intended recipient in a strategic way that will grasp and hold their interest. “Social media is neither a sprint nor a marathon, but is a new way of doing business,” Shea explains. “You're not talking about a one-off YouTube video; but rather a series of events occurring over a period of time that is going to paint a picture.”

7. Understanding of social media strategy.
PR pros need a solid grasp of the crucial components of strategy, including who the brand is trying to communicate with, what it is trying to say, and what it is aiming to get people to do or take action on. Shea explains that, rather than focusing on specific social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, or on separating traditional media relations from social media, “it's about a full 360-degree platform that's all led by strategy.” He adds that PR pros who want to succeed in social media should have a strong understanding of how to develop the path of a program or strategy.  

8. The ability to listen for insights.
Monitoring social media for mentions is simple, but to really listen and unearth trends is a true skill. Virginia Miracle, SVP and head of digital strategy at Ogilvy PR Worldwide, is impressed when a potential hire tells her an anecdotal story about how social media monitoring allowed him or her to unearth a trend that they were then able to explain to the client. “Showing that you are getting a new level of understanding is what sets you apart from people who just use one tool to count stuff,” she asserts.

9. Use of social media channels to present your own point of view.
Developing a personal voice on a social media channel such as a Tumblr account or blog is a great skill. Even if the subject area has nothing to do with the sector in which the young pro works, it can still show others that the individual has a true passion for and understanding of social media. “You don't have to show your passions,” Miracle says. “But does it set people apart in the mind of an employer? Absolutely. That's where it really makes a difference.”

10. A true curiosity for social media.
Up-and-coming PR pros should be able to talk about brands they admire and respect for doing interesting things in the social space. “Showing a real curiosity about social media and, specifically, how clients like the ones you may be working with, are interacting in, and portrayed on, social media is a huge differentiator,” Miracle says.

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