Digital reality: Career Guide 2009

Social media savvy might get you in the company's door, but the ability to use it strategically will keep you there.

Touting five-plus years of personal Facebook usage, new and prospective hires can often approach social media PR with the necessary tools and a sense of ease. However, to be successful in PR they must learn to use the tools strategically, demonstrate their ability to contribute to a broad PR program, and generate measurable results.

“[Young staffers] can be strategic, but it's a matter of having a foundation of understanding what strategy really is,” says Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media for PepsiCo. “A good place to start is looking at a program that used social media and the strategy around it.”

He provides new hires with appropriate reading material, and encourages them to work with senior staffers on reviewing competitive digital programs.

Once they have a basic understanding, younger staffers can apply the tools effectively, adds Bough. He uses an example of a staffer with two years of experience who suggested that the company launch PepsiCo's Twitter handle during its corporate sponsorship of “South by Southwest” in March.

“It was a good analysis of our situation and the landscape,” he says. “It gave us critical mass because of how digitally focused that event is.”

He adds that a strategic foundation in social media also includes a deeply rooted understanding of measurement. “It starts with monitoring and understanding share of voice.”

Chris Shigas, VP of digital and social media at French/West/Vaughan, also encourages young staffers to explore the agency's resources to learn how to use social media beyond tactical implementation and to eventually show results.

“Our social media department is like an island and services all accounts,” he says. “It's important that young staffers develop relationships outside of that circle and find a person in the firm on grammar, messaging, positioning, and crisis communications.”

He agrees that once young staffers gain experience they should demonstrate a new level of strategic capability by presenting “any sort of metrics and developing an ROI basis for the work they do.”

Creating measurement
Tom Biro, senior director of communications at MTV, says job seekers and new hires bring a valuable agility to the space. However, he adds, they should be able to clearly present their ability to generate short-term ROI through their personal social media programs or for the benefit of a larger cause.

“[Young staffers] are able... to talk in a voice that is so far [removed] from what a marketer can learn or know how to do innately,” he says.

He uses the example of Allison Blass, a diabetes blogger in her early 20s whom he hired while at MWW Group. He notes that she could demonstrate exactly how she used social media to promote her cause, coordinate events, and generate donations.

Ryan Lack, senior client executive and social media specialist at Voce Communications, reinforces the importance of young staffers' strategic understanding of measurement.

He uses the firm's PlayStation client as an example, explaining that the agency might want to focus on Twitter and Facebook, to generate a conversation among players, but not on blogs, which could be more difficult to measure for that particular project.

“We're trying to teach young people that, unless we can actually measure and show that we're moving the needle in some fashion, we need to be more judicious in our use of social media.”

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