By Richard Bloom, Purple (www.purple-consultancy.com)

Social media has been an increasingly relevant and prominent part of the marketing mix for the best part of the last five years, and in recruitment terms, really became a ‘buzz word’ in January of 2010. As we’ve been working with the digital communications industry since our launch ten years ago, and aware of trends and new roles that appear on the scene, it was inevitable that these new positions would follow.

The interesting thing about new social media roles is that the people who are purporting to be expert in the area can still only have had a limited amount of experience. The nature of the digital medium is that you develop expert skills very quickly, and even a little knowledge can actually position you as an expert as it is probably more knowledge than most people have. Naturally it’s up to us as recruitment specialists, to establish what level of expertise each candidate actually has.

A range of briefs have been arriving at Purple HQ since the beginning of the year for roles that have never existed before; Social Media Manager, Social Media Strategist and Planner among them. Fundamentally the skills needed to take on these roles centre around having an in-depth knowledge, and understanding of, the social media landscape, how to plan a social media campaign and, finally, how to implement and evaluate it. Candidates must be able to articulate the benefits of using social media channels and provide measurable ROI and analysis of the activity.

The types of agency that are looking for people with these skills include creative agencies, PR agencies, digital specialists and media agencies. In our experience, it is the media agencies which have been particularly active in taking in these ‘experts’ and embracing the new possibilities they provide. Who should ‘own’ the whole area of social media marketing is still undecided. But it is obvious that agencies with a remit to provide commercial justification for use of media could potentially steal a march on their more creative-focused counterparts, and this is through recruitment of the best expertise in the whole area of social media. PR agencies also have a vested interest in offering social media skills and owning the new platforms for building and managing brand reputation online, but inevitably that means that they tend to harness the potential of social networks in a less sales-focused way.

Given the post-recessionary times that we live in, it is understandable that client marketers are looking to be educated on marketing innovation and the use of these social media channels as potential marketing outlets. Candidates with traditional digital marketing backgrounds need to be absolutely certain that they can become a mentor to a client if they are to put themselves forward for a specific social media role. Clients still understand little about how to manage their customer relationships via the social networks to best effect, and they really want, and need, to feel that they are in safe hands and that their agency teams know what they’re doing.

Another essential skill that a candidate should bring with them is the ability to harness the blogosphere. They need to understand blogger outreach and have a little black book of relevant blogging contacts to seed ideas out through. It’s central to social media marketing and a core part of what they are expected to do.

There are certain technologies that are used in the implementation of social media marketing which candidates must, of course, be familiar with, Radian 6 being one. Being knowledgeable about technology is not necessarily the same as being technical and social media experts need to be able to ‘talk the talk’ on the latest web technologies available to social media marketers.

Inevitably there are many traditional digital marketing specialists making the move into the more specialist role of ‘Social Media Guru’ or whatever the new title happens to be. It is this understanding of all digital marketing skills that is essential. Ultimately though, it’s still imperative in any of these roles that there’s a full understanding of how social media activity can sit with, and work effectively within, a fully integrated campaign. Facebook apps and other social media activity via blogs or Twitter for example provide potential, but they are rarely strong in isolation without the support of the ever-changing innovative social marketing activity.