By Kim Palacios

Hundreds of professionals self-identify as social media experts; but, what does that really mean? Social media (in the Web 2.0 sense, at least) has only been around for four or five years, hardly enough time to war-harden veterans. What about marketers (like me) who have worked in the online space since Web 1.0, perhaps for ten or fifteen years? Does industry tenure give us chops as social media gurus? The answer is a definite no.

The truth about staffing online marketing functions is that skill—not tenure—matters most. Yet, it can be challenging for hiring managers to discern the best candidates for social media jobs because the greater talent management context may be overly focused on tenure. There is another big challenge: even hiring managers focused on skills may not know what to look for. Here are some qualities to look for when hiring a social media marketer or agency:

A rationale for what social media platforms are appropriate for your brand. Not every brand needs a blog, or Facebook or Twitter. Not every company needs to be on every platform. Any social media professional you consider hiring should be able to tell you which social media platforms she recommends, and why. Asking your marketer what media she doesn’t recommend is also a fantastic interview question. This will illuminate whether your candidate has good critical thinking skills and a core understanding of your product and customer, both of which are necessary to highly successful social media launches.

Demonstrated ability to hear and emulate individual client voices. When you view the candidate’s portfolio, look at multiple clients’ social media pages to see whether each client’s postings have a distinct voice. Does Client A’s Twitter page sound like Client B’s Twitter page? Do the blog postings for Client C share the same tone, degree of formality, and format as those for Client D? If so, the candidate might not have the finesse to connect with your customers.

Superior writing skills. The devil is in the details and the best social media marketers are those with not just a grasp, but a mastery, of language. Full service social media marketers are called upon to write blog postings, Tweets, Facebook postings, ad copy (for paid campaigns on social media sites), descriptive text (for creating profile copy, promoting contests, etc.), polls and much more. The best results will come from a marketer who can write smart, clever language that will titillate and connect with your reader.

Administrator-level platform proficiency. Anyone can use Twitter or Facebook or any other social media platform, but not everyone knows the ins and out. Make sure your candidate can explain key differences in features and reach dynamics among the platforms you are considering. For example, can your candidate explain the pros and cons of a paid campaign on YouTube vs. Facebook? What tools do they use for scheduling, management, and reporting?

Statistical inclination and analytical reporting skills. A great social media marketer will be able to quantify her results, and will use real performance data to instruct the management of your campaign. Marketing, at its core, is simple: find and focus on the messages that resonate with customers; eliminate those that don’t. The right marketer should be able to prove the value she adds to your business by demonstrating disciplined, data-supported decision making and sharing with you the results.