Combine a writer, marketer, public relations manager, business manager, communications specialist, strategist, researcher, techie, customer support representative, graphics designer, host(ess), entertainer, pet food expert, advocate and social media guru ... and what do you get?
A community manager fit for the pet food industry!
While she may sound like a very elusive (if not mystical) creature, there are individuals out there with this unique combination of skills and talents. Nothing less will do in today's pet food industry. There is controversy, animosity, mistrust, in-depth consumer knowledge and a long list of demands on top of the usual requirements for an online business presence. This person must effectively address unique concerns with the utmost integrity, intelligence and decorum. The information provided must be thorough and accurate, as well as interesting.
Your ideal social marketer also requires insight and reporting skills to assist in the development of social media initiatives. She must be able to extract information from social consumers to provide reports and recommendations to many departments within the company, including marketing, public relations, website administration and product development. She will be your eyes into the heart and soul of your customers and potential customers.
This combination of skills, expertise, familiarity with your company and strict adherence to company policies is why I firmly believe that the position should be a company hire, not a contracted agency. Generic social media and information management simply will not do for today's pet food industry.
There is no university degree that will guarantee how successful a blog/social media manager candidate will be. Marketing is different, journalism is different, public relations is different ... it's talent that makes your online representation effective and profitable. The basics of social marketing can be taught, but without talent and enthusiasm your social marketing will achieve mediocre results. I can learn the mechanics of writing, but I won't excel as a writer unless I have talent. Successful social marketing is no different.
What you're looking for
Talent - The candidate must provide samples and currently active accounts for you to review.
Expertise - Experience and certifications that support their talent and allow them to make a functional contribution to your company through the social Internet. For example, they need to be familiar with search engine optimization.
Enthusiasm - Look for excitement when they talk about what they do and what they can do for you. Without enthusiasm and a love for the game, they won't have the dedication required to keep up with the ever-evolving realm of social marketing. They need to possess the kind of excitement that is contagious.
Perpetual learner - A candidate should be compelled to constantly learn, not only to keep up with technology, but also to thoroughly research blog posts and answer questions.
Social skills - While it may sound obvious, a lack of fundamental social skills, decorum and judgement has landed many companies on the social hot seat. This is especially crucial for the petfood industry. They must be aware that like a celebrity representative, everything they say and do can reflect upon your company.
Written communication skills - I once had the job of taking information from the brilliant brains of Microsoft, and translating it into email tutorials simple enough for senior citizens who had very little technical savvy. I also had to explain problems like outages with enough information to satisfy and placate them. These were not stupid people, they just hadn't been born with a keyboard in their hand. It took some very careful communication to ensure that they didn't feel I was insulting their intelligence. Sincere empathy and honesty were my most effective tools. The communication skills required to address pet parent concerns and inquiries is very similar.
Design & presentation skills - Information is published constantly, making collaboration with a design team impractical. Illustration and even asthetics are important for effective online communication.
Reporting skills - The candidate must be able to extract pertinent information from social conversations and then summarize, organize and present recommendations to various departments. There should be a demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
Willingness to promote your brand - Be it an opportunity to mention your product or the willingness to write guest posts for pet blogs, this person should be willing to responsibly and ethically promote your brand across the social web.
Pet food knowledge - They don't have to be capable of managing your formulations department, but they do need to possess a thorough knowledge and understanding of both the industry and the products. They also must be able to ask your company experts for information and accurately translate it into layman terms for consumers.
Flexible schedule - Social accounts and blogs are not on a 9-5 schedule. The candidate, especially if she is home-based, should be willing to monitor morning, noon and night, including weekends. Not to an unreasonable point of course, but she should understand the demands of her career choice.
Where to find them
The best place to find pet food industry social talent is within the industry itself:
You can also extend your search to include generic technical job databases or specific blog job listings. This may lead to someone who has the general qualifications you desire, but will almost certainly require more training.
The good news is you can choose from talent all over the world. With today's technology, there is no need for an on-site Internet community manager. Remote workers save you money and you can hire them on a contract basis, allowing you to evaluate their performance and renew their contract based on that. Smaller companies can hire remotely on a part-time basis. For example, I currently provide part-time online community management and journal design services to the American Livebearer Association, which is based in Iowa, while I am based in Canada.
Once you find one of these social marketing unicorns, hang on to her! Pay her well, offer her perks, include her in sales bonuses and, most importantly, listen to her. She will substantially increase your sales and polish your online image to a brilliant shine if you let her.