Community Management

6 Skills You Need To Be A Social Media Professional

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Jay Baer Blog PostWhen Amber Naslund and I wrote The NOW Revolution in 2010, we created this graphic to describe the characteristics of the ideal community manager/social media practitioner. Since then, social media – and the skills needed to succeed in it – has changed substantially.

socila_media_skillsCertainly, some of the characteristics we noted remain very much a requirement. But the manifest shifts in social best practices, speed (foretold in The NOW Revolution) and technology have spawned a new list of ingredients that social pros ideally should possess.

6 Skills You Need to Be a Social Media Professional

This one is still very much true, and perhaps even more so. The best social media pros listen the most actively and most aggressively.

Pattern Recognition
This is getting more and more critical as the data and complexity of social continues to ratchet up. Are these posts on our Facebook page a crisis in the making, or just noise? Where are the real-time marketing opportunities? Instantly identifying patterns and being able to capitalize upon them are some of the skills that separate good social practitioners from great ones.

Visual Thinking
This is perhaps the biggest change in the past year or two. Being a great writer was formerly a key characteristic of many social pros, as being able to coherently write in 140 characters isn’t as easy as it appears. Today, with every social network embracing visuals and multi-media, being able to represent the brand visually is absolutely critical. This is a real challenge for many community managers who come from the PR/communications side of things, and all of a sudden need to be quasi graphic designers. I’m a big believer in social media pros taking photography classes in 2014.

Statistical Analysis

Social success is now about optimization, not colonization (click to tweet).

Understanding what works, what might work, why it might work, and under what circumstances is a major differentiator within the social media professionals ranks. Those that are constantly thinking about data and metrics, tying social outcomes to company outcomes are those that will ultimately succeed as social becomes integrated into larger business functions. If you’re not comfortable with math, data and Excel, you need to get good at that side of the business RIGHT NOW.

Understanding how to handle a wide variety of situations with aplomb, humor and empathy is a huge part of the business now, especially for front line community managers. My friend Jeff Rohrs – co-host of our popular weekly podcast, Social Pros – is a big proponent of social professionals taking improv comedy classes to burnish their in-the-moment chops. I concur.

Public Speaking
You may be thinking, “wait, I got into social media so I wouldn’t have to do stuff like public speaking, and could confine my awesomeness to a keyboard.” Well, here’s the deal. If you really want to make a run in this business, you are going to have to merchandise your success internally and externally. You have to make the execs in your organization understand why and how social works to either make the company money, save it money, or both. And if you can’t walk into that conference room and knock their socks off with a focused 10-minute presentation, you are realistically impeding your own success path.


What did I leave out? Where do you disagree? I’m sure this list will change again by next year. Maybe I’ll do this annually, if it warrants it.


Facebook Comments


  1. Jeffrey Slater says

    Jay, this is a great list. It is filled with rich insights. There is one that I would add to the list and that is patience. As Gary V talks about in his new book, social media is about a lot of jabbing before you throw a right hook. You need to build and nurture relationships and allow connections to unfold slowly. A slow, deliberate and patient approach to social media is key is you are going to be a pro.

    • says

      Thanks @jeffreyslater:disqus. Very good point. The great irony of social is that is happens so fast, but results accrue slowly. Gary and I talked about that a ton on our blockbuster episode of Social Pros. Probably the best show we’ve done in two years on the air. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

      • Jeffrey Slater says

        Jay, Gary did a speech to the wine industry for a conference I organized in Napa in April 2011 when his last book came out (Thank You Economy). We had 450 people in the room and he was wonderfully frank, direct and honest in pure Gary style.

        His new book is filled with rich insights and ideas and is adding great value to social media and marketing industry. When I listen to Gary’s recent interviews (like the one he did with Michael Hyatt) and John Lee Dumas, Gary’s only speed is FASTER. I haven’t listened to your interview with him yet but am looking forward to hearing it on my commute in the morning. Cheers.

  2. says

    Jay I would add “think long term while sharing in real time.” Watching over the past 6 years, I notice that there are a lot of start and stop activities in the digital space. When I ask colleagues and internal marketers at companies about this phenomenon, they have shared, “it feels like we have to move fast in order to keep up.” My observation: what appears to many to be moving fast… are people who have figured out how to move smarter. It is more than just taking an action in the moment. Too many marketers are taking lots of actions in the moment without asking smarter questions. How is this connected to our long term objectives?

    Since our brains are visual learners, it’s been fun to take even seasoned professionals who are colleagues and show them visuals of their activities, then show them visuals of how I strategize ( which allows me to take agile actions that are carefully vetted to move me closer to the finish line).

    I enjoy your work!

    • says

      Such a good one Michele. Ultimately, social has to be accomplishing something, and that something needs to pay off long-term, not today in the form of RTs or faves.

  3. says

    Great job Jay! I would add that any rock star social media manager needs to be committed (I mean REALLY committed, not just give it lip service) to continuous improvement. You can’t just strategize, set up a plan, execute it and sit back and see what happens. You have to stay one step ahead. Constantly measure, and adjust where necessary. But you also need to keep in mind your overall goals and focuses in on key performance indicators so that you can calculate ROI. But unlike classic marketing, your methods and approach will be in an ongoing state of flux.

    This also leads to the fact that social media managers need to be masters of organizing digital content. Know what to monitor, how to measure it, review results. Adjust where necessary. Rinse and repeat. If you aren’t organized, you’ll be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to get on top of your brand online.

    • says

      Super good point about organization. So key. And hard to learn, I find. You either “are” organized, or you “aren’t”. You can improve, but I find it’s more of a personality trait than a skill set. But maybe that’s just me?

      • says

        Hmmmm interesting point Jay. I would say that if I had to choose, I would not consider myself to be an organized person (it’s definitely a weakness of mine). However I love to use tools to help with productivity and organization; i.e. Buffer, SumAll, Talwind & Flitter. They help me to fake it pretty well! 😀

  4. T20 Media says

    This is a fantastic list and I totally agree with Jeffrey about needing patience. Each client is very different and their views on social media can differ immensely.
    I would also like to add one more thing to the list and that is to be realistic with costs. I have come across so many social media “guru’s” who charge a great deal of money and offer a lot of talk and not so much action. Small businesses desperately need to get involved and should not be put off by the price.

  5. says

    I so agree, especially with the visual aspects of social media. I just had a discussion with a client about that this morning– people are bombarded with so much online that you need good visuals to grab their attention! Of course, it never hurts to throw in a little humor, too. Scooping it!

  6. Naomi says

    I think it’s soooooo important to have a good brand personality now too. The likes of Tesco Mobile in the UK have shown that all the things we’ve held back from before and chomped at the bit to say, are what draw people to brands in the first place. Good humour, a friendly and easy going attitude alongside a professional customer focused voice will win every time. I really don’t think just anyone can be that for a brand either. It needs to be natural and genuine.
    I love the direction all this is going in. It’s taken some risk takers to really go for it but finally an age of REAL engagement and not submissive and fake rubbish! Wahoo!

    • says

      Very much so. It’s fascinating to think about circumstances where that personality stems from the community manager vs. where the personality is ingrained in the company’s DNA, and the CM is just the mouthpiece for it. You know what I mean?

  7. HoussemD says

    I would especially emphasize on the last 2 Jay. The best social media marketers I believe are good communicators. A good communicator listens, interprets and answers creatively. I definitely agree with Jeff, and I really like how you improvise in your Social Pros podcast. If I had to add anything, it would be that a good social media professional should have at least a basic knowledge of human psychology.

    I wrote a similar post a while back:

    • says

      If you had any idea just how much we improvise on Social Pros, you’d find it funny! Make sure you tune in to the 100th Episode live show next Monday! 5pm ET on Google Hangouts.

  8. says

    I have to agree with all of the above here, Jay.
    As someone that’s been doing this for a little while, I’ve also watched the landscape change and with that I’ve had to modify or add to my core skills (if I can even call them skills).
    The one that I need to work the most on right now is the visual thinking part. For one, I’m one of those people that you mention that comes from a PR/communications background, so writing has always been my go-to.
    The one thing I would add to this list is “Understanding.” I think that getting to know your audience falls partly under the understanding of your analytics and measurements because you can see specifically what is resonating with them etc, but sometimes you just have to throw something out there that doesn’t come from any previous metrics you’ve looked at in the past. However, knowing your audience really well will usually give you the ability to know what kinds of new things will (likely) work with them and which they won’t respond to at all.

    Sheldon, community manager for Marketwired

  9. RareAgent says

    improv comedy classes – now I would have never thought of this until I read it in your blog. RareAgent brings in humor and I do public speaking, but I haven’t taken an improv comedy class – that’s my next project to tackle. Thanks!

  10. kpogge says

    Great post – I agree with all of the above. Especially the public speaking part! The biggest part of growing social at the firm I work for is education and awareness – we have to have great and engaging presentation skills to make that a reality and are hoping to do just that this year! Will certainly continue reading your posts for insight and information!

      • kpogge says

        Thanks for asking, no, actually I’m from NY but this was from a family vacation out west. One of the most beautiful places we visited and very inspiring.

  11. says

    Very good article and I agree with all points. The only thing I would add is something about organizational development or change management. The fact is that even if you have all of these skills your social media initiative will die if the culture of your organization can’t support it, That might be beyond the job requirements of a community manager but it is a skill that needs to be addressed somewhere.

    • says

      Good point. Change management is huge. Agreed that it’s not always resident in the social practitioner. Depends on the size of the company.

  12. Kathy Klotz-Guest says

    Amen, Jay. Although as a marketer and comic improviser, I think every businessperson, not just social media professionals, should take at least one improvisation class. Hell, it should be required in college and in business school. It’s about adaptability, empathy and listening (not just humor) and if ever there was a time to employ those skills – it’s now! Yes, and…!

  13. says

    Glad to see listening at the top of your list. Crucial skill for sales and social media professionals. Years ago I got myself into Toastmasters and it improved my public speaking and storytelling 100% — also helped improve my improv — I would recommend it to everyone (caveat: you have to find the right group). Enjoyed “NOW Revolution.” – Best, Michael

  14. Jayanta Dey says

    Great post. It’s very imformative. I agree with all the points u discuss
    in this post. Now a days social media is very important aspect. Thank you for
    these information about social media.

  15. Sophia Walks says

    Good points to be considered for social media approaches. One point that I think is missing here is time that happens to matter a lot. Today the social media is flooding with a whole lots of updates and notifications and pretty good number of changes that got changes at very short period of time. When the time can be focused and at exact time when the large number of public availability can be gained in the social platform, at that time the postings definitely will give more specific output. What say?

  16. says

    Spot-on, Jay. Agree with the Comments, especially with Change Management and Culture. HUGE HUGE HUGE. As you’ve astutely pointed out many times, Social Tech is changing everything in the business process – really, everything – right down to the core of business.

    A couple key skills I would add:

    Video – photography, yes, absolutely – extremely helpful on a number of levels. But I’m finding that turning photo’s, which are really scene’s, which are really stories, into compelling video’s, with speed and quality, is also a critically important skill – right now. Here’s a recent example of one I did based on a trip I took to Thailand to support an org involved in #childsexslavery and #humantrafficking.
    I saw your comment on Facebook as I was writing this. Yes, visual thinking. That’s the key. But turning those thoughts into viral video – critical skill.

    Crowdsourcing – I think this is going to be a key differentiator on the success continuum. A Social Media Pro is going to need to be a Crowdsourcing expert – both to get media developed (e.g. videos and graphics, stories, ideation, coding, etc.), and to get media promoted once it’s developed and launched. Crowdsourcing is both an external and internal thing. And Crowdsourcing is all the more important in an era of shrinking staff and budgets, increasing constituent demands, and increasing ROI expectations. It seems like freelancing is a major trend, as well as globalization. So figuring out how to leverage those crowds of freelancers seems like a critical skill for a socmed pro.

  17. Adriel Entertainment says

    I agree with the article. The importance of getting from behind the computer is critical and is a very important part of business plan for 2014

  18. says

    Great post! Here are some more qualities of a great Social Media Professional (SMP): PROFESSIONALISM and ATTENTION TO DETAIL gives the client the reassurance that they can handle any aspect of the work that the client does for the people who use their business. The client can COUNT ON the SMP to give every task the CARE and ATTENTION it deserves. The SMP ANTICIPATES problems that may arise, and has SOLUTIONS at the ready so that projects continue smoothly.

  19. says

    I like it Jay. Ever since this morning when you and I talked, I’ve been pouring over your site. I like everything that you have written here, but with one addition. Bring personal qualities to your social media so people can connect with you easier. I think some topics for discussion are being engaging (charming), interactive(influence other people to take action) and connectivity(link yourself to other like minded people). I don’t think any of these can be done without being personal.

  20. Akash Agarwal says

    This is a nice article. As an social media professional, I got a great help from this article. Thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  21. Felix Brown says

    Really love the tips you include around what to include in your social media policy. In fact, I’m going to ask my team to adopt them. Thanks for the smart post!

  22. Felix Brown says

    Really love the tips you include around
    what to include in your social media policy. In fact, I’m going to ask my team
    to adopt them. Thanks for the smart post!

  23. says

    Spot on, Jay, I think an annual post to reflect on how social is evolving is highly warranted. Overall, “engagement” is implied in your post, but I think it should still blatantly make the cut as far as skills needed to be successful. No matter how big or small a brand is, acknowledging most comments/responses/feedback, etc. is very important to make the fans feel that much closer to the company.

  24. Valerie Morrow says

    Not enough can be said for the importance of being able to talk in terms of analytics and recognizing patterns. I would also submit that being able to understand how trending topics, events and news-worthy pieces fit into your branding strategy.