How to Get a Job in Social Media: R/GA

By Matt Van Hoven 

We’ve noticed that in the advertising and public relations industries, agencies are increasingly on the lookout for professionals experienced in social media. We can argue the merit of who has social media expertise and who doesn’t later. For now we want to know: what are agencies and their clients looking for in this burgeoning field?

Over the next few days PRNewser and AgencySpy will run interviews with major agencies seeking social media hires. These are not exhaustive interviews, just 10 quick questions aimed at peeling the lid back. Hopefully the questions we asked will help you guide your career path, if social media is part of it. Today, an interview with R/GA’s Richard Ting, VP, ECD, Mobile and Emerging Platforms and Ian Spalter, ECD, Mobile and Emerging Platforms.

1. What are the core skills of the social media staffer?

First, we look for someone who is an avid user of social media (SM). We expect our candidates to tweet, use Facebook, watch videos on YouTube/Vimeo, check in to Foursquare or Gowalla, and possibly blog on Posterous/Tumblr. You can’t strategize and create for SM without knowing the inner workings of its various platforms.

Our candidates should also understand SM within the greater context of how consumers relate to media and technology&#151the ideal candidate can zoom out from the tactical aspects of Twitter and Facebook and ask bigger questions regarding how consumer behavior has changed when it comes to the consumption and production of media and how that impacts a particular brand.

We also look for candidates who have actually been involved in a SM campaign/project that has launched in the real world. This space is not very mature, so we are meeting a lot of people who live in the space and some that have possibly put together a few high-level SM strategies and creative mock-ups. SM is at that stage in its growth evolution where it’s time to move from theory to practice-theory without practice is useless for us.

2. What are the breakdowns of social media titles/roles within the agency?

VP &#151 Leads and grows the SM practice across the agency.

Executive Creative Director &#151 Drives the creative and strategic vision for SM across the agency and/or on an account.

Strategy Director &#151 Drives the strategic vision for SM across the agency and/or on an account.

Strategist &#151 Creates SM strategy for a campaign/project on an account.

Social Media Activation Lead &#151 Works to activate dialogue, experiences, and campaigns with a brand’s consumers and influencers.

Social Media Coordinator &#151 Manages Facebook wall, Twitter posts, and posting content to SM platforms.

Aside from these SM-centric titles, an overwhelming portion of our internal resources are dedicated to weaving SM thinking into day-to-day activities. Our interaction designers, experience strategists, planners, visual designers, and technologists are all becoming very knowledgeable about SM. We expect all of our people to be pushing forward “socially-integrated” experiences in the very near future.

3. Where does the top social staffer rank in the agency hierarchy?

The top social staffer is Richard Ting, VP and ECD of R/GA’s Mobile and Emerging Platforms group. He is a nine-year agency veteran and reports directly to Bob Greenberg, Chairman/CEO/Global Chief Creative Officer. He’s also an integral member of R/GA’s Executive Management team.

4. What are clients looking for in social media and what is R/GA recommending they do?

Tough question. Every client is at a different stage of SM adoption. Some are just discovering the value of it, some are adopting it into their current campaigns, some are scaling up (internally and on the agency side) to support it, and some have already begun integrating it into everyday marketing activities.

Based on where certain clients are in the adoption curve, clients are typically looking for a wide range of SM strategies, including:

1. Strategies for how to effectively listen to SM conversations. Conversations that can impact an organization on many levels: i.e. customer service, product development, and optimizing brand messaging.

2. Strategies to help inspire conversations, such as blogger outreach programs and influencer programs.

3. Strategies for engaging in dialogue, such as “How do we leverage the various social platforms?” and “What type of brand engagement experiences or campaigns should we create in them?”

4. Strategies for defining where the dialogue takes place, such as “Are there any ‘own-able’ socially-driven platforms that a brand can create to fill a need or solve a problem for their consumers?” Socially-driven platforms like Kickstarter, Etsy, and Nike+ come to mind.

The questions we are being asked have evolved from “What is social media and why does it matter?” to “Is my customer using social media?” to “How can I be most effective engaging my customer in social media?” We’ve adapted to these needs by staffing people who understand the theory, but can also deliver in practice.

5. What did these candidates do to stand out? Any interesting stories of someone “breaking through the noise?”

Funny enough, we actually found some great candidates through Twitter. If you spend time on various SM platforms, the good people will stand out very quickly. Some of the candidates that we hired have set up large scale SM-driven events; others were heavy tweeters and bloggers; and others were presenting at conferences, writing articles, and providing general thought leadership. We like our candidates to already be very “social” and have a demonstrated energy and passion for the space.

6. Does R/GA plan to seek social media AOR status?

I don’t think so, unless a client really wanted us to take on that status. I think at this point brands shouldn’t be looking for different agencies to take on separate AOR statuses for every new capability out there. In order for SM to be effective, the thinking and the work needs to be fully integrated. There are a lot of synergies and efficiencies that we can gain by having the SM teams working side-by-side with creatives, technologists, and planners. Having them sit outside in a separate AOR can cause difficulties in planning and executing the work.

7. How many social media staff are you hiring in total?

We will staff according to client demand. Right now, we are forming SM “mini-teams” (two to four people) to service the accounts that require help from us. It could be possible that 12 to 18 months from now we have “mini-teams” on all of our accounts.

8. Anything else to share regarding R/GA’s social media initiatives?

Everything we do is becoming inherently social, so we expect our strategists, creatives, and technologists to understand how to integrate “social” thinking into all of our work.

The SM specialists that we are hiring now are in place to spark thinking across the agency and to be deeply knowledgeable in the intricacies of SM. For example, our specialists should be able to quickly answer any of these questions:

&#151 What are the best SM listening platforms out there and what are each good for?
&#151 What are typical KPI and metrics used for measuring SM campaigns and platforms?
&#151 What are the capabilities of various SM platforms that we engage in?
&#151 What are the latest developments in the Facebook API or the Twitter API?
&#151 How can we expand our creativity in the YouTube platform?
&#151 Which brands and agencies are doing interesting stuff in the SM landscape?

Two to three years from now we might not have a need for these specialists, as this capability will become a natural part of conversation in the agency and on the client side. However, for now, we need people who have a very deep and thorough understanding of the space.

SM creates some of the richest opportunity for our clients to evolve the relationship they have with their customers. Our job is to help them shape that evolution for the better.

Visit our public relations blog PRNewser tomorrow for an interview with Nick Ragone, Partner, Associate Director for Ketchum’s New York Office Development Director.

More: How to Get a Job in Social Media: Porter Novelli