Do You Need Social Media Experience to Land a Job In PR?

15 years ago, heck maybe even 5 years ago, before the social sharing, and before “instant news” was wildly popular, a PR professional’s job was tricky, to say the least.

Dealing with potential sabotage, rumors and misinformation; making sure consumers and the public viewed their clients in the correct light. 5-10 years ago, PR professionals struggled to deal with the sheer power of the Internet, to manage expectations.

However in recent years; social media has complicated things a bit. It has obviously made opinions more valued, but more importantly social has given PR professional an avenue for creating engaging relationships.

There is no doubt that most PR firms are diversifying their employees to shape both their high level communications and social engagement talent base. So does having social media experience help you? Sure, it probably does. A better question for many is, do you need social media experience to land your dream job in PR?

That answer is rather complicated. I’d love to say that social media would typically be handled by entry level employees, because it requires less “seriousness.” However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The recent emergence of social media in the public relations is expected to increase job growth. Many public relations firms are expanding their use of these tools, and specialists with skills in them will be needed.”

This data may suggest that firms are actually investing professionals with a high level of experience to manage their client’s social presence. With that notion, the data may suggest that social media is an acquired skill within PR firms. A surprising number of high level executives are working directly with social media, according to Simply Zesty.

Then again, it makes sense to strategically drive social media campaigns. Twitter is one of the most direct ways a company will show face to its community; if I were a company hiring a PR firm to manage my social presence, I’d want some experience behind my tweeters. Having experience as a community manager can illustrate that you have the chops to communicate messages professionally.

Personal accounts
I’d like to say that nowadays, a personal social presence helps in the screening process. But PR firms likely understand the difference in tweeting personally and professionally. Unless you are a social media guru with 40,000 followers plus, being authoritative on your personal social media accounts shouldn’t impact your screening process. However, do note that personal statements, or inappropriate material could definitely hurt your chances.

PR firms want people who can run social media campaigns for clients and measure ROI. If you are an entry level employee who tweets every few days, I’d stay away from calling yourself “social media savvy.”  Hard experience, means you have influence on a community, scope to communicate effectively and the chops to track and monitor campaigns.

All in all, if you are looking for a job in PR, social media experience can help, but only if it is professional experience. Having a social presence is important but not necessary for succeeding public relations. Even though PR firms are inherently more social these days, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get “in” with them with little social media experience.

About the Author
Matt Krautstrunk is an expert writer on document management systems based in San Diego, California. He writes extensively for an online resource that provides expert advice on purchasing and outsourcing decisions for small business owners and entrepreneurs such as document software at Resource Nation. Contact Matt on Twitter via @MattKrautstrunk.

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9 comments on “Do You Need Social Media Experience to Land a Job In PR?

  1. Thanks, Matt. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of social media as an essential, entry-level skill. The feedback that I receive from my students who return from job interviews and prospective employers who conduct interviews confirms this. I should also note, to support your points, that 80% of companies use social media to recruit and hire new employees (and 95% of those use LinkedIn).

    I wanted to add, though, that students also need to become aware of and proficient at managing the risks as well as benefits of social media. Too much of anything, including social media, is not healthy. Also, think of the profound influence that social media is having around the world. It’s even being used to topple governments (as in the Arab Spring). Social media is also becoming a battle ground, as seen recently in reports coming out of Mexico about the ways that drug gangs are committing atrocities to discourage Internet reports about their activities. Read my latest blog post about this at http://bit.ly/ppf5Xw.

    Thanks again for the sage advice. We all should take heed.

    Mark Van Dyke, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor, Communication
    Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY
    Visiting Professor of Strategic Communication, U.S. Army War College
    mark.vandyke@marist.edu

  2. I don’t think it should be at all surprising that firms are hiring people with years of professional experience to handle social media. Social media is one component of a communications strategy, and leaving your least experienced employees in charge of an entire component is a very, very foolish thing to do.

    Who exactly doesn’t have social media experience? If you’re on LinkedIn, you’re on an online social network. If you have a Flickr account, commented on a blog, an account on Facebook, or joined a Meetup group, you have social media experience.

    Probably not enough to land a job, nor enough to understand what’s happening in social, but certainly enough experience to broaden your understanding of it. And looking 5 years in to the future, will anyone hire a PR professional that doesn’t understand or participate in social? I wouldn’t.

    • Kama,

      That is a great question. What exactly is social media experience? Is it having 900 followers on your personal account and understanding how to converse on social platforms or is it experience managing and achieving client’s goals through social media?

      Obviously if presented two candidates, most businesses will opt for the latter, but does that mean personal social media experience can’t translate to corporate?

  3. Kama’s comment about everyone having “experience” is the reason that in the last two positions I was involved in recruiting, I specified “experience using social media on behalf of a brand, cause, or organization.” Anyone who had those got more points in the initial screening and ranking.

    Dinking around on Facebook or looking at LOLcats does not qualify you to speak on behalf of my organization wearing our logo as your avatar. Understanding how to convey an appropriate voice, find answers to questions and post them in a timely manner, recognize when a series of comments indicates an emerging issue that requires some talking points and response, and think about how the post reflects the brand’s core messages requires a deeper skill set.

    That doesn’t mean it has to stay in the PR/communications department. If you trust someone to handle customer service (or whatever the knowledge base is) on the phone, in person, and via email, that person can do it in social media with some training. The training needs to come from the PR department, which is another reason you need to hire PR people with those skills.

    @BarbChamberlain

    • Yes, so true! I still run in to professionals that don’t understand some of the basics of social media and how it relates to a corporate communications strategy. In my mind, it’s always been about being open to new things in social, trying them out or at least be aware of them, and thinking if the tools are relevant for a client.

      I just can’t see maintaining a lack of experience in social professionally, and having an expectation of employability in a couple of years. (I think it’s stretching it now).

  4. Pingback: Strategists Need to Continue to Do ‘Punk Work’ from Time to Time |

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