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What Does a Social Media Communications Specialist Really Do?

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The Hoo’s Who: Industry Insider Profiles blog series is a compilation of interviews with communications professionals in various specialities and levels. If you’re figuring out what’s next up in your career or looking to beef up your skills, keep up with the blog series to gain valuable insight about how other’s landed similar positions and ideas that will help launch you to the next stage in your career.

Today, we spoke with Stephanie Cifuentes, a Digital and Social Media Specialist about her profession and some career tips for aspiring social media communications professionals.

What do you do? 

Stephanie Cifuentes Picture What Does a Social Media Communications Specialist Really Do?

Stephanie Cifuentes

My company, Social Fuente Communications (www.socialfuente.com) is a social media consulting firm that works primarily with small businesses and non-profit organizations on social media management.  I also have a full-time position where I am responsible for social media and digital content for a company based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Essentially, I am responsible for creating content for various brands and managing everything from conceptualization of marketing plans to day-to-day implementation, and everything in between. I’m the person behind the posts and tweets!

What’s your typical day like?

Before my feet even touch the ground, I check my e-mails. I’m basically looking for any fires that may have popped up overnight with a client or at work. Next, I check my profiles to make sure there isn’t anything I need to respond to immediately or need to bring up either at the office or with a client.

If I’m at the office, I’m focusing exclusively on my company’s profiles. This involves a lot of research and getting approvals with our legal compliance department to make sure everything we’re posting is vetted and ready for public view. Ideally, I like to have a few standing posts scheduled at the top of the week or at least throughout the day so that I am free to attend meetings, take calls and do additional research for future posts. So much of what I do requires planning and approval but one way or another, things need to go out on a regular basis.

If I’m working out of my home office for a client, I’m basically glued to my computer and cell phone the entire day. E-mails and phone calls replace the casual walk-by meeting and the impromptu huddle so it’s imperative that I’m available. Thus far, my client roster has focused primarily on specific campaigns that I can plan for in advance. But all those posts have to be written, edited, sent to the client for review and approval before ever being scheduled so a lot of my time is spent crafting messages that need little to no introductions. I should also add that sometimes my office days run into my client days depending on how close we are to deadline, event or other turning point. Never a dull moment!

What skills and experience would someone need for your role?

First and foremost, experience in managing a branded page is essential, if not critical. Social for a person is completely different than for a brand. While many of the same functions are the same, (if you click “post” whether you are on a personal or brand page it’s still going to post your status) however the thinking and reasoning behind it are very different. The handful of times I was reviewing resumes for internships, I was in awe by how many people claimed they had experience in social media only to later find out that they meant their personal Facebook page or Twitter account.

I would also say having at least 1-2 years experience working in a communication department. One way or the other, you have to learn how to operate in the office caste system. How work flows and how to make decisions happen in order to keep momentum going.

Regarding skills, here’s what’s on my short-list:

Organized. You have to have some form of organization skills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to provide exact time, dates, platform and messages for a campaign because a board member or executive doesn’t remember seeing anything posted. Without a detailed editorial calendar, that task would be more than just daunting, it would be nearly impossible!

Collaborative. This is a tricky one, while depending on your company you may be the only person who does social (as is the case in many small businesses or non-profits) you will almost never truly work alone. You have to be able to connect with the IT team who explains how a new website feature will work that you need to post about. You have to be able to discuss with the Education team what the draw your keynote speaker has to craft the teaser tweets. Most importantly, you have to be able to sit down with your CEO or boss and take his seven-word idea like, “I want to do something with texting” and create a campaign (or several campaign ideas) that achieve those goals. The creative process is not linear. It twists and turns and sometimes dead-ends into a new idea. But every step of the way you’ll have to be able to work other people or teams.

Quick-Thinker. In 2000, when a company had a crisis exploding in their face, the one thing they could count on was time. They may not have felt like that was the case at the moment, but they always had at least 24 hours or even AN HOUR after a crisis to respond and usually, it was a press release or e-mail. Then there was another lag between when reporters received the press release and when media picked it up, we’re talking at least 1-2 days before anything REALLY blew up and by then you might even have a crisis communication plan in effect or better yet, the issue might already be resolved. Those days are long gone! Today, when crisis hits, one of the people in the war room is the social media person because someone has to post something to somewhere or else people will start posting for you, and it won’t be pretty. Even if it’s not crisis-time, you need to be able to quickly come up with ideas that work from the get-go, not after multiple brain-storming sessions.

Communication. No surprise here, you have to be able to convey ideas in concise, crisp and often SHORT sentences. I would go as far as to say that having that conversation-style writing would give you a better edge but that’s all up to your boss or CEO as to what he or she likes. One thing is for sure, you better be able to communicate your thoughts, ideas and pitches because that’s what people are expecting from you as communication professional (as they should!)

What experience did you gain in your previous positions that helped you land this role?

My first social job, I was so green I didn’t even know how to use a social media scheduling tools! This was also during the time when only enterprise companies had Facebook pages (think Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.) Once small-businesses and non-profits were let in, I got my first opportunity in setting up a page and managing it. I had to learn how to evolve from the, “Here’s where I am and what I’m doing” posts to “Here’s an article on XYZ that we found…” However, the bar was low so it was the perfect place for me at the time. At my next position, I had a director who had a much more traditional sense of marketing plans so my posts all of a sudden had timeline to follow. It was great because I became much more consistent.  I’d say the biggest lesson was training my mind to take long articles, distill it down to the core and being able to turn that into a social-ready post. In my current role, I’m looking at major, multi-market campaigns with various components at my day job and then turning around and focusing on the basics of building a brand and becoming an influencer for my clients. I have come a long way since not knowing how to schedule posts!

How did you start in the communications industry? What got you interested in the first place?

I was one of the few who knew in high school this was the industry for me. I wanted to be a publicist because I learned somewhere that they got to hang out with celebrities and go to parties!  As you can see, my degree in Public Relations didn’t ultimately lead me into the publicity field but it did take me into the non-profit sector where I was able to work and learn for many years. I enjoyed my time working for many wonderful organizations because it gave me the opportunity to both take on multiple roles and feel like I was making a difference.

What do you love about your profession? What is challenging about what you do?

There is just so much. I love how social can touch customers, members and the public simultaneously and instantaneously. I love that keeping up on what hashtags are trending on twitter or what’s being shared on Facebook is what I get paid to do. I love that I get to make complex concepts into bite-sized, easily understandable content.

I would have to say my biggest challenge is educating decision makers on the importance and the role of social in a well-thought out marketing plan. Primarily in non-profits, it’s something that executives know they should have but don’t understand how to use it. It can be an uphill battle!

What advice would you give to a college student or anyone who wants to start a career in digital/social media (or whatever area you are focusing on)?

Get your foot in the door wherever you can. Offer to take on social even if it means taking on more work if you already have a position somewhere. Volunteer your time in a social capacity. Learning the basics as volunteer can give you the experience you need for future entry-level positions. Plus, it is an awesome way to network. I would also recommend finding a brand you like and follow them to see what they do and how they do it. Try and figure out what the goal of a post is. Is it for lead generation? Is it to drive engagement? Often times it’s much easier to see someone else’s way so that you can figure out how you would do it differently (and hopefully better!) Finally, I would tell them to find local meet-up groups, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and join them. Participate in conversations. Ask questions. Get your name out there and put an ear to the ground. It’s not an easy field to break into but it’s definitely rewarding if you are passionate about it!

You can connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @stephcifuentes.

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