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Looking for a social media hire?

So full disclosure: I started thinking about today's column because two of my colleagues from the newsroom: Lori Todd and Mallory Colliflower - have found jobs with other companies in social media. While they're certainly not the first to transition from journalism into social media full-time - they're just the most recent - it made me realize how many companies are hiring in this area - so I thought I would call up some local companies who were hiring to talk to them about how they did it. 

Final Cartoon Mostly, I was curious because it seems like many companies who are hiring in this area might be doing so because they don't have any background in it all - so how do they know how to hire, especially given the fact that so many people are touting themselves as social media experts? I decided to speak with AutoNation and the Knight Foundation,where Mallory and Lori have ended up. Despite the organizational differences of a large, public company versus a nonprofit, three main themes emerged: Personalities matter. So do results. But having a evangelist spirit about social media is just as important.

AutoNation's social media strategy is simple, said spokesman Marc Cannon: "We want people to be informed customers.''

The Fort Lauderdale company has just hired a social media coordinator, one of five such positions that have been created over the past year. Cannon said the company looked mostly at personality.

"There's a sense of energy you need with these folks,'' said Cannon. "They have to be good conversationalists, and hone things down into short message points.''

But results matter, too.

"Everybody blogs and everybody tweets,'' said the Knight Foundation's Marc Fest, who is looking to fill an online community coordinator position. "Let's say you have a blog and you routinely get people to comment, and you have 5,000 followers on Twitter. That shows you know how to engage people.''

Both want to infuse a sense of social media not just in that hire but throughout the organization, so having an evangelist nature about spreading social media to other employees is just as important.

Companies shouldn't be intimidated by hiring for social media, said Jackie Stone, a New York-based vice president with Digitas, an interactive marketing agency, who suggested businesses remember their long histories of hiring in communications.

Whether it's a big brand, a nonprofit or a small business, the most important thing is to have a sound strategy, a constant voice and to be authentic, she said.

"It's really important to have somebody who can listen and respond properly -- not just respond,'' she said.

Jessica Randazza was just hired by Digitas in January, to work in part on social media strategy. She echoed one thought that both AutoNation and the Knight Foundation also told me: you should hire someone who is passionate about your brand or product, because if they're not, that will show, too.

Those are some starting points for what you might look for in a social media hire, but I'm curious if folks want to weigh in on other qualities they have, or have found important in the hiring process.

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Thanks for the shout-out in this post. I am so extremely lucky to have been hired in this economic climate in an area that I am so passionate about. It's encouraging to know that companies are not seeing social media as as big of a risk as even a few months ago. The channels may evolve but being social on the Internet isn't going anywhere.

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