One of the hardest lessons for businesses to learn about social media is this:

Social media is a multi-way conversation.

This differs from more traditional messaging.  Ads are a one-way street.  PR is top-down spin.  And customer service is a function, not an opportunity.

But social media is organic.  Social media is live.  And social media evolves, depending on what you (or others) say and do.

In many ways, the skill set required to be successful in social media is more complex than the skills required to excel at more traditional corporate communication.

How so?

Your sales and marketing team are trained to convince, not to listen.

Your customer service reps are equipped to solve problems, not to build relationships.

And the people who write the best ad copy in the world may not be able to converse their way out of a paper bag.

A successful social media conversationalist must be able to do all of the above, plus

  • Listen attentively to incoming feedback
  • Engage in a welcoming, personal manner
  • Identify root causes of dissatisfaction
  • Sense opportunities to expound and explain
  • Recognize the differences between irritation and anger, or “like” and “love”
  • Excite non-employees about your brand
  • Cultivate both short-term satisfaction and long-term relationships

Social media requires adaptability, innovation, intuition and autonomy.  It rewards personality.  It’s best operated by an individual who can think on her feet.  And it can cause these individuals to be perceived by the public as the representation of your brand’s entire culture.

Given all that, it’s no wonder some companies have reservations about unleashing their employees on social media channels.  (And yes, sometimes those concerns are justified, as this list of 10 Ways Social Media Can Get You Fired suggests.)

Which is why it’s also worth mentioning some of the telltale signs that someone may not be an ideal choice to represent your brand through social media, including…

  • Poor time management
  • Poor grammar or spelling skills
  • A compulsive personality
  • Easily distracted
  • Drama queens
  • Office gossips
  • Liars, exaggerators and embellishers
  • Chronic excuse-makers
  • Employees who are already disenchanted with your company’s culture

Granted, if the above list describes everybody in your office, your problems run deeper than simply finding the best voice for your brand.  (In that case, you may want to first rebuild your corporate culture from the ground up, and then empower your employees to celebrate their improvements.)

Because you can always teach your employees to use social media, but you can’t always teach them the most important skill of all:

They have to care.