According to the HBR Analytics Services report:
• 61% of companies admit the need to overcome a learning curve before adopting any kind of social media strategy
• 41% of companies state that understanding the potential of social media to make a difference in their business is one of their top three most pressing challenges
• Only 12% of firms feel they are using social media effectively

This has created incredible opportunity for advancement in community outreach, internal communications, relationship building, sales, growth — you know the buzz… but it also creates an open door to chaos, mismanagement and frustration.

Many companies are hiring social media managers with unrealistic expectations, misguided concepts or lack of support. When the internal workings of the company or other management are not prepared for this kind of public activity, or when guidelines are not clearly set, the job of a social media manager can be difficult. On the flip side, many smart companies are hiring social media specialists to truly lead growth and have the supportive environment to truly provide very rewarding and interesting work experiences.

It’s a revolutionary time in business communications — so how do you know what you are signing on for? Based on various conversations and experiences I have seen, the best way to get the real lowdown on what you might be getting yourself into is through comprehensive questions at the interview level.

For the smart social media managers out there, here are the 12 questions to ask before you take a social media job:

1. Evaluate the company’s understanding of what social media is

Do they think it’s about tweeting and making a Facebook page for the purpose of building “Likes” or do they have a deeper understanding? Make sure their needs match your experience, expertise and ideal role.

Understand where the idea that they need to get involved in social stems from. I have run into quite a few people who tell me, “I was told I needed a Facebook Page and that’s what I want” — however, when you ask them why or what they hope to accomplish with it, they have no idea. Answers to the origins of why they are getting involved help you understand the true amount of work you are going to have to put into the job and if it is going to be right for you.

Will you just be stepping in to do your job as requested, or do you have a long path of teaching ahead of you that will add numerous levels to the work you will do?

2. Ask if they have an existing social media policy or if this will be part of your responsibilities

This should be the first thing you do in your role if there is not one in place — in order to set expectations and also to help bring the company on board as a whole.

3. Find out who you will be working with

Ideally, in a social media communications position you will have access to all the key department heads. If the position you are interested in looks strong, it is worth asking if it is possible to meet with the department heads to understand their expectations prior to accepting the position. This sounds extreme, however — it will give you a very strong idea of what kind of support or challenges you might face.

4. Find out about their “legal” concerns

In the context of running public communications, you may want to inquire how much latitude you will have and what the process is from conception to release. Are you working within a regulated industry or a company that is going to function as one? For example, will you have the freedom to tweet or post blogs within a certain set of guidelines? If a crisis comes up on a social channel, what is the process before you can respond? How much latitude will you have?

5. Find out if you will have any support staff or if you will be doing the job on your own

Oftentimes when we work in a field, we understand the type of tools, or support we may need to get the job done. I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken to who have a laundry list from here to the moon of things they expect to be accomplished in the role of Social Media Manager — yet they have no core understanding of the time and work involved. The amount of support and the resources you will be given to generate content will be key in determining if the expectations of the role are realistic. Find out about support staff, content creation resources, and budget for external resources (if any).

6. Know the objective

Understand what the objective of the job is. What do they expect to accomplish?

7. Ask how they intend to measure your success

Evaluate how they plan to measure you. Depending on the knowledge level of the hiring firm and the level of trust they will place on your expertise, the way they plan to measure you will give you a strong indicator of whether or not you will be successful — and also to what extent they are hiring you as an expert vs. a spoke in the wheel.

8. Give them an example of a social media crisis and find out how they might expect it to be managed

You want to get a sense of what kind of support you might expect, who would be involved in resolving issues, or if you will have a lot of red tape to deal with. In addition, this question will likely produce the opportunity to identify that crisis management guidelines have to be established with clear directives so that if a crisis comes up, you have the support, resources and ability to manage it. Perhaps you may even find out that the management of the crisis will not fall into your hands, another important piece of information to assess if this will work for you.

9. Ask them how many hours per week they expect the job to be

This will give you a better sense of what kind of expectations they have and provides an opportunity for dialogue. These kinds of conversations are best had before you get into a project — set clear expectations.

10. Find out who handles the technical side of things

If something goes wrong on the website, with your internet accessibility, or on the servers — who can help you? Social media is a live channel — when something goes wrong, the closest thing to an immediate response is required. Imagine that something serious goes wrong on the blog, you have people tweeting to you complaining and you can’t get the support you need. This is a major issue in being able to do your job well. Make sure that you can have access to technical support resources so you have the tools to get things in shape.

11. Ask about working location — onsite or offsite?

This could end up being an advantage or something to negotiate. The answer will give you a sense of the company culture. Depending on your preferences, it will give you a good idea about if you will enjoy your working environment.

12. Open a discussion on your strategic approach

Analyzing the environment, the perceived expectations and the potential in a social media role is just as important as getting the job. Maybe you have expertise in a few key areas, and what the company wants to focus on is neither your strength or interest. Or maybe what you’re expecting to do is quite elaborate and all they want are “Facebook Likes.” You need to find out and find a position where you can thrive and be successful. Don’t leave the description as “doing social media” — that is far too broad and undefined. Make sure all parties are aligned.

Social media managers are the first to be criticized when something goes wrong and no one is going to ask if it was the company’s fault — it is going to be yours. An organization hires you to perform this role and, understandably, in many cases the principals do not understand or specialize in this field. They are counting on you. That’s your professional responsibility — if you really are a deep diving and capable social manager, then make all the answers to the above questions your business.

This is the only way you will be successful. If the organization does not make your cut as the type of environment that social can thrive in, then walk away! Make sure you step into a position where you will have respect and be valued as a professional who is empowered to truly get the job done. The alternative, at best, is a frustrating and limiting environment which will hinder your success or in the worst scenario — and one that is very possible: it could be career suicide.

What factors impact your decision on taking on a social media position? Have you faced challenges with issues like these?

Written by Mila Araujo and republished with permission courtesy of 12Most