Guest post by Elizabeth Sosnow, managing director of BlissPR.

Public relations recruiting can be tough, but B2B social media recruiting activity almost put me into an early grave this year. We spent months searching for someone who understood how to marry the complexities of thought leadership creation and hands-on digital skills.

Why was it so difficult? There are a whole host of reasons:

  • What’s in it for me? PR is still figuring out how to monetize social media. And, as the industry flounders, our professionals don’t always receive the experience they need to evolve.
  • It’s mile two of the marathon. Consumer brands are gaining social media traction, but the B2B sector is pretty far behind. This recent Social Media Campaign Hall of Fame didn’t even have one B2B example. When there aren’t many case studies, there aren’t as many experienced people to tap.
  • Macro to micro. It’s very difficult to find folks who can distill complicated ideas in accounting, banking, or the law and also appreciate a deep dive into Google analytics and keyword trends.
  • What do we really want, anyway? We started our search hoping to find someone with social media skills. But, along the way, we began to realize that the ideal candidate might have other strengths: Analytics, SEO, email strategy, etc.
  • Experience = Salaries. Duh. If you actually fit the bill, you can command a very nice salary.

I’m not the only one trying to figure out how to find the right employees. In fact, I was recently asked by a global consulting firm and a major consumer PR firm about the same subject on the same day. Here’s my hard won advice…or six tips for recruiting a B2B social media hire:

  • Ask the right questions. There are lots of good posts on hiring for social media, but you have to read between the lines for this kind of position. We really want to know how they’d apply their experience to our problems. Construct some “what if” scenarios that allow you to compare answers across interviewees.
  • Decide how much traditional PR POV you really need. You should be very clear about your required mix of “old” and “new” skills. If you are fuzzy on this point, the whole search will go down the tubes very quickly.
  • Befriend B2C. Let’s not fight the trend, let’s leverage it. Create a job description that makes an attractive case for a B2C professional considering a transition.
  • Scan hot conference agendas to identify speakers who may fit the bill. If you think about it, the SXSW Panel Picker is a treasure trove.
  • Assess their current online presence for engagement. Not how many tweets, but how many times are they listed on Twitter? Do recognized influencers interact with them? Have they posted presentations that help advance current thinking? What do they think Google should do next?
  • Take a risk. This atmosphere has more than a little of the Wild West in it. There is no perfect candidate. Choose a compromise that makes sense for your unique needs.

You may be wondering how our search wound up. We had the good fortune to hire my colleague and friend Nathan Burgess. How did we find him? Twitter. Guess we do practice what we preach.

What strategy do you use to conduct searches? What skills are must haves for your digital new hires?

Elizabeth Sosnow leads BlissPR’s digital activities, overseeing implementation of strategy for large clients in financial and professional services, including blogger outreach, influencer engagement, SEO benchmarking, email strategy, and social network analytics. She is the incoming chair of the digital practice for Worldcom’s board of directors in the Americas region.