How many Twitter followers does it take to get a job?

Your online popularity might be as valuable to your career as a post-grad education. A recent job posting on Best Buy's Web site prefers candidates with a graduate degree and at least 250 followers on Twitter

A recent job posting on Best Buy Co Inc.'s Web site for a Senior Manager - Emerging Media Marketing position based out of the company's corporate headquarters in Richfield, Minn. listed two preferred job qualifications: a graduate degree and 250+ followers on Twitter.

Basic qualifications for the position include a Bachelor's degree, "two plus years of mobile or social media marketing experience" at the director or strategist level, "four plus years people or resource leadership experience" and "one plus years of active blogging experience."

While organizations put out job descriptions that list social media expertise, Best Buy's approach is absolutely new, according to Michael O'Connor Clarke, vice president at Thornley Fallis Communications. "This is the first time I've seen somebody be as simultaneously direct and oblique as this," he said.

Clarke speculates the approach is a shorthand way to weed out applications from people who just say they know social networking and those who can provide demonstrated expertise and presence in the space.

"They're signaling that they want somebody who understands the space well and at least has some established presence in that area. I can't think of many other ways to signal that ... than say you have to have a certain number of followers," he said.

While Clarke finds it "absolutely fascinating and really rather smart" to include a way of assessing someone's online presence and Twitter footprint in a job description, one plus years of active blogging experience and 250+ Twitter followers is "not necessarily the best thing to judge on."

"The advice we give our clients is it's much more important to look at the quality of engagement levels than pure quantity," said Clarke.

If you are in marketing, public relations, communications, digital media, the Web world or any related discipline, it's essential you pay attention to your online footprint, Clarke pointed out. This includes "not just the number of followers you have, but what your online reputation looks like," he said.

Sean Moffitt, president of Agent Wildfire Strategy & Communications Inc., also supports the concept behind Best Buy's posting while dismissing the 250+ reference.

"It's very tough for you to comment, provide expertise and direct the motivations of the company around this type of media without really rolling up your sleeves, so I commend them for actually doing some of the spade work in terms of knowing if their potential candidates are online," he said.

But Moffitt, who has more than 4,000 Twitter followers himself, doesn't believe pegging an actual number is right for a job qualification. Scale is important from a marketing standpoint, but presence and frequency are much more important than building scale online, he said.

"If you believe the Dunbar number, you can't even have good relationships with more than 150 people, so they seem to be going after a person that's way too into quantity of relationships as opposed to the quality of relationships they are having online," said Moffitt.

Moffitt admitted his own hiring practices have changed over the last six months. "Before I made the bet that somebody could learn a lot of the skills. Now I am pre-qualifying them by making sure I see them online before they even get to an interview stage," he said.

He expects more sophisticated platforms and tools for understanding what people are doing online are on the way. Having a broad understanding of a job candidate's social media and larger digital footprint is a trend that isn't going to change, said Moffitt.

"Social media has become part of the mainstream life and it's inevitable that some number of those tools will become part of the hiring process," said Terry Power, president of Sapphire Technologies Canada.

While the posting doesn't surprise Power, Sapphire is not yet seeing criteria such as having a Twitter following in the form of a specific job requirement from its customers. "I'm not so sure the numbers matter as much as people's ability to be effective with the actual tools and the various media themselves," he said.

The value of social networking largely depends on the nature of the career, Power pointed out. If your career lends itself to talent acquisition for a company, then it is very critical, he said.

But LinkedIn still takes precedence, according to Power. "From our perspective, LinkedIn is by far the most effective of all the online media tools. As a matter of fact, it's fast superseding the use of job boards," he said.

The fact that social networking is beginning to work its way into job descriptions shows that people need to exhibit not only competence but actual success in using social networking tools, said Jennifer Perrier-Knox, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.

"Experience with Twitter and other social networking technologies would likely be of most interest to those in media and marketing. We're also seeing increasing use of these types of tools in HR management," she said.

Within IT, social networking expertise will play out most for those in the Web development space, and as organizations start to leverage social networking technologies for their organizations, they'll need qualified people to help design and integrate them into their existing Web properties, said Perrier-Knox. "I can also see those in the software development industry using something like Twitter to gain feedback from potential customers as they move through the design and build phases of product creation," she noted.

Best Buy didn't respond to our request for comment.

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Jennifer Kavur

ComputerWorld Canada
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