// what do you think?


Are Job Hopping Social Media Strategists Hurting Their Careers?

This one goes out with love to all you social media, job hopping, circus freaks. You are my people.

There’s got to be a joke in here somewhere: This afternoon I listened to a Russian talk about employee management. But seriously, Boris Groysberg is an amazing teacher and very funny. Boris spoke to our HBS  class about ‘A New Breed of Employees’. Boris actually wrote a book that I’m very interested to read and I can honestly say I’ve never said that about an HR book. Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance.

Why is this book so interesting to me? Well because it addresses one of the great debates of star talent, is it nature or nurture. Basically are star employees born or made? Boris’ research looks at employees as they move from one company to another and do they retain their “star power” or not. Again you may ask, why is this of so much interest to me?

The Hunt For The Elusive Social Media Strategist

With very, very, very few exceptions, I, and every one of my friends working as social media strategists, have changed jobs *at least* once or twice in the last 5 years. Some as many as 4 or <cough> 5 <cough> times.

Why have we changed jobs so many times? Those of us doing this for the last 5 years got an early start at developing a critical skill set that few people had and every major company all of a sudden needed very, very badly. This placed us in the *star* category and has lead to a ridiculous number of job offers, made even more ridiculous when you consider they came during the worst job market we’ve seen in our adult lives. We’ve also jumped around a lot because we’re super ADHD and often come from non-traditional background. Basically we’re about as stable as circus freaks.

While most of us have really good reasons behind our job changes (honest we do) I worry about those that make a habit out of jumping around too much. I for one feel that I’ve finally found a place where I fit and have no plans of leaving. I also know several of my social media job hopping friends feel the same. But I’d be lying if I could say without a doubt that I’ll be working at the same company for the rest of my life. That is just such a foreign thought to me. And I’m not alone in my perception of reality.

Here’s what Boris’ research showed:

Star employees that move to other companies see an immediate performance drop in the first year, slowly building back up over the next 3 years but rarely ever return to their previous levels of performance.

The two questions you have are ‘Why?‘ and ‘What about those exceptions (because I’m sure I’m exceptional)?‘ I’ll do my best to accurately answer those questions from my notes on Boris’ class without having read his book.

Are You A Team Player or A Lone Wolf?

You need to determine if you have Portable Human Capital or Non-Portable Human Capital. Is your success largely because of the team environment, Non-Portable Human Capital, or because you are a true lone wolf, Portable Human Capital? (Be sure you’re honest with your response.) If you have a strong team around you then you need to be very careful the kind of environment you jump to.

People that move with their teams are far more likely to succeed than those that move individually. This is why you see new CEO’s replace all of the key management with their own people.

Moving Up The Ladder?

If you’re moving to a weaker or smaller company from a stronger one then you will likely fail. This is exemplified by the smaller competitor stealing one of their bigger rival’s star players. But if you are moving from a weaker position to a stronger one then you will likely succeed. If you’re making a lateral move you can eventually achieve your previous level of performance but it will likely take you 2-3 years to get there.

Can My Klout Score Predict Success?

Here’s some good news for those of us in social media. Star performers always have wider and deeper personal networks than there non-star counterparts. This is just a universal fact. And those with the widest and deepest networks not internal to their organization are much more likely to succeed than those who have more of their personal network inside their organization. And no, the number of followers you have on Twitter does not constitute a wide and deep network.

I Need To Get Me One Of Those Social Media Guru’s

Now if you are thinking you need to hire a social media star for your organization here’s some facts to consider.

  • 66% of stars leave within 5 years. If that resume looks a little too active, it’s a good indicator they’ll leave again. Remember - circus people.
  • Building your own internal expertise and strong teams is cheaper, more effective long term and creates a happier team dynamic than hiring stars.
  • This is especially dangerous when hiring stars into managerial positions. They have a harder time integrating with those who they jumped over in line, which stretches out that 2-3 years of recovery time to more like 4 or 5, assuming they ever get there.
  • Those that got passed over for the promotion will likely leave.
  • And when the star employee leaves this will likely create a whole new wave of turnovers. Basically it can be a mess.

But if you do legitimately need to hire from outside because of high growth (which is something I’m intimately familiar with) here’s what you can do to help your new stars succeed. Or if you’re a star looking to move (for good reasons not just because you got bored) here’s what you should look for.

  • Look for stars from smaller companies who just need a bigger platform to succeed from. Stars, look for bigger platforms to go to not smaller ones. I will note the one big exception here is doing a startup. True startups seems to be somewhat immune to this.
  • Make sure you provide a friendly team landing. Stars, make sure you’re moving to a strong team environment. Most companies do a horrible, I mean nonexistent, job of integrating their new hires. #FAIL
  • If you need someone to build something for you (like a social media center of excellence or department) from scratch, make sure they have experience building not just working in one. Hiring someone to recreate the environment they had is different than working in it. Instead look for someone who’s built what you want.

In my case I kept moving to stronger platforms and stronger teams. It’s why I never saw a performance drop but instead saw a performance boost with each move. I also have a larger than average, diverse network. Those of you that are thinking about moving, *especially* those of you under 30 that are getting anxious for your chance in the limelight, think long and hard about a move. A move may provide an immediate boost in your salary but over 2-3 years you’re usually not any further ahead than you were when you started. But then again I’d be a hypocrite if I said sometimes it’s not the absolute best thing to move. Just be smart about it. The grass is rarely greener on the other side.

To all of my many, many friends working in this space (even those of you working at competitors) I truly hope you’re happy where you are and plan on staying for a while. Build something awesome and shine like the star you are.  And if you’re not happy, let me know I’ve got a great team environment over here for you.

Long Live The Social Media Circus Freaks!  \o/


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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://www.lizasperling.com LizaSperling

    You nailed it @tacanderson. Long live the circus freaks, indeed!
    Liza Sperling | @lizasperling

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Everyone will laugh at the ‘circus freaks’ line, but only some will really get it. You, I know ‘get it.’

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Tac! I think we’re definitely reaching a time where team changes are actually (in most cases) a good team member joining a nimble, talented team that’s already in place - hopefully resulting in an elevated game.

    It honestly scares me when I see friends/colleagues/competitors taking the “big” job and taking the weight of the social media world (and success of the new brand) on their shoulders. While some can (and do) succeed in that atmosphere, I doubt it’s without sacrifice in other areas.

    Always good to check in on the blog. Safe travels back this way soon.

    Ron Schott

  • http://www.socialnerdia.com Esteban Contreras

    really good post. entertaining. insightful. cheers to all the circus freaks.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Thanks Ron. You’re right that many companies, especially agencies, have developed out a team and few people have to start from scratch anymore but I’m also seeing those that changed jobs a year or so ago change again and I worry that people will think you can keep jumping up forever. It’s a gamble every time and should be well thought out.

  • http://twitter.com/prpeep Vanessa Williams

    Great post. The uncertain economy (and marketing budgets) along with the wild west social media industry has certainly created a brave new world of trends. It will be interesting to see if/when things settle down.

  • http://twitter.com/scott_nicholson Scott Nicholson

    Interesting comments & applicable to more than just the social media industry.

  • http://www.jeremymeyers.com/ Jeremy Meyers

    Beyond my having an issue with the whole ‘rockstar’ thing (which is often more a matter of perception and visibility than a matter of any actual talent or vision…don’t underestimate the $ value of being the ‘go-to guru’), I’d say if the folks you’re talking about are consistently finding new, challenging and worthwhile jobs every few years, then their careers are doing just fine.

  • http://business.alliworthington.com/2011/04/07/are-job-hopping-social-media-strategists-hurting-their-careers-via-new-comm-biz/ Are Job Hopping Social Media Strategists Hurting Their Careers? (via New Comm Biz)

    [...] Are Job Hopping Social Media Strategists Hurting Their Careers? | New Comm Biz. Tweet blog comments powered by Disqus [...]

  • http://www.socialmediatalent.com Jim Durbin

    Moving is certainly causing a problem, as fast moves tend to cut off the experience needed to succeed in the next job. Social business is about changing habits and altering the DNA of a company. If every time it gets difficult, you jump to the next company who is looking for “social talent,” you’re not boosting your resume, you’re playing with your online profile. Eventually, the music stops and you’re left without a chair.

    This is partly the company’s fault for hiring based on personal profile and not understanding what they need, and it’s partly the fault of the employees, who love strategy but fail to understand that high-level training doesn’t work if there is no base level of understanding

    The point of the book is that experience in an organization over time yields the ability to get things done. Job-hopping based on personal networks is fine during the bubble, but as more people improve their networks, it’s not enough.

    I tell candidates they get hired for their social media “sizzle,” but they get paid based on their experience “the steak.”

  • http://twitter.com/CliffKinard Cliff Kinard

    Great post! IMHO it is due to the fact that we(strategists) now have measurable experience. Now companies are discovering that 1) interns and their kids are not the answer to corporate social media strategy. 2) Social media is NOT going away!

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    Very true. This may be blasphemy to say but I don’t think the skills social media strategists are unique to those of us doing it today. I would hope that companies start turning internal to their organizations to find that talent, because I know it it exists in almost all big companies.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    I can always count on you to contest some point I make, regardless the point I make :)
    Don’t stop.

  • http://twitter.com/CliffKinard Cliff Kinard

    I agree about the skills but it takes big kahunas to convince management that you should be full-time on social media channels. The sudden uptick in job offers is “reward” for the big career risk many of us took. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/EricBurgess Eric Burgess

    I like to consider myself a MERCENARY, not a circus freak. :D

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2011/04/13/people-on-the-move-in-the-social-business-industry-april-13-2011/ People on the Move in the Social Business Industry: April 13, 2011 « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing

    [...] question here by Tac Anderson about how strategists are changing jobs so quickly -and how it can be real detriment to their careers, be sure to read, as I know how recruiters [...]

  • http://twitter.com/SandyAdam Sandy Adam

    @Cliff EXACTLY! So many companies thought the kids knew social because they used it. But, using it and knowing how to apply takes experience in traditional marketing as well.

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