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Julie Nielsen, Sr. Director, Client Strategy & Product Development at appssavvy

Defining & Hiring Social Media Experts

Last year, agencies couldn’t build social media departments fast enough. To get smart about the discipline and skill set, I consulted Julie Nielsen at appssavvy.

Appssavvy is a wildly successful start-up that works with web publishers and developers to create branded experiences within games and other apps. If you’re a marketer that wants to position your product in FarmVille, they’re the people to see. To date, they’ve launched over 500 ad campaigns for iconic brands like Starbucks, Kraft, Microsoft, Volkswagen and Visa.

My friend, Julie was featured in an earlier blog as one of DMNews’ 30 Under 30. As the first employee to join appssavvy, she seemed like the perfect person to deliver an industry primer and tips for hiring social media experts.

JS:           Do social media experts differ from digital marketing strategists?

JN:          Digital expertise is synonymous with social. Two years ago that was not the case. But now that social has become an increasing part of the digital media spend, you don’t know digital unless you know social.

We don’t differentiate between the two at appssavvy. The people we hire have been on the platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) long enough to talk about what people are doing there. They’re on top of the latest trends in user activity.

They’re able to recognize opportunities for advertisers because they know how to engage people within social channels. They also understand different marketing objectives, like awareness or engagement or sales, and respond with an appropriate solution.

A good digital marketer can take a current trend, say geo-location based apps and come up with ways for brands to leverage that. They’ve got to understand exactly what people are doing on these platforms to be able to engage them in a relevant way.

JS:           How do you determine the social strategy for a brand? What are the typical deliverables?

JN:          Every strategy starts out with a review of the brand’s objectives: Who do we want to engage and what do we want them to do?

It’s very easy to complicate social. In the beginning, brands were racing to build apps to engage users on Facebook. They’d spend $500k to develop and promote a custom app, then realize it was very costly and time-intensive to maintain on a platform with an open API, which changes all the time. For example, Zynga, the company behind FarmVille with its 80 million visitors, has over 1,000 employees. So out of the 1+ million apps that have been developed over the past couple of years, only a small fraction maintain consistent, repeat, monetizable traffic.

Traditional success metrics still apply, and a good social media strategist will know what vehicle works best for a particular objective. For awareness, it could be a branded virtual good. For engagement, it could be a sponsored community. You really have to be aware of all the different [ad models] and what they offer.

JS:           Give me some examples of brands that are doing social well.

JN:          Coca-Cola is the easiest brand to follow for innovation. They use their Facebook fan page strategically, maintain a consistent dialogue with fans, and have been ahead of the curve in leveraging applications for brand campaigns and promotions.

Kraft has had a lot of success creating utility-based iPhone and iPad applications – definitely a leader in the mobile recipe space. Both GM and Toyota have used their Twitter and Facebook followings to tackle both good and bad press, keeping a full staff on board to manage their social media relations.

JS:           Describe some of the interview questions you ask.


  • What apps do you use? I’m hoping they use some of apps that we work with at appssavvy.
  • What’s good brand campaign in the social environment, and why was this campaign successful?
  • I may give them a brand and ask what apps they’d recommend.
  • By the second interview, I ask them to author a pitch on what a brand should do within a certain app. They often break a lot of rules, but it’s great to see creativity.

JS:           What does the future hold? How is the discipline evolving and what skill set will you look to hire next?

JN: Data and innovation are up next. First, how do we measure success? It’s a question we’ve been asking for last three years, but no one has answered. And second – now that we’ve proven there’s a market for social advertising (shocker!) – how do we make it better? How do we innovate and create deeper, more provoking experiences for both users and brands alike? At appssavvy, we’re focused on continually building our story about the value of integrating brand into social activities across the web.

FYI – appssavvy’s co-founder and CEO, Chris Cunningham will be speaking at the Monetizing Social Media conference, March 31st at the New Yorker Hotel.

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