The prospect of managing social media accounts may sound like the perfect professional path for many people. After all, who wouldn’t want a nice salary to accompany browsing Facebook or Instagram all day?
While it can be a very enjoyable career, it requires a fairly complex combination of skills. Social media managers are master communicators and multitaskers, combining marketing metrics, business analytics, creative writing, and a dash of graphic design. The role of social media manager involves tracking a huge variety of profiles across popular digital platforms, maintaining community engagement on a day-to-day basis.
In short, the social media manager is the modern master of digital PR. They operate in the space between their organization and the thousands (or even millions) of stakeholders that keep that business up-and-running. It’s a high visibility role that has a significant impact on the public perception of a company. As a result of this high level of responsibility, it typically requires proven expertise.
What degree programs would help an aspiring social media manager demonstrate this expertise? Are there certification programs that can complement my marketing degree? Let’s take a look.
How to Become a Social Media Manager
Social media occupies an interesting place in modern science, combining social sciences with marketing tactics, analytics, and communications. Social media lends itself quite naturally to analytical approaches in particular, as it brings in a high volume of valuable data on an organization’s customer base on a daily basis.
This means that there aren’t very many bachelor programs in social media specifically (though this may change soon), as it’s currently an amalgam of functional abilities. Bachelor degrees in marketing, public relations, communications, and business analytics are all reasonably good entry points to this career path. Employers will want a strong demonstration of both creative capabilities, like writing and design, and analytical skills to assess what content works and what content doesn’t.
There are an increasing number of newer university programs that focus specifically on social media, which are still evolving and establishing themselves as we speak. For example, Arizona State University has a bachelor degree specifically in digital audiences (with a graduate option in digital audience strategy). Online internet marketing degree programs are also seeing increasing interest and enrollment.
However, the most common approach is still to augment one’s existing undergraduate degree with highly targeted short-term courses and certifications. In the modern media age, these skills are so new that the best method is to learn what’s working from professionals in the industry right now. Many of these online courses will be taught by professionals who have attained some success in the field, and can help newer entrants convert their traditional marketing skills into digital marketing capabilities.
Speaking of skills and qualifications, what skills are required from social media managers? Is there a baseline amount of experience needed to enter the field?
Social Media Experience
As marketing and communications move increasingly towards an online environment, HR professionals are tasked with determining what skills and experience correlate with success in a social media role. While direct experience is not always required, HR teams often look for related experience such as copywriting, graphic design, market research, or a background in corporate communications.
Entry-level roles may only require an appropriate academic background, coupled with proof of social media familiarity. This is a great reason to keep all of your social media in peak professional shape, as the ability to manage one’s own social media presence is reasonably good evidence of the ability to manage an organization’s social media presence. Who would have thought that the casual online influencer could turn their expertise into a career?
Demonstrable skill in making sense of large data streams will also offer prospective employees an edge in the application process, as social media managers work closely with business intelligence teams to determine what type of messaging performs well with a target audience(s). While social media managers don’t need to be full-on software savants, enough technical skill to navigate analytics dashboards and derive tactical learnings is a real advantage for new professionals in the field.
The final key skills worth mentioning are more of the ‘show, don’t tell’ variety. Fantastic communicators capable of making and managing many network connections thrive in social media roles. Demonstrating a creative, concise, and carefully crafted way of communicating in cover letters, interviews, and work samples can significantly improve one’s chances of getting that new gig. It’s one of those roles where time and care can greatly benefit the application process.
Getting a Gig
The next question is what types of roles and positions relate to social media management and marketing anyway? Are there entry-level positions as well as senior leadership roles?
To learn more about how to become a social media manger, check out his TechGuide Podcast
Working in social media at the lower levels typically revolves around roles like research analytics, copywriting, content curation, and community management. HIgher level positions usually pertain to broader strategic considerations like digital strategy, digital project management, content strategy, and creative directorship.
Let’s take a looking at a few of these in more detail:
- Social Media Community Manager: Looking for roles with the term ‘community’ in them is a great starting point for entry level social media professionals. Social media community managers specialize in creating constant contact between the organization and its stakeholders, managing a wide variety of digital mediums. Median salary is around $53k/year.
- Content Curator: Content curators are similar to community managers, however the focus shifts slightly from the community being managed to the content being presented. Content curators lean a little more on the creative side, with expertise in writing and graphic design. Content curators can expect a median salary of around $45k/year.
- Digital Strategist: As media managers gain more experience through adding analytics and marketing strategy to their core competencies, opportunities in leadership and strategy become more common. A digital strategist will likely manage a small team of analysts and content creators, crafting an agile and actionable social media strategy from the top-down. In this role, you will design a creative content pipeline within a multidisciplinary team. Digital strategists can expect a median salary of $62k/year.
- Creative Director: Creative directors in corporate structures usually manage marketing communications and advertising from the top-down, specializing in the specific messaging strategy (and the presentation of that messaging). As the majority of communications occur via social media, social media experts will be increasingly in demand for this role. Median salary comes in at $91k/year.
For new entrants in the field, there are often part-time and/or contract gigs available to build up that all-important resume. Small organizations regularly require a community manager or social media specialist to dedicate a small number of hours per week to monitoring smaller social media accounts. It’s always a good idea to track your success in social media in these gigs, as helping an organization grow their following is a great resume builder (and easy to illustrate with hard numbers)!
Let’s say you do land a gig managing social media accounts for organizations. What does the day-to-day look like?
Profiles, Posts, and Public Relations
Social media professionals are master multitaskers. A common first step on the daily schedule will be simply checking each and every social media account, monitoring activity over the past 24 hours. Once the current conversation on each platform is taken into account, a social media specialist will want to work with marketers, analysts, copywriters, and artists to plan and produce all social media posts for that day.
A useful distinction can be drawn here depending on what type of business or organization the social media manager works for. B2B social media management is going to emphasize communications expertise and industry leadership, while B2C social media management is much more conversation, social, and individualized. Understanding one’s audience, and sharing those learnings across the organization, is a key component to this process.
Feedback and iteration is always the name of the game in these types of high-volume messaging environments. Some posts perform great, others not so much. Working with the team to discern what’s working and what isn’t, and providing actionable feedback, will be a big part of a social media manager’s responsibilities. This means plenty of teamwork and communication across functional roles and workgroups.
For higher level social media managers, it will also be necessary to keep in regular contact with upper management and executive teams. As tactics and strategies change, social media should be among the first to test the waters and launch new messaging campaigns. As a leader within the marketing team with a close connection with the user base, the social media manager will be the face of public relations. Hopefully you aren’t shy!
The Future of Social Media
While many predictions have been (and will be) made about the future of this line of work, the one thing we know for sure is that people will always be building connections with each other. The future of a social media professional will evolve and adapt directly with how regular people communicate in the digital world.
Some changes are small and simple, such as the rise and fall of popular media platforms. Other changes are more complex, with alterations in the means and methods of conversation. The shift from talk to text, for example, had a dramatic impact on marketing professionals the world over. That shift is moving once again, from short text (Twitter) to short video communication (TikTok). Perhaps the only truly accurate advice one could give to an aspiring social media master would be that the medium will be the message! What medium will come next?