Is the Social Media Manager Dead?
Lately there have been some articles about the future of the Social Media Manager: from a career perspective, is this a position that will be around in the next 5 years? HootSuite wrote an article last year proclaiming the Social Media Manager dead, saying:
Growth in positions with the title “social media manager” slowed to 50% in the past year, a dramatic decline from recent years, when triple (and even quadruple) digit growth was commonplace.
Some of social media’s staunchest advocates are waving a white flag. “Social media managers, it could be time to find a new title,” cautions reporter Vickie Elmer on Quartz. “Social media jobs, once much vaunted, are now frequently regarded with skepticism, even contempt,” writes Buzzfeed’s Rob Fishman.
The article then goes on to note that social media skills are in demand in other positions within a business organization. Today I saw an article noting that the Social Media Manager is (almost) dead, referencing this HootSuite article, advising those with that title to expand their skill sets by acquiring new but related Marketing skills.
And this is good advice. But it’s advice that illustrates a fundamental problem with the advent of the Social Media Manager as a job title: neither the companies hiring Social Media Managers nor the Social Media Managers themselves have necessarily had a good grasp as to what that person’s experience, responsibilities or goals should be.
Here’s the truth about the Social Media Manager:
You’re a Social Media Manager… Now What?
When I started as a Social Media Manager myself in 2008, I was already a writer and a Marketer with a strong background in community and brand marketing. My CMO came to me one day and said, “Hey, so… how would you feel about figuring out the Social Media strategy for us? Everyone is talking about this social media thing at marketing conferences, and nobody knows exactly what to do with it. Do you want to figure it out for us?”
And my answer was, “Totally!”
I then had a Social Media Manager title without a real understanding of what I was supposed to do with it, but it was OK: nobody else knew what to do with it, either. But one thing we did figure out, very quickly, is that “Social Media Manager” should be more meaningful than “someone who tweets a lot.” And yet, over and over again, I would see companies posting job openings for “Social Media Managers” that required little to no marketing experience whatsoever. The reason that I agree that Social Media Managers should expand their skill sets into other areas of marketing is because I don’t think that someone running a social media channel should be there without a solid understanding of marketing in the first place.
Social media is a real-time brand bullhorn. That anyone thought that hiring someone fresh out of school with no marketing experience as the public, real-time voice of a company was a good idea has always been baffling to me. This hiring philosophy seems to stem out of an insecurity of upper management that has to do with feeling uncomfortable with a new technology (which is dead simple, actually – social networks are a broadcast system that enable peer-to-peer engagement), and deciding that hiring someone who understood the nuts and bolts of Twitter was more important (and far cheaper) than having a fundamental understanding of solid marketing principles – most notably the ones that lead to excellent content creation, customer engagement, and brand alignment.
This hiring tactic was, quite simply, bound to fail. Would you hire a Public Relations Manager based solely on the fact that this person knew how to publish a press release? Would you hire an attorney based solely on the fact that this person knew the logistics and filing processes of a court date? Would you hire an e-mail marketer just because that person knows how to forward a joke to a mailing list?
Inexperienced Marketers Lead to Sub-Par Results, Regardless of Marketing Channel
In my case, I was extremely lucky: not only did I have a solid 10-year marketing background and a lot of leeway to experiment and screw up, I also had excellent leadership in the form of our CMO and our head of PR (who works with me now, again). One thing we realized early on is that social media and PR were kind of sort of exactly the same thing. And so my first Social Media Manager job was very quickly folded into the PR department, and in that way we made sure that all the messaging and brand strategy was in alignment. I still helped set overall PR strategy and was involved on larger marketing campaigns, including those that involved email and other DM disciplines: for example, I audited our customer touchpoints sitewide, and looked for ways within the overall site experience to insert social sharing cues. While my title was “Social Media Manager,” what that meant practically was that I was still a brand and community marketer who happened to be the one with the social KPI’s.
But I was the exception in the Social Media Manager space and, the job descriptions being what they were, I have not been at all surprised to see so many Social Media Managers complaining over the past 6 years that their higher-ups don’t understand why social media marketing is important, any more than I was surprised to see the HootSuite article noting the “contempt” around the job title. These skeptical executives were confused: they’d hired a 22-year-old (often, the LinkedIn complainer asking how to explain their worth to their boss) who completely understood how to use The Twitter, but who didn’t know what KPI meant and who, without any business or marketing experience whatsoever, couldn’t possibly be expected to tie social media efforts back to an articulated business goal. Social media marketing ROI isn’t as elusive as some people think it is, but it does actually require a solid understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.
And understanding that requires a marketing and business education best accomplished by having been in marketing departments before.
The Future of the Social Media Manager is in Content Marketing (Maybe)
We’ve been talking about Content Marketing for the past 2 years or so in Marketing circles, and it’s for this reason that the “(almost) dead” article talks about the need for Social Media Managers to sharpen their writing skills. This is good advice: social channels depend primarily on written content, and with the trend of social curation tools becoming available for the everyman, anyone in a Social Media Management role should hone up on your writing skills so that the everyman is more prone to sharing your content. Be honest with yourself: are you a good writer? If your answer is “No,” you should look to a different discipline that doesn’t lean so heavily upon the written word.
Content Marketing is a discipline (as opposed to Social Media, which is a channel), and it is a strategic discipline based on hard results (including KPI’s from your social media channels). As such, it is a discipline that those same senior executives – the ones who felt that hiring someone with no experience to run their social channels was a good idea – are willing to support.
Now, this isn’t to say that all Social Media Managers need to become Content Marketers, but rather that most Social Media Managers are already Content Marketers by default – and a solid content marketing strategy is what makes that content worthwhile. Adding both the strategy and the KPI’s to your social media channels is what gives Social Media Marketing its C-level stamp of approval, and if all we need to accomplish that is a rebrand to “Content Marketer,” hey: no problem. We are marketers, after all.