Last October, Fortune published an article on the alleged death of the social media manager in corporate America. As the article says, “Once touted as the next big thing, the social media job market has undergone a marked slowdown. 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.”
Later, the article takes a turn, arguing that social media is being used more and more across an organization – and that needs for people with social media savvy are growing. It’s not necessarily marketing hopping off the bandwagon – now it’s sales, HR and other business functions all of a sudden hopping on.
Everywhere you go these days, someone’s arguing that another’s job field or skill set is dying off. Sometimes, it drives me crazy. Yet, in this case, I think there’s some merit to the discussion…what role does social media have in an organization, and who’s best to perform the function? What does this all mean for us in PR? Are death reports true, or is such a big statement greatly exaggerated?
Here are my observations:
- I agree completely with the article. Personally, I think that “social media managers” were in vogue for a while because social media was the shiny new thing and a completely new skill set that companies needed to onboard at some level. Now they’ve seen its value and understand the function better, and know it doesn’t need to be all by itself on an island somewhere within the org structure. They’re starting to roll it into other jobs or departments where it makes sense, hence the drop in positions with the specific title. In other words, social is here to stay, and now it’s being adopted more strategically.
- I’ve done a fair amount of mentoring of people that have been corporate social media types, and I am still regularly asked by them what I think might be next for them in their career. I’ve always counseled them to get familiar with what else an organization does, and learn how to add value in those areas. At the time they ask, they’re boxed into a finite area of the value chain – it’s them doing it to themselves, and probably their managers compartmentalizing them as a specialist in one area as well. To break out of that, you have to shift your mind and ask a different set of questions. It’s not about how you can build a following in the latest social fad. Instead – how can you add value across the entire organization? What makes your company really tick, and how can you help with that? How are sales leads generated? How are prospective customers nurtured through the buying cycle? What are your target demographics and sociographics, and how are they using social media to research and purchase? The more essential you are to helping an organization achieve its big-picture goals, the more indispensable and valuable you are to that organization. Period. That goes for the job you have now, the next one and the one after that. Another way of saying it – the answers to these questions will teach you a lot about sales, marketing and other business functions, and all of a sudden your skill set will diversify into many other areas that make you more marketable. It doesn’t matter whether your title has the words “social media” in it or not – and, actually, you might be limited or pigeonholed if it does.
- Related to #2 – while I do believe strongly that social media is largely a PR role, because it’s another channel through which an organization can build and maintain relationships with its publics (and that’s what PR is all about, by definition), there’s another critical truth implied here. That is: social media is a tool and tactic in the bigger arsenal, not a magic-bullet strategy or solution to any one particular problem. I think for a while that companies, in their ignorance about social, thought it might have been the latter of these and not the former, but their experience has shown them the light. So now they’re more appropriately asking the right staffers and consultants to fold it into bigger initiatives – like growing sales of a particular product, or launching into a new market, or recruiting new staff, etc.
Is the “social media manager” dying? Yes, I’d say the role as it was originally seen is now obsolete. But is social media’s utility in business dying? No, just the opposite – it continues to grow and evolve. I think that’s exciting and worth watching closely in the years to come.
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