The Social media industry is still rapidly growing and as a result, over the last couple of years there has been an explosion in demand for social media managers. Now widely accepted as a highly effective communications tool, the growth trend shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
Whilst awareness is at an all time high, many businesses wrongly regard social media as 'easy' to do, after all, what skill does it take to make a status update? When businesses try and fail to execute social media activities effectively however, they begin to appreciate the fact that there is actually much more to it.
The 'anyone can do it' approach is being perpetuated by a slew of get-rich-quick websites, reporting social media management as being the easy way ordinary people with no related training or experience can get rich doing.
This positive can-do approach is something i'm all for - whilst I have an academic background in Management and Marketing, everything I know relating to social media is self taught or has been learned over many years of working with a vast number of different clients. This 'anyone can do it' ethos is meant to empower people, encouraging them to get into social media management, usually after they part with sums of money for a webinair claiming to teach them all the secrets they need in just half an hour. This approach however devalues the social media industry and leads to unskilled individuals being put in charge of marketing activities they are ill equipped to carry out.
Whilst no one is infallible and we all make mistakes, doing a job you don't fully understand and have no past experience of can be a recipe for disaster. Any mistakes a social media manager makes are highly public and often can't be ignored or swept under the carpet. In this industry where an individuals name is their reputation; make costly mistakes early on and you may find it hard to distance yourself from them. Don't kid yourself that just because you have a Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr account that you have the skills necessary to run activities for a business.
Businesses also need to understand that they get what they pay for. If they are only offering intern money, that's what they will get and the results are very likely to reflect that. Chasing Likes and community growth is all well and good but if you are considering social media management as a career choice you really shouldn't be pitching your services until you understand that Likes don't mean squat.
Managing and growing a community is senseless if it's done independently of other marketing activity and isn't strategically driven
Clients consistently underestimate just what it takes to deliver social media activities successfully. Once educated or once they try it for themselves and fail, most soon realise that they simply don't have the time or expertise to handle activities in-house and look to outsource instead. There is no denying there is a market for social media managers and whilst i'm always happy to knowledge share, discuss best practice, techniques and encourage those wanting to work in this area, I am increasingly unnerved by the gung-ho 'anyone can do it it' mentality which stands to devalue this incredibly important, diverse and often misunderstood role.
I don't agree that 'anyone' can be a social media manager, I think it is a complex role that demands a lot of different skills and experience to carry out.
If you aren't already a prolific user of social media, how can you hope to use a social network effectively for a business? Without a strong grounding in marketing communications, how can you effectively engage people and fulfill business objectives that are more diverse and challenging than simply growing fans or followers? If you don't know your CTR from ROI how can you analyse and understand the data that is critical in gauging the effectiveness of your activities? If you don't have customer facing skills or don't have the ability to resolve problems, how will you deal with irate customers posting on a clients Facebook wall? If you're written communications aren't great, how will you create compelling content and great headlines? I'm sure you get my point.
Just some of the skills a social media manager needs to have
If you don't have all of the above, of course there are things that you can pick up or learn along the way, but personally, I wouldn't trust something as important as my businesses social media activity to an inexperienced trainee.
The fact remains that social media is the current, hip thing to be involved in and for very obvious reasons, has massive appeal as a career. Get paid to surf the net and post on Facebook all day? What could be easier! My advice however is not to be blinded by all of the companies making money off your naivety, offering training that will turn you pretty much over-night, into a wealthy social media professional. If you don't have the experience to back up your claims, knowing a bit of marketing theory isn't enough and before you've even got properly started, you may find your reputation damaged.
Theory means nothing, you'll build a reputation based on the results you get and the knowledge and insights that you share
Spend all of your time and efforts into branding yourself as a social media expert now and what happens in a few years time when social media has come of age? Demand won't always remain as high as it currently is - how appealing will your CV look in a few years time when all you can boast is social media management when it is no longer quite so shiny and new a skill to have?
To survive and prosper in this industry you will need many more strings to your bow than simply being able to use any given social network. Social media is just one part of the marketing mix and just one of the communication methods open to businesses. Invent yourself as a specialist in social media and in a very short time you might find that as the industry matures and moves on, you get left behind with narrowly defined, outdated skills.
An individual who can grow a Facebook community is valuable right now and yes, many people are making careers out of doing just that. Keep in mind though that it won't be long before businesses realise they need to turn not to social media managers, but to marketing strategists who understand the bigger picture and will be the real driving force behind successful, sustainable social media activities. Don't risk staking your career on social media alone, which when taken in isolation will become obsolete faster than you can say "Friendster".
What do you think? Is it something you believe anyone can do? Are you a scial media marketer who doesn't feel that your expertise is sufficiently valued? I'd love to hear your thoughts!