Launch Your Career In Social Media Management

Mark Story has written the definitive book on starting a career in social media management. Now is a great time to look into social media as a career because companies of all sizes are trying to hire employees or consultants. But there simply aren’t enough qualified people to fill the open positions.

As Story says in our exclusive interview below, there are dozens of different job titles, the pay is pretty good, and you can enter the field on someone’s payroll or as a “hired gun” (translated: consultant).

Ready to learn a few things about working in social media?

Thanks for letting us review your book, and for talking to JobMonkey. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m currently working as Director of International Corporate Affairs for the world’s largest private tech company.Social Media Career Bookcover image Prior to that, I was the first-ever Director of New Media at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. I’ve also worked in online public affairs and social media for agencies; I spent nearly 13 years in the agency world designing and developing programs that helped companies shape their reputations in the online environment.

Teaching is also a passion of mine; I’ve taught classes as an adjunct professor Georgetown University and the University of Maryland, University College.

What motivated you to write Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager?

I was motivated to write the book because when I got started in my own career, there were precious little resources for ambitious young people, and as I progressed in my own career in social media, I realized that there was simply no guide out there to map out how to get started in this exciting field. Quite often, taking the first step is always the hardest, so I was motivated to write a book that helped people take the first step then map out their own careers in social media.

Describe the book in a nutshell. What are a few of the key takeaways?

The book is a step-by-step guide for considering, exploring, preparing for and succeeding in a career in social media. It’s a book that you could pick up with some curiosity, read it, apply some of the key tenets and choose an exciting and rewarding career path.

Key takeaways:

  • Career happiness can mean more life happiness. Consider that when you choose a job, at a minimum, you can expect to spend anywhere from eight to ten hours per day commuting to and from work, carrying out your job responsibilities, or just thinking about them. The bottom line is that you will be a whole lot happier if you choose a job and career that you enjoy.
  • What statistics about social media don’t show you is that just because you understand the basic and “top five” tools in the world of social media does not mean that you are an expert and can apply your knowledge effectively in a professional environment. Knowing how to use Facebook, for example, does not mean that you can offer advice on how to use it professionally. Knowing the tools is only part of the career: the other part is understanding how to use them in a business environment.
  • One of the most important ways to prepare for a career in social media is to practice your writing skills. Social media is all about storytelling and to be a good storyteller, you have to be a good writer. Even if you are writing for online in short, bulleted posts, you still need to get your message across in a meaningful way. Of those whom I interviewed for the book, being a good writer was among the most mentioned skills for success in social media.

In the corporate structure, where does “Social Media Management” fall? Under the marketing umbrella?

Business is still figuring out where to put social media management and where it falls depends largely upon the size of the organization.

Many larger companies will put social media with corporate communications (which may encompass marketing communications and public relations), while smaller companies may even have social media be a stand-alone function. There is no “one size fits all” for where to house the social media function, but it should be closely aligned with offline internal and external communications efforts.

Is there a career path in this relatively new field? Describe it.

Many of the people whom I interviewed for the book started out doing something different, so if there is a career path, it generally involved starting out doing something else and then learning about social media. For example, many of the more senior people whom you will meet in the book began in broadcast, public relations, or even political communications and, at some point, took their already good strategic communications skill sets and got smart about how to apply social media to and existing skill set.

Over the last five to seven years, there is a new generation of social media practitioners who have come up without backgrounds in another field; they are either being self-taught or have received formal educational training in the field, then applied it in the work force.

As for career advancement, it depends upon where you work. Many people choose to practice social media in a public relations or public affairs agency and the career path is fairly well defined because the roles (associate, senior associate, vice president, senior vice president) existed before. In smaller companies or places where social media is new, companies are still figuring out how to attract, promote and retain top talent.

One final thought: if career advancement is important, one needs to consider working in an environment in which you are the only one or one of the few who work in social media. If you are in a small place, where do you go to get promoted?

Has social media become something you can major in? If you want to work in social media, what kind of degree should you pursue?

Many universities are now offering courses in social media, but the good ones like the University of Maryland University College combine it with traditional public relations and communications courses. The reason for this is again that social media is all about communication, and if one does not understand the underlying principles of how to craft and deliver a compelling message – and even with knowledge of social media tools, it will be difficult to succeed.

Maybe it’s a moving target, but what are the elements of a solid social media program?

The best social media programs are not based upon tools, but upon strategy that informs tactics. That means that, in order to develop an effective social media program, one must begin by defining what success looks like, determining how it will be measured, what strategies will ultimately accomplish the communications objectives and then – and only then – can one start choosing social media tools and tactics like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

It’s sort of like building a car: an assembly line has a clear plan of what the car will look like when done, how to assemble it and what the car will be when finished, and all of this is determined before the first car even enters production.

How do companies, generally, see a Return on Investment from their social media efforts?

Return on investment, or ROI, varies widely based upon objectives that companies set out. Many organizations (wrongly) see ROI strictly as numbers: page views on a website, “likes” on Facebook or re-tweets on Twitter. These are important numbers, but what is more important is measuring the level of engagement with people who visit the properties that you build.

Engagement with someone is a conversation on Facebook or Twitter in which the other person comes away with a better understanding of your brand or your messages. It is also when they use your social media properties to interact with other fans of your business.

At the core of social media is “social,” so when you think about ROI, the real return in when people meaningfully engage with you on your social media properties and accomplish more than a passing encounter.

Do you have to be a numbers person to be successful in the field? There are a lot of metrics to track.

One does not need to be a numbers person to be successful. There are many off-the-shelf programs like WebTrends that break down social media engagement in easy to understand ways. Intellectually curious people can and should certainly take the time to analyze data and extract meaning from it, but you can certainly be successful without being a math major!

In your experience, who’s bound to be successful in this field? What qualities must one possess to become an impactful Social Media Manager?

The most successful people I have seen in the field are those who are intellectually curious and want to keep learning about the field, are good writers and communicators and can handle frustration.

Social media is field in which the only constant is change, so it is important to keep learning about new trends, tools and tactics that can help make one’s social media program more effective. As I mentioned before, being a good writer is essential because the medium is still based upon conveying messages via the written word.

Finally, it’s a new field and many people within organizations still might not understand or appreciate the role of social media in helping organizations communicate. There is a lot of teaching, evangelizing and hand-holding when it comes to getting things done for companies, agencies and associations.

Can you speak at all about typical compensation for people working in this field?

Compensation levels vary wildly and the two determinants of this are where you live and where you work. At the low end of the spectrum in a small company in a small city, one might expect to earn $30-35,000 as an entry-level salary. This will be higher in bigger cities like New York or Washington, DC where the cost of living is higher, as is the demand for talent.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have seen salaries well in excess of $200,000 annually for people with many years of experience and diverse backgrounds.

We see a growing number of social media related jobs on our job board. Aside from the title “Social Media Manager” what other titles might you see posted?

I actually have a chapter in the book that deals with confusing and redundant job titles for social media practitioners – I list the top 75 titles that I found as part of my research. 75 job titles!

I think that the titles vary widely because employers are still figuring out what they want people to do – or have not yet figured it out at all. When you hear the term “auto mechanic,” you have a pretty good idea what that individual does for a living.

But far too often, terms like social media “czar,” “guru,” and “associate” litter the job board landscape. There are too many confusing job titles that essentially mean the same thing and I am fairly certain that this reflects the newness of the field and how employers are struggling to understand whom they need to hire and what the people need to be doing professionally.

Because it’s a relatively new field, and ever evolving, are there opportunities to become a consultant (a social media entrepreneur)?

Many small businesses really need help getting a handle on their social media strategy.

Probably half of my friends who work in social media either are or were, at some point, an independent consultant. Many organization like the idea of hiring one or two people to provide strategic advice vs. hiring an agency full of people.

While opportunities abound to become an entrepreneur, the challenge that my colleagues and I have faced has very little to do with actually performing the work and making clients happy.

Working for yourself means consistently finding new business, billing, getting clients to pay on time all while promoting yourself or your brand. It’s a good way to get started in the field, but many people I know have stopped working for themselves not because they do not like social media, but they hate the aforementioned hassles that come from being one’s own boss.

Can you recommend a few resources for aspiring Social Media Managers? Job boards, blogs, and so forth.

I like the following for job searches:

And these blogs for staying current about social media:

  • The All Blogs:, Both are topic-specific and provide information that is only about Facebook or only about Twitter. If you want to stay up-to-date on these two social media tools, this is the place to get your information.
  • David Armano’s Logic+Emotion blog. Now a senior executive at Edelman’s digital practice, David’s blog often presents information that is boiled down to infographics, making it easier to distill and understand complex social media topics.
  • Danny Brown’s blog: The Human Side of Media and the Social Side of Marketing. Danny is smart, sarcastic and Scottish.
  • Jason Falls’ Social Media Explorer. This blog provides excellent perspective on the current state of social media and should be a regular stop for serious social media marketers. Jason also provides a touch of snark, which I love.
  • Robert French’s PR Open Mic. I mentioned it in Chapter 2, but it’s an online resource that connects students, faculty, and social media and public relations practitioners, offering biography pages (an online resume of sorts), member-based blogs, discussion forums, video interviews with prominent practitioners, networking events and opportunities for extended learning, job boards, and what I think is most important, a place for people (mainly students) to post their own resumes. It is a groundbreaking, helpful and a terrific resource if you are thinking about starting a career in social media.
  • Maddie Grant’s Social Fish blog. Maddie is one of the co-authors of the book Humanize along with one of the owners of the consultancy Social Fish, based in Washington, DC. They do most of their work for associations and nonprofits and this blog is a great read if you are considering a social media career in these fields.
  • Neville Hobson’s blog. Neville is a communicator, blogger, and podcaster, one of the leading European early adopters, opinion-leaders, and influencers in digital communication for business. One half of the do-not-miss podcast, For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, reading what Neville has to say will give you a European- and technology-focused view of social media.
  • Shel Holtz’s blog. I could recite a lot of exemplary items about Shel like the fact that he is a five-time winner of IABC’s Gold Quill award and was named IABC/Los Angeles’s Communicator of the Year, but that still does not do him justice. In my mind, he is the godfather of online public relations and is someone through his books, speeches, interviews, and most importantly his For Immediate Release podcast with Neville Hobson, will just make you smarter.
  • Kami Huyse’s Communications Overtones. Kami is a PR veteran, who frequently gives talks at social media events all over the US. Her work is award winning. She ran the virtual PR agency, My PR Pro, from 2002-2009 and is the strategic architect for many successful social media campaigns.”
  • Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation. Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries.”
  • Shelly Kramer’s V3 Integrated Marketing Blog. All social media, all the time, and smart commentary.
  • Katie Payne’s PR Measurement Blog. This blog is self-described as follows: “If you’ve ever wondered how to measure social media, public relations, public affairs, media relations, internal communications, or blogs, you’re in the right spot. In this space I’ll be regularly ranting and raving about news, techniques, and development in the world of PR research and evaluation.”
  • Public Relations Matters. Barbara Nixon has a PhD and teaches at Southeastern University and her blog deals with “public relations and public communication. Most of the posts are geared toward my students.” But here’s the cool part: by reading what she has to say, it’s almost like being part of her class. You can read her thinking and keep up with what is going on in her classes. Along with Robert French, Barbara is one of the true pioneers of teaching at the intersection of public relations and social media.
  • The Social Media Informer. A new website which brings together advice and insights from an all-star team of social media bloggers.
  • Spin Sucks by Gini Dietrich. Her own description: “Gini Dietrich, is the lead author … you never really know what you’re going to get, but you can bet when she’s upset about something, she’ll rally the lovers and the haters for one common cause (unless it’s about wearing jeans to speak – then there is no rallying).”



Book: Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager
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Twitter Handle: @mstory123

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