Loving the Road Less Traveled: Finding Your Social Media Career Path

Congratulations!
You scored a coveted social media position. You are on the front lines of brand communication, actively connecting and conversing with customers online. While your parents may not understand what you do, your friends probably think you’re pretty cool.

After a few years in this position, do you know where you want to go next?

If the answer is no, don’t worry. Neither did I.

Being an on-the-ground social media or community manager (or specialist, or coordinator, or whatever your company happens to call an entry-level social job) is a bit like getting a liberal arts education. You build a wide range of skills that can take you far, but where exactly you’ll be going may not always be clear.

When I search Google for articles on social media career paths, what I find are blog posts from 2011 claiming that social media is dead or dying. It’s 2016. Social media is here to stay.

In fact, it’s a dynamic field that is constantly growing, adapting, and changing. Does the idea of exploring new platforms (like Snapchat) and anticipating future technologies (like virtual reality) sound exciting to you? Keep reading. This is the field for you.

Like the two roads diverging in Robert Frost’s poem, we social media folks are taking the path less traveled. Trust me. It will make all of the difference.

Get Your Start in Digital Marketing With Social Media

For a while, social media was an odd stepchild. Sometimes, it was managed by customer service. Others, by the public relations team. Still other times by the marketing department. Or, the boss handed it to the nearest intern and hoped for the best.

This is changing. More and more companies are putting social media where it belongs–in the marketing department–but granting the position the flexibility to work closely with many other departments, from customer service to events, to promote the brand.

One of the confusing things about taking a social media approach to a digital marketing career path is the proliferation of job titles. There is very little consistency across companies as to job titles.

For example: a Director of New Media could have the same functionality as a Director of Digital Marketing. What one company calls a Director of Social Engagement may be another company’s Director of Social Media.

Just because the job titles have so much variety doesn’t mean the actual positions change all that much.

With time and experience, a social media coordinator job can grow into a Directorship role. Every aspect of marketing ties into social media, from ads to emails, so it makes sense that a social media specialist could become a marketing leader.

From Intern to Director With Help From Social Media

Dave Amirault is the current director of marketing for Snowbird Resort in Utah. Under his direction, Snowbird has reinvigorated its digital presence, including a fresh voice on social media and high quality videography.

While his job title is impressive now, he got his start as a marketing intern for Wachusett Ski Area, years before Facebook was launched. His nickname, DigiDave, comes from his reputation as an early adopter, jumping into the social media fray long before the term ‘social media’ was on every marketing director’s lips.

Now, he’s living proof that the naysayers are just blowing hot air. It is possible to have a long, successful career from a foundation in social media.

His advice for you is threefold:

“Realize that the internet doesn’t turn off and that social media is a 24-7 job. Ask for help, get a team. You can’t do it ALL.”
“Don’t drown in the analytics. Set your goals/KPI’s and let the data help you make the right decisions to achieve them.”
“Oh, and use separate apps to update your personal social accounts. So many people flame out because they selected the wrong account.”
He also adds that haters are going to hate. Being on the ground as a social media manager is a lot of fun, but the bad days can be really bad. If your organization accidentally makes the Crowd angry, be sure to step back from the monitor and breathe. Trolls can be vicious. But 99.99% it’s not personal. Develop a thick skin. You’ll be fine.

From Curation to Creating: Social Media on the Creative Career Path

The perfect social media manager is one who is as adept at customer service as they are at creating content. They write copy, snap photographs, edit video, design graphics, and package each to be optimized for the distribution channel.

Gaining experience as a jack-of-all creative trades can launch your career as a specialist in copywriting, photography, video production, graphic design, and more.

This is what I did.

I started out as a social media manager for a café. While taking creative photos of latte art was fun, what I loved most was the act of writing. Whether an Instagram caption or a full length blog, writing was what I wanted to spend my time doing.

I focused my energy on building my writing portfolio, finding ways to incorporate diverse writing styles and formats into my job. Now, I’m a content marketer. My job is to write all day, every day.

I have friends and coworkers who use their roles as social media managers to build up their photography or graphic design portfolios and have since moved into roles where those skills make up the bulk of their duties.

Creative Directions for Social Media Careers

On the creative career path, you can work either in-house, for an agency, or for yourself.

When working as an in-house creative, you will have one boss and a fairly consistent workflow. In an agency setting, you will have a number of clients and projects, with hard deadlines. As a freelancer, be ready to hustle. But the rewards are great.

When following a creative path, the number one thing to do is commit to your craft. Put in the extra time creating above and beyond your 9-to-5. Cover topics or tackle challenges above and beyond what you do at work. The best part of creating between the hours of 5-and-9 is the freedom to explore and experiment with your style and voice.

As much as you love creating, fall in love with analytics, too.

Social media management will give you a window into the importance of analytics, of course, but also how to apply those metrics to create better content. Being able to create is one thing, but being able to back up your projects with numbers will level up your sophistication.

Learn how to measure ROI and track KPIs. Analytics will help you create more effectively.

Launching Your Career With Big Data and Social Media Analytics

If content creation isn’t what gets you out of bed in the morning, don’t despair. Social media is about more than feeding the content machine.

Social media can be a platform deeper into the Sales and Marketing category, bridging the gap between the two specializations. The big data insights that social media provides can be combined with that of an internal sales team, creating a stronger and better informed system.

One example of this would be combining these two kinds of data in order to create better products and messaging that speaks directly to specific audience groups. Better product equals better sales.

This is where social media experience is bringing Keese Lane, the Digital Marketing Specialist for Petzl. While he got his start writing print copy and managing the company Facebook page, he has since expanded his expertise to include social advertising, ecommerce and print advertising, and marketing sales strategy at large.

“Pay attention to the numbers attached to the little ‘$’ symbol,” Keese recommends. “In terms of KPIs, those are the only metrics your boss or your boss’s boss are going to internalize… Get beyond the content creation aspect of social and start exploring audience insights, advertising, and the role social plays in your overall sales and brand strategy.”

Analytics, both built-in and third party, are your friend.

While these tools may be intimidating for some, you’ll revel in the many ways you can slice, dice, and analyze data. The ability to dig two or three levels below surface content performance will serve you well as you prove time and again that you understand and share the same goals as the sales or executive teams.

Forge Your Own Path With Social Media

Social media is still a young industry, and it’s full of young, driven people. It’s an exciting group to be a part of, but can be a little frightening for you as you sit down to map out your career goals.

Almost everyone with social media experience is younger than 40. Gary Vaynerchuk is only 41.

This means in many industries and within many companies, there is no defined social media career path. Even your supervisors may not know what the logical next steps will be for you. Depending on where you are in your career, this fact is either daunting or exciting.

Make the most of this flexibility. With a start in social media, you have greater freedom to design your own career path, drawing on your skill sets and passions.

Go ahead; reassure your parents. Social media is not a dead-end career. In fact, it’s a lot more like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books, where each decision results in a wildly different story.

Getting Ahead On the Road Less Traveled

If you’re just starting out on your social media career, what questions do you have for the established pros?

If you’ve been doing this for a while, where has social media career taken you?

Share your insights in the comments. We’d love to hear them.

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Liz Millikin
About the Author:

Liz Millikin

Liz sees marketing as a never-ending puzzle to be solved. With a background in digital marketing that focused on content and social media, she believes that a passion for craft is key, but analytics are the lock. Together, they open the door to marketing that moves the needle for your business. When not writing, she can be found skiing, biking, or curled up with a book. Find her on Twitter @eamillikin.




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