Social media is a big, busy and growing industry with a lot of buzz: but the reality is that there isn’t a lot of visibility on what it means to actually work in social media. There are a lot of “social media experts” apparently working on beaches in Bali, but the reality of a social media job in an office looks very different! What tasks do you need to do each day? What are the hours like? And how much of it is just hanging out online sharing memes?
Let’s break down what it means to work in the industry. “Social media” a pretty big term these days and it covers a lot of different skills. Social media departments these days can be big, multi-layered and it’s common for people have specialties which don’t always cross over with each other. One person’s job in social media can be very different to another.
When we say ‘social media’, what we often mean is ‘social media marketing’ – which covers many roles, from people who create content, who manage online communities, who design digital strategies or run ads online. And, depending on the business, you might be doing all of these roles, or each role is in an entirely different department.
Let’s look at how these roles can be carved up:
The Social Media Content Producer
When we think of a social media manager, we often think of the person who creates amazing memes and shares them online from a company page.
For many people working in online media, running social media channels is often only a small part of their role. Usually digital producers, who create content for websites or blogs, often also manage the social media content, too. So managing social media is something that is done on the side of a full-time job, which means content creation needs to be done in mere minutes in some cases.
You might find large businesses or digital agencies where there are specialists in creating content for a brand, but if they do this, it’s likely to be one of many brands they work on.
When we talk about content creation, we need to rapidly dismiss the myth that this job is just posting cute cat pictures. A social media specialist is more often trying to tell a story about a brand using hundreds of individual pieces of content over a year, all laid out on a pre-planned content calendar. Often they also need to tie this content in with big events, both in the outside world and within the business, and on top of that, tell that story using the approved brand tone of voice.
This role could involve creating snappy tweets around a brand, designing memes to engage your audience, creating images sharing your customer story with your product, finding articles that reflect your brand values, or creating shareable videos. This job could be sweeping news sites for relevant stories which your audience would be interested in, or storyboarding, filming and editing videos for social media. Content could be created in minutes, or months, like in the case of Nike’s attempt a breaking a world-record live-streamed on Facebook.
Content creators often have multiple goals when designing content: creating content which inspires people to check out their website, creating content which engages their community to join discussions, or content which is shareable and reflects their brand story. There is very often a business objective and specific goals behind each piece of content.
At the end of the month, this role reports on which content was most effective, reflects on why it worked, and aims to build more content on this type of reach their brand goals.
The Community Manager
This is one of the most common social media roles: the Community Manager role. For some companies, this role will be combined with the content creator role and is given an overarching title like Social Media Manager, and for others, this role will sit closer within the Customer Support team. Either way, a community manager’s role is to build and foster community with people online.
The way we most often see this executed on social media is creating engagements (“Tell us what you’re cooking this weekend!”), but community management is actually a lot more nuanced, especially for larger communities. It involves helping members make connections, build friendships, moderating people who step out of line, and, if needed, banning members who are not abiding by the rules.
This role might also be the one that designs social media games or competitions to engage their community.
For some companies, this role is also a customer service role: managing the queries that come in in a timely and friendly manner. Most companies who have this role on board will have an internal cheat sheet for FAQs and an escalation procedure for queries (good and bad) which need to be escalated internally to other teams.
For some community managers, they feel a bit like this is a 24-hour role. With “peak hour” on social media being from 7pm – 11pm, this can be a role that seems like it can lead to burnout if an organisation isn’t careful to help set up healthy boundaries and foster work-life balance.
The Social Media Strategist
A social media strategist looks at the big picture of a business, looking at what the business goals are, which social networks can help them suit their business goals and helps plan the attack for this.
While the big picture can be looking at what channels they should be active on based on demographics of each social network and where they intersect with the business, they also look at campaigns or tactics to help reach those goals: should we be running a competition, a game, a series of ads – how are we using all of our digital assets in a symphony together to reach this goal, whether it’s brand awareness, traffic to our site or sales.
The strategist also looks at the business numbers: how many people do we want from social media to do a specific task (like visit the site, or buy our product)? They set the KPIs which the business should be tracking each week.
For many social media strategists, their role is also the unofficial innovator: if a new social platform comes up – they make the call whether the business should be on it and why.
This is a role which is usually a management role, or from someone who has been on the ground in social media for several years executing and analyzing campaigns.
The Social Media Advertiser
Another common role is a social media advertiser. In a large organisation, this role could be in a different department to the previous roles, or even outsourced to a digital agency.
This role is a lot closer to an analyst role, rather than a creative role. A social media advertiser may not even create the ad copy, but they do post the ad online. Their role is to run the ads to the right audience, ensure the ad is reaching the targets set by the business, whether it’s views, conversion or Likes, and optimising those ads to ensure it reaches the highest number of people for the lowest cost.
Because this role often involves mastering Facebook’s Ad Manager and negotiating big media budgets, it is usually a specialised skill set from those who create content or manage online communities.
However, like all digital media roles, depending on the size of the organisation, this might be mixed in with the other roles, too, despite it being a very different skillset.
Every job in social media requires a sound understanding of digital media as a whole, an ear to the ground on how it is changing each week, being creative and adaptive to those changes, and keeping the bigger picture of the business goals in mind.
These social media jobs can be very different, and require different skills. Additionally could be run out of different departments, or, conversely, merged into one little unicorn of a role.
In the latter case, people are called on to be a social strategist one day, be on the front lines managing customer queries the next, and analysing data from Facebook ads the next. It can be a jack-of-all-trades role, and it’s useful to learn where your strengths and weaknesses are to try to balance them out. If you’re a creative, great – but learn to love data because if you can back up your creative decisions with data, you’ll have more freedom. On the flipside, if you love data and analysis, learn what the difference is in how content is designed to give better results so you can feed that back to your creative teams and produce better results.
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About Rachel Beaney
Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.