What Does Career Growth Look Like for Social Media Managers?
The social media manager role, which ranks #42 on CNNMoney/PayScale's list of "Top 100 Careers with Big Growth, Great Pay and Satisfying Work," has a lot of appeal. But what does "big growth" mean for social media managers, and is there a traditional path for anyone setting out in this newly emerging career track to follow?
Here's the inside scoop based on my experiences working in social media for global brands like AOL, the New York City Marathon, and Adobe. It highlights how a career path from social media manager to senior social media manager, from senior manager to social media director.
These days, I'm my own boss—serving as an independent social media consultant specializing in social media copywriting and strategy. Outside of my personal experiences as a social media manager (and on up), I've also hired, trained, and managed entry- and manager-level social media roles, including social media assistants, reporters, moderators, and customer care team members (more on these roles below).
In this article, we'll cover:
- Social Media Jobs: What Do Social Media Managers Do?
- Types of Social Media Jobs
- What Career Growth for Social Media Managers Can Look Like
- Positioning Yourself for Successful Career Growth as a Social Media Manager
Social Media Jobs: What Do Social Media Managers Do?
Visit major career websites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, and you'll come across thousands of job listings for social media managers. A quick search brings up 12,000 and 2,000 on each site, respectively.
"What does a social media manager do?" is one of the most commonly asked questions related to social media manager careers, according to search engine query data. For those wanting to understand the day-to-day responsibilities of this role, specific skills and work experience are more commonly seen on social media manager resumes than others.
A social media manager is responsible for day-to-day ownership of a company or brand's social media content and engagement. This person must stay up-to-date with technology, understanding the evolution of social media, new channels, and new social media management tools. In essence, they set the tone, standards, and strategy for social media campaigns by monitoring day-to-day activity, guiding staff on best practices, and connecting engagement results to corporate objectives as a means of ensuring continuous progress.
Responsibilities (including but not limited to):
- Monitor and manage day-to-day social media communications, development, and production of creative assets
- Maintain all network communications—writing content and managing engagement on channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, and more
- Communicate key themes and messaging in line with the company mission, marketing campaigns, product launches, news updates, etc.
- Concept, launch, and measure new campaigns and promotions in support of marketing and brand initiatives
- Produce weekly and monthly social media reports to drive significant insights and efficiency; make recommendations for ongoing optimization efforts and refinement of overall strategy
- Initiate influencer programs to identify, leverage, and track, and build relationships with brand ambassadors amongst social media community
- Conduct social listening of all branded social media accounts; Respond, engage, and share critical insights
- Act as a social care team member and be the link between customer service, marketing, and social media teams
- Recommend new social media tools, sites, and applications as part of the social media mix; be ahead of all emerging social and mobile trends
- Generally, a bachelor's degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience
- Work experience in online marketing and social media strategy and execution
- Exceptional project and time management skills
- Super-strong communication, writing, and editing skills
- Expertise using social media scheduling, listening, insights, customer care, and analytics tools
- Demonstrated ability to develop and implement social strategies that exceed planned objectives
Types of Social Media Jobs
Considering the fact that MySpace, one of the earliest social networks, was only launched in 2003, and today's giant, Facebook, was created in 2004, it may come as no surprise that there's a lot of variation around what working in social media means—and just how many different types of jobs (and titles) there are.
With the wave of Twitter's rise in popularity, I started in social media in 2008 in a hybrid editorial/social role, aptly dubbed a "Social Media Editor." Jobs like this still exist today, mainly for media companies like AOL, where I worked at the time. Facebook allowed businesses to create fan pages to attract followers in 2009, which more brands to engage with social channels. I sought out social media-specific jobs and landed my first in 2011, officially earning the title of social media manager.
Let's look at some of the most common types of jobs by level and review their expectations. Some are "generalist" roles, where you may be responsible for many or all of the tasks associated with working in social media. Some are "specialist" roles, where you may gain a deep skill set within a specific, specialized component.
Entry-level social media jobs:
- Social media internships: These opportunities can be both paid and unpaid. Internships of this sort typically involve helping a social media manager or social media coordinator with their day-to-day tasks, such as writing drafts of social media posts, running reports, conducting research on social media influencers, and responding to or moderating comments.
- Social media coordinator or assistant: Generally for people who are just starting in a career in social media, these roles will likely report into a social media manager.
Manager-level social media jobs:
- Social media manager: Employers like to call this role lots of different things. In my experience, there's not a lot of difference between the job description and requirements of a social media manager and the other common generalist titles in use, such as social media marketer, social media strategist, or social media specialist.
- Social media editors/reporters: As I mentioned above, these roles are often hybrid positions, requiring individuals to create top-notch content for social media and sometimes, write social media-focused content for media websites. Think listicles, recaps of the "most viral" tweets about a certain topic, or a roundup of "the most Instagrammable destinations" for a travel website. Social media reporters may cover live events—but instead of for a media outlet's print or digital publication, they'll be sharing that coverage through social media posts.
- Social media producers: Similar to social media editors, these roles may be a bit of a hybrid. Someone who is a social producer may create video content for social channels while also working as part of a larger, more traditional video production team.
- Paid social media manager/paid social media strategist: You might be wondering, aren't all social media managers paid? Yes, the "paid" here refers to social media professionals (also called social media ad specialists) who focus on creating, launching, optimizing, and reporting on the success of paid social media campaigns on channels like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, and more.
- Account manager: Social media managers can work in-house, meaning, directly for a brand, website, nonprofit, or another type of company and be responsible for its social accounts. They can also work for an agency—either a social media agency, PR firm, or related organization—and contribute to its clients' social strategy, content, campaign performance, reporting, and more. While working for an agency or firm, you're likely to have a title like account manager or coordinator.
- Social media copywriter: For larger teams at brands or agencies, there will be many specialized roles working together. A content manager may set the strategy and work with a copywriter who writers succinct captions. In some cases, particularly within smaller teams, they may be tasked to write other content that's shared online, like blog posts, articles, and marketing emails.
- Social media channel-specific managers: You may see job listings for companies looking for people who have developed a niche and reputation for delivering audience growth or business results from specific channels, such as "Pinterest manager," "YouTube channel manager," or "Instagram manager."
- Social media analyst: This role is responsible for generating insights surrounding online traffic and brand exposure. A specialization in analytics is required to identify successful content and learn what an audience needs.
- Community manager: Some people may act as social media managers on third-party channels like Facebook and Snapchat and community managers for their company's social media. Community manager responsibilities include moderating comments, creating contests, hosting weekly chats. The role takes on a bigger-picture strategy through tasks like rolling out new product features, measuring community growth, and more.
- Social media moderator: Some brands may be lucky if they receive a few comments on their posts per day or even per week, while others receive that many per second. Moderators help delete spam messages, flag, and address comments that need follow-up. Social media displays are another area where social media moderators contribute.
- Social care team or customer service member: Customer service doesn't just exist via the phone, email, or live chat on a company's website. Social media is one of the first places people go to make a complaint. At times, my social media team received a much higher volume of inquiries surrounding the New York City Marathon than any other customer service resources. Given the uptick we saw, I helped hire and train team members who could understand the best practices of customer service, and also writing and engaging with online audiences.
- Influencer partnership/strategy manager: For those that want to work with influencers without actually becoming one, this is the role for you. Within this specialization, you may identify influencers to collaborate with, create branded content for them to post on their social channels, or guide them as they produce branded-content to drive engagement and business for your organization.
What Career Growth for Social Media Managers Can Look Like
With a career track that's as new as this one, there's no clear trajectory. You may progress from coordinator to manager, pick a specialty, and stay in that role for a while. Or maybe, you'll jump back and forth between specialties, hop from the brand side to the agency side, switch from a content focus to a community engagement focus, switch from working on social media for a PR team and move onto working for a marketing or editorial department. Or maybe you'll do all of the above.
Senior manager, director level, and beyond
Remember those Glassdoor and LinkedIn searches from above? The number of opportunities shrinks from 12,000 and 2,000 to 5,200 and 105, respectively, when I search for "Social Media Director." While there are fewer opportunities, the higher you go up, there is still room for growth.
Here are some titles to be on the lookout for:
- Senior social media manager, social media director, social media lead, or head of social media: These are in-house or client-side roles working for a specific brand. Some smaller companies may only have one of these roles, such as a senior manager or a director, but generally not both.
- Senior account manager or account director: This position typically lies within an agency setting. It may function alongside multiple senior account managers and account directors, depending on the number of clients an agency has.
- Vice President/VP level social media jobs and beyond: There may be very few positions with the exact title of "Social Media VP." This is because the oversight of social media generally falls to a vice president or C-level executive, like a chief marketing officer or chief growth officer. These positions are responsible for many related functions within a broader department, such as marketing, editorial, growth, customer service, or PR and communications.
Positioning Yourself for Successful Career Growth as a Social Media Manager
No matter what track you end up on within social media, there are a few key ways to help your career move along in the right direction:
- Stay on top of industry trends: Whenever there's a new social media channel or app that's launched, you should be among the first to know about it.
- Be self-taught and a self-starter: As has been the case for the whole of my career, you will likely know more about social media than many of the people you work for. You'll need to learn as much as you can from your peers, other companies doing smart and creative campaigns, industry conferences and networking events, and by learning by doing yourself. You'll also need to be comfortable guiding executives through specific tasks, like how they can improve their profiles.
- Be comfortable with change: What's popular today won't necessarily be tomorrow. This is true for social media platforms, tools, and the types of content audiences enjoy engaging with—and in this case, the social media job titles you'll find in a job search.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A graduate of NYU with a BA in journalism and Baruch College Zicklin School of Business with an MBA in marketing, Mary Kearl is a professional writer and digital and social media marketing leader with 11+ years of experience. She’s worked in social media for AOL, the New York City Marathon, Adobe, Queens Public Library, and several other small businesses and startups. As a freelance writer, her work has been published by AOL, Forbes, Target, Zillow, and many other publications, websites, and brands. Feel free to connect on Twitter @marykearl and LinkedIn.