The Evolution of Work: Careers in Social Media

Last night I revisited a simply hilarious 2008 IBM commercial which illustrated the emergence of social media in the workplace. It featured a young employee dabbling on a social networking site at his desk (presumably Facebook).

When his manager enters, she inquires as to what the heck he is doing. He lets her know that he is exploring “social media” and that he has 800+ friends. He boldly adds that he can find “anyone”.  “Really?”, she says, and proceeds to rattle off directions for him to locate a group of international financial experts, with 10+ years of experience that speak Cantonese.  “By the way” she adds, “they need to hit the ground running by Monday.” His reply: “I don’t have any friends like that.”

Social media in the workplace

Ten years ago we would have never predicted the explosion of careers in social media. Where social media was once viewed as a diversion to the real work at hand, it has evolved into a key essential for many businesses. Organizations of all kinds have developed the belief that leveraging social media is an organizational must. From small businesses to large organizations, the emerging value of social media is apparent.

The evolution of jobs in social media has been a fantastic process to observe. Early roles concentrated on monitoring the “community” of users who interact with an organization or product. But these early roles have given way into an entire genre of social media jobs, seen as integral to the functioning of the organization.

Universities are reporting that recruiters are visiting campuses seeking candidates for these new roles. As discussed by, Scott Tsuchiyama, Community Manager at the University of Michigan Career Center, “We started noticing these sorts of dedicated social media positions crop up around 3 years ago…Most often, employers are looking for strong communication and research skills for these positions.” He goes on to explain that, “some organizations are creating positions devoted entirely to social media, many other organizations include social media responsibilities within more traditional roles in marketing, communications, public relations, and community relations departments”.

There is also growing recognition concerning the impact of social media on many related content areas. According to Linda Gross, Associate Director Career Services Network, at Michigan State, “The reality is that social media has become so prevalent it is no longer a specialty area, but an expected competency associated with digital media”. You will find employer competency and job function expectations for social media incorporated in public relations, organizational communications, advertising and marketing positions among others”.

Types of social media roles
Many types of social media roles have evolved. Here are a few of them:
    • Community Manager –  An early iteration in the social media model, this type of role has the responsibility of interacting with customers and client bases.
    • Social Media Designer – This individual would be responsible for developing the visual, or “look and feel” components of an organization’s social media strategy. A background in the visual and graphic arts is a plus.
    • Social Media Strategist – This role clarifies social media goals and outline the paths to accomplish them. This group of individuals would develop an entire social media strategy for an organization.
    • Content Specialist – This role concentrates on the content of the actual messages sent though social media channels such as company blogs and Facebook pages. Individuals in these roles often have a journalism or PR background.
    • Business Analytics –  This role entails using available analytics to monitor the social media presence of a product or organization. Working knowledge of various tools such as Google Analytics,  Radian 6, or YouTube Insight may be required.

How you get there and what you might find

At this point the field still appears to be quite open, as a well-defined, “set in stone” curriculum to land these jobs has not yet emerged. Programs at colleges and universities are beginning to pop up – but you’ll likely require another core skill set to pair with your interest in social media. A variety of disciplines can serve as a foundation for a role with a social media component. As described by Sean Nicholson, Director of Social Media, at InTouch Solutions, a Digital Agency in Kansas City, “You can start with a background in Computer Science, Communication, PR , Journalism or even Psychology. But the common thread is the desire and ability to connect and network with others through social media platforms.”

The importance of this mindset is shared by Chris Bowler, VP of Social Media at Razorfish, “Social media is essentially about relationship building and story telling. Those who succeed are likely to be highly creative or analytically driven.” Razorfish, for example, employs a large social media team of over 50 across the nation. The organization has developed various social media roles, at varying levels, ranging from social media coordinators (entry-level and likened to a community manager) to Social Media Directors (would oversee a team and advise clients). These  roles help clients paint a picture of their products and services utilizing social media and monitor message effectiveness.

Paths to social media roles

Just as roles in this realm have evolved, many with early careers in social media experienced a career evolution as well. Scott Bishop, Director of Social Media at Bozell, recalls his path, “I began with a degree in marketing in 2001.”, he explained. He found his early interest in social media was fanned by a desire to understand the psychology of  buying behavior  –  it was simple for him to see how this developing medium could apply. “Over time I became active in social media clubs, where we were all just figuring out the landscape.” He continued to sharpen his skills while networking with others in the space, which helped drive his  social media career journey forward. He finally committed to a full-time social media role in 2009.

In today’s world, you need to assess whether your core skill set would meld with a social media role. Depending on these skills you may land in varying aspects of social media – such as content creation vs. analytics. For example, those with a journalism background would be most appropriate for content development. Those with a quantitative orientation would be most suited to social media analytics. However, as Nicholson states, ” Being well-rounded can be a real advantage. A general background in business is quite helpful. Knowing how to connect social media to an overall business strategy is highly important.”

The world of social media seems to be changing daily – with this changing tide comes the evolution of a myriad of jobs in this arena. It is entirely possible that one of them is for you.

Note: If you are interested – you can observe an ongoing discussion of this list of social media roles discussed on Focus, by Jeremiah Owyang.

Another Note: Razorfish offers an internship program – you can get more information at

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.


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