My usual morning routine since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has included opening my Facebook Memories to see what I was doing on this day however many years ago and reminiscing about what it was like to go in public more freely. Last week, I came across a selfie I took at a speaking engagement where I talked with a bunch of high school students about what it takes to work in social media marketing.
Since in-person events like that one won’t be happening for a while, I thought this might be a good opportunity to update this website, write my first blog post in 35 months (How has it been that long?!), and adapt that presentation to an article.
What makes social media so special? Why is it the buzz word we hear any time we talk about marketing or public relations anymore? Well, it’s where our collective attention is right now. Like the communication technologies before it…the printing press, radio, cable television…it’s now the fastest and easiest way to reach large groups of people with a message.
And unlike some of those older technologies, social media is more targeted than other mediums. We can utilize both organic (free) and paid (advertising) methods to reach exactly who we want. It’s also easier to prove return-on-investment and track results.
Working in social media is more than “playing on Facebook all day” though. (There is some of that–but there’s much more to it.)
Pretty much everything the social media manager does falls into one of three buckets.
- Advertising: Extending overall marketing initiatives and campaigns. This also includes general branding posts that may be more fun than they are part of a bigger campaign–but they still tell your brand’s story.
- Public Relations: Communicating during times of change or crisis. This could be as simple as adapting press releases to a web-friendly format, or as complicated as rushing urgent information to stakeholders during an emergency (ex: weather, disasters).
- Customer Service: Moderating customer comments–good, bad, and ugly. Much like working in a real storefront, you’ll need to be prepared to address complaints and critical comments in the digital world.
So, three buckets. Sounds simple, right? Think again. Here are just a “few” of the duties of a social media manager depending on how large of an organization you work in. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some help with a few of these.
- Writing Posts
- Content Creation
- Live Streaming
- Graphic Design
- Handling Complaints
- Answering Questions
- Keyword Monitoring
- Conducting Contests
- Editing Video
- Targeting Ads
- Analyzing Statistics
- Writing Blogs
- Responding to Reviews
- Crisis Management
How can you prepare for a career in social media marketing? College is still a good opportunity. But there aren’t many degree programs specifically in social media marketing…not yet anyway. Here are what I consider to be the four most important basic skills for a social media manager. Considering these might be helpful in planning your education too.
- Writing: You’ll need to use good grammar when publishing captions or blog posts. Your fans are certain to call you out for using poor punctuation, or worse yet, something like the wrong form of there, their, or they’re. It’s not a must-know for all organizations, but I’m a big fan of Associated Press Style. The AP stylebook is a set of guidelines for news writing that most newspapers, websites, and public relations follow. I think it lends professionalism to social media posts from organizations who deal with somewhat serious subjects.
- Photo & Video: You need to be able to produce quality, engaging visuals for your posts. I don’t expect you to be an award-winning photographer or anything. Remember that your iPhone is your friend. It can take great quality photos and videos that are super easy to use on social media. If you’ve got the budget and the know-how, a Digital SLR is a good investment too. As is the time to learn a video-editing tool like Apple iMovie or Adobe Premiere.
- Graphic Design: Basic skills in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are extremely helpful for putting together quick social graphics. Again, you don’t have to be a master here. Hopefully, you’ll work in an organization that also employs a graphic designer that can help you. But I promise you that you’ll occasionally want to be able to pick up something that designer created and adapt it to a different size or format for social media.
- Web & Tech Savviness: Last, but not least, you need to be able to figure out how stuff works on the internet. Think about how all of the features of various social platforms interact with each other. You sometimes need to consider the cause and effect of actions you take online. And you’ll eventually be called on to combine this tech prowess with the aforementioned video skills to produce a slicker Facebook Live feed than can be produced on your standard iPhone. And knowing HTML isn’t essential, but it’s a plus if you’re also editing websites in your role.
And finally, aside from your degree in mass communications, journalism, or marketing, I highly encourage you also pursue any opportunities for social media experience you can list on your résumé. If your university has something like a collegiate advertising or public relations team, sign up for it! Apply for student work and internships too. Even if you’ve mastered everything I mentioned above, having some examples to prove what you know can make or break a job interview. Good luck!