The Need For the Social Media Manager

Update: Constantin has created a new wiki of Social Media Managers and Strategists at the New PR Wiki.

I stand by my research, personal experience, and industry monitoring that the need for social media managers will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.

This post is a direct response, refuting and correcting Steve’s post that the Social Media Manager will go extinct.

While I enjoy Steve’s predictions (as well as a peer) that the Social Media Manager will be extinct, I’m here to respectfully correct him and leaning on my research findings from my recent Forrester report: How to Staff for Social Computing. In fact, we’ve found that there are two roles to be found in corporations serious about online communities.

Steve comes from the PR agency perspective and from his view, this makes sense. Yet, I come from where demand actually happens: in corporate enterprise marketing, where I was a social media manager at Hitachi.

Currently, in large corporations, specialized marketing managers, are found often sorted by industries, but also sorted by mediums and channels. For example, there are corporate marketers that focus on Web Marketing (my background) Advertising, Direct Marketing (email, mail) Search Marketing, Event Marketing, and even Print Marketing.

While I agree that social media skills will eventually become a normal bullet point in nearly every marketing resume in the future, today, and the foreseeable, we’re needed specializing for the following two reasons: 1) The specific duties are foreign to most other marketers 2) Online communities (like the support team) require a dedicated role.

In our recent report, we indicated that there are two distinct roles appearing within corporations, the social media strategist (I gave the example of VP of Social Media, Ed Terpening at Wells Fargo) and the community manager, who is responsible for being an online face to the community (Lionel Menchaca is a great example).

So, until the roles of medium based marketers (like direct marketer, web marketer, event marketer) go extinct or this skillset completely normalizes or the role of communities (another way of saying customers) go by the wayside, we’ll continue to see the growth of these dedicated and specialized roles.

Steve is wise to assert that the blur between social media and traditional media as we know it is correct –from a PR perspective. But when it comes to corporate communities, developing social media programs, these are skills that the majority of traditional marketers have –nor understand.

As an analyst, many of my clients (at Fortune 5000 companies) consult with us for social media guidance, I’m increasingly on more and more concalls where these individuals have a dedicated role in this new medium.

Lastly, to drive my point home, I’ve been publishing a series of blog posts called “On the move” that list out (in groups of 5-6) individuals that have been hired to fulfill this specific job. If you notice, the rate has been increasing, not decreasing over the past weeks. Looking at actual job movements is a more accurate –and telling—way of looking at social media jobs than keywords from a job site.

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  • Steve didn’t say that the position wouldn’t exist. (Okay, he did, in the title, but who tells the truth in titles anymore?) He said that social media managing would be swept up into a broader communications role. That makes sense as a lot of companies get their feet wet with the Unknown that is social media and then, once they gain familiarity, incorporate it into job positions like any other marketing/communications medium. (I can’t say for certain, but it doesn’t seem to me that there are many VPs of Magazine Advertising, VPs of Radio Communications, etc. in most companies.)

    One friendly criticism of your argument: it is concerning that an analyst would use a few bits of user-supplied anecdotes (your “On the Move” series) as evidence of, well, anything. There are so few listed in each post that an “increase” is not statistically significant enough to apply to the corporate world as a whole.

  • Marina, thanks, that’s helpful.

    I too agree that these will eventually become common skills (isn’t that the point of this ‘user’ movement), but in the future, most and many companies will need this distinct role.

    Lastly, the on the move list is just a taste. We’re talking to companies around the globe that are starting to have dedicated resources that didn’t let me know they wanted to be on the list.

  • Two points:

    1. Timeframe. You and Steve may both be right, you in the short term, Steve in the long run. When the internet eats everything, then everyone will be a net specialist.

    2. Company size. The bigger the enterprise the more opportunity–indeed need–for marketing specialists. In large companies the long run will be a very long time coming.

  • It seems to me that you and Steve both agree on the substance of this idea. Namely, that walls are breaking down between the specialties that PR people have traditionally had. You just disagree on where on the curve we are. Steve thinks we are there now, whereas you think we are not there yet.

    I tend to agree with the larger point as well. I think in the future, we will see less specialization in Old and New Media and more embrace of general “Community Representative” rolls (though probably with a better name. I also agree with you that we are not there yet. I think we won’t be until a new generation of PR practitioners emerge, one that has used social media their entire lives. That is when we will start to see that trend.

    So I imagine that companies and PR agencies will still have a need for New Media specialists for the next 10-15 years before everyone will be expected to be familiar with it. At least I hope so or else I will have to go back to school for science or something.

    Full Disclosure: I work for Edelman too, though not in the same department as Steve.

  • Weighing in from the corporate/client side… I agree with Michael: You’re both right.

    To me, the question is, is social media an extension of some other, current extant function (like PR, advertising, or corporate communications) or is it something fundamentally different? Right now, i think it is something different from how we corporations take our message to the market, and, as a result, should be treated as an investment. I don’t see it as being a “luxury” to hire specifically for this role, i see it as a strategic investment. And, because most agencies haven’t figured this out yet, it makes sense to invest in the human capital that can figure out how best to both support the community the brand plays in AND grow the company/brand.

    Over time, agencies will figure this out, the routines will get established, and best practices will emerge. Then, it will make sense for corporations to send this work to the agencies that can do it more efficiently. But that’s not “soon”, as Steve suggests. I’m guessing it’s more like 5-7 years from now.

  • It does seem as if everyone is in some sort of agreement that the position of a Social Media Manager would be rolled up into a more traditional PR role.

    I personally do not agree with the statement above. I believe Social Media types have two unique traits. The first being that they are bleeding edge and know what is happening in the web world. And secondly, they have a unique skill to integrate a company’s image and presence into new media channels. Lastly, they have a good handle on technology.

    I do agree that the role will be in larger organizations and in media organizations. Now I need to go find a job in a larger organization than I am currently in.

  • You need a dedicated person. Period. Building and maintaining an online community is a full-time job. I maintain the online community for Stealthmode Partners and myself for most of the day, and then help out by being the tweeter for Earth911. That’s about all I can handle!

  • I agree with Francine that the comm mgr position is a full time job. In addition to the bldg & maintaining the community, one must attend to their needs. I call this connecting which includes the needs of customer service, QA, feedback for product development including managing betas. And internal teams want to know what the community needs.

    Thanks Jeremiah for supporting the wiki listing those of us working in this space. As Jake McKee has said – it’s a 24/7 job.

  • I forgot to add my main point… which is that it’s so much more than PR. Initially I was told that we have a PR agency & that wasn’t my space, but the comm mgr position is so outward facing that one ends up doing PR work by default. (I’m a part of marketing).

  • VK

    The title that will matter is the customer segment manager. THe customer segment manager will be to customers what the category manager is to products (I use a grocery example) – or even the merchandiser (non-food.) The customer segment will be charged with gaining ROI for a particular audience and will use social media to help him/her achieve that goal. We all know hpw customers have fragmented, how the web has altered the patterns of engagement but business is still slow in institutionalizing the customer management. The social media manager owns the day today because just like the dot com years, firms are afraid of being amazoned, so the sun is shining on this title/role. It’s good news for those who happen to be the one-eyed person in this new iteration of business – it’s a great foundation but it is really a stepping stone. I saw this with PC’s, Networks, and the Internet – the mailroom is a great stepping stone in Hollywood as well. Today we talk about tools, infact over the next 3 years we’ll be talking about tools, but medium term – it’ all about customer segment management and audiences. Take that to the bank. End of seminar.

  • VK

    I am threadzilla, killer of the thread. It seems that way and I need a hug but seriously folks – those who introduce new technologies and methods into a firm may serve a greater good by trying to find a way to diffuse the methods – they should find away to drive adoption and make the tool transparent and ubiquitous. Perhaps someday they will say: the social media is so much a part of the fabric that it just is (I think there is a Yogi Berraism in there somewhere.) Anyway sorry for the poorly written pompous (meant to provoke.) A completely alternative concept on this might be that social media experts may play a role like project managers, helping the Segment owners/teams incorporate best practices. Threadzilla Out.

  • Interesting discussion here. It should be said upfront that Edelman has an integrated approach to social media, which is clearly informing Steve’s view.

    As a public relations consultant, I am being asked more and more by my clients, who are mostly in corporate communications, to act as a sort of Social Media Manager or Director. However, I notice that little by little they are taking over the smaller tasks. I suspect that given a few more years, they will also take over the strategy too. I also suspect that some will hire someone to run the function, while others will spread the love across the department. I am not too worried though because I am not a one-trick specialist pony.

    This is my main concern with getting too specialized since the future of this job title really depends on how much work the function entails in a given company. The value proposition of a specialist will be in their ability to stay far ahead of the curve on new technologies and on their creativity in building solid strategic approaches to integrate social media into overall business goals.

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  • Paul Grant

    One word:

    “Webmaster”

  • I fear this trend of the social media role being “swept up into a broader communications role.” What this means in most organizations is PR, and as we all know, every PR agency out there is scrambling to position their companies with social media specialists and expertise. Social media requires a different set of skills and mindset, almost the antithesis of PR (go back and read Cluetrain Manifesto). Creating and being engaged in conversations vs spin and message control. I’ve been in and around PR groups in Silicon Valley for over 15 years, and
    know that once programs like these get absorbed, you can kiss a lot of unique characteristics goodbye (Do you really think we’ll create more transparent companies if/when social media just becomes another marketing/PR function?). I’m working with two Fortune 500 companies right now wrestling with this issue, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out. I know it’s a losing battle, but I agree with Jeremiah: keep this as a distinct role as long as possible.

  • The new structure of marketing and communications is really what this is all about – and it is an interesting topic. Ultimately, I think all in-house marketing and comms departments will reform around The Story Department and The Conversation Department.

  • A little late to this party, but what the heck!

    Our best practices from the past eight years show that when the Community Manager role is split among a group of people with different “day jobs” in an organization, the community suffers. There is a distinct need for a dedicated community professional who is not also 50% tasked with PR or other marketing responsibilities.

    Being a community manager is all about working with the audience and it’s behaviors (good and bad).

    As an interesting aside, I had a meeting with a potential client this week who told me that moderators/community managers were irrelevant because the software will handle this role….

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  • Social Media Managers will not be extinct! They will become a very sought after commodity!

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  • Excellent article Jeremiah! I found this because I was in search of just what this post is all about. I now NEED a Social Media Manager. So yes, I agree that the need will grow.

  • IMO, Social media skill are far different then the Using Facebook and other social networks and Only True social media marketers know the Skills.

  • I’ve been an Online Community Manager since 1995 and I learnt very early on that the power of the internet with regard to social networking, advertising, PR and marketing was going to be extremely important for brand image.

    The world of football in the UK on the net is often simply geared towards fans wanting to sound off about how their team is playing and more than not they do it with abuse and foul language just like we would hear in the terraces of the football grounds.

    When I set up my fan club for Leeds United I established an ambitious ethos that was going to make my community a huge step up from other football fan sites in that it would be a place where we would not allow abuse, swearing, text speak or terrace language. We would be a site where fans who wanted to be involved with in-depth intellectual conversation and debate about their team could be had without fear of flaming or disrespect for having a unique view on matters and I am proud to say that against all odds for a football community we achieved it.

    We achieved it as in our Online Community Managers achieved it. Our Moderators, Administrators, Social Media Managers, Online Community Managers or whatever job title you want to label us as achieved it.

    Without us, without people looking after the community and its unique culture that each community creates for itself I am confident online communities such as my own would never exist or last.

    As long as there an internet people like us will always be needed, sure the job title may change but at the end of the day, we manage and nurture a vital cog of the internet, we manage the new generation of local town and district pubs where people meet, make new friends, find new jobs, get business referrals and chill out 24/7, we are the new generation of the pub landlords and we are here to stay.

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  • Jeremiah: Looks like more and more your above post has come apparent to the world of business owners. As it stated below it is a skill learned through doing. It requires a lot of knowledge and great research skills. The most popular social media sites now are larger than many countries.
    It used to be that we had to search for products but now the products come to us. For small businesses social media marketing has become a must.
    Big Hugs Elsie Roach Social Media Mangager

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