A question I get a lot from new graduates looking to get into the professional world and even professionals looking for a career change is, “How do I start a career in social media?” or when asked what they want to do they say “I want to work in social media.”
There is No Such Thing as a Social Media Expert
The reality is there is no such thing as a career in social media or ‘working in social media’. That’s like saying I want a job in email or carrier pigeon. Social media is merely one of many digital channels of communication—it’s a tool. When trying to define your career path, think bigger. A career is something you can be an expert in. Social media “experts” do not exist. There are people that are really good at using it…but even they are merely students of the medium. That’s like saying you are a texting expert. Before you say, “But I AM a texting expert. I know all the abbreviations ROFL, LOL!”–you’re not. There is no such thing.
Social media is a communication technology that is constantly evolving and bleeding into everything from advertising to corporate communication. No one can possibly be an expert in something like Facebook because, in reality, it could be gone in 5 years (Ask Tom from Myspace) or just drastically different. Seriously, do you remember what Facebook looked like even a year ago? It’s already evolved drastically in just the last 6 months.
The ‘Hyped Up’ Toddler
In the mid-2000’s, when social media was still in its infancy (some would argue it still is but I’d rather look at it as a toddler now), many industries were trying to figure it all out. Social media became a big hype and everyone thought it was this great new industry that would revolutionize everything. That there would be a whole new workforce of people that just do social media for a living. The problem, though, is that social media isn’t an industry or a job–it’s a communication skill.
It is Revolutionizing…
Now don’t get me wrong, social media is revolutionizing and some people do make a complete living using social media (either as a marketing channel or by consulting in it’s use, etc). It has definitely allowed humans to communicate online even more efficiently than offline and created some major efficiencies in mass communication, to a point that it’s literally sparked revolutions.
Social Media as a Profession is Dying
While social media is revolutionizing as a communication technology, I would actually say that social media as a stand alone profession is dying and I’m not the only one. Though, maybe, it really never existed to begin with and people were confusing what category to put a job like a community manager or social media strategist into. What if you looked at a community manager as a customer service rep or PR/marketing person that uses social as their channel to communicate with their audience, not a social media person who helps out customer service or PR. See what I mean?
This is causing a lot of confusion. For example, I’m a Director of Recruiting but I use social media A LOT. Many of my friends confuse my career and assume I do social media for a living because I use it to brand my company, myself and as a way to make hiring people more human and effecient. I attract talent and hire talent…I’m in recruiting….not social media. Social media is a tool I use for recruiting.
Don’t Work IN Social Media, Work WITH Social Media
What I’m noticing is that, by now, most professional jobs have been enhanced by social technology and almost all jobs require some social media skills and understanding. Large corporations now use enterprise social networking software like Jam to collaborate across global teams and recruiters use social recruiting software like SuccessFactors Recruiting Marketing to find talent and select top talent (Disclaimer: I work for SuccessFactors/SAP which is why I used those as examples but we do happen to be the industry leader in these products). The better you know social the better you could be at any job. So, don’t go looking for a job in social media. Look for a job with social media and use social media to be better at your job.
Let’s say you are a Java Developer. You can build a network of other Java developers on GitHub.com, Google+ or on Twitter and learn from each other. You could write a blog about new techniques and programming languages you’re learning which highlights your skills to potential employers and shows you as an expert. You can highlight your coding skills and teach others or land new jobs.
Really, this can be done with almost every profession. You could love making quilts and build a community of quilt makers and fans of quilts. Let’s say you then build a website where you sell those quilts to that community you’ve built, and write a blog about awesome quilt making tips and tricks to create new quilting fans who would buy your products because they see you as a knowledgeable and talented quilter. See where I’m going with this?
All I’m saying is you don’t WANT a job in social media. You want a job that centers around what you love to do and then use social media to achieve your career goals faster and more efficiently and foster the genuinely natural human inclination to be a part of a community of like-minded individuals who elevate each other. Put yourself out there. Use social media to brand yourself professionally and build your career.
So, find something you love to do and use social media to grow your skills and a professional community (and I don’t mean just on Linkedin…which is a given for professional networking) to move your career in the direction of your passions.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments below if you think the social media career is dead and why/why not?