A colleague questioned me innocently about working in social media, and I found myself vocalizing what I had feared for months. The gist:
Social media strategists tend to be hired more as contractors and freelancers these days than anything else. Companies realize that they just need someone to teach them how to market while they’re getting their products off the ground. And once they get the hang of it, they can expend that social media person. They’re really only necessary for the launch.
…Especially if they’re early- or mid-career social media people. If you don’t have a slew of proven successes in social media work beforehand, you’re probably only going to be there for the beginning, then you move on.
I know I’m part of the ever-growing semi-desirable, not long-term employable crowd. I know I’ve got savvy and a strong interest in the ebb and flow of social media waves, but I also know that I’m 25, don’t have a traditional marketing background, and have a skill set that is very “niche.”
I get one to two bogus Twitter followers a day with pre-fabbed layouts boasting SEO results as if Web marketing is a magical tonic that you can just absorb by being part of a Twitter followship club. The existence of fake personalities like these should be enough of an indication that the true value of social media specialists is being exploited and undervalued.
It used to be that in times of economic reckoning, public relations and marketing folk were the first to go. The thinking was that if a product is built and designed well enough by mandatory R&D departments, the product will essentially sell itself.
Well, now there’s a new scapegoat in town, one that’s even less established in the grander history of business administration and image-building than PR or marketing, and that is all things social media strategy.
As long as today’s mid- to upper-management supervisors are not equipped with social media strategy from their B-school days, they will take their limited budgets (So 2009!), bring in a social media person, learn the ropes, and boot ’em. From there it’s smooth sailing. If the marketing director is a seasoned vet in implementing sustainable new media marketing campaigns, they’ll be fine Craigslisting for a couple of unpaid interns to carry out the minutiae of whatever the social media temp did.
This isn’t to say that social media has a bleak future. It’s a fascinating world that’s growing every day, and its features and influence are only going to grow exponentially from here. With the economy, though, the rate of its growth is just slightly slowed, and companies simply won’t be partying the way they used to, what with gold bar cakes and willy-nilly job titles. A minimalist Web 3.0 company could survive well with just two simple factors: solid product and a well-networked CEO. If you build it right, they will come.
“Social media specialists?” They’re just icing on the cake.