As you might imagine, I get a lot of inquiries from folks seeking and offered social media positions. An interesting question that has popped up lately - will taking a social media job hurt me in my career? At first glance, this seems laughable. Social media is cutting edge, it's hot for the media, and everyone wants in.
But what if social media is a career dead end? I'm not suggesting social media is a fad - it's clearly part of a broader trend towards transparency, connectedness, and personal publishing. And yet the long term social trends have little to do with the actual positions being offered.
Community manager, social media specialist (entry level), and even social media consultant are fun titles that keep you learning and connect you to a bunch of other social media types, but if you need to make a career transition, will your skills in social media transfer? Will they get you raises? Promotions? Will someone who graduates college and takes a job in social media eventually make it to the C-Suite?
My experience is pretty relevant here. The people I place aren't top level strategists. Mostly I work on two kinds of positions - social media doers in the 50K-80K range, and sales, marketing, PR and technology professionals with a good background who made some inroads into social media in their current position. A social media doer is not a position with career advancement. It's the person who executes the strategy and serves as the face of social media, but I'm always very clear this is not a stepping stone, it's position set in stone. Lots of people want to do strategy, but few want to lay the groundwork down and get in the trenches. I hire trenchworkers. And I hire trenchworkers with a background in marketing or PR. It's hard to imagine a company coming to me to find a social media anything who didn't have current experience in their industry.
Which brings us back to that question. Is social media a career risk?
These would be my three top concerns.
1) This is a temporary position with no way to measure success. A lot of companies are hiring people to test the social media waters, or tasking internal employees to handle the social media duties. Far too many of these people think time invested is invested time. If you can't talk about what you learned, and how it applies to your career, you may be in a temporary position.
2) Social Media lends itself to fluff. If you've spoken with me, you know I mock "engagement" and "transparency" on a regular basis. I believe in those values, but I also believe that no company is going to pay you for some engagement metric. Those involved in that fruitless search are going to be dissatisfied, or they're going to be selling snake oil. Engagement is an intangible benefit of social media, but companies pay for tangible benefits. If your job is leaving comments and interacting with people on Facebook, your job just isn't that important. Make sure you're actively engaged in solving business problems if you want to avoid this trap. Find out how your efforts make or save money, and you'll be in good spirits. Simply being the social media person in a company that wants to "engage" customers is a dead-end.
3) Don't get trapped on an island. One of the best benefits in social media is the networking, both in and outside of the company. A good social media person is not a standalone division, but an integrated part of their division. Connect all of the disparate contact points in a company (recruiting, sales, marketing, customer service, tech support, corporate communications, event planning, philanthropy) and make each one of them aware of company strengths. Be a good networker, and you may find yourself eventually as a power broker.
Ultimately your goal is simple. Companies like employees that get things done. That skill is in short supply. If you can leverage yourself into a position where you are an effective manager of resources and a go-to person for information, then the position you hold is not as important as your value to the company. When being recruited, look for opportunities to make decisions and hold responsibility (especially for budgets and personnel). The career risk lies in taking a job where you don't see the future, not the position itself.