When You Should Not Become a Social Media Manager

As we ring in 2012, I decided to sit down and write this article.  A lot of it isn’t necessarily going to be what aspiring marketers want to hear, but it needs to be said.

I’ve lost count of how many training programs have said that “Social media is a business anybody can do!” That’s something I can dispute, since some people have the personality and mindset to work as a social media marketer or consultant more than others, but I digress.  Assuming everyone can work in social media, does that mean you should?

Just the other week I was speaking with a recent college graduate who said he was interested in learning about social media from me.  After I detailed the irregular hours and the months of studying and learning (but more on that in a minute), he said to me: “Well, there goes another profession.  I don’t really think I can stomach working at 8 PM.  I also didn’t realize just how much learning or studying I would need to do.  I sort of assumed I knew all there was to know about social media already.”

Sound strange?  Probably to you, but this is something I experience routinely.  He’s still searching for the magic bullet – the dream career that will let him work two hours a day for a lot of money.  That’s what prompted me to write this.

Like most professions that people aspire to, social media tends to have a lot of caveats that people overlook.  People are attracted to law for how much money lawyers can make but don’t realize the massive time commitment or the fact that Big Law is a tiny portion of the legal food chain.

Unfortunately, social media has a lot of those caveats.  In an era where anyone with a Facebook account can technically be a social media ‘expert’, they tend to go unnoticed.  There are a lot of trade-offs that I can detail, but let’s list the important ones here for now.


This is the ugly part, and I’m going to be upfront about it: Having a Facebook and Twitter account does not qualify you to work in social media on a professional level.  Blogging occasionally about your life does not, either.

Social media as an industry is a double-edged sword.  What’s wonderful about it is how easy it is to break in.  Facebook, Twitter, and hosted blogs are free.  Mashable, Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner and OPEN Forum among other news sites and blogs have all the information and resources you could possibly want for free.  Open source software, Google Docs, and third party app programs like Involver make it easier than ever to build plans for clients, even remotely.

Unfortunately this ease has led to a very inconvenient, very ugly side effect of social media: The accidental snake oil salesman.  The freelancer who promises you 500 Facebook fans and 750 Twitter fans.  The newbie who unknowingly violates Facebook’s terms of use with an illegal contest.  The marketer who starts a Twitter account for a business without considering what benefits it will bring to the business itself.

The problem isn’t that people actually want to con businesses out of money, but they assume that they already know “the ropes” because they spend time every day on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.  This assumption is catastrophically wrong.  Managing or consulting for a business, organization, or public person is enormously different than using social media for personal use for the same reasons that doing your taxes doesn’t qualify you to be a professional accountant.

Yes, there are very low barriers of entry to social media.  This does not mean qualifications are equally as low.  If you want to work in social media you need to work hard and be inspired enough to learn on your own.  It takes months of learning, reading, and networking from the pioneers in this business to develop an understanding of how to best leverage social media and word-of-mouth marketing.  Even then you’re always adapting to new social networks, new trends, new strategies, and new redesigns by Facebook.  The most important thing to remember is that there is no substitute for experience, wherever you start working.  The best way to understand social media in a professional setting is to partake in it.


Social media as an industry is new enough that there isn’t any particular stigma associated with it when it comes to pay.  How much you’ll make depends entirely on how skilled you are, how long you’ve been in marketing, the company you work for, or how many clients you have if you work independently.  So it’s relative.

I can say this, though: If you plan on going into social media solely for the pay, that’s a very bad sign.

It’s bad enough when you intend to go into any particular field expecting to strike gold, but social media represents the online voice of a business or brand.  If you aren’t enjoying your work, how can you ensure your clients get the most out of their social media?  How can you brainstorm, develop, and execute content calendars or promotions if your heart isn’t in it?  It winds up being a waste of both your time and your client’s.  You need to be personally involved in the success of your client or company to do a good job.


Here’s another one that people tend to understate.  It only takes a few minutes to send a tweet or post a Facebook update, so it should be the same way for work, right?  Wrong.  As handily illustrated by this infographic, working in social media lends itself to a diverse variety of responsibilities.  Working independently lends itself to even more responsibility because you have no boss; you’re the point person for every proposal, project, strategy, and execution.  It’s another reason social media is often thought of as the ‘easy dream career’ and people only realize the erroneous nature of this line of thought too late.

Most importantly, social media is a profession of very irregular hours because social media never sleeps.  Yes, a fair amount of your work will be during normal business hours, but the bulk of your work hours hinge upon on who your clientele is, general peak times for different social networks, and when your target audience is likely to be online or observing.

The bottom line is if you enjoy working a ‘traditional’ 9-to-5 position and want to forget about it until the following morning, social media is exactly the wrong field for you.  It’s not uncommon for me to work in the later evenings when a few of my clients have busy hours, and I frequently check my clients’ streams at 8 or 9 PM on Friday nights for any mentions or feedback.  Friends who work for companies frequently work late hours due to marketplaces in other time zones.  If you can’t handle that, find something else.  Even if you work for a company, it’s highly unlikely that your work will end after a fixed point in the day.

This applies especially to people who assume social media is a minimal time commitment for the same reasons I mentioned in qualifications.  If social media required very little time commitment, it wouldn’t be its own separate profession.


I feel a little embarrassed even mentioning this one, but I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me if social media is glamorous as a profession. Nobody in the real world cares about where you work or what you do.  Social media included.

Ogilvy and Mather is a great example of this.  As a devout student of marketing and social media I consider them a Mecca of advertising and public relations, and they’re a household name to me personally.  A lot of my friends who don’t work in marketing have never even heard of Ogilvy and Mather, Young and Rubicam, Burson-Marsteller, or Likeable Media.


Here’s something positive, and it’s one of the more understandable lures of social media professionally: The work is a lot of fun.  If you enjoy writing and storytelling, new media and technology, interacting with people online, and the creative process that goes into content development and marketing, social media can be as much of a joy for you as it is for me.  If that’s the case, more power to you.

That being said, social media has its fair share of number crunching and grunt work.  Every campaign, marketing promotion, and blog post needs to be measured in terms of effectiveness.  You need to measure responses on analytics platforms, determine what’s working, and respond accordingly.  You’ll also likely have to do a fair amount of number crunching in terms of your audience reach, daily active users, and click-through rates.  Capturing your audience at the right time when they’re likely to be logged in and gauging their interests is a long term process and you need to keep tabs on it.

If you’re still here and haven’t decided to go to Monster.com and look for jobs in a different field, where do you go from here?  I’m sure I’ll cover that in detail, but you have the whole Internet at your disposal – get learning!