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Are social media jobs just a dodge?

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Whether or not many companies are actually practicing social media marketing, they're beginning to write skills for handling that into job descriptions. Titles like social media marketing manager are popping up all over the job boards. Recruitment advertising site Monster.com lists almost 250 jobs with "social media" in the title or description.

This trend isn't surprising, given the sudden attention from the executive suite. TNS/Cymfony recently surveyed marketers and found that half thought social media should be monitored at the executive level and receive significant resources. When asked what titles should be created, some they suggested were director of consumer-generated media, consumer insights manager and social media officer.

I've recently met a few people who actually have these titles, or whose companies are posting something similar. In each case, the job reported to the VP-marketing and had no designated budget or staff. The person's job was basically to figure out what the company should be doing about social media, then influence others to get on the social media bandwagon.

This may sound like a commitment, but it's really a strategy of failure. Experienced business professionals understand the politics of new job titles: They can be an earnest attempt to address a perceived shift in the market or a way to actually avoid making meaningful change. The problem with delegating responsibility for social media is that it gives everyone else in the marketing organization an excuse to continue doing things the same way they always have. If the initiative fails, then everyone knows whose throat to choke.

Social media isn't the same as public relations or direct marketing. It isn't a specialty or a discipline. It is a superset of skills that every marketing professional must adopt and practices every marketing plan must include. In short, every communication coming out of a company in the future will need to be aligned with a mechanism for seeking out and accommodating customer feedback.

One thing early social media success stories have made abundantly clear is that a lot of people need to be involved in the effort. In fact, marketers do best when they educate their organizations so thoroughly in customer conversations that the marketing department can actually get out of the way.

If I were applying for the job of social media marketing manager today, here are some questions I would ask: Is there support at the highest levels of the organization for this job? Will the VP-marketing be measured and compensated against my success in this position? Is there top-level support for involving everyone in the company in customer conversations? Is there a budget in place on in process?

If the answer to all of those questions were yes, then I'd be intrigued. Otherwise, I'd run like hell.

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