Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why A Social Media Career Might Not Be As Great As You Think

My kids love to snicker about my job: I'm a social media & community specialist. I kind of though they'd think it was cool that their mom gets paid to be on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all the time, but of course I was wrong. They think it's not a "real" job.

Not surprisingly, many people feel this way...and sometimes I have to say I question the long-term validity of my own career choice.

Why? Let me list just a few reasons:

  • Your livelihood rests in the hands of web services that are out of your control. If part of your job as a social media person is justifying your existence by virtue of stats like click-throughs on links, what happens when the service you're using ceases to exist and that data is gone? Or when you're doing a demo on the importance of Twitter for the Board of Directors and the site is down? What if Facebook decides you're a spammer and shuts your page down? When you are a social media professional, the tools of your trade are, for the most part, free services with no stable business model. Doesn't exactly instill confidence that social media is a rock-solid career choice, does it?

  • You can do no right. People have very strong feelings about the "right" and "wrong" ways to use social media. Everyone knows you can't please all people all the time, but because the nature of social media is about real-time and transparency and, well, being "social" you're going to hear about anything customers or members or fellow social media professionals think you're doing wrong. Look at the American Cancer Society--who would ever diss them? I mean, who could find anything wrong with a campaign called "More Birthdays"? Celebrities endorse it, people dedicate their birthdays to finding a cure for cancer--who could find fault with that? Well, the answer--with all things social media--is, inevitably, someone. Or millions of someones if you're that unlucky. With social media it's anyone's guess as to what people will find brilliant and viral and what people will consider to be intrusive and spammy. So when a campaign inevitably goes wrong, who takes the fall? The "expert" who came up with the idea in the first place.

  • It's anybody's guess as to what the value of your position is. For all the talk about "transparency" in social media, it's hard as hell to figure out what people get paid to do social media as a profession. How do I know? Because I've blogged about it before--and because an increasingly significant portion of my blog traffic comes from Google searches for "social media salaries." I've noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of traffic referred by that search recently--which is no coincidence as more and more companies are beginning to hire social media professionals. Here's the thing, though: for the same skill set and basic job description you've got salaries all over the map. Some companies are using free interns while others are paying consultants top dollar...all to perform the same basic function. It doesn't help that the titles for social media positions are all over the place; creating social media job titles is like playing word jumble. Pick two or more terms from the following: community, social media, manager, coordinator, new media, digital, strategist, director, specialist, vice president, expert. Now benchmark the resulting position for salary. Or spin the roulette wheel--both strategies are probably equally accurate.

  • Your position is seen as experimental at best. While many people see the value of social media, many more do not. In times of economic crisis, having the words "Facebook" and "Twitter" in your job description is kind of a liability. You are most likely going to be called upon to prove your worth on an ongoing basis, and, at some companies, unless you can figure out a way to demonstrate immediate, traditional ROI, you might not want to get too comfortable at your desk. Best case scenario, you get to keep your job and are doomed to explaining, on an ongoing daily basis, exactly why Twitter and Facebook are not stupid.

Ok--your turn--feel free to add your own reasons social media jobs might not be all they're cracked up to be.

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