Social Media's Image Problem


Jerome Pineau | March 22, 2011

Jérôme Pineau, social media strategist, examines the array of new digital job titles and questions why the pay scale doesn't yet match the responsibilities

Jérôme Pineau, social media strategist, examines the array of new digital job titles and questions why the pay scale doesn’t yet match the responsibilities

I almost keeled over a couple days ago reading this SocialCast post about the “Hectic Schedule of a Social Media Manager” as shared on Facebook by my good social media buddy Stéphane Koch. Can you find the anomaly? Of course you can. Especially since there are more than one. Let me start with the most benign:

We are still mixing up community management, brand evangelism, content management, digital marketing, social media management and social media strategy. There are several reasons for this incessant confusion: the industry is new, the skill set is highly complex, and the responsibilities keep expanding. Last year I tried to describe the community manager lifestyle. This year-old blog post is still correct in my opinion. And a social media strategist does this. Between folks like Altimeter Group, Community Roundtable, and Blaise Grimes-Viort I assure you there is enough material to clearly distinguish between all these terms. So what gives?

In many ways, this lingering confusion is self-inflicted. Too many of us in the “social media” space fail to properly define, justify and explain our value to peers, outsiders, or employers. Peer communities like this one have many roles to fill, and I think this should be one of them.

But combine this with the following fact: most of the time, the people who sign the checks have or know kids. And they see these kids playing around on Facebook. They look at this and think "hey, this stuff is easy, even my 15 year old niece can do it Which brings me to the most shocking anomaly. This one:

When I saw this I thought, no way, there must be a typo in there somewhere. Think about it. If your job effectively entails what’s described in the infographic, during the hours indicated (namely, non-stop), and you’re getting paid this kind of money, you’re nuts And the folks who think any 15 year old can do this work, well they probably should hire their niece indeed! :)

“ I’m still shocked to see ads from major luxury brands for low-cost (or free) ‘social media interns’ ”

I don’t honestly know how reliable this salary range from PayScale really is. I do know I’ve seen social media/community management job ads offering salaries in the $50-$60K range on the East Coast in the US (you can’t live on this salary on any coast of the US). How much does it cost to do social media? I like to refer to this post when asked that question. Most of the time, people’s reaction is “oh, you mean we actually have to pay for this? But I thought social media was cheap?” – I’m still shocked to see ads from major luxury brands for low-cost (or free) “social media interns” – To me that’s like picking your heart surgeon on the cheap. But hey, some folks are like that.

So let’s get real here – what does it take to do this job well? Consider this:

You have to know marketing. And diplomacy. Navigate complex political structures. Manage teams (internal) and vendors (external). Understand show business. Be on call 24/7. Be an intelligence officer. Be a skilled writer (and speed reader). Multitask for a living. Be able to address an audience. Understand the underlying technologies (what’s the impact of Facebook iFrames replacing FBML in custom tabs? Should we do a mobile site or invest in a smartphone application and why?). Be good at PR, relate to the press, understand group dynamics, evaluate people in an instant, be a journalist (sometimes a curator, definitely an interviewer), a customer advocate, a service provider, a businessman (preferably an entrepreneur), an opportunistic risk manager, a psychologist, a social bee, a budget manager, a strategist, and a dozen other things I’m probably forgetting about this minute. Not the least of which is solid family support and endless supplies of coffee allowing you to even exist in this constant 24/7 maelstrom.

In other words, the kind of abilities and capabilities not usually required or expected of minimum wage workers. So why pay them as such? Because, if you aggregate the salaries of all the roles needed to fill the shoes of a typical (competent) social media manager (or strategist), I can assure you you’re talking a million plus.

I think part of the reason, if this statistic has any truth to it, is because we’re not communicating sufficiently and intelligently enough about what we bring to the table. And so a lot of people might be working for fame and glory! – So how can we fix that little perception problem before it’s too late?

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