This is why you will have a career in social media

I’m about to make a prediction that surprises even me.

Social media management will not be absorbed into most company marketing departments and instead will emerge as a stand-alone professional discipline.

I know I’m sounding like some wild-eyed social media hype master here but hear me out, OK?

I’ve been around long enough to see how emerging technologies are absorbed and deployed by corporations.  Believe it or not I can remember a day when I worked without email, let alone websites and search engines.  And over time, the buzz subsides, the technology standardizes, and these new ideas become part of the daily routine. We don’t have “email departments” or “website departments.”  These tools are assimilated by the organization and leveraged by individuals as needed.

So I assumed this is what would happen with the social technologies too but I am begninning to think I’m wrong. Here’s why.

Observe.  In the past four weeks,

  • Twitter announced a major change to its user interface that has significant implications for marketers and many third-party applications.
  • Google unveiled an enhancement that some say will obsolete 80% of conventional search engine optimization strategies.
  • LinkedIn rolled out not one, but four upgrades.
  • Foursquare changed about 50% of its user interface and added new social functionality.  The newcomer also secured a major round of funding and both Facebook and Twitter sought to aggressively enhance their location-based offerings.

In the social space, it’s not just the technology that is changing constantly, it is nearly every rule of engagement.  It’s as if you have finally equipped your tank in time to discover that you’re fighting a battle in the ocean tomorrow.

And to me, that is a very, very big difference compared to any technological integration that has challenged a marketing department before.  There will be relatively few companies who will want to fund their own team of social media experts to stay on top of the daily tsunami of change and provide consistent, meaningful counsel. Over the long term, it will be more economical for companies to hire consultants who are paid to study this stuff day and night and then tell them what to do next.

Simply stated, “social media management” will emerge as a stand-alone career discipline because it will be the most economical and effective way for companies to compete in a world of hyper-change.  It may take some time for companies to realize this, but in the long-term, that’s my forecast of how it will shake out.

What do you think?

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  • The short answer is: yes.
    But I think this is going to take a long time in coming. Agencies are grappling for this space here in Sweden, but most haven’t got the skills yet, from what I’ve seen. The other issue is working in an international environment. No matter how good we are at English in the north, so many agencies still have clumsy communicators.

    I think the other stumbling block here will be how to market these skills to companies. I talked to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce and whilst many were open to external agencies helping them, they were more keen in “dabbling” with social media themselves. “We have to get our admin people on this” was one thing I heard; others were passing it on to the PR department or HR.

    Personally, I’d love to know how to market this kind of service more effectively to a highly suspicious market. Especially when there’s a dearth of good data on social media success.

  • Mark

    @Jon — I am so glad you weighed in on this — I was hoping you would because you always bring in such an interesting viewpoint! I think there will always be room for dabblers. Just as few companies will be able to afford to keep up themselves, there are many, many more who are just unwilling to pay for anything.

    I find that even companies who are open to the idea of out-sourcing functions such as legal and accounting balk when it comes to marketing. Many entrepreneurs think they can do it themselves. And ironically, an inability to sell your product is usually the un-doing of most start-ups. It would make for an interesting crowd-sourcing experiment — brainstorming ways to market marketing! Thanks, Jon!

  • I think you may be on to something here Mark. While I do agree with Jon that it’s possible it is a ways off, it might be closer than we think. If the Web has taught us anything, it’s that its very existence speeds up the rate of change, production, and satisfaction. I think as more improvements are made and more avenues are explored, more and more companies will feel overwhelmed and look for outside help.

    Which bodes well for me.

  • I think that’s a pretty interesting insight. One thing mentioned above that I’ve told our company is that the social buzz is slowing down, not due to lack of effectiveness but the fact that it’s mainstream. I would venture to guess you would be right about hiring outside consultants. With hoe fast everything changes, it would wear a single company out trying to keep up.

  • Agreed…well, for the most part. Organizations that market themselves through social media may very likely have dedicated managers that blog, tweet, and do whatever else is appropriate. Some large companies like Dell and Gatorade might have a whole team of them. Some organizations will continue to be successful in social media while still not explicitly marketing themselves, but rather continuing to do customer service through blog comments, @ replies, and who knows what else. In those cases, there might very well be people dedicated just to social media, but their duties will be significantly differently from those of a current social media manager.

    Nonetheless, much like other marketing, fundraising, & customer service disciplines/channels, it only makes sense that there will be people dedicated to it, and with specialties in just that area, if an organization plans to take social media seriously.

  • Some will, some won’t. Will it be a unique “profession”, absolutely. Will everyone outsource their strategy, not likely IMO. It’s only overwhelming today because it is new and different. When full adoption is reached, it will be mainstream and deployment methodologies will be fairly standardized(ie: ERP, CRM etc) and manageable.

  • I really liked this article and information. I think that what you are saying is quite true and have found this to be most useful. Keep up the good work!

  • Are you talking about Google Instant? How will it make standard SEO practices obsolete? Which practices in particular?

    I’m afraid I’m not especially well-versed in SEO mechanics, but I’m taking a class in October and would like to know what to reconsider and what to ask.

    Karina Fabian

  • Good morning Mr. Wild-Eyed Social Media Hype Master! Hope your week is flowing well.

    I’m tentative to comment as I do not have the practical experience or wisdom about Social Media as shared by many in this community. I am finding it difficult to see your predicted vision though.

    There is existing technology aimed to assist companies, manufacturers and retailers to clean up and optimize their supply chains for the mutual benefit of all. And yet, to this day, Inventory Management remains a cost-draining and frustrating issue for many.

    In this day and age where Open Communication and Open Door Policies appear on most Core Values lists ~ silos still mire excellence and adversely affect key goals and objectives.

    Customer Service still, to a certain degree, comes down to the individual responsible for providing it. If you get someone who understands the significance and passionately executes the function – hooray. If you don’t, customer dissatisfaction grows.

    When these and other basic principles of good business operation remain issues in spite of time, resources and technology available to eliminate them ~ I struggle to see Social Media’s stand alone significance in operation effectiveness, unless keeping people apprised of the hyper-change is, in and of itself, the end goal.

    Sometimes I feel that there are so many destinations and not nearly enough bridges.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Joey — Nice!!

    @Drew– Slowing? I don’t see it yet (after all a movie about Facebook just came out!) but I expect it will. Thanks!

    @Eric — Agree- large companies and brands will staff up big time and probably develop it into a core marketing competency. Good point.

  • Hey Mark. My 2 cents.

    1 – Ad agencies do not get the web/net/digital domain at all. Full stop. they control a lot of budgets.

    2 – Professional consultants look at the web from a strategic standpoint – sadly involving IT only and not from a customer-centric POV.

    3 – Most corporations are still run by white, old, fat men. When they die or retire we MAY see change. But as we have seen they generally get replaced by more old, white, fat men. Or a joke I always use – How to become a millionaire? Start with your Dad’s 100 mill and whittle it away!

    4 – The Net is still a freak show. And sadly all us freaks are talking to each other … and no one else.

    Sure it may come about. But as Don Tapscott says we need change not tinkering!

  • Mark

    @Steve — Are you suggesting that the social web will become less overwhelming because it will reach a point where change will slow down? I just don;t see it brother. But I like the fact that you’re making us think! Thanks!

    @Julie – Thanks!

    @Karina – Yes, Google Instant. I know some of the particulars but too long to get into here. Do a blog search and look for posts on the topic and implications on SEO. From what I was reading, most SEO gurus were in a panic and there seemed to be a consensus that this was messing with their systems. However a fellow told me earlier this week that he had it all figured out! : ) Please let us know what they have to say in your class!

  • Mark

    @Sally — Where do I nominate you for the blogosphere’s most valuable commenter? You always have something interesting to say! I’m glad somebody finally disagreed with me. I just took a shot at this idea but it is by no means bullet-proof.

    I don’t think our points are mutually-exclusive, however. I believe you’re saying it is likely that many comapnies will not optimize the potential of the social web despite having the tools to do so. I’m saying that if they choose to do so, they will probably have to hire somebody to help them. Make sense?

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  • @Mark I believe it will settle down in time like all new things do. As it becomes mainstream and the “norm”, more corporations / governments will adopt it, regulate it and “effectively” manage it (likely even try to tax it). Will there be “experts”? Absolutely. But something this “core” will most often be internalized.
    The “next big thing” is right around the corner. When it arrives, SM will be as yesterday as the telephone.
    In my cynical opinion that is…. but history does tend to repeat itself.

  • Mark

    @Mose — What are we going to do to get you out of your shell? I wish you would just come out and say what you think. : ) Thanks for being the color commentator of the {grow} community Pete!

    @Steve — History does repeat itself which is why I felt strange coming up with this projection. It’s against the grain but I do think that the ground has shifted for good. As you know, I approach things rationally but that doesn’t mean I’m right … although I do seem to have a knack for seeing how things come together to form trends. I’m glad we’ll be following it together. Thanks as always for putting your heart into the community, Steve.

  • Folks – I don’t think it’s going to slow down even if it becomes mainstream, and it isn’t a freak show, as @mose suggests, or else everyone on the net IS a freak. Recall what Dash said to his mom in the car on the way home from the principal’s office (The Incredibles) after she helpfully said “everyone is special” — “Mom, that’s just another way of saying nobody is.” If you didn’t watch Chris Anderson’sTEDtalk on crowd-accelerated innovation, you should:

  • Timely post – agreed, this is already happening because the advent of Web 2.0 made a lot of things possible for individuals and businesses. The really savvy companies are the ones investing in Social Media and all it has to offer for now. These companies market themselves through social media and to get it right, they weave everything around their strategy and they also have dedicated managers or teams to tweet, digg, yelp, blog and do whatever else is appropriate for their business based on their strategy. For instance, Dell is a good example of such companies. The secret of this success is knowing why you want or need to engage your customers or audience first and then investigating the right readily available Web 2.0 tools to facilitate the engagement. Buyers habits are rapidly changing, we have a whole generation (Gen Y) who are very dependent on Social Media. If you want to succeed as an organisation, you have to be on the Social Media train very soon or your business will be left behind.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    @Victor — Thanks for th elink. Very thoguhtful of you. I actually had watched that talk last week and found it very thought-provoking. I agree that it si worht the time. Thanks!

    @Catherine — I apreeciate your well-stated thoguhts here Catherine. Obviously you’re quite passionate about the topic and I delighted you chose to take the time to share your thoughts with the people from around the world who have enjoyed this post!

  • An interesting debate and a good, thought provoking post Mark.

    The whole SEO, SMM world is still very young and everyone is still adapting to it. Things will change (as they already are) and the landscape will be virtually unrecognisable in a few years time.

    I’ve been saying for a couple of years what you say here: “over time, the buzz subsides, the technology standardizes, and these new ideas become part of the daily routine” but the difference is that the social web, and how it is used, will be significantly different to how it is now. It will be a next generation (or perhaps the generation after) of tools and services that really have an impact.

    I firmly believe that it will not be a case of companies reaching out to the social web (Facebook, Twitter et al.) but rather making their own services more social and taking control that way – introducing the social web to the customers by stealth, if you will, rather than relying explicitly on outreach. (

    Of course, Social Media Management already exists as a job today (my wife is one, amongst other things) and companies are already hiring SMMs to look after the social side for them but this is only because it is new and the business world is not, yet, universally convinced of the ROI on social media – the majority are still just dipping their toes in the water. As soon as business has the tools, techniques and knowledge I feel that SMM will be taken in-house and become part of marketing departments everywhere. These tools and techniques will become like trade secrets, jealously guarded by the organisation as they strive to seek a competitive advantage over other companies in the same field.

    If SMM and the social web develop to the point where they are as instrinsic and important as convential marketing/advertising then you are right: there won’t be a “social media department” – the function will be incorporated as part of an overall marketing strategy and, in order to be effective, this cannot be separated from traditional marketing – they must work hand in hand in order to be effective.

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  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Colin — Thanks for the fantastic take on this topic. A subtle point — I agree that SM marketing must of course work hand-in-hand with traditional marketing in an integrated way. I was just suggesting that it might be out-sourced to specialized companies in many cases. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out. Thanks for contributing this great comment Colin.

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  • I think you are right. I think it is the same reason why personal tax software and online research has not replaced CPAs. The tax laws are always changing. There is an economies of scale when it comes to knowledge. It is way too expensive for you, me, and all your readers to be tax experts and SM experts. That’s why, even though I am a CPA, I hire another CPA to my company’s corporate taxes.

    (P.S. I wrote a similar comment the day you posted this but didn’t click submit because I was being too much of a perfectionist. And THAT is a conversation FAIL!)

  • Mark W Schaefer

    @Mike That is a perfect analogy. I wish I had used that in the original post to explain what I was trying to say. Where were you when I needed you : )

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  • Anonymous

    Great post, Mark! I completely agree-on all counts, but most especially the “It may take some time for companies to realize this…” I really thought that today, March 2011, more companies would see the fluidity of social media AND the need to have someone who lives and breathes it supporting their marketing efforts–but not so.

    The shift is happening, but a lot slower than I would have expected.

  • Thanks so much for you comment Gwen!

  • Great article! Really hope your right!
    I am actually looking into furthering my education in digital marketing, would you have any insight on Hult international Business school in San-Francisco? They offer a Master’s program in Digital marketing and I am trying to find out if it’s worth it or not.


  • Glad you enjoyed the article.

    I don’t know anything about that school, but if you contact my friend @steveology he may know something since he lives in the Bay Area. Thanks!

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