Is a career in social media marketing secure?

career in social media marketing

By Mark W. Schaefer

Several years ago when the world of social media marketing was still emerging, Jay Baer and I had a debate on whether this would be a viable career path in the future.

Jay contended that “social media” would cease to be a thing and simply be rolled up into a general marketing category.

I thought that social media would persist as a specialty because of the need to keep up with the rapid and unprecedented changes in the field.

What is going on today? Is social media marketing a viable career option and will it continue to exist as a stand-alone profession?

Is a career in social media marketing still viable?

If you look at job boards like Monster, there are still thousands of jobs out there specifying “social media” or its cousin “content marketing” in the job title.

I think these terms are nearly interchangable. You can’t be effective on the social web without content. You can’t be effective distributing your content without social media. So in the case of either specialty, you’re going to have to know both.

And, as the chart above points out, interest in these jobs continues to climb, although the slope of the curve is not as steep as what we witnessed before 2013.

In terms of both jobs sought and jobs offered, “social media” remains an important, stand-alone part of the marketing function.

So in this respect, my forecast was true, “social media marketing” is still a viable career option. And I think it will continue to be, for three reasons:

  1. The digital landscape is changing so fast. The rules of engagement are shifting on a daily basis and it is worthwhile for companies and agencies to have a devoted competency in this discipline.
  2. Social media has become an indispensable tool for customer service, content distribution, consumer engagement, and research. It is a proven and important channel.
  3. Truly integrated marketing is still a dream in many cases. There are still organizational silos in many agencies and commercial departments (Gini Dietrich and I discuss this in this interview).

The other side of the story

So in the respect of “social media” surviving as an independent discipline, I was correct. But I also think Jay was correct, too.

I don’t think “social media” is an effective stand-alone marketing channel as we might have thought when we had our discussion in 2010.

Back then, many companies had grand ideas of “sales through engagement” and predicted an end to advertising. Well-known pundits like Seth Godin decried advertising as nothing more than a failure to engage people in a compelling product.

Instead, what we have discovered is that “engagement” alone is probably not a viable marketing strategy. For most companies, social media has become part of a complex cocktail that includes owned, paid and earned media swirling around many traditional marketing strategies as well.

Perhaps back then we viewed social media as the on-ramp to a new sales funnel. But in fact, the customer journey is a tangled mess today with social media impressions appearing at any time and any place. We’ve learned that:

  • Engagement without integration is simply chatter.
  • Content without transmission (sharing) has an economic value of zero.
  • Traditional advertising without a digital component is sub-optimized or wasted.
  • Social content probably does not work for most businesses without a paid strategy.
  • Siloed organizations will struggle for power while lean and focused competitors build unstoppable momentum.
  • Social media marketing competency can be integrated into other job functions like sales and HR.

My point is that while social media can stand alone as a job description, it cannot stand alone as a siloed discipline. All of these aspects of digital marketing must work together to make a modern marketing plan hum.

Your thoughts?


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Socialee Media

    Interesting read – I 100% agree! While social is VITAL for beginning on the funnel (gently introducing consumers to the brand and engaging them) and end of the funnel (creating brand advocates and spreading the brand’s message via positive word-of-mouth), a paid strategy (be that PPC, social media sponsored posts / ads or more traditional forms of marketing) is needed to complete the funnel. In short, a paid strategy wouldn’t be nearly as effective without SMM and SMM wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the paid strategy! In terms of SMM as an independent ‘career’ – social media marketing is forever changing and maintaining an effective social strategy and keeping up with changes is SUPER time consuming -therefore I can’t see how ‘social media marketing’ will ever anything but an independent discipline.

  • Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Lynsay Russell

    Great post! As someone who used to be a Social Media Manager, unknown to many when I was in that position, I did a lot more than just social media. After about 6 months, it became very apparent that I couldn’t survive and get things done with just social media. So soon thereafter, I started picking up more and more pieces of the digital ecosystem management – website, blog, mobile application, in-store digital media, email, loyalty program and even customer-centric trade shows and conventions (in-person events). So all this is to say, that even while my title suggested I was in a standalone social media discipline, I was never just involved in social media. It bled over into too many other aspects of marketing and the business as a whole. We learned too much about our customers for it to just stay there. So I totally agree with your argument here – that social media is one of the many aspects of a great modern digital marketing plan. 🙂

  • So great to hear from you Lynsay! Thanks for weighing in.

  • What I’m seeing in practice in a lot of big companies is that social media is being rolled into content marketing, with content as the umbrella and social media as the tactic. Of course, LOTS of variance there. I think I will be right eventually, but not yet!

  • Interesting. Smart money is still on me though. : )

  • Pingback: Is a career in social media marketing secure? - Azalea Health()

  • Hi Mark,

    No doubt, these things are all merging together and I’ve personally believed for some time that it isn’t viable long-term as a profession just as I believe web design and development isn’t either.

    Artificial intelligence is about to revolutionize society over the next 5, 10 and 20 years, so to be honest I think we can say that about virtually any profession.

    Today, however, I’m integrated more offline activities with online activities on both my blog and social media.

    I connect with people offline, and from that create online social engagement. But, I also have phone conversations and personal meetings.

    In my opinion, social media is becoming more “social” and less about spreading content… spreading content is becoming more a function of relationships.

    Just a thought…

    ~ Don Purdum

  • Karma Social Media

    We tell our clients that social media does not replace traditional or online marketing strategies. It’s a different or integrative component and the landscape is becoming large enough that you do need someone who can keep up with the everyday changes. It certainly can soften people up for introducing advertisements, but also provides that sense of the company’s “personality” and a view of their relationship with their customers and followers that you cannot get from marketing ads or websites.

  • Hi Mark, as a digital media practitioner, I think about this question a lot. I freelance as a social media manager and use tools that are making the work easier. There are so many tools nowadays that are making marketing online more efficient. I would say it is still viable. Social media marketing should go hand in hand with an overall, robust marketing strategy for the company.

  • A lot of interesting thoughts here and I agree with most of it, especially about AI. I think spreading content is somewhat about relationships. But often it has nothing to do with relationships. Each day I look at my Twitter feed and I’m humbled by how many people share my content. How many of them do I know? Almost none of them. I think the biggest factor is the quality and uniqueness of the content itself. Thanks for the great comment Don!

  • Not sure if that is a comment or an ad but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I think in many cases social can replace traditional advertising. I mean, what IS traditional advertising any more? I haven’t seen a TV ad in more than a month. How much do I spend on traditional advertising for my business? Zero. So your advice is not universal.

  • Karma Social Media

    We should have specified a bit better. We mean more foregoing marketing principals for the fact that the company is on social. For example: people who think they can replace their website for a Facebook profile, an online gallery because they posted the same images to Instagram, non-profits that want to stop sending newsletters to their donors because they made a post about it on social, etc. Those are some examples we mean when we try to convey they idea that having social profiles will not be a substitute for the company having an actual strategy to their product or services.

  • I think the problem is you have dumb clients! I can’t imagine people making these suggestions.

  • Hi Mark, I am glad you have called this issue out. Social media is not the ‘new shinny thing’ anymore. It has had to grow up, provide results and via for budget alongside all forms of digital marketing.

    Likes, engagement and funny memes, mean nothing but a distraction to a switched up marketeer. Social, as in all forms of marketing, needs to be integrated across all channels and business disciplines to work effectively, e.g. an entire social strategy can fall over without great content or an expertly designed landing page, social media customer service teams or well thought out checkout process for conversion.

    In an ‘omni-channel’ world of retail and distracted focus on the latest buzz words in marketing, can loose focus on the end goal. Your consumer, what they want and when they want to buy it.

    Siloed communications and businesses are only doomed to fail in an omni-channel and interconnected world of retail.

  • When anyone asks me this question so my answer is always in Yes because in future every business will be online and nobody will have that much time ass well to visit market so there will be huge need of programmers and social media marketing as most of the people are using social media every time.

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