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How to become a social media marketing specialist

Social media is becoming ubiquitous. According to Pew Research's Internet Project, 69 percent of the public uses social networking sites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit: Many people across the country -- and planet -- use at least one of these sites. Not to mention programs like Hootsuite to manage profiles and communications for these other platforms. 

Given that opportunity, a business strategy adopted by many business are trying to reach new customers through content via this medium, and the job options for social media marketing specialists, also known as social media managers, are growing. If you live and breathe social media and think you can help businesses effectively reach larger audiences in the digital world, a job in social media marketing (SSM) might be one you want to consider: Currently there are more than 200 social media networks with a combined total number of users in the billions. 

To get a roll on the skills and schooling that could help your social media marketing career and salary in the long run, read on. When you're done, be sure to look for a social media marketing major at one of the best schools for communications and media degree programs

What social media marketers do

Fair warning: It takes more skill to earn that social media specialist salary than your average day browsing Facebook or searching for cool photos on Instagram. A day in the life of a social media marketing specialist or social media manager involves skills around content strategy, immersion in the digital marketing realm, understanding marketing, search practices, social media analytics and more.

Social media marketers use both well-known and up-and-coming social networks to:

  • Promote content with strategies like link-building, advertising, sharing and guest posting
  • Establish a coherent social media strategy for a company
  • Further multiple social media campaigns to hit company marketing strategy objectives
  • Drive traffic to a company's website, goods, services and other digital targets
  • Analyze findings after identifying demographics and search practices using tools built for such metrics
  • Engage and interact with the target audience

Expect the need to understand the basics of the marketing industry regardless of your background. Content plans under social media managers could cover daily tasks like maintaining a business account's Facebook status to promote events or interacting with a key influencer in your field on Twitter -- and managing a team to help you do so. You might search for relevant content to share with your clients, lead experimental social media strategy and campaign efforts, work on digital advertising to align with promoting your business' goods or services, improve customer search experience and more.

Despite the gig being pretty internet dependent, social and communication skills are critical and not always limited to web content emails and tweets. The job is not often limited to pure social media management for company accounts. Jobs for social media managers or specialists could potentially be at any businesses with a social media voice, or those looking to establish one. Don't be surprised if you see SMM positions -- managing or other -- at places like government offices, hospitals, retailers, ecommerce influencers and local franchises alike, with varying salary amounts for each.

How to become a social media marketing specialist

Because social media is a relatively new field, there aren't many marketing degree programs in social media specifically. But some still exist, or you can find social media marketing programs as specializations within communications or marketing degree programs. You can even come in with a background more in data analysis, as some positions might be looking to be filled by someone who can understand the analytics behind ongoing social media campaigns a business might be running. 

Work toward a relevant degree

As with many careers, you might be surprised at how applicable some majors can be, especially for a SMM job path. Because social media jobs incorporate both marketing and writing, there are several bachelor's degree options that can be beneficial to you and desired by employers. They might include:

  • Marketing
  • Public relations
  • Strategic communications
  • Journalism
  • English
  • History

As with most careers, the more education you have is typically for the better when it comes to your average salary down the road. Regardless of salary goals, possible degree programs to consider past the bachelor's degree level could include master's degrees in communications, public relations, marketing and social media. Your salary may not be purely dependent on a degree, but it can certainly help you market yourself in a stronger fashion than candidates without degrees.

Aim for hands-on social media work to develop your skills

You might also benefit by interning or working at marketing and PR firms or even start by just writing for your school newspaper — whatever it takes to demonstrate your communication skills and marketing ability to potential employers. Experience working in customer service can help, as a job as a social media manager often leverages the same types of skills you might see in a customer service agent. 

And, of course, employers will likely want to see that you have a good grip on these social media sites specifically. Landing a social media job and not being active on at least a few of these sites (especially Facebook and Twitter) could potentially show as a weakness when being considered among other candidates for the job, so consider how you create and manage your own social media persona.

Education beyond your degree

One important element of working in social media marketing is the fast-paced and ever-changing environment you can typically expect. With such an industry, you should plan to take continuing education courses to stay in good career shape and on top of the latest social media marketing trends. Also, attendance at relevant conferences, expos, lectures and related events likely isn't just mandatory for certain jobs; it's bound to help with your own business and personal social network strengthening. 

How much social media managers and specialists make

There's no standard minimum salary you can expect to make in your job as a social media manager, but you can see how much marketing managers and public relations specialists make and figure your average salary to be around those figures. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Marketing managers, of which 218,970 positions were employed in 2017, had an average salary of $145,620 with the top-paying states being New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and California.
  • Public relations specialists filled 233,730 positions in 2017, with a mean annual salary of $67,990. The highest paying areas in the country were the District of Columbia, Virginia, California, Rhode Island and New York.

Again, as with most careers, your social media manager or specialist gig will come with a salary dependent on education, experience, location and more. 

Sources:

  • Social Networking Fact Sheet, Pew Research Internet Project, http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 2018, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes112021.htm; https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes273031.htm
How to become a social media marketer
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