General, Social Media, Work

Are You Cut Out for a Career in Social Media? (Updated)

A life-long career in Digital Marketing, quintessentially, Social Media realm – marketing, strategy formulation, community management, new media technologies can be a very satisfying one, emotionally and monetarily. But are YOU cut out for such a career option – is the million dollar question.

During my work ex with a few companies – big and small, have come across a multitude of exceptionally talented people, to whom – the word ‘Social‘, is still an enigma. Means a lot of cool things, but technically, means everything. So it is anything and everything and yet nothing, but including everything? Hmmmmmm… Most times when I ask people to explain – “What do you mean, when you say – you’re a net savvy person and social?” – The most common answer is – “Well, we are on facebook and twitter, but can’t really explain what’s that ‘social’ thing you just asked Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…” So let us cover a few essential points that you would love to consider if you are wishing to make a career transition into social media marketing, strategies and optimization of campaigns.

1. It ain’t cool. Nope. It is not. The Social media industry is a cut-throat industry and can be a very tiring experience for people who wish to make this career transition for the sake of just ‘a cool place to work in’. What the reality is – the final end-product in most cases is extremely cool; with a myriad of extensive features etc. but the process(es) via which they are either conceptualized, created, debugged, managed, QC’d – nothing’s cool about them. Thus, describing a social media marketing environment as ‘cooooooool’ ain’t correct most of the times.

2. It better be a career option rather than a job. Social is the new buzzword now. Everyone wants a piece of the cake. But have no idea how the cake was baked or who exactly it is intended for. Thus, one thing which needs to be very clear from the onset – when you’re applying for a position related to social media marketing, strategies and campaign optimization or community management is – it should not be your next job, but a career option. People who are extremely passionate about social media can finally make the cut.

3. Passion, Value & Garbage: This brings us to the next point “passion”. I’ve 3,000 friends on facebook, I tweet every day, I love chatting all day and night long – this ain’t being ‘passionate’ about social media. Having 4,000+ friends in your facebook page (assuming a lot of them maybe fakes) and tweeting every time you go to the loo is not being social. The correct definition is: technically – your klout score defining your true reach + amplification index + type of networker you are. Non-technically, this means – whether you’re able to create “value” for your members and followers and fans. Or not. Passionate social media enthusiasts create value for their fans and followers, not tweet when ‘Poonam Pandey to strip again on Twitter‘. That’s tweeting garbage, not creating value for your followers. Thus, as time progresses, clients/companies will get smarter and smarter – thus move away from just ‘creating facebook fan pages and twitter accounts and tweeting garbage’ but do careful analysis of their web presence, interacting with fans/followers, do influencer targeting (using quantitative and qualitative methodologies), offer them deals, measure both qualitatively and quantitatively – the ‘value of the levels of interactions’ between end-users/customers and brand(s), and finally, creating a harmonious world of mutually-benefiting-social-media-customer-relationship-management. A passionate person with love for social media can take part in this, often long and strenuous process; not someone who is looking for his/her next job.

4. How do I measure Value: Do you blog? If yes, check qualitatively and quantitatively. I’ve heard this a few times from people whom I have met. “Oh! I love blogging, I definitely do blog!”. So when I ask – “How’s its performance – qualitatively and quantitatively?” What’s that? It means – if you are using a WordPress platform, check the ‘Site Stats’ statistics to see traffic sources, average weekly, monthly, yearly figures, top-keyword performance, clicks and so on. If you’re using Google Analytics or Omniture, even better. Qualitatively – it’s more difficult to determine. Number of comments per blog post, average comment length, keyword analysis – you can do and get to a brand positioning value. A few good platforms out there include Sprinklr CRM platform, Radian6 and so on. So how’s your blog performing – you can refer to it as qualitatively and quantitatively. If you’re a frequent tweeter, don’t just tweet and rt. Study and understand the importance of hash-tags, their usage and one-to-one interactions as well. Drill down into the details.

5. Odd hours: Working in social media has lot of perks. But there’s nothing called ‘odd hours’. Any hour of the day, evening or night – is a good hour for work. There can be 2 scenarios here – if you are working for an MNC in their social media marketing team(s), chances are – if you’re creating, conceptualizing, doing research, testing creatives, running social media campaigns, monitoring, moderating as a community manager and reporting – life is hectic. Any hour of the day and night is a good time to work. If on the other hand, you’re working as a digital or social media marketing agency – servicing Fortune clients and assisting them in running their social media marketing campaigns – besides sleeping and going to the loo, all time is a good time to work as well. This doesn’t mean – you will be working all the time, it means, you may need to be called into action – since an unexpected event may have occurred and you and most likely your team needs to spring into action. Thus, if you prefer a strict 10am-6pm job or your boyfriend/girlfriend gets upset if you get calls in the middle of the night, you’re not made for social media industry. As simple as that.

6. Self-Education: There are two kinds of social media marketing specialists I’ve come across. Rare genius and brilliant ones. Difference is simple – When Steve Jobs quit as Apple Inc. CEO, the group of ‘rare social media genius’ gets the news in less than 1/2 hour whereas the ‘brilliant ones’ receive it in a few hours. And then it gets proliferated on the net and rest all of us pick up. The difference thus lies – not in the connections they have managed to make, but the place they have created for themselves in the industry owing to their passion, commitment, credibility and love for social media. Another aspect – self-education and continuing education. Most of these people – spend hours, if not days on the net at a stretch, reading, writing, blogging, tweeting, researching and finally, interacting with their army of fans/followers. There’s no bachelors or masters or MBA degree from any university on earth (or maybe on any other planet I’m aware of) that can teach one ‘how to be a top social media marketing strategist‘. It is bloody not possible! The field itself is so much in flux, if any course does desire to teach – the course modules would become obsolete by the time the text books came out of print. Thus, the only way to really increase your set of knowledge is being online and reading websites, blogs, influential industry specific blogs, research elsewhere what you read and so on. Besides self-reading and researching every single day, there’s definitely a few things you can do: attend bootcamps in your city, subscribe to either free or paid webinars, or attend brick-and-mortal classes on social media marketing (modules or certificates) or attend online courses. I would recommend these: Advanced Program in Social Media Marketing by IAMAI (classes conducted by NIIT Imperia) – Ratan KK is one of the primary tutors of this program; Strategic Marketing 2.0 – Social Media and Other Innovative Technologies by UCBerkeley Extension (Continuing Education branch of the University of California, Berkeley) – Susan Gaide is the tutor for this program; RutgersCMD has started a few ONLINE and OFFLINE courses dedicated to Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing and others. You can check them out here.

7. Where to go? I would recommend, Mashable, TechCruch, GigaOM, iMedia Connection. Must spend 4-5 hours on these sites every day. There’s a question that I love asking when I’m taking an interview (for quickly separating the ‘wheat’ from the ‘chaff’): “Suppose you had 1 day to live. You have a laptop with net connection; and remaining 4 hours from that 1 day left. Which sites would you visit and what would you love learning in the time remaining?” If the answer is – I will spend on BBC or CNN, or check whether ‘Poonam Pandey finally stripped or not for Team India’ – chances are you’re not cut out for social media. On the contrary, when you get up in the morning, before you brush your teeth and check whether there’s enough sugar to make that morning cup of bed tea, if you do check out the headlines on Mashable or TechCrunch, chances are you’re looking at a very bright career in Social Media marketing industry in the near future.

8. Attention to Detail: If you don’t have this, you ain’t cut out as well. Am talking about – missing the dots and cutting the ts. Kinda being obsessive about perfectionism (like Steve Jobs). An end-user on a Facebook fan page commenting – “I like product X, but hate product Y” is ‘explicit data’ in social media ‘data attribution’, whereas the same user just ‘Like’ing a page for the same brand is ‘implicit data’. How and when you classify what is extremely important – and may result in loss of millions of dollars in revenues for one of your Fortune 100 clients if a social media campaign goes wrong. More importantly, we have numerous examples of Fortune 100 companies spending billions of dollars to restructure brand reputation since they had a faulty social media campaign running for a few months or neglected community interactions with the brand(s) or even worse, simply neglected user feedback cause they thought the brand is too big to be negatively affected. An EXCELLENT case study is BP. Another case in hand. User commenting – “damn! this product sucks. check out this one with companyY” is a case which is different from “damn! this product sucks. i will never use your products again” is a case which is different from “damn! this product sucks. i will burn down your retailer showrooms soon”. 1st one can be escalated to ‘Community Manager’ who can address the irritated/angry customer with a dialogue conversation, the 2nd one can be escalated to another team which addresses ‘CRM Grievances’ for different core products in question, whereas the 3rd one can be escalated to ‘Legal department’ to further look into. 3 comments – single sentiment (customer fucking pissed off) – 3 cases. If you see no difference, you ain’t cut out for this job.

9. When do I become a ‘Guru’ or ‘Expert’? This ain’t karate kid. So chances are you will never become a Guru or so called Expert. Have come across a few who have no clue as to what they are preaching or bringing to the table. The main reason is – social media itself is a continuum – flux in motion. New strategies, conventions, de facto standards, programming platforms are coming into vogue every day. Who would have thought MySpace would burn out? Maybe there wouldn’t be Yahoo! in 5 years from now? Maybe Apple will launch a new social media networking site exclusive for Apple users soon? Did you think Lightbox and Lightbox2 controls would be so popular when the toolkits were launched? AJAX – hmmmmm… did Perl programmers ever see that coming? An excellent clip to watch is this one: Interview with Jay Baer, author of The NOW Revolution wherein he discusses separating the wheat from the chaff.

10. Being Fearless & Decisive. Everyone makes mistakes. Steve Jobs included. So you will make them as well. Be it defining wrong KRAs for your team members, monitoring incorrect KPIs, choosing wrong social media platforms to optimize for, incorrect reporting format, wrong CPM banner ad copies and so on. This can go on and on and on. The point is – Someday sooner or later, you will screw up a social media campaign. Accept it. Learn from it. Be honest. Be decisive. Discuss with your boss and team members, and move on.

11. It’s Relationships and NOT Tools. Get this thing straight once and for all till death if you wanna stick around for long. Social media marketing is about PEOPLE (P E O P L E). Not platforms, cloud SaaS tools, technologies, native/web/hybrid apps or the latest buzzword your girlfriend heard in the pub downtown. Its about ‘building, nurturing, ever-lasting relationships with real people‘. These above mentioned technologies are means to the end. Thus, master the art of online PR and not forcing sales or waste time picking up obscure technologies on the net. E.g. we have social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Delicious Vs. sites like Digg, Reddit and Mixx which are referred to as ‘crowd-sourcing sites’. Don’t get stuck up with the technical details on their differences, but ask and find out why they are grouped separately. Every tool can be unique, yet their purpose may remain the same. But the vice-versa may not hold true. This is what separates a wannabe social media ‘expert’ from a true-social-media-strategist. He/she goes to defining the KPIs in minutes (irrespective of the tools / platforms to be used later) when the ‘wannabe’ is still busy figuring out which tool he wants to use for the job!

A funny clip to watch… ‘Betty is a Social Media Guru’

12. Show me the money dude! Yes, perks are substantial. Sackings are often as well. Ignominious as Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo! When the sun goes down, no one will remember, how many successful social media campaigns you conceptualized, ran, monitored, moderated and were part of. But attention will always be on the one which failed. But you need to learn from it and move on. Thus, though remuneration is definitely a question to ask – it is probably the very last question to ask. I often meet people who think social media is the coolest place to work owing to perks associated and cool gadgets to work with; but performance is paramount for sticking around in the long run. If you can’t perform, you are out in no time at all. No one gives a f**k whether you went to Oxford or Stanford or Harvard, bottom line being: “positive, consistent, repeatable and sustainable ROI on $$$$$$$$$$$“.

13. Stay focused. Whatever you do, always stay focused on the job in hand. There can be too many distractions at times, but you need to be able to separate the noise from the signal. There lies your expertise and the more often you can do this, the more value you will create for yourself in the market, your clients will see your credibility and the happier you shall be (monetarily). Big organizations often fail to separate the noise from the signal, and thus face the music themselves sooner or later. Unique case in point would be Yahoo! Once a great company, now on the verge of getting sold out. Not sure there’s any takers for them even. WHY? Check this out. A few bomb blasts rocked New Delhi a few days ago (yesterday precisely) but the homepage of Yahoo! India dedicates a section on an unknown model ‘Poonam Pandey’ who wishes to strip for Team India since past few months and is the rage of the nation. Yahoo! has failed to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and thus reduced themselves to a source of cheap publicity rather than ‘credible source of information’. Over time, the brand value gets eroded and they are reduced to a website which ‘had once been a great source of info’ on the net. My prediction: Max 5 years; Yahoo! would either go bankrupt or eventually close down. Moral of the story – Never resort to negative publicity or cheap publicity when handling social media marketing campaigns for clients. It may bring you a few hundred thousand visits in a day, but over time, you’re killing the brand in question.

As Steve Jobs once said: “Do what you Love. You’ve got to find what you Love. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it”. So give it a try – you never know. Maybe you are the next big social media marketing guru out there… 🙂

The bottom line is – if you are passionate about social media tools, technologies, platforms, languages, toolkits, marketing strategies, case studies, optimization of campaigns + extremely energetic + zeal to learn continuously + can work under tremendous pressure once in a while – welcome to the world of social media marketing. Iconic figures of present times, like, Michael Arrington, Peter Cashmore aren’t there for money – they are out there because they are passionate about it. 🙂

As a conclusionthese are my personal comments; and maybe correct and maybe absolutely wrong as well. If you wish to hurl some criticisms or abuses, do leave your comments.

32 thoughts on “Are You Cut Out for a Career in Social Media? (Updated)”

  1. Hi…very insightful, everything made sense especially for people like me who are trying to make a career out of digital marketing.

      1. I binned them in the end as they started to smell funny. Since I’m not his wife, nurse, or his mother I eventually figured that if he wanted them so badly he could take them himself… 🙂

  2. Thanks for including Radian6 in your post. Great post about getting involved in this industry! – Amanda, Radian6 Community Manager

    1. Hello Amanda. Firstly, merci for the comment. Secondly, definitely, Radian6 is one of the best SMMPs out there. I work for Radian6’s rival company, Sprinklr; but end of the day, this industry is more of sharing and working together harmoniously rather the contrary. Thus, definitely Radian6 deserved a mention when writing an article for people who are wishing to enter this industry.

      1. Glad we could connect and share our thoughts. We’re all working toward a common goal and the more we can share and learn from each other, the better! Thanks again!

    1. Hi Jay, thanks for the precious comment. So kind of you and believe me, am even feeling so ashamed writing this to you… cause you’re the industry respected social media professional expert (in the real sense) and I still am researching on things every day, learning here n there… So will treasure this comment forever. Really can’t believe, you took time out to write it. Thanks once again, and yes, your clip was one of the most meaningful ones I could come across. Will get a copy of your book sometime soon. 🙂

  3. This is a great article and so true! So many managers and directors are demanding that their teams do this thing called “social media” but not understand that time and effort it takes to do it correctly. What they are missing is that if you are not doing it properly and providing value to your customer you might actually be hurting your brand by having a run of the mill, or even worse, a deserted social presence.

    1. Hi Jenny: yes. one of the main reasons for writing this up. also meet a lot of folks every day who wish to enter into social media marketing without knowing what the world actually comprises of; thus, once they see the real side of it, get disillusioned quickly. 🙂

  4. Great article! I really enjoyed the “interview” part. I am not sure you really need an online course like the one at UC Berkeley. You are already an Expert !

    1. Hi George… thanks for the comment mate! No man, there’s million other things I don’t know as of yet. So first need to get this done, then have decided to do a Mini-MBA from Rutgers maybe. So still some learning to do. And moreover, I love attending classes online… keeps me busy doing something… loll ))))

    1. Hello Shashank: hope you doing good. Thanks for leaving a comment… well; mostly its written from my experience so far in the digital world; so yep… at times can be stressful but do come across hilarious situations as well. So tried putting it as naively as possible without sounding obnoxious and pretentious… Thanks!

  5. Hi.. Really well written piece sply for people like me who are in the learning phase in this space… Also request you to suggest some good read on this topic…..

    1. thanks for the comment… i can only say and suggest – dont go for too many books… cause this place is in constant flux. 24 hours is like 1 week, 10 weeks is like 1 year. 1 year is like a decade. so read a lot of stuff online, check out lots of blogs (personal and corporate), follow sites like, and stuff… and tinker with widgets and stuff yourself. the more R&D you will do, the more you’ll learn in this social media space… thanks, subhasish

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