5 challenges in a social media career

Chief among them, of course, is that the challenges keep increasing and growing ever more complex. Here is a snapshot of what one can expect in the current terrain.

Contrary to the perception of many, a career in social media is much more than angling for the perfect Instagram, live-tweeting from big-ticket events, and pinning like crazy on Pinterest.

Working in social media, whether as a community manager, a strategist, or a digital PR manager, and in-house or out of house, has unique challenges. For all those who are skeptical of the gravity of a full-time career in social media, or who want to learn more about it, keep reading.

1. There is no such thing as “average.” One of the biggest challenges of working in social media is that there is no paved career path. Every brand and business using social media has different goals, tools at their disposal, budgets behind those tools, and expectations of their social media marketing team. Your experiences with every social media campaign and tactic can help inform the next, but they won’t establish a roadmap for you.

Success in a social media career means a lot of innovation and creativity, bolstered by a foundation of experience that unfortunately can’t be used as a safety net. I once oversaw the production of a 101-installment video series, with each video posted daily for 101 days. That experience was enlightening, and I learned a lot about executing a volume-heavy video campaign across multiple social media channels.

Even if I were to be tasked with producing another 101-video series for another client, that initial series would not look anything like the finished product for the second go-round. Social media changes constantly, which means the patterns and behavior of the people using it change constantly, and that means best practices change constantly, too.

2. Efforts must be legitimized through engagement tracking. Those employed in social media must put their money where their clicks are. It’s still hard for brands and businesses to draw a direct line between social media activity and sales. (How much value should be placed on a Facebook “like”? What’s the ROI on a 100 percent increase in Twitter followers?)

Unfortunately, social media managers have to draw those dots so their employers can connect them. Regardless of the buzz generated by a social campaign, or the resultant chatter among a brand’s following, if that activity can’t be quantified, the results are moot from a client’s perspective.

3. Social media doesn’t sleep. There’s no such thing as 9 to 5—or even 8 to 8—in social media. When you’re catching some shuteye, your last Facebook post is garnering comments from fans and followers overseas (or those sleepless folks in your own ZIP code).

The longer the lag between a customer’s reaching out and your making contact with them, the lower your chances of forging a genuine connection. Obviously, it’s unreasonable to expect social media professionals will be available at the drop of a Twitter RT around the clock, seven days a week. But getting as close to that as possible? Yep, that’s ideal.

4. The industry is ever-changing. Social media as an industry is nothing if not mercurial, with networks gaining and falling in popularity, and new advances breaking through the ranks almost monthly. (Remember when Pinterest was invitation-only? When there was no such thing as a Facebook cover photo? When there was only a “retweet” on Twitter, not an “old-style RT”?)

Working in social media means staying abreast of the latest and greatest, being able not only to talk about the industry’s new guard but also to incorporate that fresh technology into your practice.

5. You have to wear many hats: eight, to be exact. A career in social media means a flexible wardrobe—when it comes to your noggin, that is. GetSatisfaction and Column Five created a great infographic that depicts the eight hats that a skilled community manager must wear, from therapist to detective to cheerleader. With the excitement and energy of strategizing about and leading a social media community comes the need for flexibility and empathy.

Do you have anything to add to this list? What do you think is a major challenge in leading a career in social media?

A version of this article first appeared on AllTwitter.

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