Social media has become a fixture of public relations. It’s a reliable way to reach audiences at scale, on platforms many of them already use in personal and professional contexts. According to HubSpot, social network posts and blogs are much more effective at influencing millennials than other forms of PR outreach.
The power of conducting PR through social channels has fueled a boom in digital media jobs for candidates with the right expertise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies social media professionals in two major occupations, both with positive outlooks in the near future:
- Public relations specialists, who had median pay of more than $59,000 in May 2017. Total employment for this position is expected to increase 9 percent between 2016 and 2026, or about as fast as average for all professions.
- Advertising, promotions and marketing managers, a more senior role with higher compensation and a slightly better expected trajectory. These managers earned a median of over $129,000 in 2017, and were expected to see 10 percent growth in positions from 2016 to 2026.
Regardless of title, working in social media requires a special blend of abilities. Individuals need both hard and soft skills for success in this domain.
Social media tools are a dime a dozen. There are platforms for posting the same content across multiple networks, analyzing the success of advertising campaigns and inserting customized calls to action, to highlight just a few of the possibilities.
Aspiring social media managers should know at least how to use the major networks (Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) as well as some of the most popular solutions for managing them. This knowledge ensures the organization’s messages reach the public and that responding to inquiries and interactions is as streamlined as possible.
Moreover, a social media director or specialist should be familiar with analytics, i.e. the insights about platform use and campaign progress that are so important to making informed decisions about PR strategy and tactics. Social media is very data-driven.
At the same time, experts in social media must also be masters of storytelling, with a well-honed sense of what narrative angles will connect with their key audiences. Such capabilities require expertise beyond just knowing how particular platform features work.
For organizations with continuous PR efforts, posting to social media is rarely done in a vacuum; instead, it’s closely coordinated with what they’re doing across multiple communications channels, from webinars (which a social post might promote) to press releases. Social media professionals make sure that what they directly manage aligns with the work of their peers on the PR team and also fits within the unique constraints of each platform, e.g. the character limit on Twitter or the distinctively professional bent of LinkedIn.
A social media director is also someone who knows how to work under pressure and on tight timelines. The rapid interactions possible on social networks means it’s crucial to know the right tactics for handling crisis situations and viral campaigns, either of which can quickly take on a life of its own.
How different social media titles stack up
We highlighted two of the major titles that often encompass social media work: PR specialist and advertising, promotions and marketing manager. There are many others, including the frequently used social media director and digital media director. These two may sound virtually identical, and while there are some key similarities, there are also some important differences.
Digital media director
This role entails significant work outside of social media, although management of those channels is still important to the job. A digital media director or manager might take on wide-reaching responsibilities such as:
- Overseeing paid media strategies as per the widely used PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model. That includes ads on not only social media, but also on major search engines and websites.
- Ensuring alignment of strategy across all digital channels, including emails, blogs and social media posts. This requires conducting regular oversight of social accounts and communicating with departments like sales and product development.
- Analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) related to campaigns, and using that information to estimate return on investment and prepare the budget for PR and marketing projects.
- Monitoring new developments in the industry to maintain awareness of new technologies, re-evaluate current strategy and provide ongoing training and guidance to other members of the PR and marketing team.
In other words, a director of digital media oversees a holistic strategy. Social media is a vital part of that, but it shares space with blogging, SEO, email marketing and more. The social media director position, in contrast, is more narrowly focused.
Social media director
As director of social media, you would be responsible almost exclusively for social efforts, rather than the multichannel strategies overseen by digital media managers. Someone in this role would normally:
- Set goals for social media campaigns — such as increasing brand engagement, and boosting customer advocacy — and formulate the tactics for reaching them.
- Collaborate with teams across the organization to synthesize useful information — such as KPIs — that drives and refines overall social media strategy.
- Reach out to important influencers and build relationships so that social content has more visibility.
- Manage the production of the written, visual and audio content that will be shared on official social channels, with an eye toward audience expectations.
As we can see, there’s some overlap with the digital media role — especially in collaborating to coordinate strategy — and some differences in focus.
Prepare for a leadership role by earning a master’s in SPR
The Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) will help you pursue either of these careers. The SPR program provides extensive background in how social media informs modern PR strategy, while also offering a capstone project in which students can apply all of their relevant research interests with the guidance of a faculty member.
At GW, the SPR track is 100 percent online, making it ideal for working professionals seeking career advancement. Find out more by requesting a brochure from the main program page today.