Many of the most-used social networks did not originate as forums for organizations. Facebook was initially an exclusive site for college students and was not available to those with non-education email addresses until 2006, over two years after it launched.
Similarly, brands were somewhat slow to adopt Twitter, while both YouTube and Instagram took time to develop into mature advertising platforms for companies.
Today, social media is central to almost all public relations, communications and advertising strategies:
- There were an estimated 3.48 billion social media users worldwide in 2019, showing the vastness of the reachable audience on these channels, according to We Are Social.
- The Pew Research Center has also revealed that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults use Facebook (69%) and YouTube (73%).
- Social media has siphoned off a lot of the attention and advertising dollars that once went to TV. More than 90% of millennials use their phones while watching TV.
As brands look to optimize their PR strategies for the vast reach and real-time interactivity of social networks, they rely on the unique skills of social media directors to guide their efforts.
What is a social media director?
A social media director is a communications professional who oversees an organization’s social campaigns. The position typically encompasses a wide range of responsibilities, including monitoring trends in social media usage and writing the copy for promotional content that gets posted to sites like Facebook and YouTube.
Although the social media director role doesn’t have a formal listing in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, it is analogous to several other positions, such as advertising, promotions and marketing managers, public relations specialists, and public relations and fundraising managers. These roles generally have good growth prospects and higher-than-median compensation.
Advertising, promotions and marketing managers
This group had 2018 median pay of more than $132,000 and an expected employment growth rate of 8% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than average. These managers perform market research, plan marketing initiatives, conduct ad purchases, and review the look and feel of official collateral like company websites and ads to ensure consistent branding and quality. Many of these activities can intersect with social media efforts, such as Facebook ads or hashtag-driven campaigns.
Public relations specialists
PR specialists earned a median of $60,000 in 2018 and were projected to grow by 6% between 2018 and 2028, or about as quickly as all occupations. Workers in this category focus on presenting a favorable image of their organizations to the public. They may handle tasks such as copywriting, crafting social media updates and media outreach. Because social media is integral to modern PR strategies, PR specialists and social media directors will often work together.
Public relations and fundraising managers
According to the BLS, these professionals earned $114,208 median compensation in 2018 and had a relatively fast projected growth rate of 8% from 2018 to 2028. This role is similar to that of the PR specialist, but more managerial. PR managers will usually oversee and execute strategies for reaching particular audiences, help shape brand guidelines and presentation, oversee campaigns, and hire and manage personnel, such as social media directors.
The BLS has also written at length about social media specialists. Its description of this position highlights the role of social media professionals in leading online conversations, e.g. by posting updates and responding to customer feedback through channels such as Twitter.
The work of social media directors may combine aspects of all three of these BLS-listed roles. Let’s dive a bit deeper into what a social media director might do on a daily basis.
What do social media directors do?
The responsibilities of a social media director will vary depending on the size, industry and aims of their organization. At the same time, regardless of employer, they will typically perform several core tasks, including but not limited to:
- Collecting, reviewing and applying social media analytics (for example, how many comments a Facebook post received, or how often a tweet was retweeted) and key performance indicators (KPIs) to see which types of posts generate the most engagement.
- Looking at specific KPIs such as website traffic referrals from social profiles or posts and analyzing them in the context of a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that aims to make site landing pages as engaging and useful as possible.
- Communicating those KPIs and other findings about an organization’s online presence to its executives and leadership to support recommendations about how to modify or maintain a social strategy going forward.
- Posting content to targeted social media channels including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others, depending on the specific strategy.
- Monitoring the progress of campaigns and what different personnel — such as project managers, social media specialists and PR professionals — are doing to further them along.
- Knowing which audiences are talking about the organization online, what types of feedback they are providing and which social media channels they prefer to engage on.
- Working on market research to better understand what the organization’s audiences want, as well as details about their demographics and locations.
- Deciding which social media management tools to deploy. These platforms, such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social, allow for multiple social networks to be managed from one interface.
- Assisting in writing and editing text, such as digital marketing copy or press releases, that gets posted to official social media accounts.
- Using these solutions along with others such as Google Analytics and WordPress to support all of the above activities and possibly some others.
As a whole, the social media director position combines editorial, managerial, technical and creative work. Someone in this position will need to not only have excellent writing and communications skills but also be adept at overseeing the work of others and staying up to date on the latest software solutions necessary for managing online presence.
What skills do social media directors need most?
First and foremost, social media directors need knowledge of how specific social networks work, plus the common ways in which people use them. For example, if they were overseeing a campaign that targeted Pinterest, they should apply expert knowledge such as knowing the ideal dimensions for a picture posted there, plus how to connect with established accounts on the platform for influencer marketing campaigns.
Knowing the ins and outs of each platform, and whether it’s worth using in a particular campaign, is crucial. A channel like Twitch, for instance, can deliver a unique combination of experience (live streaming) and audience (people interested in video games, DIY tutorials, etc.) and might make more sense to target than one like Twitter in some cases.
Social media directors will also need to be strong communicators, capable of writing clear copy and communicating well with the organization’s external audiences, members of the media and internal stakeholders like executives. Some tech-savviness is useful to have, too, since it will help in navigating the somewhat complex interfaces of social media management tools and analytics platforms.
How does someone become a social media director?
There is no formal educational or professional path for becoming a social media director, although many individuals in this role start by earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. In its description of social media specialists, the BLS names public relations, communications and business as common concentrations providing the necessary background for becoming a social media expert. English, journalism and marketing are also good starting points.
Some employers prefer graduate degrees, and these advanced credentials are more commonly necessary for managerial positions such as the public relations and fundraising role described earlier. In addition to covering advanced subject matter, graduate degrees in fields like public relations also give their students the opportunities to complete internships, practicums and research projects.
All of these activities provide valuable hands-on experience along with opportunities to build important professional connections that can come in handy later on when looking for open jobs. Students enrolled in the fully online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW) can acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue a career as a social media director.
What students can learn about social media strategy in the GW SPR program
The GW SPR track is 100% online and includes a set of core courses that cover multiple topics relevant to social media, including:
- Media Relations in a Digital World: Examines how digital communications channels affect media relations and let students devise their own campaigns that use a variety of publicity channels. Social media is intertwined with digital communications, putting social media directors at the forefront of online media relations.
- Strategic Marketing Communications: Explores integrated marketing paradigms, which bundle advertising, customer support, direct marketing and more into one approach. Integrated marketing may leverage a variety of media formats including blogs, podcasts and social media platforms, with the latter a common way of sharing marketing assets with large audiences.
- Issues Management and Crisis Communications: Social media is often one of the first places companies conduct damage control or issue responses to developing news stories, due to the large audiences and real-time nature of the platforms. Social media directors have to formulate the right strategy for communicating clearly under such circumstances, and this course helps them learn how to do so.
The GW SPR degree also includes a capstone project, in which students work with an organization of professional interest on an in-depth research question. This project provides useful expertise and can potentially segue into future opportunities with that company.
To learn more about the GW SPR program and how it can help you become a social media director, visit the program overview page, where you can download a free copy of our brochure.
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