Friday, March 28, 2014

Reasons for NOT starting a social media career

I love social media, and there are few things that I spend more time thinking about. However, even I will tell you that a career in the field is far from perfect or for everyone. 

Online, there are literally thousands of social media marketers who will all but say that social media work is all there is, but this article is about what is NOT good about the field. It’s based upon conversations with people in social media positions across the US and Canada. Of course my sources will have to stay anonymous, but you’re under no compulsion to accept any of this. Take it or leave it.

Let me tell you how it is.

1.    Social media work is incredibly intrusive. If you care about having a life away from work and cannot handle interruptions, then this is not the direction to go in. You can be called or pinged at any time of night or day to fix problems, address community members’ concerns or seize opportunities to engage users. This situation is more extreme for people starting out in social media than people who have paid their dues, but even people who have been in the field for a long while, such as strategists, may have to deal with difficult clients at any hour. Your time off is the time when you get energized and get to do what you want to do. Your time is truly priceless. If someone is taking it away from you then consider if it is really worth it to deal with people online and at the company where you're only wanted so far as generating money for someone. Some people get a kick out of that.

2.     Is your time with family and friends on the same level of importance as working 50-60 hours a week to help some company sell stuff, and you don’t even get paid for overtime beyond what is probably not the greatest salary anyway? I think not. It’s not like social media work is as important as being a doctor or doing work that helps young people get educated. Of course, if you’re combining your social media career with something that goes beyond empty entertainment for the lowest common denominator of your target audience than I stand corrected. By the way, I strongly suggest that if you can do so that you try to do some pro-bono social media work on the side, perhaps for a charity or good organization. You will avoid losing touch with how people really communicate and you will have helped someone. Of course you may not have time to do much due to your primary job.

3.     Bizarrely, you will often work with and report to people who really do not understand social media. Often these people are working with you because of their amazing organizational or quantitative (analytic) skills. Perhaps they are in love with technology and have ideas about social channels that the employer finds profound. Or maybe they can whip up a mean excel document and know how to present things. What they cannot do well is write worth a lick, understand what it means to build connections online, or build real relationships. When they demand that you follow their ideas – and you will have to since they are often senior to you as a beginner – you may have to take the blame if their ideas don’t get the numbers they want. Or they just blame it on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube or any other social channel for changing its algorithms. They can always throw you under the bus later if they want. (The best strategist I ever worked with, a supervisor now friend by the name of Charlie, was never like this – he is a well-rounded person and not only as a social media professional, highly creative, analytical and a strong writer. Another pro's pro, Sean, had many of the same qualities. Both read the news and had strong senses of humor. Someday I’ll have to write about Charlie, he's a good template for what a strategist should be like. Sean is similarly amazing.)

4.     Clients can be infuriatingly destructive. In an agency setting, the job of the social media team is to take care of a client company’s needs. This is basically because the company cannot take care of itself, either because they don’t know the technology, they don’t have the human capital to do the work or because they just don’t understand how to do social. However, in spite of all that, client personnel can be extremely demanding of what they think is the best thing to do, even when all evidence points to the contrary. I've worked with excellent clients who I wished I could spend all my time with. Bad clients are a different story altogether. Bad clients can contradict themselves and scream for things that they forget about the next day. They can threaten your job instead of sitting down and admitting that they were not clear on things. Bad clients can get involved in office politics and play favorites because they like some person on your team (personally or professionally). They can skip the established chain of authority and get right on your case about a perceived issue outside of office hours, even if you have nothing to do with their concern and the matter can wait. Of course, you are not allowed to contact them outside of office hours in return, even if just by email. The worst is if your supervisor or teammates don't defend you and let the bad client rampage. Pray you don’t end up in such an environment if you are just starting out, because it can be highly stressful for yourself, as well as your family. If you see the warning signs of horrible clients, I would urge you to consider if you can avoid the situation. If not, see if you can exit. It's just not worth the headache. 

5.     You will find that the type of work you do as a beginning social media professional is very different from the most fun aspects of being a social media civilian. For example, you will spend time crunching numbers about community members on the social pages. You will spend countless hours uploading videos to YouTube or Vimeo, then tag all of them with key words you have to come up with, but may be of questionable value. You will spend long periods of time alone reading articles about social media or pop culture, trying to predict what could happen next. You will spend a large amount of time trying to understand the hidden politics and subterfuge that is part of office life – why did so-and-so move their desk, why are those three only talking to each other instead of their supervisor, etc. For some people, all of this is far from what a career, never mind a social media career, should be about. I actually find much of the above very interesting, but if you don't agree than be warned. Social media, especially when starting out, involves a lot of maintenance work. Grunt work is normal too, especially at small agencies that are short staffed.

6.     You will always need to be ready to find a new job and look to leverage your experience for a career outside of social media, if necessary. Social media careers are highly volatile, and people have to change jobs frequently. This is especially true for the new entrants. You can also expect to very rarely get a raise unless you leave the company you work for and negotiate for more pay elsewhere. Unfortunately, the idea of loyalty between employers and employees is no more part of social media careers than in any other profession. Companies are looking to squeeze every last dime out of employees also, so that getting a raise is almost impossible. Actually, due to companies wanting to get the most for their buck, it’s not uncommon to freeze budgets and bring in different people at lower salaries. In such a situation your salary could either stay the same through company juggling to keep you on board, fall to accommodate newcomers, or worse. In any case, even in good times social media work is not the most stable gig, and you always have to have a backup plan. Knowledge quickly becomes outdated, employees become less effective at what they do, everything quickly changes as burnout is the norm and people are constantly looking to do something new. 


So! You're probably wondering why am I even in this field. It's definitely not the happiest article I have ever written, by far. As I said, I love social media work, but I think that people need to have a better idea of the drawbacks before jumping in. Social media marketing & PR sound glamorous, and it can be, but it also is tough work that requires a lot of understanding for business environments and the ramifications of the field lacking standards.

What do you think of this article? Is my advice on point or overblown? Let me know in the comments.