No longer simply relegated to the most junior marketer, social media has become a field rich in strategy, nuance, and up-and-coming talent. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with some of the top social media marketing leaders to learn how this role has changed, and ultimately, what we can expect it to become in the future.
To understand where social media roles are going, it’s important to look even a few years back. Kristin Kim, Director of Digital Marketing at Kiehls Since 1851 reminisces on the completely unrecognizable landscape of social media five years ago:
“The inside joke goes, five years ago brand social media channels were thought to be run by frivolous college interns. Now, social media managers are known as reputable marketers, creative content strategists, and thought leaders.”
But the change is led by perception, not skillsets, Kim says.
“The reality is that the skillsets haven’t changed much, but the external perception has dramatically shifted. Five years ago, the industry was still figuring out what role social media channels played in reaching and communicating with the consumer. The pioneer social media managers and savvy businesses knew, however, that social always was and would soon be recognized as a gold mine for consumer insights and trends which can transform marketing strategies from the inside-out.”
In fact, the skills essential to good social media management are fostered in the pursuit of understanding people. Anthony Yepez, Director of Social Media at Spartan Race shares his path to his role.
“Before social media, I’ve been a nightclub promoter, a restaurant manager, airport security, a bouncer, a bartender, and a mortgage broker – I’ve done a lot of different jobs but they all involved interacting with and understanding people. You learn how to deal with people and what makes people tick. The biggest skill set of social is that you need to understand people and what they’re looking for.”
The development of the social media role, and in turn the social media team, might have led the initial shift towards community-driven marketing. What comes next is a reimagining of the marketing organization structure that impacts every team.
Social media roles teach us that every team impacts the customer directly, and being on the receiving end of the customer’s voice means having a strong and agile connection with all other teams. Natasha Pearce, freelance Director of Social and Content believes that social media responsibilities transcend every team.
“The social role was once a silo and is now more integrated with the rest of the organization. I always have a strong connection with Product Marketing teams, PR, HR and Recruiting, and even the Data teams. Each department provides a necessary resource for social while also allowing for an opportunity to show what social can really do for their business goals. PR and Social really have always had a strong connection together because it is the perfect way to share the news with media outlets about the business while also continuing the storytelling from the voice of the brand’s Social and Content channels.”
Rather than each team working towards disparate goals, the new social media paradigm fuels collaboration in which each team contributes their honed skillsets to achieve the same goal: winning the hearts of the customer. Kim shares her experience in breaking down organizational silos, a hidden talent unearthed by social media professionals.
“CRM and Creative teams are our allies. CRM and Analytics teams understand content engagement and how UTMs, custom links, and swipe-ups impact the consumer journey. We collaborate to effectively tailor the post-click experience based on on-site behavior and personalize content accordingly. Creative teams are our partners in crime. We now have 400 milliseconds to capture a consumer’s attention on mobile ads – having the right creative is key to delivering engaging content that delivers value for the business.”
New roles, technology, and organizational structure are paving paths for new possibilities, but in five years, we can expect even greater shifts.
It’s hard to accurately speculate which channels and tactics will make the most impact in five years. But stepping back, it’s easy to see that social media roles will play an even larger part in corporate strategy. Pearce explains her predictions for social media’s new seat at the leadership table.
“In the near future, I believe that the VP of Social will oversee all areas that touch social media and oversee the direction for all teams that fall underneath. In other words, the VP would control the direction for long-form content on blog sites, community groups, influencer outreach, support, analytics, along with paid and organic social content and management. Anything that involves engagement first should live under the Social Media department.”
The speed required to keep up with today’s vibrant social media environment cannot be efficiently mastered by talent alone. But keeping up (at minimum) is necessary. After all, your brand is not who you say you are, its who your customers say you are. And your customers are saying it on social media every day. If a CMO’s role is to represent the voice of the customer, it would not surprise me to see future CMOs that started their careers within social.