Is a career in social media marketing secure?

career in social media marketing

By Mark W. Schaefer

Several years ago when the world of social media marketing was still emerging, Jay Baer and I had a debate on whether this would be a viable career path in the future.

Jay contended that “social media” would cease to be a thing and simply be rolled up into a general marketing category.

I thought that social media would persist as a specialty because of the need to keep up with the rapid and unprecedented changes in the field.

What is going on today? Is social media marketing a viable career option and will it continue to exist as a stand-alone profession?

Is a career in social media marketing still viable?

If you look at job boards like Monster, there are still thousands of jobs out there specifying “social media” or its cousin “content marketing” in the job title.

I think these terms are nearly interchangable. You can’t be effective on the social web without content. You can’t be effective distributing your content without social media. So in the case of either specialty, you’re going to have to know both.

And, as the chart above points out, interest in these jobs continues to climb, although the slope of the curve is not as steep as what we witnessed before 2013.

In terms of both jobs sought and jobs offered, “social media” remains an important, stand-alone part of the marketing function.

So in this respect, my forecast was true, “social media marketing” is still a viable career option. And I think it will continue to be, for three reasons:

  1. The digital landscape is changing so fast. The rules of engagement are shifting on a daily basis and it is worthwhile for companies and agencies to have a devoted competency in this discipline.
  2. Social media has become an indispensable tool for customer service, content distribution, consumer engagement, and research. It is a proven and important channel.
  3. Truly integrated marketing is still a dream in many cases. There are still organizational silos in many agencies and commercial departments (Gini Dietrich and I discuss this in this interview).

The other side of the story

So in the respect of “social media” surviving as an independent discipline, I was correct. But I also think Jay was correct, too.

I don’t think “social media” is an effective stand-alone marketing channel as we might have thought when we had our discussion in 2010.

Back then, many companies had grand ideas of “sales through engagement” and predicted an end to advertising. Well-known pundits like Seth Godin decried advertising as nothing more than a failure to engage people in a compelling product.

Instead, what we have discovered is that “engagement” alone is probably not a viable marketing strategy. For most companies, social media has become part of a complex cocktail that includes owned, paid and earned media swirling around many traditional marketing strategies as well.

Perhaps back then we viewed social media as the on-ramp to a new sales funnel. But in fact, the customer journey is a tangled mess today with social media impressions appearing at any time and any place. We’ve learned that:

  • Engagement without integration is simply chatter.
  • Content without transmission (sharing) has an economic value of zero.
  • Traditional advertising without a digital component is sub-optimized or wasted.
  • Social content probably does not work for most businesses without a paid strategy.
  • Siloed organizations will struggle for power while lean and focused competitors build unstoppable momentum.
  • Social media marketing competency can be integrated into other job functions like sales and HR.

My point is that while social media can stand alone as a job description, it cannot stand alone as a siloed discipline. All of these aspects of digital marketing must work together to make a modern marketing plan hum.

Your thoughts?


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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