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The following post is by Ross Buchanan.

“Social Media is Not a Career– these job titles won’t exist in 5 years. Social media is a means to get more awareness, more users or more revenue. It’s not an end in itself. I’d strongly caution against pegging your career trajectory solely to a social media job title.” – Jason Nazar, Forbes Magazine.

Forbes published a list on 20-somethings, for 20-somethings, because 20-somethings enjoy sharing lists on social media (it was nearly the 20th list on my feed this morning.)

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Jason Nazar is a Forbes contributor and business owner with startup experience. He has familiarity with what is valuable when staffing a startup, and understands social media trends within the tech industry. About 20% of the way through 20 things 20-year Olds Don’t Know, Nazar raises a point concerning many of his 20-something readers: he purposes the idea that in the near future, social media management jobs will be less abundant.

Currently, a great many 20-somethings work in lockstep with social media management responsibilities of some kind, including the measures necessary for maintaining a “personal brand” as employees and citizens. Social information has tremendous power: for collaborative thought, for national interests, and for fun. Brands and individuals will continue to pursue profitable avenues of social information online, and subsequent jobs managing technology in these fields will continue to exist.

In the last five years, the development of social applications (YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc) has produced widely publicized payoffs. The silver lining to the Great Recession has been a renaissance of connectivity; one exciting enough to encourage businesses small and large to rethink digital strategy… and hire.

In 2010, payroll and advertising giant ADP acquired The Cobalt Group, a Seattle-based web development company for automotive manufacturers. The same year, ADP began selling social “reputation” management services to several of its existing Fortune-500 clients, including a recently bankrupted General Motors Co.

Just two years into the global economic downturn, automotive wasn’t the only large American industry in need of a serious reputation makeover. The Department of Defense, the fast food industry, and at least one careless oil company followed suit with third party reputation management investment. Jobs were created for socially savvy grads the nation over.

In 2013, the servicing of massive reputation management contracts still takes bodies. ADP, among other financial services and advertising giants, has multiple departments working exclusively on grooming the social profiles of their clients. These social managers are paid better than they would be at startups, and they are used very differently.

Unlike startup culture– where diversification of individual skills is necessary for the locomotion of the group– larger firms tend to specialize workers in departments like social media. This structure allows the worker to develop expertise in their discipline, coach other departments, and encourage personal acceleration within a silo of the business. The worker will have the opportunity to interface and learn with other departments, but their success metrics will be in currency of their department (i.e. social media statistics.)

The natural, exciting progression of social applications includes several distinct and exciting points for business, among them: (a) the technologies will provide deeper measures of ROI as a function of marketing; (b) the technologies will become more self-reliant; and thus, (c) the technologies will become cheaper to maintain.

These are the points to which I believe Nazar issues his warning. This variety of social technology is thrilling, worth working for, and will always provide employment for those on the progressive front. However, innovation will erase bureaucratic social media jobs whenever a large seller of reputation management resources can implement technology in lieu of hiring a PR grad.

By 2018, I believe social technologies will be easier for companies of all sizes to manage internally, as the cultural threshold for understanding and taking advantage of social media will be higher with every employee. Greater personal understanding of social applications will encourage small business owners to manage their own social brands, rather than pay employees to do so.

Fortune-500’s curate user data and reviews as a part of their searchable brand, and will continue to do so during the next five years. This will likely occur through continued investment in scalable, multifunctional advertisers like ADP; bureaucratic groups that are both more likely to specialize employees departmentally, and stand to benefit most from technology that makes their departments leaner.

It seems logical that the importance of reputation/social management services will remain crucial into 2018. This is clear when considering the bad PR that can develop quickly from whistle-blowers, expansive wars, or a corporate indiscretion gone viral.

Yet, whether the number of social management jobs will grow, slow, or stay the same, remains opaque. Anticipating the demand for social media management positions might be gauged as follows:

  • If the demand for management positions continues to grow (and pay three-times the minimum wage,) companies will have greater incentive than ever to aggressively pursue more automated social technologies.

  • If the demand for social media management remains steady, current candidates will face indebted droves of younger, cheaper graduates seeking a job in the years ahead. Firms that sell reputation management services will maintain an inclination towards profitability in this scenario, intuitively seeking the most affordable option, be it cheaper technology or cheaper human resources.

  • Finally, if lower demand is anticipated due to the development of cheaper automated processes, or the higher minimum yield of internal staff when managing social media, the elimination of positions is inevitable.

In any case, I agree with Nazar that social media managers (and all workers for that matter) would be wise to diversify as quickly as possible in 2013.


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Ross Buchanan