Social media management isn’t just about great photos and videos or learning today’s hottest platform; it’s about translating marketing fundamentals and core skills across all platforms, to inform a data-driven approach that fits into a broader marketing strategy.
So what does that look like in practice? We asked resident edX social media expert Livia Halltari for her insights.
What Makes a Good Social Media Manager?
Whatever your age and level of personal experience, transitioning into a social media career will take some learning. Running your own social media account is very different from managing one for an employer or client. A successful social media manager stays on top of trends, platforms, and social media management tools to schedule posts, monitor analytics, and more.
In other words, you must embrace lifelong learning, whether you plan to stay in social media long-term or hope to advance to other marketing roles in the future, and whether your aspirations are full-time or freelance. Working in social media provides great insight into a wide range of marketing roles and makes an ideal launch pad into the industry.
“Social is one of the most generalist marketing roles you can get,” said Halltari. “You really gain exposure into how email does their work, how content marketing does their work, and how PR, design, and copywriters do their work because you're working with all these different teams so closely. And you gain experience advocating for yourself, reporting, and the analytical part of marketing, as well as the creative, interactive, brand-focused part. It’s the kind of role where you gain a really foundational knowledge of marketing.”
"It’s the kind of role where you gain a really foundational knowledge of marketing.”
Forbes, she added, is calling today’s social media managers “the next generation of CMOs,” and with this holistic background, they are certainly on track to be.
Building A Social Media Skillset on Marketing Foundations
There are many different marketing skills and backgrounds that can usefully inform a social media career, and many of them have their basis in general marketing. Here, we picked just a few of the most important to unpack.
- Brand marketing: To build lasting connections with customers, companies must establish a strong brand perception, and few avenues facilitate this as well as social media. Storytelling and visuals are the mechanics by which this perception and relationship are built, so these are key areas to upskill when breaking into the field.
- Analytics: The data is out there. You, as a social media manager, must know where to retrieve it and what to do with it. You must be able to draw conclusions from metrics like followers, page views, clicks, likes, shares, comments, and impressions and form a plan of action in response.
- Reporting: This skill isn’t just about collecting and sharing data with leadership; it’s about curating data. Halltari says you can set yourself up for success by working with leadership early on to determine goals and the metrics by which you’ll measure success. Only then can you create useful goals, forecasts, and benchmarks.
- Communication: Not only are you the public voice of the organization—you also need to effectively work with internal stakeholders to develop and adapt strategies, as well as collaborate across the marketing department and beyond.
- Writing: Nothing can take the place of good storytelling and content. Your copywriting should be concise, evocative, and tailored for the appropriate audience or platform. A background in creative writing, English, or literature can be invaluable.
- Project management: Organizational and time management skills are key. You need to be able to plan ahead and post content consistently, juggle simultaneous projects, align calendars, and communicate, collaborate, and delegate to members of the marketing team.
- Design: While it’s not necessary to be a master of graphic design, it helps to know the basics. Social is ultimately a visual channel, and a heavily saturated one—it takes unique images to stand out against the competition. Especially in smaller companies where social media marketers often wear many hats, an understanding of design practices and tools is a valuable skill to have.
- Strategy: How does your social media strategy fit into the bigger picture? Understanding context, target audience, and analytics can help shape social media into a powerful piece of a company’s overall business strategy.
- Customer Service: A background in sales or customer service can be valuable, as these roles overlap with some key components of marketing such as conversion, awareness, and customer acquisition. If you’ve worked in retail, then you understand the importance of addressing customer complaints promptly, and social media is no different: You must be prepared to pivot at any time to respond to customers or developing trends.
If you are just breaking into the field, start by learning the fundamentals of digital marketing, especially if you are using social media as a launchpad for greater marketing career aspirations. An entry-level job in social media can be even more powerful than a classroom for honing skills and picking up new ones, so it’s a great way to learn about a variety of marketing roles and decide which one is right for you.
How to Become a Social Media Marketing Manager: 5 Steps
Some useful backgrounds for social media specialists include business, marketing, advertising, public relations, communications, psychology, writing, public speaking, and photo or video skills. But you may be surprised that social media mavens can also come from backgrounds as diverse as political science, fashion design, or retail. In this field, you can start from anywhere, with little to no experience. Here's how:
1. Close skill gaps
Developing a few key marketing skills will serve you well, and you don't have to get a college degree to learn them. According to Halltari, hiring managers are more interested in examples of project management, organization, good communication, strong copywriting, adaptability, eagerness to learn, and the ability to work independently as well as with a larger marketing team. A bachelor’s degree is just icing on the cake.
The edX Professional Certificate in Marketing by UMD and USM has a course specifically on social media marketing.
2. Learn Social Media Platforms and Marketing Analytics
Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of major social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. Study how your competitors are using these social networks. Familiarize yourself with tools for scheduling and publishing content, social media listening, analytics, and more. But remember that basic familiarity is just the first step. You must continue to build your skill set.
“Employers don’t want to know if you use those platforms to develop and manage your personal social media accounts,” said Ewelina Lacka, lecturer in digital marketing and analytics at the University of Edinburgh Business School and instructor for the Digital Marketing Fundamentals Professional Certificate program on edX. “They want to know if you understand how to use social media to achieve marketing goals.”
Online courses can help you learn about tools like Google Adwords, WordPress, and Facebook Ads, as well as teaching evergreen skills like graphic design and SEO, which remain relevant even when the platform of the day inevitably changes.
“I am a big believer in the fundamentals of marketing. A real grasp of what is a positioning, and the related branding strategy, along with the 4 Ps [product, price, place, and promotion] is vital. An appreciation for what motivates or is important to a given target market is critical. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the customer is a great skill. Writing and general communication skills are extremely important. Finally, any experience that puts you in front of customers is valuable, so seeing transactions of any kind is important because ultimately everything is marketed... or at least, it should be!”
3. Gain Relevant Work Experience
The best way to master social media management is to do it. An internship is one avenue. Another option is to connect with small businesses or nonprofits that need someone to manage their social media presence. Don’t be afraid to do free work while you’re learning, but also be sure to draw a line after which you will stop working for free and start charging clients as a freelancer or start looking for that salaried role.
If you’re pivoting to a new career and can’t currently accept unpaid work, then online certifications are another good option for upskilling. Or, simply create a social media account of your own and start building your online presence! After a few months, you should be able to demonstrate your ability to post consistently and grow your following.
4. Develop a Portfolio
Your portfolio is your key to social media success, whether you are working in-house or on a freelance basis. A portfolio demonstrates your work and its impact. Remember that experience does not have to be professional: Passion projects and side hustles can be a fun way to learn your way around platforms and discover the best strategies for each. Consider building a website to showcase your most successful social media posts.
5. Market Yourself to Potential Clients
Whether your goal is to land a salaried position working in social media or to go into business for yourself as a freelancer, you are a brand, and your ability to market yourself as such will show employers or clients that you can also successfully market their products or services.
Be aware, however, that social media is a highly competitive field. Instead of applying to jobs online, try attending conferences and small business events. Introduce yourself in person. Give people your card. Let them meet your brand face-to-face.
“The most important thing is the enthusiasm and willingness to learn and contribute. Let’s face it, someone with all the certifications in the world is going to be a net loss if they have a poor attitude and are not willing to work with others and really see their role as a problem solver. Technical skills are teachable, attitude is another matter," said Frohwein, instructor for the Marketing Foundations course from DoaneX.
Start Learning Foundational Marketing Skills
Social media is constantly changing. Platforms and trends come and go. Algorithms evolve. Current events spark new conversations. Staying up to date on new channels is important, but it’s even more important to lay a good foundation. There are plenty of reputable resources online to help you upskill in marketing. Explore edX marketing courses to get started.