Aquent Aquent

The future of specialist social media roles

by Dionne Lew

The future of specialist social media roles

Some believe social media is like the new telephone and will become so well integrated into work that it becomes invisible. Others predict the emergence of specialised social roles.

I believe there’s truth in both because:

  1. Social impacts business end-to-end and is ubiquitous.
  2. Increasing specialisation within social will require trained, technical specialists able to operationalise it as part of business strategy.

However, I do not believe that the ubiquity of social media will make social roles irrelevant.

Will social become the new telephone?

To the extent that social is will become increasingly familiar and widely used — yes.

Although social is currently in the hands of the few, it’s largely due to a lack of awareness. And that is likely to change.

Social has business-wide application and can be used for:

As people become more comfortable with social and learn how to use it, it’s likely to be integrated across functions and roles at all levels of the business — from the Board and CEO, to senior executive (known as C-suite) roles, through the hierarchy to entry-level positions.

However, it’s inadequate to compare social to a telephone because you don’t need technical knowledge to make a phone call work.

Is social special?

Yes it is.

Having an internal subject matter expert talk about the latest research in social is great for business credibility because these people have, according to Edelman, high trust. That’s the telephone part, because at this point social becomes the channel for sharing expertise.

But there are many decisions before, during, and after this action that require specialist knowledge.

  • How do you discover, create, curate, and chunk up the content?
  • How do you decide which channel to use for what kind of content?
  • What percentage of your media is earned? Owned?
  • If you’re a multinational company, should you use different content and channels or the same approach worldwide?
  • How do you create engagement, increase reach, and convert interactions to leads, then sales?
  • How do you analyse and bring the data together in meaningful reports including on ROI?

Every other day there seems to be an algorithm change that has bottom-line impacts for users and publishers. Someone has to keep on top of that, understand the implications, and adjust business strategy in real-time to make the most of the dollar.

Horizon scanning is always problematic and particularly so in the fast-changing digital and social world; nevertheless I can see that with the increased socialisation of business, the following specialist roles may emerge.

Social media strategist

Just like a current head of strategy looks at emerging business, market, and industry trends for consumers and competitors, I think we’ll see a social media strategist role focussed on social specifically. There’s so much happening so fast that to really know what’s going on, you’d need a dedicated focus.

Social media platform specialist  

  • How do you keep up with the emerging networks and changing algorithms?
  • How does a multi-national company reach different target audiences across the globe on networks of choice?
  • What do you say to 'We Chat' in China versus Twitter in Australia?
  • When do you move a function from a social media network to an app, and what one should you use and why?
  • What’s the law in different jurisdictions for trademarks, privacy, and spam? How does this affect strategy?

This is a fast-changing space. We haven’t thought much about what this role would look like yet, but I imagine there’d be varying levels of seniority from those who focus on finding out about and testing new platforms (below) to those who know how to manage it back to SEO.

Social tool specialist

You just have to take one look at this tool directory from RazorSocial to understand that just keeping up with the number of tools that are available is a full-time job, notwithstanding that they must be trialled and assessed in the context of an enterprise’s existing social ecosystem.

  • What tools are there?
  • What tools are emerging, which start-ups could provide business solutions?
  • When is a platform sufficiently established for use at an enterprise level?
  • How will you build in risk mitigation if the platform does not survive?

Social PR strategist

Trevor Young has influenced my thinking on this because while there are lots of great agencies that understand digital and social marketing, I agree with him that there’s a real gap in the PR space.

You need to know how to improve brand and reputation through social networks and that would include a head of social PR with a team to handle strategy and execution. The content marketing team could sit under this role.

Social content strategists, creators, real-time reporters

Content marketing is critical for business and the emergence of content marketing teams responsible for content strategy, creation, and real-time reporting is likely.

They will answer questions like:

Social advertising specialist

There’s a big debate about earned vs. owned media with social increasingly becoming a paid media channel.

Platforms are constantly revising strategy such as recent changes by Facebook to its news feed, Twitter on filtered content, and LinkedIn on search.

Publishers are working with giants like Facebook to determine whether to publish within Facebook’s platform to enhance the user experience or take the user back to the publishers’ platform. Complex questions emerge around the ownership of user data and revenue sharing.

  • Where and how do you place social content?
  • How to optimise bought social media? 
  • How do you report on social advertising?

All this will be important for those companies that take social seriously, in particular for reporting on ROI.

Social media SEO

Understanding how web and social networks impact SEO and how you are searched and found will become more and more important.

How social platforms in China, for example, impact search will be different from impacts in America or Australia.

What about mobile? Google has started penalising companies that are not mobile-enabled.

Social customer service strategists and specialists

Research shows customers want to be served on social media and will reward brands with loyalty and increased sales when they do it well.

Omni-channel, or managing contact across multiple channels and integrating it back into business systems will be a challenge, but is inevitable.

Social media data analyst

Someone has to make sense of all the information. Social media data analysts will work closely with all business areas. For example, this MetLife role (directly quoted) spells out the kinds of skills that will be important.

  • Manage global social media tracking.
  • Define repeatable measurement dashboards to be leveraged globally.
  • Identify and synthesise external third party and internal behavioural data in order to complement social analysis.
  • Proactively analyse findings, in cooperation with team members, to develop internal story-based reporting.
  • Work closely with other Consumer Insights team members to develop internal best practices.
  • Scan competitive and social media landscape for best practices, trends, and improvement opportunities.
  • Develop media monitoring and social media analysis reports daily, monthly, and on an as needed basis regarding emerging topics and trends.
  • Develop executive level communications and presentations.

This is just scratching the surface. The growth of gamification, appification, and the Internet of Things will also spawn demand for a host of new skills that will be hotly in demand.

As a social advocate and leader your role is to keep on top of it (or at least give it a good go) and continually up skill, creating a career advantage as digital growth continues globally. 


The Social Executive® Dionne Lew is a professional author, speaker and social media consultant. She is the author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business (Wiley) and writes for Forbes, Smart Company, Salesforce and Firebrand. She’s rated in the top 1% for global community influence by Kred. 

About Author

Dionne Lew is the founder of The Social Executive, a consultancy helping organisations build strategic advantage by harnessing the network impacts of owned, earned and social media.

Author's Website

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