A job in social media: fantasy versus reality

I work at an advertising agency as a social media manager. Last summer, I was having a conversation with a couple of other agency social media specialists (all of us belong to a super-secret cabal that meets in a cave high in the Himalayas).  One of them (David Griner) said the most common question he gets asked is:

“Who do you have to sleep with to get a job in social media?”

[The answer is not this guy.  Just so you know. 😉  Doe-Anderson is not Sterling Cooper. ]

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me they wish they had my job. Mostly, these are people who write about social media on blogs and Twitter, and would like to leave their current job to get paid to do that.

I get the feeling that these people may not have a completely realistic understanding of what the job actually entails. I think there may be more people who think they want a job in social media than there are people who would actually enjoy the job in reality.

So as a public service, I figured I would post a list comparing people’s expectations for that “dream” social media job with the reality.

Dream: You’ll spend your days recruiting, empowering, and tracking rabid online fans for your clients.

Reality: You’ll spend a lot of your day responding to your clients about what to do about their rabid online haters.

Case in point: One of my clients starts every status call asking for an update on who posted the worst statements about their company on forums.

Dream: You’ll get sexy clients whose brands are beloved by millions already.

Reality: You’ll also get clients whose entire industry is hated and reviled, by a few or by many.

Case in point: One of my first social media clients was a payday lender. Mull that one over a minute.  The reality is that people willing to pay for social media work often have a reputation problem that makes it especially valuable work. And especially challenging work.

Dream: A company progressive enough to be active in social media will undoubtedly support teleworking. I’ll spend my days parked at my favorite coffeeshop, writing massively brilliant blog posts on the value of conversation while building my personal brand.

Reality: A company that is already taking a chance on the unproven ROI of social media often wants to watch that investment like a hawk.

Case in point: Remember how you used to spend time checking your personal Facebook, blog and Twitter stream in your spare time at your “regular” job? Guess who’s the only person in the company who has to justify the time they spend on Facebook on a timesheet and be able to track it to a billable job in good conscience? Yeah. That would be you, cupcake.

Dream: The fact that your clients are willing to pay for social media work means they understand it.

Reality: Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!

Case in point: Too many to note. Suffice it to say, some clients who sign up for social media services not only haven’t educated themselves on the space, they are adamantly opposed to ever understanding it. That’s what they’re paying you for.

The truth is, as much as I like my job, it’s work. Sometimes really hard work that, despite your best efforts, still doesn’t make your clients happy. Work that often requires an unbelievable level of creativity and tenacity, not to mention asbestos underpants and the ability to avoid getting baited by people who seem like they have their Masters degree in provocation.

If you’re passionate about communication, about the web, and about innovation, you might still be a great fit for a job in social media.  But if that “cushy social media job” is your personal escape fantasy, it’s probably better to just let it stay a fantasy.  Reality is probably going to be  a let down.


  1. Kat

    Thanks for the comment, David. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It largely sprang from spending a lot more time than usual this last few months around college students. When I told them what I do for a living, the response was humorous.

    I recall one kid in particular had a very good grasp of the situation. He said “I get paid to Facebook, too. My boss just doesn’t know it.”


  2. ·

    Ha! I get people coming to me with a glassy-eyed look in their eyes expecting that social media will be the things that:

    1. Increases their sales
    2. Makes people like them
    3. Increases their sales
    4. Doesn’t cost anything

    This reminds me of 1998. When people came in glassy-eyed expecting a website to magically impact their marketing efforts.

    Great post Kat. Made me laugh.

  3. Kat

    Oh, yeah… I remember the days of “You built me a website last week. Where are my new customers?” That was fun. Not.

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Matt. 🙂


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