In November, Workopolis published Thinkopolis: 2013 Year in Review + A Look Ahead to 2014. In it they included a list of “Vanishing Vocations” that won’t exist in ten years. Much to my surprise, Social Media Expert topped the list, beating out Taxi Dispatcher, Postal Worker, Retail Cashier, and Word Processor / Typist in the race to redundancy. Workopolis reasons that:
“Soon a generation of young professionals who’ve grown up with Twitter and Facebook as part of their daily lives will be entering the job market. With this glut of savvy young online communicators looking for work, social media skills will just become expected communication competencies, like reading and writing, rather than unique areas of expertise. This will end the need for social media experts.”
Before I get to Workopolis’ misconceptions, I must do the obligatory kvetching about the term “expert.” If the Workopolis team had done their homework, they’d know it’s a meaningless term in social media, and, what’s more, it does not describe a role someone would have in a company. Do they mean Consultant? Community Manager? Digital Strategist? Anyone who knows what a hashtag is? But I digress…
The main problem here is the same problem I often see when people discuss the future of social media management: They confuse basic skills with talent and expertise. Just because everyone knows how to write, we don’t assume all employees have the talent to write effective press releases. And just because anyone with a smart phone can take pictures or make videos, we don’t assume there is no need for professional photographers or filmmakers. The same holds true for social media.
When I started making my lateral move from television to social media, I assumed it would be easy. I’m on Facebook and I tweet occasionally. What’s there to know? Turns out, quite a lot. There are issues of content creation, posting strategy, running effective contests, engaging with customers, interpreting metrics, and keeping up with trends and platform changes. Having personal accounts where you discuss weekend plans with friends does not teach you these things, nor will everyone who tries to learn excel at it. What’s more, most employees will not have the time to take this on in addition to their other duties.
Unfortunately, Workopolis also fell for the myth that young people will somehow be automatically good at techie tasks. During my year as the Social Media Manager at Students Offering Support (SOS) Head Office, I had the privilege of working with many amazing university students who were in charge of the social media accounts at their schools’ chapters. And while I never had to coach anyone on the mechanics of making a post, I did have to provide guidance about appropriate and effective content, the importance of consistent branding, and posting strategies. Just like everyone else, the young need talent and experience to make their basic social media skills useful in the workplace.
So, if Workopolis is wrong, what is the future of the Social Media “Expert”? At last year’s CM1 conference, someone said that what makes the field so exciting is that it’s new and really, no one knows for sure what will happen. What it means to be an “expert” will certainly change. The proliferation of basic social media skills means that no longer will anyone with a Facebook page be able to make a living teaching executives the rudimentary how-to’s. Being an “expert” will require more in-depth knowledge about strategy, analytics and content creation. Smaller companies may indeed figure out how to make social media more of a team effort, which will result in more hybrid roles of Social Media/PR or Social Media/Marketing. But whatever the future holds, it seems clear that while platforms come and go, social media is here to stay, and so is the social media “expert.”