Where Will We Find New Social Media Professionals?

Now that most companies have accepted social media as something they must do, where are all the social media practitioners and strategist going to come from? Most of the people who are good at those jobs have been snapped up by now. Colleges are still slow to put programs together for students to learn social media practices. And you can’t just hire interns to do everything. This is serious business and it needs to be practiced by serious practitioners.

Just a few years ago, when I went to our Social Media Club events or local tweetups I ran into a lot of people who were looking for work or entrepreneurs working their own private social media consulting companies. Others, like myself, were working on developing social media practices within their own companies, mostly on their own or with a small staff. Sure, there were social and digital agencies out there, but a lot of the people working in the field were available or underutilized. 

Now, fewer people show up for these local social media events because we’re all so incredibly busy. Most of the people I connected with back then now have jobs doing social for agencies, brands or media companies. Even some that had strong practices or budding companies of their own have been scooped up by larger companies needing to add social expertise to their brand or service offerings. 

So, what happened?

It has no longer become a question of “should we do social?” – it’s “how are we going to do it?” As Mitch Joel said in a recent blog post, Marketing, A New Dawn, “Social media is (clearly) not a fad.” It has arrived as an integral part of what brands must do, not just to market themselves, but to be relevant in today’s hyper-connected world. Joel goes on to say, “trying to place Social Media or any of the Digital Marketing initiatives into an experimental budget or just having a couple people within the brand handle all of that is the same as ghettoizing it. It simply won’t work.”

Social’s coming of age has led to a lot of work for the people who have been working at it during the maturation process. Case in point, recently a social media strategist here in town found himself looking for a job.  In less than two weeks, he had a new job working on one of the world’s largest brands.  We talked to him and hoped to be able to make him part of our team.  A friend of mine who runs the social media practice for another firm was looking to hire him as well. But by the time he had gotten approval for the hire, it was too late. And those are just the two companies I know of. Good people in our field are scarce and are grabbed up quickly. 

So, where will we find more people?

Our community needs to get bigger. The question is how? One way that always works, is to grow your own. Find talented young people and bring them into your organization and begin building on the skills they already have. Make them a part or your brainstorming sessions. Show them how to run the analytics. Make them a part of the communities you run and make sure they understand what is expected in each community. It takes time, but that’s the best way to make sure you have good people who understand how you do social media in your place of practice.

The problem with that, of course, is that it takes time. Time to mentor them and time for them to grow into the roles you need them to fill. You can poach from other companies to fill the positions you need, but that takes money and doesn’t solve the overall problem, just yours.  Some people I’ve been talking to are in the planning stages of setting up an internship program. This is not a program for a specific company, but one for helping young talent coming out of college learn their craft at companies that will nurture them. This is a long term solution that will help us all, but again, it takes time.

Usually, when I write a post for this blog, it’s to give answers to those who could be helped by what I’ve already learned. Today’s post is as much about me learning from all of you. We’re all looking for answers to this question. Social media is about conversations. I’m hoping this post will start a conversation that will help us all figure out viable solutions for our industry. 

So, what is your brilliant idea? I’d love to hear it.

Photo by Rishi S. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/rajarshi/4537089666/sizes/m/in/photostream/>