Everyone Isn't a Social Media Strategist

Late last week, @ReignofApril brought us the trending topic #ReignyDayJobs on Twitter. There are lots of people looking for jobs, and the hashtag connected job seekers with job leads in their field. It's also another avenue to network with professionals and ultimately to take online relationships off-line. I participated from my personal Twitter account: Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 7.44.44 PM

The first thing I noticed right away was the number of recent college grads who said they were social media strategists--many of whom with very little or no work experience in the digital communications field. That prompted me to tweet this:

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It is an extreme misnomer that all it takes to be a good social media strategist is the ability to write good tweets. It's more than being able to write a snappy tweet or create a funny meme that goes viral on Facebook. Tweeting all day about sports, Scandal, or anything else doesn't make you good at executing a social media strategy. No shade. It's just the truth.

It isn't entirely unbelievable that recent college and high school graduates would believe that all it takes to be a good strategist is a strong social media presence. We live in a culture where people have become "internet celebrities" overnight because of YouTube or other social media platforms. But social media influence does not a good social media strategist make. 

I've done social media strategy and management for non-profits for almost 6 years now, and before that I worked in public relations and web content management, respectively. When I first started, I did actually think it was as simple as writing a few posts every day. Over the course of my career, I've learned that it is much more than that. Below is a list of a few other things an aspiring social media strategist needs to learn, in addition to how to write a good tweet. These are just a few of the skills a good strategist needs to develop, so this is not an exhaustive list. These skills and others are ones that are developed with training and practice over time.

1. Ability to map out a good social media strategy. This includes setting smart goals, analyzing your audience (i.e., knowing who they really are), and then figuring out the right tools and tactics you need to meet your audience where they are and to expand the reach of your content. For example may find that maybe your audience isn't on Twitter at all, so part of a social media strategist's job is to find out what social media platform your audience spends most of their time and then create great content that gets their attention.

2. Knowledge of content strategy and creating a content calendar. Often times, brands and even nonprofits aren't just posting content randomly. There is a method their content - one that is often determined by when their social media team scheduled different types of content to be published. When I was at YWCA, we used a calendar that had important dates and months (Black History Month, Women's History Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, etc.) that we could create content around. Other times, a company may have a steady stream of content for things like Throwback Thursday (#TBT) and other weekly trending topics. How you approach creating a content calendar of any sort still depends on your goals and your audience.

3. An understanding of social media analytics - what they are and what they can tell your client about the success of your strategy. Here's the thing about analytics: they can tell you as little or as much as you want to know about your success, depending on what tools you use. Twitter analytics and Facebook Insights are free, but there are lots of other tools out there that can show you other things like follower analytics, reach of hashtags, etc. A good social media strategist knows how to use various analytics tools, and how to use it to track benchmarks for success.

4. Cultural competence and sensitivity. This might seem small, but it is a soft skill that comes by listening to how others are talking about current events and cultural dialogue. When Muhammad Ali passed away, there were still social media managers referring to him as "Cassius Clay" when that wasn't the name he chose for himself. Keeping your ear to the ground, being aware of cultural trends, and not making assumptions about what will  or won't offend your audience are all great skills to develop if you want to be a social media strategist.

This isn't to discourage anyone from working in social media - quite the opposite. I want people to understand what it takes to be good at it and to move beyond thinking that being an influencer is enough.

One last thing: if you want to work in social media--or any other field--remember to tell everyone you're looking, including your Twitter followers and Facebook friends.