How To Become A Social Media Specialist

Rosie Allabarton, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

If you’ve been hearing about the impactful and creative careers available as a social media specialist, you’re probably wondering what concrete steps you can take to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder and launch your new career in the field. 

In this guide, we’re going to be covering everything you need to know to get your new career off to the very best start, from defining what a career as a social media specialist actually looks like, to the skills, training, personal qualities, and backgrounds which successful social media specialists tend to have. 

We’ll also be answering commonly asked questions about salary, portfolio requirements, and what to put on your CV, as well as giving you some insights into alternative career paths related to the field that you might not have considered. 

Most importantly, we’ll be giving you a step-by-step plan of action, so you know exactly what you need to do, how, and when to get your new career off the ground. 

Here’s a clickable menu, so you can jump to the section that interests you the most. 

  1. What does a social media specialist do? (Job description)
  2. What do you need to be a social media specialist? (Skills, background, and requirements)
  3. Are you a good fit for a career in social media?
  4. What is the average social media specialist salary?
  5. How to become a social media specialist: Step-by-step plan
  6. Social media specialist career FAQs
  7. Key takeaways

Let’s dive in! 

Three marketing professionals in an office, looking at a laptop, researching how to become a social media specialist

1. What does a social media specialist do?

The role of the social media specialist is to create and publish content on a company or client’s social media platforms. These social media channels typically include Facebook, Twitter, but, depending on where a company’s target audience is spending most of its time, could also include sites such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, TikTok, and many others. 

The aim of posting content on social media is to grow an audience or following, build brand awareness and authority, convert and retain customers, and boost company sales. 

Social media specialists are typically junior to social media managers in the digital marketing team, which means they are more likely to be creating posts and executing on tasks rather than building complex social media strategies. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. A smaller company which does not have a large digital marketing team is likely to expect strategic input and analytical insights from the social media specialist in addition to the more day-to-day management of the businesses’ social media channels. 

Here’s a selection of everyday responsibilities expected of social media specialists, taken from real job ads: 

  • Execute social media strategies that build brand awareness, generate traffic, and increase company sales
  • Stay up to date with the latest social media trends and social marketing platforms
  • Create, publish, and share content across platforms at regular intervals, in accordance with business needs and audience behavior 
  • Build, maintain, and adhere to a content calendar
  • Commission and manage user-generated content and nurture influencer relationships
  • Maintain consistency in voice, tone, and brand presence across all social media channels
  • Be a brand spokesperson on social media, responding to all comments and mentions
  • Track, measure, and analyze campaign results in collaboration with the rest of the digital marketing team (more specifically, the digital marketing analyst, if there is one!)
  • Work with the social media manager and digital marketing team to set and align social media goals that meet the needs of the business 

2. What do you need to be a social media specialist?

Becoming a social media specialist requires a wide variety of interdisciplinary skills due to the multi-faceted nature of the role. Many of these skills are transferable, but for those which are new to you or specific to the role, a course in social media marketing will ensure you’ve got all your bases covered. With the right combination of job-specific training and personal commitment, those daunting skills lists found on job ads will soon start to align perfectly with your own talents. 

Let’s take a look at some of the top skills required for a career as a social media specialist

Top skills required for a career in social media

A social media specialist requires a rather unique combination of hard and soft skills that meet the diverse nature of the role. Some of these skills can be learned on the job or via your own research and practice, while others will require some training or education. Many of the soft skills in this list you might already recognize from previous positions you’ve held. 

Social media specialist hard skills:

  • Competency in using top social media channels, with experience and skill in creating and publishing paid and organic campaigns, analyzing results, and optimizing posts for long-lasting impact
  • Superb communication and a talent for writing memorable and compelling text-based posts, and initiating or responding to conversations with followers, fans, and customers
  • Proficiency in utilizing third-party publishing and management tools like Hootsuite to streamline the editorial process 
  • Skills in strategy creation that support and meet the goals of the business 
  • Ability to cultivate, manage, and engage with a community, including building relationships with customers and influencers in the field

Social media specialist soft skills:

  • Awareness of, and fascination with, social media trends; an insatiable desire to be “in the know” and at the forefront of social media culture
  • Strong aesthetic sensibility and love of design to create great-looking profiles and feeds that catch the eye
  • Some knowledge of graphic creation, Photoshop, and other design tools are useful in this role 
  • Informative, social, and quick to respond to customers and fans 
  • A strong eye for detail
  • Fantastic organizational and timekeeping skills, with the ability to keep a calm head and troubleshoot in a crisis
  • Interested in working as part of a cohesive team; aligning goals, clear communication with other team members, and a supportive, collaborative attitude   

Does that sound like you? 

Try not to be daunted by the variety of requirements needed to excel in this role; many can be developed and improved over time in junior roles, while others can be learned—via a digital marketing course or bootcamp, for example. If you can, try to speak to someone who does this job already and ask them how they got to where they are now–it may give you some inspiration for how to get started building the skills you’ll need. 

What backgrounds do social media specialists typically come from?

There is no set background that you need to be a successful social media specialist! Like many of the top jobs in digital marketing, a career in social media requires a variety of transferable skills, which you can pick up from all different industries, roles, and study paths.

While some social media specialists hail from formal journalistic or corporate communications backgrounds, others gain their experience in agencies or marketing teams. However, there is no single route into this profession, and many writers, designers, and artists find their way into this career due to the transferable nature of many of their skills and the creative nature of the role. 

It’s also not unusual to find those with backgrounds in computer engineering, customer service, and psychology taking a shine to careers in social media, as it combines many elements of these areas, too.  

Do you need a degree to become a social media specialist?

The short answer is no, you definitely do not need a degree to become a social media specialist. We discuss this topic at length in this post: Do you need a digital marketing degree to start a career in the field? But the long and short of it is, some training and education is definitely going to help you get your foot in the door and stand out from other candidates when applying for your first job.

Depending on your current experience level, you might choose a digital marketing bootcamp, an online digital marketing course, or go down the route of an internship to demonstrate your commitment to this career path and build on your knowledge in the field. We weigh up the pros and cons of a digital marketing internship vs. an online course in this guide.

Additionally, learning the latest tools via online tutorials and blog posts, building a portfolio of projects that you have created yourself, studying successful social media campaigns, and connecting with experts at networking events and meetups will help greatly in knowing the job inside out, growing a professional network, and landing your first position. 

So, in a nutshell: You don’t need a degree, but you do need to master the right skills and build your marketing portfolio

A group of aspiring social media specialists sitting in a co-working space on comfortable chairs

3. Are you a good fit for a career in social media?

The social media specialist role is not for everyone, so it’s worth asking this question before you invest any time or money in training, or make any drastic decisions like quitting your current job. But how do you know if it’s for you? Here’s a few questions you might like to consider before taking your career change any further. 

  • Do you like learning new things? Working in social media requires a passion for learning both tools and skills, as well as a curiosity for new trends and human behavior. Staying educated and ahead of the curve is the most effective way of reaching different audiences in new and creative ways. 
  • Are you social? The desire to connect with people lies at the heart of social media. Irrespective of the platform or channel, it’s important that you enjoy starting and engaging in conversations with different communities from every kind of culture and background. 
  • Do you thrive in an unpredictable environment? One element of communicating all day with so many customers, fans, and followers is the unpredictable nature of it all. If you love troubleshooting, are seeking variety and challenges in your day-to-day routine, and can keep a cool head in a crisis, then this is a career that you will love. 

Learn more: Are you a good fit for a career as a social media specialist? Here’s how to decide.

Now let’s talk about another crucial factor: Salary.

4. What is the average social media specialist salary?

Although it’s a fantastic feeling to finally find a career you love, there’s no getting away from the fact that salary is important! While location, company size and type, your experience, and your skill level will all play a part in your earning potential, it’s still extremely helpful to have a benchmark.

So what is the average social media specialist salary? You’ll find a complete social media specialist salary guide here, but for now, here’s an overview:

If we start with the US, here’s what the experts say you can expect for a social media specialist salary, on average, per year: 

Here’s what you can expect to earn on average as a social media specialist in different countries:

  • Germany: €42,348
  • Canada: CAD $62,739
  • Russia: 645,709 ₽
  • Mexico: 377,000 MXN
  • South Korea: ₩32,504,181

Bear in mind that these are just averages, and your exact location could make a significant difference to your paycheck, depending on factors like cost of living and taxes. 

A social media specialist sitting on the floor in side profile, working on a laptop with a dog asleep on the floor next to them

5. How to become a social media specialist: Your step-by-step plan of action

There is so much you can do to grow your knowledge and experience in social media before you start applying for your first job in the field. We’ve put together some simple steps that you can take right now to help you build up confidence in what you do, hone your skills, and get ahead of the competition in this sought-after industry.

Step one: Build your personal brand  

It’s pretty common these days for potential employers or recruiters to do a quick Google search of candidates they’re considering for a job. Your own social media channels are therefore an excellent opportunity to show off your skills, personality, and enthusiasm for the field before you’ve even had a one-to-one conversation with a company or HR team about a social media specialist vacancy. 

Take the time to: 

  • Build a profile on all popular social media channels. This will make you more visible to more peopleincluding employersand give you some practice with the different platforms you might be expected to work with
  • Post interesting and on-trend content that you are genuinely excited about. It’s important to not try to be someone you’re not, but aim to do this while retaining a professional online presence
  • Stay active: reply to comments, start conversations, and post regularly. An inactive social media profile is not a good look for a specialist in the field! 
  • Grow your following. You can do this by connecting with those with similar interests, responding to other people’s posts, and joining groups. It certainly won’t do your interview prospects any harm if you have a lot of people following your channels and loving your content! 

Step two: Start learning your trade 

We’ll talk a bit more about structured educational options later on, but if you’re not quite ready to throw yourself into a course, degree, or bootcamp, there is so much you can teach yourself via blogs, podcasts, tutorials, and by speaking to professionals in the field before you commit to a more formal learning avenue.

Here are some ways you can teach yourself about social media: 

Step three: Take a digital marketing course 

One of the advantages of embarking on a career as a social media specialist is that there are no rigid prerequisites for entering the field. You could be completely self-taught, you might have taken a short course or attended a bootcamp, or you might have a full 4-year degree in digital marketing. 

Irrespective of your route into digital marketing, what employers are looking for is the ability to demonstrate hard skills in terms of analytics, processes and tools, a deep understanding of digital trends and human behavior, and a genuine passion for informing, entertaining, and persuading audiences in order to meet the goals of the business.

A course in digital marketing is a highly effective and cost-efficient way of gaining the skills and hands-on experience employers are looking for in social media specialists. Through a combination of personal mentoring, coursework, projects, and a student community, you gain both the practical and theoretical knowledge needed to excel in the role, plus a certification to prove your commitment to the field at the end of it. 

Unlike a degree program, which might quickly become out of date, an online course is much more likely to stay on top of current trends and tools in this fast-evolving field, while helping you to build a skillset that is relevant to the career you want. You’ll also work with industry experts who can directly pass on their knowledge while offering guidance in your job search to ensure you find a position that is right for you. 

Step four: Know your social media trends

An on-going element of any journey into a career in social media will involve staying ahead of social media trends. Employers will want to see that you are keeping yourself informed of what’s working for their competitors and others in the field, and they’ll want you to demonstrate your ability to experiment, test and analyze different content so that your social media output doesn’t become dry or outdated. 

Try out some of these sites for monitoring trends: Google Trends, TweetDeck, Hootsuite, Cyfe, Tumblr, Reddit, and Top Hashtags.

Step five: Build a campaign or project for your portfolio

Although we’ve talked already about polishing your social media channels to push your own personal brand, another great way to put into practice some of the skills and tools you’ve learned is to put together a social media campaign or passion project. 

With some education already under your belt, this is the perfect time to experiment with different techniques and tools, test your content, and engage with a real community. A portfolio piece can then be linked to in your job applications, or demonstrated to recruiters during interviews. 

Consider: 

  • Curating a YouTube channel
  • Building a specialist Instagram page
  • Writing and designing a newsletter
  • Building a Facebook Ads campaign 

What’s extremely important is to make a note of your process, the tools you’ve used, the experiments or tests you’ve performed, and the results of your efforts. 

  • Did you increase the number of followers to your page? 
  • Did one Facebook Ad have a higher click-through rate than another? 
  • What was the open-rate of your first newsletter compared to the second and what did you do differently? 

Employers will want to know what you’ve learned from these projects just as much as they’ll want to see the projects themselves. Remember: results are everything. 

Step six: Apply to relevant social media jobs

Congrats! Thanks to all the hard work you’ve put into building your skillset, learning the tools and processes, getting to know the industry, and gaining relevant connections, you’re now ready to start applying for your first role as a social media specialist. 

Some important to-dos for your job hunt. 

  • Update your CV with your skills and qualifications
  • Have your portfolio project available either online or as a PDF. You’ll find some inspirational digital marketing portfolio examples here to guide you!
  • Update your LinkedIn page, and link to your passion project there. Change your status to ‘Open To Work’
  • Tell friends, family, and former colleagues that you are now looking for your first position as a social media specialist
  • Attend as many industry events as you can 
  • Offer your services on a freelance basis to smaller companies who might not have the budget to host a full-time social media specialist
  • Use LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster and other sites to find vacancies
  • Set up Google Job Alerts with search terms related to your new career, companies you would like to work for, and any areas of particular interest
  • Send prospective application letters and your CV to companies that you would particularly love to work for (and tell them why!) 
  • Join online groups, communities and professional networks related to social media jobs 

A social media specialist working from home, sitting at a desk, using a laptop

6. Social media specialist career FAQs

We’ve covered just about all there is to know about a career as a social media specialist. To round off, here are some additional questions you might have. 

Do I need a degree to work in social media?

No. There are many routes into a career in social media, and although a degree is one of them, it is by no means obligatory. Some social media specialists are completely self taught, others have attended short courses or bootcamps, and others have formal degrees. The majority of successful social media specialists have a background which combines the different educational methods: self-taught, formal degree, short courses, and on-the-job training. A degree is not essential: you just need to find a route which suits your learning style and personal situation best. 

I don’t have any prior experience in marketing or social media. Can I still get a job as a social media specialist?

While most social media specialist roles will almost certainly require some form of training, if you don’t yet have concrete experience in a paid social media or marketing position, you may find that some junior positions will still be within your reach if you can demonstrate your aptitude and passion via personal projects or a great portfolio. If you’re looking to build up your work experience in a marketing team, now would be a great time to consider an internship. If you can prove yourself as a social media intern, you may find it even leads to a paid position in the not-so-distant future. Alternatively, there are some digital marketing programs that offer a job guarantee, regardless of your prior experience. 

Do I need a portfolio if I want to work in social media?

There is no hard and fast rule about needing a portfolio to work in social media. However, there are few better ways to impress potential employers than by demonstrating your work either at the job application or interview stage via a clear and attractive portfolio. Whether your portfolio consists of real world campaigns from freelance gigs and other paid positions, or experiments and campaigns you’ve done in your own time to practice, both demonstrate your aptitude, passion, and commitment to the field. Ultimately: You can’t go wrong with an impressive marketing portfolio!

What kinds of companies can I work for as a social media specialist?

With the explosion of digital marketing over recent years, companies of every size are realizing the impact an active and engaging social media presence can have on their bottom line. Put simply, there are very few companies who can afford not to invest in their social media output. 

Whether you’re hoping to work in the startup scene or land a role with a large corporation, every kind of company you can think of now requires an expert at the helm of their social media channels to attract, convert, and retain their customers, giving you the luxury of choice when it comes to picking exactly the sort of company you want to lend your sought-after expertize to.  

What are some other social media career paths?

Social media marketing is an ever-expanding field with a huge variety of social media jobs available for those with the right skills and experience. Other creative and impactful careers in social media include:

  • Social Media Manager
  • Community Manager
  • Social Media Strategist
  • Director of Social Media
  • Content Creator

7. Key takeaways and next steps

We hope that our detailed rundown of how to become a social media specialist has given you a clear idea of both what the role entails, and how to launch your career in the field. 

If you’re still at the very beginning of your journey, try walking yourself through the steps we set out in section five, starting with building your personal brand. This will give you a chance to:

  •  Try out some of the tools we’ve mentioned
  •  Experiment with different techniques for growing an audience
  •  Measure results, analyze trends, and build on your knowledge 

From there, continue to work through the steps we’ve outlined, and let us know how you get on! We’re excited to follow your journey in this rewarding and varied career. 

For further reading on social media and digital marketing, check out: