What Does a Social Media Specialist Do?

Marissa Sapega, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

If you’re thinking about a career in social media marketing, you may have come across the role of the social media specialist. What does a social media specialist actually do? And how do you start a career in the field? We’ll cover everything you need to know in this guide.

Social media has come a long way since its fledgling beginnings at the turn of the century (remember MySpace?). Today, Statista estimates there are almost 4 billion social media users worldwide—and this number is growing. 

Businesses are well aware of these trends and spend billions of dollars per year in an attempt to get in front of users eager to buy their products. This massive opportunity to reach a wide audience is why social media specialists are a critical cog in the advertising machine. They are the ones who create and publish content, build followings, manage online communities, and cultivate a social media presence. 

This article will explain everything you’ve ever wanted to know about being a social media specialist, from their daily activities to their salaries and the skills they need to succeed. We’ll cover:

  1. What is social media marketing, and what role does the social media specialist fulfil? 
  2. What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a social media specialist?
  3. Where do social media specialists work?
  4. What are the core skills and traits of a successful social media specialist?
  5. What is the difference between a social media specialist and a social media strategist?
  6. What is the average social media specialist salary?
  7. How can you become a social media specialist?
  8. Key takeaways

So, what does a social media specialist do? Let’s take a look.

1. What is social media marketing, and what role does the social media specialist fulfill?

Most organizations have at least one individual devoted to marketing their product or services. Marketing is vital to a business’s success; if people don’t know you exist and why they need your product, how can you expect to generate revenue? 

Marketers are either generalists or specialists. Generalists have substantial knowledge about several marketing channels; specialists are experts on one or two particular mediums. A social media specialist may have general know-how about other digital marketing channels but should possess exceptional social media expertise. 

Most companies have social media specialists for one of a few reasons. They may not be able to afford (or don’t desire) a social media marketing manager with more experience, or they may have a larger marketing department that includes social media experts with varying ranges of seniority and experience. These companies spend substantially more on social media advertising than average. Marketing agencies also hire social media specialists to have that particular area of expertise in-house.

Depending on the company org structure, a social media specialist’s job may be to handle as much as 100% of the social media marketing for the organization (including creating assets), or they could be in charge of executing a larger plan, leaving the strategy up to the more senior individuals. 

A social media specialist sitting in a cafe, looking at a phone

2. What are the typical tasks and responsibilities of a social media specialist?

Social media specialists are involved in many tasks in the social media sphere. As a less senior employee, they are more likely to be the executors rather than the strategists. However, if they are solely responsible for social media management for the company, they create the strategies as well.

We’ve outlined a list of the top job responsibilities for social media specialists, drawn from a selection of real job ads:

  • Execute social media strategies that build brand awareness, generate inbound traffic and increase sales
  • Stay on top of current social media trends, insights from content, and best practices
  • Research new social marketing platforms and adopt new ones based on business needs
  • Create, publish, and share content daily (or multiple times per day) across various platforms
  • Generate and follow a content calendar
  • Cultivate meaningful relationships with community members using platform technology like messaging, mentions, or comments
  • Solicit and manage user-generated content and relationships with influencers
  • Ensure a consistent brand presence, personality, and voice across all adopted social media platforms
  • Act as the face of the brand on social media, responding to all feedback, reviews, comments, and mentions
  • Track, measure, and analyze campaign results

Now let’s take a look at some real job ads for social media specialists.

Social media specialist job posting at Liberty University

A job ad for a social media specialist at Liberty University

This is a real job posting for a social media specialist at Liberty University, a small religious school in Lynchburg, Virginia. As its target demographic is predominantly high-school-age Generation Z’ers—a group of individuals who have never known a world without social media— Liberty University has a presence on multiple platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest. The social media specialist here will clearly have their work cut out for them!

Social media specialist job posting for Summit Creative Marketing

A job ad for a social media specialist at an agency

Summit Creative Marketing is a marketing agency, so this particular role demands hands-on, client-facing responsibilities. While they may perform identical tasks as a social media specialist working in-house would, those working for agencies need to have top-notch organizational skills to stay on top of all their responsibilities for multiple accounts. 

3. Where do social media specialists work?

Companies in many verticals employ social media specialists, but marketing agencies or companies that require a significant presence on social media are more likely to hire them. For example, organizations in industries like retail (especially clothing and accessories), consumer packaged goods, education, real estate, entertainment, and hospitality all benefit from both an organic and paid presence on varied platforms. 

Agencies hire social media specialists to handle client work (potentially under the supervision of more experienced team members). Other companies employ them either because they have a very large marketing department and their senior social media experts need support or because they have a need for in-house social media management but cannot afford (or are unwilling to hire) a social media marketer with more experience. 

Companies with target audiences that are not big consumers of social media content (think more mature audiences, though this is changing) generally don’t hire employees to focus exclusively on social media. 

A social media specialist presenting to their colleagues in an office

4. What are the core skills and traits of a social media specialist?

A social media specialist needs to have hard skills, like a comprehensive understanding of most social media platforms and what each is best used for, as well as soft skills, like organization. All of the necessary skills can be acquired through hands-on experience, and many are transferable from other occupations. 

Here are the top skills you’ll need to succeed as a social media specialist:

Hard skills

  • Proficiency with top social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. at a level that enables you to publish paid and organic campaigns, analyze results, and optimize for ongoing improvement
  • Excellent communication and writing skills; a big part of the job is publishing text content and messaging followers (i.e., being “social!”)
  • Comfort using third-party publishing and management tools like Hootsuite
  • Ability to create strategies that support and achieve business objectives
  • Community management (cultivating a following and building relationships with fans and influencers)

Soft skills

  • Curiosity about the “next best thing” and a desire to suss out and follow trends
  • Sense of aesthetics so you can curate attractive feed and profile content
  • Design ability (not necessary, but a definite nice-to-have for creating graphics to share)
  • Responsive—people on social media hate waiting for replies, especially with all the native chat applications available
  • Detail-oriented and exceptionally organized; a planner at heart!

Social media specialists often have a variety of backgrounds before they land in this particular role. A fascination with social media is a must, obviously, but many marketers, copywriters, artists, and designers flock to this job, as many of their skills are transferable. 

A social media specialist working from home, sitting on a sofa with a laptop

5. What is the difference between a social media specialist and a social media strategist?

In most situations, there is no discernable difference between social media specialists and social media strategists. Job listings for “social media strategist” list responsibilities that are usually quite similar, if not identical. 

That being said, in some companies, a social media strategist is more experienced than a social media specialist. Additional years in the field help them command a higher salary and potentially delegate more hands-on, tactical duties to a social media specialist or other employees while they focus on planning and analysis. 

6. What’s the average social media specialist salary?

According to Glassdoor, social media specialists can expect to earn around $47,000 annually; Salary.com estimates a slightly higher compensation of $56,647. ZipRecruiter’s social media specialist salary estimate is on the low end at $43,666. 

Keep in mind that company size, geographic location, years of experience, and industry all play a role in total pay, however. For more salary data on social media specialists throughout the United States and the world, check out this comprehensive social media specialist salary guide.  

7. How to become a social media specialist

As with many jobs, multiple career paths can lead to a job as a social media specialist. Because it is a digital marketing role, you’ll need some prior experience in the industry or a digital marketing qualification through a course or program to set you up for success. Your experience doesn’t have to be acquired via a job; if you’re a self-taught social media guru and can prove your proficiency in multiple social media channels, that’s a great way to break into the field as well! 

Internships and networking are two time-tested ways to land a job. Start connecting with people you admire for their social media prowess to learn how they got started and take advantage of school and community connections. 

Above all, ensure your personal social media brand is on point and positions you in a positive light. Whether a potential employer looks at your profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or any other platform, they want to see someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. Consider your social media profiles as portfolios you can show to employers, and only publish content that is “on brand” for you personally. You can learn more about how to build your personal brand here.

We’ve outlined just a few steps you can take to start your career in social media. For a full guide, follow this step-by-step plan for how to get started as a social media specialist.

8. Key takeaways

A social media specialist is an engaging, challenging occupation that is in high demand. If you enjoy writing, cultivating relationships, and constantly being on social media, you’ll love it! To learn more about jobs in social media and digital marketing, check out the following:

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