The Top 11 Must-Have Skills for a Social Media Specialist

Rosie Allabarton, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

The role of the social media specialist is getting a lot of attention right now—both from companies looking to take their marketing to the next level, and from those seeking a creative, impactful, and exciting career.

Whether you’re hiring for a social media specialist role or looking to start a career in the field, you’ll need to be aware of what a social media specialist actually does, as well as the most important skills a social media specialist should have. 

So what are they? In this post, we outline the eleven most essential skills of a social media specialist. We’ll also answer some questions that regularly come up about the social media specialist role, and take a brief look at how to kick-start your career in social media.

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The top 11 must-have skills for a social media specialist

A social media specialist in a modern office, working on a laptop

1. An awareness of trends

Staying up to date with the latest social media trends and hottest social platforms isn’t just a required skill of a great social media specialist—it’s second nature. In this role, staying abreast of trends in terms of style of content and types of posting, how audiences react, and regularity and frequency of posts, will need to be regularly analyzed and revised to ensure your brand is in tune with the users it hopes to convert into customers. 

It may not sound as glamorous, but understanding and analyzing your competitors’ output and your target audience’s behavior are just as important as knowing the latest meme going around. Memes, videos, case studies, lists, and infographics—what we tend to think of as ‘viral’ content—are important too, but if you do jump on a popular craze, what’s crucial is that the content, irrespective of how it’s presented, is relevant to your brand and of significant value to your audience.

2. Great time management and planning 

As a social media specialist, your knowledge, skills, and experience are going to be pulled in many directions during the course of your average working day. Whether you’re answering a customer’s questions on Twitter, creating content for your next Facebook Ad campaign, or analyzing the stats from your last Instagram influencer collaboration, you’ll need to plan like a pro to keep all those balls in the air.  

Luckily there are tons of handy tools out there to help plan campaigns, manage to-do lists, edit and share calendars, and schedule posts, enabling you to spend more time on content creation or real-time interactions with followers, fans, users, and customers. Have a play around with some of the most popular social media management tools to get an idea of what social media scheduling aids are available:

  1. CoSchedule
  2. Hootsuite
  3. Feedly
  4. Airtable
  5. TweetDeck

3. A love of community, conversation, and customer service

Community is at the heart of this job. A social media specialist will be expected to build and nurture online communities, answer customer queries, troubleshoot issues, and prompt lively discussion relevant to the brand, product, or service they’re representing on a daily, if not hourly, basis. 

A knack for customer service and a love of communication are definitely ‘must-haves’ to succeed. However, an individual who can master tone and adjust their conversation style depending on who they’re conversing with—be it influencers or customers—will be particularly well-placed to manage and grow a brand’s online communities. 

4. A passion for storytelling 

Storytelling might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to social media, but there’s a reason why so many artists and writers flock to social media specialist roles: they’re extremely creative! 

What role does storytelling play in marketing?  

  • It helps our ideas stay in the minds of our target users
  • It helps users understand our product or service more easily 
  • It builds trust and brand authority, and demonstrates transparency 
  • It’s a serious persuasion tool 

Similar to old-school advertisers, social media specialists are expected to build an image or a lifestyle around a product, drawing users in with a compelling narrative through text, image, or video social media campaigns. For content creators, the scope for creativity is broad and, since storytelling as a conversion tactic has been proven to reap impressive results, the demand for great storytellers in the digital marketing team is higher than ever. 

5. An eye for design 

You definitely don’t need a professional background in design to work as a social media specialist. However, an aesthetic sensibility, ie. a clear idea of what looks good and what doesn’t, combined with some rudimentary skills in tools like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, will go a very long way in this role. 

As a social media specialist you’ll be building regular campaigns that will need to be both eye-catching and impactful, so if you’ve got a talent for putting together words and images to entertain, educate, or convert, you’ll be at a distinct advantage when.

6. A talent for understanding statistics and analytics 

A hard skill that you’ll be expected to have under your belt as a social media specialist is the ability to track certain performance metrics and measure and analyze the results of your social media efforts in order to build increasingly impactful campaigns. 

In practical terms, this will involve measuring:

  • Engagement
  • Impressions 
  • Reach
  • Share of voice
  • Referrals
  • Conversions 
  • Response rate and time 

Once you’ve collected this data, you’ll have an overview of the company’s social media performance which you can report back to the digital marketing team. Luckily, there are a number of tools out there which help you not only to collect the data you need, but also to analyze and learn from it. Here are just a handful: BuzzSumo, NodeXL, HubSpot, SproutSocial, Google Analytics, and TapInfluence.  

A social media specialist with two colleagues, showing them something on a computer screen

7. A deep knowledge of social media platforms 

It goes without saying, but a deep knowledge of social media platforms isn’t just going to come in handy in this role, it’s going to define your success in it. With social media evolving at a breakneck speed, staying informed about what each channel can do, and what each platform should be optimized for, as well as researching and discovering new channels, will be critical to your role and ensuring great outcomes for the whole digital marketing team. 

Some fantastic resources for learning about social media platforms, and being the first to know about updates, improvements, new channels and how best to use them are: Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today, Gary Vaynerchuck’s Blog, and Neil Patel’s Blog.

8. Desire to learn new tools and processes 

As you may have noticed, a social media specialist has rather a lot to do during an average day! However, thanks to a host of fantastic tools and established processes, a great many of a social media specialist’s tasks can be automated, leaving them time to focus on the jobs that require serious brain-power or creative flair. 

A key attribute of a successful individual in this role is a deep-rooted desire to get to grips with all the technology out there that can make the running of social media channels and campaigns as smooth as possible. This might involve:

  • Research into new tools and popular processes
  • Comparing and experimenting with different tools 
  • Getting insights from social media marketing experts and influencers 

9. A knack for building strong relationships

Building relationships with influencers is an increasingly important facet of the social media specialist’s role. Whether your company has a budget to work with mega influencers, macro influencers, or nano influencers, the working relationship you build and maintain with an influential—and relevant—social media user can reap a huge number of benefits for the whole company, from exposing your product to unknown audience bases, to building brand credibility. 

It’s not just influencers who you’ll be building relationships with in this role. Cultivating positive and long-lasting relationships with superfans—“online missionaries, who turn friends into sales”—will also have a positive impact on a brand’s success, as the superfans work on your behalf, evangelizing your product from a place of genuine passion. 

Of course, you’ll also need to collaborate with others in the marketing team, such as copywriters and designers, so relationship-building is important on an internal level, too.

10. A team-player mindset

Social media specialists work with a variety of team members to perform their role effectively and make maximum impact on social media.

Supporting social media campaigns with images, videos, and text will be graphic designers, videographers, and copywriters. Within the digital marketing team itself, the social media specialist will be working under the social media manager and marketing managers, translating their long term vision and strategy into day-to-day tasks. 

Being able to work well with others means slightly different things to different people, but as a social media specialist, you will likely be expected to: 

  • Work with and learn from feedback 
  • Provide clear and constructive feedback to others
  • Provide support to others in the company and in your team
  • Delegate tasks to freelancers and in-house team members
  • Clearly communicate your work and the results of your work to more senior team members 
  • Offer guidance, support, and mentorship to more junior members of the team
  • Celebrate the successes of the team 

11. Flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to troubleshoot like a pro

“Troubleshooting” is a trait seen on many job descriptions, but as a social media specialist it really is the case that you’ll be uncovering and solving problems in creative ways throughout the day. That’s because, whether you’re handling customers, followers, or influencers, there will be times when you’ll inevitably encounter unpredictable reactions that will need to be handled in a professional and diplomatic way. 

Therefore, whether you’re ensuring that your brand is looking its best on all channels 24/7, taking care of the concerns of your online community, or keeping your influencers happy, you’ll need to be quick on your feet and a master of both negotiation and positivity in this role. 

Now we know the most important skills a social media specialist should have, let’s answer some FAQs about the role. 

A social media specialist working on a laptop, sitting on a couch

Social media specialist career FAQs 

1. What does a social media specialist actually do?

The role of the social media specialist is to create, schedule, publish, and measure the success of content on a company’s social media channels, in addition to growing and nurturing online communities. The most popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but other sites such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, TikTok, and others also have large and growing audiences. 

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. 

Other key tasks include: 

  • Executing social media strategies
  • Staying up to date with the latest social media trends and platforms
  • Creating, publishing, and sharing content across different platforms
  • Building and maintaining a content calendar
  • Commissioning user-generated content and nurturing influencer relationships
  • Tracking, measuring, and analyzing campaign results
  • Cultivating, managing, and engaging with a brand’s online community 

2. What is the average social media specialist salary?

The following jobs sites have published what salary you can expect on average per year in the US as a social media specialist: 

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

You’ll find a complete social media specialist salary guide here.

3. Do I need a degree to become a social media specialist?

You definitely do not need a degree to launch a successful career as a social media specialist. However, some training and education will help you get your foot in the door.

Training might take the form of a digital marketing bootcamp, an online course, or an internship, depending on what suits your schedule, budget, and current knowledge level best. However, irrespective of which educational route you take, studying a course in digital marketing will demonstrate your commitment to your new career, a desire to learn, and ensure your skills and knowledge are as fresh as they can be when you apply for your first positions.

For more on this topic, check out our post on whether or not you need a digital marketing degree to start a career in the field. 

4. What are some other social media jobs?

There are a host of different roles in social media covering content creation, analysis, team management and strategy. Some of these roles you probably already recognize:

  • Social media manager
  • Social media strategist 
  • Community manager
  • Content manager
  • Content creator
  • Director of social media
  • Social media analyst 

If you’re curious to know more, check out our complete guide to social media jobs

5. How do I know if I’m a good fit for a career as a social media specialist?

If you’ve found that many of the skills in this post describe your current skillset or natural attributes, then it’s likely you’d be a great fit for a position as a social media specialist. You definitely don’t need all of these skills to launch a career in the field, but if you’re a social person with great communication and relationship-building skills, who loves digging into new tools and processes with a goal of making a big impact, then this is potentially the right job for you! When considering your ideal career, it’s important to think about your natural interests and qualities, as well as where you want to grow and develop, and find a role that taps into that. To help you further, we’ve put together this guide on how to determine if you’re a good fit for a career as a social media specialist.

6. Where should I start if I don’t have any experience?

The best place for beginners to start is by experimenting with some of the tools and processes we’ve already outlined in this post.

Consider: 

  • Putting together some practice campaigns on Facebook or Instagram
  • A/B testing images and text using HubSpot and schedule them using Hootsuite
  • Measuring and analyzing the results of your efforts with Google Analytics

You can take screenshots of your work as well as write a short report of what you’ve learnt for a simple portfolio that will be a great addition to any job application. You can learn more about how to build a marketing portfolio here

In addition, stay up to date on changes in the industry by reading relevant blog posts and listening to podcasts hosted by social media experts. You may want to consider speaking to your manager at work to see if you can take over any small social media responsibilities in your current job, or offering your services to your company’s social media marketing team.  

A social media specialist wearing headphones, working on a laptop

How to start your career in social media

If you’re ready to start making steps towards a career in social media, we’ve put together this short checklist so you’ve got your bases covered. For a full-length guide to launching your career in the field, don’t forget to check out our more detailed post here: How to become a social media specialist. 

  • Gain some experience: This could be through an internship or by curating and building your own social media campaigns
  • Train up: Whether via an online course, a full-blown degree, or an in-person bootcamp, you’re likely to need some training in tools, process, strategy, and analytics to succeed in this career
  • Meet industry experts: Attending events and meetups in the industry will be a great way for you to learn more about the job, build your network, and be the first to hear of new job opportunities 
  • Start your job search: Use LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster and other sites to find vacancies, set up Google Job Alerts with search terms related to your new career, and send prospective application letters to companies that you would particularly love to work for
  • Offer your services: While you’re waiting to land your first full time position, offer your services to smaller companies on a freelance basis to build up as much real world experience as you can

We hope this article has given you some valuable insights into the skills and knowledge you’ll need to launch a successful career as a social media specialist. 

To learn more about digital marketing, check out these posts: