What is social media marketing?

Last updated May 16, 2019

Despite social media being over a decade old — eons, in tech-speak — billions of people are on the world’s major social networks. That means social media marketing, or how you and your company engage users on social media platforms, is as important in 2019 as it was in 2010, if not more.

Most people hear about social media marketing as a career and imagine writing thousands of tweets then hoping for the best. The reality couldn’t be more different. Social media marketing is a growing field that touches virtually every company today.

In fact, the skillsets required to be a successful social media marketer apply to roles from marketing, to sales, to HR and internal communications. So whatever your desired career path or industry, you can probably get there through social media marketing.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing is how you get your message out, either through direct, one-to-one communication or to millions of users on different social media platforms. The most famous are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and LinkedIn, but there are other niche platforms that may become relevant to your future job such as 9gag, Imgur, Flipboard, and more. Which channels you choose in your pursuit of organizational goals will depend on your audience.

SEO and content marketing expert Neil Patel further defines social media marketing as communicating your message with the intent to get engagement, such as likes, shares, clicks, or comments. Search Engine Land describes all of that as simply “gaining traffic or getting attention” through social media.

In short, social media marketing is the use of social media platforms, either through paid or organic tactics, to promote products or services to targeted audience groups.

The core differentiator when it comes to social media marketing is whether you focus on organic activities, paid activities, or both.

Organic social media means setting up an account and posting content. Using the platform itself is free, and any money you invest is in the back-end for things like salaries, outsourcing creative and design work. A common example is directly engaging influencers to help amplify your message — see Wendy’s and Chance The Rapper Below.

Paid social media, on the other hand, leverages the platform’s ad networks and API access to advertise to other platform users. In this case, you pay direct advertising costs to the social media platform owner to ensure the people you target will see your content.

Social media marketing is commonly used in the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) world, since the fundamental premise of social media marketing is having conversations with users, and engaging those users on terms defined in large part by the platform itself.

What career paths are available to social media marketers?


Individual contributor roles in marketing:

    • Digital strategist
    • Community manager
    • Social media manager
    • PR / news generation specialist

Team leader roles in marketing:

    • Marketing manager
    • Content manager / editor
    • Head of digital
    • Head of external communications

Why marketing?

It’s an obvious step, since social media marketing typically sits within the marketing team.

When it comes to individual contributor roles, the data orientation and communications mindset required to be a social media marketer makes practitioners the perfect candidates for earned marketing activities like community management, social media management, and PR or news generation. The digital strategist role could also work because of the skills developed around analytics and finding underutilized areas or gaps in strategy.

Capitalizing on a major event, for example, like Oreo’s tweet when the power went out at the Superbowl in 2013, can generate buzz like you’ve never seen.

When it comes to team leadership, the fundamentals of social media marketing set you up well to lead as a marketing manager. The analytics orientation means you could lead a team of data-focused marketers with success. The same can be said for the grasp of brand messaging and brand values required to successfully engage with thousands — if not millions — of customers.

Similarly, as head of content or as an editor, leaning on the communications and design skills developed through social media marketing — building different content for different audiences and on different platforms — gives you a leg up when it comes to editing content that will resonate with your target audience or audiences.

Extending those skills further, you could lead as head of external communications, owning your entire organization’s message to its many publics.


Individual contributor roles in sales:

  • Digital sales enablement manager
  • Social media user acquisition specialist
  • Sales prospecting / BDR

Team leader roles in sales:

  • Digital user acquisition manager
  • Digital sales enablement team lead

Why sales?

Marketing and sales work closely together to find the right kind of customer, nurture that customer, and increase sales. Since social media marketing builds a foundation around identifying the kind of person who will engage with what your company has to offer, and then engaging directly with that person, sales it’s a logical step for effective social media marketers.

If direct selling isn’t for you, there are still ways to be on the sales team and leverage the skills of social media marketing.

Enablement or prospecting — making the sales reps more successful — is a pathway that directly uses the skillsets of social media marketing in ways that drive revenue. If your company is in the B2C space, paid social media activities could be a great sales role; after all, social media marketing is about getting engagement and effectively building brand recognition. It’s just that this time you’re seeking a purchase, not a click or retweet.

A well-timed tweet on a classic trope is a great way to get more engagement.

Depending on how in-depth you go on social media marketing skills, you could also lead the team that handles digital user acquisition or sales enablement. If your prospects spend a lot of time on the internet and you know how to find them, you could empower a whole team to do the same, making your company more successful.

People, HR, and operations

Individual contributor roles:

    • Digital talent sourcer
    • Talent researcher
    • Internal communications specialist

Team leader roles:

    • Talent research group lead
    • Head of internal communications

Why people, HR, and operations?

Once you’ve mastered the skills of social media marketing, you’ll know what to look for in others.

As you grow in your career, you may find you’re done with being an individual contributor, but that you also don’t want to lead a team. If that’s the case, then you could find your calling helping leaders find the right people for their teams, using social platforms to engage employees and improve retention, or help your team recruit and cultivate its own management talent.

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If you find you love this pathway and want to lead a team, you not only have the option of popping back into sales or marketing, you can lead the team of sourcers and researchers that finds the best contributors and team leads.

How much do social media marketers earn and is there demand for these jobs?

With the breadth of skills social media marketing teaches you comes high earning potential. In 2019 and beyond, and with the proliferation of social channels, from SnapChat to WhatsApp and WeChat, managing social media accounts is becoming a part of every company’s game plan. And as this happens, learning how to incorporate social media marketing and social media management into other tasks will become essential.

Here are a few fast-growing — and after many years, still-growing — digital job titles that place a premium on social media savvy.

Digital Marketer

The most classic “marketing” job that uses social media marketing skills, Digital Marketers earn anywhere from $45,000 – $85,000+ for their work.

Example job responsibilities include:

  • Managing paid social media campaigns (for user acquisition or for top-of-funnel development)
  • SEO and keyword strategy (or research / execution, if a less senior role)
  • Lead nurture / funnel development strategies (using marketing automation tools such as Hubspot)

Skillsets that could help you negotiate a higher salary:

  • Google Analytics
  • Experience bidding and running campaigns using different ads platforms
  • Writing and editing skills

Community Manager / Head of Community

Often seen as the people-focused counterpart to the Digital Marketer, Community Managers and Heads of Community still use an incredibly digitally-focused skillset and earn anywhere from $35,000 – $90,000+ per year.

Example job responsibilities include:

  • Organic social media activities, such as private group cultivation (such as a private Facebook groups for clients or other “members”) and organic engagement on social media
  • Event planning to bring your digital audience “IRL” (in-real-life) at conferences you attend, events you plan, or other people’s events you host in your offices
  • Strategic coordination – you’ll often look at what the Digital Marketers and sales teams are doing in order to identify which “community” you need to build and which channels you need to pursue on behalf of your company or organization

Social media is all about having conversations, and while sarcasm sometimes lands flat, carefully considered humour can go a long way.

Skillsets that could help you negotiate a higher salary:

  • Understanding analytics on different APIs
  • Design skills
  • Writing and editing skills
  • Large personal network of relevant audiences for the company

Growth Marketer / Growth “Hacker”

The Growth Marketer or “Hacker” is all about using experimental methods to find inexpensive or free ways to drive explosive company growth. Although ill-defined, and arguably more of mindset than a job description, many social media marketers today are adopting this title–and hacking social media itself in the process. Growth Marketers can earn anywhere from $45,000 – $90,000+ depending on skillset and experience.

Example job responsibilities include:

  • Leveraging paid social media channels combined with analytics about target audiences to continually optimize and decrease the digital costs of acquisition
  • Manage other paid acquisition activities, such as media buying and other forms of digital ads, to create a holistic growth strategy
  • Code custom designs into emails, ads, social media, and other applications in order to build and run custom tests for the company

Skillsets that could help you negotiate a higher salary:

  • A/B testing and conversion optimization
  • Knowledge of different programming languages
  • Relationships with ads sales / media sales for priority rates or access
  • Strategic planning / consulting experience to help with goal planning
  • Product management or product development experience

Communications Manager

The Communications Manager helps articulate the company’s message across all customer touch points, helping key messages get out, at the right time, to the right people. A Comms Manager may focus internally, externally, or both, depending on the company. Communications Managers earn anywhere from $45,000 – $90,000.

Example job responsibilities include:

  • Drafting news releases, social media announcements, and internal advocacy messaging for the company
  • Project management of large-scale marketing campaigns, coordinating between design, copy, and both paid and organic communications channels (including social media, wire services, etc.), and possibly managing agencies and vendors of record
  • Coordinating with Digital Marketers and Community Managers to ensure messaging is refined and on-brand

Skillsets that could help you negotiate a higher salary:

  • Deep understanding of traditional communications skills and media landscape
  • Experience with paid digital channels like wire services and social media ads
  • Experience managing cross-functional teams
  • Experience working closely with designers

Social Media Manager

The Social Media Manager is a mid-level role that helps the company coordinate and execute on strategy for all things social. Social Media Managers can earn anywhere from $30,000 – $65,000+.

Example job responsibilities include:

  • Crafting and scheduling social media posts on all channels
  • Proposing new ways to increase organic social media reach and growth
  • Be the voice of the company on social media, executing on agreed upon strategy (which, in many cases, you’ll help develop yourself as you get more senior)

Skillsets that could help you negotiate a higher salary:

  • Design skills
  • Experience with paid digital channels like wire services and social media ads
  • In-depth knowledge of social analytics platforms and Google Analytics

The Canadian labour market will need more digital skills as we move into the future of work. Across the country, marketing jobs like these are in high demand, according to Monster. Further, a quick search on Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn shows thousands of openings for jobs like social media manager, community manager, growth marketer, and more.

What education do I need for social media marketing?

Successful social media marketers will possess critical thinking, research and strong verbal and written communication abilities, plus general knowledge acquired through college or university training in business, marketing, communications or design.

Developing advanced social media marketing skills will require a bit more than just having a Twitter account and a bachelor’s degree, however.  The skills can be taught, but require hand-on practice using real-world cases. Of course, you can find top-rated social media marketing courses on Course Compare. To navigate the marketplace for social media courses by city, check out user-approved:

If you’re looking to learn the fundamentals of social media marketing, look for courses that cover:

  • Digital marketing fundamentals
  • Social media for business
  • Social media analytics
  • Social media storytelling and writing
  • Content creation, including design

And for top-rated programs at colleges (public and private) and universities with applied training (online and in-class) in social media marketing, you can explore:

One of the best ways to hone your craft after taking a course is to work in social media marketing at a startup or agency. If you aren’t familiar with running a business, it may be a good idea to hone your social media marketing skills at a job first so you can learn the ropes, experiment in less costly ways, and learn through mentorship from seasoned pros.

The other option, of course, is to branch out on your own. You can either start a business as a side-hustle or jump into one full-time.

What is the future of social media marketing?

The interesting thing about social media is that, in many cases, it’s simply a reflection of what’s changing in society. Since social media gives people a platform to engage one another, you’ll often see discussions of what’s changing in the world and how it will affect social media… on social media. But beneath these engagements are, inevitably, technological rules of engagement and limitations defined by platform owners themselves. Here are just a few examples of how technology is taking social media into 2020 and beyond.

Voice search

As technology becomes more attuned to how humans speak, not just how they write, more people will control their world with their voices – in fact, about 20 percent of adults already use voice search at least once a month. Even voice design, according to a Facebook expert we spoke to, is a growing field.

Image result for amazon alexa google home

In fact, 72 percent of people who own devices like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home use them as part of their daily routine. A recent Google survey showed that users are looking up brands: 52 per cent want to learn more about deals, sales and promotions; 48 percent want personalized tips and information to make their lives easier; 42 percent are searching nearby events or activities; 39 percent want to find out business information such as store hours; and 38 percent want access to customer service or support.

This will affect how you communicate on social media, ensuring that the right content is optimized for how people speak, not just how people write.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI in social media marketing powers both front-end changes and back-end changes. On the front end, the technology powers things like voice search. On the backend, AI offers the ability to do social listening and analytics on a much bigger scale. Where before you could only track what happened on your account, AI will likely bring with it the ability to predict what will happen.

This will give new life to editing a message, testing messages, and understanding your audience, both current and potential.

Fake posts and troll farms

With AI and other technological advancements, it’s becoming easier to grow seemingly real, but totally fake, social media accounts. New technology makes it possible to make videos of other people saying things they didn’t say. Verification policies from major social media networks don’t solve the trust problem they once did.

Blockchain technology may be able to help this with more secure digital identities, but in the meantime, social media marketers need to be aware of how their company could be attacked by “real” people who are actually just auto-generated fake accounts.

Growth hacking

In the past, buying followers meant you’d look credible and gain more organic followers in turn. Now, a sudden and dramatic spike in followers triggers an alarm with most social networks. As they try to combat fake news, fake posts, and troll farms, social algorithms see major spikes in engagement and follower counts as a signal that your page might be doing something illicit.

This means some classic growth hacking techniques may no longer work – or, worse, your page will be blacklisted on social media. You’ll be able to see your posts, but the platform won’t show them to anyone else.

Is social media marketing for me?

Social media marketing offers a wide menu of career options when it comes to your future in the digital economy. Not only can you grow into the marketing function of a company but there’s opportunity to move into sales – or even HR and operations. This is because of the unique overlap of the skillsets social media marketing requires combined with the skills needed for the future of work.

social media marketing RBC

The above venn diagram illustrates the overlap between social media marketing skills and the skills necessary for the future of work, according to an RBC study

If you’re considering learning about social media marketing, you’ll gain creativity, an analytical mindset, and an opportunity to jump into a variety of different work paths by doing so. You will gain:

  • Digital literacy: It’s baked into social media marketing since everything is done online
  • Analytics orientation: Each platform has its own analytics product, meaning you’ll gain a diverse skillset on analytics
  • Communications skills: Whether paid or organic, social media is all about getting a message out to the right audience, on the right platform(s), at the right time
  • Mobile understanding: The world, including social media, is becoming “mobile-first”
  • Flexible skills: Because of how social media operates – the different changing networks, audiences, and technologies – learning social media marketing gives you a digital skillset that can be applied to many careers or to entrepreneurship.

Whatever path you want to take in life, the future of work demands a skillset that social media marketing can provide.

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios is a freelance writer and entrepreneur based in Toronto.

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