What Does the Career Path of the Social Media Strategist Look Like?

Jeremiah Owyang and the folks at Altimeter Group have put out a great report on the career paths of the social strategist.

The team surveyed many social strategists, and reported that these strategists go through a couple phases early in their career. Those phases, and the descriptions, are:

  • The Awakening. As customers rapidly adopt these tools, this internal champion rises to answer the call of duty — adopting new technologies on behalf of the corporation while meeting (often tremendous) internal resistance.
  • Ascension of the Corportate Social Strategist. After mustering the courage to challenge the status quo, the evangelist launches pilot programs to connect with customers using social tools. The Social Strategist is successful in gathering initial resources and corralling some internal stakeholders. A program manager is anointed.
  • Storm of Cultural Conflict. Having successfully piloted programs, the Social Strategist seeks to expand the program, yet loses altitude from internal resistance to corporate transparency, turf battles, legal and security issues, and the challenges of calculating return on investment.
  • Career Decision Point. Gaining speed, the Social Strategist overcomes most major cultural challenges and expands the program. Shifting from evangelism to program management, they find the excess of customer voices — as well as the increase in program requests from internal stakeholders — unmanageable.

Career Paths of the Social Media Strategist

The social strategist can take one of two possible career paths, according to the research:

  1. “Social media help desk,” which is what happens when the strategist becomes so overwhelmed with social media requests that the role is reduced to one of a “help desk.”
  2. “Escape velocity,” which is what happens when social strategists are able to expand their scope and develop a pro-active business program.

This can be summed up with this visual from the report:


Notice that the career decision point is crucial in the life of a social strategist. If it becomes evident that the career is sloping downward into the bottomless pit that is the help desk, then it may be wise to consider switching jobs or companies.

A Brief Profile of the Social Media Strategist


It’s interesting that the social strategists have been working at their companies for more than three years, based on LinkedIn profiles. This is probably a good thing considering that these employees are familiar with the inner workings of their organization.

Another interesting thing to note is that most of the social strategists have either a communications or marketing degree as their area of focus. Perhaps this explains why so many organizations are looking at social media as simply a marketing or PR effort instead of a broader business initiative.

Job Responsibilities of the Social Strategist


It’s interesting that “measure and report ROI” is second on the list. This is interesting because, although ROI is such an important responsibility, most of the employees tasked with measuring that ROI don’t have the business background to be able to do it (or so I’m assuming based on a communications and marketing background). I think there’s a bit of disconnect here.

Social Media Within an Organization as a Whole


A majority of organizations have only been involved in the social space for no more than two years, yet many of these organizations consider themselves “formalized.”

If being a formalized organization means focusing on Twitter and Facebook for social interactions then sure, I believe that. But in most cases “social media” is simply about interacting with people via social channels.

If you recall from previous social CRM columns, what we’re striving to do extends far beyond just interacting with people online. We’re trying to solve complex business challenges that organizations are faced with.

Figure 6.3 shows that more than 70 percent of social strategists report to either a marketing or corporate communications department, both of which are notoriously scrutinized for difficulty of measuring ROI.

It’s tough to measure ROI without having the right tools in place (e.g., a CRM system, an analytics engine, and a community platform that allows for these measurements to be extracted). Measuring ROI is certainly easier said than done, but a technology investment to make it happen is certainly required.


This article is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this report. If you are (or want to be) involved in the social media space, then the full report is highly recommended.

Thanks to Jeremiah and the Altimeter team for their great work and research.

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