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Do Social Media Managers Really Need a Master’s Degree?

Social marketers are the CMOs of the future. That’s what our founder, Ryan Holmes, believes. And he said so all the way back in 2018.

“Social media managers, community managers, online marketing managers—these people understand where the customer relationship lives,” he told Tech in Asia.

While we’re still a ways off from that reality, social media management has gone from a fledgling title bestowed on interns and new grads to a profession worthy of its own seat at the marketing leadership table.

This sentiment has gone from being something whispered quietly in the back corners of marketing departments to center stage on Twitter.

And it’s a conversation that’s begun to go mainstream. In July 2021, the Wall Street Journal published a piece on the maturation of the social media management profession that made waves in marketing circles. In particular, marketers raised their eyebrows at the mention of a master’s degree program in social media management at USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism and Communications.

A leading voice in the social marketing profession and long-time advocate for social media marketers, Jon Stansel, quipped that rather than a masters degree for entry-level marketers, execs and industry leaders were the ones that needed the training.

At the root of all of this discourse is a fundamental truth: Over the last decade, social media marketing has come into its own as a profession. And, as the breadth of skills that social media managers are expected to have expands, social media management training and education is more important than ever. Let’s look at how the role of the social media manager is changing, why training is lagging, and whether a Master’s degree in social media management is ultimately worth it.

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The purview of the social media manager is expanding

Social media managers have been in their roles for more than 10 years, and over that time the breadth of the skills they’re expected to have has grown.

A decade ago, when social was emerging as a new thing, many would-be social media managers were making up their roles and titles to fill gaps they saw at whatever organization they happened to be at. They’ve since found themselves on the front lines of many marketing organizations. They’re managing people, developing brand strategy, and nipping organizational crises in the bud.

Amanda Wood, Social Media Marketing Manager at Hootsuite, leads our social marketing team and has weathered every change in the industry over the last decade—including some major shifts in responsibilities.

“Social media managers are expected to be crisis communications specialists,” she says “We have to make sure that we’re totally in sync with having a crisis comms strategy in place and that we’re working closely with corporate communications and stakeholders across marketing.”

It’s not just reactive communications that have entered the social marketing portfolio. Social marketers often lead the development and execution of proactive brand strategy, too.

Nick Martin, Social Media Marketing Specialist at Hootsuite, handles everything from content creation and engagement to advanced social listening—so he knows what impact social can have on a brand.

“Social media managers are brand strategists,” he explains. “We’re tasked with building the brand. It’s not like we’re freewheeling back here. Every time a new network comes out, or even a new feature, we have to build a strategy for it. And to make sure it aligns with the overall goals of the brand.”

These broadening roles are reflected in marketing budgets. Data suggests that leadership at many organizations is beginning to take social media management seriously.

From the onset of the pandemic until June 2020, spend on social media as a proportion of total marketing budget has increased 13.3% to 23.2%, according to The CMO Survey. That spending has since dipped back to pre-pandemic levels. However, now that CMOs have seen its value, they anticipate that spending on social media will climb back to 23.4% of the marketing budget within the next 5 years—and it will stay there.

So feel free to hold your jokes about how social media management positions are for interns. Social marketers are professionals who are being asked to manage a costly, highly effective, and growing piece of the marketing budget.

Despite growing expectations, training and education opportunities lag

Even though their roles are expanding, social media marketers are often left to their own devices when it comes to training and education. Many top institutions, from MIT to NYU to USC Annenberg offer programs in social media marketing. But, because the industry changes so quickly, curricula struggle to keep up.

Amanda says many social managers share this sentiment.

“Even seasoned social media managers find themselves stuck, and they tend to turn to peers in order to develop their skills,” she says. “At the beginning of my career I worked under well-meaning managers who didn’t really understand social. . . they couldn’t teach me more than what I already knew. “

According to Brayden Cohen, Hootsuite’s Social Marketing and Advocacy Lead, that’s exactly why many social marketers tend to find themselves leaning on one another.

I’m still so surprised how much there is to learn about social—even at a place like Hootsuite where our team is literally at the forefront of the industry,” he reflected. “There are five of us, which is so much larger than most social teams. And there’s still so much we’re learning from each other constantly.”

Find the balance between peer-to-peer learning and private education

While training and education opportunities may lag behind innovation, the bottom line is that professional marketing education is hardly ever *unnecessary.* In fact, the rejection of professional education in marketing circles may be one of the primary reasons that the effectiveness of marketing is on the decline.

As with any discipline, higher education can help social media managers build a solid foundation. However, given that social media marketing is changing so quickly as a discipline, working social media managers will inevitably need to fill gaps in their skill sets as they progress in their careers. To do that, it’s important to lean on peers and mentors.

Or, as Eileen Kwok, Social Marketing Coordinator at Hootsuite, puts it, “The most important thing for social marketers is to stay adaptable and attentive. . . adaptable to how the industry is changing. And attentive to what leaders in social marketing are doing to stay ahead of the curve.”

Do social media managers really need a Master’s degree? That’s up to each individual marketer. The better question for social media managers to be asking themselves is what kind of skills do I need to build right now and where can I go to build them?

Where we go to learn from our peers

Knowing exactly who to turn to for training and education can be difficult. Especially if you’re working as a solo marketer or on a social media team of one—which we know is common. Here are a few of our favorite places to find support and get real, tested, professional advice.

Twitter Lists

Twitter lists are for more than just keeping your feed organized. You can use them to keep up with some of the brightest minds in social media and marketing. If you’re just getting started with Twitter lists, give this blog a read. Even if you’re a seasoned expert, remember that you can also create and view multiple lists at once directly in Hootsuite. And if you want some insider tips on who to follow, give the threads below a read.

Trusted online marketing courses

Looking to get advice from industry experts who have earned their stripes on the front lines? Look no further. There are plenty of phenomenal practitioner-run courses to choose from.

For social media marketers looking to gain more holistic brand strategy knowledge, check out Hoala’s Professional Master Course in Brand Strategy. Or, if you’re curious what British and Australian accents sound like when combined with whip-sharp wit, check out Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA in Brand Strategy. If crisis management is the biggest gap in your skillset, LinkedIn has a phenomenal course in crisis communication.

There are plenty of programs where you can learn critical business skills directly from people who actually use them every day.

Hootsuite Training and Services

For social media marketers looking to build critical skills specific to social marketing, or take the next step in their careers, we offer training and certification no matter where you are in your career development. Whether you’re a starry-eyed novice looking to build a foundation in social media marketing basics, or a seasoned professional trying to adapt to the demands of a new workplace, we’ve got you covered.

Hootsuite Business and Enterprise customers also get access to Hootsuite Services, which includes hands-on training and 1:1 coaching. You’ll not only get the best social media management tool around, but you’ll also get a partner dedicated to strengthening your skills, and supporting your development.

Learn About Training and Services

Learn how Hootsuite Services can help your team drive growth on social, fast.

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