The social media manager is dead. Long live social media.October 1, 2013: 1:44 PM ET
Behind the marked decline in social media managers is a sea change in the way that social media itself is used within organizations.
By Ryan Holmes
FORTUNE -- Last year, New England College in Henniker, N.H., welcomed the first students into its dedicated MBA in Digital and Social Media. Among the first of its kind, the two-year program -- with classes on everything from the psychology of social media to digital marketing -- set out to train the next generation of social media managers and professionals for a brave new marketplace.
Whether their positions will still exist by the time they graduate in 2014 is anyone's guess.
Once touted as the next big thing, the social media job market has undergone a marked slowdown, according to newly released stats from career site Indeed.com. Growth in positions with the title "social media manager" slowed to 50% in the past year, a dramatic decline from recent years, when triple (and even quadruple) digit growth was commonplace.
Some of social media's staunchest advocates are waving a white flag. "Social media managers, it could be time to find a new title," cautions reporter Vickie Elmer on Quartz. "Social media jobs, once much vaunted, are now frequently regarded with skepticism, even contempt," writes Buzzfeed's Rob Fishman.
But don't delete those social media skills from your resume just yet.
Behind the decline in social media managers is a sea change in the way that social media itself is used within organizations, according to industry analysts and former managers themselves. Once the exclusive domain of digital gurus, Twitter, Facebook (FB), and other tools are gradually becoming everyone's responsibility. "We are seeing an increased demand for social savvy candidates across the business -- from human resources to product to customer service," Amy Crow, Indeed's communication director told Quartz.
The numbers back Crow up. Compared to a year ago, there are 13 times as many jobs on Indeed that involve the use of social media in some way. "[We're] seeing this demand span many levels, from executive assistants to senior vice presidents," Crow explains. Buzzfeed contributing editor Fishman, once a social media manager for The Huffington Post, concurs: "In speaking with higher-ups at outlets old and new, I heard from all of them that social was no longer peripheral, but core to their strategy," he writes. "Concentrating authority in a single personage no longer made sense ..."
While these comments are in the context of news outlets, the same transformations are registering across a broad range of industries. "As a business solution, social has evolved, moving well beyond the marketing department, to address business objectives across the organization," concludes a July 2013 report from MIT's Sloan Management Review, which surveyed more than 2,500 businesses in 99 countries. Another recent report from McKinsey pegs the collective value of extending social media company-wide at $1.3 trillion in improved productivity and customer awareness.
Customer service teams at many companies have already embraced social media, often out of necessity. More than half of consumers now use social tools like Twitter and Facebook to reach out to companies with questions and complaints, according to Nielsen's 2012 Social Media Report. Meanwhile, sales teams are also turning to Twitter, LinkedIn, and other tools for what is being called "social selling": sales intelligence, lead generation, and network building. Last year, IBM (IBM) saw a 400% surge in sales after implementing a social selling program, and 61% of U.S. marketers now use social media to generate new business.
Meanwhile, departments as diverse as R&D and logistics are tapping into social tools to expedite tasks ranging from developing new products to streamlining the supply chain. "[The] notion of a single person who spends their entire day on Twitter creating hashtags" is dead, writes GigaOM reporter Matthew Ingram. Being social is "part of everyone's job, or soon will be."
Whether everyone is adequately trained for that job, however, is another question. Just as it took years to fully onboard email, integrating social media into the workplace is frustrated by a skills gap. "The problem is that gap hasn't been fully closed yet," writes Anthony De Rosa, former social media editor for Reuters. "Every organization is different." Case in point: Among 2,100 companies surveyed recently by Harvard Business Review, just 12% of those using social media feel they actually use it effectively.
For an older generation of employees, social media often remains misunderstood and underutilized. Even digital natives -- younger workers brought up on a steady diet of Facebook and Twitter -- need to be trained to use the tools in a business context. [Full disclosure: One part of my company provides this type of training.] "Business requires people with the skills and understanding on how to use ... social media professionally in an integrated and strategic way," says William Ward, who teaches a series of popular social media courses to undergraduates at Syracuse University. "[Using] it to connect with friends and family" is not the same thing.
Ryan Holmes is the CEO of HootSuite, a social media relationship platform.