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Social media industries: bridging the gap between theory and practice

Social media Creative workforce Digital communications Employment Australia

This study investigates emerging roles in social media work across a range of professions and organisations, and the transforming media and communications environment associated with digital technologies, big data and social media platforms. We use the umbrella term ‘social media industries’ to point to the emergence of a distinctive site of services, products, markets, audiences, professions and forms of labour that revolve around social media. As a snapshot and ‘moment in time’ study, we examine job market data and report on in-depth interviews with 18 specialists in social media communications from 12 different organisations. To better understand the implications of these changes for universities we conducted focus group interviews with students. Our participants emphasized that this is a fast moving field and we acknowledge that this research must be ongoing. However, as well as informing media and communication curriculum design, the analysis presented also tells us a great deal about emerging contexts for what we might call social media work.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • A large number of new jobs are targeting social media expertise, across a very wide range of industries.
  • 21% of social media jobs in our data set fell into traditional Communications and Marketing fields, while 26% were situated within Retail and Hospitality
  • The retail and hospitality sectors are employing social media specialists to expand promotions, build a brand and organise events, as well as to develop communities or ‘fans’. These roles complement the movement into online retail and away from bricks and mortar selling.
  • Organisations are increasingly restructuring to incorporate social media work.
  • Definitions of social media across organisations varied greatly and depended heavily on the uses to which it was put.
  • Media agencies in particular see the complexity and integrated or ‘ecological’ character of the media and communications environment, and emphasise the need to think broadly about what social media is.
  • Organisations often struggle to negotiate and keep pace with changes to social media platforms, such as Facebook’s ‘pay-to-play’ model for organisational Pages.
  • Social media specialists require a balanced skill set that go beyond traditional marketing to include multimedia content production skills, storytelling and communication skills, data analytics and critical analysis capabilities.
  • Experience rather than qualifications is currently more important in making new appointments.
  • Social media community management work requires a unique and diverse skill set, and is seen as 24/7 work.
  • Crisis management plays a large part in the work of social media managers, but in a way that is highly valued by organisations who are able to converse with, rather than just broadcast to, customers or stakeholders.
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