This past Thursday I had the opportunity to attend a “Social Media Career Crawl,” put on by the wonderful people at the University of Michigan Career Center. The event, which allowed small groups of students to interact with multiple social media professionals in a “speed networking event,” included Hillary Frazier, Social Media Director for the University of Michigan, Jordan Maleh, the Digital Marketing Director for the University of Michigan Athletic Department, Mike Brownfield, Social Media Director for Governor Rick Snyder, and Graham Davis, New Media Director, Truscott Rossman (and formerly Social Media Director for Jennifer Granholm).
Selfishly, I was very happy to see and receive the advice from so many social media and communications experts working directly in politics. Given the fact that not only am I a political junky, but also hoping to follow a similar career path, the ability to talk to guys like Graham Davis and Mike Brownfield was an invaluable experience.
To summarize, here a few points I took away from my conversations:
Education: A lot of students, when asking about the background required for a career in social media, were very curious about the possibility or necessity of pursuing a graduate degree or program. The resounding response from the experts? No. Every single one stated that direct work experiences,or a portfolio of previous digital communications, trumped a graduate degree every time. However, while this is certainly true, it actually came up that the University of Michigan is falling behind in teaching courses (save for this one) and providing an undergraduate concentration in digital media. Michigan State University already has a degree in new and social media, and most professionals praised that as a good move.
Email isn’t dead: Jordan Maleh spoke a lot about how Facebook and Twitter are only a small portion of his job. Given that his focus is to use digital media to sell tickets, he said he focuses his time on email. I asked him if he thought email was dead, or losing its efficacy. Given my absolutely nerdy obsession with email marketing, I was ecstatic to hear that he thought email was alive and well. He talked about how you can ignore a facebook status or a tweet, or even worse not even be aware of them at all, but with email you are at least forced to check and skim the message. He also talked about how once you are on an email list most subscribers will not bother unsubscribing, making it a great medium to direct your organizations message.
Future of social media professionals: The other point most echoed by all the professionals was that above all else, those trying to make their way in social media career need to be able to write and write well. They need to be language and communications experts. A lot of students, including myself, asked whether we were falling behind not knowing how to code or use computer design programs. While they all agreed those are incredibly marketable skills, they reaffirmed that the biggest job of a social media director is to craft language that is both engaging and effective.
I was also glad to see that many of their points were the exact same we are learning in class. Overall, it was a fantastic experience that I am so happy I was able to attend.