There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a social media executive. That’s partly because the role is so new, many couldn’t have imagined it as they were building their resume.
Zagari noted it was surprising to see a company even offering an executive role.
“I wasn’t looking for a new role when I came across the job at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—but I was so intrigued by the idea of a VP-level social role, I had to apply. It was exciting to see a company investing in social media at a leadership level.”
Forging a social media executive career path
Each of the executives has ample professional experience outside of social media. Zagari has paid media and ad sales campaign experience. Klamm worked in marketing and outreach roles at higher education institutions. Mason focused on PR and traditional media relations in the beginning of her career.
They all experimented with different marketing disciplines—weaving in and out of social media careers before eventually discovering social was their greatest passion. For each executive, their diverse experiences spanned industries, helping them hone skills in marketing, social media, people management and more.
Their career paths looked less like climbing a corporate ladder and more like making lateral shifts in coordinator, manager and director-level roles.
If you’re unsure what your next position looks like, focus on fortifying your strengths and following your interests rather than making the move that looks best on paper.
What skills do social media executives need?
According to Mason, Zagari and Klamm, up-and-coming social leaders should focus on these five essential skills to propel their career forward.
1. Hands-on social media production expertise
Even in an executive role, social media marketers must be able to roll up their sleeves and support their team’s content creation.
According to Zagari, “Until recently, most leaders with executive experience didn’t have social experience. Because I worked in social media production, my team knows I have their back and can jump in at any time to write copy, schedule posts, run ads or whatever else they may need support on.”
Most social professionals have a core skill set, whether it’s creating organic posts, running paid campaigns, managing a community or building an employee advocacy program. But Klamm says leaders should be familiar with all sides of social so they’re always able to help their team.
As you work on growing your career, never stop up-leveling your social media skills. Think beyond your current role to become a well-rounded social marketer.
2. Effective communication skills
Everything social media executives do requires strong communication skills. As Klamm puts it, “So much of our work is about communication: writing content, editing posts, developing strategic plans, coaching team members, inspiring colleagues around the company to be part of your social media program and so much more.”
The ability to promote a culture of open, authentic communication is equally important. Top-notch social media leaders communicate clearly and directly, but also listen with empathy and embrace a learning mindset. Mason says, “Being able to communicate effectively goes a long way. If something isn’t working, say that in a kind way.”
And, as Klamm reminds us, don’t undervalue good listening skills, a small ego and diplomacy. They’re non-negotiable for social media executives.
He says, “It takes a unique disposition to harness input from around your company, channel actionable insights back to your team (while protecting them from unhelpful feedback) and build relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, all with varying interest and experience with social media.”
Whether you’re an individual contributor or manager, model effective communication to those around you.
3. Data and analytics expertise
Analytical skills are essential to landing a senior-level social media position. As Klamm puts it, “You have to understand and explain not just how a social media campaign is performing, but why it’s performing that way. This requires digging into data and developing actionable insights you can articulate to a variety of stakeholders to shape and optimize campaigns in real-time.”
Remember to tie social media results to your business objectives. For example, Klamm suggests asking how social performance has impacted brand perception, revenue, recruiting and retention.
Executives are typically the ones dictating departmental goals that contribute to the success and growth of the greater business. Develop an eye for analytics and a strategic mindset so you can translate data into compelling insights that prove the value of your work.
4. A close pulse on internet culture
Social media changes at lightning speed. It’s important to have a strong pulse on internet culture and a passion for social trends. You must ensure your brand stays relevant and engages with trends your community cares about.
As Mason says, “It’s impossible to know what’s hot all the time with the internet, but you need to know what kind of content resonates well with your target audience so you can meet business objectives while still remaining relevant in a space that evolves by the second.”
Don’t get lost in the social buzz or follow fads just because they’re trending. Mason warns, “The internet never holds back when a brand is being inauthentic.”
Practice balancing emerging trends and staying up to date on platform changes while maintaining a consistent brand voice.
5. A coaching mindset
Learn to be the empathetic and empowering manager you always needed in your career development. That’s the ethos Mason lives by.
Kikora Mason, VP of Social Media and Community Management at JP Morgan Chase
Be a leader who trusts and values their team members. As Zagari puts it, “Listen to your team. Their on-the-ground experience is invaluable, and a strong leader recognizes and champions this expertise.”
As you assemble your team, remember to bring together people with diverse skills, backgrounds and experiences. As Mason explains, having a culturally diverse team with different perspectives contributes to your success.
If you want to strengthen your leadership skills, focus on building emotional intelligence and always look for opportunities to be a team player.