Lee Odden

Where Can Social Media Marketing Take Your Career?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

Social Media MarketingSearch Google for “social media consultant” or “social media expert” and you’ll find millions of search results. I’ve been in the online marketing game since 1997 and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an emergence of expertise out of the blue. Web design in the late nineties and SEO in early 2000’s was close, but social media as a career choice is as pervasive as anything.

While it does appear that there may be more social media consultants than there are companies to hire them, the truth is the opposite. The ease of publishing online with blogs and social networking makes it seem like there are more qualified consultants than there really are.

Every company that I know in the online marketing space where social media is a key practice area is hiring. The problem is, there’s a lack of people with real social media marketing experience. Many that do have such experience are accustomed to a “big fish, small pond” situation and often overestimate current capabilities.

For online marketing agencies like ours, a Social Media Marketing Specialist needs to have more experience than setting up social accounts on Facebook, Twitter and a blog. They need to have an understanding of social content planning, personas, social network research and development, light SEO, social content promotion, social monitoring and analytics for insights and reports.  Not many people 3-4 years out of college have that experience. But they could.

Experience and training are what help passionate users transition into those individuals that can provide business social media advice and insight with impact. Experience without a job in the field can be acquired in a few different ways:

  • Become a super user with social applications
  • With that first hand knowledge, start marketing a personal site and/or offer pro bono services to a non-profit or small business
  • Document experience on a personal site or blog
  • Participate ON and offline with networks important to your areas of focus (specific industries, geographic areas)
  • Make it clear that you are available for hire in your social profiles and what you can do with examples
  • Until you have your own examples you can share insights into work others have done or you could provide sample audits of companies that you’d like to work with/for.

While I was already working as an online marketing consultant with my own business when I started blogging and offering blogging services to clients in 2004, the path above is essentially what I followed to get into the social media marketing consulting business.  Things have turned out pretty well, but I will always be a student, forever testing and learning.

One significant area of focus at TopRank Marketing is finding the right people to work with our team as social media marketing consultants, copywriters and project managers.  Cross training existing staff and clients is also important.

Are you just starting out in a career focused on providing social media marketing consulting (either on your own or for a company)? What are some of the challenges you’re facing in growing your expertise and getting experience?

If you are well into your social media marketing career as a practitioner or in a senior position, how did you make the transition from where you were, to your current state of expertise and knowledge? How do you stay current and competitive with your social media expertise?

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (10 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. While it does appear that there may be more social media consultants than there are companies to hire them, the truth is the opposite. The ease of publishing online with blogs and social networking makes it seem like there are more qualified consultants than there really are.” I think you hit the nail on the head with this, Lee, and “PR consultants” face the same problem!

    • Indeed :). Somewhere it is written: “It’s easy to become a consultant, just say you are”. Apparently many are taking that advice.

  2. Avatar Dan Wadleigh says

    This post resonated with me as I have a background in web development, a real passion for social media marketing, but, am short on having “alot” of practical experience.

    I am not a “ninja”, “guru” or self-proclaimed “expert”, but, have been learning in the space (thanks to @TopRank, @smeexaminer:disqus amongst many others). Working on my own soon to be launched blog and appreciate the reminder to participate (get social?!) more offline and on.

    • Hi Dan, I’m glad you picked up on the on/offline reference because if I had to pick one aspect of networking in the social space that has had the most impact, it would be tying online and offline connections into a cycle. Looking forward to seeing your new blog.

      • Lee, I attended my 1st social media strategy conference in late April 2011 here in Kansas City. Jeremiah Owyang, and his Altimeter Group teammate, Christine Tran, led an immersive and interactive session that day. Not only was the content learning insightful, but also meeting other like-minded folks is a great opportunity to tie online/offline social networking connections together. The face-to-face relationship building is invaluable. And, I’ll continue seeking more conference attendance opportunities as part of my overall professional development.

        • Tony, you describe the real life component of social networking in your comment and I think that’s one of the multipliers of the social web: offline and online working together.

  3. Avatar Kendy Sproul says

    I am just starting out as a Social Media Consultant and the area I’m struggling most with is knowing when enough studying and immersion into social media is enough to actually seek out clients.

    I am a chronic studier and a perfectionist when it comes to myself. And, after immersing myself for many months into the social media world as well as taking a social media course from @nickusborne:twitter , I’m having a difficult time jumping off the ledge into the sea of “companies that are hiring”. I do know that it is impossible to know everything about social media as it is constantly growing and changing. So, when is enough enough to jump in and swim with the other “legitimate” Social Media Consultants?

    • Kendy, if you have been able to affect business outcomes with your social media knowledge and can show that, plus have comfort creating a strategy and implementation plan with measurable goals, then start swimming. If you need to, pick specific areas to focus on so you stand out from generalists and build from there.

      • Avatar Kendy Sproul says

        Thanks for the response, Lee. Looks like I’m more ready to start swimming than I realized.

  4. Avatar Alex Jansen says

    I’m always amazed when people ask “how much does it cost” but can’t answer “what do you want to happen.”

    have one Big Social Media Marketing, please. But it needs to be as
    good as a custom made burger. And cost very little. 😉

    Alex J

  5. Would you say that a blog of my own should be on a specific company or market? I am currently writing a blog about sports wear in various athletic companies. I am making strides past the initial stages, but I don’t know what else to do.

    • As you look at the purpose for the blog, the people you’re trying to reach (and their interests/needs) plus the desired outcome as a result of that audience consuming your content, the plan for what to do next should reveal itself.

  6. It is time to think about career in social media marketing. Now social media is changing countries history, why not they can change the business process flow and marketing.

  7. Avatar Jpeischel says

    When it comes to social media, commentary and consultants, when did everyone become an expert? Yikes. Every time someone lists “The ten best xxxx” or whatever their list may be, the implication is that they are an authority, when in reality, nobody is. This stuff just changes so fast that no one has a command.

    • Freely sharing information is a gift to some and a reason to call foul for grandstanding for others. It’s a matter of perspective. Take what’s useful, make it better and share back. That’s the magic of the social web.

  8. I am really happy that I landed a job doing SEO and SMM out of college. I have always been attracted to the internet and technical fields and plus I am a business major. Perfect fit.

  9. Avatar Marie Lewis says

    I agree with what you’ve written here, thank you for laying down the good points. I agree that when people hear SEO, they
    automatically think keywords and search engine submissions. These are
    part of the standard SEO practices though, but most people neglect
    updated content and hands-on service.This is why I consider blogging and a good social media presence as some of the best professional but affordable SEO services.

  10. Hello Lee, I’m just starting my career as a social media virtual assistant. It’s good that there are various resources regarding social media marketing found in the internet, but the best teacher would be my day-to-day experience with social media. 🙂

  11. Only other thing I would add to this is that you have to have a strong background in communication, be it marketing, PR, etc. I always look for people that aren’t just a big “name” on Twitter, or have a Facebook page, but that also understand the basics of great communication. Then, if they have done the things on your list as well, they have a much stronger chance of being hired.

    • Good point Kami. We have candidates take writing tests, write blog posts, tweets etc. Brandividuals are a crapshoot, so I agree that seeing evidence of great communications skills is essential.

  12. I think the big thing you missed on your list is *client-facing* – that means you have to be able to listen and interpret carefully, understand how social media priorities fit into the larger picture, and identify opportunities that fit into the larger plan.

  13. It’s interesting to see the sudden outburst of so many “experts” on a topic that is so new and that few of us (if any) truly understand. From my perspective, all of the experts are just plain users who have found particularly effective ways to use their social media.

  14. Avatar Bill Heck says

    I’m just starting out doing social media with an internship this summer for a small business. Any advice for starting this new venture?

    • My advice is understand your brand/product. As obvious as it may sound, I think many people read generalist blog posts on how to develop a social media campaign, and these posts will miss critical considerations for your business. Are you B2B, B2C? Short sales cycle, long sales cycle? what’s your PLC? how do consumers interact with you socially? Do they want to? Why would they want to?

      Start answering these questions and you’ll see where social media can fit in to add value to your offering, then you can develop objectives that will ACTUALLY enhance your brand if you meet them

  15. “social media expert” is about as common these days as a starbucks on a street corner – the problem is, most people, as the above clever piece eludes to, is that having an intimate working knowledge of social media isnt enough – its the MEASUREMENT that counts, which includes expert tools, the digestion and articulate dissemination of such tools of measurement to clients or superiors, and an ability to prove ROI…..because, folks, the opportunity to brand yourself an expert doesnt just come from posting an articule to your 1500 facebook friends, it means proving that your social media strategy isnt just getting to eyeballs that its also planting feet or opening wallets for the projects your working on

  16. Avatar Sydney @ Social Dynamics says

    The numbers of so called social media experts is pretty mind boggling. I certainly think that in the business of social media the true test of capability is through real life application and genuine results.

  17. Building relationships is very important in Social Media Marketing between the customers and business owners and other people of their staff.
    I completely agree with your points. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Really enjoyed this. Just starting out myself, started a new blog inspired by this post and the “Getting started” post by Chris Winfield –
    – feedback welcome!

  19. I think social media marketers need to understand the fundamentals of sales and business development, after all – this is what they need to prove their worth (and so many can’t).

    Also, I definitely recommend taking even just a short course in web development. If you’re going to blog, you should know the basics of HTML and CSS.

    Simple tips, but from personal experience they can make you stand out from the crowd.

  20. Totally agree with you, Lee. I just read an article from Mashable, 90% of so called Social Media consultant is sham, only 10% is real. Until today, I just my experience on my blog rather than called myself as social media consultant coz there are so much to learn before becoming an expert.

    Since you are one of 25 online marketing experts featured in “Online Marketing Heroes” published by Wile, I believe you have much to share. Will keep following your blog! 🙂

  21. Avatar Nick Robinson says

    I am a marketer first and foremost. The principles of marketing always hold true, but social has tweaked the concept just a little bit. First, listening. Listening is probably the most unique aspect of a social media/content marketing plan. I literally launched a client’s social plan yesterday, and I already found a willing and able buyer through monitoring “need flying services”. Not bad. Second, if it were not for my background in SEO/Conversion Optimization, i sure wouldn’t know how to optimize content to get found and ultimately convert, so I give a hat tip to my former company. If a consultant doesn’t know how to integrate these two aspects into a plan, then you better look elsewhere. Just my 2 cents.

    • I agree “I am a marketer first and foremost” brings a lot more value than focusing on one channel or tactic vs. another. They are but tools for use to build business.

  22. I like that you mentioned you will “forever be a student.” This is so true. Technology and more specifically the internet is moving at such a fast pace, it’s a challenge to keep up!

    We can’t read Social Media For Dummies and think we’re ready for consulting. One trend today can be the thing of the past tomorrow.

    When I was first looking to gain valuable experience, I offered my services pro bono as you suggested.  The amazing part is, you won’t only gain valuable experience but also a valuable referral.  A referral that can lead to a paying gig down the road.

    A marketer by the name of Brandon Yanofsky has mentioned to me that he would do marketing services and in return, he asked the company to donate to his favorite charity (skip1.org) as compensation. Great thinking.

  23. I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

  24. Social media is a subject I’m just becoming familiar with, so I enjoy reading and learning.  Great article, hopefully I will build up my “nerve” and really get out in the world soon! 

  25. I worked in media and marketing for many years in the UK but Social Media and Internet Marketing really opened the door for me and allowed me the freedom to live the life I wanted to live.
    I’m no longer chained to an office or running to stand still in the London rat race. Now I live in Asia and work with clients on 3 continents.
    With some hard work, lots of ongoing study and research and anyone can do this while helping transforming businesses and peoples live in a positive and successful way.

  26. Actually it was the same thing when Windows came out in the programming world – Everybody and his mother became a Windows programmer overnight – I knew a guy whose electrician friend even picked up a book and scored a job in several weeks! At the time I wrote a “guide” – the 1993 Guide to Evaluating and Selecting Windows Programmers – Separating the Comedians from the Gurus. With real interview questions – Sold more copies than I ever imagined I would – Maybe I should repeat the feat with SM “gurus” 🙂
    Great post thanks!

  27. Avatar Jen Ohlman says

    Informative article.  Social media really interests me but with a consulting background (not marketing or communications) it seems very difficult to break into this industry with no experience. I like your idea of basically garnering self-imposed experience in your “free” time. Any other online resources you would suggest for learning more??

  28. Avatar Kate Niller says

    Really useful article. Of cource many people are interested in social media as career field nowadays. 
    The video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdh2ZB5BKrI may be useful for those building their career at social media.

  29. Avatar Kevin Townsend says

    Great article!  I’m currently in the same process.  I naturally started those steps before this article & it was great to be affirmed.  I just recently finished school and found a real passion for marketing online.  I ran into the exact same situation where I didn’t have experience and I didn’t really know what I was talking about.  For the last 4 months I’ve been working hard to start my own social media consulting and learn what I can.  Great article!

  30. Avatar Pratyusha Sharma says

    will you hire me?

  31. Avatar Online Recipe Resource says

     A open mind with lot of patience is a must in this field ..sometime we have to completely rely on search engine resources and moderator,,,Really a good knowledgeable resource for the beginner level as well as for expertise

  32. Great Article! We are in Hawaii and I must say … trying to make a break as a start up is very hard here considering the islands are a few years behind the social media trend. We do a lot of pro-bono work to help our clients understand the power of social media and in return get a more personal response from our clients about our services. Many clients start off with an impression of social media as “a monster with fangs that we don’t want to touch” and end-up being completely inspired and engaged. This is powerful … Now they are talking to all their friends and B2B. – @getsocialhi