How to become a Social Media Specialist in 3 steps

Turning an internship into a paid role

Learn why now is the perfect time to get your career started as a social media specialist

If you’re considering a career in social media as a marketing specialist, social media strategist or social media manager - now is the perfect time to get started.

The average amount of time spent on social media in Australia has grown by estimates of 30% or more in the past year alone

Worldwide, 3.23 billion people visited a social network regularly during 2020. That number will reach 3.35 billion this year and then 4.1 billion by 2025.

Of 300 international brands recently surveyed, the majority will be increasing their investment in advertising on popular platforms in 2021. These companies are going to be seeking fresh talent to design and run their new campaigns. 

It’s time to start thinking about what unique social media skills you can develop to kick-start your career in this high-growth sector.

Firstly, let’s clear up a few basic questions. 

What is a social media specialist?

With all the different social media titles out there, this field can be a little confusing. 

Social media manager, community manager, social media strategist, content developer and social media specialist: these are just some of the most common positions you’ll see advertised. 

Although there are differences between these roles, there is also a lot of overlap - and sometimes titles are used interchangeably. To clarify, you can check out a complete guide to these job titles here.

As a social media specialist, it’s your job to creatively grow your brand’s social media presence while regularly assessing the ongoing effectiveness of your strategy. You will wear a lot of hats, provide regular feedback and collaborate across departments to ensure the success of your campaign. 

In this role, you will typically be expected to:
Develop, design and implement social media marketing strategy
Define the most important social media key performance indicators (KPIs)
Work with copywriters and designers to ensure content is appealing and on brand 
Create and administer new content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms 
Build new audiences and engage with customers
Analyse data and monitor site metrics according to your KPIs
Oversee the management of online communities
Monitor search engine optimisation (SEO) and user engagement and suggest content optimisation
Use social media management tools, such as Buffer, Loomly and Hootsuite

The role of a social media specialist often cuts across that of a social media strategist, who also develops social media strategies, creates content, manages platforms and measures success against KPIs. 

With a specialist’s skill set you will be just as comfortably equipped to apply for strategist positions. 

In fact, as a specialist you will effectively be taking on each of these common social media roles in turn - according to the needs of your brand.

Employers often rely on social media specialists to fulfil a broad variety of tasks, and they expect flexibility. You will need to equip yourself with diverse range of competencies and become a master of all things social media.

Social media specialist career prospects and salary

In a recent survey, 300 senior marketing executives working for global brands were asked about their current and future engagement with social media marketing. 

According to the results, in 2021: 76% of brands will increase advertising spending on Facebook, 44% will up their Twitter spending and 38% will spend more on Instagram marketing. More investment means more jobs this coming year in an already growing field

According to analysis by, the role of social media manager (which encompasses specialists, according to their definition) will experience 21.7% jobs growth in Australia over the next five years. In addition, their data shows that:
The average salary for this position is AUD$80,000 
The average job satisfaction rating is 4.5 out of 5
People who work in these positions commonly study marketing, advertising or public relations.

How to become a social media specialist in three steps 

1. Upskill 

As a social media specialist, you need to have skills ranging from the creative all the way to the technical. You need to understand how to use social media platforms and data analytics programs, but you also need to understand people, use intuition and think creatively. 

Here are some of the top skills you’re going to need
Storytelling and writing
Strong visual and design aesthetics
Community management
Trend awareness
Strong understanding of popular platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok
Determining KPIs
Data analytics
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
Targeted social media advertising
Time management skills
Creative problem solving
Teamwork and team management
Empathy, cultural awareness and emotional intelligence
Social media management tools 

You need to learn these core skills one way or another. If you’re already competent across many of these skills, you could fill in any gaps in your knowledge with a short course, on the job, or through self-teaching. 

If, however, you don’t have any knowledge of core topics, such as data analytics, consumer behaviour or marketing strategy, a degree in business, communications or marketing could be an essential investment for your career. 

For example, the Bachelor of Business (Marketing) at Torrens University Australia (TUA) offers subjects essential to a social media specialist, including:
Marketing Strategy
Digital Marketing Communications
Audience Research
Customer Experience Management

Of course, every situation is unique and nobody else can tell you whether or not you need to commit to a degree, in order to get the skills you need. I urge you to do a lot of research before you decide, and don’t be afraid to ask others for advice.

If you’re unsure, you may want to contact your potential education provider to find out what flexible options they have. Reach out to a social media professional on LinkedIn or through your networks, and ask them questions about how they got to where they are. 

You may find this discussion between three social media professionals a helpful starting point. 

2. Get some real world experience

If you’re interested in social media as a career, you’re likely to already be a passionate user of multiple platforms. That’s great, because you’re already self-teaching simply by doing. 

However, operating your own Instagram – even if you have a lot of followers – is quite a different scenario from developing and implementing a social media strategy for an organisation. The more experience you can get working on bigger projects with other people, the better. 

The two main ways of getting experience are volunteering or organising an internship. 

Volunteering is perfect for beginners.

There are plenty of non-profit organisations, arts events, festivals, sports clubs, local community organisations or charities that rely on volunteers.

Many of these organisations offer volunteer opportunities to less experienced students or young people interested in managing their social media accounts. This is a great way to get experience while doing something good for society. 

Look online at volunteering websites, check out your local council website or get into contact with an organisation or charity directly.

Getting an internship should also be at the top of your priority list. 

Not only is an internship a great way to learn on the job, it’s good for growing your networks and can lead to a paid position.

If you’re already studying or considering studying, one of the best ways to organise an internship is through your education provider. Before you choose an institution, make sure they have an active internship program in partnership with reputable companies or organisations.. 

I’ve seen many of my students graduate into permanent roles through the internships they’ve secured as part of the TUA Business Internship Program. I can tell you, it’s been well worth it for those who’ve done it. 

If you’re not studying and can’t access an internship program, you can also organise your own internship independently. Here are a few tips on how to get started with that

3. Build up your digital portfolio

Your digital portfolio is where you get to demonstrate your talents and successes. Having an impressive one will be key to getting the work you want.

Because social media is online and potentially can be viewed by anyone, you are in a unique position to show employers directly what you’ve achieved. 
However, you also don’t want to flood your prospective employer with a portfolio linking to the endless feeds of twenty different social media accounts. 

You need to create a digital portfolio that curates and explains succinctly the work it links to online. 

Rather than just providing the Instagram handles of accounts you’ve managed, your portfolio needs to explain the campaign strategy behind those accounts and what it achieved, while also including great visuals and compelling stories. 

Creative Circle offers five tips on how to do this:
Use screenshots to capture your best content so you can present it well, without using links.
Organise your information by campaign, and use metrics to demonstrate each campaign’s effectiveness.
Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of data analytics.
Include screenshots of smaller digital side-tasks that show you have broad competencies.
Lay it out simply and cleanly, either in a PDF or using a portfolio website (such as Squarespace, Wix, Coroflot, Cargo Collective or Carbonmade) and pay strong attention to visual appeal. 

Whether you’re managing a volunteer account to gain experience, posting to your personal social media or building your own projects online, keep this in mind: nothing on the internet really ever goes away. 

A social media specialist must have a flawless social media presence. Your employers will be Googling you and your work, so beat them to it. Google yourself and your campaigns first and delete anything that doesn’t make you look the best possible candidate. 

Once you’ve developed a fantastic digital portfolio, you can begin applying for social media jobs. Or, perhaps you might start a career as a freelance consultant. Whatever the social media specialist career of your dreams may be, you’re ready to make it happen. 

Justin Pierce, Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability at Torrens University Australia (TUA).

See here for more information on the courses in Business on offer, or the Bachelor of Business (Marketing) at TUA.

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