What It's Really Like to Work in Social Media

Careers in social media are picking up as more and more companies strive to build online reputations and relationships with their customers. Many creative and internet-savvy millennials want–or at least think they want–a career in social media. Today, we’re going behind the scenes to see what it’s really like and how you can get your foot in the door working in a social media position.

Gina Oursler, a GenTwenty co-founder, has several years experience working in social media. She has written articles and managed social media for GenTwenty, Bayside Bride, and What’s Up Magazine, among others. Gina has spent the last year and a half serving IKEA as their Social Media Specialist–the first position of its kind at the international retailer.

Below, Gina discusses what it is really like to work in social media, common misconceptions, and why getting online is so important.


GenTwenty: When you were looking for a career out of college, did you set out to work in social media or was it something you stumbled into?

Gina Oursler: When I was looking for jobs after I graduated I looked for anything and everything in my field. My degree is in communications so I had a pretty broad spectrum of what I could have looked for. I looked for social media, writing jobs, anything that I had the skill set for, but I liked social media the best out of anything I had done. I had done it at internships before, and it was something that had stuck with me.

G20: What is a day in the life of a Social Media Specialist?

GO: It’s funny — it’s the same every day but also not. Basically in my position I monitor and answer anything that comes along on IKEA’s national social media handles. I always say, “It’s never a dull moment.”

G20: So you’re on Twitter and Facebook, but not actually just on Twitter and Facebook?

GO: It’s always funny when I have to describe what I do because whenever I say “I work in social media,” people say things like, “Oh so you you just sit on Twitter and Pinterest all day.” But that’s not true. I don’t just browse through newsfeeds all day. It’s the most interesting job I’ve ever had. Social media is very broad.

G20: How is your position as a Social Media Specialist different from a Social Media Strategist?

GO: How we operate, and from my understanding a lot of companies operate this way, I work with our marketing department who works with media agencies who help us with our content and make recommendations based on our analytics. I report a lot of data in my position, like how quickly we respond, how many complaints we have on a certain day. It can be very detailed.

In our company, there are many different roles that deal with social media, but we only have one official social media position which is my job, but I do work with other people within our company.

G20: How much of the content planning are you responsible for?

GO: Our content marketing team works with strategists to plan our content. It’s all planned out months in advance. I create some content for one of our Twitter handles and write blog posts, so eventually I would like to be involved in that process more.

G20: What other stereotypes have you come across as someone who works in social media?

GO: Well there’s the big one – that we just sit on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest all day.

But also as someone in my twenties who is fairly young—I’m only 24—I like to think of myself as mature but a lot of people who don’t understand what my position is tend to think I don’t work as hard. It kind of goes back to the first stereotype, people don’t think that social media is a “hard” job. They don’t think it requires attention to detail. Being in my twenties and working in social media is almost a strike against me when people look in from the outside because they don’t understand what social media really is and the many parts that go into it.

G20: How much customer service would you say is involved in working in social media?

GO: That’s an aspect of my position, but it’s much more than that. If I had to put my job in a department, I’m not even sure where I would put it. I do the customer service part of things in responding to people. But there’s also the PR part, the marketing aspect, and the communications element is always there. It doesn’t just fit in one bin.

G20: Business owners are starting to catch on to how social media can help your business. A misconception is that being active on social media accounts will drive direct results to your business but that’s not the case. What do you think about the idea that having social media won’t necessarily help your business, but not having it will hurt it?

GO: I agree. Not having social media, no matter how big or small you are, is a bad thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t care about your customers, but it shows you don’t really have the skill set to do it. Fake it and find someone who does – or who will offer to help you get off the ground for free!

On another front, I don’t think I’ve ever had a company reply to my tweets which makes me really sad. But I did have gluten-free post a few weeks ago and a gluten-free blog favorited it and that made me happy.

When we engage with people in a positive sense, people notice that and they like it. It’s good for your brand to show that you’re not a robot, but that you’re personable and listening. People like when you pay attention to all of the details.

Social media never stops and in such a big company, it is extremely difficult to keep track of our volume but I do read the majority of posts and comments we receive.

Interacting via social media is a way for people to know that your brand cares and doesn’t want to make your life difficult but are there to provide you with what you need as a consumer.

G20: It’s a great way to connect with your audience or customers and build a relationship.

GO: Absolutely. Actually this month my co-worker and I have been giving a brand presentation to our stores across the country. We want to make people aware that our brand is important and that things we say or don’t say have an impact on our relationship with our customers.

People don’t think their favorite brand will write them back. We want people to know that we’re listening.

G20: When you first started working in social media, what was your training like? Were you nervous to misrepresent the brand online?

GO: Oh, yes. When I started, I had previous social media experience so I understood the basics and I was confident. But I didn’t want to mess anything up, or say something I wasn’t supposed to say. Probably my first month and a half I sent a daily email to our lead social media person with questions. Eventually I got into a groove and now I’m very comfortable with knowing what to say and what not to say.

Naturally there are sensitive issues that we can’t address, but when I first jumped in I didn’t want to misrepresent such a big, global company in a public venue.

G20: That’s a good point. Even though the world might not know it’s you personally responding, working in social media is a very public position.   

GO: When I first started, I wasn’t responding to anything myself. I spent about a month and a half training and getting to know IKEA. I remember after one of my first meetings with my current position, a marketing exec told me I had the most important job in the company. That definitely made me a little nervous.

G20: For someone looking for a job in social media, what advice can you offer?

GO: Make sure it’s something that you really want to do. If you’re actively seeking a job in social media, keep practicing your skills. Seek out social media internships and get to know the basics. The more skills you have, the better off you’ll be. Social media is a fast-paced, creative industry and you need to be adaptable.

If you’re not ambitious or open to change, you probably don’t want a job in social media. I never have the same day, it’s always different. It’s time consuming.

Essentially social media is another form of creative writing so try to get experience where you can. Write blog posts, manage your own social media – it all counts and it all adds up to give you a strong background.

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GenTwenty would like to extend a special thanks to Gina for giving her time and sharing her experiences with us.