April is Communications month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career and Alumni Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s communications experts to examine career and industry trends, and provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this fast-paced industry.
Recently, UMUC Director of Social Media Rebecca Foss answered questions about career trends and opportunities in social media. During her 15 year career, Foss has worked on both the client and agency sides of marketing. She has been involved with championing social media marketing and integration for businesses since the early stages of the medium’s existence in 2007. Having worked at GEICO Insurance for almost ten years, she launched its social media presence and developed a unified inter-departmental team to ensure the company was on-brand and cohesive across all social channels. In addition to social media, Rebecca has experience with brand and entertainment marketing, developing promotional partnerships with major studios and networks including Disney Motion Picture Studios and HBO. Her experience in marketing and communications includes a working knowledge of multiple media executions allowing her to approach marketing and communications holistically, focusing on the consumer journey.
Q: With the advent and explosion of social media really over the last decade, how is it changing the communications industry?
A. Social media has made everything more instantaneous. Not only has social media made an impact on the way people communicate with one another, the impact is also seen in media, entertainment, public relations and businesses in regard to marketing and customer service. People can get their news quickly—and pass it along immediately. Social media is a very powerful tool for consumers as well, especially when dealing with businesses. Consumers now have an expectation of being responded to very quickly by making their questions public, and this has really upped the ante for businesses being on top of listening to the conversation around their brand.
Q. For such a relatively new field, what can UMUC students entering the social media field do before graduation to garner work experience? How important is it for them to have experience prior to graduation for them to stand out amongst their competition?
A. Understand that social media shouldn’t be in a silo in any organization. Having other public relations, communications, and marketing skills will help. As a student taking classes, if you decide that social media is something you wish to specialize in, gaining some experience prior to graduation will help.
The one thing employers are looking for in this field is experience. For students who are currently working, whether at a small business or a large company, ask to become involved your current employer’s social media program. Working on social content, community management, or specific campaigns will help you gain some experience. Some smaller businesses may not have a social presence—volunteer to help create one! If you cannot get your foot in the door at your current employer, look at your network of friends, colleagues, and family members. Does anyone you know have a small business that might need help with a social media plan? Volunteer to help create something. This is another great way to gain experience.
Q. For UMUC students and alumni who are professionals currently working in other communications fields but want to transition into social media, what additional education, certification or training should they pursue to help them strengthen their skill sets?
A. If you’re already working in the communications industry, you’re at an advantage. Social media is much more than simple community management. Understanding how people respond to brands is important. The social media recipe is part PR, part marketing, part customer service, a dash of psychology, a heap of creativity, and all communications. There is no absolute “right” way to do it, but you can certainly recognize when companies are not doing it right.
Transitioning to work in social media can happen over time or very quickly, depending on the responsibilities of your current job. I would give the same advice as above. Look at ways to get involved within your current employer. Also, many companies are looking for people that have a variety of skills. You might see a job listed for a Communications or Marketing Manager at smaller companies that look for many qualifications of which social media might be one. Getting your foot in the door based on your current experience while adding social media to your portfolio of skills can be a good way to transition. After gaining more experience, you can look for a more specialized social media position.
Q. As the director of social media, how do you stay current with all the changing media as it relates to your job?
A. It’s hard to believe it, but social media platforms have been around for a while now. Businesses really started getting involved in social media right around 2006, so we’re at the ten- year mark. In the beginning, no one really knew which platforms would last and there are more social media platforms today than people can keep up with. Everyone working in social media has different ways of keeping up with the trends. I read industry blogs and sites to see what people working in the field have to say and follow Twitter to see what most people are talking about. I remember when there was talk about Facebook going away. I don’t think that’s happening—at least not in the foreseeable future. But the audience has certainly changed over the past twelve years since its launch. Now, Twitter seems to be in trouble. It can be hard to keep up with all the news.
One thing to remember is to be aware of who your audience is so that you can keep up with the news about the platforms they gravitate toward. If your business caters to Baby Boomers or Gen X, Facebook and Twitter are great platforms. Baby Boomers and Gen X look to these platforms a bit differently and really gravitate to Twitter for news and business purposes. Surprisingly, millennials don’t use Twitter as much, but they do use Instagram, and Tumblr. For professional purposes, there’s a mix of people using LinkedIn and millennials are looking to connect with Boomers and Gen X on this platform. And if your business is targeting Gen Z (loosely defined as those born since 1995), platforms like Snapchat should be considered. People of this generation tend to like images more than text and are a bit more selective about what they post than millennials. It’s a lot to keep up with, so knowing your audience is key.
Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share for UMUC students and alumni looking to enter the social media field? Why is now an exciting time to enter this profession?
A. It’s important to remember that first and foremost, social media platforms are communications platforms and the platforms can come and go. Social media is more than just the platform being used. It is a way in which people connect and communicate online. Understand that you are entering a field that should really be integrated into most business practices. Working in social media means working across many different functions in a business and collaborating with many different people. It’s exciting because it’s not just about one thing. It’s not just about generating leads or sales, creating content, answering consumer questions or reporting news. It’s about connecting with your audience on many levels, engaging with them, providing them information that will be of value to them. And like any relationship you have, it takes two-way communication.
Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share for UMUC students and students currently working in social media?
A. Get involved in understanding all aspects of your company. You will likely face many challenges of colleagues in other areas of the company not understanding how social media could possibly play a role in what they do. Look for ways to bring these things to life. You could be sitting in a meeting with the accounting team and realize they have all gotten together to run a charity race, which could be worth sharing. Look at the people in your organization and how they can relate or connect to your audience. These are the types of things that work especially well in social media. Tell your company’s story and engage with your company’s audience as opposed to only asking for something. Every company and brand is different, just as every relationship is different.
For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here. Please check out the additional Careers in Communications content by clicking here.
Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career and Alumni Services at University of Maryland University College. She has spent career crafting communications strategies and messaging using both marketing and public relations tactics to enhance the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.