The evolution of social media starting from its inception in the 1990s, to today, serves as a prime example of how much the media industry as a whole has transformed. From the business model behind these platforms, to how much our own needs as humans have fundamentally changed hand-in-hand with the growth of social media. These changes to social media over the past 30 years have not only impacted users, but have altered the internal operations of social media platforms. Specifically, the various technological improvements and leaps in AI that have transpired throughout the last few years have created a very different social media experience than originally known. These improvements and changes in experience have benefitted users, consumers, and businesses, but more importantly, have emphasized the need for the “new” role of a Social Media Manager.
Let’s first talk about the most obvious change throughout history: the invention of the smartphone. Maryville University says it perfectly: “The invention of the smartphone liberated social media from the desktop and laptop computer. Apple’s first iPhone, launched by Steve Jobs in 2007, helped shift the focus of online community building to mobile. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media services thrived in the mobile app environment. Technological improvements — specifically, powerful in-phone cameras — shifted the focus of mobile apps to video and images. In addition to written messages, end users could now broadcast in real time.” This one invention significantly changed the role of social media managers, providing a sort of “enlightenment period” for how we as humans interact with one another on a global scale. The capability to operate solely through the use of a singular hand-held device has enabled and empowered social media managers to expand their roles, as the capacity to constantly be on the go but still in touch with their work is priceless. Personally, I view the smartphone as the tipping point in social media history; It generated the need for businesses to designate an employee/team specifically to social media operations, and create the “brand” or “image” that their consumers would come to recognize and know.
Other obvious changes throughout social media history can be noted every time a new social media platform is introduced to the world. Every social media platform has something different to offer and is tailored to a different demographic. Our World in Data emphasizes that “the aggregate numbers mask a great deal of heterogeneity across platforms — some social media sites are much more popular than others among specific population groups.” The differences between social media platforms that cater to specific population groups present a unique challenge to social media managers. The variation in target demographics require today’s social media managers to not just understand who these various demographics are, but how to effectively communicate and reach these desired audiences. .
The most important change to note for social media managers is the evolution of its job description. Social media managers are no longer just responsible for posting on a couple of social media platforms or understanding a few metrics, “now social media [is] a blend of customer service, education, outreach and something completely new, conversation.” Social media managers have become the leaders in most online conversations, and they provide the voice of reason for companies and their “brand”. The changes in job descriptions have given these media professionals more responsibility than ever before.
Because of all of these changes over the past couple of years, social media has turned into less of the sidekick and more of the “main character”. We see changes in the executive suite, as pretty much every Fortune 500 company now has a Chief Operations Officer, who oversees entire departments dedicated to PR, Marketing, and Social media. Social media managers now have more credibility than ever, because their job descriptions require them to know more than just creating content for a singular platform. Considering social media is the main character, it needs a few sidekicks to help with its character development. Social media managers need to know how to navigate every single social media platform (the main character) along with being able to create content, prioritize analytics, write, market, and be up to date with the trends literally 24/7 (the sidekicks).
The social media industry has positively changed over the years for the benefit of social media managers. These media professionals are required to know more about a brand than any other employee which make them well-rounded, powerful, and relevant. Honestly, what do social media managers not do? Social media managers are no longer an accessory to a company— Social media managers are now a necessity. I can’t wait to see what crazy qualification is needed in order to become a social media manager in the future, and I’m excited to watch the evolution of social media managers continue, along with the growth of the industry as a collective whole.