Social Media Directors a Burgeoning Career Field

Teachers, firefighters, engineers and federal bureaucrats may be staring down the barrel of a loaded gun as budgets are slashed and jobs are eliminated, but one sector of government employees is enjoying significant growth: social media directors.  

According to Government Technology, from Gracie Mansion to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, young digital natives are being hired by governments both small and large as state and local agencies struggle to keep up with Web 2.0 trends and information consumption by the public on social media.

Case in point: Oak Park, Illinois. The town of 52,000 has been on Twitter and Facebook for four years, and social media has become an integrated part of their communications strategy. The city also has a YouTube channel, but its primary communications are via tweets and posts.

"We thought that if the importance is really to communicate with the community, then that means being able to use the same tools that the community is relying on for information," Oak Park communications director David Powers said in an interview with Gov Tech's Elaine Pittman.

The dedicated point woman in charge of Oak Park's social media efforts is Leslie Boehms. Born in 1983--the same year that ARPANET officially switched over to TCP/IP and GPS became officially available for civilian use--the 29 year-old Boehms is one of a recent spate of Gen Yers in government service to be employed officially as a social media manager. In her official capacity as social media maven, it is her job to coordinate Oak Park's media message on Facebook and Twitter.

 It also helps that she's a bit of an addict herself.

"I went from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook," She said. "So I've always been kind of immersed in social media."

Her official title is social media director, but unofficially, she is a go-between between social media and local government agencies looking to answer constituent's questions.

Like many of her fellow social media mavens, Boehms is a refugee from the print media world, whose declines in circulation--and reluctance to fully embrace the power of the Internet--has caused thousands of would-be journalists and writers to stake claims on the digital frontier as they struggle to build a reputable career online.  Those who manage to avoid the slings and arrows that social media can dish out can make a handsome career managing social media, either in the private sector or the public sector.

According to Payscale.com, a successful social media manager can make anywhere from $28,000 to $64,000 a year depending on their location and which sector they work in. For those at the upper tier of the income bracket, the pay is as much as $100,000 dollars a year if in the federal government and the Metroc Washington D.C. area.

Social media isn't just a medium for small towns like Oak Park.  One of the pioneers in adopting social media for government use lies further up the road. Chicago, with its magnificent skyscrapers and big city attitude, was one of the first to coordinate several social media accounts at once (each city department has their own separate account). With everyone from the Mayor's Office, the tourism department and even the Department of Families and Social Services on social media, making sure everyone is on the same page is no small feat.

As in Oak Park, the person in charge of making all of that work is young, bright and steeped in social media. At 28, Kevin Hauswirth is Boehm's contemporary.  But rather than just sitting at a laptop and tweeting, Hauswirth is using social media to create connections outside the digital world. Using social media to facilitate workshops and discussion groups for the various departments, Hauswirth meets regularly with representatives from the Chicago Public Schools and the Transit Authority to help them craft a buzz-worthy social media strategy.

"The best practices are coming out of shared common knowledge of what is working and what is not working," he said. "It's really less about the technology and more about the relationships--that's really what we're working on."

At the federal level, there are currently 21 positions requiring social media skills advertised on USAjobs.gov, the federal government's job board run by Monster Inc. The highest paying of these is a Supervisory Communications Specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which pays up to $155,000 a year and requires to applicant to "have knowledge of communications tools and techniques, including online communications, video production, and social media."

In a tough job market where employment is still unstable, jobs like the one at NOAA are sure to attract hundreds, if not thousands of candidates, provided of course they are willing to spend the extra time on the more complicated government applications.

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