Are social media pros underpaid?

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According to a recent survey by CIO magazine, the median salary for a social media professional is $ 43,400.

The median pay for social media pros at companies with fewer than 100 employees is $ 40,900, while the median pay for pros at companies with more than 1,000 employees is $ 58,400.

That sounds low, doesn’t it?

Even the $ 58,400 figure sounds low. Remember, that figure includes big companies like Coca-Cola, Intel and Google.

I’m probably not the best judge of salary; I haven’t been in the workforce for five years. But I talk to a lot of people, and I help a lot of people find jobs. (It’s one of my side projects.) I even have a few recruiter friends I talk to from time to time. But I just can’t get over how low those numbers sound.

Social media and digital skills are in high demand right now, especially if you’re a more senior professional (10-plus years of experience).

Every time a friend or colleague calls me looking for someone who’s digitally savvy and has more than 10 years of experience, I cringe. I know there aren’t that many good people who possess that experience—at least near me in Minneapolis. And those who do have that experience are in high demand.

Let’s look at two examples:

Five years ago, Chuck was a manager at a PR firm in Cleveland called Dix & Eaton. Since Chuck was an early social adopter and had a keen interest in analytics, he was inherently marketable. Now he’s the executive director of analytics for Golin Harris, one of the more prominent PR firms in the country. I have no idea how much money Chuck makes, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s a lot more than the median for large companies ($ 58,400).

Six years ago, Sean was a communications associate at a firm called Otoka Energy. After a couple of jobs—one was on Target’s social media team—Sean is now the director of digital marketing for JC Penney. Again, I have no idea how much money Sean makes in his current role, but I’m thinking it’s more than $ 58,400.

I could provide countless examples of people whose careers skyrocketed in the last four to six years due to their background, interest and talent in social media and digital marketing.

I know there are many people with jobs far lower than Chuck and Sean’s positions. I get that. But given the huge demand for social media jobs (which I’m not sure anyone can refute), the $ 40,900-$ 58,400 median figures seem low.

There are a few reasons why they aren’t higher:

There’s an emphasis on junior-level positions: Since social media is a fairly new discipline, junior-level hires were organizations’ first priority. Now we’re seeing more senior-level social media positions, but we’re also seeing social media being built into other job functions, like PR, marketing and marketing communications.

Social media is still a new discipline: Social media is still relatively new, which means its pay scale is probably a bit lower than it should be.

Companies don’t understand the pay scale: Since social media is so new, many companies simply don’t know what to pay. Of course they’ll err on the low side.

Mine is just one opinion. So, I thought I’d ask someone who might know more about recruiting than I do—my friend Paul DeBettignies. Here’s what he had to say:

“Are Social Media folks underpaid? Yes and no. A LOT of folks flooded into this space over these past years and there is no barrier to entry. Many call themselves a Social Media Strategist because they have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile that has the title. So if you are an employer… you have A LOT of options. If who you really want to hire will not accept $ 80K for your job frankly, someone else will. That puts downward pressure on salaries. If I were a Social Media practitioner and I have results (case studies), that is what I am leading with. I am going to show how I increased revenue, engagement and (enter other buzzwords here) so that an employer can then decide if they want someone with a proven track record or just someone who Tweets a lot.”

What do you think? Are social media professionals underpaid?

Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations

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