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Social Anxiety

The social media manager has a key role for many brands. But can he or she really be called a marketer?
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On a humid night in late July, more than 100 social media managers flooded into a downtown Manhattan workspace—but pizza, beer and rubbing elbows with peers weren’t all that was on the menu. In a packed room with all the folding chairs spoken for, some stood for two hours to get schooled in the secrets of social media success from Pinterest and Instagram marketing gurus.

Social media managers who represent brands on leading social platforms are often called dedicated. It’s other labels that are more controversial.

Whether or not social media managers can rightly be called marketers sparked some debate on Twitter this summer, pitting digital veterans against digital natives. The way the more seasoned pros look at it, a youthful knack for Facebook and a South by Southwest badge do not necessarily a marketer make.

Don’t tell that to Liz Eswein, who, as the 23-year-old co-founder of The Mobile Media Lab, works on Instagram-based projects for brands such as Evian. “I totally consider myself to be a marketer,” Eswein says. “It’s my livelihood. I feel like since I grew up in the digital age that I’ve been engulfed in it, and I know the space in and out.

“I was on Facebook when it first came out,” she adds. “I haven’t had to learn these communications, whereas someone of an older generation has to learn how to use these things.”

Ms. Eswein, meet Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, who has worked in the digital space since 1997. “Being a paid social media staffer doesn’t mean you are a professional marketer,” he says. “I don’t want to belittle the role of the online community manager because they are important. But that call and response isn’t leading up to greater marketing goals. It’s meant to get more comments and likes on Facebook.”

Kevin Doohan, a Web marketing director since 1997 for brands including ConAgra and Red Bull, agrees with Schafer. While some compare social media managers to marketers, Doohan says, “They are absolutely different functions. It is not the same people at all.”

Yet that argument gets some social media managers—who spend much of their time tamping out consumer flame-ups on Facebook and Twitter—hot under the collar.

“To me, that’s totally ridiculous,” says Dave Brown, director of digital strategy at MKG.

Brown’s perspective is instructive. After all, he doesn’t fit the stereotype of the recent college grad who wants to post and tweet for a living.

The 36-year-old has been a digital pro for more than a decade and is something of leader among New York-based social media managers. He helped organize the aforementioned meet-up, which is a monthly event.

Illustrations: Alex Fine

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