What should you be paying your “Social Media Marketer”?

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Pay Sclae for social media marketers

[This post was first published in 2018, and it was last updated February 12, 2020.]

I’ve worked in online marketing for almost 10 years, offering social media services along with other design and engineering services at my consultancy.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What should I be paying my social media specialist?” or “What should I charge as a social media specialist?”

If you look at job postings for social media marketing, you’ll find everything from $10/hr intern positions to $250,000+ a year at startups in Silicon Valley.

That’s a pretty wide wage range, and it can be hard for non-marketers (or even a VP of Marketing) to know what to pay, and how to make sure the person they’ve hired knows what they’re talking about.

Below, you’ll find a quick and handy guide on the different “levels” of social media marketers. I hope that this information helps increase pay equity for social media managers!

Want to Start a Side Hustle as a Social Media Manager?

Check out my course, here. In it I distill a DECADE of experience working as a social media freelancer and hourly employee. I go over how to find and pitch potential clients, negotiate rates and maintain a great relationship with your clients.

Details here.

Educate Your Expectations: Freelancer vs. Employee

Before we get started, we need to be clear on whether the person you’re hiring is a freelancer or employee.

There are different laws and rules around hiring contractors, and you can’t (legally!) expect them to behave like an employee.

You will likely want to consult with your business attorney on hiring the right way, and I’ve shared the KEY differences below to help you manage this.

  • Do you want your SMM to respond to your communications within minutes of receiving them? That’s an employee! A freelancer gas full control over where they work and the work hours (source). Freelancers take on more risk as a 1099 contractor, and they often rationalize that risk by having a flexible work schedule.

If you expect your social media strategist to take your call at any hour and respond to emails/texts immediately, you need to educate your expectations!

Most freelancers will respond pretty quickly, but if you want 100% fast AF responses – you will likely be disappointed. Be sure to fully educate yourself on the differences between a freelancer, contractor and employee. You can start here.

Pre-Work Questions:

Answer these questions before moving forward, to see understand what you’re looking for:

  • What social media platforms do you want your SMM to manage? What about platforms like Yelp!?
  • Do you want the SMM to create original content for your brand? What types? (Blog, video, etc0
  • Do you want the SMM to RESOLVE customer complaints on social media, or hand them off to your support team?
  • Will the social media specialist be expected to handle influencer marketing partnerships?
  • Will the social media specialist also be responsible for email campaigns?
  • Does your social media manager need to know how to create their own graphics in Adobe Design Suite?
  • What ROI do you expect to see from your SMM?
  • How much do you know about social media marketing? Do you expect your hire to know everything (because you don’t) or follow strategy you create?

All right, let’s get started!!

Level 1: Intern Land ($15/hour)

I see a lot of “social media intern” job posts out there, and usually it’s because an organization doesn’t have budget for a seasoned social media or online marketer AND/OR they just don’t get the value of social media.

I totally get budget restraints, but just because someone is in their twenties doesn’t mean you should hand over your social media accounts to them — especially if they’re going to be gone in a few months.

But, if budget is tight, sometimes doing *something*on social media is better than nothing.

Be Real about What a Social Media Intern Can Do!!

An intern likely will not create any original content to share — they’re a curator and will share relevant links to other websites. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Who will manage your social media accounts after your intern leaves? You don’t want to have super active accounts and then have them take a nosedive because no one is posting.
  • Are you going to be dealing with customer service issues or complaints on social media (the answer is likely: YES). If so, make sure to have a script of responses/replies that are acceptable for an intern to use.
  • Are you okay with little to no sales or user acquisition from social media? Your intern is just getting their feet wet, and they likely won’t understand sales funnels or be able to use social media to get people to take any kind of action for your business.
  • Do you have time to vet everything an intern wants to post? Chances are, they’re not going to have the necessary experience to understand your brand (or how branding works), so they may want to post stuff that’s a little out in left field. For their first few weeks on the job, make sure they submit everything to you before posting — you don’t want them to cause a Social Media Incident online.

Wait, I Need to Pay My Social Media Intern??

While it may be tempting to underpay (or just, you know, NOT PAY an intern) this is a bad move. I can’t tell you the # of horror stories I’ve heard about an intern ghosting/fading away, because they didn’t have skin in the game. And those interns have taken social media logins with them.

Oh, dear.

Paying interns will save you legal fees. Federal laws have evolved greatly when it comes to non-paid internships – and the intern has to gain skills/info from the internship. “Ensure that internships benefit the interns, not the business.” (Source.)

Aaaaand, if you’re not super concerned about retaining interns or ethics, not paying your interns is inviting a PR Shit Storm. Companies are regularly dragged on social media for failing to pay their interns.

SO. You can pay a lawyer $250 per hour to defend you in court for violating labor laws, and/or a crisis PR manager a hefty retainer ($5,000+) to manage your media crisis on your poor company values.

Or, you know. Pay your MF interns.

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Level 2: Entry Level Social Media Specialist (Starting at $25ph regular employee, $50++ freelance)

A social media specialist is someone who has had 2–3 internships managing social media and maybe a part-time job. They can be a contract or salaried employee. Also, this rate is ballpark what virtual assistants (who only handle posting, not content creation) charge.

Sometimes, a social media specialist can create content (or manage freelancers who create blog posts and infographics), but their primary role is to engage with potential customers on social media, create a content calendar and track engagement.

No or Very Little Content Creation

This type of social media specialist is expected to use analytics to help the content creation team make better content. Someone at this pay range is NOT going to be able to look at analytics and construct a whole content strategy for a company, then execute on it.

[That’s the next level up.]

Their job is to post, engage with customers as much as possible and grow channels through their posts.

Questions to ask a candidate:

  • “What is the total number of users that followed all of your accounts at (x position?” (Or: “How big was the social media audience at ______ company?”)
  • Did you do any social media ads? What platforms did you use? How big was your budget?
  • What were the most popular/engaging social media accounts at (x company)?
  • How did you deal with an unhappy client/customer who complained on social media? (Or, if this isn’t relevant to their past positions, ask “How would you deal with an unhappy client/customer who complained on social media?”)

Uh Oh! Non-Equitable Pay ISSUE!

WARNING: This level of social media specialist is the most often underpaid. Some businesses place a low value on social media. Too often I see roles that ask for this list $12 per hour for a freelancer.

Y’all. AFter freelance taxes and business considerations, that means the freelancer is making below minimum wage. YIKES.

At minimum, this person should be making a living wage for their city!

Level 3: Online Marketing Specialist (Starting at $50 regular employee —$100++ hour, freelance)

Real talk: When people are looking to hire a “Social Media Specialist,” they’re actually looking to hire an online marketing specialist.

An online marketing specialist is able to create online marketing campaigns (including email, social media, blog posts, website copy, SEO, working with influencers, etc).

Another term for an online marketing specialist is “full stack marketer.” Basically, they should have knowledge of all online marketing efforts, including (but not limited to) social media. These are STRATEGISTS, who can holistically oversee your online following, your business needs and what content you have and should create.

From my experience, THIS is the level at which you’ll start really seeing ROI on social media.

Here are some questions to ask an online marketing specialist, in addition to the ones asked in Level 2:

  • How do you track ROI for online marketing campaigns?
  • What is your experience with Google Analytics?
  • What platform have you had the most success with when it comes to social media ads?
  • What do you use to create an online marketing calendar?

If the online marketing specialist understands how to use UTM tracking codes, Google Analytics, etc then they’ll be on the higher end of the hourly rate. These folks understand how to use data to make marketing decisions, which really separates them from the pack.

Level 4: Social Media Director (Starting at $800 regular employee —$150++ hour, freelance)

Does your business need a TEAM of people managing your marketing? Do you have writer(s), graphic designers, video creators, etc?

At that point, you’re looking for a marketing manager or “Social Media Director.” This person has direct-reports, hires contractors (or employees) and is driving the ship to make social media as powerful as it can be.

A Level 3 person can often manage a few vendors or freelancers, but if you’ve got a whole team of people in “Social Media Land” – this is the type of person you’re likely gonna need.

  • What types of skills do you look for in creative hires?
  • Have you ever had to fire someone? How did that work?
  • Have you directed content creation across channels? What did that look like?
  • From what you know about our company, which social media platform do you think is our most valuable?
  • How do you measure ROAS on (list platforms).

Another Level: Social Media Ads Specialist ($$$$$)

Oftentimes, a social media ads specialist is a separate job or title from social media marketer. Their job is to take content already made, and create ads to drive people to your website. They have a proven track record on ROI from their ads campaigns, etc.

Content First Marketing

Here’s the thing. People are usually willing to drop bucko bucks on an ads specialist, but their efficacy will be quite limited if your organic content/posting isn’t in order.

Generally, Two Brain Types

Sometimes, a marketing specialist and an ads specialist is the same person! But generally, thinking about ads and planning organic content/community building are separate jobs. These two roles work closely together (successful ads informing the type of organic content to create, and creating organic content to test new ad audiences).

In my opinion, the best way to vet an ads specialist is to see screenshots from past campaigns and talk to previous clients/employers. You may have to sign an NDA.

Paying an Social Media Ads Specialist

Ranges can vary, but generally an ads specialist will charge a base rate (starting at around $1,000 USD), plus a % of your ad budget or a commission on products sold through ads.. This way they are incentivized to make your ads better and better!

Example #1: Let’s say your budget for ads only is $5,000. An ads specialist may charge a percentage of that on top of their retainer. If ads are doing well and you decide to increase your budget, they get a cut!

Example #2: Let’s say your ads specialist makes your company $10,000 (not including your initial ads investment). They may charge a % on that, say 10%. That means your net is $9,000.

Want to Start a Side Hustle as a Social Media Manager?

Check out my course, here. In it I distill a DECADE of experience working as a social media freelancer and hourly employee. I go over how to find and pitch potential clients, negotiate rates and maintain a great relationship with your clients.

Details here.

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