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
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.