There are a lot of social media strategists around. I know and like quite a few of them. The trouble is, this role can be viewed as a canvas for the ad industry's struggle to capture and define its own evolution.
The main problem with all roles revolving around social media is the limited (and limiting) career path. Just imagine: one can be a community manager; then a senior community manager, than a director of community management, and then ... what? Narrow specialization prevents this person from both assuming a higher managerial role (as he/she doesn't have the necessary breadth of expertise in leading multi-disciplinary teams) and from playing a more important client-facing role (since he/she can't help client with a broader brand and business strategy).
It's inherent in the role that people assuming it will inevitably, sooner or later, move onto something else. But how? Being pidgeon-holed by their tactical tool belt, social media strategists despite their title, rarely get to actually do very little strategy. In the unfortunate agency process, they come in once insights have already been formed and ideas have already took shape. But it's not only the process to blame: the social media people, themselves, are hardly able to bring to table brand and consumer insights in a way that planners do.
So what's to do? It would be wrong to say that any specialization is undesirable. It's only tactical, and not strategic specialization that sucks (think Flash designers).
Advertising strategists have the most diverse backgrounds, interests, skills and knowledge and these - if formulated as a specific strength within a wider context of understanding digital behaviors - can prove to be invaluable areas of specialization. But specializations we talk about are those like digital branding, e-commerce, gaming, digital communication, or behavioral economics. These are vast, dynamic areas, and they don't suffer from the danger of becoming obsolete when some new tool or tactic or behavior shows up.
And right there - in posing the problem as a challenge of understanding digital behaviors - is the possible way out. Viewed in this context, social media become the question of interactions, interpersonal and group dynamics, influence and movements. The catch is to redefine the specialization not in terms of social media, but in terms of social behaviors.
Because, social media strategy that starts from behaviors is never going to become obsolete. We only have to ask how social media makes our consumers' behaviors more informed, more fun, or better. Will placing customer service on Twitter achieve our brand's goal? Will activating community achieve it? Or, should we use social media for advertising? The answers - and the tactics selected - all depend on what behavior we want to modify.
The way for social media strategists of today to survive is to start thinking less about the toolset they have on their disposal, and more about the social dynamics they are trying to create or influence. My bet is that it will become easier for them to operate on the strategic level, to envision the path to brand and business objectives, and to advance their career path further.