Social Media Manager: What's It Worth To Your Association?

Lately there's been a big buzz about a newly-created Manager, Social Media position at the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Judging by the number of people blogging, tweeting or otherwise talking about it, I can only imagine how many resumes are flying into NAR.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm nosy, particularly about people's salaries. What can I say--I like to know how much money people make. And, in particular, I like to know how much money there is to be made in any given job.

Naturally, the only mention of salary in the NAR social media manager position is "competitive salary." My question is: competitive with what? How are associations going to benchmark these newly-created positions? Would they be on par with a communications/pr specialist? Or will associations consider the person managing social media to be part of IT or web? Are they envisioning hiring recent college grads who are, presumably, most familiar with social media concepts and tools, or are they going to want seasoned communications (or marketing or web or membership) professionals who have a passion for social media?

While I don't know the answers to these questions, I do know that there is a fair amount of information out there about what private industry is paying social media or community managers. As of the time I'm writing this post, Salary.com says the median expected salary for a typical Community Relations Manager is $80,218. Connie Bensen, community strategist at Network Solutions, blogged about the results of a survey of community manager salaries. The upshot? The average salary was $81,000 with a median of $72,500.

Many (most?) companies, however, haven't gotten to the point where they're hiring community or social media managers. Good news for social media consultants, who, according to Marshall Kirkpatrick on ReadWriteWeb, command rates starting at $150 an hour and going as high as $2,000-$4,000 per engagement (engagement, he describes, translates to 20-40 hours per month).

How will these numbers translate as associations benchmark their new social media manager/specialist/strategist/coordinator positions? Will the position be on par with a Communications/PR/Public Affairs Specialist: $72,000 (according to ASAE's 2006 salary report)? Or will it be classified as a lower-level position, with a lower salary?

In the long run, of course, only time will tell how important social media becomes to associations and, therefore, how much the people who fill those roles are worth. If it turns out that social media efforts meet or exceed predictions in terms of increased member engagement, retention rates and revenue, then obviously the position will be more highly valued. If it turns out (God forbid!) that the haters were actually right and social media is a mere flash in the pan that will ultimately not yeild any tangible results, the position will either be eliminated entirely or relegated to the lower ranks, staff-wise.

But where does that leave the association that's sitting at the table today, trying to budget for this new position in 2009?