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New jobs

July 2015 

Fifteen years ago, before Facebook and Twitter were born and when Google was brand new, I heard a headmaster address his sixth form.  He was close to retirement, but like all good teachers was more interested in the future than the past. 

He discussed how the pupils might plan their careers, but warned them that the whole process was more uncertain than at any time in his experience.  Some, he said, would no doubt follow established professions, but he was sure that the expansion of the internet would mean that many of them would earn very good livings doing jobs that simply didn’t exist at that time, and some would enter occupations that would wither because of it.

He was certainly right about the new jobs.  Because of the growth of the internet – or more accurately, because of the growth in ways of using the internet – thousands of new jobs have sprouted from nowhere, like mustard and cress on blotting paper. 

These jobs are created by what you will hear referred to as “digital platforms”; that’s the jargon for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and hundreds of others that exist only on the internet. You may be glazing over at this point, and I wouldn’t blame you, but like it or not, they have become very big business.  One of the better industry analysts has predicted that in 2016 more money will be spent advertising on digital platforms than on television.

These platforms are attracting so much money not only because they are replacing television as the popular medium, but because they offer a marketing Holy Grail: the chance to, apparently, communicate individually and directly with customers.  Messages can be tailored pretty accurately to suit the recipient’s profile. 

That’s what all these new jobs are for; someone has to organise it all.  The music industry is especially involved. You might think that a particular singer operates his own Facebook page; it will certainly give that impression, but it’s most unlikely.  Record companies have rooms full of people doing it for them, making sure that the timing and content of emails, Facebook messages, YouTube videos and so on are just what is needed to maximise (they hope) the sales of new recordings or concert tickets.

It’s all very precise; one professional in this art told me that he created an April Fools’ Day joke for a client band to play on their fans through Facebook.  This entailed a lot of research about which countries understand such jokes and then making sure that it only appeared on screens in those countries. It worked, and resulted in many new sales of tickets to the band’s concerts.

In one sense, this is not new at all; record companies always used to hire people to run fan clubs, reply to fan letters and send birthday cards to their fans; successful brands have often tried to engage directly with customers; think of the Robertson’s golly or cigarette cards. 

However, it is an odd thought that the very finest experts in this huge business have only a very few years’ experience; there is no such thing, yet, as a social media éminence grise; there just hasn’t been time.

Perhaps that headmaster I mentioned, now long retired, counts as one; he could not have been more prescient.