DETROIT, Mich. – Ready for some football?
Jim McElwain and the Central Michigan Chippewas certainly are. The 2021 season unofficially kicked off on Tuesday with the Mid-American Conference Media Day at Ford Field, which in December will be the site of the league title game.
The Chippewas went 3-3 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and they return a talented and solid core of veterans in the likes of defensive end Troy Hairston II and wide receiver/punt returner Kalil Pimpleton, both of whom represented CMU at Tuesday’s media day.
CMU won the MAC West in 2019, McElwain’s first season at the helm of the program.
“I think we’ve got great pieces on our team; I think our parts are fantastic,” McElwain said. “I think we have some really, really talented guys. Now we’ve got to bring those parts and make it a whole.”
Hairston, who was the co-MAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, is the headliner of a defense that includes mainstays Troy Brown – a two-time All-MAC First Team linebacker – safety Devonni Reed, and middle linebacker George Douglas.
Pimpleton is among the most dazzling players in the MAC and is a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball. He is part of an offense that includes the one-two running back punch of Kobe Lewis and Lew Nichols III, the latter of whom was named the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2020.
The Chippewas were picked fourth in the preseason media poll.
“We’re picked fourth; well, we should be,” McElwain said, referring to the 2020 season when CMU lost to all three of the schools – Ball State, Western Michigan and Toledo – that were picked ahead of it in the poll. “We got our tails kicked by Ball State, we got our tails beat by Western, we got our tails beat by Toledo.
“That was a pretty easy pick. Everybody’s back, everybody’s got their same team; for us it’s really got to be the development of our young players that’s got to push us over the top.”
Also back is quarterback Daniel Richardson, who started four games in 2020 and completed 63.9 percent of his passes. An injury cut his season short. The others on the roster competing for the position are Jacob Sirmon, a sophomore transfer from Washington, and Tyler Pape, a freshman who played at Parma Western High School.
Hairston, a senior from Birmingham, led the MAC with 5 ½ sacks among 12 tackles-for-loss in 2020, earning the co-MAC Defensive Player of the Year Award and a spot on the all-conference first team. He ranked fourth on the team with 41 tackles while forcing one fumble and recovering one. He and Brown were among the 90 players nationally who were named to the Bednarik Award Watch List on Monday. The award goes annually to the defensive player of the year in college football.
CMU is one of 11 schools with two candidates on the watch list. Brown and Hairston are two of five players from Mid-American Conference schools on the list.
Hairston came to CMU as a preferred walk-on and earned a scholarship before the 2019 season. His journey from that beginning to MAC Player of the Year is nothing short of remarkable.
“A lot of time, effort, a lot of older dudes kind of taking you under their wing,” Hairston said in explaining his journey. “(Former Chippewa defensive end) Joey Ostman worked with me a lot and was one of the people who really believed in me, and he really worked with me during the quarantine, and I got to know him on a deeper level.”
Hairston announced his arrival as a force on the defensive side of the ball with a three-sack performance in a 30-27 victory over Ohio in the 2020 season opener.
“The day that I knew that a lot of the hard work had paid off – and it’s not done yet – it was the first game against Ohio,” he said. “All I could do was sit there and cry because I went through a lot of stuff, a lot of hardships and not a lot of people believed in me like I believed in myself.”
“I have a lot of teammates who, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have made the plays I made last year.”
The Chippewas are scheduled to open the season on Sept. 4 at Missouri and are slated to entertain Robert Morris in their home opener on Sept. 11. CMU is then set to go to LSU on Sept. 18 and opens the MAC slate at Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 2.
The trips to Missouri and LSU give CMU two dates in a span of two weeks against Southeastern Conference schools. The Chippewas did not play any non-conference games in 2020; in 2019, they went to Wisconsin (Big Ten) and Miami (Fla.) (ACC). The Chippewas’ last game against an SEC opponent came on Sept. 1, 2018, when they opened the season with a 35-20 loss at Kentucky.
“For our university, our people and more importantly our players, it gives us opportunities to go and play against the best conference in the country year in and year out,” McElwain said. “I look at it as an opportunity for us to put Central Michigan on the national stage.”
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Rachel Karten got her start in social media in a way she admits is now a punch line: as an intern.
“That’s the classic joke when brand accounts mess up online, of course,” she says. “Did an intern tweet this?”
Ms. Karten, now 30 and based in Santa Monica, Calif., started running social media for Plated, a meal-kit startup, in 2013, and persuaded the company to turn her internship into a full-time role. There were few mentors in the still-new field at the time, so she got better at her job by seeking out meetings with people behind the accounts of companies she admired, like Warby Parker and Birchbox.
After more than seven years running social media for Plated and the food magazine Bon Appétit, she felt there was enough work available that she could become an independent consultant. Last December, she also launched a newsletter for industry professionals to discuss topics like mental health.
“There are enough of us now that people don’t need to start from scratch like I did each time,” she says. And there are so many full-time jobs that she even started posting some listings on her newsletter—a far cry from her one-woman campaign to create a position for herself eight years ago.
Some 15 years after
opened their platforms to the public, social media is an established, mainstream career field. There are academic programs dedicated to its practice. Workers say it’s sometimes still treated as a job for rookies, both through pay grades and interpersonal dynamics from those who think it’s just not that serious. But that’s changing: Those in the field see more bargaining power and more full-time roles than ever before.
Many social-media specific jobs still offer lower salaries than comparable fields like marketing. The average annual salary for marketing managers is $102,496 and $109,607 for marketing directors on Glassdoor, according to a spokesperson for the jobs website. Meanwhile, the average annual salary is $67,892 for social-media directors and $47,908 for social-media assistants.
“There’s still this idea that everyone uses social media, so it must be easy,” says 30-year-old Alana Visconti, a brand social account lead at
But Ms. Visconti notes that the field has become more professionalized in recent years. When she got her undergraduate degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2015, she says, “It definitely wasn’t seen as a career path.” Today, following work for clients including Hyatt and Puma, she believes she can dedicate her whole career to social media. “What I love about it is that it’s the way to connect most directly with consumers,” she says.
The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism launched a master’s degree in digital social media in 2018 in response to the growing number of jobs in the field, says Daniela Baroffio, who oversees the program. The school aimed to meet executives’ demand for social-media experts who have a handle both on hard skills, like data analytics, and storytelling, she says.
“These jobs are way beyond entry-level positions now,” she says. She also believes that social media’s maturation as a field has had social benefits: Online organizing and activism around movements like Stop Asian Hate are linked to the more sophisticated ways in which people use these platforms today. “That’s also a product of this new social-media talent,” she says.
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Mike Stelzner has been organizing Social Media Marketing World, an annual conference for industry professionals, since 2013. Its attendance nearly quadrupled from 2013 to 2020, from about 1,100 to over 4,000 people, he says. During that time, attendees changed from primarily community managers—workers reacting to customers on brands’ social-media accounts—to more full-time social-media marketers who actively create content.
The stakes of making a gaffe on an institutional social-media account, and the ability of nearly anyone to express displeasure or outrage over controversial content through social media, mean that nearly any public-facing body, from startups to the CIA, now has professionals behind its accounts.
That’s partly why even companies in fields not traditionally associated with a voice-y online presence, like financial services, have full-time employees in that space. Hannah Atiyeh runs social media at Yotta, a New York fintech startup launched in 2020. Before that, she was half of a two-person team running the social accounts of Marcus, the digital banking unit of
Though the 28-year-old has several years of experience now, she notes that much of her job remains self-taught. She learned Figma, a graphic-design tool, on her own, and keeps abreast of TikTok trends by maintaining a personal account in her spare time for her dog. “I never sign off,” she admits.
The fact that brand-new platforms like TikTok emerge every few years means that younger workers can have an edge in the field over veterans.
David Meerman Scott, a 60-year-old marketing strategist in Boston whose 2006 book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” about using social media for business purposes, is on its seventh edition, says that aspects of the industry are now beyond his grasp.
“In the beginning, it was all about the need for businesses to create content specifically for social media, which was an insight that I had somewhat early,” he says. “Now it’s much more about understanding how algorithms work, and I just don’t understand things like what time of day to publish a TikTok video on a deep level.”
Some young people entering the field today are finding more bargaining power than their predecessors.
Amya Zhanelle, a 22-year-old in Montclair, N.J., who runs her own social-media and marketing firm, says that clients seem more receptive to the notion that social media is hard work today than when she did part-time marketing work in college. Her one-off packages for new clients start at $2,500. Ongoing content management starts at $700 a month, for which she requires a binding, minimum six-month commitment.
“Even if some of my older clients don’t completely understand the process, they’ve seen how things can go wrong when brands mess up on social media, so they understand that it’s worth the investment,” she says.
—Write to Krithika Varagur at email@example.com.
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