A successful social-media product—whether a major feature such as Facebook’s news feed or a smaller one such as a revamped Snapchat logo—must accomplish several difficult aims. First, they must work seamlessly for millions of people at once. Second, they must look good, because social-media users will usually gravitate toward a slicker product. Third, they must potentially scale to enormous size with zero downtime or catastrophic bugs.
All three of those goals are exceedingly tough, which is why the tech industry is littered (metaphorically speaking, of course) with the wreckage of social-media startups that tried and failed to compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Even Google devoted enormous time and resources to its Google Plus initiative (remember that?), only to see its adoption and engagement numbers implode, with users rejecting its features and design.
Given the stakes, social media companies must attract product managers who can produce excellent products under enormous pressure. The key element in that attraction, of course, is compensation. Levels.fyi, which crowdsources technologist compensation, can give us insight into what Facebook and Twitter, two of the longest-surviving social-media giants, pay their respective product managers; for the purposes of this study, we compared compensation for the companies’ mid-tier product managers.
Let’s take a look at Twitter first. It’s worth remembering that crowdsourcing isn’t the most scientific way of determining compensation data from outside a company; nonetheless, levels.fyi data tends to align with that of other crowdsourced-compensation sites, such as Glassdoor, so we’re inclined to trust its ballpark figures for product manager compensation.
Now let’s look at Facebook, which clearly pays more than Twitter when it comes to product managers:
What’s clear here is that Facebook’s hefty stock gives it an edge when comparing mid-tier product manager compensation, although all facets of its compensation are higher in general. Granted, some product-management folks at Twitter are no doubt compensated much higher than their ranking equivalents at Facebook. Overall, though, Facebook tends to be more generous when it comes to payouts, thanks in large part to stock grants. If you're applying for a job at a publicly-traded company, never ignore the structure and timing of stock payouts; it could make a huge difference, especially if you stay there long enough for a substantial block of stock to accrue.
You don’t have to work at a social-media giant to make a solid salary as a product manager. Indeed, companies large and small tend to recognize the value of their product managers to the organization’s success, and compensate the role accordingly. According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the starting salary for product managers is around $83,000, which easily rises into the six-figure range with the right mix of experience and skills. The median salary is $102,512.
In order to earn that cash, though, product managers must demonstrate their proficiency with a variety of technical and soft skills, including communication, teamwork, planning, design, and whatever programming languages and tools are relevant to the product.
Editor's note: The original version of this article accidentally referred to product managers as project managers at a few points. We regret the typos, which we blame on lack of coffee.