3 Simple Things Every Social Media Manager Needs

Organizations would do well to take these people and their work seriously.

Last week in my Wednesday Content Made Simple email, I shared an article from the business magazine Fast Company called “I’m a social media manager. Facebook and Twitter have made my job an ethical nightmare” by Amy Brown, a social media professional. In it, Ms. Brown laments the difficulties of working in social media, specifically as a social media manager for a brand or company. She writes:

We’ve been conditioned to believe that it has to be this way; internet comments are a cesspool and that’s just how it is. Facebook and Twitter have never really cared about the working conditions of social media managers. Hell, they don’t care about the working conditions of their own content moderators.

As an industry, we’ve historically had a laundry list of complaints. People think we’re interns. Even when you’re on vacation, you’re not really on vacation. (I once had to answer a work email from a moving bus in the Middle East because someone got locked out of the company Instagram.) Everyone feels like they can do our jobs, because they’re also on Facebook, and really, how hard could it be?

But when we focus on these little indignities, we miss the bigger question. Is continuing to work in social media an ethical choice? Are we tacitly endorsing the inaction of social media companies?

The relationship between social media manager and platform is almost parasitic. Our companies funnel millions of dollars to Facebook and Twitter. When we go viral, it generates positive PR not only for our brands, but for the platforms themselves. How many companies pivoted their strategies and funneled more money to Twitter in the wake of the Sassy Wendy’s tweets? How many sales decks has Twitter included it in? I’m betting it’s a lot. Our work shapes the success of these platforms, but when we need their help, it’s clear nobody is listening.

By the grace of God, I no longer work as a social media manager. I did it for a couple of years and it didn’t become clear how dramatically it affected my mental health until the very end, when I eventually decided I had to find something else to do.

But, I have a number of friends who still work in social media, and some as social media managers for major brands or famous people. Social media managers need a lot as it is not easy work, but I want to highlight just three basic needs:

1) To be taken seriously

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen jokes about “The intern running Big Brand’s social media must be having a rough day,” or the like. These jokes don’t really offend me, per se, but they do downplay the integral role social media managers play in their organizations.

Because a lot of the Boomers in C-suites don’t understand the massive impact and influence of social media, they often hand the keys to their foremost PR machine to new college graduates, paying them entry-level wages and forgetting about them until something bad happens.

Social media managers can ruin brands and undo years of trust a company has spent millions to build with a single post. Beyond that, social media managers are often serving on the front lines of customer service, answering angry Facebook comments while out to dinner on Friday night or responding to questions submitted via Twitter DMs as they lay in bed at night.

Organizations would do well to take these people and their work seriously.

And for any of my higher-level managers or C-suiters out there: don’t hire interns to run your social media. If you do, recognize that you are responsible for whatever comes next. :-)

2) The support of their supervisor(s)

I am grateful to have worked with some wonderful supervisors in my time as a social media manager. But many social media managers with whom I have spoken are not as fortunate as I was.

Because social media managers are often lower-level employees, even entry-level sometimes, they usually don’t get a say in high-level strategy conversations in the marketing department or at company-wide brand discussions. This is a problem. Why?

Most C-suiters and even marketing directors today did not learn their marketing skills in the age of social media. These are the people who usually set strategy that they then expect social media managers to carry out. This often ends poorly because the Gen-X/Boomer marketing directors and C-suiters give social media managers old-media strategies that won’t work on social media. They don’t ask for the strategic input of social media managers, they just ask them to do what they say and not ask questions.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with social media managers who are carrying out bad strategy that THEY KNOW IS BAD just because they don’t feel like they can do anything but carry out the exact orders they were given by supervisors or high-level managers who don’t know how social media works. I used to have conversations like this monthly with five or six social media managers who wrestled with this dilemma.

Marketing directors and C-suiters who want to work with social media to accomplish their marketing goals would be wise to consult with social media managers within their organization and, instead of telling them what to do, present their goals and ask the social media experts how those goals can be best accomplished through social media.

For at least the next few years, virtually every social media manager will know more about effective social media management and marketing strategy than their CEOs. But so many of them will be forced to carry out their bosses’ bad strategy because of hierarchy and misused old media strategies.

Because of this reality, the direct supervisors of social media managers can serve their social media managers well by advocating for them at any branding or strategy meetings to which they are invited but the social media managers are not. Supervisors of social media managers can be the voices of social media managers in meetings where the work of social media managers is being decided. This is vital, and everyone wins.

3) Uninterrupted time off

Third and finally, social media managers need uninterrupted time off. To answer email here and there on the weekends is one thing—it’s just sort of part of working an office job in the 21st century. We all get it. Many of us do it. It’s not the end of the world.

But it is beyond unhealthy for a social media manager to be expected to respond to social media content all weekend, or even be on call with no backup or partners. Answering an email or two from a colleague on a Saturday morning is lightyears easier than defusing a furious Facebook commenter while you’re out to dinner with your wife on Saturday night.

Most social media managers I have spoken with are expected to be available every weekend and monitor their social media off-and-on seven days a week. If a crisis breaks out on Instagram on Sunday morning, social media managers aren’t really allowed to say, “I’ll deal with that when I log on tomorrow morning.” That’s not how it works.

High turnover is a massive problem within social media roles because of expectations like this. And, sadly, social media is one of the worst roles to have a high rate of turnover, because it can have serious negative effects on the PR and strategic cohesion of an online content strategy. So much about effective social media management is routine and consistency, so with high turnover comes lots of disruption and inconsistency.

Organizations would be wise to implement systems for social media managers to share responsibility on weekends and holidays with others. This benefits everyone and sets the social media manager and the social media strategy up for success in the long run.

A Word to Social Media Managers

Social media managers, let me encourage you: if you find yourself struggling with where you’re at, know that it doesn’t have to be as bad as it is. You have a significant amount of power, and your work is valuable even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Steward your gifts and talents with care for the benefit of your organization, but also do not put up with being looked down upon or disrespected.

Ask for support where you don’t have it. Request a partner or group of people to support you in times when you need a breather. No one should have to indefinitely answer angry social media posts without support or help of any kind. Get that help or find someplace else to work or something else to do.