Nowadays, most people probably have a vague idea what a career in social media management involves. In addition to the obvious parts — the day-to-day nitty-gritty of creating and posting content for one or more brands — this role can also involve developing and delivering a brand’s social media strategy, as well as research and analysis of social trends. It’s a varied role within the world of brand marketing that involves developing a suite of interconnected skills if you want to go far. Some of these skills are hands-on and creative, like photography, writing, design and content creation, while some are more concentrated in strategy and analysis.
We chatted with six professionals working in social media management and strategy and picked their brains about what they’ve learned from their years of experience. If you want advice on taking your first steps in this field, read on for their valuable expertise.
Be as versatile as a Swiss army knife
Breaking into social media management isn’t reliant on one particular skill. Instead it’s a career best suited to people with a range of different skills and with the ability to switch from one to the other with ease. Fiona Cook is Social Media Manager for jewellery brand Orelia and she recommends being ready to give anything a go. “It’s likely you already have one or two strong skills, but get a little bit good at everything: writing, photography, design, production etc,” she says. “Because you will be tapping into all those areas to do the job, and the more you can do yourself, the better.”
Oz Gokpinar, Social Media Manager here at D&AD, agrees that preparation is key to skill-hopping. “Working in social media requires so many different hats. You can be a marketer, copywriter, strategist, designer, or analyst all in one day, so be prepared for the variety, and if you can, try to get some marketing or marketing-adjacent experience. Before becoming a social media manager, I worked as a marketing and content manager at other brands.”
That said, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time going deep on one particular skill or area. Rebecca Pozzi is Social and Content Manager at creative agency The Digital Fairy, and she says that there’s room to do both. “Whilst it’s important to make sure you diversify your experience throughout your career, give yourself time to craft your skills instead of trying to do it all.”
Understand the assignment
You can picture social media management a bit like diving into a lake: you should be able to swim first of all, but it also helps to know what exactly you’re getting into. A good social media manager, explains Gokpinar of D&AD, understands the ecosystem of social media. “This sounds obvious but you have to have an understanding of social media, how it works, and how different platforms differentiate from one another,” she explains. “Then you can work out what your audience wants to see and where they want to see it. It’ll help you get comfortable with experimenting as well as honing your brand voice.”
Lyndsay McGregor, Content and Social Marketing Manager, EMEA at Pinterest, agrees that a deep understanding helps your work go further. “With all the platforms and new innovations coming out all the time, it’s easy to forget that the people you’re trying to reach might not be on the hot new app,” she points out. “If you’re trying to reach decision makers in the advertising world, it might be super fun to come up with an idea for a campaign on whatever the most popular social media app is, but if your audience isn’t there in a work capacity, there’s no point. You won't get the results you want.”
Experiment with every new feature
The world of social media moves fast and changes constantly. So this means there are few hard and fast blueprints for brand success in social media. When developing your career in social media management, one great idea can help you progress quickly. One way to find what might work for you is through experimentation, says Naomi Oren, Social Content Strategist, Brand Studio APAC, Google Japan. “Social media is such a great place to be adventurous and challenge yourself to try new content ideas, especially since all of the platforms are constantly adding new features,” she says. “What worked today may not work tomorrow. Even if your post doesn't go as planned it's OK! There is always a great learning behind every post.”
Collaborate to avoid loneliness
The flip-side of your multifunctional role as a social media manager is that it can be a slippery slope that ends up with you working alone, isolated from your other colleagues. McGregor of Pinterest recommends pushing yourself to avoid this kind of professional loneliness. “Don’t work in a silo,” she says. “Coming up with ideas and topics all by yourself, writing content all by yourself, promoting that content all by yourself can be extremely time consuming, not to mention lonely. Cross-functional collaboration is key. It keeps you aligned with what other people in the business are doing and it makes your content stronger overall.”
Cook agrees: “Collaboration and delegation are also key - remember you might be overseeing social content, but ultimately everyone is responsible for its success."
Don’t fear the data
You'll need to understand data and insights to see how your work is performing so you can adjust your posting in line with what works. This doesn’t need to be complicated, says Gokpinar, plus it can help you make sure your content is going the distance for the brand. “Don’t let the data and reporting side of social media put you off,” she says. “It’s an essential part of the job that helps you make more informed and insight-led decisions. Get yourself into the habit of checking reports on a weekly or monthly basis to track how your social media posts are doing.”
“Driving strong results is a priority to any successful social media manager,” Pozzi of the Digital Fairy says. “Want to go viral? You need to know what works to give you the best chance. Knowing what your data really means and how to use it is really important - use benchmarks, industry averages and give your strategy enough time to test in order to gain valuable learnings. Pairing insights with intuition and a great idea is a winning formula for any successful social campaign.”
Take time and space for yourself
It’s easy for social media management to become an ‘always-on’ role, but it’s not impossible to set boundaries. Remember that keeping yourself happy and mentally healthy will be key to building a meaningful and productive career for yourself. “My recommendation is, if you can, set boundaries by sharing when you are and aren't available to post and manage your communities,” says Oren. “If it's difficult to set boundaries, walk away from your phone. Close your eyes. Take a moment to breathe for a couple minutes to refresh your mind.”
Susie Hogarth, Senior Cultural Insights Director at We Are Social, recommends taking a long view and enlisting a therapist if that’s what helps you. “Your career is ultimately a decades-long relationship with yourself, and you have to battle your demons over and over again along the way,” she says. “So many of the skills that make it possible to flourish at work (focus, self-belief, staying calm under pressure, knowing when to ask for help) will be intrinsically linked with your own mental wellbeing and your personal and emotional background. Don't worry if you're not there yet, take the time to heal and get yourself together first. Working life is a marathon, not a race.”
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