Getting paid to be on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Pinterest, and other popular social media channels may sound like a dream come true. And for many, it is. PayScale indicates that the job satisfaction of social media managers comes in at a 3.8 out of 5, or "highly satisfied" rating.
The role also lands in the 42nd spot of CNNMoney/PayScale's list of Top 100 Careers with Big Growth, Great Pay and Satisfying Work, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that jobs in social media are expected to grow 8 percent by 2028—faster than the average expected rate for all occupations.
But what is working in social media really like? Based on my ten years (and counting) working for globally recognized brands in the field, here are some of the pros and cons of becoming a social media manager.
The average person spends one hour and 14 minutes per day on social media. If you're working full-time in social media, you'll potentially spend a good portion of your typical eight-hour working day online.
Part of your standard day-to-day responsibilities may involve work that will make your friends envious—like keeping an eye on popular influencers and brands to see what content is trending and how fans engage with it. You might also add your voice and creativity to posts by writing humorous captions or creating shareable videos for a company or brand.
Studies have linked excess social media use to lower self-esteem, social isolation, lack of sleep and concentration, unhappiness, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
So, what do you do when social media is your job? Taking a break from social media, as is recommended to avoid burnout, may not be possible when your livelihood depends on that you spend time on social channels. I tend to cope with it by spending as little time on my phone as possible when I'm not on the clock. It helps curb the feeling that you always have to "be on."
Dr. Kristen Fuller, author of Happiness Is a State of Mind and a clinical mental health expert, writes about the benefits of spending time away from social media, and she suggests trying the following:
When I'm working, I try to stick to one task at a time to avoid information overload and ultimately, becoming overwhelmed. At times, this has been challenging, especially when colleagues expect me to be online on weekends and evenings. Others assume that I'll always have the latest update on anything that's happening on social media, at any given time.
When buried by too many competing tasks and priorities, I've learned to ask for additional resources for my team. I'm also sure to set clear expectations about what I'm responsible for (and capable of) doing.
There's something thrilling about knowing that whatever you're working on has the potential to go viral or otherwise make an impact—whether it's receiving a private message of kind words about a post or having your work featured on a "Best Brands in Social Media" list.
I've written posts for influential social media accounts, had my company's social media posts liked or engaged with by celebrities, and posted videos that were shared thousands of times. In one of the more unexpected highlights of my career, I've reunited a runner with the wedding ring he lost during the New York City Marathon. The repost of his request for help to find the ring was shared over a thousand times. As a result, the marathoner got his ring back and was able to meet the volunteer who found it. The story ended up receiving media coverage in Runners World and ABC News.
While the dream may be to get recognized as one of the best brands in social media, the highly visible work of social media can go both ways. One careless or insensitive post and your work could end up being called out as one of the "biggest social media fails."
To my knowledge, my work has never ended up on one of these lists, but when working in a hurry, I have published content with typos. Whenever that happens, I try to recover quickly (editing the posts if possible or deleting them if not), learn from my mistakes, and improve. The nature of the job requires moving at lightning speed, but skipping the fundamentals—such as proofreading and reading for sensitivity—is never worth the cost.
Research shows that extrinsic motivation—which includes things like receiving praise—can help boost performance. When you work in social media, you experience the instant gratification of seeing engagement with your content and insights through analytics tools, all in real-time. You can track how many followers your accounts have, the growth in your followers over time, (positive or negative) mentions of your brand across social channels, and lots and more.
Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. Okay, so the same is true of changes to social media interfaces, features, and algorithms—the technology that determines how (and how often) your brand's content shows up in your followers' feeds. Expect new updates from the major social media players at least once a year, if not more frequently. When these changes occur, you'll likely have to revise your content strategy and will probably see engagement among your followers drop, at least initially.
The work that's keeping social media managers busy these days may involve creating captivating Instagram stories or collaborating with micro-influencers. And next year? That's anybody's guess.
Social media managers are in the unique position of being responsible for creating the digital persona of the brands they work for while also serving on the frontlines of customer service and potential PR crises.
As a result, during my time in social media, I've found out about changes in company leadership, new products and services, major customer complaints, legal issues, and PR emergencies before many of my colleagues—either because I was going to be the one to make announcements to the public through social media or because social media commenters started conversations related to these topics.
In addition to creating a strategy and content for day-to-day social media updates, your role may also include elements of social media customer service (also called social care) and crisis management. As these unplanned issues arise, you'll still have your typical responsibilities to take care of, but now you'll also have to fit in tasks like addressing complaints, making sure they're resolved, and monitoring issues and reporting back to leadership.
Successful social media managers bring together the best in storytelling and community building to do more than sell products or services—they have the power to humanize brands. Think of when Old Spice started a Twitter battle withTaco Bell, Popeye's and Chick-fil-A created a fried chicken war. Or, when Oreo to create a legendary social moment, during the biggest game of the year. Their famous "Dunk in the Dark" Super Bowl tweet is still talked about years later.
I've worked for clients and companies that have allowed me to create and publish content with only minimal approval needed, enabling both timely branded content and responses to fan posts. In contrast, other employers required multiple rounds of internal and external approvals—taking weeks and in some cases, months—before we could publish new content. This working style made it harder to create relevant, of-the-moment content and address issues in real-time.
Only you'll know whether the potential advantages outweigh the potential disadvantages. If you want a creative role where fast-thinking is in demand and highly valued, then this career may be worth exploring further.
There's no one clear path to becoming a social media manager, but often employers give preference to those with degrees in journalism, communications, marketing, media studies, public relations, advertising, or a related field.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A graduate of NYU with a BA in journalism and Baruch College Zicklin School of Business with an MBA in marketing, Mary Kearl is a professional writer and digital and social media marketing leader. She’s worked in social media for AOL, the New York City Marathon, Adobe, Queens Public Library, and several other small businesses and startups. As a freelance writer, her work has been published by AOL, Forbes, Target, Zillow, and many other publications, websites, and brands. Follow her on Twitter @marykearl.