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Social Media Manager Burnout

The hidden reality behind their "glamorous" jobs & how companies can better support their well-being

Rundown of a day in the life of a Social Media Manager. Ready?

6:00am Wakeup, check today’s schedule & to-do list

6:30am Cycle class

7:30am Shower, eat breakfast & catch up on industry & local news

8:00am Catch bus to work, respond to tweets & important emails

8:30am Start writing before office gets too noisy with a hot cuppa coffee

9:30am Check all social media channels, @reply & engage, schedule a few updates for tomorrow

10:30am Meet with a social media vendor to help with customer service

11:15am Implement copyedits for whitepaper and landing page on new tech partnership

11:45am Read blog posts for any social media platform updates, algorithm changes, and new product offerings

12:00pm Interview a product engineer for upcoming blog series

12:30pm Grab lunch from food truck downstairs. Check email, Facebook, Twitter, Quora & other forums

1:00pm Get head start on monthly metrics report

2:00pm Integrated Marketing Team Meeting about upcoming product launch

3:15pm Create & schedule posts for the week, scan the news, jot down ideas for future blogs

4:30pm Check email, Facebook, Twitter, Quora & other forums one last time

4:50pm Check conference room specs for tomorrow’s launch run-thru w/ Integrated Marketing & product engineering teams

5:15pm Run on a treadmill with a friend at nearby gym

5:45pm Call with Tokyo team (it’s 9:45am there) while eating dinner

7:00pm Forgot that a friend’s coming over. Share half a bottle of wine

8:30pm Say farewell. Check tomorrow’s schedule. Set alarm

9:00pm Shower and turn phone off. Read one chapter from new Marketing Psychology book

10:00pm Sleep and repeat.

This job also requires loads of time in front of a computer screen, being strategic, switching back and forth among channels, creative writing and content creation, data analysis, and perfect communication skills. This doesn’t even include extraordinary moments such as preparation for a launch, support for a live-event, or crisis management.

There are B2B social media managers whose job it is to turn complex ideas and technologies into palatable bits to the regular Janes and Joes. The Herculean effort – which takes an enormous amount of thinking and creativity – leaves them mentally drained.

Social media managers who work for consumer-facing companies (think entertainment, hospitality or beauty) can naturally integrate work with their personal lives. It may seem glamorous, but is that non-separation of work from play a healthy choice? Can they ever take a day off?

Some are lucky to have a PR agency with social media capabilities to assist them. But others, especially those in smaller businesses, don’t have that luxury. It’s usually a team of one. 

Social media managers are the gatekeepers of a company’s reputation, the first line of defense with customer service, a crucial part of customer acquisition strategies, the daily provider of entertainment for fans and followers, and the lookout for trending topics or breaking news that could take precedence over their well-intended updates and posts (while also remaining mindful and respectful of unforeseen tragic events).

Yet their jobs are under constant scrutiny within the company walls.

“How’s a tweet going to get us new customers?”
“Why do we need to be on Facebook?”
“Who needs LinkedIn to do sales when I can pick up the phone?”

Because of these remarks, they start questioning their self-worth and, often times, will overwork themselves to prove everyone wrong.

These problems are compounded when public relations or content writing teams ask for their assistance. That means coming up with tweet-able nuggets for whitepapers, creating video content behind-the-scenes at a TV interview, creating Facebook or LinkedIn ads to boost reach of an article that mentions the client, proactively answering questions in Quora or other forums leading up to a new product launch, or live-streaming interviews with company partners and customers at a convention or conference.

How do I know? I was one of them for almost a decade.

After three years as a social media manager:

  • My nerves were shot;
  • I was afraid to commit mistakes;
  • I brought my laptop and mobile WiFi everywhere I went;
  • I hesitated to leave my desk in fear of a tweet or comment that could raise flags and eyebrows;
  • I had to skip important milestones such birthday parties or any kind of celebration during big launches;
  • I was afraid to leave my phone in case of an emergency;
  • I couldn’t take a weekend off. I was “always on” as customer support;
  • I was constantly checking my phone due to phantom rings and vibrations;
  • I thought myself selfish when I’d book a much-deserved vacation.

Getting up in the morning was painful. Crying sessions were a weekly scenario. Complaining to loved ones was a daily ritual.

I burned out. Fast.

Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, a well-known blogger, author and consultant, wrote a blog post in 2015 about how social media jobs may be about to disappear because they’ll be integrated into all parts of a company. While others, like Arik Hanson, predicted a mass exodus of early adopter social media marketers due to burnout.

This was around the same time I started making plans to leave the industry. So I applied to grad school, pursued a Masters degree in conservation science, and didn’t dare to look back. 

But here I am a few years later, still wanting to help communicate a company’s mission and purpose through social media and content creation.

This type of work is here to stay. 

In fact, CNNMoney voted Social Media Manager as 42nd Best Job in America, with a 9% ten-year growth and salaries as high as $90,000 per year. However, the low ratings for quality of life are heartbreaking: Personal satisfaction (C-grade) and Benefit to Society (C-grade). 

There’s a still lot of work to be done.

We can start small by helping social media managers self-identify burnout. Here are a few ideas for you, rockstars:

  1. If you wake up dreading what’s in store that day, it’s best to reflect on what’s causing your anxiety. Do mindless tasks pile up fast? Consider doing rote work in bulk when your energy dips. This could mean fiddling with posting schedules, cleaning email junk folder, or categorizing / adding metadata to your digital assets. For me, the best time to do mindless work is when I’m distracted: after work, watching re-runs of Friends,  MasterChef, or The Great British Baking Show. You know the plot enough to leave it playing in the background as white noise without disturbing you.

    More importantly, ask other social media managers how they handle or automate specific aspects of their jobs. They love sharing what works and doesn’t work for them. 

  2. With that, be wary of productivity hacks. We don’t all follow identical patterns. It’s a myth that working harder equates to productivity. We’re told we do our best work early in the morning. Yes, most of us are a lot sharper in the morning, but that only lasts only a few hours. Our energy fluctuates all day.

    So while tip #1 worked for me, listen to Ron Friedman, PhD, an award-winning psychologist. He recommends scheduling to your strengths: identify the hours you do your best work and use it for high-priority projects, making decisions you’ve been avoiding, or initiating a difficult conversation. Discourage colleagues from scheduling meetings at that time (if you can help it). “Take those fluctuations of energy into account and plan some of the less taxing work, the work that requires less will power, less concentration [and] focus on doing those types of tasks at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Friedman says

  3. If your friends and lovers have mentioned your constant whining, commiserate with a professional listener (a therapist) instead. They’re trained to unravel what’s hiding deep within your psyche and help guide you towards a healthier state of mind. As much as our family, friends and partners love us, they can only take so much of our grumbling. Frankly, they’re running out of things to say!
  4. Think about your future. You might be headed towards a promotion, but continuing the same unhealthy path isn’t sustainable. Look at your workload. Are there specific tasks – such as long-form content writing or event live-streaming – that can be outsourced to your PR agency or a freelancer? Make a case for it, come up with a budget, discuss what you can improve or expedite with that free time, and present it to your boss. 
  5. If you’re in dire straits, and would rather do social media for sexier industries (travel or beauty perhaps) rather than for a B2B enterprises (hello virtualization and microchips), make use of your time during your lunch break or after work. Start creating content on your personal account. Build your portfolio now. This way, you have an excuse to use that DSLR camera and have a fix on something else that’s more exciting.

    For those who want to leave social media entirely, it’s time to go broader to corporate or internal communications, digital marketing, and even event production. I know of many who’ve left the communications world entirely.

    Then, quietly, start arranging coffee talks or informational interviews with your most desired companies to understand what other skills they seek.

In addition, companies ought to do things differently that will contribute to their managers’ well-being. 

They’re the heart and soul of any organization, and it would be unwise to keep them unhappy and unhealthy. Here are some ideas for HR leaders and team leaders to consider:

  • Set aside budget to hire freelancers, such as content writers or graphic designers, to provide added support. Especially leading up to a launch or large events. 
  • In large-sized companies, leaders should facilitate introductions among employees and the social media manager. These will foster stronger connections across departments, and could also serve as potential sources for interviews, content and other useful information.
  • Allow your social media managers to spend a few days of the month outside of the office. Time away from office distractions or noise can spur creativity and new ideas. It can also lead to serendipitous meetings with people who could be potential customers, partners or employees. Support them by sparing a few bucks ($20-40/month). 
  • Encourage other social media managers from similar or varying industries to gather in your office once a month or once a quarter. They can talk about what’s working and what isn’t, exchange ideas, and serve as support for one another. 
  • Consider inviting an expert to train your extroverted and most social employees how to create content using their smartphones, and sharing the content with your social media manager using a digital asset management system. Not only will training help scale the social media manager’s content creation work, but it will also give your employees the confidence to share what they know, what they’ve learned, and what they’re working on in a genuine and authentic way. They will feel appreciated and fired up to get in front of the camera or to pen another blog post for the company. 

It’s time that we take a closer look at how social media managers are handling their work and if there are ways we can better support them. The world would be an awfully boring place without our social media superstars, so let’s take good care of them! 

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