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The pandemic has altered modern life in countless ways, but perhaps most significantly, it has transformed how people connect. The first wave of COVID-19 saw a 61% increase in social media engagement. Facebook and Instagram experienced over a 40% uptick in usage from under-35-year-olds across all stages of the pandemic.
Approximately 1.8 million people spent more than one hour a day on social media from February 2020 to February 2021. Today, more people are connecting online than ever before.
While social media has proved to be a boon in times of isolation, this surge in its use is linked to increased psychological stressors and burnout among users. Especially in conjunction with months on end of overwhelming news cycles. So much so, these events necessitated the birth of a new word — “doomscrolling” — to truly capture their disheartening impact.
Social media managers, of course, have faced the brunt of this. During the initial months of the pandemic, Christina Garnett, a social media manager for several Fortune 500 companies, reported a perpetual state of crisis. Garnett would often wake up as early as 3AM to check her phone and email, to see if an important headline had broken, and whether it elicited an immediate response from the companies she represented.
Garnett frequently felt depressed and misread by her management, who didn’t seem to understand the time, effort, and stress working in social media entailed. “It has turned to a point where we are either crying into the void or we’re yelling at it,” said the strategist. “They don’t know what it’s like to live in that Twitter feed...to live in the comments section and to be able to see a populace that is agitated, that feels hopeless, that feels angry, that feels powerless.”
With substantially less real life, face-to-face consumer engagement, brands and businesses are now relying on online engagement to drive traffic to their sites. The benefits of social media don't end there. The past year’s pivot to digital-first culture also renders social media platforms as the first and last point of contact consumers have with your company.
Additionally, your social media strategy can be leveraged to increase engagement and customer relations. It can build a strong brand community while your business takes a temporary break as restrictions tighten during COVID-19.
Your social media management team members are the driving forces behind these carefully thought-out engagements. Researching social media trends, using social media marketing tools to maintain the brand’s image, and interacting with customers and stakeholders’ public online accounts, are all aspects directly built into the social media manager job description.
Social media managers are one of the integral parts of running a business or organization in 2021. Which is why it’s important to check in with them regularly, and identify ways you can help and support them in their role.
Small interactions can make a big impact on company culture. SmartGift’s Spotlight Series identifies the joys, challenges, and needs of specific roles within the teams we work. Over the forthcoming weeks, we aim to address what makes each role important, and outline creative and unique strategies for companies to show appreciation and support for their team members.
How do you know if your social media manager is dealing with burnout? “A drop in productivity or a lack of engagement at work should raise an immediate red flag,” writes Kristen Johnson for Sprout Social. “An inability to focus on big picture projects because of excessive time spent answering messages or monitoring social sentiment are equally causes for concern.”
Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to show your support and offer help. Let’s look at 7 ways you can help support your social media manager.
One of the most commonly cited complaints among social media marketers and managers is a lack of acknowledgement from higher-ups within the company. Many state that management treats them like interns or volunteers; with neglect and little respect.
A sports social media manager, who asked to remain anonymous, recently told DigiDay that she has stopped taking complaints to her boss and HR because they pay little attention to her troubles. She’s not the only one who thinks so. Ella Dawson, a social media consultant with various clients, has found that most companies overlook the role of social media managers, asking them to operate “without internal investment in hiring, professional development or a budget for creative [departments].”
Dawson wrote DigiDay in an email: “It should be considered an integral part of your company’s strategy. And yet how often are social media employees pulled into conversations about a company’s strategy and goals. Almost never. It’s demoralizing.”
There’s always a lot going on behind the scenes of social media management: copywriting, content creation, community management, data analytics, and more. What most higher ups don’t realize is that social media professionals are often asked to perform jobs outside of their job description.
“[T]hey are asked to wear the hats of a graphic designer, visual editor, copywriter, strategist, community manager, and data analyst,” writes Kimeko McCoy. They’re the mouthpiece of the organization, working around the clock and often find themselves on the frontlines when something goes wrong.”
If your social media manager seems to be burning out, have them list everything on their agenda and try to help sort tasks and assignments by priority.
It’s equally important to make sure your social media manager isn’t focusing on work outside their job description. This includes tasks such as graphic design and visual editing. This will help keep the number of tasks manageable so your social media manager or strategist isn’t working round the clock.
Remember: making content and sharing content are two different jobs, and it’s crucial not to conflate the two.
One of the most important aspects of social media is consistency. According to Hubspot, speed is especially critical to consumers in marketing. People tend to get impatient with a company or brand otherwise. That said, it is unreasonable to have a human being check social media and publish content around the clock, seven days a week. This is where automation comes in.
With social media management tools like Buffer, Later, and Hootsuite, managers can schedule posts from their social media calendar; manage multiple brand accounts, and take a break from social media when they need to.
We’ve discussed the benefits of flexibility at work in earlier posts, and this role is no different. Creating a manageable and flexible workload allows employees to check in with themselves, regroup if they need to, and unplug to stave off burnout. Depending on the size and scale of your company, this could mean giving social team members evenings and weekends off. Or, letting your team work in shifts so that one person isn’t constantly dealing with engagement at all hours.
Kenny Gold, the executive director of social media at Grey Group, recently told DigiDay that a manageable workload often comes down to dividing the work. “To stop the bleeding,” he says, “the onus is going to be on individual companies to expand, setting a precedent across working groups that already handle burnout and crisis to include social media.”
At Grey Group, Gold manages 15 staffers and understands that “everything is often coming at you at once and it’s hard to do the job well.” Gold recommends putting protocols in place, spreading work evenly across the team, and creating “a strong playbook.”
What supervisors and higher ups often seem to forget is that most social media managers and strategists are creative people who come from creative backgrounds.
Whether they’re working on generating awareness with a fun campaign or focusing on your brand’s tone of voice, sometimes what makes their job fun is lost to tracking ROI and dealing with trolls.
To prevent burnout, in the long term as well as the short term, it’s vital and necessary to bring back aspects of the job they love. Let them brainstorm new content ideas. Give them permission to execute them. Invite your social team to business meetings. More stakes and creative freedom lead to better engagement, both for the employee, and the company’s social media presence.
The negative effects of social media are certain. The links between social media and mental health are verified. Between rising rates of depression, anxiety, and even self-harm, social media has been recognized as a public health crisis in of itself.
Let’s not forget: behind social media, there is a constant fear of being trolled. Bryndon Minter, who has been creating social content for the NFL (as well as multiple player accounts) recently told Vogue that developing thick skin is necessary for the job.
“There’s a big chance on the NFL page people are just going to rip it to shreds and be trolls just because,” says Minter. “Even if you think that it’s a really high-quality piece, someone out there is going to say, ‘Yo, this is bad Photoshop.’ That’s how it is.”
“It’s a wild juggling act to build out an accurate and contextualized report of what is happening on the fly," says Anushka Patil, a senior social media editor at The New York Times. "Especially when members of Congress are spouting (or yelling—so much yelling) claims faster than you can type, let alone verify.”
In a blog post written by social media strategist and analyst Christina Garnett, she emphasized the need for social media detox. “They need to find opportunities for there to be time off on the weekends if not a vacation,” wrote Garnett.
“These professionals need a reset. They need a moment to turn off their phones and computers without reproach — to turn off their notifications and sit in [sic] silence. They need to unplug. With the world yelling at them daily, give them the gift of putting that world on mute, if only for a few days.”
A fact that is beyond dispute: companies need to provide a way for social media team members to reset, meditate, and take some time off from the constantly evolving (and chaotic) world of community engagement.
Aja Johnson, the senior director of social engagement at Away, told Vogue: “There was a moment earlier in the year where I had to take a step back after seeing tragedy after tragedy — news about Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, George Floyd. It was a time where I felt unsafe and social was not helping my state of mind.”
As a company, make sure to check-in with your team, connect them to mental health professionals, and encourage social media breaks. Mario Moreno, the Global Social Media Manager at one of the world’s largest retailers, suggests taking at least an hour every day to unplug from social media, texts, and do nothing.
Community, of course, lies at the heart of social media jobs. According to The Drum’s Amy Houston, social media managers have pointed to organizations such as SocialMedia.org, a membership based, networking community especially designed for people who work in social media for business.
The membership-based American Association of Advertising Agencies is another social media committee designed for “important conversations on deeper topics.” Per Grey Group’s Kenny Gold, “In a world where everything feels like it’s caving in and you’re alone, advertising is a team sport and to feel like you’re part of a team can give you that glimmer and make you feel like you’re not alone.”
While the pros and cons of social media are expansive and wide-ranging, it is so deeply ingrained in our culture of connection that there’s no way around it in business today.
Your social media presence is the first point of contact for your consumers so any burnout faced by your team will directly impact the public perception of your organization. As a company, brand, or supervisor, it is imperative to ensure that your social media team feels supported and taken care-of. Check in with your team today!
Small interactions can make a big impact on company culture. SmartGift’s Spotlight Series identifies the joys, challenges, and needs of specific roles within the teams we work. Over the forthcoming weeks, we aim to outline creative and unique strategies for companies to show appreciation and support for their team members.