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Social media managers divulge what their careers really entail

The Drum Social is a weekly column from The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston covering the latest social media trends, strategies and insights. Follow Amy @AmyCLHouston and join in the conversation #TheDrumSocial

Social media managers share what their careers are really like

The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston speaks to her peers about their varied paths into the world of social, the (brutally honest) best and worst aspects of the job, and what they had wished they had known before logging on.

Social media is constantly evolving, which means working in this field can be extremely exciting and at times a little chaotic. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes: copywriting, content creation, community management, reports and, you know, a constant fear of being trolled. All jokes aside, for a creative type of person, the opportunity to be able to brainstorm new content ideas and execute them is very satisfying. In this industry, I’ve found that you need to be vocal, make your passions known and be confident in your skillset.

Like many of my fellow social media managers, I shimmied my way into the online world in a weird and wonderful way. The condensed version is that I began studying textiles at art school and ended up working as a photographer, which latterly became intertwined with overseeing various social media campaigns. My career path hasn’t been linear, which has been both refreshing and daunting at times.

Rebecca Anderton, head of social, The Manc Group, echoes this sentiment when I ask about how she began her career.

“I studied TV Broadcasting at university and quickly landed a researcher role at ITV, which I immediately realized wasn’t for me, and neither was working in TV,” Anderton tells me. “I took those skills over to become a researcher at Unilad, looking for videos and contacting people, as well as researching current trends and looking for potential viral clips.”

After almost three years at Unilad, Anderton moved to The Manc Group as head of social media. “I’m still learning on the job every day. Social landscapes change, and trends come and go, so a big part of my job is staying on top of that and making sure we get the maximum output out of every piece of content.”

Community lies at the heart of social, and that goes for those working in this field too. Social media departments can be small. I’ve been a team of one many times, so it’s important to chat with others in the industry.

Try to get “as much experience in different areas early on, whether that’s from work experience or taking time to do other courses outside of your job,” Anderton advises, and most importantly don’t fret over the dreaded Twitter typo. “We’re all human and errors get made.”

Repeat after me: social media managers are not interns. The past year has accelerated every aspect of our digital life, and people working in social are often the first and last point of contact consumers have with an organization.

On this subject, Matthew Gordon, senior social media manager, Born Social, says that things are improving within the industry itself but there’s still a long way to go within the wider culture. “It frustrates me a lot when I see people refer to the mythical solo ‘social media intern’ when brands have notable moments on social media, not realizing that a full team has probably spent hours upon hours of time and creativity on what you’re seeing on your feed.”

Planning is a massive part of working in social, and ensuring that you get your organization’s tone of voice spot on is key to building an engaged audience. Seeing results is so rewarding, whether that’s from “generating awareness with a fun/creative campaign or driving sales with a strategic paid social campaign; I’m invested from the start in ensuring we get results,” says Donna Heron, head of social, Extreme.

But the pressure of this is also a double-edged sword – especially when working with clients and trying to “show social ROI when faced with industry changes such as iOS 14 App Tracking Transparency (ATT), which has impacted how accurately tools such as Facebook Ad Manager can report on results achieved”.

The word ‘burnout’ is something that you hear a lot from social media managers, purely because of the amount of time that we spend communicating with people in front of screens. Fortunately, I do believe that we are making our mental health more of a priority. Keeping work and home life as separate as can be has been crucial for me, and Herron agrees. “I also have a folder for all my social media apps on my phone and keep it tucked away from the home screen, so it’s not always in my immediate eyeline if I pick up my phone.”

A career in social media is not all memes and trolls – it’s fast-paced, creative and rewarding, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The digital transformation that we’ve witnessed this past year shows no signs of slowing down, and social media managers have played a huge role in many aspects of this.

Join in the conversation using #TheDrumSocial and view previous articles here.

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