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Written by Jenny Li Fowler
Published on November 15, 2023
Reading time 4 minutes
I wasn’t always a social media manager. I started my career as a TV reporter, then worked for a company’s in-house public affairs department, before managing social media professionally. So, I know first-hand how interactions with coworkers and leadership within a company differ when you’re not a social media manager versus when you are one. It’s fascinating really.
When I was TV reporter, no one ever confidently presumed they could do my job, or gave me tips on how I could do my job better. When I worked in the public affairs department, there was absolutely no chance of a vice president or the president’s team emailing me directly about something at work, and certainly not on a weekend. Being a social media manager can sometimes feel like no one knows who you are or cares about what you’re doing until something happens—and then all of a sudden everyone knows who you are and are deeply invested in what you’re doing.
After years of having some of the same encounters with people repeatedly, I’m going to share some of the skills you might not realize you need as a social media manager and could help you experience career longevity in this profession.
This is certainly not an absolute, but social media strategists and managers tend to skew younger than their supervisors and leadership within the organization. It’s safe to guess the supervisors and leadership also didn’t grow up with social media, and many of them are not avid users. While social media has been with us for more than 20 years and has become a sophisticated revenue generating industry, some still hold the belief that social media is primarily for kids.
Any skepticism held against the position will naturally spill over to skepticism of the person in the role, creating a more challenging environment to build trust. But like all relationship building, it takes time and effort, and one of the most effective ways to do this as a social media manager is through data.
Share data early and often with your superiors. This not only gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing, it gives them a chance to see your name in their inboxes and become familiar with who you are. This might be in the form of monthly reports, or weekly updates, or a quick follow up on a particular post or campaign of interest. Even better if you can work out monthly or quarterly in-person or virtual meetings with your department leaders (the most effective way to share metrics with leadership, according to The 2023 Sprout Social Index™). Share good new first, then they’re more likely to listen or seek your recommendations when the news is not good or when the company is in the midst of a social media crisis.
I can’t remember the countless number of times I’ve had to explain why a flyer or a PDF is not acceptable content for social media (and sometimes to the same person). Lately people have been asking me the same questions about X. “What’s your strategy?,” “What do you think about the latest changes?” etc.
You will find yourself having the same conversations over and over again as a social media manager. But remember, you’re the expert, and they value your opinion, or at least the channel you manage, which is why they’re coming to you in the first place.
Educating others is a huge part of being a social media manager, and one I take very seriously. While you’ve heard yourself explaining the same thing time and again it’s most likely the first time they’ve heard it. For some folks, social media is very unfamiliar and how you respond to basic questions could make them have an adverse reaction toward social media as a whole. Remember, we want to be strong ambassadors for the profession.
As the keeper of the “keys” to a brand’s social media accounts, social media managers are inundated with requests to posts things. Sometimes, people will make helpful suggestions and offer great content. Other times, not so much. Each of the “not so much” examples are teachable moments. Instead of responding with “No, sorry…,” and coming across like a gatekeeper, lead with “Thank you for sharing, but this is not a fit…” and communicate why. The next time they make a request, it might be the exact thing you’re looking for and you’ve gained a content partner in the process.
Another frequent request (often demand) many social media managers have to navigate is to establish a presence on yet another new channel. Those who don’t directly manage the brand’s social media channels often see the latest emerging platform as something that must be jumped on rather than thinking it through, assuming more is better when it comes to social. But it’s your responsibility to be strategic about the platforms your brand chooses to be active on. Ask specific questions of your colleagues and leadership to facilitate this reoccurring discussion.
In my upcoming book, “Organic Social Media, How to Build Flourishing Online Communities,” you’ll find more conversational guides on how to approach these situations, and more tips on building trust and managing up. I also have an entire chapter on choosing the right platforms. My goal is to help you enjoy a long and successful career in this profession.
Looking for more guidance to elevate your social media career? Join The Arboretum, Sprout’s member-driven virtual community built by social media and marketing professionals.
Jenny Li Fowler
Jenny Li Fowler is the director of social media strategy at MIT. She is in charge of developing and executing Institute-wide social media initiatives and campaigns and she provides social media consultation and direction for more than 200 departments, labs and centers.
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