sprout social's darryl villacorta

One thing is clear: If you read this blog, you like social media. You might even say you love social media. But when it comes to being wired in 24/7—a path where social media management often leads—how much is too much?

New research suggests that if you find yourself constantly checking your phone and responding to your brand’s online community, you might have an addiction. There’s even a doctor-developed test to see if you truly need help.

But take a deep breath, because prevention is key. If you put the right strategy in place, appropriately manage expectations and deliver results, you will see that it’s OK to unplug every now and then without compromising your brand’s overall communication.

Burnout is Real

True, social media is evolving, and to stay on top of it, social media managers dedicate significant amounts of time to reading about trends. Add this to monitoring real-time brand chatter, engaging with community members, dissecting social analytics and keeping pace with pop culture, and it can be exhausting. But, as others have pointed out, exhaustion is not a status symbol.

twitter bird on a branch

Social media burnout is very real, and at times, it creeps up when you least expect it (monthly reports, anybody?). It has been documented that 86 percent of social media professionals have experienced some form of burnout in their careers. The causes range from keeping up with the ever-changing social landscape to creating large volumes of high-quality content.

social media burnout statistics

Of course, brands all have different expectations for achieving their social goals. Some say social media management only takes 15 minutes a day. Others, such as Social Media Strategist Mark Smiciklas, put it closer to 15 hours:

  • Conversations: 4 hours
  • Community building: 2 hours
  • Listening: 2.5 hours
  • Strategy: 2.5 hours
  • Updating social networks: 4 hours

Striking the Right Balance

In light of the variety of tasks to complete each day—and not having historical perspective on proper staffing, appropriate bandwidths and ideal resource allocation in a relatively nascent discipline—social media management can seem impossible for a party of one.

Speaking to The Washington Post, University of Houston Professor Brené Brown stated this case quite clearly.

“I think it’s a combination of technology and the economic realities, where so many people are doing more than one job,” Brené said. “It’s the whole adage of doing more with less. To be really honest with you, I don’t think it’s doable. The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are beyond human scale.”

Most social media managers can relate. Sure, there are times when checking status updates on a Thursday at 8 p.m. feels like nails on a chalkboard, but I often find myself gravitating back toward my phone or laptop anyway, eager to pick up where I left off. My body may be tired, but my brain somehow finds a way to focus in. Still, is this a mindset we’ve created for ourselves?

“The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are beyond human scale.” —University of Houston Professor Brené Brown

Trial and Error

Some professionals have tried to cure themselves. A few years back, CNN Producer Kiran Khalid attempted to spend five days off social media. She vowed not to read or post updates while on vacation and even locked her BlackBerry away in a safe.

While Khalid made a brave attempt to unplug, the testimony of her five-day experiment paints a different picture:

  • “Resisting the urge to cheat—it’s daunting dining alone, without an electronic companion—I take out my journal and start writing about my day. So far, so good, I think.”
  • “Every time I go for a swim, come back and lie in the warm sun, I reach for my BlackBerry that’s not there—it’s become second nature.”
  • “This [reggae party] would be exponentially more amusing if I could Tweet it or take a picture and post it to Facebook, but I resist the urge.”
  • “OK, so that whole ‘I don’t miss social media’ stuff isn’t true. It’s been four days since I logged onto my accounts, and I’m anxious to see what my friends are up to and fill them in on my reclamation-of-sanity tour here in Antigua.”

Nearing the conclusion of her trip, Khalid reminisces: “I feel rested–I do think there has been a beneficial disconnect.”

ocean sunset view
Amid a beautiful sunset, CNN Producer Kiran Khalid checks her email.

Experience First, Post Second

Curiosity is essential, regardless of discipline. For social media managers, it’s especially important to keep this top of mind. Remember, there is an actual world outside that should be influencing how we are engaging with our community. Conversations are essential online, but they tend to be enhanced in person. Checking out a museum may inspire some great ideas, but it doesn’t necessitate that you check in on Foursquare too. Social isn’t just the end; it’s also the means.

Boundaries Inspire Better Engagement

If you’ve developed bad habits of working yourself to exhaustion, tackle them head on by setting some tactical boundaries:

  • Dedicate time each day to being unplugged—this is when your best ideas might come.
  • Remember the relationships you’ve built offline—they can inspire new ways to engage with your community.
  • Don’t sleep next to your phone—it’s just not healthy.

It’s natural to get caught up in the rush of doing good work as a social media manager, but the onus shouldn’t be on you entirely. Social is—wait for it—social. Thus, your main charge is fostering a culture of social engagement, both with your online audience as well as with your coworkers.

That means getting your entire organization—from marketing and sales to R&D and human resources—in on the action. Equip everyone with the right tools to serve as brand ambassadors, as you collectively publish content, engage with your community and analyze your efforts together. In doing so, you will find that no man is an island—but that doesn’t mean he can’t escape to one every now and then.