Battling burnout as a social media manager
It’s a common misconception that social media jobs are glamorous and as simple as posting entertaining, witty Tweets or colorfully curated Instagram posts. And it’s frustrating when friends, family and even colleagues oversimplify your role as a social media manager.
By all accounts, social media professionals have demanding roles that require critical, creative thinking, organization and collaboration across teams. Those demands coupled with the “always on” nature of social media make burnout a very real challenge.
We spoke to Leigh Morrison, the Senior Manager of Corporate Social Media at Red Hat, Inc., a leading technology company that provides enterprise open source solutions*. She and her team are responsible for managing all the corporate social media handles. Given the complex nature of the company’s offerings, the customer and community feedback Red Hat receives on social media every day is invaluable. However, Morrison knows first-hand the challenges and demands that come with that.
“We’re just beginning to understand the potential psychological effects of social media on holistic health and well-being, and we need to consider how those effects may compound for people in our field,” says Morrison. “It’s important to build in moments to step away, connect in real life and recharge.”
Do you feel unable to log off at the end of the day or on weekends? Are you hesitant to take hard-earned PTO? Are you constantly checking your phone, afraid to miss a beat on social? Do you feel overwhelmed by your workload? If so, you might be at risk of burning out, but you’re not alone.
Real talk: we know you're extra tired and burnt out this year. If we need to remind you to take a break every single day, we will.
Be proud of what you've accomplished and remember to put yourself first.
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) October 1, 2021
What is social media burnout?
Social media burnout is defined by chronic mental, physical and/or emotional exhaustion formed from unmanaged, work-related stress. This gradual build up of stress shows up differently depending on the person, but a few common symptoms include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or empty
- Physical manifestations such as fatigue
- Sense of inefficacy or inability to complete tasks
In a 2020 study by Frontiers in Public Health, job burnout is defined as a “long-term response to continuous emotional and interpersonal stress at work.” It’s common among people who have a lot on their plates, especially those in high-stress, high-performing roles—which social media managers know all too well.
A few influencing factors cited by the study include, “role pressure, employee autonomy, work pressure, social support, high-intensity interpersonal interactions, job roles, and demographic variables, etc.”
So what does that look like for marketers? Let’s take a closer look at what contributes to social media burnout.
What contributes to marketers’ social media burnout
There is a mound of factors that cause social media burnout for marketers. For one, social media professionals have to wear many hats while juggling various responsibilities. They’re also the first to see negative feedback or complaints.
Social media is a catalyst in today’s 24/7 news cycle, so marketers face making tough calls amidst global tragedies and social issues. Interacting with an influx of information daily can lead to compassion fatigue, increased emotional labor and anxiety. Lack of support in the workplace can worsen these symptoms as well, so it’s imperative for leaders to show teams they care.
Social media burnout: Why marketing leaders need to care
There are several reasons marketing leaders should care about social media burnout. Here are a few reasons why.
Teams can’t afford to lose great talent
According to the Sprout Social Index™, more than half of marketers say finding experienced talent is their number one challenge this year.
The demands of the role are much more complex and nuanced than ever before, so brands need to be thoughtful and strategic when it comes to identifying, attracting, hiring and retaining qualified talent.
A burned out team is a low-performing team
If your team is feeling burned out, they won’t be able to do their best work. Clouded minds and exhaustion could lead to creative block, or becoming unmotivated to create engaging content. They also won’t have the bandwidth needed to test and experiment, which is crucial to creating a successful social media strategy.
Burnout could reflect poorly on your brand
Your social team interacts frequently with prospects and customers, so practitioner burnout could reflect poorly on your customer experience (and impact your bottom line). If your social team is feeling burned out, it can trickle down to those interactions.
8 tips to minimize social media burnout
From a humanized standpoint, everyone wants to feel supported, especially in the workplace. Here are eight tips to help your team feel seen and heard—along with a few to keep in your pocket for yourself.
Tip 1: Communicate your social media priorities
Saying “no” is a form of self-care too. Social teams can be small and mighty, but let’s be honest, they can’t do everything all the time. This is why communicating your social media marketing priorities is key.
Encourage your team to talk about burnout with you and make it clear you’re open to their concerns.
You might even need to audit your social strategy and ruthlessly prioritize tasks and goals. Prioritization can keep your team focused on the networks and content types that matter the most to your brand and audience.
Tip 2: Build a response protocol
Customer care is a major part of a successful social strategy and requires time, attention and thoughtful engagement.
In the Sprout Social Index™, we found that 36% of consumers say they’ll share a negative customer care experience with friends and family, while 31% won’t complete their purchase. And some 30% will buy from a competitor instead.
When the world can see anything your brand posts, the pressure is on to craft the perfect message and not make a misstep. You might feel anxious when dealing with emotionally charged interactions on social and the scrutiny that comes with it.
Avoid some of the stress by creating a response protocol. Document common reasons customers reach out to you on social media, the sentiment behind them and examples of how to respond—plus situations where your brand won’t respond at all. Having an approved foundation for sending a response reduces the need to develop a new one in the face of every mean Tweet or @-mention.
When responding to comments and complaints, consider the customer you’re interacting with and anyone else online who might witness the public exchange. Redirect conversations to direct messages when possible, to minimize additional scrutiny.
Legitimate customer concerns should never go unaddressed, but be wary of trolls. If your brand is continually targeted by a specific person using hateful or inappropriate language, consider muting or blocking them if that’s an option for your brand.
Tip 3: Reassess the tone of content before publishing
During a brand, local or global crisis, social media managers play a vital role in leading their brand’s reputation and response. Many social pros feel the strain of fielding more questions and concerns from your followers than usual.
To avoid additional stress, take a look at any upcoming content, double-check the tone and reassess publishing, if necessary. What started as a well-intentioned post could be misconstrued as opportunistic or insensitive and spark a brand crisis.
Tip 4: Lean into your community for support
As humans, we’re programmed to crave and seek out connections. That’s the whole point of social, right? If you’re combating burnout, your team and other social media professionals can empathize and support one another.
Morrison advises managers to create a culture of community by normalizing healthy behaviors.
“As a manager, my team looks to me to set boundaries and standards. My advice is to talk about it openly, create norms that make it okay to step away, take moments to bond as a team outside of work,” she says.
If your company has a smaller social team, or you’re a team of one, look for additional support from industry peers. Or, if you can offer support, consider opening yourself up to others.
During the worst of my depressions, as a #socialmediamanager, I work from my bed. I used to feel guilty it but then realized years later that it beats doing nothing.
It led to build Painted Brain's social channels to where it is now at 100K followers. https://t.co/emw6uH1df3
— Kevin Naruse – Social Media Marketer | Writer (@KevinKNaruse) May 17, 2021
If you’re finding it challenging to set professional and personal boundaries, lean into the community and human connections that make social media such a powerful platform.
The hardest part of being a SMM is not creating content or managing social overall.
It’s acknowledging burnout, sticking to your boundaries, finding your voice and taking care of yourself.
And I’m still struggling with that after 7 years in this industry.
— Jenn (@jenncrim) August 26, 2020
Tip 5: Maximize productivity and minimize social media burnout
When you’re passionate about your job, you give it your all. That drive is inspiring, but it’s also important to prioritize healthy routines and recharge.
Here are some productivity tips to help avoid or manage social media burnout:
- Schedule your strengths. If you know your focus or creativity peaks in the morning, block off time to focus on your priorities.
- Take a digital detox. Give yourself time and space to disconnect. Your mind (and your eyes) will thank you.
- Cultivate an immersive hobby that focuses your attention inward. The rise of workism—the belief that work is the centerpiece of one’s identity and purpose—has made it even more important to focus your passions outside of work.
- Avoid comparison. It’s important to know what your competitors are working on, but envy and over-comparing are self-esteem killers. Focus on doing what’s best for you and your own brand.
- Leverage the tools at your disposal to pick up time-consuming, manual social management tasks.
Tip 6: Clean up and moderate your personal feeds
It’s a common assumption that long-term, habitual use of social media can take a negative toll, particularly on young people. However, according to a study by Harvard University, findings suggest that as long as people are mindful users of social media, strong social networks are associated with positive mental health and well-being.
Research scientist Mesfin Awoke Bekalu, who co-authored the study, suggests “the ways that people are using social media may have more of an impact on their mental health and well-being than just the frequency and duration of their use.”
In other words, be mindful of how you’re using social media both at work and at home. Set intention for your social media usage by cleaning up your feed and moderating how you use various networks.
Refresh your feed by unfollowing some people, including friends and family. If their content is making you feel sad, anxious, drained or another negative emotion, it’s time to hit the unfollow button. Curate a timeline that aligns with your values and lifestyle. Follow accounts that inspire and feed you. Follow the accounts that simply make you smile or laugh.
For example, isn’t this dog video adorable?
this audio will never get old 🐶 #funnydog#puppydog#bulldogs#thatsmypuppydog#bulldogsoftiktok#dogsoftiktok#dogsoftiktokviral#thebulldoglevi#englishbulldogsoftiktok#englishbulldogpuppy#bulldog#englishbulldog#bulldogpuppy
At the end of the day, focus on feel-good content—just make sure you aren’t scrolling for hours on end.
Tip #7: Limit the time you spend on online
Many social media marketers limit screen time by setting a timer or using a productivity app. Some social apps record your screen time natively, so try looking at those numbers to give yourself a self-check.
Instead of browsing social media to relax, try other methods like taking a walk, dancing to a favorite song or meditating.
Morrison also recommends, “When I’m in balance, here’s what works for me: Take breaks from technology. Get a buddy who keeps you positive. Celebrate a weekly win. Connect with your peers, preferably offline.”
Social media networks are aware of burnout and have incorporated mental health initiatives into their platforms, so users and social media managers alike can be more mindful of the ways in which they’re using them.
For example, you’ve probably come across Tiktok Tips while binging on the app and heard something along the lines of, “you’ve been scrolling for way too long now.”
Pause your scrolling. Time for a night time snack break!
These videos educate users about in-app safety features, share reminders to take breaks and even encourage people to grab a snack or glass of water.
Social media mindfulness is one of the best ways to battle social media burnout, so think about what works best for you.
Tip #8: Advocate for more team resources
Providing resources is a great way to show support because it makes managing workload easier. Use tools to make manual tasks easier or develop processes to streamline your content production.
However, even the best tools can’t compensate for a narrow team bandwidth. Consider advocating for team expansion or developing a network of freelancers you can rely on as needed.
Social media burnout is real, but you’re not alone
Even when you feel otherwise, you’re not alone.
Remember the heart of social media is connection and continue to seek support from your community. Connect with SMMs through shared experiences.
Sprout can help alleviate some stress by streamlining processes and powering efficiency. Learn how to build a case for expanding your social media department so you can continue to streamline and enable your team’s success.
* This is an updated article. The original interview was conducted in 2020.
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