In the last decade, social media has rapidly evolved and become a major element of marketing in all industries. As a result, social media practitioners now play a role in more business initiatives than ever. They are key players in managing their company’s reputation, deploying customer service, acquiring customers, spotting trends and navigating breaking news. 

It’s a common misconception that social media jobs are glamorous and as simple as posting entertaining, witty Tweets or colorfully curated Instagram posts. It can be 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 Red Hat’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.” 

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared that burnout is an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” Characteristics of burnout include “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.”

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? If so, you might be at risk of burning out, but you’re not alone. 

It’s a common assumption that long-term, habitual use 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 that “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.”

Knowing that your job requires you to be on social platforms frequently, if not all the time, be mindful of how you’re using social both at work and at home. If you’re finding it difficult to set professional and personal boundaries, lean into the community and human connections that make social media such a powerful platform.

How social platforms are combating burnout

Social platforms have taken note and begun to incorporate 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.

 At the end of the day, if you’re feeling burnt out and looking for a laugh, Tiktok videos are fantastic. Doesn’t this dog video just inspire pure joy? 

@kg.shmoneyyyokay if this doesn’t get attention idk what will ##foryou ##lake♬ bingbong – bingbongshowtime

By the same token, Tiktok is known for its addictive nature. Knowing people were getting sucked into the wormhole, the platform launched Tiktok Tips, as part of the “You’re In Control” series, intended to bring forward platform guidelines and tools that are typically buried in a page of text. Tiktok Tips 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.

@tiktoktipsPause your scrolling. Time for a night time snack break!♬ original sound – tiktoktips

In 2019, Pinterest integrated a more compassionate search experience into its platform for users experiencing sadness, stress, anxiety, depression and beyond. If a user searches for “stress relief” or “work anxiety” for example, Pinterest might suggest a collection of emotional well-being activities to redirect your energy. For social media pross looking for a break, these activities might be worth a try.

Similarly, Snapchat is launching “Here For You,” which provides safety resources from mental health experts when users search for a term like “thinspo” (a term combining “thin” and “inspiration”) which is suggestive toward a trend damaging to mental health. And Instagram’s “restrict mode” protects your account from unwanted interactions, helping to combat bullying. 

Balancing customer care and self-care

Customer care is a major part of a successful social strategy and requires time, attention and thoughtful engagement. Responding to comments and complaints in the public eye can be stressful. When the world can see anything your brand posts, the pressure is on to craft the perfect message and not make a misstep. 

SMMs responding to comments and complaints often not only consider the customer you’re interacting with but also anyone who might be witness to the public exchange. Redirect conversations to direct messages when possible, to minimize additional scrutiny.

In the 2019 Sprout Social Index, we found that about 56% of consumers would unfollow a brand due to poor customer service. As a result, 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 scenarios of why customers reach out to you on social media, the sentiment behind them and examples of how to respond—as well as situations where your brand won’t respond at all. That way, while you have an approved foundation for sending a response, so you don’t have to develop a new one in the face of every mean Tweet.

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.

During a brand, local or global crisis, social media managers play a vital role in leading their brand’s reputation and response. With the recent example of COVID-19, many social pros may 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 tone-deaf and spark another crisis for you and your brand or company.

Lean into your community

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. 

“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,” says Morrison. “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.“

If your company has a smaller social team, or you work solo, look for additional support from industry peers. Or, if you can offer support, consider opening yourself up to others.

Maximize productivity and minimize burnout

When you’re passionate about your job, you give it your all. That drive is essential and inspiring, but it’s also important to prioritize healthy routines and recharge. Here are a few tips to help: 

  • 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. 
  • The rise of workism—the belief that work is the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose—has made it even more important to your passions outside of work. Cultivate an immersive hobby that focuses your attention inward. 
  • Avoid comparison. While it’s helpful and important to be aware of what your competitors are working on, envy and comparison can be real self-esteem killers. Focus on doing what’s best for you and your own brand.
  • Leverage the tools at your disposal to pick up some of your more time-consuming, manual social management tasks.

Burnout is real, but you’re not alone. Join our community and connect SMMs through shared experiences. We’d love to hear from you on Twitter. How do you combat burnout?