If you’ve ever wondered how to become a social media manager, you’re in the right place. Platforms and consumer preferences may change constantly, but there are still core principles that can set the foundation for a thriving career in social media management.

We interviewed four social media managers to ask them why they pursued this career path, what it’s really like behind-the-scenes and how you can land a role (even without any experience). Here’s what they said.

What is a social media manager?

Social media managers are in charge of representing a company across social channels as the voice of the brand. They monitor audience engagement, develop campaigns and create content strategies. They also serve as internal experts, providing organizations with the guidance needed to enhance their online presence with key audiences.

“Social media manager” is often used as an umbrella term for a variety of social media careers, but it’s not the first stop on the journey. Professionals typically work as social media coordinators, specialists or content creators before stepping into a management role.

Why become a social media manager?

Each person’s reason for becoming a social media manager differs depending on their professional goals and personal needs for fulfillment. We spoke with three social media professionals about why they chose this field. Here’s what they had to say.

Create authentic connections

Being at the helm of a brand’s social presence means you have the potential to humanize the company and create authentic connections. That’s what drove Caitlin Pierson, Social Media Specialist at the University of Newcastle, to her role.

“I love how personal and genuine brands can get on social media and the communities they can create. From a young age I saw the power in social, and have wanted to be a part of the industry ever since.”

A Facebook post from The University of Newcastle, Australia, recognizing a professor recently ranked 1st in country in the 2024 World Online Ranking of Best Medicine Scientists.

Work in a dynamic field

Social media’s role in business success is evolving and expanding every day. What was once thought of as another marketing channel is now widely accepted as a platform for customer care, market research and most importantly, direct sales.

For Gabby Barnes, Social Media Manager at Casual Fridays agency, the best thing about her job is seeing social’s impact on her client’s goals.

“As both a user and an insider, it’s evident that awareness is grown, traffic is driven and communities are built through social media more than any other tool.”

Develop transferable skills

Becoming a social media manager also involves developing many transferable skills, including communication, adaptability, attention to detail and problem solving.

Stepping into a social media management role can serve as a launch pad toward marketing leadership positions—including chief marketing officer and social media executive.

What do social media managers do?

No day is typical for a social media manager. Their work spans across platforms and often includes playing many different roles. Here’s a look at the tasks our experts juggle each month.

Content creation

Social media managers play an integral role in developing content for a brand’s social presence. They can write copy, capture photos, record and edit videos—but their role goes far beyond publishing posts.

For example, Raven Gill, Social Media Manager at Communicators Group, a full-service marketing agency, meets with her creative team on a monthly basis to discuss ways their content calendar will deliver on business goals. She also prioritizes staying on the pulse of social trends so she can create timely content that resonates with her audience.

She explains, “I collaborate with our copywriting team to design content calendars every month, but I also create posts as they happen organically.”

As a social media manager, you must master the art of content development and providing creative vision to a larger team.

Community management and engagement

Many social media managers, including Pierson, are responsible for managing their brand’s community. That includes finding opportunities to make loyal superfans feel welcome and appreciated—whether it’s highlighting a post or leaving a friendly comment.

a LinkedIn exchange between Sprout Social, and fan commenting on a recent post.

Social media managers elicit feedback as much as possible because listening to the needs of their community is what’ll keep members engaged.

Social media managers use tools like Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox to stay on top of incoming messages and mentions without getting overwhelmed.

Managing and building influencer partnerships

For social media managers like Barnes, managing influencer and creator partnerships is a core part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Using influencer and creator-generated content is a prime way to reach your audience, whether you’re looking to nurture existing customers or attract new ones. But forging and maintaining relationships with influencers and creators takes more than just sharing a creative brief and calling it a day. According to the 2024 Influencer Marketing Report, 35% of influencers believe involving influencers in creative and content brainstorming earlier would result in better partnerships.

A data visualization ranking the ways influencers would improve on brand partnerships. The most common answer is to include influencers in creative and content brainstorming earlier.

Social media managers leading these partnerships balance finding creators, hosting meetings, advocating for resources and approving content.

Data analysis

Social media managers know their brand’s posts aren’t just being sent into the void. Achieving social goals depends on people liking and engaging with their content. That’s why they consistently measure their social performance and make real-time adjustments on a regular basis.

Gill says, “On the first of each month I generate reports for most of my clients. I analyze the data and try to provide three recommendations or strategies for the future.”

These efforts can extend beyond monitoring the performance of owned social profiles. Social media managers also use social listening tools to track and analyze the millions of conversations happening on social media daily.

Social listening tools use AI and automation to identify conversational insights around a brand, its competitors, an industry and consumers—all of which are critical for crisis management and brand safety. They also gather vital sentiment analysis data, allowing social teams to manage brand reputation in real-time.

A chart from The Sprout Social Index™ that reads, "Marketers' POV on social's business-wide influence." Below are three vertical rectangles of different heights: the smallest has text on it that reads "43% social teams still feel siloed." The second tallest one reads "65% agree other departments inform our social efforts." And the tallest pillar reads, "76% agree our team's social insights inform other departments."

Both types of social data have large-scale impacts beyond social. It can help improve a product or provide insight into a competitor’s audience. Social media managers must convey how findings on social translate to the big picture.

Reputation management

All of the tasks outlined above contribute to a business’ online reputation. Anything—from a customer question gone unanswered to the wrong influencer partnership—can result in an unintended brand crisis. It’s a social media manager’s responsibility to keep their ear to the ground so businesses can proactively respond to potential threats.

Additionally, even though review sites like Yelp, Google My Business, Glassdoor,‌ and TrustPilot aren’t usually seen as social platforms, social media teams still keep an eye on them. It can be a lot to manage, so many use tools like Sprout Social that combine all their messages from social media and review sites into one place.

Sprout’s review management dashboard, which aggregates reviews from Yelp, Google My Business, Trust Pilot and more into a single, unified stream.

What skills do you need to become a social media manager?

All brands can differ in what they want from a social media manager, so our experts recommend refining these core social media skills to start your career.

Experience developing strategic content

Most social media manager roles require experience creating social content that resonates with a target audience—like this job posting from Notion demonstrates.

A Social Media Manager job listing from Notion. The listing calls for a collaborative self-starter who can partner strategically across functions and develop content.

If you don’t have professional experience, that’s okay. Instead, practice honing your skills on your own personal social media accounts. You can also build on this skill by developing social strategies for brands you admire. Both exercises can help you showcase your abilities while developing a starter portfolio.

Social analytics proficiency

All of our experts agreed social analytics skills are a requirement for social media managers.

For example, in this job description, Intelligentsia is looking for someone with platform-specific analytics experience to fill their social media manager role.

A social media manager job description from Intelligentsia.

You must also be able to understand and interpret how social insights impact your business goals. Knowing which data points matter most is essential. As Barnes says, “It’s easy to get caught up in more visible wins like the number of new followers or getting on the Explore page, but more behind-the-scenes metrics like engagement, clicks or recall are likely more relevant to your goals and what your social media team is spending their efforts trying to improve.”

Improve your analytics skills so you can provide data-driven answers to questions from your colleagues in marketing and beyond.

Effective project management skills

Being able to manage multiple projects simultaneously—while balancing competing priorities—is essential for all social media marketers. The role requires attention to detail, aptitude for solving hard problems, time management skills and flexibility.

Barnes describes, “Being able to juggle multiple relevant tasks and prioritize them effectively is necessary in the day-to-day. The nature of the industry means things can change at a moment’s notice, and you have to prove you can adapt.”

When applying for jobs, identify proof points you can share with future employers to demonstrate your project management skills—from overseeing multiple projects at once to how you organize your day to focus on your most important tasks.

How to become a social media manager

We asked our panel of experts about the steps that made a difference on their path to becoming a social media manager, so you can start your journey off on the right foot.

Step 1: Immerse yourself in social media culture

We asked our LinkedIn community which skills are the most important to become a social media manager. Of the 784 respondents, 44% said understanding social culture was the most critical to success.

A Twitter poll from Sprout Social that asks our community what skills are the most important for becoming a social media manager. The top result was understanding social culture, which 44% respondents agreed with.

There is no training, course or class that can make up for a lack of familiarity with digital culture. To create relevant, engaging content that aligns with consumer preferences, you need to be online.

Don’t take this to mean that you need to spend hours scrolling every social media platform each day. Instead, think about how you can develop a strategic eye during your standard scrolling sessions. What content formats are garnering the most attention? Are there any brands that stand out in your feeds? Why?

Ask yourself these questions to refine your perspective on creating a performance-driven social presence.

Step 2: Maintain an understanding of social media platforms

As social media continues to evolve, new specialties and niches are emerging. You should use that as an opportunity to become a subject matter expert.

For example, while most social media managers are well-versed in the big five platforms—Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly known as Twitter) and LinkedIn—becoming an expert in one will help you differentiate. As social media network fragmentation continues to take place, being the first to explore a developing platform can also be a way of cementing your expertise.

You can also specialize in other areas, like creator relations, community management and employee advocacy. Finding your niche will enhance your value as a candidate.

Step 3: Choose an education path

The education requirements needed for social media careers vary by employer. Due to the fast-paced nature of social, many businesses will accept a concrete portfolio of work experience in lieu of a formal degree. That said, a degree in marketing or communications can make it easier to get your foot in the door.

Higher education is no small decision, so it’s important to make the choice that makes the most sense for your goals and budget.

If you decide to pursue a degree, consider colleges with programs taught by active social media professionals, such as West Virginia University. Some schools even offer graduate programs in social media.

If getting a degree doesn’t interest you, focus on gaining real-world experience. Offer your services to local or small businesses by creating custom strategy pitches to get your first clients. You can also volunteer your services to nonprofit organizations, which can build your portfolio while doing good for your community.

Step 4: Strengthen your communication skills

Communication is the foundation of a social media manager’s job. All of our experts cited how important refining communication skills—including social media copywriting and presenting on camera—are to landing a role.

Barnes credits her writing skills for her position.

“I believe being a strong writer is a key skill in most industries, especially social media. I have a background in writing both long and short-form content for a variety of platforms, and with my agency experience, I’m used to switching between different voices and goals on a daily basis.”

To improve your communication skills, practice often, turn to online tools (example: the Hemingway editor) and read and watch a breadth of digital media.

Step 5: Develop an understanding of marketing priorities

From the outside looking in, marketing priorities can seem static—increase brand awareness, drive customer loyalty, so on and so forth. In reality, there are a lot of factors that influence what’s top of mind for marketing professionals.

This year, the rise of AI and challenging market conditions have pushed marketing leaders to focus on scaling efforts with new technologies to boost ROI. Aspiring social media managers in today’s market can separate themselves from the pack by embracing AI tools while demonstrating their understanding of a performance-driven social strategy.

Remember: These priorities aren’t static. Read trade publications like Ad Age and DigiDay to stay up-to-date on what matters to marketers today.

Step 6: Experiment with social media management tools

Most social media management roles will require a familiarity with social media management tools and technology. That can be both the native reporting tools available within social media platforms and third-party tools, like Sprout.

Most platforms offer training resources to help you get acclimated to their reporting tools. For example, Meta Blueprint offers free, self-guided courses to help build marketing skills across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The homepage of the Meta Blueprint website.

Third-party tools also offer training resources and free trials so you can experiment with professional-grade tools on your own time.

Jumpstart your social media manager career

Prepared with advice from these experts, you’re ready to start working toward a career as a social media manager. Remember: It’s possible to land a role without any experience if you channel your unique expertise, hone the right skills and are willing to keep learning.

If you’re ready to take your first step, try Sprout for free today. Explore our suite of social media management tools to get a first-hand look at what a day in your dream job is like.