Marketing leaders often take a unique path to get to managing a social media team. The journey isn’t always linear: while some come up through the social ranks, plenty learn about social and gain their communications experience from public relations, content, creative or account services roles.
And while the responsibility of leading a social team often comes as part of a promotion, the unfortunate reality is that it can also come from restructuring or downsizing. As we’ve seen lately, COVID-19 has forced some marketing departments to reduce ad spending and downsize teams, meaning that there are plenty of marketers who are getting involved in managing social media for the first time.
If you’ve recently found yourself managing the social team, it’s essential to understand the valuable, challenging and growing responsibilities of social media managers. Given that 89% percent of consumers say they will buy from a brand they follow on social, one of the most important things you need to understand is that social can be a powerful business growth driver…as long as you get up to speed quickly and help your team advance your strategy.
In this article, we’ll address how you can get up to speed on social quickly, align business and social goals, protect your team’s mental health and cultivate a productive relationship with social practitioners.
Start with these major must-haves
If you’re less familiar with social media, genuine curiosity will get you a long way. Get to know your social media team members, ask all of the questions, make sure you truly understand the answers and don’t be afraid to admit that there are gaps in your knowledge of social.
As you get to know your social team and their responsibilities, consider asking questions like:
- Who is our target audience?
- What social platforms do we focus on and why?
- For a new brand that suddenly has to put its foot on the pedal, how can we get our brand discovered and increase our share of voice on social?
- How are we using social media data? Do we have a system to track and report on social data? If not, what do we need in order to establish one?
- What metrics are we reporting on and what do those metrics really mean? Ask for specific definitions if you need them.
- How can I make your job easier and help you achieve your social goals?
Before diving into this conversation, brush up on your foundational understanding of social with the Sprout Social Index, our annual state of the industry report that shows how consumers and your fellow marketers are approaching social. If you’re ready to learn more about how to use social data for industry benchmarks, turn your focus to this article.
Balance your knowledge with your social team’s expertise
In the latest Sprout Social Index, we learned that marketing leaders are 36% more likely than practitioners to say growing their audience is a primary goal, while 69% of practitioners cite increasing brand awareness as their top priority. However, in this example, one goal helps achieve the other; growing your audience followers shows that you’ve increased awareness. Collaborate with your social team to bring together strategy and tactical tips and establish shared goals with your teams right out of the gate.
Social media practitioners spend most of their time interacting, communicating with and catering to the brand’s audience. They have access to a wealth of knowledge about who their customers are, what content resonates the most with them and what their audience wants from brands on social. Marketing leaders, on the other hand, are focused on big picture company goals and are tasked with finding ways to support other departments. Working together to set goals will help practitioners shape campaigns, strategies and tactics that contribute to all parts of your business.
To truly understand your audiences there is no substitute for being in the platforms themselves every day.
That's why social media decisions should be made by those who manage the channels.
Not by those in the c-suites.
— Jenny Li Fowler (anti-racist, pro-mask) (@thejennyli) June 22, 2020
While most people use social to some extent, marketing leaders need to acknowledge that the practitioners are the experts on how your brand should use it strategically. They know your audience and how social works best. Let your social teams know they are in charge while also helping them to shape the narrative around top-of-mind goals. You look to them for the voice of the customer, but know when you need to step in to remind them to think more holistically.
Leaders must also understand what challenges your social media team is facing and what are potential blockers getting in the way of achieving your goals. While it will vary from marketer-to-marketer, the thing marketers struggle most with is identifying and reaching their target audience, followed by measuring ROI.
Marketing leaders have the experience, influence and expertise to help social media managers overcome these challenges. Invite them to meetings with other departments to share social insights with the larger team. Coach them on creating a business case to secure resources they need to monitor competition or measure ROI. Build your team’s influence internally by encouraging them to make proactive recommendations and coach them on what business goals they can inform or support using social data.
Learn about the day-to-day of your social team
It’s essential for leaders to have a full understanding of the social media manager’s day-to-day. Social media marketing isn’t just a set it and forget it kind of thing—it requires constant attention and critical thinking. If you think that social marketing is a simple job, think again.
Get to know the many small but time-consuming tasks that your social team tackles each day. For instance, how much time goes into responding to inbound messages? How long does it take to source, write and schedule a social calendar? How often is your social media manager analyzing and reporting on data?
At some companies, social media may just be one aspect of a marketer’s job. If a marketer is also writing blog content, building out creative assets or developing communication crisis plans, that’s a lot of responsibilities on top of their social media work. Understanding their workload will help you find and eliminate any inefficiencies that could free up time for marketers to focus on more in-depth work.
I’m starting to think that asking ONE person to be a
and calling them “social media manager” is a little much, don’t you agree?
— Jon-Stephen Stansel (@jsstansel) June 17, 2020
Social media managers wear many hats. They are creatives, analysts, customer advocates for the rest of their organization and so much more. Acknowledge how much work they do and regularly check-in to ensure that they feel supported and how you can lighten their workload.
Address the emotional labor required of social media managers
There’s a lot to love about social media, but there’s also a dark side. With the recent examples of both COVID-19 and the growing movements for racial equality, social media practitioners have been in a high-pressure situation for months. They act as the face of their brand which puts them in a position that comes with extreme levels of scrutiny.
The direct connection your social media managers have to your audience makes their perspective invaluable. If your company is making a difficult decision, you must have social media staff in the conversation. They know better than anyone how your fans and customers will react.
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) June 16, 2020
Whether a brand is working to overcome its own crisis or trying to find the right way to take a stand during times of extreme unrest, social teams play a vital role in delivering the message. As a leader, you might help with crafting the response and providing approval to post on social, but ultimately, social media managers are the ones that will take the brunt of any criticism, backlash or verbal abuse from the public. As a result, SMMs are constantly battling burnout and taking hits to their mental health.
I am 0% shocked by the number of extremely amazing strategic communications professionals that are looking to RUN, not walk, away from a career in social media admist three months of nonstop crisis communications, stress, and minimal support.
— Nikki Sunstrum 〽️ (@nikkisunstrum) June 15, 2020
Don’t let your social media practitioners suffer in silence. As soon as you step into your leadership role, let your team know they can speak up, express their concerns, and be heard if they’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
Continue to educate yourself
Social media managers learn about new trends, consumer behaviors and invaluable data every single day. It’s essential for marketing leaders to hold regular meetings with their social team where they can break down what’s working, what’s not and how the brand can leverage social insights to pivot or improve upon a strategy.
These meetings will expand your social knowledge, but leaders should continue to educate themselves on their own time. Go straight to the source and follow other social media leaders and trade publications on social. Here’s a shortlist of some accounts to follow:
- Social Media Today
- Social Media Examiner
- Brittany Bright
- Jon-Stephen Stansel
- Julian Gumbo
- Jenn Hartman
- Jenny Li Fowler
- Mari Smith
- Matthew Kobach
- And of course, Sprout Social.
This spring, we hosted Sprout Sessions Digital 2020, a virtual event where more than 3,200 social marketers spent a full day connecting and learning from one another about how to propel their brands forward. For the first time in Sprout Sessions (live or digital) history, we’ve made several recorded sessions available for all marketers looking for advice on what’s new and next in social. Watch them here.