Some companies still treat the social media team like Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs. They are misunderstood. They are different. They are told to be quiet and do their work. But this misunderstanding–or more accurately, this lack of understanding–does real harm, both to the social media professionals on staff and the company as a whole.
It is time for this to change.
Let’s evaluate the demands on today’s current social media professionals
On a daily basis they are asked to:
Post content to a multitude of channels
Including the time to work with internal stakeholders, draft content, get approvals and create multiple, differently sized versions of each post for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reels, Stories, etc. And then they must schedule it all to go out in a coordinated manner.
Perform community management
This is the real-time management of incoming comments, questions and responses to posts and direct messages. Depending on the company, this can be hundreds or thousands of messages a day. And, most consumers expect a response within 24 hours.
Be the front line of crisis management
Not only is it extremely likely that your social team will be the one to inform you of a crisis, they are also on the front lines of managing it–both reporting on the activity they see as well as deploying the crisis comms plan and response.
Educate & train
Part of every social media professional’s job is to educate people around them about social media. This happens in formal training sessions, but also in dozens of conversations every single day.
Serve as the safety and risk officer
Corporate social media teams are also tasked with keeping the company’s social media safe, which is much easier said than done. This requires someone to be a mini-expert in cybersecurity best practices, identity management best practices and procedures and protocol creation.
Become a social CIO
Social media professionals now need to be technology experts too. A suite of tools is required to run corporate social media operations, and the larger the scale, the more complicated it gets.
Social is pointless unless you can measure your success, which means social media professionals also need to be well-versed in data analytics, social media metrics and data visualization–not to mention the all-important soft skill of being able to explain the data in simple terms.
Keep up with external changes
Clubhouse burst onto the scene only to fizzle and lose the title of hottest newcomer to TikTok. Things are changing in this space all the time. And your social media team has to not only keep up but be prepared to talk intelligently about new platforms and changes to existing platforms.
And be on call 24/7/365
This is a big one. Unlike most other functions, most social media teams operate without a safety net. They oversee a space that never turns off, never shuts down for holidays and never even goes to sleep. They don’t always get a chance to tune out, turn off their phone or unplug.
And yet–despite all of this–sadly some leaders still think social media is “posting stuff on Facebook.” A shocking number of very large companies still operate social media with a team of one, which is ridiculous and also not sustainable for a brand or that one person.
In order to change, companies must recognize one basic truth: social media is an important function and it deserves real resources. Responsible leaders would never suggest that other key functions like HR or Finance should get by with just one person globally for the whole organization.Why do some companies still think social media can do it alone?
From my experience, the answer to that question lies in a two-part answer:
- Social media is still relatively new. MySpace was started in 2003. Facebook was founded a year later. If social media were a human being, it would be old enough to drive but not old enough to drink yet. And let’s be honest–social media has really earned a stiff cocktail or two.
- Executives just haven’t cared enough. Once it became clear that companies needed to be on social media, many relegated it to interns or lower-level staff because the work was not understood. And it’s been an uphill battle from there for social to be recognized as a real discipline. This is an error in leadership and it is detrimental to the whole company.
So what should companies do?
Here are my top suggestions:
Obviously, dedicate more resources to social.
But first, find out what your social media team actually needs. Their answer may surprise you. They may tell you that they would forgo another full-time employee (FTE) for budget to buy critical tools that will help them work more efficiently and more safely. They could say they really need an FTE, but it would be really helpful if they were in a different geography.
If you have a one-person team running all of social, get that person some help, ASAP.
People in this position are literally drowning in work, and they constantly have to choose not to do important things because they do not have enough time in the day. Everyone needs a backup, as my four pillars of good social media governance explains. If your one person was gone, how would you keep social media running?
Learn what your social media team actually does.
Sit down with the team and learn about their day-to-day duties and challenges. Understand their workflows and where they run into trouble.
Recognize that social media safety and governance is real work.
It’s not sexy, but keeping a company’s social media safe can become a monumental task, especially for large, global, matrixed companies. For companies that have already invested strongly in social, imagine having to manage 300 social media channels, all the access for hundreds of people who work on them, passwords, removing people’s access when they leave the company, etc. This work has gotten so specialized and so big that some companies are creating full-time roles in governance and social media operations just for this work. And if you ask me, that trend will continue into the far future.
It’s not that companies are dying to create more roles and pay for more employees. But companies that have made this leap know two things. First, they’ve identified this as real work that takes time and resource investment. And, second, they understand protecting the company from the growing number of security and compliance risks can equal real dollars and are worth protecting against proactively.
Additionally, smart companies recognize that this is work that can be done by a more junior-level staff member. If all you have is one employee doing social, it’s the best use of their time to focus on the higher-level work.
Most importantly, stop sticking social media in the cupboard under the stairs.
Like it or not, social media teams are receiving their magical letters from Hogwarts. Companies that “get it” are resourcing social correctly. And smart social media professionals are going to the companies that get it and leaving the ones that don’t.
If there’s anything COVID taught us, it’s that companies that were resourced and prepared to handle an influx of pressure on the social media operation succeeded in serving customers digitally. Those that had to build the infrastructure in the midst of the pandemic struggled and it showed. Learn from the past–make sure your company is prepared for the future by resourcing correctly now. Also, if you don’t, your entire social team will eventually burn out and quit.
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