A social media manager can be a marketer, a strategist, a copywriter, a designer, an analyst and a customer service rep—sometimes all in one day. As someone who loves a challenge, that variety is one of the things that first drew me to working in social.
Managing all of these diverse responsibilities requires social media managers to develop a number of crucial marketing and marketing-adjacent social media skills. An effective social media pro brings both hard skills and soft skills to the table, both types which take time and effort to develop. Hard skills like data analysis and copywriting can be more easily studied and trained, whereas soft skills like being organized and making connections may be more difficult to learn, but are just as important.
One of the most rewarding and challenging things about working in social is that you’re never done learning. You have to constantly refine and develop all nine of the social media skills below to continue advancing in your career. The more you focus on cultivating these skills, the more you’ll be able to drive results, realize true business impact and level up your own abilities as a social pro.
Level up your social media skills with the right social tools
As you master the skills in this article, start leveraging a social media management tool to further your social success.
At its core, social media is a communication platform—so as a social media professional, it’s important to have strong communication skills that can flex to fit any platform, media, character count or audience.
In a given day, I’m often switching between communicating with customers in the Sprout Inbox, meeting with our product team to share feedback, writing a brief to kick off a creative project or compiling a social listening analysis to share with leadership. I have to be able to communicate ideas to a wide range of stakeholders in both my own voice and in Sprout’s.
Communicating on social
As the voice of your brand for customers on social, you have to be able to drop what you’re doing at a moment’s notice to hop on a trending topic or handle a disgruntled customer complaint. And you aren’t only communicating in writing; you’re also using emojis, video, GIFs, pictures, stickers and anything else at your disposal to get your message across in a clear and engaging way.
Communicating with your boss & team
Internally, you also have to be able to effectively communicate with your boss, peers and collaborators across teams. It’s particularly important that you can speak to any internal stakeholder about your social media strategy, content distribution plan and impact of your work. The ability to explain how your work on social moves the business forward is one of the most important skills any social media professional can develop.
Last but not least, strong communication skills are key to developing internal education and training. While your social media team might lead the charge for your company’s social media marketing efforts, you can also work to train people from departments like customer support, sales and creative to support—and use—social in their own roles.
Resources to build your communication skills
- TED Talks on communication: Hear from some of the world’s most inspiring speakers on improving your conversations, digital communications and storytelling abilities.
- Adapt: In our digital publication, we speak to executives and often focus on increasing the influence and business impact of social. Subscribe to get insights in your inbox every month.
While there are many skills that can help get your message across on social, the core of communication always comes back to the written word.
The best social media managers are excellent copywriters and sparkling digital conversationalists who not only embody, but enhance, their brand’s voice on social. From attention-grabbing ad copy to witty social banter, you should know how to write concise copy that elicits emotion from your audience. Makeup brand Il Makiage does a fantastic job of this, pairing cheeky captions with their colorful, highly saturated images to tell a story and connect with their pop culture-savvy audience.
Effective writers also know how to tailor their writing for different audiences and platforms. For example, while you can use up to 2,200 characters in your Instagram captions, data has shown that the most engaging length for Instagram captions is between 138–150 characters.
While writing is an important social media skill for creating engaging content and conversations, it’s also important for your career. If you’re asked to contribute to your company’s blog, provide executives with insight into your strategy or make the case for increasing your social media budget, there will likely be writing involved. The ability to articulate yourself in clear, well-reasoned emails, strategies and presentations will help your ideas make an impression.
Resources to improve your writing
- Hemingway Editor: This website and app can help make your writing more concise and readable. While this is geared more for long-form writing, it can also be used for creating impactful social media posts.
- Grammar Girl: When I’m not referencing our internal style guide, I’m double-checking thorny grammar questions by Googling “grammar girl” and whatever my question is.
- Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed: Broaden your vocabulary with words of the day, learn the difference between similar terms and enjoy a little snark 🔥when this dictionary Tweets about misused or made-up words in the news cycle.
Differentiation is one of the biggest challenges for brands in the saturated social media space. Every social media manager wants to create content that’s exciting, valuable and buzz-worthy, but it takes creativity to come up with ideas that stand out.
When it comes to social media skills, creativity is particularly versatile. Creativity helps social media managers:
- Develop innovative, risk-taking social campaigns
- Create visually appealing, multimedia content
- Consider every aesthetic detail of a social post, from images to links to formatting of copy
- Lead productive brainstorms that bring out their teammates’ best ideas
- Hone and expand their brand’s voice and persona
On par with being creative is having a sense of humor and ability to improvise in any given situation. One of my favorite creative moments was when our video team spotted a punny holiday Tweet from our partners at Zendesk…and knowing we had a skeleton of our own, we jumped into action to reply in kind:
Our partners, audience and internal team had a lot of fun with this exchange of witty bone mots (get it?!), and it also helped our video and social teams pioneer a process for quickly executing on timely, creative social content ideas in the future.
Resources to flex your creativity
- Creative Mornings events: Creative Mornings is a global breakfast event series for the creative community. Join a local event or the online community to connect with other curious, creative leaders in marketing, design and social.
- Improvisation classes: Taking improv classes can teach you how to problem-solve in a different way and give you more confidence in managing customer responses on the fly.
- Fast Company and Campaign: These two publications offer thoughtful commentary and criticism on the creative ad world. Read for insight into brand and creative strategy, industry-leading campaigns and thought leadership.
- Online classes: LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare, along with a myriad of other services, offer online classes on everything from writing to mobile photography. Canva has basic design classes for non-designers that you can take online to improve on your graphic design skills.
4. Efficiency & top-notch organization
You can’t manage a social media strategy without managing your time wisely, making efficiency and organization two necessary social media skills.
As a social media manager, not only do you have to conceptualize campaigns and distribution rhythms, but you have to lead and execute these plans from start to finish. To do this at scale, a skilled social pro will implement tools, policies and processes for their social presence to keep all of the moving pieces straight. Using a social media calendar is one of the best ways to keep content organized and plan ahead.
Resources to improve efficiency & organization
- Pomodoro Technique and time-boxing: You can agonize over the perfect copy all day…but sometimes you’ve got 50 messages to write and schedule standing between you and your weekend. Setting aside a limited block of time to work on a task helps me keep things moving.
- Prioritizing by value: Sometimes everything about social feels urgent—but you have to start with what’s most valuable. Here, our CEO explains his process for prioritization.
5. Traditional & digital marketing
If you see your role as one focused on accomplishing social goals, I want to challenge you to think bigger. Social sits at the intersection of marketing, customer experience and sales and is the source of so much valuable business intelligence.
Yet despite the multidisciplinary nature of social, 47% of social marketers say developing social strategies that support overall business goals is their number one challenge. Your ability to connect your social strategy to larger marketing and business goals is what will take your career to the next level.
To create a social strategy with business impact, it’s important to build an understanding of other traditional and digital marketing approaches: email, events, lead generation, PR and more. This knowledge will help you position social within the larger context of how your brand connects with its customers, drives sales and ultimately generates revenue.
Resources to increase your marketing skills
- Marketing influencers: Leaders like Joe Pulizzi and Seth Godin have stood the test of time with marketing wisdom all social pros can use.
- Textbooks & marketing courses: I find myself referring to my old sociology and marketing research textbooks all the time! If you’re learning on the job, check out LinkedIn Learning courses on marketing and strategy.
- Books by Malcolm Gladwell: Read “The Tipping Point” or “Outliers” to strengthen your understanding of human behavior and marketing.
6. Customer care
Customer care is a social media skill that combines customer service, people skills and an eye for uncovering opportunities. Developing a social customer care strategy is an integral part of being a social media manager.
When more than 45% of consumers have reached out to a company on social, you need to be able to navigate these sometimes choppy waters. Not only do you have to listen to and understand the concerns, demands and even praise of current customers, but you also have to be proactive about what future customers might say. It’s equally important to be able to read a DM and identify the “why” behind what a customer is upset about, as it is to be able to find a clever way to surprise and delight a long-time fan.
For instance, women’s clothing and accessories brand ban.do constantly celebrates their customers. When one of their repeat customers shared a product suggestion on Twitter, ban.do quickly replied to let their customer know their feedback had been heard and shared with the team.
As a social media manager, you are your brand’s biggest champion. Understanding customer care enables you to make a positive impact in the hearts and minds of your community. Personalizing your interactions by referencing conversation history can help take an everyday interaction and turn it into an extra special moment.
Resources to enhance your customer care
- Zendesk’s Relate blog and events: Check out Relate for consistently great content on relationships, customer service and leadership.
- Podcasts: Customer care starts with customer understanding. Some of our favorite podcasts on this topic include Hidden Brain, Invisibilia and What It Means, but you can check out our full list of favorite podcasts here.
7. Making connections
One of the core tenets of social media is being inherently social. This means that establishing and building digital relationships is still a core aspect of any social media manager’s approach.
Our research has found that 64% of consumers want brands to connect with them on social. When they feel connected to a brand, 57% of people will increase their spending with that brand and 76% will choose that brand over a competitor. There are always new connections to be made on social, and the best social pros are proactive and creative when it comes to building them.
That said, everyone has a different comfort and skill level when it comes to connection and engagement. As a social media manager, get comfortable experimenting, honing your brand voice and understanding the landscape of how playful or risk-taking you can be. What worked for Wendy’s in their now-legendary #NuggsForCarter exchange isn’t going to work for every brand, and that’s ok.
As valuable as 1:1 connections are, these everyday interactions also provide the answer to one of social marketers’ greatest challenges. Our 2019 Sprout Social Index found that social practitioners’ top challenge is identifying and understanding their target audience.
As a social media manager, your quantitative audience insights as well as anecdotal experiences of connecting with your followers give you an invaluable understanding of what your audience wants and needs.
Resources for understanding & connecting with your audience
- CMX Facebook Group, Summit & resources: CMX is an organization for community professionals to network, grow and thrive. Check out their free resources and annual conference.
- Sprout Social Index: Our annual report on the state of social is 60+ pages of data on what consumers really want on social and what marketers are doing.
- Data report: What consumers want from brands in a divided society: In this consumer trends report, we surveyed consumers to understand their desire for greater connection—with the brands they love and with each other—and how brands today benefit when they facilitate connection on social.
As we all know, the social landscape moves fast and even the best laid plans can quickly become irrelevant.
The ability to quickly pivot and react to a new trend, opportunity or crisis is an indispensable social media skill. In the everyday, being agile and flexible can help you decisively respond to a frustrated customer (or an appreciative superfan) in equally empathetic and personalized ways.
It’s also important to be agile when it comes to your long-term strategy. Social strategies have to be as dynamic and flexible as the platforms they rely on. As a social media manager, it’s important to experiment with different tactics, or even shake up your strategy entirely, to adapt to new trends, to incorporate business changes or to bounce back from subpar results.
Learning from your data, listening to feedback (customer and internal) and keeping a pulse on social trends can all make you a more agile social media manager.
- Know Your Meme: This site can be helpful in keeping up with daily development of new memes.
- The Twitter Trends sidebar is a useful resource to keep an eye on when looking for emerging trends and new content.
- Google Alerts: Enter keyword alerts for a variety of reasons: keep up on company mentions on the internet, industry news and world news.
- Hashtag Holidays Calendar: Our annual hashtag holidays calendar helps you plan your social content in advance—or fill a gap when you need inspiration or to inject some fun into your content.
9. Data analysis
We’re all familiar with end-of-month reporting, but skillful social media managers are looking at data and turning it into action more regularly than once a month.
Understanding both quantitative & qualitative data
Those of us who have been working in social for awhile might be wary of qualitative data—back in the wild west days of social, it was so crucial to be able to present accurate, quantitative data to provide the value of your efforts that qualitative data was often pushed to the side.
Today, with the growing importance of social listening, it’s important to develop both quantitative and qualitative data analysis skills in order to understand the full picture and performance of social.
Communicating your insights to stakeholders
Reporting on social performance is a good first step, but analysis means looking at your data and being able to identify trends, develop recommendations and communicate a plan of action. Analysis gives you something solid and valuable to bring to your boss, your collaborators and even other departments.
For example, one of our goals this year was to increase the amount of social impressions and engagements driven by content from our Adapt publication. We saw that the content resonated with our audience, but we wanted to explore different media types and channels to see what was most successful for each of these metrics.
Our design team developed new title image templates that our social team started using to promote our content. Here’s an example of a Tweet with standard blog art:
And here’s one featuring a new title image:
We found that these consistently outperformed social posts with blog art alone in terms of engagements—but not impressions. With that knowledge, our designers have made title images a standard deliverable whenever they create new blog artwork, and our social team has continued to use both to support our engagement and impressions goals. In this case, social data affirmed the work our designers were doing and gave them a new output to consider when brainstorming creative for future projects.
Resources for building your analytical skills
- Index webinar: In this free webinar, I spoke to our CMO and Director of Communications & Content (my boss) where they shared what data they want to see from social and how to use social data to communicate your business impact.
- Data-driven marketing series: Ready to think strategically about data? Check out our Adapt series on data-driven marketing to learn how to build a culture, team and data pipeline for success. Here’s the first article.
- #SproutChat with Joe Wadlington of Twitter: Watch our conversation with Joe to learn more about using both quantitative and qualitative data.
If you already excel at all nine of these social media skills, congratulations—you still have work to do. Social is a career path of lifelong learning, and continuing to hone these skills will benefit you at every stage of your career.
I look at skill development as a way to buy yourself time for other things. For example, if you’re already highly organized and efficient, you can spend more time developing one of your weaker skills, building your personal brand through speaking engagements or preparing to move into people management. Additionally, mastery in one area might open the door to your next career move—for example, if you’re phenomenal at data analysis, perhaps you’d make a great social strategist! Or if connection is your jam, you might be an incredible community manager.
Taken in sum, these are the nine social media skills I’ve found to be most important throughout my career. What skills have been the most important for you? Leave a comment and let us know.