Some of the most important skills of a social media manager don’t show up on a resume. Here’s a look at “secret” social media manager skills that help them succeed.
Sixteen years ago, Facebook launched, and since then a flurry of other social media platforms joined the mix. “Social media manager” is now an essential position for companies to fill and the expectations are higher than ever.
But what secret powers set some social media managers apart from others? What makes them succeed when others fail?
Before establishing Contentworks Agency, I was a social media manager for many years in the fast-paced world of finance. In this article, I’m going to share my six secret skills of successful social media managers with some actionable takeaways. Some of these might surprise you!
Hint: They don’t play Candy Crush and chat with their friends on Messenger. Social media managers literally represent the company on social media as the voice of the brand. They post regular fresh content, answer questions and complaints, coordinate images and videos, and work to key corporate KPIs.
Those KPIs might be very specific such as “acquire signups from Australia.” Or they may be less tangible, such as “improve our negative online reputation” or “increase brand awareness.”
Social media managers frequently lead campaigns, which are then rolled out across all company departments.
These include …
- Presenting plans, strategies, and ideas to senior management
- Brainstorming new social media campaigns for acquisition or retention
- Creating images, videos, or GIFs using design tools
- Assisting the customer support team
- Managing negative PR situations via social media
- Performing competitor analysis and implementing change
- Monitoring trends and news each day
- Working with human resources to increase recruitment
Nope, no Candy Crush game on the list. So, what skills do successful social media managers have—beyond the regular skillset—that sets them apart as superstars?
1. Manage Their Mental Health
I’m starting with this one because it’s the most important and also the most underrated.
Social media management can be incredibly high stress, and mental health concerns often plague individuals in this role. The “always on” nature of smartphones means that social media managers never really finish work. They are answering messages and watching trends even on the weekend.
Add in stressed-out customers, negative media trends, and, more recently, a global pandemic and hyper demand for social media support, and you’ve got a potential hotbed of stress.
Successful social media managers know how crucial it is to unplug and step away from social media for a little bit.
- Switch off. Have set hours when you turn off your WiFi and don’t check social media feeds. If you work for a large global organization that requires 24/7 monitoring, then they need to recruit a second person or invest in the right tools. Insist on it.
- Go offline. Don’t just switch off. Go outside and enjoy a walk, play with your dog, talk to your friends and family, and embrace real-world living. If you can’t go outside, take a virtual tour of a building or place. I love these picks from the New York Times. Another example comes from the Instagram account of Curt Ziegler, Agorapulse’s Customer Hero.)
- Remain calm. Understand that the social media users ranting online are not ranting at you personally. Aim to detach emotions and respond as the voice of the company. Similarly, when you watch trends, try to view them through the eyes of your company. If it isn’t a trend you need to weigh in on, move away from it. If a company or brand makes you feel unhappy or worried, unfollow it.
- Recognize mental health warnings. If you feel burnt out or on the edge, recognizing it and dealing with it is the first step. Mind mental health is a great source of information and support.
Related post: Social Media Manager Salary: How Much Should You Be Making?
2. Inspire Employee Advocacy
The most successful social media managers inspire employee advocacy. That means turning employees into brand ambassadors who support your social media marketing efforts and help you achieve your KPIs.
LinkedIn found the employees of a company tend to have 10 times more followers than the company itself and 79% of companies reported more online visibility after the implementation of an employee advocacy program. To inspire employee advocacy, a social media manager needs to be friendly, approachable, and willing to invest time in employee training and incentives.
You really need to present yourself as a champion of the people.
And the payoff is great. Authentic faces on your social media networks, employee interviews, staff sharing, and those all-important happy Glassdoor reviews. Check out Barclays Bank on Instagram, and you will see that it’s packed with awesome employee advocacy in action. I love how this showcases the brand as an equal opportunity employer whose staff are happy to be pictured.
- Provide training. I used to run fun, informal social media training sessions when I was a social media manager. Anyone could attend. We covered things like hashtags, how to get leads, and how to use social media for different roles. The aim of this was to make sure employees supported the company and didn’t cause any accidental issues. Also, to inspire them to take part, and these training sessions were a huge hit.
- Incentivize people. Have an employee advocacy plan and assign a budget to it. It doesn’t have to be much, but it should be an incentive. Maybe you can offer Starbucks vouchers for the staff who shared the most. Or a spa voucher for staff taking part in interviews or live videos. Getting people excited about employee advocacy is key.
- Be approachable. It can be difficult to remain approachable and open to ideas when you’re busy. However, great social media managers listen to other departments and incorporate their ideas into social media. For example, I worked with the India division of a British bank to coordinate a targeted Diwali campaign on social media. By listening to the staff working with your customers, you can hone some winning campaigns. And once they see you’re open to ideas, they will bring more to you!
- Monitor results. Agorapulse recently launched a great employee advocacy tool. Using this, you can monitor your employee advocacy efforts and figure out what’s working and what isn’t. This will also help you to justify any spend.
In an ideal world, your marketing team will have a manager, several writers, an SEO person, a social media manager, and several designers and videographers.
The truth is, most companies don’t have a dream marketing setup. In fact, even the biggest banks and fintechs I’ve worked with don’t have it. But, if you want to be a super-successful social media manager, you need great videos, images, and a good grasp of SEO to make your channels pop.
So, the third secret power of successful social media managers is the ability to learn new tools. Once you know what’s missing, you can find the appropriate tool to plug the gap and learn how to use it. Hone your skills at short videos and social media images, and you will find that you can create some pretty awesome stuff.
Here’s a fun social media video we made in around 30 minutes using Powtoon:
- Embrace learning. One of my key takeaways for social media managers is to embrace learning. If you don’t like learning new tools, social media management isn’t for you. This is a constantly evolving space where each day the platforms adapt and create new features. Instead of complaining that your company should hire a videographer (I do hear you on that), embrace it as an opportunity to learn a new skill. You will not become a professional videographer, but you will learn to make awesome videos for social media.
- Take free classes from reputable places. Doing this will make you a better social media manager and more employable in the future. Need some brushing up of your social media management skills? Get over 70+ hours of free forever social media and marketing lessons at Social Media Manager School.
- Have some fun. This is your space and a chance to be creative. Though you will be adhering to brand guidelines and strategy, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun with your social media tools. Aim to improve your skills, try new things, and monitor the results.
- Watch your budget. Successful social media managers know exactly how much they’ve spent and where they need to allocate budget. In regards to social media tools, always try them for free first. Or use a free version and upgrade later.
4. Write Great Captions
The best social media managers are incredible writers especially fo social media captions. From attention-grabbing adverts to engaging questions through to concise hashtag rich text that fits in 280 characters. This is a key skill for successful social media managers.
I’m a huge fan of Benefit Cosmetics on Instagram. Its captions are short, use the right emojis, tag influencers, incorporate hashtags, and highlight key products.
Another brand known for its sassy captions is Wendy’s. This salty brand uses one-word captions or witty put-downs that spark engagement with fans. But don’t be fooled. Social media managers know how much strategy went into this!
- Know the rules. Social media managers need to be aware of the rules regarding character limits. Otherwise, you will just waste time writing captions that don’t fit. You also need to know what works. For example, Instagram allows 2,200 characters but data shows that 138–150 characters work best.
- Improve your writing. If you’re not a natural-born writer then utilize tools like Captiona. No matter how casual your brand, poor spelling, and grammar is not OK and will get you noticed for all the wrong reasons.
- Maintain your TOV. It’s important to maintain your TOV (tone of voice) on social media. If you’re managing multiple brands, then this can be a real challenge. Keep some prompts or cheat sheets near your PC to remind you to switch voices.
5. Stay Strategic and Organized
The public perception of social media managers tends to be bouncy energetic individuals running around launching campaigns. Though this is often true, the other side to social media management is strategy and organization.
Your social media strategy is the backbone for all your efforts, and it’s important to stick to it. Similarly, working in such a busy role, you need to be organized to stay on top of your workload and your content calendar.
Remember that social media managers often need to communicate their strategy, KPIs, and results to their team members, bosses, or shareholders. And hint: Shareholders only care about numbers. That means you need to be able to explain how your work on social drives business results and where you need to expand or inject budget.
- Use content scheduling calendars. I use Agorapulse to manage my content scheduling, and this helps me to plan what’s coming up for each brand. Try to work at least one month in advance to organize content, graphics, videos, or ads.
Similarly, using a management tool like Agorapulse helps you to generate impressive reports to show shareholders. Remember, they want to see numbers that reflect business growth and consumer spend. They are not particularly interested in sentiment.
- Watch social media days. Tools like Days of the Year keep social media managers in the loop about good campaigns to include like #cookieday if you’re a cafe. Knowing about them a month in advance allows you time to strategize.
- Plan your day. Successful social media managers plan their tasks prior to starting each day. How you do it is up to you, but you should divide up your tasks and prioritize them. Another good way to do it is to work with your own creativity levels. For example, I put all my creative tasks at the start of the day when I feel energized. This might be creating content, making a GIF, or recording a live video. At the end of the day, I do basic admin tasks that don’t require the same energy.
6. Care About Self-Branding
Your day is taken up crafting someone else’s brand. You’ve honed their tone of voice, boosted their brand awareness, and made them money through social media. But what about you?
Chances are you won’t work there forever and where is your digital footprint? Successful social media professionals care about their own branding. Just look at legends like Mari Smith, Jeff Bullas, Joe Pulizzi, Neil Patel, and Mike Allton to name a few.
Social media managers need to care about their own channels, blog, and fans. They often have the skills and expertise to be thought leaders in their own space. Mari, for example, is accessible to fans, answers questions, and regularly posts live videos like this one:
- You are your own brand. Social media managers are accustomed to writing strategies and KPIs for their brands. Start writing your own strategy and content style guidelines. Your angle of expertise? What channels do you want to be on? Your goal?
- Create a website. Start by creating a website to showcase you, your skills, and your portfolio. This is your personal space and a chance to reflect your own creativity. If you then link to your work, you are also showcasing your work for potential employers. This is especially important if you are freelance or want to be. I showcase work on my personal in an “In the media” section on CharliSays.
- Share your knowledge. Successful social media managers know that there’s space for others. They don’t fear knowledge sharing and embrace the opportunity to be a helpful thought leader. By running seminars, training sessions, or AMAs on social media, you are helping others while also helping your own brand.
We asked the Agency Love Facebook Group about what they’d consider a necessary secret social media manager skill. Here’s what they said:
“The ability to carry on and extend a (virtual) conversation. Putting out a piece of content doesn’t mean the job is done; it means it’s just beginning. And engagement can’t simply consist of a quick, ‘Thanks!’ to every comment. They need to learn how to artfully spin those conversations out to amp up that engagement, as well as deepening those relationships.” (Christine Gritmon)
“Being a sociopath? Kinda not kidding. The amount of sh*t you have to wade through from the general public is astonishing and only growing larger. The ability to legitimately not care and not let people get under your skin is essential.” (Christopher Penn)
“The ability to set your personal emotions aside and stay on brand. They’re multiple instances a day in CM and content creation where it would be very easy to slide your personal biases, good or bad, into it.” (Jeff Higgins)
“The ability to communicate value before a value is obvious. Often times, clients don’t want to try things until someone else (or MANY other people) have done it … By then, it’s played out.” (Racheal Callaghan)
“A thick skin for when clients go ‘thanks but we can do it ourselves now’ and you then see their posts. ” (Stuart Thompson)
“Conveying that social media success is a long-game approach. So many clients seem to think that organic social is some magic bullet that will fundamentally change their business overnight. Or that without 5million followers their niche page won’t be a success. There are so many mistruths and ‘quick fixes’ that clients get sold by unscrupulous people. Makes me crazy!” (Alexandra Anema)
“Simple but necessary: great customer service skills.” (Kira Seprish)
“Kindness Running a business is difficult.” (Dawn Swick-Renshaw)
“The ability to extract the gold from someone’s head when they don’t think they have anything interesting to say.” (Jo Saunders)
“The ability to … pivot.” (Frank Kecseti)
“Good writing skills and a background in communications and marketing.” (Sandee Jackson)
We never stop learning right? Here are some great resources for busy social media managers.
Social media management as a career isn’t going away and with more tools and opportunities being added each day, this is a space where you can shine.
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