The social media manager role needs a complete overhaul in 2019

Budget and headcount have been confirmed. Plans have been signed off. You are ready to take your business to the next level in 2019. To help you reach your targets and KPIs, you’re about to start recruiting for a new Social Media Manager. Grab a pen and take a moment to write down the key roles and responsibilities for this new hire. But start with this question: what do we expect from the right candidate?

I’m going to take a wild guess and say you’re looking for someone who can create great content in all formats, write snazzy marketing copy, knows how to use scheduling tools, knows what to do in a crisis, knows the art of community building and engagement, can be a customer service agent, can forecast and maintain a budget, can react to the right ‘viral moments’, successfully report data to senior stakeholders that demonstrate tangible business results, prove ROI and oh my goodness the list goes on and on.

And the above list is not exhaustive — it’s a reflection of just some of the expectations placed daily on the shoulders of social media managers working across both B2B and B2C sectors.

“If there is one position in a Marketing Department that needs to be nimble, that is the position of Social Media Manager. Not only do they need to keep up with the changing algorithms and features of social media platforms, but their responsibilities increasingly shift as organizations evolve into a social business model.” Meltwalter

Let’s go back to that job spec you’ve written. If the phrases ‘extremely hands-on,’ ‘social media junkie’ or ‘must wear many hats’ appear, you might want to take another look at the support, training and management you can give the right candidate as they ramp up in the role. Are you and the wider business aware of the different types of training and ongoing support that a person in a role like this needs? Are you equipped to provide it? Is there a formal training program in place? Do you have a digital wellbeing plan written for this type of position? You should ask yourself these questions, and be confident in the answers before you even consider going live on LinkedIn and lining up interviews.

Given that social is SO much more than just sending out the content or driving brand awareness (it is after all the direct gateway between you and your customer), why are so many businesses happy leaving it in the hands of people they’re not willing to train or pay better? Because the role social media plays is often misconstrued and viewed more as a top-of-funnel marketing activity, it is easy to assume that these type of roles are list-driven and execution only. It seems in some cases to have ‘someone doing Twitter’ is enough, but the more task-based the role becomes, the more likely it will be considered junior and lower-level. If you’re not appreciating the strategic and analytical skills needed in this type of position you’re already selling this person and your business potential short.

There’s often an assumption that because millennial & gen-z groups have grown up with social networking and are a dab-hand at all things “technological”, that digital marketing should naturally fall to them because they’re doing it anyway, all the time and every day. They should instinctively know how to do it right?

Not always. These groups have had to grow up and learn as they go about the ups and downs of a life lived online when it comes to both their personal and professional lives. Increasingly, lines between real and online life are blurred, social media use and overexposure to junk light and screens have been shown to increase stress levels and the ability to concentrate. So if you’ve got a SMM using screens and social networks all day on behalf of the company and then also in the evenings and during breaks for their personal use, can you be certain they are operating effectively?

While we often hear great stories of young creators pushing boundaries and growing audiences of millions online, in reality this represents a rare few. It is not a given that every single younger millennial or gen-z knows how to build a successful business or brand online. Expectations must be made realistic, training must be provided, and opinions must change.

Three Things to Consider Putting Into Place Before Recruiting your SMM

Address the Internal Knowledge Gap
Take the time to understand how Social is perceived internally at all levels of the business. Talk to your existing social team, the marketing team and also to leadership to get a better understanding of the overall expectations of social media. Ask them about the role they think Social plays on overarching business goals, then use these as a basis when devising training or a workshop that addresses any gaps and joins the dots.

Bonus tip? Shadow the role. If you’ve time, spend a day or two trying to get to grips with the daily routine of your average social media manager. Understand the ins and outs of their job. You can use the information gathered in the above exercises to define a training plan suitable for their on-boarding.

Re-word the job-spec
Rather than focusing on a jack-of-all-trades type of language, or language that implies an absolute ‘ninja’ or ‘rockstar’ is required, look to be more specific. Try and outline some of the critical business objectives that person will be responsible for impacting — in other words: demonstrate their value within the company. Understand the strategic and analytical qualities needed to successfully perform this role and clearly outline them in the recruitment process. Include the training and support-based opportunities within this role.

Create a Digital Wellbeing Plan
Build out a plan for those employees who are expected to spend the majority of their time on company social media during the day. Try to encourage more frequent phone/screen free breaks, encourage them to take a moment before instantly replying in the face of a tricky comment or situation. Look to bring in wellbeing based activities (eg: creative team-building, digital-detox) on a quarterly basis. There’s no one-size-fits all approach for such a plan, but being aware that these types of roles will be frequently exposed to stress, content and customer dissatisfaction online means you can proactively think ahead around the support needed for your team.

“It’s an oft-overlooked position, drawing on both marketing and editorial skills, that has become increasingly critical both to business success and online discourse. The pay is poor, and the respect can be limited.” — Wired

The benefits of having a well-supported, well trained social media manager and/or team far outweigh the cost of high-turnover, employee dissatisfaction and full business potential not being achieved. A team that feel unsupported and that they don’t have a seat at the table will often result in low motivation and a feeling that they are not valued or appreciated. Their potential will be lost amongst internal politics and process as they scrabble to get as much as they can done without the true buy-in from senior leadership.

Thinking through and planning what you need at the start of the recruitment process and about how this role is received internally is a good place to start when redefining the role of social media manager. Once you’re clear on that, you can look to implement an effective onboarding plan and ongoing support program needed to ensure that those undertaking these roles are successful under your leadership.


I frequently host workshops and training sessions on building better social media practices. For more information, get in touch via LinkedIn!

This article was written following my appearance on the Social Minds podcast. The episode was called: Are We Prejudice Against Social Media Managers? You can listen to it here.