Welcome to the age of Platform Managers. Here’s what we do

“Oh, nice to meet you! So what do you do for [media company X]?”
“I’m a Platform Manager”
“Oh cool, what does that… mean?”

There’s a growing cohort of, let’s say, editorial adjacent positions within media companies. This is my zone, so to speak, and because I get this question all the time, I figure it’s time to address it directly.

The answer to the question is simple: we do everything that needs doing to get your stories on the internet. We flex on the web professionally. There’s one small problem though; people don’t understand what we do in concrete terms. This is, in part, because our line of work is quite new.

How new are we talking? Let’s recap:

  • Facebook launches in 2004
  • Twitter launches in 2006
  • Facebook switches from the Wall to the Timeline in 2011
  • Google discontinues Reader in 2013

Somewhere between 2004 and today, media companies realized that new, massive, and more mainstream audiences could be reached through social media. The number of digital publications with 20MM monthly uniques grew from a handful of established media brands to a diverse set of New Media publications and blogs. And while the death of Google Reader in 2013 didn’t end direct traffic, it did punctuate its decline rather neatly.

The death of Google Reader in 2013 didn’t end direct traffic, but its did punctuate its decline rather neatly.

It was during this time that the title of social media manger was coined. This was an offshoot of an older title — community manager — but it came with direct editorial implications. Job descriptions for social media managers often included clauses asking candidates to develop the “voice” of the publication on social networks.

But just as social media managers were finding their footing in the workplace, competition among social networks escalated quickly. The push to grow and retain monthly active users — matched with the need to create opportunities for monetization — motivated social networks to begin adding a slew of new features, like cards, video, and recently, live streaming. One by one these features became responsibilities.

In the early days social media mangers were likely to be the youngest person in the room, and by this virtue alone were also inexperienced and unspecialized. But after a few short years, these junior employees found themselves in command of a very large portion of traffic. That portion grew to become a majority, in many cases.

These junior employees found themselves in command of a very large portion of traffic.

With this fact in hand, social media managers now had the leverage they needed to lobby for salaries reserved for more senior roles. I could write an entire post about how this lightning-fast change in leverage still causes significant year-over-year turnover among social media managers, but the takeaway here is that, no matter how you slice it, you have to compensate your social team at rates that the market will bear. And those rates are slowly increasing because the number of skills necessary to be a truly great social media manager have elevated away from the “be witty on Twitter” stereotype to something much greater in scope.

Today, these positions are very technical and time sensitive, and it’s gotten to the point where a solo social media manger simply doesn’t have the headspace or time to understand Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram with enough depth to be proficient, let alone publish to them simultaneously. To achieve high performance at scale, a growing number of publications are choosing to consolidate social media managers into “activation” or “audience development” teams. This allows responsibilities to be distributed. And, increasingly, people staffing these activation teams have a new title: platform manager.

Since the purpose of this Medium post is to expose, in specific terms, the body of knowledge required to publish stories across social networks, which we’re now calling “platforms,” let’s start with the big one:

Facebook

Most people are familiar with Facebook’s posting mechanic; there’s a box at the top of your timeline where you can publish text, pictures, links, and videos. Most platform managers never touch this, opting instead to use Facebook Business Manager. This tool allows publishers to essentially do Facebook at scale, which boils down to posting between 20 and 100 posts per day.

You could, without exaggeration, take a semester-long course in Facebook Business Manager, so here’s an abridged list of what you need to be able to do:

  • Edit Facebook posts to incorporate copy, links, UTM codes for tracking, and an image (or video)
  • Schedule posts for publishing throughout the day
  • Publish “dark posts” (useful for A/B testing)
  • Manage advertising campaigns
  • Manage boosted posts
  • Pull analytics for post performance, subscriber growth, paid-spend (campaign) efficiency, and demographics

This workload above is just table stakes. Add to that, now, broadcasting live video to Facebook Live and adding subtitles to videos for use in native Facebook Video*, and you’ve got a pretty wide range of necessary skills for Facebook alone.

*Google how to do this, I dare you 🤓

Twitter / Periscope

Twitter, like Facebook, has its own internal CMS, but (mercifully) there are a number of tools on the market to expedite the process, like Sprout Social or SocialBro (now Audiense). Even with those, the work is mostly as follows:

  • Write tweet copy
  • Schedule tweets
  • Incorporate images, links, and UTM codes
  • Pull analytics for tweet performance, follower growth, paid spend (campaign) efficiency, and demographics
  • Manage advertising campaigns

Now let’s talk about Periscope. It’s widely known that Facebook is choking it out by paying publishers to use Facebook Live, but Periscope is still a good product for publications with traction on Twitter, and (in my experience) far more reliable for platform managers streaming from the field. As with Facebook Live, it requires the broadcaster to be good on camera .

Snapchat Stories / Snapchat Discover

If you take a casual stroll through the backlog of the Digiday podcast, it’s clear that outlets are thinking critically about whether Snapchat makes sense for their core business, and from the outside, the answer would seem like a “no.” After all, Discover is expensive to staff, and Stories take time to produce. Stories also lack anything resembling real analytics and the revenue opportunity is still up in the air for small-to-midsized sites. But the upside is that Snapchat has the teen demo locked in, and odds are good that you’re going to want that demo for your sales decks.

It’s true, Snapchat Stories aren’t terribly complicated to produce, but producing them well requires a high level of planning, expertise, and creativity. Your platform manager needs to have a good understanding of audio and video production to take something that arguably isn’t a professional tool and make it seem like one.

Discover, on the other hand, requires its own staff. Your platform manager will likely be working with a team of motion graphics artists, designers, and editorial leads, and they need to be extremely productive to publish the mandatory number of snaps per day. And more importantly, your snaps (and corresponding ads) need to perform well or Snapchat will drop your channel.

Instagram

Instagram requires the highest level of curatory skill out of every platform listed here, by far. To win on Instagram your platform manager must:

  • Keep an eye on the landing page aesthetic
  • Act like a creative director, carefully choosing each image
  • Write snappy copy
  • Insert hashtags without appearing thirsty
  • Upload video, often with hardcoded subtitles
  • Respond to comments
  • Pull analytics (with painfully low precision)

Podcasts

Podcasting is growing in popularity with publications for a number of reasons, most notably because of its traction with direct response advertising and low production cost relative to video. But who, you ask, will actually get the audio file into the RSS feed and out to subscribers? You guessed it; platform managers! And this is assuming there’s a department that handles recording and editing independently, which often isn’t the case at smaller outlets. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Upload the MP3 to a syndication / hosting platform
  • Write and edit show notes
  • Upload episode artwork
  • Schedule the post to go live
  • Pull analytics for weekly or monthly downloads

YouTube

YouTube is one of the few platforms where you put content in and (some) money comes out. I saved it for last because this is my bread and butter. Buckle your seat belts boys and girls, because here’s what needs to be done:

  • Upload videos manually or through a media management system (which is its own technical feat)
  • Write some snappy description copy
  • Add some recirculation links to the YouTube description copy
  • Research keywords on the fly (YouTube is very search oriented)
  • Add annotations
  • Add “cards” (HTML5-compatible annotations, basically)
  • Append UTMs to the links in the annotations or cards for tracking purposes
  • Choose and edit a thumbnail
  • Add your video to a playlist
  • Manage playlists to keep your landing page fresh
  • Add subtitles if you’ve got an international audience
  • Respond to and moderate comments
  • Pull a bevy of analytics
  • Have a robust understanding Fair Use and YouTube’s Content ID subsystem

Analytics

I want to take a moment to talk about analytics specifically. I was lucky — I came out of school with substantial training in statistics, but that isn’t always the case for would-be candidates in media. As fate would have it, being able to synthesize analytics from each platform into meaningful and actionable reports is a critical skill that takes time to develop. Even if you know what you’re doing, the amount of time it takes to generate a report is not trivial. Each platform uses different metrics, has different standards for exporting data, and aligning cross-platform performance metrics with a singular story asset requires a deep understanding of why things work the way they do on each platform.

But the need for a strong understanding of statistics and the platform itself doesn’t end with data processing and report generation—platform managers need to be able to understand what each department actually needs, and how to get it.

Your editorial leads want to know what is and isn’t working, but they likely won’t be able (or feel the need to) tell you that you need to do a time series analysis using data from Google Analytics, Twitter Analytics, and a third party data provider. They probably won’t be able to tell you that the best way to align data (without using python scripts and regex) is to do an index and match. And they certainly can’t be expected to suggest ways to structure your BigQuery or Redshift queries.

I know what you’re thinking: “don’t we have a data team for this?” In my experience data teams prioritize projects by how much revenue is on the line, which does make sense. Your exploratory analysis into whether Facebook users tend to engage with blue or green thumbnails, regrettably, falls to the end of the line.

Putting it all together

So let’s review. In today’s media landscape platform managers and social media managers need to be adept in the following:

  • Old school community management
  • Platform-specific publishing tools
  • Video shooting / editing
  • On-camera performance
  • Photography (“do we have an image for this story!?”)
  • Image editing and basic graphic design
  • Copy writing
  • Platform-specific analytics tools / statistics
  • Internet comedy aka “voice” (Twitter, Snapchat [yes, really])

Many of us started as young, unspecialized employees with a knack for life on the web, but those days are over. That’s not gonna cut it. Now we need to be writers, producers, shooters, editors, curators, and statisticians, and it all needs to happen in real time. Plus, I didn’t even expand on hyper-specific subsets of platform manager duties like optimizing paid campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, nor did I cover more esoteric platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitch, or OTT services which can actually play a vital role in a publishing strategy despite the eye rolls they sometimes invoke. I didn’t cover newsletters for goodness sake! But hopefully this post will help those working in editorial and business orgs to understand what we do on a day-to-day basis.


Need some help hiring the best platform managers on earth? Have a specific project that needs attention? Please don’t hesitate to reach out—I’m Evan Rodgers on Twitter, and while my shitposts are frequent, my DMs are always open.