If you fancy yourself a Twitter power user or Instagram savant, you may have found yourself wondering if you could parlay your social media savvy into an actual 9-to-5 job. If this is you, there's great news — you absolutely can become a social media manager and live, breathe and eat social media for your day-to-day job.
What do social media managers do?
First, and most importantly, you might want to know what exactly a social media manager does. In short, social media managers are responsible for developing and executing social media marketing strategies and tactics (such as campaigns) for brands and companies.
A social media manager's day-to-day responsibilities may include:
- Planning and setting goals for campaigns
- Working with people whose work shapes the brand (such as marketers) to develop social media campaigns together
- Either personally executing or overseeing the execution of promotional campaigns, paid social media advertising buys, and other social media-based promotions
- Managing a brand's social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
- Interacting with people who interact with the brand online via social media (also known as reputation management)
- SEO (search engine optimization) and generating inbound traffic
- Cultivating leads and sales for a brand's or company's products
- Analyzing the brand's social media performance using social media analytics
- Adjusting social media strategy as needed based on analytics and business needs
Ultimately, a social media manager is responsible for using social media as a business tool to help brands: 1) turn fans into customers, 2) turn customers into advocates and 3) retain customers as loyal repeat customers.
What’s a freelance social media manager?
Freelance social media managers do all the same work as an in-house social media manager, but rather than working for a specific company as the company's employee, freelance social medias manager work for themselves. Most likely, they'll have multiple clients; and more often than not, they'll have slightly different responsibilities for each client.
Necessary qualifications and work experience
Social media managers need a diverse range of skills in order to be successful. A good social media manager will have a mix of both left- and right-brain skills. Below are a few of the most important skills, qualifications and work experience for social media managers.
An understanding of various social media platforms' nuances and best practices
First, and most obviously, a social media manager needs to understand social media. This means knowing what types of content work best on the major platforms, understanding how to optimize content on each platform and knowing how to engage social media audiences through posts and organic engagement.
Good writing skills
While you don't have to be a Pulitzer-level writer, you will need strong writing skills to be a successful social media manager. Because the job requires writing copy for social media posts, interacting with customers via social media and other writing-related tasks, you'll need to be able to clearly convey ideas in writing, write error-free text and maintain a tone that matches with the company's brand.
As a social media manager, you'll need to be able to write: 1) snappy captions for platforms like Instagram; 2) engaging short-form content, such as tweets; and 3) error-free responses to customers that respond to your brand via DMs or comments on posts.
Graphics production skills
Given the image-heavy nature of some social media platforms, such as Instagram, a good social media manager need to be able to conceptualize images for social media and blog posts and create them as needed. While it isn't necessary to be a Photoshop wizard, basic photo editing skills and the ability to source aesthetically pleasing images are musts for this role.
A basic grasp of SEO and content marketing
Since a social media manager is involved in blog content production and promotion, it's important for a person in this role to understand SEO and content marketing. Thus, an understanding of how blog and social media content affect search rankings and how content serves as part of a business' marketing funnel is critical.
Research skills and intellectual curiosity to stay abreast of trends in the field
Given how quickly social media overall is changing, good social media managers need to be able to stay abreast of what's changing on a near-daily basis. Thus, you'll want to have strong Google skills in order to stay in the loop on your field, paired with a natural intellectual curiosity pushing you to stay invested in constant learning.
Strategic thinking paired with tactics and execution
As discussed above, social media managers are responsible for creating big picture strategies to help companies build their brands and drive customer loyalty and engagement. With this in mind, a successful social media manager needs to be able to demonstrate strategic thinking skills.
Additionally, since social media managers are either directly responsible for executing tactics that align with the strategies they develop or supervising others in executing tactics based on their strategies, they need to be able to map tactics against their strategies and execute on those plans. This demands attention to detail and strong project management skills.
With the sheer amount of content on social media platforms today, content needs to be good in order to get people's attention. Thus, social media mangers need to be creative and able to think up great ideas that'll catch people's eyes and push them to engage with a post by commenting, reposting, retweeting or otherwise sharing it.
Analytical skills and the ability to think quantitatively
As social media analytics on various platforms become richer and and more full-featured, companies are increasingly asking social media managers to provide detailed quantitative reports to understand social media performance. Thus, good social media managers need to be able to think in numbers and metricize their work.
Community management skills
Because some people regard brands' social media platforms as extensions of their customer service lines (who among us isn't guilty of an aggravated tweet-as-customer-service-contact?), social media managers need to have a customer service orientation. This means being aware of how social media serves as both a community-building and customer service response tool, being online fairly frequently to respond to customer service complaints on social media and escalating emergent requests to appropriate channels within the organization as needed.
Experience managing social media accounts and paid social media advertising
Generally speaking, successful social media managers will have previous experience as direct managers of brands' or companies' social media accounts and with paid social media advertising. Knowing how single companies' accounts are managed and how paid social media campaigns are run are important knowledge bases for social media managers because they're responsible for developing the overall strategies that drive individual accounts' management and the development of paid social advertising campaigns.
There aren't any formal educational requirements for social media manager roles. However, a degree in journalism, public relations, communications or marketing can be helpful in this field.
Most importantly, though, you'll want to emphasize your knowledge of key social media platforms — Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram are the big four. This expertise can be learned in a classroom; but it can also be learned through on-the-job experience or even developing a robust social media presence of your own.
Ryan H. Hertel, the creative director for Socialocca, actually dropped out of college when he realized that there weren't many academic opportunities to study digital marketing and social media. Reflecting on that decision, he says, "Dropping out and paving my own path ended up being the greatest decision I’ve ever made. I learned so much from going out and jumping right into real life management projects. In fact, I probably grew and learned faster by throwing myself into the fire as opposed to trying to preface myself on social media from some outdated textbook anyway."
How much money will I make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics groups social media specialists, including social media managers, with other public relations specialists. In May 2015, the median annual wage in this field was $56,770. PayScale offers a slightly less rosy estimate of social media managers' earnings, with a reported average salary of $49,707 and an average hourly rate of $15.53.
Get started with these 12 easy tips
1. Get familiar with social media platforms
This is a no-brainer: to become a social media manager, you'll need to know what social media platforms are out there and how to use them.
2. Find brands you admire, then follow them on social media and keep an eye on their career pages
If you have a list of companies and brands you want to work for, it's a good idea to follow them on social media so you can understand their social media personalities. To make sure you're aware when jobs become available, you'll also want to keep an eye on their career pages.
3. Build an online portfolio
Once you start interviewing for social media manager jobs, you'll likely find that many potential employers will want to see your social media management chops at some point during the interview process. To this end, it'll help to have an online portfolio with campaigns you've run, accounts you've been in charge of and even personal social media links on hand to give to interviewers.
4. Build your personal brand on social media
Related to the above point, great social media managers blur the line between their work and personal lives, making social media part of everything they do. Beth Cooper, director of marketing and social media for KNB Communications, says social media "should be your passion or your hobby if you want to do it professionally," as that's "the only way you will know the platforms on a deep level."
5. Become savvy at social media analytics and SEO
As previously discussed, social media managers' jobs combine strategy, metrics-setting and execution work. As part of the metrics-setting work, a good social media manager needs to understand social media analytics and SEO.
6. Consider volunteering with a local nonprofit to run their social media and develop your skillset
This is especially useful if you're not currently in a social media-related role and are looking to make the switch to social media management. If this is the situation you're in, volunteering with a local nonprofit to help run their social media is a great win-win: you get social media management experience and they get the benefit of your free labor.
7. Consider freelancing to get experience
Related to the above point, you could also consider freelancing as a social media manager to gain experience. Although it isn't a full-time role, being able to put a line on your resume demonstrating direct experience in social media management will boost your odds of getting a full-time social media management job.
8. Take courses to develop specific social media marketing skills
In this field, the more specialized skills you have, the better. So, consider investing in online courses specific to marketing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and more.
9. Network and join a social media management community
Given the ever-changing social media landscape, it's important to communicate with others to stay abreast of trends in the space. Networking with other social media managers and people in social media-related roles will also help you find work.
10. Deepen your photo- and video-editing experience
As discussed above, visual elements are important on a number of social media platforms. Thus, social media manager candidates with photo and video editing skills are at an advantage relative to other candidates.
11. Become an expert in a particular social media platform
While a broad base of knowledge about all social media platforms is essential for being a well-rounded social media manager, having deep expertise in one particular platform that's most common in the industry or industries you're interested in will serve you well. To this end, identifying a single platform to become an expert in and diving deep into it to understand trends, best practices and analytics on it is a good idea.
12. Learn from successful companies' social media practices
Look at the social media practices of successful brands in order to learn how they're using social media to build their brands and sell their products. This is a great learning tool, and it'll also help you build a good repository of cases to cite in interviews.
Armed with these 12 steps and an understanding of what a social media manager does, you're now ready to leverage your Instagram genius and Twitter witticisms into cold, hard cash.