12 traits of successful social media managers

From voracious curiosity to a thick skin, certain attributes are crucial for survival in the online realm. Do you have what it takes?

There are a lot of social media managers out there. If you post a job listing for one, you’re likely to get a flood of candidates with vastly different backgrounds and levels of expertise.

Why? Because anyone can call him- or herself an “experienced social media manager” these days and have some level of justification. That experience might only be their Facebook or Twitter account. But hey—that’s experience, right? In some cases, that might actually be an impressive accomplishment if the person is truly doing something special in terms of personal branding.

The point? It’s hard to evaluate candidates for social media positions. Such positions haven’t been around that long.

Even if someone has held a social media position with a brand you respect, how do you know that person was really driving the strategy and tactics that made that brand a success in the social sphere?

A lot of it comes down to interviewing, but you need to go deeper to explore who that individual is and what habits drive them in their daily lives. There are general characteristics to look for when identifying a successful social media manager.

If you’re looking to hire one, consider this article a guide to spotting desirable candidates. If you’re a social media manager yourself (or aspire to be one), you might want to see how many of these habits and characteristics you currently boast—and how many you can incorporate into your daily life.

They read obsessively

It doesn’t really matter what they read. It helps when it is industry news, but seriously, anything is fine. News sites. Humor blogs. Romance novels. Cookbooks. Shampoo bottles. The point is that they read. For social media managers, it’s essential. Reading is indicative of a desire to learn new things. It gives them perspectives that are not their own, and it provides them with more interesting things to talk about.

Reading across many disciplines indirectly strengthens our core areas of expertise. Being well-read and well-rounded sharpens communication skills. These are all desirable characteristics for a social media manager.

A note of caution when trying to interview for this trait: Not all readers think of themselves as readers. People might think that because they don’t start their days with a morning newspaper and end their days with a Dan Brown novel that they are not to be considered “readers.” But they might spend their days reading extensively—sports, DIY sites, Reddit articles, etc. As an interviewer, tailor your questions to get at “secret” reading habits.

They follow the news

This is related to the previous point on reading, but it’s not the same. I’m not saying successful social media managers have to spend a lot of time reading traditional news outlets. They might. But these days, it’s pretty easy to stay up on the latest trends, news, and memes simply by scanning—scanning headlines, trending topics on Twitter, Facebook posts, etc.

Yes, they should at least occasionally take a deeper dive into a newsworthy topic (especially before incorporating it into their own posts). The main point is that they need to stay current. Forget newspapers. Today, news breaks across social, so regular scanning in these realms is far more valuable than a cover-to-cover read of the latest issue of Businessweek.

They watch a lot of video

The same habit that would get you fired eight years ago is now crucial to success in a social media job: watching online videos—and a lot of them—often during work hours. Again, as with reading, what the person watches isn’t nearly as important as the fact that they take the time to look at the video content that people are sharing. Only by doing so can people really gain a sense of the type of content that people like to consume and share, and video is a vital component of many brands social media strategies.

If your brand prioritizes social video, a manager with experience can help to elevate the production quality of your video campaigns.

They attend events

Social media interactions happen online, but that’s not where they end. Contrary to popular belief, one of social media’s greatest strengths is its ability to connect people in the real world. Thus, when possible, successful social media managers should also be making those real-world connections with the people they engage via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social network.

This means the person is keeping an eye out for events that bring those people together—or, better yet, the person is involved with planning those events themselves.

Real-life social mingling is also a strong indicator of online social skills. Yes, social media has slightly different rules when it comes to courtesy, but in the end we’re just people talking to people. A social media manager who is a people person both online and off can be far more valuable than an expert at just one or the other.

They laugh a lot

No one wants to hang out with a person who is a downer, online or off. Social media managers should know how to laugh—and how to make others laugh. A light-hearted person will naturally infuse your brand’s social presence with their own energy.

That doesn’t mean the social media manager of a local cancer care center will or should be out there cracking silly one-liners on Twitter. Rather, you want their positive outlook on their world to guide the types of posts they craft and the language they use.

They abhor 9-to-5 jobs

Social media doesn’t sleep—and yes, your social media manager does—but that should be about the only time that they’re not tuned into what’s happening in online conversations. It doesn’t mean they have to work 18-hour days, seven days a week.

Rather, it means that they have to be willing to set up their lives in a way that makes sense for their jobs and be able to keep passive watch on things from outside the office. That also means getting alerts on their phones and being available and willing to jump into an online dialogue if and when things get hot.

Having a full social media team can make this less burdensome on the individual, of course, and organizations should certainly look for ways to avoid burnout in their employees. The general idea is that if a candidate for a social media manager position refuses to acknowledge their job outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they’re probably not the best fit.

On the other hand, you must be willing to concede work-from-home days and other flexibility. Your social media manager is always on call. So figure out a way to account and compensate for on-call time.

They’re early adopters

Your social media manager will ultimately be the person you turn to when trying to get a handle on the latest platforms and tools in the social sphere. So that person needs to have a natural curiosity and desire to hop in and play around with new things.

They also need the ability to contain their excitement over the mere newness of something to critically evaluate its usefulness for their own specific job. Early adoption in social media is essential because it is a powerful way to be truly competitive.

They embrace change

This one should go without saying. Social media is dynamic, and processes put in place to manage it must be designed in a way that they can change with the marketplace. So the words “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” shouldn’t be in a social media manager’s vocabulary. If a person is rooted in tradition and consistency, they’re going to have trouble in the social media world.

Along the same lines, it’s important to let mistakes and bygones live in the past where they belong. A good social media manager will acknowledge failures and mistakes as quickly as successes. Retooling and optimizing is one of the most effective forms of change at a social media manager’s disposal.

They listen carefully

Social media managers must be skilled at listening to customers and others in the social sphere in order to respond (or not) appropriately. There are various tools that enable them to do this, and they should be able to use them as needed.

Good listening skills should go beyond social media, extending to daily life—team meetings, industry conferences, etc. Social media managers must be completely tapped into the internal and external conversations of a brand in order to properly represent that brand online. If they don’t listen carefully in day-to-day life, they’re likely to misinterpret and misrepresent brand messaging when it comes time to speak to the consumer.

Here’s a quick test: If they take notes at meetings, they listen carefully. Careful listeners might also not take notes, but people who take notes are almost always careful listeners.

They welcome criticism

Social media managers require thick skins. People in social media can be cruel. Some even try to be. They say mean things about brands. Sometimes they even say mean things about the individuals representing brands. So if social media managers aren’t able to let online criticism roll off their backs, they’re going to spend a lot of time weeping quietly in the office broom closet.

How can companies screen for thick skins? Ask social media candidates to discuss the worst flame war or most contentious person they’ve ever encountered in their previous roles. Watch the look on their faces. Do they get upset even talking about it? That might be a sign that they’re unable to let go of commonplace Internet rudeness.

They check their work

This means screening for typos—of course. (Nothing says “amateur” like a misspelled celebrity’s name.) But it also means taking a second to think about what is being said and asking, “How could this backfire or be misconstrued?” Because if there’s any way for people to take something the wrong way in social media, they will. So the ability to think before posting is vital.

They know how to let mistakes go

For most of us, even the most carefully checked work contains mistakes from time to time. Most of the time, fans and followers aren’t going to notice or care, but when they do, acknowledging the mistake is the responsible route. Sometimes it even creates new conversations. Overall, messaging should be simple to read and free of errors.

Yes, social media managers should check their work, but social media moves fast. People screw up. (So do you.) So, people working in the social realm need to be able to recognize mistakes quickly, make amends if needed, and then let it go. Mistakes dissolve quickly in social media. So concentrate on the future.

Drew Hubbard is a social media strategist and owner of LA Foodie. A version of this article first appeared on iMediaConnection.

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