How companies are failing social media managers—and wasting crucial talent

A report reveals digital media pros’ career obstacles, limitations and frustrations—and how companies can equip these invaluable employees to succeed.

How social media pros can bolster their careers

Social media managers wield an immense amount of power over companies’ reputations.

They establish vital connections with clients or customers. They shape corporate narratives online. They extinguish fires, answer questions and play an outsize role in determining how your business is perceived.

So why aren’t these crucial workers treated with more respect and care?

The Career Path of a Social Media Professional,” a robust report from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), Ragan Communications and the University of Florida, reveals some striking takeaways that could have a serious impact on your engagement, retention, morale, storytelling and productivity, including:

Social media pros do it all. The report confirms what everybody at the company knows but perhaps doesn’t fully appreciate: social media maestros juggle much more than their fair share. “Social media managers span a variety of functions, especially marketing (76%), public relations (72%), brand building (68%), and media relations (63%),” though their other “hats” include community relations, advertising, employee comms and organizational storytelling.

Image via IPR

 

Social media staffers are involved in nearly aspect of modern communication, and yet they are typically not viewed as equal partners in messaging efforts.

Social media managers are overworked. Despite a lack of recognition, investment and a clear path toward leadership, social media pros put in some serious hours. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they work more than their colleagues, and 55% say they typically exceed 40-hour workweeks.

Meanwhile, 27% report not having any budget to work with, 89% say their company offers no bonuses or incentives for hitting specific goals, and most feel they have little to no chance to advance.

Image via IPR

 

That’s a perfect formula for terrible morale, burnout and turnover.

Social media managers are keen to advance professionally—but feel thwarted by lack of opportunity. The report finds that “70% percent of social media managers want to be promoted in their positions, but only 40% saw that possibility in their current roles.”

Perhaps (OK, definitely) in a related story, 57% of those surveyed said they did not anticipate being on the job beyond two years. Many intimated they would be keen to pursue another line of work altogether.

Image via IPR

 

Tina McCorkindale, IPR’s CEO and a co-author of the report, emphasizes that more than half of the survey’s respondents do not see a path to promotion within their organizations. That begs the question: Why would or should they stick around?

Facebook and Twitter are still the most frequently managed company channels. “The top five social media channels managed include Facebook (81%), Twitter (77%), LinkedIn (67%), Instagram (66%), and YouTube (51%),” according to the report.

(Just 6% are managing TikTok channels despite the platform’s meteoric rise.)

The primary role of social media managers is to create content. Forty-one percent of respondents said their primary role as a social media manager was to create content, while 20% said their main goal was to improve brand awareness and reputation.

Twenty-seven percent listed “strategizing” as their chief aim. However, it appears that the “strategizing” they’re referring to is mostly limited to their own bailiwick. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they “always participate in social media strategy,” but just 42% consistently participate in higher-level executive planning.

Image via IPR

 

McCorkindale sees this as a major problem.

“I still think some relegate the social media role to merely a channel rather than being part of the company strategy,” she says.

It’s a female-dominated field. Seventy-nine percent of the 379 respondents are women.

Companies keen on boosting retention and morale among social media staffers should note that women are already facing unique well-being barriers and bearing “an unequal share of the pandemic burden.” They deserve every bit of support you can muster.

Engagement and replies are the top metric for evaluating performance, but many have no clear objectives. According to the report, 45% of social media managers are evaluated on their engagement and replies, followed by progress toward goals (36%) and follower counts (33%).

Thirty percent said their social media performance was not evaluated at all.

Image via IPR

 

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that 36% of respondents rate their performance and their perceived value to the organization as merely “average.”

One of the report’s other authors, Marcia DiStaso, associate professor and chair of the PR department at the University of Florida, writes:

“I think that our finding that 30% of respondents do not have their social media performance evaluated hits on the aspect that in some places, pushing out content is the focus. Until the role becomes more data-driven and strategic it will remain very tactical.”

Which is to say, not overly influential.

DiStaso continues:

“Companies need to also identify internal career ladders. This is especially important since we found a high number of people are considering leaving their positions.”

How to show social media pros more love—and boost your bottom line

What should companies, execs and communicators take away from all this data? For one, social media professionals should be lauded and applauded for their efforts. Like other employees, they should have clear (and meaningful) objectives to strive toward and the opportunity to earn bonuses for jobs well done.

They must have support so they’re not tasked with managing channels 24/7, and they should be empowered to tell richer, deeper stories rather than endless, soulless button-pushing.

All of these factors greatly affect morale and retention—and could have a major impact on your corporate storytelling and bottom line.

Read the rest of the report here for more ideas on how to support social media pros’ career growth and development.

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