Save 50% on your Social Media Week pass! Join leading brands and agencies in NYC this April 9–11 to learn about emerging trends, tools and strategies. Register now—savings expire Dec. 11.
Search “social media manager” on LinkedIn’s job board and these are just some of the role responsibilities you’ll find:
Run all social accounts for organic and paid initiatives (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube) including creating, scheduling and publishing content to engage and delight our audience. Produce dynamic video and graphic content as well as writing engaging posts and curating YouTube channel content. Develop “in the moment” content (i.e. cover social live for special events, photo shoots, etc.) to complement pre-planned content. Devise, communicate and implement a comprehensive influencer and social marketing strategy, including KPIs, budget and calendar. Support digital marketing efforts by developing content for web, email, newsletters and other communications as needed.
Dig even deeper and you’ll find that many of these jobs (with a manager title, remember) require just two to three years of experience and come with salaries as low as $20 per hour.
Social media managers have been overworked and underpaid since the job came into being. Why are social media managers finally speaking up? Because the same industry that celebrates raw, honest, often unhinged social media content is the one that’s exploiting the employees in charge of that content.
A breaking point
I know what you’re thinking. Any industry has jobs that overwork, underpay and are targeted towards early-industry professionals looking to make their big break. So, why should social media managers be treated any differently?
Look to the NBA’s recent mishap of a previous employee’s post on the company’s Facebook page (with 40M followers) to understand why.
In the post, a previous employee took to the company’s platform to explain the unrealistic expectations and exhausting working conditions of being part of the social media team: working 14-hour shifts, having to wait 90 days to get health insurance coverage and dealing with negative mental health side effects. To anyone who’s worked in social media, this story isn’t shocking at all. However, the actions taken by the individual sent shockwaves across industries.
What’s even overlooked in the NBA ex-SMM’s rogue post is that the multibillion dollar organization has a team of social media professionals. In many rooms, social media management is simply another task added to the list of a marketing coordinator’s responsibilities. Consider yourself “lucky” if your job is only social media and influencer management.
This shouldn’t be the norm. If a company hired one salesperson to run all their sales accounts, it would be unheard of. Companies need to understand that the tasks they’re hiring for if done expertly and fully, require more than one person. At the very least, companies should be hiring separate graphic designers, photographers and videographers to capture content to be used across marketing channels.
Demanding this all of one person (or even two people) at a major company? That’s a swift road to burnout.
A different kind of ‘always on’
The challenging conditions placed on social media professionals are particularly troubling because these are often people on the front lines of a company’s brand. As seen with the NBA post, one tap of a social media professional’s finger can impact the public’s perception of a brand.
Take a similar yet different situation of Entertainment Weekly’s viral tweet (or X post) reply. When a Twitter troll replied to one of the brand’s posts, the social media manager broke the third wall with her reply, “I am a 31-year-old with student loan debt, a useless journalism degree and bills to pay. Just like the tweet and go.”
Similar sentiments, completely different execution and results. By leaning into the dark humor of the situation, the social media manager was able to co-opt the moment into a viral sensation with users cheering her on for her resilience and honesty.
Social media professionals being burnt out is nothing new. According to a 2023 Sprout Social study, 42% of marketers plan to stop working in social media within the next two years. Meanwhile, 63% of social media professionals are either experiencing burnout or have experienced it within one to three months.
Simply looking at the list of tasks required from a social media professional can reveal what a massive undertaking it is to cover a million different jobs in one. To show up every day with the pressure to be “always on.” To keep scrolling, keep consuming negativity, keep grinding. Even simply being called a “manager” without often being given many of the monetary and benefit perks of a managerial position is an exploitative practice within the role.
If you’re a company leader, take some time to reevaluate your social media positions. If you were in this position, how would you feel about your career? Would you feel valued or exploited?
What companies can do
These are not normal, healthy working conditions yet we’ve tried normalizing them for far too long. So, why are social media managers finally speaking up?
Because we’re finally growing as an industry beyond the hustle-hard culture. The old-school mentality of grinding until you’re physically spent never really resonated with many of us. But now, new generations are leading this industry that prioritizes rest, mental health and humanity.
We’re tired. We’ve been tired. But now companies need to listen and adapt. Heed the suggestions of my fellow Adweek writers and conduct regular check-ins with your team and assess team morale. Reevaluate the job descriptions for your social media positions and consider whether any of those responsibilities could be outsourced. Consider the implications and stress you may be unintentionally (or intentionally) placing on your employees. It’s social media, not saving lives.
While immediacy and timeliness are often key to positive social performance, humanity should come before everything else. If your brand can’t show up on social quickly without compromising the mental health of your employees, you’re doing it wrong.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. Stay the same destructive course and risk being outed as the next infamous brand exploiting social media professionals.