Question: How Can Social Media Managers Avoid Burn Out?
Updated: Mar 12
Today I am here to talk about burn out. Burn out is like hitting a wall while driving 100 miles per hour. You see the wall coming, you know you want to avoid it, but unless there is an opportunity to change course, you have no choice but to open the driver's side door and jump out, or crash spectacularly.
This phenomenon is particularly acute for those of us who manage social media in the non-profit, arts, community activism, and museum fields. Most of us are at least 50% motivated by our passion and love for our organization and we believe in the critical work they do in service of others. But, with time, resources, and support in limited supply, how do we avoid crashing and burning under the immense pressure we experience on a day to day basis? I'm burning out - help!
(Question has been edited for brevity and clarity)
Question: Does anyone else have the issue where they want to focus more on social media like the #dollypartonchallenge but find it difficult to do more than what feels like the bare minimum because the number of responsibilities the social media manager has outside of social media? My workload is that of two people and it is prohibiting me from spending quality time on social media strategies.
Answer: Most social media managers in the arts and non-profit field wear far too many hats. We're often doing the work of two, or three people as the OP pointed out. We're not only managing half a dozen (or more) social platforms on a daily basis, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Tumblr, but we're also juggling online community management, responding to reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google Reviews. We're managing Google Ad Words, and cross platform analytics. We're expected to be specialists in marketing, sales, and politically correct community engagement. We're meant to keep up on the latest trends both in popular culture and in our organization's specific industry. We're collections experts, scholarly researchers, photographers, graphic designers, videographers, copy editors, PR managers, website and IT specialists, publishers, event promoters, crisis communicators, and on and on. On top of all that, we're absolutely inundated with toxic bullshit in the form of online comments, email complaints, and all manner of negativity as it manifests itself on the internet.
Social Media management is a 24/7/365 type of job, and its fluid, ever changing nature is enough to make anyone feel like they're drowning. Even those of us who are 100% on top of scheduling our posts using platforms like Later.com, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social, can find themselves having to step away from dinner with our families, or drinks with our friends in order to handle something that just can't wait.
Here is an example from my own experience:
I work in New Mexico. A state that has an incredibly rich, but complicated relationship with history. We are a place with one of the largest Indigenous and Hispanic (people descendant of the original Spanish Conquistadors) populations, as well as affluent white folks who have moved in over the past few decades.
So, a couple days before Christmas 2019, I posted an image of a site known as the Penitente Morada, located in northern New Mexico, along with a caption that (I thought) was a somewhat generic mention of local culture and all the wonderful things folks can enjoy while visiting New Mexico. Needless to say, my use of the image in a post that seemed to promote tourism did NOT go over well in the local community. The Morada itself is a sacred meeting site for Catholics of Spanish descent, and is dedicated to community service and memorializing the spirit of the penance and the Passion of Christ. It's not a tourist destination and the community guards the area fiercely. This information was known to me, but I had posted images of the Morada in the past with out any problem, so I saw no problem with recycling the content. But, on social media, you never know what's going to pop.
In the hours after the post landed, my organization's page was inundated with blistering negative comments from the local community. I happened to be sitting at home, attempting to enjoy a day off when I received an email from our Communications Manager informing me of the backlash.
So, rather than sleep in on my holiday, I instead went into crisis mode. I jumped in immediately to answer dozens of strongly worded questions and accusations in the comment thread, and reached out to the leaders at the Morada to apologize directly. After that, I needed to remove the original offending post, then draft appropriate language so I could re-post the image with our approved explanation and apology to the community. After the initial firestorm died down, I still had to spend the following 72 hours monitoring the comment thread and answering additional questions.
It was a shit show.
Luckily, New Mexicans are very forgiving, and the community was extremely happy that we acknowledged the mistake and took immediate steps to make amends - something I'm truly grateful for.
But this serves as just one example of how social media managers are "always on." There was no way I could have ignored this for a few days so I could enjoy my time off. There was no way I could have said, "it's Christmas, and I haven't had a day off in 6 months so everyone is going to have to chill out until I'm back in the office!" Because at the end of the day, it wasn't really about me. Yes, I was the one to make the mistake, but it was my organization that was taking the hit. To have ignored it, even for a few days, would have put my competency into question, and potentially could have lost me my job. Luckily for me, everything turned out fine.
On top of everything else social media managers have to do, it's these types of incidents that can have a profound impact on burn out. The need to respond immediately. The inability to ever truly enjoy a day off. The negative comments, the accusations, the vitriol. The fear that a simple mistake can snowball in ways that can get you fired. The all consuming nature of social media can leave little room for anything else.
Even for those of us, and I include myself, who love our jobs, there are days when we feel like we can do nothing right. When we allow those days to out number the days we feel good about our work, that is when burn out sets in.
So here are my tips for avoiding the crash.
1) Take at least 2 - 3 hours a week to schedule your posts! If your organization can't afford a social media management platform like Hootsuite (which I highly recommend if the money is there), then use an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Doc to plan out as much as you can ahead of time. This will help you avoid the daily scramble of finding quality content. It also has the added benefit of providing others in your organization an opportunity for review. We can't be everything and calling in some back-up to check in on content will only help you.
2) Make sure that your organization's staff has some skin in the game when it comes to producing content. Senior leadership, curators, marketing, education, research, conservation, library, teaching artists, etc. should all have a vested interest in what is being said on social media and should want to share out the great work they're doing day to day. Encourage your team, whether big or small to take cellphone photos, write copy, share ideas, provide you with the resources and information they use to do their jobs. I can't tell you how much a single article, a couple of paragraphs, or a cute photo from someone in another department can reduce the need for you to do it all on your own.
3) Take. Time. Off. I say this knowing that I can hardly ever commit to such a thing. But try to find 2 days a month where you're not on social media at all. Don't check your Instagram insights, don't pop into Facebook to read comments. Stay off the internet entirely if you can. When I have been able to tune out for a couple days, I find that I am able to return to my work with fresh eyes and new ideas.
4) Talk about your work. In meetings, in the community, during events, etc. Make sure that folks in your organization KNOW what you're doing. Mention TripAdvisor reviews (I create a comments spreadsheet after every major exhibition with up to 500 of the more relevant online comments from across all our platforms, which I distribute to my institution's leadership team). Don't just provide your analytics report, detail HOW you're able to produce the data. Share your content, and constantly be asking for feedback on your current projects.
5) Focus on engagement, not the number of followers. It is natural for those who don't do this work to boil everything down to growth. But growth for the sake of growth is meaningless unless your audiences are actually participating. The key word in social media is the word 'social.' If your organization has 1,000 followers, and you're getting 50 likes per post - that's amazing! That means 5% of your audience is engaged. The average is 1 - 2%! Never forget that an engaged audience is queen. Many organizations pay big bucks for sponsored ads on their platforms which can lead to more followers, but in the end the number of followers is a vanity number since most of those followers will never like, comment, or share your content.
6) Share the load. If your organization can afford to pay an intern, or hire a part-time person to take photos, produce videos, or write copy - do it! So many social media managers try to juggle a million things on their own. There is no shame in asking for support. Any organization that wants to be relevant in the 21st century needs to invest in their online presence, which is largely propped up by social media.
I really hope this has been helpful for those of you hanging by a thread. Know that you're not alone and many of us feel the same.
You can do it. I believe in you!