Social Media Manager is a relatively new position in the grand scheme of things. In fact, a decade ago, it didn’t even exist. But today, communicating with customers and activating audiences on social are integral to a brand’s customer service, PR, and marketing strategies. Those who work in the field know the role requires an agile skill set and a “Wild West”-like entrepreneurial spirit in order to navigate the ever-changing landscape.
Cindy Waters, Brand Reputation Manager at Intuit, who manages the Intuit social media properties, has been in the game about as long as social media has been important to companies. With eight years of experience managing social media and PR initiatives for tech and consumer brands, such as TurboTax, Google’s Nest, Netflix and more, she’s a pioneer of the industry and has developed skills in everything from strategic storytelling to video editing to analytics over the course of her career. We chatted with Cindy to get her thoughts on what skills and traits make for successful social media management. Read on to see the seven things that have helped her in this multi-faceted, fast-paced role…a few of them may surprise you.
Strategic Thinking and Curiosity
“Strategic thinking is the most critical trait for any social media manager,” Waters says. “But right after that is curiosity. I think the two are very closely aligned. If you’re curious and strategic, you’re more inclined to come up with creative solutions that others haven’t considered, which means you won’t be waiting to see what the latest trends are; you’ll be the one creating them.”
She says it’s also important for social media managers to learn from the people in the room who’ve been in the workforce longer than them, even if they don’t have as much social media experience. “Really listen to what their concerns are and what they’re trying to do in terms of the business objective. Demonstrate that you’re hearing them, and that you understand those needs. As soon as you create that trust and show them you’re a strategic thinker, it becomes a lot easier to do the job.”
But what does “being strategic” really mean? After all, it’s a cognitive activity, which can make it hard to define, but for social media managers Waters believes it’s two-fold:
“First, being strategic starts by having a defined end goal—whether it’s to get clicks, change brand perception, or getting people to react to your Facebook post with love,” she says. “But it’s also knowing what your brand wants to say, what your audience wants to hear, and finding where those two things overlap.”
Whether it’s a tweet, a blog post, an Instagram caption, or replying to a customer on Facebook, so much of social media involves words, which means excellent writing skills—particularly writing snappy headlines and captions— are going to be important for any social media manager. “You never know when you’re going to write something, rework copy, or draft something on the fly,” Waters says. “So not only should you have excellent writing skills, you should feel confident in those skills.”
She explains, “You have to know how to say things five different ways for five different platforms. The best social media managers won’t use the same copy on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram; they’ll know how to tweak it for each platform.”
But the writing skills aren’t just for customer-facing copy, Waters says. Those skills are important for internal communication as well. “You need to know how to write great emails so you can successfully pitch your ideas.” The best social media ideas are creative and strategic, but sometimes on the surface, they can seem bizarre or irrelevant. For instance, how do you convince executives that a meme is actually supporting business objectives? “Those people need to be coaxed into your idea and understand how it works as part of the larger objective.” And a careful, thoughtful email or quick visual presentation can do just that.
The visual nature of social media is only increasing. Consider these quick stats: Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to get shared than other content. Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement than those without and Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without. And video is shared and retweeted at even higher rates. If your work is being judged in part by social engagement, you better make your content as shareable as it can be. As a result Waters says, “Good social media managers know design inside and out. Those skills should comparable to their writing skills.” It’s important to think about images and design and how that is being used to relay your messaging.
“One of the skills of being a writer is understanding when words aren’t going to be enough to tell your message and you need an image to supplement the story,” she says.
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“When it comes to social media metrics, they’re so vague, and the tools out there measure things in different ways. So you really have to go in with a healthy sense of curiosity, especially if you’re not a math pro,” Waters says. Likes and followers are often referred to as vanity metrics. Social shares and comments will reveal much more about how your content is resonating.
“You need to know what the questions are to ask about the numbers. For example, if engagement rate is down, is it because the image didn’t work, the timing, what people were talking about on social media right then… you get the numbers, but you need to go deeper than what they’re saying on the paper.” While social media is not an exact science, metrics combined with deductive reasoning combined with good taste makes for winning social media management.
Understanding (of Your Audience and Social Media Platforms)
“It’s crucial to know your audience,” Waters says. “You need to spend time with them online and understand what’s relevant to them. It’s so easy to be in your social media bubble with your colleagues and then realize that your customers don’t know what a doge meme is, for example. You need to find out what’s interesting to them and go where they’re going otherwise your message is going to fall on deaf ears.”
You also need to understand which social media platforms people are using for what and cater your message accordingly. “Anecdotally, right now we’re seeing that Instagram usage is on the rise in 2017; my hypothesis is that it’s becoming a safer place where people don’t have to talk about politics and can focus on the happy things in life. So our brand is using Instagram as a way to let people take a break by keeping the tone more optimistic and upbeat and bright and colorful, whereas on Twitter, we adjusted our tone because people want the harder-hitting stuff.”
Passion and Compassion
“I think a good social media manager has a lot of passion for what they do, but they know they need patience in order to be strategic and work with others,” Waters says. “It’s a constant struggle of balancing both.”
Emotional intelligence is extremely important in social media. After all, you’re likely interacting with thousands of people online and it’s never a one-way street. “When it comes to talking to your customers, that’s where empathy comes to play. I wouldn’t say it’s patience as much as putting yourself in you customers’ shoes, understanding where they’re coming from, and thinking about what brought them to social media to talk about your product in particular. If you’re talking to a customer that is complaining about your product, chances are they’ve been thinking that thought for hours already and this is their last resort. You have to be really careful about your tone and come across as understanding of their situation and experience.” Turning unhappy customers into brand advocates often falls on a social media manager’s plate without warning, requiring a healthy dose of humble pie.
Adaptability and Openness
Social media changes everyday, from what’s trending on feeds to major updates from behemoths like Facebook that require a quick analysis and adaptability. “This is a shout out for older social media managers,” Waters says. “Know when it’s time to tap into the younger talent and people in your company who might have a more specialized skillset. As social media evolves, we’re all getting older and a new younger generation is coming into the workforce and they have incredible ideas.”
It can be easy for social media managers to think the younger generation doesn’t know what’s going on because they haven’t been in the industry as long, but Waters thinks that’s the wrong way to approach it. “Help raise new talent by teaching them to think more strategically about the platforms they know inside and out,” she says. “I think all social media managers, especially ones who have been in the industry eight years or longer, need to make a conscience effort to help cultivate younger talent. The truth is, those younger workers probably know more than you think.”
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