This is an open letter to brands and agencies (and a call for support from industry associations) to stop the neglect of those working in social media.

This issue came to a head for me when last week I had a conversation with a young social media professional. She asked for advice on how to avoid getting up at 3am in the morning following a late night call from her employers. She had been instructed to post on social in real-time for an international event, which meant posting in the wee hours of the morning.  She was working evenings, weekends too – all whilst doing her day job.

I hear story after story of social media folk that are left unsupported to manage a crisis; who train and coach themselves with no financial or management support; who work weekends and evenings without respite (or time in lieu). And when things go wrong, it is often the very same social media managers that are in the firing line.

Of course it is not every company. But it happens with a regularity that makes me uncomfortable. Having chewed over the issue now for several months, I think the problem lies in a lack of recognition for the roles and value of those working in social media.

There is no group representing the social industry (and it is a very large and diverse industry). We need influencers, industry, agencies and brands to champion best practice in nurturing employees through a career in social media.

How do we fix this?

I am in two minds as to the potential solution. Do we need a separate social media industry body that will focus on the diversity of skills, the unusual working hours and career development of staff? Or is it better that already established marketing and comms associations take up the mantle. The CIPR does a terrific job at focusing on social media. But does that resonate with those in the industry that come from marketing or digital disciplines. More importantly will it matter to employers?

Maybe the starting point is to look at what needs fixing. I have four core areas where I think we need guidelines. I am sure there are more.

Roles and skills are diverse and need defining

There is more than one type of role in social. Matt wrote about the role of the community manager, but there are strategists, insights and analytics, paid media, technical and influencer relations professionals. Or a combination of some, a few or all.

And responsibilities are wide-ranging too. There are those that manage reputation, customer service, sales and lead gen, etc. The result is that we need to define the variety of roles, allowing employers to standardise skills and requirements.

Career development is a must

There is often a lack of support for formal professional development and whilst training courses abound, they will require employee investment.  Lots of social professionals take personal time out of evenings to attend events where they can learn, or look online for advice. But this is not formal or structured,

This is most sharply felt by those at the beginning of their careers. With limited business experience they find themselves flying solo on social crisis. Without the authority to manage upwards or sideward and often working alone, these individuals are stressed and worrying about failing to meet expectations.

Manage time and trolls

On the front line of customer conversations there is often no precedent for ways of working within the company. So what should be the expected hours of work? How should social employees work shifts or be compensated for working out of hours.

We also have a duty of care. If your company is regularly pestered by trolls or garners negative comments, who is looking after the community manager on the receiving end. Of course there is need a wider strategy and plan to manage the issue. But there should also be an ear, some downtime and team support for those living and breathing all that negativity on a daily basis. This last point is important. I have often seen young professionals in tears over negative and downright abusive comments on their company profiles.

Salary and future career

We need some standard salaries. The range is very wide with a low at about £17,000 and a median pay of £25K. Yet there are some roles that are a great deal higher. It seems to be the luck of the draw. Guidelines would help enormously.

As an industry we need to understand the future of our industry. What is the career path of a young community manager? If we don’t know how to grow social media professionals we will leak talent into other industries.

So my questions to you are:

  1. Are there other areas of the social media manager role that should be championed?
  2. Who is best to lead the social media industry? Is it established industry bodies or do we need a new one of our own?

Please share your thoughts. We are building into an incredible industry filled with talented professionals. Now is the time for us to rally and create best practice for our industry.


6 thoughts on “Open letter: Let’s stop the neglect of social media professionals

  1. This is a great piece with lots of food for thought. I have a broad variety of skills and would certainly not say that I specialise in social media (I don’t!) but I know a fair few people who do, and the issues outlined above are not unfamiliar.
    These issues are only going to become more pronounced. I really believe that we need a lot more integration in the communications and marketing and digital worlds.
    There are organisations who could lead the charge – you note the CIPR is very active in this area, but I really believe (anecdotally) that many in PR just think that the social world is something separate to them, and I will admit that when I was more focused on one area of the comms world (public affairs), so did I. There are some fantastic social media experts out there (yourselves included of course!) and although a growing trend is for industry bodies to merge (think BBA etc), I think that a group needs to start the debate and see where it goes.
    The diversity of roles and skills is also an issue – and again, this will continue to evolve, likely at incredible speed, as technology and platforms change. Some kind of analysis of the skills required, mapping of different roles etc might be a good start here.
    Finally – the hours involved and a lack of support. I have found that those working specifically in social are really enthusiastic and talented, and so live those values in their own personal lives and the personal and professional collide. Tech is an enabler, and it certainly allows me to work in a very agile way, but the lines between home and work are increasingly blurred and I wonder whether, particularly at the beginning of people’s careers, more should be done on advice and mentoring on how not to let it all get on top of you.
    I could go on, but conscious that this is only meant to be a “comment”. Thanks for starting the debate!

    • katyhowell

      Love, Love, love! your comment. Thank you. Thinking of starting with a gang of us next year to look at the best approach to this. One that we can all commit to. Would love to involve you too. Will ping you once we are settled on a date.

  2. Agree wholeheatedly with your points Katy – one aspect that stands out is a contradictory view that says on one hand, “Social is incredibly important and every tweet/comment must be analysed, followed up, addressed etc/we must monitor and react 24×7”, and on the other “Social is unmeasurable, still fluffy and best handled by low wage recent graduates who are willing to work long hours for little pay”. Either social matters and you invest accordingly OR if you’re not serious, don’t just pay lip service and/or exploit employees. Think we need a representative body – how about you as Chairperson? 🙂

    • katyhowell

      You are spot on. I am not really complaining – we are a new way of working after all. Just suggesting that if we are smart, we take a grip on this now. Enhance the industry with those that live and breath social.

  3. We’re all professionals now.

    The industrialisation of digital and social networking, institutionalising it, misses the point entirely.

    • katyhowell

      Whilst I agree that we are all professionals, I am not sure the wider world understands that. Many in social media are at the start of the careers and as such need our help and support to develop them. I am not suggesting that we institutionalise social, more that we group together to educate the masses and support our fellow social media professionals.

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