December 2, 2022

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How to Become a Social Media Manager

5 min read

Olivia Jepson, Sprout’s Social Media Strategist, is the unofficial face of our brand on Instagram and TikTok. Not only is she on-camera talent, she’s also responsible for creating content, helping build our social strategy and analyzing social data. Just to name a few responsibilities.

If you’ve seen her online, you might wonder how she got here and what skills are required to become a social media manager like her.

For Jepson, the path to social was indirect. “I always thought I wanted to be a photographer. From my middle school vlog to shooting weddings and senior photos, I thought my career path was already determined. But then I discovered social. Social was an overlap of all the things I loved and studied: Photography, video and communications.”

Are you considering a career as a social media manager, but don’t know where to start?

We interviewed four social media managers to ask them why they pursued this career path, what it’s really like behind-the-scenes and how you can land a role (even without any experience). Here’s what they said.

Why become a social media manager?

Each person’s reason for becoming a social media manager differs depending on their professional goals and personal needs for fulfillment.

For example, being at the helm of a brand’s social presence means you have the potential to humanize the company and create authentic connections. That’s what drove Caitlin Pierson, Social Media Specialist at the University of Newcastle, to her role.

“I love how personal and genuine brands can get on social media and the communities they can create. From a young age I saw the power in social, and have wanted to be a part of the industry ever since.”

For Gabby Barnes, Social Media Manager at Casual Fridays agency, the best thing about her job is seeing social’s impact on her client’s goals.

“As both a user and an insider, it’s evident that awareness is grown, traffic is driven and communities are built through social media more than any other tool.”

Becoming a social media manager offers future opportunities for professional development, too. The transferable skills gained in the role lead to many different career paths—including chief marketing officer and social media executive.

Stepping into a social media manager role is the right choice for people who want to help shape a brand’s story, build an online community, reach business goals and pursue a long-term marketing career.

What do social media managers do? (Spoiler: It’s complicated)

No day is typical for a social media manager. Their work spans across platforms and often includes playing many different roles. Here’s a look at the tasks our experts juggle each month.

Content creation

Social media managers play an integral role in developing content for a brand’s social presence. They can write copy, capture photos, record and edit videos—but their role goes far beyond publishing posts.

For example, Raven Gill, Social Media Manager at Communicators Group, a full service marketing agency, meets with her creative team on a monthly basis to discuss ways their content calendar will deliver on business goals. She also prioritizes staying on the pulse of social trends so she can create timely content that resonates with her audience.

She explains, “I collaborate with our copywriting team to design content calendars every month, but I also create posts as they happen organically.”

As a social media manager you must master the art of content development and providing creative vision to a larger team.

Data analysis

Social media managers know their brand’s posts aren’t just being sent into the void. Achieving social goals depends on people liking and engaging with their content. That’s why they consistently measure their social performance and make real-time adjustments on a regular basis.

Gill says, “On the first of each month I generate reports for most of my clients. I analyze the data and try to provide three recommendations or strategies for the future.”

Social marketers are always testing new approaches. As Pierson describes, “I am the strategic mind behind the University of Newcastle’s social channels which involves measuring performance, optimizing content and staying on top of trends.”

The social data from their reports has large-scale impacts beyond social. It can help improve a product or provide insight into a competitor’s audience. Social media managers must convey how findings on social translate to the big picture.

Community management and engagement

Many social media managers, including Pierson, are responsible for managing their brand’s community. That includes finding opportunities to make loyal superfans feel welcome and appreciated—whether it’s highlighting a post or leaving a friendly comment.

An example of an interaction on Twitter between Sprout Social and a community member.

Social media managers elicit feedback as much as possible because listening to the needs of their community is what will help keep members engaged.

Social media managers use tools like Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox to stay on top of incoming messages and mentions without getting overwhelmed.

Managing and building creator partnerships

For social media managers like Barnes, managing influencer and creator partnerships is a core part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Using influencer and creator-generated content is a prime way to reach your audience, whether you’re looking to nurture existing customers or attract new ones. But forging and maintaining relationships with influencers and creators takes expertise.

A graph from the Sprout Social Creator Economy data report that reads "Marketers' main challenges when working with creators." Various data points are available in the graphic, including 45% of respondents say budget.

Social media managers leading these partnerships balance finding creators, hosting meetings, advocating for resources and approving content.

What types of social media manager jobs are available

According to the Sprout Social Index™, there has never been a better time to be a job seeker in social, regardless of your level of tenure. LinkedIn reported that social media managers are the third most in-demand marketing position by posting volume in 2022, while social media coordinator roles have the third most year-over year growth of all marketing titles.

There are multiple types of social media manager roles available. Here are a few examples:

  • Agency social media manager: A marketer who runs social accounts for multiple brand clients.
  • Business-to-business (B2B) vs. business-to-consumer (B2C): Social media managers who work in-house for businesses that market to consumers or businesses who market to other brands. While the audiences differ, many of the same social media tactics are used for both types of companies.
  • Social media consultant: Individuals who work directly with clients to improve upon, optimize and grow their social media presence.

Whichever sounds like the right choice for you, the first step towards landing your dream role is building a data-driven resume that attracts a hiring manager’s attention.

What qualifications do you need to be a social media manager?

While all social media manager roles are different, our experts recommend refining these three skills in order to start your career.

Experience developing content

Most social media manager roles require experience creating social media posts and working with social tools—like this job posting from StubHub demonstrates.

A social media manager job posting from the brand StubHub.

If you don’t have professional experience, that’s okay. Instead, practice honing your skills on your own personal social media accounts.

Bex Renshaw, the Digital Content Executive at ClickThrough Marketing, spent years building her personal brand before transitioning to her current position.

“I managed a personal blog and my own social media platforms. While working in retail, I began to finesse my content and grow my audience so I could demonstrate my potential without professional social experience. Today, I run an entire marketing agency’s social media presence.”

Social analytics proficiency

All of our experts agreed social analytics skills are a requirement for social media managers.

For example, in this job description, Intelligentsia is looking for someone with platform-specific analytics experience to fill their social media manager role.

A social media manager job description from Intelligentsia.

You must also be able to understand and interpret how social insights impact your business goals. Knowing which data points matter most is essential. As Barnes says, “It’s easy to get caught up in more visible wins like the number of new followers or getting on the Explore page, but more behind-the-scenes metrics like engagement, clicks or recall are likely more relevant to your goals and what your social media team is spending their efforts trying to improve.”

Up-level your analytics skills so you can provide data-driven answers to questions from your colleagues in marketing and beyond.

Effective project management skills

Being able to manage multiple projects simultaneously—while balancing competing priorities—is essential for all social media marketers. The role requires an attention to detail, aptitude for solving hard problems, time management skills and flexibility.

Barnes describes, “Being able to juggle multiple relevant tasks and prioritize them effectively is necessary in the day-to-day. The nature of the industry means things can change at a moment’s notice, and you have to prove you can adapt.”

When applying for jobs, identify proof points you can share with future employers to demonstrate your project management skills—from overseeing multiple projects at once to how you organize your day to focus on your most important tasks.

6 pieces of advice to help you become a social media manager

As you embark on your journey to become a social media manager, here are six pieces of advice from our experts that will help you reach your goal.

1. Immerse yourself in social media culture

We asked our LinkedIn community which skills are the most important to become a social media manager. Of the 784 respondents, 44% said understanding social culture was the most critical to success.

A Twitter poll from Sprout Social that asks our community what skills are the most important for becoming a social media manager. The top result was understanding social culture, which 44% respondents agreed with.

Our experts agreed and urged people to strengthen their digital literacy to land a position.

For Gill that looks like, “Following others in the industry across multiple platforms—often the best advice is in a random Twitter thread—and bookmarking the Sprout Social Insights blog to stay on top of platform-specific and industry changes.”

As you familiarize yourself with social culture, remember to consume in moderation.

Barnes advises, “It’s important to be a user of social media so you can stay up-to-date on trends, the user experience and gather inspiration, but it’s equally important to take a break from consumption when you need it.”

2. Strengthen your communication skills

Communication is the foundation of a social media manager’s job. All of our experts cited how important refining communication skills—including copywriting and presenting on camera—are to landing a role.

Barnes credits her writing skills for her position.

“I believe being a strong writer is a key skill in most industries, especially social media. I have a background in writing both long and short-form content for a variety of platforms, and with my agency experience, I’m used to switching between different voices and goals on a daily basis.”

To improve your communication skills, practice often, turn to online tools (example: the Hemingway editor) and read and watch a breadth of digital media.

3. Channel your creative expertise

Many social media managers have creative expertise that predates their current role. For example, Gill channels her past experience as an art director into her work.

“I was a graphic designer by trade, so I’m able to create the majority of my clients’ content myself.”

A LinkedIn post from Communicators Group that congratulates Raven Gill on her five year anniversary and for making the transition from an art director to their social media manager.

Leverage your creative interests to your advantage—highlight them as a way to stand out from other candidates. Demonstrate how your skills could make your workflow more efficient and a brand’s social presence unique.

4. Use free resources and tools

Today, there are countless free resources and tools available online to help you improve your skills or learn more about a certain topic.

As Renshaw recommends, “Google is your best friend. Just search anything you’re unsure of. There are loads of free online courses that are really helpful for beginners.”

If you need a boost finding helpful social-specific newsletters, check out these 27 marketing resources to elevate your social knowledge.

5. Understand each network

As social media continues to evolve, new specialties and niches are emerging. You should use that as an opportunity to become a subject matter expert.

For example, while most social media managers are well-versed in the big five platforms—Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and LinkedIn—becoming an expert in one will help you differentiate, suggests Gill.

You can also specialize in other areas, like creator relations, community management and employee advocacy. Finding your niche will enhance your value as a candidate.

6. Be passionate and willing to learn

One piece of advice that’s absolutely essential: Cultivate a true passion for social that empowers you to want to keep learning. According to Renshaw, it’s required to become a successful social media manager.

Jumpstart your social media manager career

Prepared with advice from these experts, you’re ready to start working toward a career as a social media manager.

Remember: It’s possible to land a role without any experience if you channel your unique expertise, hone the right skills and are willing to keep learning.

Want to discover other social media job opportunities? Read more about 7 social media careers to consider.

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