Social media: Do you need to be in it, to win it?

App icons on a smartphone

Rob Jefferson, Director of Marketing here at Knapton Wright dives deep into a conundrum about whether a social media manager needs to use it in a personal capacity too.

It started with a tweet, as it often does:

Despite my present role and my previous experiences heading up social media at Doncaster Council and ongo, it may come as somewhat of a surprise to you that I’d actually prefer not to be on social media at all.

Why? I hate how much of a time-stealer it can be and that feeling you get after mindlessly scrolling through a timeline and wondering what you’ve achieved during that time. 

Given that, on an average day, we pick up our phones 58 times and spend a total of 3 hours, 15 minutes looking at them, if the majority of that time is spent on social media you have to question: are all those memes, GIFs and guff really worth it?

I’ve had similar conversations with fellow Millennials (yup; I’m just in the bracket, despite what my hairline might suggest), some of whom have the same opinion as me and have come off pretty much all together. Conversely, others disagree because they still relish the connection with others across the world that social networks can bring.

The big question

With the above in mind and returning to the tweet at the start of this piece, the quandary is: is it possible to be a good social media manager if you’re not using social media in a personal capacity? Aside: This is more of an opinion piece than a researched essay but I’d be interested in anything that proves or disproves my arguments.

I think the answer lies in exploring three different areas: knowing the networks; being able to tell a good story; and, being on top of trends and topical stuff. Let’s break this down…

Knowing the networks

Tech companies like Facebook release thousands of changes to their code each day. They’re constantly testing new tweaks and features to make their apps more frustrating refined. 

Generally, the updates are tiny but sometimes a significant part of the user experience is refreshed. Whole menus are redesigned; layouts are changed and common sequences such as ad creation are overhauled. 

You can soon feel out of touch or miss a new feature if you’re not using the platforms every day. Subtract personal use when you have more time to experiment and, quite quickly, you’re going to be lagging behind.

The takeaway? If you’re not regularly using social media for both personal and professional use, the chances are you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. That doesn’t mean to say you have to be proficient on every platform but a basic, ongoing working knowledge of the networks is going to stand you in good stead.

Creating great content

This is a blog post, nay a whole website in itself. I could go down a rabbit hole and talk about quality video production or graphic design but I’m talking more fundamentally here about the art of telling a good story. 

You could know the networks inside and out but if you are creating crap content then that makes the former pretty pointless. 

Great content catches our attention. It tugs at our heartstrings or makes us laugh. It provides value; it makes us pause and reflect. It might even make us cry. 

However, I’ve spoken at length previously about how creativity takes time. It can also be pretty draining if you’re the poor soul who’s expected to come up with the creative ideas, day in, day out. 

At best, the quality of your output can decline as your ideas gradually dry up; at worst, the pressure to ‘perform’ could start to affect your mental health. To counteract this, you need a blend of fresh inspiration and the support of others to help craft and refine your creative output.

On balance then, I’d suggest you’re going to find it easier if you’re taking inspiration from others about how to do it well. Being regularly exposed to brand ads, viral content and what’s going down well is most likely going to help you with your own social media management. 

Sure, you can do this by using social media for work but I’d argue it’s only when you use it personally that you realise how badly some brands and organisations are doing it, and the lack of value their content provides you, as a consumer or customer. This in turn, could help you become a better creator.

Being bang on trend

Social media moves FAST. Nowadays, it’s often kick-starting the news cycle. If something light-hearted picks up pace on social media that’s newsworthy, I reckon it takes about a day to be picked up by print/online news and 2-3 days to get picked up by the broadcast media. 

During that time period, another trend or meme will probably gather pace. While I’m not a huge fan of trend-jacking or chasing memes – especially by brands – when it’s done right, it can go down a treat.

The #DollyPartonChallenge is the most recent example of this. As it reached critical mass, you saw the absolute best and worst of how to do it. I’ve always been a fan of subversion of the original idea though. Case in point: 

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

So as to not go off-piste, how does this relate to The Big Question? To understand how trending content is (and isn’t) working it’s going to take some time to explore and hunt out good examples for how you can use it professionally to your organisation’s advantage. 

Put simply, when using social media in your own time you’re going to stumble across some hilarious, heart warming or clever use of social media that you could draw inspiration from when back at work.

It’s about balance

In summary, there are clear advantages to being a user of social media in a personal capacity as well as at work, if you want to be a more successful manager or content creator. 

You’ve also got to consider your recruitment prospects. If you’re applying for a job to become a social media executive or something similar, the chances are that your prospective employers are going to check you out online. If you can’t be found, is that going to hinder your prospects? Jon-Stephen Stansel, the author of the original twitter thread seems to think so.

I’d caveat all of this though. There’s well-documented burnout in the profession and people spending far too much time online. Busman’s Holiday, anyone? Like most things, it’s about balance.

I personally came off Facebook back in January 2016, although I still have a work profile. I’m still on Instagram, albeit with a private account and as more of a lurker, and I have publicly-viewable LinkedIn and Twittter accounts. 

This balance works for me. I still get good exposure and understanding of what’s going on but it’s not consuming my life either.

How about you? Are you all-in for both work and personal social media, only on it for work purposes, or balancing the two?