I’ve been a student on and off for most of my life. In the two years that I took a real, full-time ‘break’ from the academic mill (assuming applying for PhD funding and attending vampire conferences don’t count as studying), I worked as a web editor and social media manager for Poetry International, a not-for-profit literary organisation in Rotterdam. As part of my job I ran Poetry International’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and I also ended up expanding their social media presence across other platforms. This wasn’t the first time I had used social media for professional purposes, but it did teach me some weird and wonderful things about working in the industry.
1. No one takes you seriously
When I used to tell people I worked in social media, I got pretty much the same reaction I do now, when I tell them I’m a funded PhD student studying monsters: confusion and surprise. Response one is inevitably: ‘I didn’t realise they paid people to do that’. Response two generally goes something like: ‘So you get paid to fool around on the internet all day?’ The answer is basically ‘yes’. Embrace it.
2. It’s actually a lot of work
Just like socialising offline, doing social media right takes time, and you only get out of it what you put into it. Even if you’re only focusing on sharing content from a website, and not really interested in engaging with your followers, you have to think about the best way to communicate that content. If you’re running more than one social media networks, each one also requires a different approach to the same content. Also, people underestimate the time it takes to find good images, especially if (like many of us) you don’t have any real budget.
3. No one knows what you’re doing
Though PR and communications companies may be the exception to this rule, a lot of your co-workers just won’t get what it is you physically do all day, or why what they’re doing needs to be communicated on social media. These are often people who don’t really use social media that much themselves. Surely it’s just for posting pictures of food? Even if your colleagues work in communication, the strategies they’ve developed in print and online media may not always work in social media.
4. No one knows what they’re doing either
There’s no proven formula for how to ‘do’ social media, and even if there were, it keeps changing the whole time. As for content, sometimes you understand immediately why these people are successful at social media, but sometimes you really can’t see from their feed why they deserve more followers than you. Not naming any names. Honestly, it’s all a matter of perspective, and of knowing your audience. How you use social media depends 100% on what you’re sharing, who you’re sharing it with, and what you want to achieve by sharing it. This has the effect that…
5. You end up feeling like a mystical internet wizard
Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, and usually you have no idea why. There’s definitely skill and creativity involved, but a lot of the time you also just click ‘share’ and hope.
6. You meet loads of great (and often very grateful) people
The great thing about working in social media is that you basically spend all day networking. You’ll exchange friendly banter with some of your followers, and you’ll find yourself befriending the social media managers at other organisations as well. No one likes a self-important news feed, so in addition to posting your own content, you end up sharing a lot of other people’s stuff. There are different ideas about just how much of your feed this should include, and it depends a bit on what kind of content you’re sharing, but my rule of thumb was always at least two pieces of content from outside your organisation for every one from your own. Sometimes other organisations will even ask you to share their content, and are very happy to return the favour.
7. You will have to promote unpromotable things
It seems like everyone is on social media these days, and some social media managers are luckier than others with the content they’re asked to share and promote. Whether you work for Coca-Cola, KLM, or The Paris Review, however, at some point you will have to promote something that just does not automatically get people excited or engaged on social media. This may be because of its nature as a product (mouthwash FTW!) or, as was usually the case with my work, because it’s not very visual. What’s the best way to share a poem on Twitter or YouTube when you have very limited time and resources? You’ve got options, but sometimes you have to get very creative. It’s even trickier if some of your audience doesn’t take very kindly to you demeaning their beloved interest by trying to commercialise it (‘Top 10 Poems About Sex!’).
8. You are the god of your domain
Unless you work for a big company, chances are you will the sole person responsible for running the social media – and you may have other responsibilities alongside it. While this can be very intimidating, it also offers a whole lot of freedom. You can try (virtually) anything you want! When it’s not a wild success no one notices, when it backfires it’s (usually) chalked up to the fact that you’re bravely shouldering the burden of running the social media alone, and when it’s successful you get all the credit.
9. People will think you’re amazing
Your job title sounds very space-aged. Unfortunately, a lot of people equate working in social media with being a wizard in all things technical. While you’ll no doubt pick up some computer skills along the way (maybe some basic html if you’re lucky), for the most part this is not the case. We forget where the ‘Events’ button is just like everyone else. If anything we probably irritate the IT department more than anyone because of our weirdly superficial familiarity with technology. Still, if you can get away with it, it’s nice to feel like an internet expert. If you have the time for a coding course or two, you may even evolve into one of those rare unicorns with communications skills and technical ability.
10. The only way to go is up
As more and more companies realise the importance of using social media to communicate, they will need people who are up to the challenge of managing their online presence for them. They are at your mercy. The best part? You probably already have the skills to do it.