What makes a great social media manager?

More specifically, what habits make an effective social media manager?

What do the best social media managers practice every day that makes them amazing at what they do?

There seems to be a lot of good advice out there about the best social media tactics used by marketers—tactics that might work great right away but are often not sustainable.

I was keen to find the best habits. And to understand what traits would help a person become more effective as a social media manager. I’m excited to share with you what I found.

 hire social media manager

How to Hire a Social Media Manager

Why is it important to hire a good social media manager?

social media job growth

There have even been discussions of having a Chief Social Officer as an official role in companies.

Social media has grown into its own career path. And while there are resources that teach social media tactics, they don’t explain the traits that make for a successful social media manager. This makes it difficult for someone who wants to take a career path in social marketing and for hiring managers to hire an effective social media manager.

Social media managers have a variety of responsibilities including:

  1. Managing a publishing calendar
  2. Scheduling posts
  3. Curating content
  4. Engaging with customers and partners
  5. Listening to networks for brand mentions and keywords
  6. Reviewing analytics and determining next steps
  7. Following up with connections and on projects.
  8. Check in with the rest of the company for announcements to publish and
  9. Running experiments to optimize social media posts

And that’s not even all of it.

If we think about software engineering, we can’t teach someone C++ and expect her to be an effective engineer. She must learn and develop the mental frameworks necessary to work through problems.

Likewise, we can’t teach someone to put sentences together and expect him to be an effective writer. He must develop his own methods of thinking and understand who he’s writing for.

So how do we develop those mental frameworks to become more effective at managing social media?

I dug in to figure out the habits of the most effective social media managers.

Be in the business of content.

1. Have go-to sources to curate great content.

Curation is a cornerstone of social media marketing and also one of the most time-consuming tasks. Great social media managers devour content and know where to find amazing content that would interest their followers. No need to search, you know where it’s at.

Kevan Lee of Buffer keeps a collection of RSS feeds in Feedly to help with curating his monthly newsletter. This is what his feedly collection looks like:

kevan lee feedly

To save time, Neil Patel suggests curating in batches. To avoid content consumption consuming your whole day, assign a specific block of time dedicated to curation, say 9am-10am. Once it hits 10am, move on to the next thing.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Create a feedly account and add your favorite RSS feeds to it.
  2. Have a list of non-RSS websites where you consistently find high-quality content.
  3. Set aside a specific time to consume and curate content.
  4. Consume said content.
  5. Curate amazing pieces.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5.

2. Always be in ideation mode.

One of the toughest feelings in social media is running out of post ideas. An effective marketer is always in ideation mode. Whether that means getting ideas while we’re on a walk and see kids playing or while in line for ice cream and noticing how the shop does customer service

It’s about making connections between things over different time periods or different disciplines.

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, a self-titled “reader who writes,” publishes three blog posts a day, Monday-Friday, and most all of her posts are 1,000 words or more (often, much more). She’s able to produce such a large volume of content because she actively makes connections between ideas as she reads.

Brain Pickings

By being in ideation mode, we will constantly have ideas running through our minds which can result in blog posts, social updates, and a healthy social media publishing pipeline.

How to develop this habit:

  1. As you go about your day, be aware of what’s going on around you.
  2. Think about how your experiences could be tied back to a piece of content.
  3. Analyze scenarios to find a perspective in which a story can be told.
  4. Write down any and all ideas you have (I like to use Evernote).
  5. Stay in ideation mode.

3. Keep a swipe file.

Keep a collection of tested and proven advertising assets like headlines, graphics, and frameworks – often referred to as a swipe file.

Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, embraces the idea of copying the hell out of others. Likewise, Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, explains that everything is a remix, and keeps his own swipe file for inspiration.

I’ve been growing my own swipe file with headline formulas and notes from books I’ve read.

Screenshot 2015-07-20 10.28.00

As a social media manager, here are a few things to collect:

How to develop this habit:

  1. Be aware of great copy and images as you consume content.
  2. Take screenshots when you see a good image or ad and save them into an Evernote folder, or a folder on your desktop.
  3. Copy and paste great headlines into a file for future reference.
  4. Most importantly, keep collecting content that’s inspiration for your own creative process.

Focus on good communication.

4. Listen to what’s going on on social.

Some managers forget the “social” in social media and don’t engage with their supporters. By listening to what’s going on with social media, we can find out what people are saying about our brand and engage with them.

JetBlue has demonstrated that social listening is a high priority for them. They have a team of over 25 employees that specifically handle social media listening and communicating with customers on Twitter. They’ve even staged a welcome home parade for one of their customers after reading a tweet about her flight home.

Keep your eyes and ears open for what users are saying about your brand so you can catch them when they’re thinking of you.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Set up alerts for your brand name (and various spellings of it) on Mention, Buzzsumo, or Google Alerts.
  2. Set aside 30 minutes a day to review and respond to mentions of your company.

5. Be a relationship-builder.

Entrepreneurs inherently understand that relationships and interacting with a wide range of people are crucial for a successful business. Social media managers must treat relationships on social as an important part of growing a business. These relationships include competitors, investors, customers, employees, members of the media, potential clients, and so on.

In addition to social listening and engaging, we should be intentional in networking and building relationships. We should focus on giving – helping and serving – rather than trying to make a quick buck off our supporters.

focus on giving

Jeremy Levine, Founder and CEO of Playdraft, made it a high priority to build relationships with investors and executives on Twitter. As a result, he made connections with three of the biggest names in the startup world.

How to build this habit (hat tip to social media examiner):

  1. Define the type of people you want to connect with – potential customers, influencers, current customers, businesses, etc.
  2. Come up with a list of 20 people who you want to develop a relationship with. It could be a customer who has engaged with you on Twitter multiple times, a business you’re hope to close a deal with in the future, or an influencer.
  3. Set aside an hour each week to interact with your top 50 contacts whether that be through social media or a written note.
  4. Repeat those three steps every week.

6. Collaborate with team members.

It’s normal for social media to be handled by an entire team now, so it’s important to have that team working together seamlessly. An effective social media manager isn’t just focused on their own ideas, but is also open to the ideas of their teammates (whether or not they’re on the social media team).

If team members have ideas for social, don’t turn them down. Hear them out even if you completely disagree. You never know if you’ll get some new ideas from them.

This is a concept known as synergizing – working with someone with a completely different view. When two opposing views collaborate, then their combined efforts would be worth more than the sum of the parts. 1+1 could potentially equal 3.

habit-6-create-synergy-7-habits-of-effective-people-sidekick-content

Social media isn’t a one player game. We can only write so many blog posts and curate so many pieces of content by ourselves. So we should rely on others to help us. To be effective at social media, we must be open to implementing new ideas from new people.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Schedule a monthly brainstorm meeting.
  2. Have every attendee spend 10 minutes writing down all their ideas.
  3. Go around and share the ideas with the group. Record every idea.
  4. Set aside the ideas that the group likes best from those.
  5. Use the prioritized list to learn more about the idea and brainstorm ideas off of it.

Buffer’s Awesome and business accounts let your entire team contribute to publishing content on social profiles. Slack is the go-to communication tool for team members to drop ideas as they come to mind. There are various tools to help social media teams work more effective, find what works for your team and run with it.

Be analytical.

7. Always be testing.

An effective social media marketer is metrics-driven and curious and wants to find out how to do things better. We want to get the most out of our work, so we should test and optimize our social efforts.

“What if we try this type of headline? Or this hashtag? Or a GIF instead of a static photo? Or a video?!”

Brittany Leaning, content strategist at HubSpot and co-author of Twitter for Dummies, says we should “test everything!”

Testing is important because your audience is not static. Your audience or their preferences might change and it’s important to be aware of those changes. A/B testing will keep your social efforts evolving with them. Buffer does a great job of this and goes in depth about how you can test your social media channels.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Come up with the variables you want to test.
  2. Determine how long you will test each variable for.
  3. Craft social media updates for each variable.
  4. Publish variations and record the results.
  5. Repeat for next set of variables.

It helps to have a backlog of ideas to test and consistently revisit, reflect, and take action on each test.

8. Measure and analyze metrics to understand what to do more of.

Effective social media managers are analytical and can look at social media engagement metrics, analyze them, and draw actionable information. This means looking into reach, sharing, lead generation, and sales metrics, associating them with experiments you ran and understanding what worked and what didn’t, then setting a goal moving forward.

Analyzing results and ROI allows you to understand what works and build a playbook around your efforts, making it repeatable and scalable to grow the business.

Here’s how HubSpot’s social dashboard looks. We can pull reports as often as we’d like to review our performance.

Screenshot 2015-07-20 10.40.33

How to develop this habit:

  1. Determine what your most important metric is.
  2. Set up the tools you need to measure – whether it’s natively in Facebook Insights or Twitter Analytics or through an external tool like Buffer or HubSpot.
  3. Block out time to review the data.
  4. Decide what your next action(s) will be to improve that metric based off that data.

Systemize your work.

9. Document your processes.

There are various aspects to go into crafting the perfect social media post, but it’s a lot to remember. An effective social media marketer documents their processes of curation, creation, and publishing – a checklist if you will – of exactly what they do and how they do it.

The growth team at Sidekick documents everything. We have playbooks for content creation, content promotion, social media, and various other projects, so a new hire can look at the documentation and quickly jump into the project. Likewise, if we ever need to jump back to an old project, we know what to do.

Here are some questions to ask when creating your social media processes:

  • What process do you use to curate content?
  • How do you come up with a headline?
  • What type of image do you use?
  • What tool do you use to schedule the piece of content to be published?
  • What reports do you pull?
  • How do you manipulate the data?

Make it into a process and document it so anyone can do it and know what to look for.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Create templates for documenting your process.
  2. As you work through a project, ask yourself, “Is this repeatable?”
  3. After you complete the project, ask yourself if what you just completed is something you expect to keep doing.
  4. If so, write down what you did step-by-step.
  5. Refine the documentation as you continue to perform the task and repeat the project.

10. Automate tasks.

Social media managers already have a lot to do, so to be more effective, they automate what they can.

Here’s an example for curation:

Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.50.53

You can also use services like Simply measured and SumAll to schedule and automate your social media reports.

How to develop this habit:

  1. Continue doing projects.
  2. Note tasks you find yourself repeating.
  3. Use services like If This Then That or Zapier to automate those tasks.

11. Create a work cadence and stick to it.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the tasks that come with being a social media marketer. It helps to set aside blocks of time for each task throughout the week so you know what to do and when to do it.

Michael Hyatt, a writer on productivity and social media, suggest controlling your time by designing your ideal week.

michael hyatt ideal week

By sticking to this schedule you set for yourself, you set time limits on each task and avoid wasting time.

Bonus

12. Improvise.

Sometimes we can get so deep into routine, and focused on being effective, that we forget things won’t always work out the way we planned.

A customer might unexpectedly tweet a negative comment. A competitor might publicly challenge your company. In these cases, it’s important to remain calm and understand how to respond with the company’s best interests in mind.

In some cases, a random event might be an opportunity to make noise on social media. Take a look at how Oreo took advantage of the Super Bowl blackout with a tweet.

Oreo-Dunk-in-the-Dark

Sarah Hofstetter, president of 360i, the agency that handled game-day tweeting for Oreo, told Buzzfeed, “The big question is, what happens when everything changes, when you go off script? That was where it got fun.”

How to develop this habit:

  1. Break out of routine every now and then and play your day by ear.
  2. Start your morning off differently.
  3. Change up your workout.
  4. Take a dance class.
  5. As you try new things, your mind will learn to make new connections, and your ability to improvise will improve.

Conclusion – Build Better Social Media Habits

As we strive to accomplish our goals, we’re always learning to become more effective in what we do.

Effectiveness isn’t improved by simple tactics, but by developing good habits that become second nature to us.

To become more effective social media managers, we have to think past the publishing and pretty pictures and “17 ways to grow your Twitter following.” It’s less about tactics and more about long-term habits and strategies. As stated in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

An important thing to note is that you shouldn’t try to build all of these habits at the same time. Figure out which habit would be most impactful for the company and work from there.

What habits are you working on? Are there any habits you would recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Image sources: OfferpopSidekickMichael HyattOreo Twitter, Pablo, Unsplash, IconFinder

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Written by David Ly Khim

Growth marketer for Sidekick by HubSpot. I write about marketing, career development, and productivity. When I’m not working, I can be found reading or dancing wildly.

  • Hi David

    thanks for mentioning my side project AllTheFreeStock in you post 🙂

  • Spot on David. While there certainly is a lot about the strategy, tactics, and tasks social media managers must carry out daily, there’s little about what type of person best fits the role.

    #2 really stands out to me. The things I read and see are a constant source of ideas for social and blog posts. Always being on the lookout for things that inspire us makes the job of creating content people love far easier.

    Thanks again for putting this together. We’ll use it as a resource when hiring our social team members.

  • Tiana Taylor

    This was a excellent article. I currently manage the social media at my company and this article has given me some new inspiration on what I should to strive to be. I am always looking at ways to improve my trade, and this article put it in a different perspective. We have all have read the many articles listing out what you should be doing, but few articles explain the characteristics and habits a social media manager should have. Thanks for bringing a unique aspect to the conversation.

  • Kevin La Rue

    Freakin’ great post, David. Lots of great tips and specifics for not only social but work/life discipline. Thanks!

  • Hassan

    I

  • Hassan

    I am interested plz contact

  • Great article!

    I would include ‘stay curious’ as an essential habit for a social manager, especially when focused on new networks and tools.

    We don’t have to dive deep into every new thing, but we should be curious enough to know what’s happening around each one — who, why and how people are using them — and be ready jump in and learn for ourselves and our audiences.

  • Suhani

    Amazing post! Such practical and useful tips broken down into steps. I didn’t realise that I am already doing many of these like #2 and #3 instinctively. However, documenting the process is something I didn’t think about – really helpful if you are thinking about how to grow your social team. I’d love to see a post on building social teams for social media managers.

    • That’s great to hear, Suhani! Keep it up. (:

  • Irina

    Fantastic artical. Number of insights for me. Many thanks for it, David

  • There are some awesome ideas in here about keeping track of curated content that would be perfect for someone creating curated newsletters. Good stuff, David!

  • Diana R

    Great post!

  • Leona Devaz

    David – this is more awesome than awesome! I’ve been wracking my brain to get some structure around this and you’ve created a brilliant one-stop shop.

    All my questions answered (how rare!) Thank you.

  • Jae Sung

    Great post that’s informative and tactical, David! Love that it doesn’t just go into how to hire a SMM, but how to create great social media habits overall. Thanks for putting this together! (Pocket’d & bookmarked on this end).

  • Andy Thompson

    Great post! Its good to see blogs that is quite related to my job. There is one website that helps me managing all my social media accounts and I really admire their services. Try this now http://www.troopsocial.com/. Anyways, thanks for the post.

  • travelgeekery

    Wow, this is really a great post, I’m totally bookmarking it! Thank you, David! It’ll be easier to be more organized with your suggestions. Veronika

  • travelgeekery

    David, I love this list of suggestions! I’m bookmarking it right now 🙂 Veronika

  • Vaibhav Jain

    Thank you! Great Post!!