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A great social media manager is, as Ron Burgundy would say: “The balls“.

It’s an undisputed fact that every business needs to be active in social media. The ever-changing demands of the modern day consumer requires brands to think fast and adapt quickly in order to stay one step ahead.

The role of a social media manager has appealed to the mass generation of socially-active internet users. It’s hard not to. Especially when some might think that you can earn big bucks from posting Facebook updates. Hardly.

Being a social media manager is kind of like being a stand-up comedian. You have to quickly understand your audience and your engagement with them is vital. In order to accomplish this, you need to know if the audience is laughing at your jokes and you need to know this in real-time. If you can do this, then you have already won the crowd.

Social Media Manager

(If you want to read how I became a social media manager towards the end of this article, click here to scroll down)

So, how do you become a social media manager? More to the point, how do you become a great social media manager?

The answer will be surprising to some. Firstly, you have to want it. Second, you have to love it. Third, you have to learn it. And even if you tick all these boxes, you should ask yourself: “Am I a social person?” If the answer is no, then becoming a social media manager is probably not for you…

So let’s take a look at the stats.

  • LinkedIn shows 57,910 results for “social media manager”
  • Social media has now overtaken porn as the number 1 activity on the web
  • 97% of all consumers search for local businesses online
  • 71% of consumers receiving a quick brand response on social media say they would likely recommend that brand to others
  • 93% of marketers use social media for business
  • In terms of difficulty of execution, nearly half (49%) of B2B marketers put social media marketing at the top, followed by content marketing (39%), SEO (26%) and mobile (25%)
  • 77% of B2B marketers use a blog as part of their content marketing mix
  • On average, 25% of marketing budgets are now spent on content development, delivery and promotion
  • 78% of small businesses attract new customers through social media
  • When asked to rank their company’s social business maturity on a scale of 1 to 10, more than half of global business executives gave their company a score of 3 or below

But the statistic that is most relevant to this article is:

  • Just 12% of those using social media feel they actually use it effectively.

Being a social media manager brings with it some key benefits within a freelance setting. The most recognisable being the fact that you are your own boss. You make the decisions and answer to no one. You send the invoices and you set the policies. Heck, you could sit in your underpants all day on the computer if you wanted to.

The other is money.

Social media is an in-demand role, but one that companies are still struggling to come to terms with. Some companies realise and understand the value social media could bring to their enterprise and are willing to invest heavily in robust social media campaigns. Being your own boss, you can decide how to set your costs and price accordingly.

Here’s a nice infographic of a typical US social media manager’s salary depending on location, as well as providing the average income level for different seniority levels:

A Social Media Managers Salary Guide

Infographic courtesy of OnwardSearch

Another attractive reason for becoming a social media manager is the low barriers to entry. With low start-up costs and plenty of online resources to rapidly decrease the learning cure, anyone can launch a freelance social media management business within a short space of time.

I’ll tell you my story shortly but first, lets explore the essential skills you’ll need to become a great social media manager..

Skills Of A Social Media Manager

Fundamental Skills:

Marketing Knowledge
You should have a good grasp of the basic marketing principles. Some education in marketing would be beneficial, but otherwise you can find many quality resources online.

Your experience doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to life experiences. Have you managed your own social media profiles for a while? Do you know how to effectively maintain your own social accounts and understand what clients expect?

I touched on this at the beginning of the article. If you are not a sociable person – someone who doesn’t like communicating much and isn’t very outgoing, then becoming a social media manager just isn’t for you. Sure, you can hide behind a keyword and monitor for a while, but clients will usually want to meet, speak on the phone, or have Skype sessions at some point.

Project Management
You don’t have to have a Prince2 certificate, but you do need to be able to manage projects and your time well. It’s typical for social media manager’s to work with multiple clients at any one time. Keeping tabs on everything is important so that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Social media exists online. Therefore, you need to have a certain degree of computer literacy. Having good knowledge of social technology will enhance your services and ensure you are keeping up to date with the latest social trends and developments.

Interpersonal Skills:

It kind of goes without saying that if you’re going to be representing a company and engaging with their customers, then you will need to have strong communication skills.

Companies tend not to want to hire people with no personality to act on behalf of their brand. It doesn’t resonate well with them, or their audiences.

I’ve touched on this a few times – social media is very fast-paced. Imagine if one of your social assignments was largely focused on customer service and you didn’t respond to customer complaints or queries for weeks. People online want rapid responses. Being able to fulfil these needs can stand your client (and you!) in good stead.

To become a social media manager in a freelance capacity, you have to be a self-starter. You should be willing to go the extra mile and take a few financial risks along the way. If you don’t land a job that pays enough in one month, how will this affect you?

A great social media manager must be able to effectively carry out a wide range of tasks. I outline a few of the most common activities here in this article.

You should always be very well organised when delivering social media management services. I use all kinds of traditional tools like calenders, white boards and task lists to keep myself organised. I also use many online organisational tools, such as: Thunderbird for accessing all my email accounts in one place, Dropbox to easily share documents with clients and bookmarks to keep track of all the websites I frequently visit.

Strategic Thinking
Being able to think campaigns through before they happen and sometimes thinking outside the box when needed, are great assets to have as a social media manager. Clients tend to want to know how you will do something before letting you do it, so being able to present a clear and concise strategy is essential.

Flexible (with travel)
Contrary to popular belief, a freelance social media manager has to leave the office sometimes! If this is a problem for you, then you should think about starting another profession. Nearly every sizeable project I undertake involves multiple meetings with the client. You should have reasonable pitching skills, as you may be required to sell your services face to face too, before being hired. You may even opt to take on in-house work.

Wider Skills:

Every good social media manager is a great writer. Writing forms the foundations of many aspects of online marketing, be it creating ads, writing blogs, engaging with customers, scripting sales copy or writing press releases.

Graphic Design
Pretty much all social media platforms provide the functionality to customise the interface and incorporate your own branding. If you are sharp with Photoshop (or similar design software), then you are in a good position to offer these services as part of your social media package. [I wrote a guest post on SmartInsights about “Improving your Social Media campaigns using Graphic Design“] Similarly, creating content such as infographics, banners or images is standard practise for a social media manager.

Every social media manager should have sound knowledge of advertising. Be it Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising or banner advertising, you should know the ins and outs of each discipline and understand how to optimise each format.

Public relations is closely tied to social media marketing, in the sense that both involve managing the spread of information between a business and the public. You may start out not needing to have a deep knowledge of PR, as it is typically managed by larger brands who have an interest in persuading stakeholders, investors or the public to maintain a certain point of view.

Everything in marketing should be measured. You should periodically measure and analyse your social marketing performance and produce reports to your clients to demonstrate your value.

Understanding how social media affects search engine optimisation will ultimately improve campaign performance. In 2012, there was an average of 5,134,000,000 searches on Google every day. If you think SEO doesn’t matter to your social activities, think again.

Traditional Marketing
Even though you generally won’t be involved in traditional marketing practises while undertaking a social media management role, you should understand how both forms of marketing affect each other and how each can be best leveraged to complement the other.

Video Editing
This will probably be the least used of your wider skills, but nevertheless it can assist you in your social marketing positions. I’ve had a few clients that required presentations or demonstration videos to be edited before being used within their social media campaigns. I’m for sure no expert, but having a reasonable level of knowledge in using Windows Movie Maker (or similar video editing software) can turn that video file straight from the camera into a beautiful, YouTube-ready video.

Even if you possess all the necessary skills to become a social media manager, there is still scope to improve your services by using different social tools and software. I have written a page on my website that outlines some of the tools I use to deliver my services, as well as set up my blog, which you can read here. I’ll quickly recap on two different pieces of software I use that may help you in becoming a great social media manager:

  • Hootsuite: I wrote an in-depth review of Hootsuite that also includes a video tutorial which should provide all the information you will need to know about Hootsuite. You can read the post and watch the video here.
  • BuzzBundle: This is my favourite and most valued piece of software I’ve ever used. I use it mainly to find keywords around my content subject from across a huge range of blogs, forums and social sites and stream all this information back to me in one interface. I can then see who is discussing my topic and jump straight into the conversations to add my two cents. I wrote more about how I use BuzzBundle to promote new blog posts here.

What You’ll Be Expected To Do…

So, what does a social media manager actually do? As you can probably tell by now, the role of a social media manager is diverse. It’s not a case of “Well, I post updates to Facebook.” Here are a few general activities that social media managers will be expected to execute:

You will be required to formulate campaign and platform specific strategies that meet the business objectives. You will create actions plans, content calenders, set metrics and KPIs, undertake various research activities and perform different types of analysis. There will also be wider strategic duties such as contingency planning and crisis management.

Content Creation
Content creates the foundations of any marketing campaign. How you decide to execute your campaigns will depend on the different forms of content you produce. As you would have no doubt already heard from someone, content is king. Believe them.

Community Management
Managing accounts also means managing communities. You should be the go-to person when representing brands in social domains and continually reach out and engage with your audiences. You will need to constantly strengthen social relationships in order to develop long-lasting followers.

Audience Building
Marketing to the same people over and over will not widen your scope and social reach. You should be increasing readership and your level of influence within your target audiences. You can read my article on how to build strong targeted audiences in social media here.

Customer Service
Many companies use social media as an instant channel for customer service. You will have to be responsive and helpful in your social activities, regularly being the first point of contact. You will be representing the brand and managing their customer perceptions.

Every effort that consumes investment will need to be measured and analysed. My tutorial here shows you how you can set up your Google Analytics account and provides custom dashboards that you can import into your own account within a few clicks.

Once your efforts have been measured and analysed, your clients will want to understand how their investment has performed. This can take the form of visual aids for meetings or digital reports. Reporting is a key ingredient of any social media manager in order to prove your worth and demonstrate the value you have added to the business.

How I Became A Social Media Manager

I’ve been active in social media since July 2007. This was before the time of all the latest social marketing tools and software that nowadays are ingrained into all social marketers everyday life. Resources or tutorials weren’t as widely available that could help speed up the learning curve.

I did find an online course that looked pretty good in teaching me how to turn my social skills that I had been practising on my own accounts into a fully fledged business. I invested £600 on this online course to learn the basics and now that some years have passed, I can look back and say the value wasn’t all that great, but the ideas were there. It pushed me to think outside the box and motivated me to start my trajectory towards becoming a social media manager. I now offer my own online coaching program to teach marketers, business owners and entrepreneurs the marketing skills and knowledge that I would have found invaluable when starting out.

So before I had decided to turn my love for social media and networking into a freelance opportunity, I attended Brunel University where I completed my BSc and MSc in Business Management.

It was at this time when I jumped on board with the poker boom and started playing online cash games and tournaments. Poker really helped me to develop my own time management, money management and analysis skills. I always knew I wanted to start my own business so this was a good platform to get my feet wet. Throughout my time playing poker, I was always engaged in online social discussions and even wrote a few guest posts for poker sites. I briefly mention this on my About Me page, so I won’t backtrack and discuss this again.

A Social Media Manager at Work

A weekend brainstorming and idea generation session

Before I knew it, I was a fully-fledged freelance social media manager…

So to kick-start my freelance social media work, I joined a bunch of freelance sites like Elance, oDesk and Freelancer.co.uk. I still use some of them today.

After a few years of freelancing on small one-off projects and developing my social marketing acumen, I was hired by an online business services company to run their social media campaigns, as well as handle all their own clients social marketing campaigns. I still work with them today, which just shows the power of forging good working relationships.

I managed to attract clients in most months for the next few years and each project ended up being pretty diverse from the next. This allowed me to develop wider skills that I have since found almost a necessity in order to provide a well-rounded social media marketing service. I mentioned some of these wider skills required to become a great social media manager towards the middle of this article.

I also kept maintaining and building my own social media profiles. It’s important to practise what you preach and showcase your expertise on your own domains. My social profiles have regularly attracted clients, which keeps work coming in and builds up my networking potential.

I have been writing on my blog passively for a few years before relaunching it to take advantage of my most valuable asset – my knowledge and expertise. My own social activities also serve to build traffic to my sites, where I generate passive income. I wrote an article on “How To Promote New Blog Posts For Mass Exposure”, which outlines the primary methods I use to generate traffic. I also like to “listen” to the social environment and engage with people who are already looking for my content.

I have had my articles featured by various online magazines and publications which has attracted some good attention to my site, which is always nice.

Keeping my ears to the ground and getting myself ‘out there’ was one of the things I promised myself I would do, even though I knew the vast majority of my time would be spent in my home office. I tried to regularly meet up with business connections and clients to make sure they could match an online persona to a real life face. The vast majority of the time, I even managed to remember my business cards!

A strategy I’ve always tried to employ while freelancing is to try and turn one client into three. What I mean by that is word of mouth is the most powerful advertising there is. People do act on solid recommendations that their friends make. I found that taking as basic an approach as asking clients at the end of projects if they knew anyone who could benefit from social media marketing, worked out surprisingly well.

As social media is such a dynamic environment with start-ups booming and busting every few months, I knew that it was essential to keep up to date with social developments. Every so often, a client would ask me to set up profiles or campaigns on sites that some social media managers would have never heard of. Keeping tuned in enabled me to have at least some knowledge and experience in using these platforms, which dramatically lowered my learning curve and ultimately lead to better performing campaigns.

A little while ago, I decided to broaden by service offerings and set up a web design company with my business partner. Thinking Forwards was born in the summer of 2012. Websites and social media go hand-in-hand, so this enabled me to up-sell my services both ways.

So that brings me loosely to where I am now. My progression came pretty much through inbound marketing and guerrilla marketing tactics.

To Summarise On How I Became A Social Media Manager:

  • Joined freelance sites
  • Practised what I preached and actively maintained my own social media profiles and blogs
  • Kept consistently networking and building my contact lists
  • Continually created my own content on my own sites
  • Took my content straight to prospects
  • Proactively kept asking if people needed my assistance
  • Guest blogging and featured articles
  • Attended networking events and met up with clients and business contacts
  • Tried to turn one client into three
  • Kept up to date with new social networks and developments
  • Started other initiatives where social media services were complementary
  • Never turned down any work or networking opportunities
  • Worked long hours, sometimes for small rewards, to build reputation, authority and presence

I thought I would leave you with some final advice from things I have learnt from my own experiences being a social media manager.

Remember that…

  • Sometimes you won’t be right for a project, even if you think you are
  • It’s ok to work for less than your desired amount, if the benefits warrant it
  • You won’t win every contract, so don’t beat yourself up if you get turned down
  • Things change really quickly in social media, so you will have to continually adapt
  • You never know as much as you think you do!
  • Always look for ways to invest in yourself and your own development

Starting a career in anything takes time and effort. If you think it’s easy to become a great social media manager, then think again…

Once you’ve taken the step and decide to look deeper into becoming a social media manager, I suggest you read my article “Hiring a Social Media Manager: 21 Questions to Ask” to prepare yourself for the journey.

If you have any questions that you want to ask me just add them to the comments section below, or head over to my forums for more detailed questions and answers. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours!