The companion to the Student Social Media Academy:

Social Media Manager Advocacy Toolkit

Social Media Manager Advocacy Toolkit. 8 Ways to overcome burnout and protect your mental health.

If there’s one thing you should know about me: I’m a social media manager advocate. If there’s one thing I know for sure: Y’all need more than advice to go for a walk or get a massage.  

The Great Resignation (or whatever else you call it) has hurt Higher Ed. A July 2022 survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that 57.2% of respondents were somewhat likely, likely, or very likely to seek work elsewhere. This is up 14% from last year’s survey. 

What does this translate to? It’s 2022, and we’re still projected to lose half of our teams. Unfortunately, we’re ending up with understaffed departments and drained communications professionals. We thought “after the pandemic,” business would return to “normal.” But the intensity of expectations and continued crisis management has left many struggling.

At the HighEdWeb 2022 Conference, I asked participants what do you want to let go of or forgive yourself for. Some responses included:

“I can’t be all things to all people.”
“Advocating mental health for others but not myself.”
“Letting work get in the way of life.”
“Giving too much to a place that doesn’t care about me.”

That last one broke my heart. 

The feelings were heavy. Job burnout, “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity,” is common. In a 2021 1,000 survey of full-time employees performed by Viser, 89% of employees reported they’ve experienced burnout. 

Sometimes social media managers and or other marketing roles are called upon to innovate and turn over strategies quickly, while other functional areas have had time to plan. This happens when the right folks are missing from some of the critical conversations that impact strategies. And this doesn’t even start to account with the new normal of going from one crisis management to the next. This creates constant stress and a feeling of needing to be on 24/7.

According to a study by West Virginia University, social media managers, on average, rate their mental health at 6.35 out of 10. It drops to 4.52 when they’re dealing with a crisis. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that of the 240 people surveyed, 51% stated they are a team of one, and 43% of respondents are teams of 2-4. 

Across the board, we’re seeing poor mental health coupled with small teams, and although there is no quick fix, I do know advocating for yourself is something you can do every single day. Do not wait for someone else to “gift” it to you.

Here are some things you can put in your advocacy toolkit to help you avoid, minimize or overcome burnout and protect your mental health. Spoiler alert: It starts with your time. 

Protect Your Time. Aggressively.

Your calendar cannot be back-to-back-to-back meetings. You need creative time to think and do. Even if you’re a one-person-band, you can not be logged on 24/7. Set some boundaries for working hours and only make exceptions for off-hours events. 

Try: 

  • Time tracking to see your average weekly hours.
  • Use a clock for sprint sessions to ensure you are standing up/taking breaks. I use this one.
  • Block off time when you naturally feel the most creative, and make sure meetings don’t take over this time.

Use Your PTO. Seriously.

Use your PTO, wellness days, or whatever you are probably not using. Actually, log off while you’re on vacation and during the holidays. Paid time off is something you earned and deserve to take. 

Try:

  • Consider planning ahead and marking a few days off at the beginning of the year as personal refresh days. This may help spread out deserved breaks for you, especially during the gap in the spring when there aren’t many federal holidays. 
  • Block off 2-3 hours per week for unstructured creative time. 
  • In preparing to be out of the office, set up a system for someone else on your team to manage social media. 
  • Advocate and pitch to change holiday operations, so you can really be logged off.

Ask For A Review.

It may be time to request a formal or informal evaluation. You and your supervisor should review your job description and potentially involve HR with an audit. Chances are high that new platforms, strategies, and responsibilities have changed over the last year, that in turn, could have drastically changed your daily work. 

You may have lost colleagues and are picking up some of the work they left behind. You may be underpaid and/or have an inaccurate title. According to the Sprout Social Index™, more than half of marketers say finding experienced talent is their number one challenge this year. Show your worth! Fire up a discussion with your supervisor to evaluate. 

Try:

  • Dust off your job description and review what is missing or misaligned.
  • Ask for a meeting either in-person or via a video platform.
  • Prepare by bringing your current job description and accomplishments to discuss the next steps with your supervisor.

Quality Over Quantity.

Less is More. It’s okay (and more impactful) to post less. (Gasp!) Focus more on engagement and look for creative ways to repurpose existing or user-generated content.

Try:

  • Spend as much time in the comments and listening on social media as you do creating content.
  • Generate weekly/monthly/quarterly reports to observe your strongest posts and use those analytics to inform future content. 

If You Don’t Ask, the Answer is Always No.

Ask to be in the room. Ask for access. Ask for time off. Ask for a title change. Ask for help. ASK! 

Social media managers, unfortunately, can be forgotten about. Except when a post has a problem or there is a crisis. At the same time, many social media managers are underpaid, overvalued, and overworked. You have to be your own champion. 

You might be nervous at first, but start using your voice — and it’s okay if it is first in the form of a question. Ask! 

You Don’t Need To Be Everywhere.

Is leadership or students pressuring you to build a strategy for TikTok, BeReal, Discord, or any other platform? Do you already manage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc.? What would a policy of platform in-platform out look like? OR new platform, more people. 

The reality is that one social media manager can not be everywhere. Andrew Cassell, Senior Social Strategist at Middlebury College is encouraging campuses to “quiet quit” from the Metaverse aka Facebook and Instagram. 

Social Media Manager for Buffer, Mitra Mehvar, says it’s important to focus on creating a support system for the social media manager if the team can’t afford a new hire. “Can another employee take over replying to comments for a few hours each week? Are custom images necessary for every single post? Figuring out ways to take the burden off just one person is a big part of employee wellness.”

Try:

  • Conduct a six-month to full-year audit on a platform you already know in your gut is not performing as well. Present this information to your supervisor and propose how you would use your time if you were to close that tool. 
  • Survey your leadership, faculty/staff, and student body to figure out what platforms they’re on, and where they’re getting their information. This will help determine what platforms are most impactful to strategize for.

Find Your Crew.

While many who run social media accounts do so solo, you are far from alone. There are thousands in higher education with similar responsibilities — who can luckily be found in a Facebook group, hashtag, or conference session. 

It may feel intimidating to join a new space or organization, but trust me when I say the challenges you face (from social media strategies to personal wellness) are felt collectively. Many times my sessions and programs are made so you realize you are not alone and for you to find just one other person for support going forward. 

Try: 

Brew Up Some Karma.

If you feel underappreciated or burned out, your colleagues, teams, and students may feel the same. Consider an act of kindness to boost your mood. 

Christina Pay, an extension assistant professor at Utah State University, wrote, “Acts of kindness not only benefit those in receipt of kind deeds, but science has proven that there are astonishing health benefits for those performing those acts.” 

Pay says benefits include increased lifespan, more energy, increased feelings of community, empathy, compassion, and gratitude.

Try: 

  • An act of kindness doesn’t have to break the bank. You can send an email, DM or text to make someone’s day. If you’re able, you can also send a local coffee shop gift card.
  • Ask your people how they like to be recognized if you do not know already. 
  • Do you need to give yourself more loving kindness? Add a sticky note to your computer screen with an impactful message. Save messages and comments you get that lift your spirits in a saved folder or keepsake box. 
https://twitter.com/CallieGoodwin/status/1496907204473065480

You Are Your Biggest Cheerleader.

Above all, as a social media manager or digital communicator, you must prioritize yourself. One vacation isn’t going to cure burnout. Always being “online” will exhaust you long-term. 

Advocating for yourself is more than just self-care. It’s not selfish. It’s setting boundaries, it’s working with your senior leadership to align realistic goals, and asking for a seat at the table. 

Focus on Intentional small things daily, as they will compound into a better work-life integration. 

And good news: I’m hosting the second annual Renew Retreat Series in December and January! Gift yourself time to decompress from 2022 and prepare for 2023. Registration is live, so secure your spot!

P.S. What have you already done from this list to advocate for yourself or your social media managers? Is there anything you would add? 

I’m cheering for you — and I’m here for you. 

Hugs, 
Josie

https://twitter.com/katyb_spencer/status/1529319533600722950

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

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