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Thrive vs Survive: Life as a Social Media Manager

Thrive vs Survive Header

Be honest, would your latest status update about social media be that you are surviving or thriving? Social media does not sleep, but this does not mean you shouldn’t. As a social media manager, you enter these online spaces both as a producer and as a participant, with various contexts from the campus community to your personal relationships—and it’s complicated and exhausting.

In March I served as a faculty member at the CASE social media and community conference. I offered the opening keynote with a session called Surviving vs Thriving as a Social Media Manager in Higher Education, which addressed the health and wellness considerations for social media managers. Further, I discussed the opportunities for role modeling, and even empowering the campus community with digital education.

In the short, it was a bit of a pep talk – where I attempted to validate the common struggles those tasked with social…and to get the audience laughing about these realities.

Of course, the best way to depict this was with plenty of gifs…which I call “gifts” because they make me happy.

And the content and rally session was well received, so much so that apparently I have a new title to add to my bio, the Oprah of Higher Ed.

So in this post, I will share these realities along with realistic advice for social media managers, whether it is your full-time role or third bullet point in your job description. Want to have access to the entire slide deck? Subscribe to my newsletter and you’ll get it in the next monthly email packed with content.

12 Common Social Media Manager Struggles

1. Your skills aren’t taken seriously

2. Others you work for/with don’t understand social

3. People tell you how to do your job

4. You oversee pages/people who you have no real control over

5. You aren’t included in decision-making that impacts strategy

6. You have to throw out strategies because of sudden platform changes

7. You get called into projects/committees just to run social

8. You are always working, 27/4

9. You receive harsh/hurtful comments on your content

10. You blame yourself when content/strategy goes poorly

11. You (or others on campus) are in a constant (over)reactive mode

12. You are a solo shop, or work alone a lot

So at this point, you may be either laughing with your fellow colleagues or crying alone in a corner. Let’s clean the emo-slate with a playful video and then I’ll end with 10 realistic ways for social media managers to balance the scales between surviving and thriving.


10 Realistic Strategies for Social Media Managers

1. Roll With It

We do not own the pages (or even the content) that we have so painstakingly developed on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. This requires social media professionals to develop keen skills in resilience. More simply y’all, we gotta roll with it. Changes are coming yearly and weekly to the platforms. New tools will come and old tools will go. This is our reality, roll with it.

2. Be Your Own Advocate

Just because social media lives 365 days a year/24 hours a day, does not mean you should. You need to drop the mic but not the ball and advocating about your time. It’s not just the boundaries after work or on the weekends. What if you proposed no posts over the holidays or assigning a team-based approach for coverage for platforms – so you could truly take a vacation?

3. Celebrate the Little Things

It seems so obvious, but we need to celebrate more. Especially when one strategy rolls into the next, you (and those on your team) need to find alternative metrics for the continual social media grind.

4. Love your Followers, Not your Likes

In a profession that focuses on the numbers, it can become burdensome and bothersome when efforts don’t get reach. A philosophy shift for social media managers needs to happen. We need to flip this narrative and double down on loving the followers your page (or pages) currently has. Go out of your way to love them rather than stressing about adding more.

5. No Mean Girls Allowed

This realistic piece of advice for social media managers comes down to how professionals treat each. By nature, we are competing for online attention, successful strategies, and audience reach. But as a younger field with an ever-changing nature to the work we produce, we need each other – desperately. We need to share best practices and lessons learned and embrace mentorship – from conferences to campus visits and even reaching out directly online. There is no excuse for exclusivity, even if you are a social media manager whose strategies are successful. This is especially when you need to give back (and get over yourself).

6. Be a Student of Students

This advice is written specifically for social media managers in higher education. For those that manage communities in other fields, change “students” to your target audience. Working on a college campus, you may find yourself grinding away in your office and not experiencing campus life right outside in a quad. Block off time weekly to get out of your office, even if it is just to people watch and pay attention to student life. Even better, attend campus events (not just to capture content), grab food in the cafeteria or heck, even walk through the residence halls. You need to know what life is like for your target audience, from what they are talking about to what they are choosing to wear or even eat.

7. Recognize others Publicly & Privately

Going off of #5 (no mean girls allowed), this piece of advice asks social media managers to give credit. This includes content created on your campus (or organization) and the amazing strategies you find out in the world. Many times the strategists behind social media aren’t the ones that get recognition. Send some love in an email, DM or text message. Do it right now. 

8. Create Lifetime Fans

Just like in #4 (loving followers, not just likes), this piece of advice asks you to set your eyes on the long-term. Fingers crossed, some of the platforms will be around for the next few years (or decades). How are you daily winning them over? How are you building fans of your content and community that will keep coming back over the years?

9. Find Your Tribe

You need to find your people, and love them fiercely and fearlessly. This tribe may be others you work with that do not even manage social media, or it could be a group of others across the globe that share a common interest in social strategy. I would not be doing the work I did today without finding, maintaining, and building my tribe. From twitter chats like #casesmc, slack channels like Higher Ed Comm and Social Media, or Facebook groups like social media professors – there are lots of online communities to find your people today.

10. LAUGH and Learn

Another super obvious one, but it’s a near requirement. We gotta laugh! Like, a really good belly laugh. And then when you compose yourself, it’s time to take note of lessons learned from successes and outright failures to openly share. Get blogging, submit to present at a conference, or heck, even start a podcast! We need to open source our knowledge and struggles. That will build community and evidence-based practices. But again, don’t forget to laugh.


Core Difference Between Surviving and Thriving

To bring the battle back between surviving versus thriving as a social media manager, I offered the following extremes, which I hope you have already taken away, even in gif form.

Surviving = Short-term repair and reactions to realities out of our control

Thriving = Heart and soul strategy that amplifies values and not just analytics

Using these parameters, thriving isn’t just taking a day off from work or getting a message as a stress relief. It also doesn’t mean you need content to always be successful by the numbers. For a long-term thriving strategy, social media professionals need to infuse and amplify values. One such value I offered to attendees at the CASE social media and community conferences was a value and identity that I wanted them to take on, the title of an educator.
Being an educator includes sharing educational content online to embracing the role of educator across campus/within your company. We must model and teach our community these digital engagement tools and tactics – which may even include this same conversation about how to thrive vs survive on social media in 2018 no matter if social media is your professional role, such as figuring it out as a parent or future college graduate.
https://twitter.com/rebekah_tilley/status/973994072951140353
How are you surviving or thriving as a social media manager? How have you balanced the scales, embraced the realities, and/or taken on the role of educator? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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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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