The fuse of a social media manager burns at both ends. Most people experience social media burnout and workplace fatigue at some point. But social media managers often feel the burn of both at the same time.
For social media professionals, self-care tips smack a little differently. How do you unplug when being plugged in is your job? Can you actually downward dog your way out of a downward spiral? Where do you schedule a “digital detox” into the daily grind?
i'd be interested to know if the events of the past few years, especially 2020-present, have any other social media managers considering changing careers. i don't know how much longer i can do this.
— amy b (@arb) January 7, 2021
The need to address social media burnout is urgent as pressures mount, conditions worsen, and the number of qualified professionals willing to stick it out in the industry plummets. Experts and professionals offer advice on how to combat burnout and advocate for a more supportive work environment.
What is social media burnout?
Social media burnout is a form of occupational burnout, which the World Health Organization defines as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Burnout can transpire in any line of work but occurs at a high rate in the social media industry where it’s often more difficult to unplug.
Stressors unique to social media burnout identified in a study by West Virginia University include the need to be “always-on,” being underpaid and under-appreciated in their role, and lack of buy-in from leadership.
Causes of social media burnout:
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear job expectations
- Stigma associated with social media
- Lack of support from leadership
- Limited autonomy or control
- Negative workplace environment
- Work-life imbalance
Social media burnout can be compounded by systemic and social inequalities such as gender, race, age, and disability discrimination. As the Black Lives Matter movement and pandemic-related gender parity setbacks have revealed, the added tolls of race-based traumatic stress, emotional labour, compassion fatigue, etc., are often experienced on a personal and professional level. Financial struggles, family crises, health problems, and lack of support at home also exacerbate work pressures.
I see and read a lot about social media burnout from professionals in the field. Advertising and social is extremely white. It's a bit fascinating to me that this very racist time our lives has seemingly affected the mental health of others much more than it has me, a Black man.
— DAKARI (@dakaridunning) January 14, 2021
Signs of social media burnout may be subtle at first but can result in a breakdown if left unattended. According to the World Health Organization, symptoms include:
- Energy depletion or exhaustion
- Job dissatisfaction
- Negativity or cynicism related to work
- Inability to fulfill responsibilities
10 ways to avoid social media burnout
1. Set boundaries and expectations
Social media may be “always on,” but that doesn’t mean you should be. “24/7 social media coverage is just not realistic or healthy,” says Nick Martin, Hootsuite’s global social engagement specialist.
“I always set firm work hours,” he explains. “You need to set expectations right off the bat, in my opinion. On my team, we all made it very clear that work-life balance is really important.”
To keep work-life boundaries in place even while working remote, he keeps his work accounts off his personal phone.
Whatever boundaries you choose, it’s essential that you communicate them with your colleagues and managers, says Sallie Poggi, director of social media at UC Davis. “Boundaries are just another word for expectations,” she explains. “So set those expectations with your supervisor, with your teams, and also with your audience. Tell them when you will respond and when you won’t.”
My phone is on DND 24/7 since 2016. Zero notifications. Life is so much better!
— Kenneth Dimalibot 🌐 (@kendimalibot) May 5, 2021
Need help drawing boundaries? Try website blockers or internet restriction apps.
2. Know and show your worth
The work of social media managers is often underpaid, under-appreciated, and unrewarded. Misconceptions about the industry abound, and while skill-level expectations are high, social jobs are often relegated to the intern economy.
Plus, social media platforms themselves have earned a bad rap for their role in spreading misinformation, hate, and harassment.
“Don’t allow the stigma of the tools you use to disseminate your work define you. You don’t just work in social media,” says Nikki Sunstrum, director of Social Media and Public Engagement for the University of Michigan, in a tweet. “You are a strategic communicator, public relations expert, marketer, customer service provider and so much more! Know your value and ensure others do too.”
I was reminded today after 25 years in my profession I still qualify recommendations. “This might be…I was just….I think….”
A senior leader once called me out on it “Do you THINK Jennifer, or do you KNOW?”
LPT: Lose just, might and think from your vocabulary
— Jen Hartmann (@jenalyson) May 8, 2021
Look for opportunities to advocate for your work on and off the job. Ask to be included in relevant meetings and on appropriate committees. And use data to show the value your work provides, whether it’s crisis aversion, community building, or return on investment.
If the “social media” part of your job title proves to be a hangup, propose an alternative title.
3. Work smarter, not harder
Across the globe, the pandemic has pushed people to put in more work hours.
A recent survey by Blind, an anonymous community app for professionals, found that 61% of parents are working three additional hours to complete typical workday tasks. For many working from home, scope creep has crept way out of hand.
Overworking puts people on a fast track to burnout. Instead of putting in extra hours, implement tactics that make you more efficient. Martin recommends the Pomodoro method, which involves 25-minutes of focused work interspersed with five-minute palate cleanses. “It helps me focus on one task and saves me from getting locked into a social vortex,” he says.
Dividing your day and tasks into segments through time blocking is another effective productivity technique. “I use time blocking to set boundaries on how much time I spend doing notifications and comments, and I’m very strategic with my time blocks,” says Poggi. “If you have a really intense task, say it’s comment moderation, time block something after that that allows you to unplug and refill.”
4. Recognize your warning signs
It’s not easy to pinpoint where a doomscroll begins and ends. But the sooner you learn how to spot the signs, the better you can equip yourself for when the downward spiral beckons.
“Treat your mental fortitude as a muscle you have to condition and exercise,” says Poggi. “Observe when it just gets to be too much. And pause in those moments.”
How do you spot signs of burnout? Start with questions like these from Mayo Clinic.
- Do you feel negative or cynical at work?
- Do you lack energy and motivation on the job?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack professional satisfaction?
- Have you become more isolated?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
Take your responses seriously. If taking a walk or other coping mechanisms don’t seem like viable solutions, it’s time to ask for help. Notice a colleague experiencing burnout? Offer your support.
Sometimes we recognize burnout ourselves and the need to take a break, other times we need to be told. Let’s keep an eye out for each other and make sure we are encouraging those we care about to take breaks. #Mentalhealth
— Rinki Sethi (@rinkisethi) May 5, 2021
5. Ask for help
Social media managers are often self-starters. Just because they can handle the work of an audience analyst, graphic designer, copywriter, and conflict resolution specialist in a single tweet doesn’t mean they should. And no one should have to tackle management, systemic, or mental health issues alone.
When the workload starts to get too heavy, “build out a business case to hire a contractor, part-time support, or a new role,” says Martin. “A social media manager can’t be a blog writer, and Google Ad Words specialist, and Photoshop expert, and so on.”
Work in social media also has a heavy toll on mental health. Let your managers know when you find things difficult.
“We need to start normalizing asking for help and asking for people to share the mental load,” says Poggi. “The first step in asking for help is actually to ask for it before you need it.”
While seeking support early tends to be more effective, it’s never too late to ask for help.
Establish check-ins. Take mental health days. See if you can incorporate therapy into workplace health benefits. Build a support network. Seek professional help.
6. Prepare response protocols
Most days social media professionals rate their mental health and well-being as a 6/10, finds a study by West Virginia University. During a crisis, that number drops to around 4.5/10.
Dealing with sensitive subject matter, public emergencies, online harassment, and other conflicts is understandably stressful. No one should have to handle it alone or without a proper crisis communication plan in place.
Work with your team to develop scenarios, determine protocols, and identify appropriate stakeholders. “One thing we’ll do in the event of a crisis is press pause on social media,” says Martin. This strategy prevents rash decisions and allows the team to properly assess the situation and choose the best plan of action.
In our webinar, How to Combat Mental Fatigue for Social Media Professionals, experts also suggest forming or joining an emergency response team or committee.
Put plans in place for non-emergencies as well. Establish a protocol that defines how team member responsibilities should be covered when someone needs to take a mental health day. If the idea of taking mental health days stresses people out, it kind of defeats the purpose. With a predetermined support plan, people can check out without worry.
7. Advocate for equitable mental health resources
While the conversation around mental health has advanced, the stigma lingers. In the workplace, mental health discrimination remains common. As a result, more than 70% of people with a mental illness actively conceal it from others.
If you manage a team, foster a climate that puts employee well-being ahead of like counts and sales leads. Researchers from the London School of Economics found that employees who feel able to talk openly about depression with their managers are more productive at work. Normalize talking about depression and anxiety, and you also normalize talking about solutions and coping mechanisms.
what helps you with anxiety?
— Hina Surani (Hee-na) (@hinasurani) April 16, 2021
There are significant differences in how mental health is experienced and viewed across racial backgrounds, gender, age, sexual orientation. If you can, advocate for equitable support, resources, and culturally appropriate assistance within your organization.
Employee Resource Groups, for example, can provide safe spaces for employees to connect around shared experiences, support each other, and feel less isolated.
I led our Black ERG – Blackflow – last Friday through a mediation exercise to acknowledge the grief and trauma we've experienced as Black folks in the last year.
This is a great 10 minute exercise you can do with your own ERG or even as a team.https://t.co/ca25QmtPkj
— Sean Page ✊🏾🏳️🌈 (@SeanTalentW) May 4, 2021
8. Maintain healthy habits
Set yourself up for success with healthy habits.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things you can do to stay healthy on the job:
- Protect your eye health.
- Take regular breaks.
- Eat healthy meals, away from your desk.
- Keep your phone out of the bedroom.
- Get a full night’s sleep.
9. Celebrate victories
The dark side of social media has the gravitational pull of a black hole. Combat the darkness by placing emphasis on good outcomes and personal victories.
Create a folder or presentation of positive feedback you’ve received. Pin your best tweets to your wall. Reward yourself and team members for hitting benchmarks, milestones, and other major achievements.
Pay it forward, too. Call out great work when you see it. Even the smallest gestures can leave lasting impressions.
One of the nicest moments I've had as a social media manager was when I worked at @TXST.
I was walking on campus when I saw that a professor had printed up one of my Star Wars Day posts & pinned it to their door.
It was a small thing, but made my day more than 5,000 likes could. pic.twitter.com/4DAj3AoYcq
— Jon-Stephen Stansel (@jsstansel) May 10, 2021
10. Make time to do what makes you happy
The “eat, work, sleep, repeat” routine gets tired real quick. Don’t let your #CareerGoals get in the way of time with family, friends, and the things that make you happy.
“Research shows that those who feel time-poor experience lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress,” writes Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, for Harvard Business Review.
“They experience less joy. They laugh less. They exercise less and are less healthy. Their productivity at work is diminished. They are more likely to get divorced.”
Remember: there’s more to life than what happens on your social media timelines.
Take a walk. Get some air. Spend some time doing something that truly brings you joy.
Have a good weekend + take care of yourself, friends 🤍
— Nicole Tabak (@nicoletabak) April 23, 2021
On the flip side, research proves that pursuing passions lowers stress and ups dopamine. A 2015 study found that people were 34% less stressed and 18% less sad when they engaged in hobbies. Another study found that creative activities have positive effects both on and off the job.
These are just a few tips you can use to help keep social media burnout at bay, or get back on track if you’re already experiencing it. Remember, no job is more important than your own mental health.
Hootsuite can help you stay organized, focused, and prepared to handle anything on social media. Try it for free today.