Anyone who regularly uses social media knows that weathering a little toxicity here and there is often part of it⎯not just for professionals, but for everyone. But in 2020, the landscape escalated from manageable to hazardous: the pandemic, employment changes, political tension, and an election year converged to create what one person called an “always on trauma machine.” And for social media professionals, there’s no option to just log out or avoid the comment section. Some don’t get to take breaks at all…ever.
That’s probably why almost every social media manager I know has experienced some level of burnout over the past two years. In fact, it became apparent quickly enough by mid-2020 that articles began popping up outlining ways to set better boundaries, advocate for resources, and recognize warning signs of impending burnout for people who have “social media” in their job description.
Managing social media and content in public health was an added layer. It wasn’t the work itself⎯I’ve worked through national and local crises before and enjoyed the sense of purpose⎯it was everything we had to be exposed to in order to do our jobs: news, comments sections, negative feedback on nearly everything we posted. No matter what the organization did or said, there was someone who thought we should do it differently.
Like many social media managers, I was routinely working not only at night or on the weekend but on holidays and in the middle of family visits. I would never compare my work to being a frontline healthcare worker, but it was hard not to feel like I could relate to their fatigue as the pandemic dragged on. I was “always on” for 11 social media channels and it felt like I could never disconnect. I started to feel like a punching bag for the organization.
Still, I knew I was playing an important role in getting information to our community, answering questions, and helping to foster a sense of hope in a scary and tumultuous time. I wanted to get off the rollercoaster of constant crises but I loved my team and didn’t want to let them down so I took on the responsibility of developing tools to cope. I mean, this was the job I agreed to do.
For months, I watched as friends in the field changed jobs without considering that maybe that’s what I needed, too. As time went by, my mental state continued to suffer until I wasn’t sure I had a choice. I’d become constantly anxious and nauseated. My usual deep compassion for our community had become apathy. I was drained in every sense possible, not to mention easily irritated and overwhelmed. And I had neglected every single aspect of my own self-care and descended into a state I knew was leading me toward depression.
I talked to friends and family and their advice was unanimous: I needed a change.
Social media is a great field with a lot of opportunity⎯I even still recommend healthcare⎯but I’m beginning to believe being the person in the trenches has a lifespan of five to six years unless the team is structured to support boundaries, free time, and the opportunity to truly disconnect. Having a team who trusts and respects you is important, but it can only sustain you so long.
Because working in social media is so regularly trivialized, we need greater awareness for the toll this job takes on a person. We may sit behind brand handles and take on brand personas, but we are human. Who does it benefit to remain committed to delivering good work while hiding our mental struggles behind memes and jokes?
Most of the time, as a social media manager, you are a single source of input for an entire organization. Managing all of that emotion being thrown at you all by yourself is a lot to ask, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone to be considered “good at your job.” While therapy is amazing and I highly recommend it for social media managers, resources for improving well-being on the job shouldn’t stop there.
The good news: if you think you need a break from managing social media, you don’t have to pursue a whole new career! I’m moving out of healthcare, out of the DMs, and out of the comment section, but my social media experience is a requirement and an incredible asset to my new role.
If you’re looking to make a shift, identify your favorite parts of the role. Maybe it’s creating videos, copywriting, or analytics. Look into opportunities that lean more heavily on those skills and talk to some people! Put yourself out there, do some informational interviews, update your LinkedIn, or slide into the DMs of your social media marketing Twitter friends and ask them to do an anonymous ask for you.
In the meantime, be open with your leaders about your needs and ask to build a structured support plan. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Remember your true priorities. Rest. Burnout is not a badge of honor.
Taylor Hinton-Ridling @marketingwitch
influencer campaign manager | fungi fangirl | patient expert @IAPMDglobal
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