The Social Media Manager Is On a Pendulum


Which Direction Are They Swinging?

Nothing lasts forever. Girl groups. The delightful smell of bacon. Obama in the White House. As with most things in life, they’re uncomfortably tied to a pendulum. When, and how hard, it swings in the opposite direction is unpredictable and, at times, shocking.

The same could be said for social media. Things are constantly changing, especially in the workforce. Ten years ago, brands were present on social media but not like they are today. Remember Facebook Groups? Yeah, times have changed. I would argue these shifts have been for the better for those of us who work intimately in the social media space.

Brands would “get on social media” and have any with half a brain run their accounts. The problem was that most people never understood how to properly and effectively use social media.

What happened next was the introduction of agencies handling a brand’s presence. A predominant issue with agencies was that their work felt disconnected from the brand. A very common phrase that began floating through offices was “Who knows our brand better than us?” And just like that, building an in-house social team was in vogue!


Here is where things get really interesting.

Millennials have led the charge with building a brand’s identity on social media. They took the initiative as interns; they were hired with entry-level salaries as recent college graduates. They took brands from Groups to Pages. From robots to personalities.

They got hired with entry-level salaries while someone else with no real social media experience got a title change, a pay raise, and an office. They worked their way up the corporate ladder. Last year, I wrote an article about job titles being arbitrary and I stand by what I said.

A large group of them probably read Kelly Cutrone’s iconic If You Have to Cry, Go Outside and remembered when she said to work for at least 5 years before branching off to do your own thing.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now. All of those young people who led the charge in successfully bringing social media in-house are running for the hills. They’re freelance consulting, setting up their own shops with former colleagues, or, here’s the kicker, joining agencies.

The group of social media managers I came up with have so much more experience than just “playing on Instagram.” We’ve built brand identities, created impactful content, managed team members, projects, and, yes, agencies. In my experience, this work has many times bled into dot-com, email, and even primetime television.

In the last six months alone, I have connected with three young people who have left the security of big companies to do their own thing. One came from an agency background; the other two having worked in the lifestyle/fashion space. It’s exciting and inspiring to see my peers believe in their abilities and take action with them.

As for myself? I have also stepped into the unstable land of freelance. I’ve read a lot about being “your own boss” but, as we all know, ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ are two very different things. I currently have one client (full transparency: it is a friend) with a contract that is set to expire soon but, hey, it’s a start!

With me relocating from New York City to Chicago, I’m excited to continue educating myself and hope to put even more of my learnings into action. I know how incredibly difficult freelancing can be so I haven’t closed the door on searching for full-time opportunities. Lately, I’ve engaged with so many people associated with agency life that I’ve officially been bitten bit and am exploring those possibilities, too.

It’s clear the social media pendulum is already swinging back towards external parties managing a brand’s social media identity. In the not too distant future, I can see the majority of social activity being completely in the hands of agencies yet again. This time around, though, they will be better equipped with people who have actually built up valuable experience.

The title of social media manager can be misleading and restrictive but people, especially recruiters, are starting to wake up. I had a great conversation with a recruiter who wondered if “social” was even needed for certain people anymore because our experiences are more digital media than anything.

I can see both sides of the coin but what I’ll say to current social media managers is to hold onto that pendulum as tightly as you can. There’s a shakeup coming and you don’t want to be knocked off of your A game.

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