I'm a social media marketer — here's how I avoid burnout
In this blog series, a member of the Khoros Strategic Services team dives into a topic they have helped many enterprise brands with, sharing insights and best practices. Khoros Strategic Services has deep expertise in community management, paid social, analytics, content, and they're ready to help your brand.
Lately, most of us have been online more frequently than we’d prefer. We’ve seen happy hours, dates, and even weddings go virtual this year, leading to a rise in Zoom fatigue and digital burnout. Social media managers, however, are particularly susceptible to the pressure of being online all the time.
If you take your role seriously, you know that being active on social media channels is crucial to making sure nothing slips through the cracks. Maybe you’ve set up notifications for your business accounts on your personal phone. Perhaps you’ve found yourself responding to a DM from a customer as you’re getting ready for bed. After all, does your job ever really stop when so much of your personal life also revolves around social media?
There’s nothing wrong with being committed to your work. However, if you treat your job as an inescapable part of your identity, you’re likely to feel burned out, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Once you’re operating in this diminished state, it’s hard to care for yourself — and it’s unlikely your brand’s channels will receive the love they deserve, either.
I'm Pri, and I'm a social media manager too. If any of this sounds familiar, I'm here to share a solution that's helped keep me on track: setting boundaries and sticking to them. From one digital expert to another, here are my tips on how to protect your time, your team, and the channels you manage.
How to set boundaries
1. Establish working hours, even if they’re non-traditional
It’s not expected that you’ll work a solid eight-hour block and blissfully sign off at the end of the day. Social media managers are “on-call” nearly 24/7, and your brand might need you to help handle a crisis after working hours. That’s okay — as social media managers, we don’t expect to have normal working hours anyway. But it’s really important for you to specify times that are off-limits (for working out, socializing, quiet time, eating, etc.).
For example, let’s say you’re the sole manager of your company’s accounts and you’re worried things will get out of hand once you sign off for the evening. Determine a time period each evening where you can check in on emergencies, and especially if you’re hourly, count this in your working hours. You may set aside the period from 8 – 8:30pm to do a quick sweep, but by 8:31 your laptop had better be stowed away. That means that you should be wrapping up by around 8:20 or 8:25, making notes to handle any routine things the following morning. If it doesn’t constitute a real emergency for the brand, it’s not an emergency for you.
2. Prioritize your asks and push back on assignments that aren’t feasible
A lot of us try to live by a work-first mentality: Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. The problem with this approach is that you can do a lot in one day, but you don’t necessarily have to — and you probably shouldn’t. It’s better to do a great job on a couple tasks than a lousy job on a bunch. Reframe your work motto to be: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you should do today.
If you’re nearing the end of your working hours, it’s okay to ask (either yourself or someone else) whether a new task can wait until tomorrow. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that you’ve seen a request but won’t be able to handle it until the following day, even if you’re dealing with a client.
Evaluating the time-sensitivity of a need doesn’t make you a procrastinator — it just makes you a strategic thinker. That’s a good thing.
3. Lead by example and respect your team
Whether you’re directly managing others or working collaboratively across your organization, make it clear that you value others’ need to disconnect. This may mean resisting the urge to DM your coworkers on Instagram to share aspirational content or to schedule after-hours meetings.
Follow the golden rule and treat others how you want to be treated — if you would be annoyed by someone else doing it to you, you probably shouldn’t do it. Even starting your evening Slack message with “feel free to respond in the morning” puts the responsibility on your colleague to deliberately ignore the message in order to respect their own working hours. Next time, type a draft and set a reminder to send it in the morning.
It’s particularly important to be mindful of your own behavior as a senior lead or director, because the rest of your team will adjust their behavior to mimic yours. If you’re consistently replying to late-night emails and providing immediate replies on weekends, you may condition others to think that they need to do the same. This can increase their stress and decrease their ability to perform at their best during working hours, when you need them to be on their game. So just as you let yourself rest, let your team rest.
4. Remember that customer care and self-care are not mutually exclusive
You may have an obligation to be there for your digital audience, but that doesn’t mean putting their needs above your own. Make sure to take a break or walk around the block when things get too heated online. After work, get outside. Take up cross-stitching. Paint a picture. My ideal post-work day looks like packing a book and biking to the waterfront for some fresh air.
If you feel your customers’ frustrations seeping into your own life, see where you can delegate or automate processes so you’re not dealing with an influx of hostile messages.
5. Set realistic goals and scroll with a purpose
When you work in social media, it can feel like everything is a competition — and in some ways, that’s true. Even while you’re looking through your personal feed, the instinct to take notes and try to replicate another brand’s social strategy is strong. I've found myself taking screenshots of ads as I'm scrolling from bed — what was once a simple annoyance is now something I feel compelled to share with my team the next day.
Before you open up your apps, establish your purpose. Are you within your working hours and doing competitive research? Or is it 9pm and you just want to see the latest pictures of your friend’s dog? The latter means you can take your work hat off and enjoy the content for what it is.
But Pri, everyone else is doing it…
It’s hard to be the first one to set boundaries, especially when your performance is being measured against that of others. Consider level-setting with your teammates and hosting a check-in to discuss any areas of burnout or anxiety. Even better, set up an anonymous survey. If you can solicit anonymous feedback, you may have a better chance of gauging people’s true feelings.
Chances are good that you and your peers are having similar feelings, and once you acknowledge this, you can start to set not just personal boundaries, but team boundaries. If you’re a team leader, put those boundaries in writing and let your employees know that working on the weekend is not the norm.
It’s a lot easier to start small, so encourage each member of your team to pick one tangible way to set a boundary between work and their off-screen life. It may be as simple as setting their notifications to do-not-disturb after 6pm, or disconnecting their work email from their phone. Once you’ve all got an action in mind, set a start date for implementation so you can hold each other accountable.
If your team is worried about a drop in productivity or pushes back on creating boundaries because “that’s just how it is,” pitch it as a one-week challenge. At the end of the week, reconvene to see whether there was actually a drop in performance, and to discuss any lingering concerns.
At the end of the day, being a social media manager — whether you love it or hate it — is a job. And like any job, it’s done best when you’re not running on empty, so keep that in mind the next time you find yourself working through dinner or responding to questions on your day off.