NOTE: We spoke to several social media managers at large brands and agencies about the impact of working in social on their mental health. Quotes in this blog post that are not attributed to an individual are from those who wanted to participate in the discussion, but preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
This has been a tough year for a lot of people, and we’re only halfway through it. But today, on Social Media Day, we want to talk a little about the mental wellbeing of our colleagues who work on the front lines of social media.
People who don’t work in the business might scoff at the very thought of social media being a tough job, but think about it for a minute. These days, when people are angry with an organization (or even a person) the first thing they’ll often do is fire off an angry message on social media, even if it’s completely undeserved.
“I think the Yorkshire Tea example is a good one. ‘Sue, you’re shouting at tea’ is a sentence I will never forget. They voiced something a lot of people feel when managing accounts, that there is a real person behind the account, who is having to read all the criticism, puzzle over how to address it, and ‘accept it’ all, despite only being a representative of the company. If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person, maybe don’t type it in all-caps and send it to a company.” – Social Media Manager
There’s something about the anonymity, or even just the detachment, that social media offers which makes a lot of people feel it’s OK to post hurtful, rude, often outright abusive comments with very little justification. Now imagine it’s your job to read and respond to those kinds of comments, while maintaining a measured, professional attitude under sometimes extreme provocation. That’s got to take a toll.
Another aspect of social community management that people might not be aware of is that you have responsibility for dealing with all kinds of inappropriate material that gets posted on the brand’s channels. This can be as simple as comments containing bad language, or much worse.
“There’s also the darker side of community management, for example, for some clients, I have seen a lot of uncomfortable and inappropriate content being sent, so being exposed to that was difficult too.” – Social Media Manager
Putting aside the grind of dealing with that kind of negativity on a regular basis, working on the front lines of social media can be a stressful job. Before any senior executive is allowed to speak to a journalist, or otherwise act as a public spokesperson for a company, they have to be coached on what to say, work with public relations executives to fine tune the message, and take media training to prepare them for difficult questions.
That’s because being the public voice of an organization is a big deal, and just a single poorly judged comment can have a direct impact on the public reputation of the business. When you’re representing a brand what you say matters and you need to be careful to get it right, all the time. And that’s what social media managers do all day, whether they’re posting content or responding to comments, they’re being the public voice of a brand.
Annie Andoh, Social Media Manager at London’s V&A Museum says “It is one of the few professions where feedback is so swift and at times relentless as the barrier between what you produce and the audience is so fine. Whatever your role is, from a community manager, to content creator or to strategist, you are under a lot of pressure as ultimately you have to represent the brand in the best way you can.”
Given that it’s often a job done by younger professionals, it’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. On top of always being careful to manage the tone and content of posts so that they match with the expectations of the brand, they need to keep one eye on their analytics to make sure they’re hitting engagement targets. Just like any other job, there are KPIs and targets that need to be met.
But a lot of people don’t consider social media as a “real job” – it’s just posting stuff on Facebook and Twitter – so those who do work in the industry can feel as though their challenges are not taken seriously by others.
“The majority of people have a social media presence now, so they think they know exactly what your job is. There is definitely more understanding, especially in the last few years with the rise of digital marketing and acknowledgement that social media is a powerful tool, but everything from the mental strain involved to the resource needed for the job is underestimated.” – Social Media Manager
This year, of course, the situation has become more difficult for many people as they have been required to work from home for extended periods of time, removing the emotional support that can come from sitting in an office with colleagues who are on your side. Being able to call or message a friendly co-worker can help, but it’s not quite the same as spending the working day in the same office with them. And when your office is also your home, it can be difficult to draw that line of separation that allows you to switch off from work at the end of a tough day.
How to Protect Yourself
So, if you work in social media, what can you do to protect your mental wellbeing in the face of all these challenges?
One common piece of advice for coping with negative comments is to remind yourself that the person is angry with the brand, and not you personally, but that doesn’t always work. If you love your job, and you’re invested in the work your organization does, it’s hard not to be affected by those kind of attacks, even if they’re not directed at you.
“By representing a brand online for work you do become very invested in it, and thus you do feel hurt by a barrage of criticism about it. Reading criticism of something you’re passionate about, whilst you’re in your own home, adds another dimension to the impact social media management might have on your mental health.” – Social Media Manager
To get some real, practical advice on how people working in this business can safeguard their own mental health, we asked for some tips from Doctor Jillian Ney, a leading Digital Behavioral Psychologist, who specializes in social media:
All across the internet, social media managers and content moderators are facing burnout and fatigue, in some more extreme circumstances even PTSD. The mental health of these people has only started to be discussed in the past couple of years.
Triage Reports: figure out what content and conversations is a priority. It’s one of the biggest challenges faced by social media managers and content moderators. Having clear guidelines on what is critical, a priority, or simply background noise can help.
Task Switching: when possible break up your day by switching tasks. I realise it might not be possible for everyone, but potentially something to raise internally. You can’t be effective or keep your spirits up when you’re only responding to engagement every day. Moderation, live engagement, crating reports for instance.
Analyse the Comments: when you’re dealing with all this engagement and there are complaints it can be hard not to take them personally or be influenced by constant negativity. One way to help overcome this is to spend time analysing the types of interactions coming through and what they are about. For example, is 25% of the online interactions about a service disruption or common failure? These types of things can be fixed further upstream so you don’t have to handle them. This type of analysis also provides critical feedback to your company and you can better see that you should be taking criticism or negativity personally.
I think we need to start to have more conversations with social media managers about the affect of their roles on mental health and start to better develop roles and processes that lower the impact. We know that social media has an influence on behaviour, that’s why money is invested in the platforms, interpersonal influence in social networks in huge.
From a brand perspective, the people who are engaging with the content all the time are likely to be impacted too. We’ve seen more stories about the impact of moderating content from platforms Facebook and even Reddit, we also hear about everyday people being affected from social content. We now need to go further downstream to social media managers for brands and organisations to really understand the impact on mental health.
Dr Jillian Ney
Digital Behavioural Scientist