Social Self-Care for the SocialGov Professional (Part 1)

Forget playing on Facebook all day, we know that social media managers are truly in the trenches. For every reason we love our roles – connecting with people, creative marketing, an excuse to roll out Dad jokes – there’s a troll or potential controversy lurking behind every tweet. That can take its toll, and quickly. “Self-care” isn’t just yoga on the beach, fad diets and phony Instagram posts that are all #LivingMyBestLife. Self-care is a real and necessary thing to get us through the rough patches and savor what drives us to tell our stories on social.

In this series of three articles, Jessie Brown, social media coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Co-Executive Director of Social Media Club Des Moines, digs into this major concern among social media professionals – and offers suggestions and tips from other pros to be the best, healthiest you that you can be.

Own it

We all get stressed. I get it. I have two kids, a full-time job and I serve on a professional board, believe me, I get it. But our situation as social media staffers can be unique and constant, and we need to own that. Our comrades in Customer Service know what it’s like to be yelled at all day by strangers. But they hang up the phone and walk out the door at night.

In social media, we wear many hats – so many that most days, a hat rack would collapse under the weight of them all. We’re in a constant identity crisis. We’re front-line customer service. We’re also strategists, marketers, advertisers, content creators, photographers, videographers, video editors, on-screen talent, data analysts, graphic designers, amateur comedians, pop culture experts, budget analysts, tech support, writers and public relations experts.

For many of us – social media is only a part of our job. We have tasks beyond what many presences have an entire team for. Yet in many offices the role gets little respect – I mean, can’t we just hire an intern to do that? Our nature as communications experts also means we’re wired to anticipate all possible responses to a post or campaign, or know if something will flop on social media, often dubbing us as the “Debbie Downer” of the office. Some of us must be available 24/7. Many of us have limited equipment and resources.

Oh, did I mention that with one click of a button, our work goes out to be immediately judged and critiqued by thousands or millions of people, including the people that pay your salary? (If you have a typo, better make that billions.)

Plus, there’s always the yelling. For those of us in government, it can be a special kind of yelling, but all social media managers find themselves on the wrong side of a comment thread at some point. The trolls wear you down. You see photos in your inbox that you can’t unsee.

It’s constant sensory overload. Sometimes we thrive under stress. But if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can burn out quickly. We’re all here for the love of the game, so to speak, so take note of what we can do – personally and professionally – to make the most of this awesome, rewarding career.

Get out of the trenches

Some days it’s an unending stream of comments to moderate and questions that need answers tracked down and you barely have time to get today’s posts up or glance at those 57 new emails that came in since lunch. Wait, lunch? And that’s exactly why you need to find time to step away and let those creative juices flow again. Declare a “focus day” and work from a coffee shop, at home, a closed-off conference room or wherever you can do “big picture” brainstorming, content scheduling and strategic planning without the pressures of phone calls, office drop-bys and last-minute meetings. Even better, talk to your supervisor about setting these up on a regular schedule.

There will always be pressure to provide outstanding stats and prove social ROI, despite ever-changing platform algorithms and shifting customer preferences. So set big-picture goals for yourself that go beyond KPIs and data to motivate you. Is it strengthening your design or video skills? Launching a new campaign? Allow yourself to dream outside the day-to-day scheduling and moderation. Set aside time to follow accounts or social experts you admire, and take notes. Advocate for and seek out professional development opportunities, whether that’s a webinar or a national conference like GSMCON. Most importantly, take note of your achievements, big and small.

“I keep a file of social media compliments or nice things people have said about the brands and content I create for those times when I’m dealing with less fun parts of the job, like angry customers or trolly commenters,” says Megan Bannister, a digital marketer in Des Moines, Iowa.

Megan Bannister

Set boundaries

We want to do it all. Really, it’s what we’re used to, with all those hats we try to wear at once, remember? We want to have a response time for under 30 minutes…even if that’s at 3:45 on a Saturday at your niece’s birthday party. But we can’t do it all at all hours of the day, and we need to accept that.

“I make a point not to get sucked into things in off hours unless it’s a legitimate emergency with possible to danger to people,” says Nick Smith, who heads social for the City of Gaithersburg, Maryland. He also makes a point of meditating 10 minutes a day. “This stuff will eat us alive if we let it.”

Nick Smith

Be realistic about your workload and what you’re not able to take on. Find creative ways to say no or reframe the ask into something manageable. Talk to supervisors about what expectations are for response, and how to make it work. And if your boss does set limits for you – like no response after 9 p.m., for example – follow it. Tuck the phone away and enjoy some time for yourself doing not social media things. Keep your personal social media separate from work or filter out work after-hours. Use your phone’s software to track your screen time (it will shock you!) and set reminders to put the phone down. Take time for you.

“It may seem impossible or create FOMO [fear of missing out], but turn off your notifications when you leave the office, especially on the weekends,” says Jon Tolbert, social pro for the City of Columbus, Ohio.

Jon Tolbert

And when you find yourself mired deep in the comments, remember your personal boundaries. You get to decide what you don’t let bother you. You, not the comment section. You. It’s not up to you to fix others. It’s okay if other people get angry (and we all know they will, because we do, too). But we can do the best to get the right information out there, and then sometimes we have to walk away. We do what we can.

In the next installment, we cover dealing with trolls and negativity, stress release, and taking charge of the chaos.

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