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Do You Need to Be Extremely Online to Work in Social Media?
Grappling with my unsustainable belief that to be good at social I need to be on social.
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First, an ad from our friends at Dash Hudson, the all-in-one social entertainment marketing software I used when I was at Bon Appétit!
I can’t imagine working in social media and not scheduling content. It saves me time, allows me to have work-life balance, and helps me strategically test post timing. That’s why I’m so thankful for Dash Hudson’s intuitive scheduling features. Plan and visualize your entire content calendar. Collaborate and align with your team on scheduled posts before they go live. Use their AI technology, Vision, to provide insight on which photos and videos are predicted to reach your goals even before you hit publish. It’s a necessity for any social marketer.
“It’s for my job!”, I tell myself as my eyes glaze over watching TikToks of estate sales, cringe couples, and that flaky croissant from Lafayette in New York. But really, none of these have anything to do with the social media accounts I actually work on.
When social media is your profession, it’s easy to justify endless scrolling and obsessive app opening as research. I need to know what sounds are trending, what my favorite creator just posted, and what brands are doing the Adam Levine DM meme. The result is a daily average screen time of 10 hours (well, that’s mine at least) and a constantly changing eye prescription (yeah, also me). It’s something I’ve struggled with since starting out in social in 2013, when at least I had the stamina for it. Almost 10 years later, the realities of working in social media are taking a toll. I have ocular migraines that seem to be triggered by screens, a dwindling attention span, and a permanent dent in my pinky from holding my phone.
It’s unsustainable, but I still hold onto the belief that I need to be on social to be good at it. Like really on. I need to be scrolling. I need to be posting.
In 2013, I took my first job in social media at a meal-kit delivery startup called Plated (RIP). I spent my days crafting relatable posts and my evenings commenting on our community’s #platedpics in real time. I’d feel a sense of pride when people would reply “WOW! That was so fast!”. I was more online than I had ever been before and although I was starting to feel the effects—I loved it.
When working at Bon Appétit from 2016 to 2020, I went from being a team of one to actually managing a team that worked across Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Basically, and Healthyish. I assumed that finally moving into a more managerial role would mean a more healthy relationship with my consumption of social media. Instead I found myself continuing to dig in and wanting to stay as connected as possible to what was happening on the internet that day.
I remember at Bon Appétit as soon as we saw Apple had released a garlic emoji, we asked our garlic-loving colleague for his live reaction and posted it on Twitter—it’s still one of BA’s most-liked posts on that platform. Every year, we’d do a Thanksgiving DM hotline where hundreds of people would quite literally DM us their turkey day questions and we’d spend days answering every single one of them. Watching the DMs roll in and seeing how delighted people were that we actually responded fulfilled me.
I realized being Extremely Online wasn’t just a requirement for working in social—it’s exactly why I love working in social.
Turns out I’m not the only social professional who feels this way. Sasha Mutchnik, Senior Social Editor, Special Projects at The Cut and person behind @starterpacksofnyc, told me, “[being extremely online is] thrilling to me and makes my job feel more significant. I’m always looking, eyes always peeled. There’s a sleuthing element and a satisfaction that comes from getting the jump on something everyone else ends up covering that I just love.” Ryan J, who manages social for Nutter Butter and Wheat Thins, responded to my Twitter question of “Do you feel like you need to be Very Online to be good at your job?” with “not entirely but i do sometimes really know that i'm good at my job because i am Extremely Online.” His colleague Shelby Jacobs immediately responded, “Ryan was an elite hire because of his internet knowledge.”
I think a lot of people who get into social media do so because they enjoy being Extremely Online and participating in internet culture. For me, this was an important realization: I love using the language of the internet to tell stories and have conversations, and I don’t want to grow in this field without holding onto the parts of this job that bring me joy. Now, as a consultant, I have found myself taking on more long-term projects that require me to not only create the overarching social strategy but also stay on to concept posts and, at times, actually press post. I get to work on high-level campaigns but I also get to post a photo dump—both of which benefit from my online-ness. For me, it’s the best of both worlds. Thankfully (for my eyes), I’m finally starting to find some ways to be Extremely Online in a more sustainable way.
When I went on a two week vacation without any social media, I was nervous. But the digital world kept spinning, and so did my projects. Mainly because I had a team who was able to use their judgment of what trends we should (or shouldn’t) participate in, who kept up-to-date on platform changes, and generally made sure everything ran smoothly. That’s why I am such an advocate for social teams that are more than one person—no matter the size of your company. I think the only way for this job to not take a toll is to have a team.
I just started setting aside time for myself to scroll intentionally in the morning. Similar to catching up on the news first thing in the AM, I’ll check in on what people are talking about, any brand posts that are blowing up, and what big cultural moments are happening in the world. Setting aside time to do this as opposed to mindless scrolling that’s justified as “research” has helped me set more boundaries and maintain a good scroll-life balance.
Accounts that don’t follow specific social trends or “moments”, like Planet Money, also give me hope for building strategies that don’t rely on 24-hour lifecycle trends. I hope more brands start to develop wholly original TikTok concepts that go beyond chasing sounds. It’s so impressive what the Planet Money team has built and also, I would imagine, makes for a bit more of a calendarized, plan-ahead social strategy.
Finally, being Extremely Online means knowing when to log off. For me, it’s filling my weeknights and weekends with activities that don’t involve screens—going on hikes, visiting a museum, eating at a new restaurant. You never know, sometimes your most online ideas come when you’re offline.
Moon Juice, the popular health/beauty company, is hiring a TikTok Content Creator! They are looking for a creator who loves to be on and off camera and is passionate about wellness, beauty, and mind-bending plant facts. Really cool opportunity to build and grow a TikTok account from the ground up. Plus, my friend Jen works there and she’s the best! Check out the listing here!
Brains on Fire, a full-service creative agency, is hiring a Social Media Strategist. This role would be one part project management (keeping content + strategy rolling as the execution contract moves along), and one part creative (staying flexible + nimble, forward thinking, and pushing the team and the client to think bigger). A cool opportunity for any social pro who wants to dabble in the agency world and flex both project management and creative muscles. Check out the listing here!
CAVA, the very delicious Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant, is looking for a freelance community manager to help across all of their social media platforms. Bonus points if you've used Sprout Social before! To apply, send a brief cover letter and resume to email@example.com. Full disclosure: I consult on their social media!