What Makes a Good Social Manager?
Featuring an interview with Sarah Whittle, current Head of Organic Social at Crocs.
Today’s interview is filled with so much good stuff that I’m tempted to just dive right in!
I chatted with Sarah Whittle, who is the current Head of Organic Social at Crocs and has worked in this industry for over 12 years. We focused our discussion around how social has changed since we started, attempted to define the current era of social we are living in (at least until it changes tomorrow), and laid out some of the skills it takes to succeed as a social media manager right now.
I’m such a fan of all of Sarah’s work and it was a pleasure to chat with her. Enjoy!
Rachel Karten: First can you tell me where you work now and any previous social roles you've had?
Sarah Whittle: Currently, I’m Head of Organic Social at Crocs (the shoes with holes) overseeing all organic programming and strategy globally.
My resume is full of jumps between social and TV production, all which have been incredibly valuable for every gig that was next. I helped create two TV shows that are no longer on air (but one of ‘em aired for over 11 years!) and in social, specifically, I’ve worked as a host/producer for Game Show Network’s short lived Youtube channel and Director of Social and Unscripted programming at digital comedy brand, Smosh. Smosh has over 50M subs/followers across all channels and is where I learned the most about social.
Also was Head of Social at Lime Crime Cosmetics for a hot minute. My very first social media gig was an internship for a small social media agency on Long Island, NY back in 2011. (Did Instagram even exist then? Yes. Barely.)
RK: I want to focus this interview around some of the skills it takes to be a social manager right now. So, to start, I'd love to hear a little about some of the changes you've witnessed in social media marketing in your time working in this field. What are some of the biggest shifts you've seen?
SW: The two biggest changes I’ve noticed are:
How fast the social industry is changing
That the industry as a whole is being taken more seriously
When it comes to speed: Back in the day (2015), when I worked on the creator brand side at Smosh overseeing all social channels, Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms rarely changed year-over-year. If they did change anything, they’d typically tell you.
Fast forward to now, and you can pretty much expect a new feature or update to the algorithm weekly—which the platforms gatekeep most times. I often say, “If there’s a bug in Instagram, it’s most likely because they’re changing the code right now.”
Social six months ago is NOT the same social today—Threads didn’t exist! Being adaptable is an absolute must. And the pro hack is to pay attention to how much your own personal feed is changing as you scroll. Noticing more video content? Noticing more promotional content? Noticing more viral content? Take note!
When it comes to being taken more seriously, brands (and the leadership at those brands) are coming around to see the power of social media marketing. “Just putting it on social” isn’t going to work. Social media is now a main part of most of our lives, especially if we’re in the sweet 18-34 year old consumer category. And treating social as a second thought isn’t going to bring results.
There’s now a need for custom resources and teams that can support a channel that acts as so many things: PR, influencer marketing, entertainment, education, customer service, and then some. As a millennial that’s been working in social for over 12 years, I’m excited to see fellow social media professionals rise to leadership positions to continue to push and grow the level of support that social teams everywhere need to thrive. (And to avoid making a KPI “going viral.”)
RK: How would you sum up the current era we are in?
SW: Oh, a few come to mind:
TikTok on the Clock
Will TikTok be outlawed? Who can say in these unprecedented times, but one thing is for sure—TikTok changed social media forever. It’s at the top of its game now, but how long will it last? The platform seems to innovate very quickly, including with TikTok Shop which has flipped algorithms to focus on e-commerce. Which brings us to the next one…
Social Media --> Shopping Media
In Asia, shopping is digitally-led across many different social media platforms. Social media platforms in the US are also getting in the e-commerce game too, because:
Platforms want part of the revenue their platform brings in for brands
Platforms don’t want you to leave their platform.
TikTok shop has mixed reviews but one thing is for certain: it’s changed all our FYPs and we’re seeing that across every platform. I think we all will be shopping through media more and more rather than just socializing.
The Great Unknown: AI
Ooooooh AI. It’s equally fascinating and nerve wracking. Ultimately, I don’t want to be replaced by a robot. So my advice to everyone (and myself) is to learn AI and remain adaptable and hopeful. From drafting captions to AI-created content to data automation, it’s going to touch a lot of what social does and it’s a tad scary but maybe it’ll be fine? Here’s to hoping Skynet won’t be real!
RK: I don't necessarily think there's a one-size-fits-all "perfect" social manager. But there are definitely skills that are helpful to have in this new era. What are some of the hard and soft skills you think are needed in this industry?
SW: I agree! There is not a one-size-fits-all “perfect” social manager but these are definitely the skills that’ll make you have an advantage:
Photo and Video production skills including shooting, editing, making a meme or two—basically knowing polished and unpolished techniques. Really being a “social media creator”.
Copywriter but also fluent in internet AND branded speak
Researcher and data analysis (some Excel skills is *chefs kiss*)
Up-to-date because they scroll A LOT. This include anything from breaking news to global climates to the latest TikTok trend to slang to influencer drama…
Improviser mindset—approaches opportunities and challenges as a “yes and” moment
Social! Make friends with anyone and everyone, you never know where your next source of inspiration is and how they can help!
Communication (verbal and written)—to be able to pitch all the ideas (and memes)
Adaptable…nothing is the same ever
Empathy! Being able to put yourself in the shoes (or clogs) of the consumer is key for social. A lot of it is skillfully guessing what people will enjoy and being able to not be precious with ideas.
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of this industry?
SW: As a naturally very hopeful person, I don’t know any other way to be! I chose to be hopeful, let my imagination fuel my creativity, and pet my cats a lot. The industry is changing faster and in more ways I can fathom but we can figure it out! We always have!
RK: Any final thoughts?
SW: Working in social media marketing isn’t for everyone. Much like Liam Neeson, each professional has a unique set of skills they bring to the table. And endless creativity! It’s sometimes a very overwhelming profession to be in and very competitive—but it has its rewards. Like going “viral.” And Shrek Crocs. Shrocs.
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