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Why People Leave Their Jobs in Social Media
I asked over 150 people why they are leaving or have already left social media. This is what they said.
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I just got back from a weeklong vacation where I deleted all of my social media apps. In the nine years I have worked in social, I have never ever done that. Most trips I usually do a little bit of work, telling myself it’s really no big deal to put up that post at 9 a.m., and, of course, still scroll/post on my personal account. I had someone ask how I was able to completely log off, and the answer is fairly simple: understanding clients, a lot of pre-planning, and trusting that the team would handle things. It’s important to set those boundaries early, whether in a job or freelancing, that when you’re off, you will not be touching the brand’s social media. This break from the platforms gave me a taste of what it could be like if my work wasn’t so tied up in my social media consumption. It’s an important reminder. I highly recommend deleting your apps (even if you plan to just use them for your personal accounts) the next time you go on a trip. Also highly recommend reading Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now while on your hiatus.
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Somewhat related to logging off, this week’s newsletter is basically a long list of why people who work in social media either want to or end up leaving the field altogether. In my last newsletter I asked you to fill out a form, and here I want to sum up what I heard from over 150 of you. And maybe propose a few ideas of how we can fix this before no one ever wants to work in social media again.
The main themes were around work-life balance, underappreciation, and toxicity of the apps. I’ve pulled a sampling of quotes below.
“The stress and anxiety was constant! You're always reading customer comments, flagging anything in the influencer realm that might make your brand look bad, etc. And if you miss something and it escalates you can't help but feel like it's your fault because it's your job to notice stuff like that early.”
Lack of Work-Life Balance
“Social being a 24/7 field is something that my mental health couldn't handle after 6 years. I was exhausted from getting weekend and PTO texts/emails about random comments that needed to be responded to or posts that didn't go live or did go live that needed to be edited.”
Bad for Mental Health
“It was so difficult for my mental health. I never had free evenings or weekends, I was attached to my phone, I’d spend hours teaching people how to do things I had learned myself just before. It was exhausting. And you can’t really control what your followers do, and management gets so mad when you don’t reach your engagement goals. It was just so much and I was drained. I’m so happy I left.”
“It’s exhausting. There’s no off time. Even if I don’t use my phone on the weekends, by Monday I'm behind the curve and am missing out on 10 things that could help my brand strategy and vitality. Plus, explaining to executives what trends are and why we should do them is EXHAUSTING.”
“The pay sucks.”
“I am in my mid thirties, I feel like I’m aging out of the trends and, to be frank, my heart just is not in it anymore. I lost faith in it as a genuine form of advertising and I resent the time I spend on the platforms.”
Minimal Career Growth
“Being 100% focused on social media felt like a ‘one track’ career path that might limit others' perception of me on paper, so I left the exclusive field to hone writing/editorial skills elsewhere while still keeping social as ~30% of my day job.”
“It seems like there's still a glass ceiling for social.”
“In my years of social experience I think it’s SUCH an under-appreciated field. Obviously there are more important jobs that are under-appreciated like teachers and nurses. But social is at the forefront of all these consumers' lives and yet it’s still treated as secondary to other forms of advertising and public relations.”
Management/Colleagues Don’t See the Value
“It became too hard to convince management on the value of social as a brand building channel. Ironically, these businesses spent hundreds of thousands on TV commercials, billboards etc. which don’t allow hard metrics to track performance! Yet we had all the data in the world but it wasn’t enough to convince them to give us a bigger slice of the pie. After a while this chipped away at my passion.”
“I’m valued less than my marketing counterparts.”
“The final straw was a boss with no social media experience who was so controlling I was barely allowed to post anything and was held to impossible standards.”
“Also frequently had differing creative opinions with my boss and felt like I was constantly being shut down or told exactly what to do”
“I'm feeling increasingly overwhelmed by how toxic social media is for users and how toxic it is for social media professionals who don't get to ‘clock out’ on evenings and weekends. Right now I'm just wondering what the point of this work is and trying to get out but since this is my main experience... I'm not sure where to go!”
“I know it happens all the time but in general mixing social with capitalism has been rubbing me as super toxic.”
“A general growing suspicion that much social media is actually net-negative for the world. I used to think the internet was a creative, generative place where like minded people could connect, find accurate information, and learn from other people. Now, I think it's at best a vehicle for delivery of endless advertisements where our personal data is constantly exploited, recycled and sold for profit, an addictive never-ending scroll that does nothing for my personal happiness and everything for Mark Zuckerberg's bottom line. At worst, I think it's a primary source of the misinformation that is quite literally crumbling the fabric of society. I'm not sure how much I want to remain involved in that.”
I believe the most urgent topics within these broader themes are:
Lack of Work-Life Balance
Toxic and Unethical Platforms
While some solutions here can come from within an organization (grow the social team, increase salaries, provide career advancement opportunities, PTO means PTO, etc), what worries me the most are the solutions that don’t feel as tangible. How do we make sure our mental health doesn’t suffer when our job requires us to spend hours scrolling built-to-be-addictive algorithms? How do I address my feelings about the unethical sides of social media when I work in this field and, in part, contribute to it? How do I find joy in my personal social media presence (which employers, for better or worse, look at when hiring) when it feels like more work? These are the questions that feel top of mind when it comes to the future of social media management. Because while there are a lot of things companies can do to address the above themes, there are a lot of things that are left in the hands of gigantic, money (and data) hungry platforms.
Until someone forwards this to Zuck, I hope all the CMOs and people who manage social teams reading this are able to understand a bit more of what goes into these roles and how your team might be feeling right now. There are some fairly clear themes here that do feel addressable internally at an organization, and I hope you consider how implementing some might help retain your social media team. I am also so grateful to everyone who sent in responses to the form and were so open with how you were feeling. If this field is going to be around for years to come, where people aren’t burning out of it by 30, something clearly has to change.
I want to do a future newsletter on roles that people who worked in social have moved on to but a few that were mentioned in this survey: strategic communications manager, digital brand marketer, copywriter, product manager, editor at a publication/newspaper, digital strategist, data analyst, product marketer, and brand manager.
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!
Sotheby’s is looking for a Social Media Associate, NFTs (mainly posting this because it made my eyes glaze over and I want more of you to read it since I had to) (“Identify key web 3 calendar moments”)
Racing to End Alzheimer's, a non-profit helping fund dementia research and family care, is looking for a social media manager to help spread the word and increase donations. It’s a part-time freelance role (10 hours a week). To apply, send your resume, 3 writing samples and a cover note indicating why you're a good fit to Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.