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Social Media Marketing

12 Skills Expert Social Media Managers Need (+5 Nice-to-Haves)

April 15, 2021
Maddy Osman

An expert social media manager does a lot more than post, experts tell us. SMMs are creative strategists, storytellers, editors, community-builders and more — and they can level up your brand’s online presence.

Table of Contents

Social media has become a vital aspect of digital marketing. With over 3.6 billion people using social media worldwide as of 2020, it’s easy to see why it has become an essential part of doing business. 

Social media channels from Facebook to TikTok can give you the chance to improve brand awareness and generate leads. 

Though these platforms are designed for everyone to use, the social media manager role requires a huge range of training and experience — and you’ll probably find that you need a professional to achieve your social media potential. 

As Fast’s director of content marketing, Matthew Kobach, explains, a great SMM will span marketing, communications, branding, customer service and content creation.

House of Wise founder Amanda Goetz agrees with him: SMMs are marketing’s future CMOs.

Whether your business is on the hunt for someone to run your organic social media marketing, or you’re thinking about entering the field yourself, we’re here to help you understand the most important skills for a social media manager.

What does a social media manager do?

A social media manage runs a company’s organic social media. They might also be known as a social media coordinator, social media marketer, or community manager.

As a social media manager, “you are definitely wearing lots of different hats,” freelance social media manager Yi Chen told MarketerHire.

"You are definitely wearing a lot of different hats."

In terms of the job description, a social media manager is responsible for creating, monitoring, and measuring a brand’s social media presence. 

This includes planning and posting great content, crafting a brand presence through comments and stories, and collecting and leveraging social media metrics.

Though the general public often confuses social media management with entry-level work, the role is far from junior. 

A social media manager “must use prowess and experience to create a precise social strategy,” Anna Rose Iovine wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, “but make it look so easy that an intern could do it.”

There are several social media channels out there, and a good social media manager will evaluate them, use them appropriately, and find what works for their brand. 

Popular social media channels include… 

  • Facebook 
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • TikTok 

Most social media managers will land upon a few specific social networks and focus their marketing efforts on those.

12 must-have skills for social media managers

A successful social media manager needs skills ranging from creative to analytical. But which ones are most important? 

For this guide, we asked:

  • Dani Marom, creative director at MarketerHire
  • Yi Chen, superstar social media marketer at MarketerHire
  • Jen Hartmann, director of social media and PR at John Deere

1. Creative strategy.

A capable social media manager will be able to understand a brand’s story, its objectives, and its target audience. They will then use this information to create a smart, informed content plan

“I sit down with a client and look at, ‘What are some of the content buckets? What are some of the moments we want to target?’” Chen said of her process. “And then I come up with an editorial plan.”

Ideally, this plan ties back to a brand’s core position. 

“Know your brand's position and play with expressing that position in such a way that people will actually react to it,” consultant and former Potbelly CMO Brandon Rhoten told MarketerHire

Play is key. When it comes to social, where things can change in a heartbeat, strategy should be flexible, and leave room for spontaneity. That way, you can react to current events, like a ship stuck in the Suez canal…

… as well as real-time engagement data from your audience. Do they love polls? Memes? 

Sometimes, you have to pivot to ensure your content fits your audience and your moment.

Helpful creative strategy tips and tools:

  • Know your brand position and understand how social media supports it. 
  • Create a clear, detailed social media marketing strategy that balances trending topics and brand needs. 
  • Monitor results and iterate based on engagement data.

2. Creative asset management.

Active social media accounts post a lot — think multiple times a day. However, especially at startups, it’s not always possible to create brand new, high-quality content for every post. 

A great social media manager will be able to organize, source, and strategically reuse good content, creating numerous posts from the same source material.

It’s crucial to be “incredibly organized and know what content you already have and how your content aligns to a cultural calendar with the brand,” Marom explained. 

"Know what content you already have."

In other words: It’s crucial to manage your creative assets effectively, organizing and storing content with lasting relevance so that it's easy to find and reuse. 

This often also involves working with other creatives, such as graphic designers, writers and video producers, to make splashy, evergreen social assets. 

Helpful creative asset management tips and tools:

  • Social media managers can use Canva to create social graphics and images themselves — no design background required. 
  • Google Drive and  Dropbox are great for storing and organizing creative assets.
  • A logical foldering system can help social media managers find that one chart from seven months ago, exactly when they need it. Here’s one take on how to do that.

3. Short-form writing and storytelling.

Social media, at its best, is about telling a story. Once the social media manager uses their creative strategy skills to outline the story, they should also have the writing skills to tell it.

To Hartmann, this is crucial. “Effective social copywriting is the secret sauce to thumb-stopping content,” she said.

"Effective social copywriting is the secret sauce to thumb-stopping content."

Writing for social media is slightly different from traditional copywriting. Social posts are not only punchy and attention-grabbing — they fit the culture of their platform. 

For LinkedIn, that might mean “broetry”; for Twitter, it might mean comedy. 

This tweet, for example, would not necessarily make sense as a performance ad or a billboard — but it got 150,000 retweets. 

(It also fits what Rhoten calls Wendy’s “challenger brand.”)

A social media manager should be able to accurately write in the brand voice to create engaging social posts or comments. It's also a huge plus if a social media manager can write and produce short-form video content. 

Helpful short-form writing and storytelling tips and tools:

  • Develop brand voice guidelines, so your social posts feel consistent across platforms and over time. 
  • Write with the goal of stopping a reader’s scroll. 
  • Experiment with AI copywriting tools, which can generate first-draft social posts in seconds.

4. Editing.

Timeliness is key on social — last month’s TIkTok trends feel like relics of the distant past — so SMMs often have to take copy from idea to publication. Fast.

That means social media managers should be confident editors, of their own work and other people’s.

A social media manager should be able to adjust draft copy to fit their company’s brand voice and a social platform’s culture. Editing software can act as another set of eyes to minimize typos and grammatical errors. 

Helpful editing tips and tools:

  • Make sure all social text is clear and accurate.
  • Try AI tools like Hemingway or Grammarly, which can cut down on wordiness and grammatical errors. 
  • Insert humor and personality as needed. Steak-umm’s social media manager account does this so well on Twitter, The Washington Post profiled him!

5. Internal communications.

A good social media manager should have excellent internal communication skills. This role involves working with multiple teams within a company — not just marketing. 

They'll need to work with  product marketers to create effective social campaigns, and stakeholders throughout the organization to tell the brand’s story.

They'll also need to argue for an appropriate budget — which takes a talent for persuasion.

“You’ll spend a good chunk of your time convincing the org what needs to happen,” Hartmann said. “Get good at convincing them early and often — then prove it out.”

Helpful internal comms tips and tools:

  • Use cloud-based communication software to keep the whole team in the loop.
  • Learn to blend performance data and anecdotal evidence to make the case for social media.
  • Try Slack, a great messaging tool for coordinating with remote teams.

6. Feedback management.

A big part of the social media manager’s job is absorbing feedback.

Whether this is feedback from their audience or from within their organization, it’s important the social media manager is able to hear it, keep track of it for future reference and act on it. 

This requires someone with a thick skin who can accept constructive criticism. It also requires the ability to synthesize different, even conflicting feedback into a cohesive plan of action. 

Helpful feedback management tips and tools:

  1. Collect feedback from customers and followers, and store it separately.
  2. Track how feedback-based adjustments impact your key social metrics.

7. Community management.

Community management is the practice of building a sense of community among a brand’s followers.

“If you want to build a community, you're focused on creating relationships between the members of your audience,” Ethan Brooks, an analyst at the Hustle, told MarketerHire

“If you want to build a community, you're focused on creating relationships between the members of your audience."

That means kickstarting conversations between followers, or resharing fan service. 

Calm, for instance, recently retweeted this:

And she got a reply from a fellow Tabitha Brown fan!

Community-building starts that simply. 

Helpful community management tips and tools:

  • Try sharing hot takes, polls and questions to get people talking. 
  • Track community engagement with KPIs like followers, engagement, and impressions. (Replies and comments are especially key engagement metrics.) 
  • Moderate comments for inappropriate behavior — and use your social platform’s block and report functions if the conversation gets out of hand.

8. Relationship-building with influencers.

One of the most important social media skills is working with influencers as part of marketing campaigns. 

According to the Association of National Advertisers, 75% of companies collaborate with influencers.

It's asocial media manager’s job to track down relevant, exciting influencers and build sustained partnerships with them. 

These tend to perform better than transactional one-off promotions — the longer the partnership, the more the influencer gets your brand’s nuances, and the more authentic their enthusiasm feels. 

Helpful influencer marketing tips and tools:

  • Look within your brand’s community — or even among your own employees — for influencers.
  • Communicate with influencers openly about your goals and KPIs.
  • Don’t overlook microinfluencers; their small followings are often more engaged than a Kardashian’s.

9. Data analysis and reporting.

A great social media manager will use analytics and metrics to analyze each post and  campaign, making tweaks and improvements as they go.

"[A social media manager] definitely needs to understand basic analytics that are often native to the platform,” Marom said, “I use a social media management tool [for analytics], which I think most people should.”

A good understanding of analytics is also vital as the social media manager will need to report back to their superiors about how each social channel is performing. 

Helpful social media analytics tools:

  • Focus first on metrics such as engagement, impressions and ROI.
  • Try HubSpot, TapInfluence, Google Analytics, and Snaplytics to start monitoring metrics.
  • Create infographics to showcase key metrics over time for internal stakeholders.

10. Social listening.

Social listening is the practice of monitoring social media for brand-relevant conversations. These can include mentions of a brand's name, key products or significant competitors.

A social media manager should be able to track down all-important brand mentions — even if they aren’t tagged — so they can manage the brand's online presence.

Especially on Twitter, finding untagged mentions allows a social media manager to respond to negative comments and amplify positive feedback.

Social listening is also a key element of understanding your brand’s audience. What’s funny to them? What enrages them? 

The “ability to read the room,” as Hartmann put it, is key for SMMs — whether the room is a literal conference room or a social platform. 

Drop the ball on social listening, and you’ll go viral for all the wrong reasons —like Burger King UK did with its recent “Women belong in the kitchen” tweet.

Helpful social listening tips and tools:

  • Respond to both negative and positive feedback. 
  • Consider a dedicated customer service account, like Grubhub’s customer care Twitter account.
  • Try the Brandwatch and Awario apps for tracking down untagged comments — or if you have the budget for it, Morning Consult, an intelligence tool Hartmann relies on for daily brand perception reports.

11. Networking.

A key component of a social media manager skillset is the ability to network. To run a successful social media channel, you need to be able to forge connections with not just with influencers, but also relevant brands and other big social accounts. 

Some brands even chat with each other online. These conversations are humanizing and can benefit both parties. 

Just look at this cute chatter between some of the biggest candy brands on Twitter:

A social media manager should be comfortable with reaching out to people online and in-person to form strategic and personal relationships. 

“We’re all in this together,” Hartmann said. “Best practice sharing, lessons learned, and camaraderie are invaluable in this profession.”

"Best practice sharing, lessons learned and camaraderie are invaluable."

Helpful networking tips and tools:

  • Connect with fellow social media managers and marketers through… social media. You’re all already on these platforms all day.
  • Join social media manager communities. Hartmann recommends the Facebook group The Social Media Geekout
  • Reach out to PR reps — that’s literally what they’re there for!

12. Channel assessment.

Social media is constantly evolving, with new social media platforms emerging all the time.

A social media manager should be savvy enough to pinpoint the channels that fit their brand.

“I want to come in with a very strategic point of view of what channels I should post on,” Chen said.

They definitely shouldn’t take a spray and pray approach, adopting any and every social channel just in case. Investing time and strategic resources in the wrong platform can be a huge waste of time. 

Instead, Rhoten recommends starting with a problem, and then building an audience on social platforms that could help solve it. And only those platforms. 

“Most brands are on every social platform because they think they need to be,” he told MarketerHire. “That’s garbage.”

"Most brands are on every social platform because they think they need to be. That's garbage."

Helpful channel assessment tips and tools:

  • Know your brand’s social goals and audience inside and out.
  • Compare the average audience on a social platform to your audience. You might be surprised — TikTok has a reputation as a platform for teenagers, but the majority of its audience is over 30
  • Don’t succumb to peer pressure. You don’t need a brand Twitter just because other brands have one. 

5 nice-to-have skills for social media managers

Here are a few bonus social media manager skills that can make the difference between a good and a great candidate.

1. Content creation.

Social media managers sometimes come from a creator background. 

If you find a social media manager who has worked as a writer, videographer, or graphic designer, these skills can definitely come in handy. 

“I’ve had a lot of clients who ask me, ‘Hey, can you do this in Photoshop? Or can you do this in Canva?’” Chen said. 

"I've had a lot of clients who ask me, 'Hey, can you do this in Photoshop?'"

This tends to happen, she elaborated, with smaller companies that don’t have a budget for multiple designers in their marketing team. 

Working in written or visual content creation will also give social media managers a keen eye for social trends, and the craft behind them.

2. Agency management.

If you find a social media manager who has experience managing an agency, this can be a bonus. 

Agency management will give a social media manager transferable skills like project management, community management, multitasking and the ability to think on their feet. 

This is especially useful for social media managers who will be delegating tasks to multiple people and teams. 

3. UGC management.

UGC management refers to the management of user-generated content. This is especially important for e-commerce brands, which often use consumer content to build brand authority and reliability.

However, UGC management is helpful across the board.

At John Deere, for example, UGC is an essential element of the social media strategy, especially on Instagram.

“We’ve found that our audiences really appreciate seeing what other farmers or customers are doing — what kind of equipment they operate, where they’re from,” Hartmann said. “I think it also delights our fans when they see their content on the Deere channel.”

"Our audiences really appreciate seeing what other... customers are doing."

Win-win.

4. Influencer campaign creation.

We already mentioned that forming relationships with influencers is an essential skill for social media managers — and it’s nice if they have hands-on experience creating campaigns with influencers, too. 

This skill involves finding influencers, setting up product reviews, planning timed posts with influencers, and monitoring campaign progress across all channels.

Chen said she is often asked to manage influencers in addition to a brand’s social media campaigns. It's becoming an “expectation" for the SMM role, she explained.

5. Crisis communications.

An insensitive or ill-timed social media post can  turn into a PR nightmare. A great social media manager will be able to avoid most missteps, but if and when they do happen, they’ll be able to deal with the fallout. 

They should quickly step up, prioritize customer service and collaborate with internal stakeholders to nail down messaging.

The 2021 Cinnamon Toast Crunch shrimp fiasco is a perfect example of what this shouldn’t look like. 

When a customer found shrimp tails in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, Twitter exploded with memes, jokes and concern. 

Instead of acknowledging the mistake, which could have deescalated the issue, the General Mills social media team denied the error could have happened.

The person who originally found the shrimp felt like the “they wanted to gaslight me,” he told The New York Times (which covered the story!)

Eventually, Cinnamon Toast Crunch acknowledged that they were investigating the issue. But the story might have been lower-profile with appropriate crisis communications.

“Having a pre-established issues management plan that places honesty and transparency at the center is crucial,” Kate Bray wrote in an Adweek piece of the kerfuffle.

A social media manager who knows how to build out such a plan with internal stakeholders definitely comes in handy. Even if you don’t sell cereal. Orshrimp.

Final thoughts

It’s true that anyone — including an intern — can post to social media, but a brand social media manager does much more than that. 

A great one can “take [a social media] program to the next level,” Hartmann said, by building community, collaborating with internal stakeholders — especially in paid social and PR — and making strategic plans.

However, they also need to know when to abandon those plans when the social media winds change, as they so often do.

Ultimately, a great social media manager is more likely to be an experienced pro and a future CMO than a random, junior employee.

So how do you know when to hire one — and who to hire? 

If you’re looking for an excellent freelance social media manager like Chen, MarketerHire is here to help.


Maddy Osman
about the author

Maddy Osman is an SEO content strategist who works with clients like AAA, Automattic, Kinsta, and Sprout Social. Her background in WordPress web design contributes to a well-rounded understanding of SEO and how to connect brands to relevant search prospects. Learn more about her work on her website, www.The-Blogsmith.com, and read her latest articles on Twitter, where she's @MaddyOsman.

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