Supporting Our Social Media Teams

How can we retain our staff after 18 months of serving as punching bags?

By: Jaime Hunt
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The Chronicle of Higher Education recently did a story about people flocking away from careers in higher education. The pandemic has been a slog. Every time we think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be a train headed straight for us. In this time when people are re-evaluating their career choices, what can we do to help retain our staff? On the marketing and communications side, I think our social media staff are among the most likely team members to desire a career change.

Managing social media is hard during normal times. The folks who manage your digital communities are often the punching bag for disgruntled and unhappy students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and the community. When you layer a pandemic that seems to have no end on top of the everyday angst, you create a perfect storm of awful. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our colleagues that manage digital communities have faced bitter criticism and often angry diatribes when communicating decisions over which they have very little control. After 18 months of being on the receiving end of hateful comments, it’s stunning that more have not walked away from their roles.

Earlier this week, I sent a note to my university’s social media team and asked them how I could better support them as our semester got underway. Every one of them responded with a variation of the same message: Please don’t make announcements on Fridays.

At first blush, you might think they are Friday adverse because they want a lighter workload on the last day of the week. But deeper reflection reveals something critical: when we make controversial announcements on a Friday, we are committing our social media staff to spending their entire weekend managing the frustration of our digital communities without the benefit of additional staff on hand to help answer questions. Not only that, but they are facing the vitriol at the end of a long week with the soul-crushing realization that they are going to be a punching bag during their one window to recharge. When we have the power to influence this, we must. 

Another way we can support our social media is by continually reminding leaders across our organizations about how difficult it can be to manage a digital community. A steady drumbeat that doesn’t sugarcoat this often-grueling work can help our colleagues understand why we are bringing social media experts into conversations about timing and messaging. Long gone are the days when social media was an intern’s game. It now requires professional expertise that far exceeds simply understanding the platforms. That expertise – a deep understanding of our audiences, the ability to think and react quickly, and an uncanny ability to “read the room” – is invaluable to leaders as we make decisions. 

Digital community managers have skillsets that are vital to our organizations. If we are to retain them, we must treat them like the professionals that they are, bring their voices into discussions as we plan, and consider the impact on them of our decisions. Let’s not lose these vitally important colleagues to private industry. We need them now more than ever.

Jaime Hunt

Jaime Hunt

Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Miami University

In her 17 years working in higher education, Jaime has been part of four university rebrandings and helped to develop integrated marketing communications models at two institutions.

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