Constantly navigating a 2020 news cycle that eats itself and a Twitter stream that endlessly flows, “social media managers are first responders,” writes Marta Martinez. The people tasked with handling social media at a company are expected to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world, react swiftly, and act as an official voice for a brand. Yet individuals in these roles are not always provided the support and resources to do their jobs well, and the time and effort involved in this type of work, including strategy, content creation, and community management, is often dismissed as trivial. Hey, can you whip up a few tweets? Can you promote this on our accounts? Let’s launch more channels! Let’s build a community! 

Under “normal” circumstances, social media management is hard work that requires a varied skillset. In 2020, it’s a stressful and hazardous job, says Matthew Kobach, who worked as the New York Stock Exchange’s social media manager, and one that should be paid accordingly.

At OneZero, Martinez reports on the experiences of social media managers and strategists during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, at organizations like DCist, the University of Michigan, and Mount Sinai Health System.

Brown has not been able to meet most of her co-workers in person yet and, as a social media manager and a young Black woman, she often wonders whether she is being taken seriously as an equal professional within the newsroom. Social media managers are in high demand. But these jobs are often performed by young people who are underpaid. The national average salary of a social media manager is about $57,000, considerably less than what marketing managers make — over $135,000.

Social media managers are making important — and very public — decisions all the time. They need to respond to news and conversations quickly to be effective. The public voice and image of companies, media outlets, public figures, and institutions are in their hands at a very delicate time. Yet their job is still often seen as something anyone could do, or left to those who are just getting started in their careers.

“It’s like putting an intern to be your press secretary,” says Alan Rosenblatt, a social media consultant for political campaigns who teaches digital and social media strategy at George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.