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What Makes an Exceptional Social Media Manager?

As more and more companies entrust us with their content marketing and social media efforts, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the types of people Right Source Marketing is going to need to hire in the near and long-term future. While certain positions are up for debate, there is no escaping the fact that we're going to need more folks who can manage the social media aspects of a content marketing engagement. (If you’re wondering why I include social media as a piece of content marketing, read this before continuing.)

I’ve seen enough well-managed and poorly-managed social media efforts (and blog posts about them) to be able to narrow this down into the must-haves, nice-to-haves, and bonus points that I find particularly valuable.

The Must Haves

  • You are a marketer first, social media marketer second.

Social media marketing is just another marketing tactic in a pool of lots of marketing tactics. If you don’t understand how social media works with content marketing, SEO or email marketing, you’re simply not as qualified as the next candidate who does.

  • You are a very good writer.

Some argue that writing has become less important in a world of scanners, skimmers and tweeters. On the contrary, writing is more important than ever.

  • You understand that content drives social media marketing.

Social media conversations can be very fruitful, but conversations plus engaging content is the formula that takes your social media efforts to the next level.

  • You embrace the “social” aspect of social media marketing.

You have to like reaching out to people and engaging in conversations, albeit conversations that are a bit different than the ones you might have in your living room. I don’t care if you know how to use every Twitter application in the universe; if you don’t start with a passion for learning about people, you’ll eventually grow tired of this position.

  • You know or want to learn the ins and outs of social media properties.

You have to possess a natural curiosity and penchant for exploring the nooks and crannies that others simply don’t pay attention to, because with social media, you never know where your audience is lurking.

The Nice-to-Haves

  • You move quickly but with a defined purpose.

Social media is a fast-moving game, but fast cannot turn into sloppy.

  • You are a real self-starter.

I hear the phrase “self-starter” at least once a day, and I only know a handful of true self-starters. If you are one of the real ones, you may have a place in social media marketing. In any industry or category that is still being defined, self-starters can secure an immediate advantage.

  • You are not a diva (or the male equivalent).

Social media marketing is a team sport. Everyone has an ego, but if you want to play this role you’d better find a way to suppress it.

  • You think strategically.

If you are able to articulate how social media fits into a broader marketing strategy and how it contributes to even broader corporate goals, you are golden.

Bonus Points

  • You never call yourself a social media maven or guru.

Most social media mavens or gurus could never actually manage a social media campaign; they just play the super hero role in meetings.

  • You come with a social media audience.

If you’re joining an organization and already have a social media following, you have a head start. That alone should not get you the job though.

For those of you who consider yourselves exceptional social media managers, what is missing from this list? For those of you who have hired social media managers, what separates the good candidates from the poor ones?


Mike Sweeney is Managing Partner of Right Source Marketing. Don’t hesitate to drop Mike a comment on this post. Follow Mike on Twitter for more marketing commentary or read the original post on Marketing Trenches.



Join The Conversation

  • SocialMediaJobs's picture
    Feb 28 Posted 5 years ago SocialMediaJobs

    It's tricky to put "marketing" first before your job as a "social media marketer", as you mentioned in point #1.  The reason is because those connecting to your company or product through social media can see through any ploy to try and sell them on something. 

    As someone who works in the radio advertising industry, as well as in social media, I try to tell my clients that an effective radio commercial is one that is 'about the listener' - NOT the advertiser.  I believe this translate to all marketing.  It's ALL about the person on the receiving end of your marketing campaign.

    I don't think we really disagree, as long as one understands that pure marketing is putting the customer first.  Approaching social media marketing as a marketing force unto itself needs to be looked at in a unqiue way as compared with traditional media.

  • Apr 24 Posted 6 years ago Sean R. Nicholson (not verified) Sorry....completely disagree on #1. Social media is about community building, not Marketing. If you're in it to market first, your going to fail. Marketers tend to look at people as "consumers" first, always trying to find the angle that will get them to buy. Social media Managers should be looking at "consumers" as people and trying to determine how to connect. Commections and trust will turn into leads, which will turn into sales. I'll take a strong communicator with a heavy focus on people over a Marketer anybday. My $.02... --Sean
  • Mar 9 Posted 6 years ago Kemp Edmonds (not verified)

    I would add:

    1. Understands and uses URL shorteners that track clicks+more frequently.
    2. Understands and uses Analytics (Google Analytics) to create action that drives business.
    3. When writing a "Social Media Strategy or Plan" they aren't channel focused. Social Media Strategy should speak about channels at a minimum not as the strategy. Facebook and Twitter are channels not strategies.
  • Mar 9 Posted 6 years ago Chelsea Thomas (not verified)

    Great Post!  With so many companies implementing a social media marketing platform within their marketing department, they should really take this list into consideration when looking for individuals to serve in these positions.  I know I'm definitely going to take a deep look at this list considering I'm one of the people on the quest for such a position.  lol

  • Mar 8 Posted 6 years ago Clover (not verified)

    I like to tell people you have to be an internet extrovert to do a job like mine. (I'm a social media specialist for a major brand.)

  • Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Eric Gohs (not verified)

    Nice post, Mike. Concise and to the point. I'd add that the candidate has to have a passionate focus on customer service. Customers expect you to be able to help them regardless of your title. Not answering a legitimate tweet/post is akin to not answering a ringing phone.

    I also agree wholeheartedly on the "maven" or "guru" argument. I'd add "rock stars" and "ninjas" to the list. I'm from Wisconsin so I always recommend that people hiring for social media positions look for farmers - people who know how to plant content seeds, cultivate responses into relationships and ultimately grow those relationships into long-term customers and clients. 

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    I didn't see the post/article you are referring to, let me know if you have a direct link.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    While I am very much ROI-focused, there are certain things that cannot be measured accurately or put into an ROI equation. Social media is one of those areas - we can track a whole lost of metrics, but it's still difficult to establish a purely data-driven argument for implementing social media inside an organization.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Alana, there will always - always - be a market for good writers. That much I am confident of. It still is the basis of just about every marketing tactic in one way or another.

  • AlanaLawson's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago AlanaLawson

    I can't believe some people think that shorter formats result in less need for good writing. It calls for better writing! You have to be pretty darn good to sell something in 140 characters, in my opinion. I might be biased towards the writing side of things, since I'm pretty invested in there being a market for good writers, but still. All the followers in the world won't make a difference if you can't get them to support your product.

  • Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Shannon Henrici (not verified)

    Thank you Mike for a great post!  I am brand new at social media, but have managed to find some success by just being true to who I am.  First and foremost I love helping people, getting on with a start up and watching it grow has been my motivation.  The only skills I brought to the table were dedication, a love and interest in people, a degree in Marekting (during the archaic age - long before social media), an interest in learning new things, and a self starter.  These skills were what made me successful in this new job.  I am able to think outside of the box and get the job done.  During my last year in social media, I have found that being unselfish and showing a true interest in your readers, partners and bloggers are the keys to building a sound foundation.  If you are always thinking about ROI and what is in it for me, you won't go very far.  Being able to think of a "win-win" get you so much more with a lot less.  Do you find this to be true?


    I appreciate all of the sound advice and comments from you and your readers.  I am adding them into my current skill set and look forward to my future in social media.  I have truly found my niche! 

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    They think they can get a million followers, penguin and the new car because there are folks out there telling them so. Call them snake oil salesmen, call them salespeople who focus on volume, call them whatever you want, but these folks are not providing a service, but rather a product (and a poor one at that). Social media marketing cannot be fully productized.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Jonathan - Great tips in your article. I try not to overanalyze normal social conversations, but as I read your tips I realize that I use some of these methods without even thinking about it.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Leslie - Interesting comment. I've never thought about it as "ethnography" but it makes complete sense. If you're going to spend some time in someone else's country, you better learn not just their language but their behavior patterns, right?

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Too many gurus, not enough practitioners. It's easy to say you're an expert. Not so easy to actually manage and show results in a meaningful way.

  • Mar 7 Posted 6 years ago Kelowna Advisor (not verified)

    Mike thank you for the article. Well put with respect to keeping Ego's in check!  There is an article on ww.socialpilot.org that furthers your points and adds a couple other nuggets with what to look for when hiring a social media manager.


  • Mar 6 Posted 6 years ago Jonathan Roseland (not verified)

    I think you need to strike balance in between mindset and methodology when it comes to being a great conversationalist. Here’s an article with some tips. Let me know what you think of it. http://su.pr/18l43A

  • Mar 6 Posted 6 years ago Nick Alter (not verified)

    Mike, love the post dude, thanks for sharing. I also really appreciate what Bonnie said about having a passion for the human psyche and being an inventive conversationalist (thus why I label myself a content developer).

    One of my biggest challenges is convincing clients and their marketing teams that social media is not some magic marketing wand but fits into the overall business, then marketing strategy. They want viral results instantaneously and a million followers...and a new car...and a penguin (just kidding about the penguin, not so much about the car). It is a supplemental tool at the moment.  

    Again, thanks for the post. I'm looking to transition from contract work to working with one company full time and this helps me structure my approach. 

  • Mar 6 Posted 6 years ago Leslie Grandy (not verified)

    Well said, Mike. It seems like you have the perfect "casting" specs to find the right fit for the job.

    One other descriptor I might add to this list is, "you are a natural ethnographer." Since social is a behavior, not a marketing channel, a great social media manager loves to explore and understand the culture of communities, and the patterns that define the relationships within a group. By observation and conversation, a social media manager (and ethnographer) can gain insights to a community's attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and values, as well as the unspoken cultural patterns that shape the behavior of people who lead, and are influenced by, the group.  Those insights make that personal more "socially accepted" when they try to engage, especially if they appear out of nowhere.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  • Mar 6 Posted 6 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    Excellent post Mike.  I like (and agree with) the breakdown between the must haves vs the nice to haves.

    It's also true there are many people out there using the moniker social media guru or something to that effect and in every case so far they're just not.

    Keep the good work!

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    That's exactly right, and specifically holds when you are managing social media for a niche category business. You can't possibly manage social media for that type of business without understanding the industry and the company's place in that industry.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Alex - Here's my advice for you. I am not sure what you are studying in school, but make sure you do as much as possible to educate yourself on marketing, before you worry about social media. We're just one firm so a small sample, but we'd never hire someone to handle social media that didn't either understand broader marketing concepts or have a strong desire to learn them.

    In terms of discovering how people got into social media marketing roles, one simple method would be to search LinkedIn for "social media manager" and look at the backgrounds of folks that are currently in that type of role.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Tracy, and I appreciate you backing me up on the diva thing. I've seen way too many in marketing in general, but particularly in social media.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Rachel. Agreed on the writing, I can't fathom hiring someone to run a social media program is not able to write effectively.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Given that I am referencing using social media for marketing, for me it's BUSINESS STRATEGY, then MARKETING STRATEGY, then how does SOCIAL MEDIA fit into those first two items.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Kinjal. Glad you found the must-have and nice-to-have breakdown useful, as I stated in an earlier comment I think most position qualification lists are waaaay too long, so I tried to simplify it.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Chip, and good luck with the expasion into social media marketing.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Bonnie - Agreed. I can't imagine running a top-notch social media program of any sort without an inventive conversationalist as the lead.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Bonnie - Thanks for the comment.You are absolutely right. I can't imagine executing a social media marketing program of any sort without an inventive conversationalist as the lead.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Sounds like you're working with the wrong marketers, because marketing is not just an exercise, it's a business function that every single person in an organization should be involved in. That holds in particular for social media.

  • Mike Sweeney's picture
    Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Mike Sweeney

    Thanks Brent. It's by no means an exhaustive list, but I often find that agencies and employers build ridiculously long requirements lists that NO candidate can meet.

  • Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Bonnie Crofford (not verified)


    All very true and realistic expectations of a Social Media Manager or, in fact anyone involved in the social media sphere.

    I find that my key ingredient is my love for and understanding of the human psyche. An enquiring mind also goes a long way to creating intrigueing posts, conversations and engaging your audience in lengthy discussions which more often than not move from the original topic but remain a part of the overall subject matter...

    So... above all else you have to be a inventive conversationalist! :-)

    Working as a consultant and a variety of business types means that I am creating, engaging in and extending interesting conversations on subject matter that may not necessarily intrigue the average human. It is a perpetual challenge and extremely interesting!

    If you're a recruiter looking for a social media manager - look for a conversationalist who loves a challenge!


    Social Media Strategist





  • Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Chip Tudor (not verified)

    Good comments, Mike. I'm slowly, but surely adding this component to my mix of advertising, marketing communications, and public relations services.

  • Mar 5 Posted 6 years ago Kinjal (not verified)

    Nice one!  Completely true must-have and nice-to have.  A natural inclination towards people and involvement is also essential for social media reach!

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Skaplanphotos

    Absolutely! It is not just another marketing exercise. I always say to people the first word is SOCIAL folks, MEDIA next, and MARKETING. Never ignore that it is a solid mix, but with social leading the way. Always think cocktail party.

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago hmmmm (not verified)

    Marketing is too important to be left to marketers...

    The same goes for social media.

    The best way to destroy any hope of engaging your audience through social media is to treat it as just another marketing exercise.


  • Rachel Strella's picture
    Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago centralpawebster

    This is a great checklist! My personal favorites are: being a self-starter and having strong writing skills. These are what I would consider to be "entry-level" for being a social media manager. I also like what you said about being a marketer first - you have to see how social media fits into the big picture, to fully understand how to use it effectively. Thank you for this!

    Rachel Strella

    Central PA Webster


  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Tracey Etwell (not verified)

    Good post Mike, As a social media manager, I particularly like the comment about not being a diva. Certainly an ego does get in the way with this kind of work. I see SM managers as the elves in the background who keep all the cogs and wheels turning in tune with the master plan. And also the point about learning is crucial. Although you can't know everything, trying to keep abreast with new developments allows you to present new ideas, and new applications to your clients.


  • alex7white's picture
    Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago alex7white

    Social media managers have to wear many different hats. Clearly they need to be capable of juggling many different tasks and are able to think outside of the box. What about being a good listener? That seems to be the first step of learning what your market wants to see from you social media-wise. It's also one of the hardest things to figure out!

    As a student getting ready to go out and find a "big kid" job, I wonder how these social media managers started out and how they got to be where they are now. And even more so, I wonder how I can get there!

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Angie Green (not verified)

    Excellent point that social media managers should be marketers first.  I agree, they should have a broader understanding of the business for which they work, and come with the perspective that social media is one slice of the "marketing pie."

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Brent (not verified)

    Great article! Agencies and employers should keep this handy when expanding their staffing into this arena.

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