Social media skills have evolved dramatically over the past few years. Social network fragmentation, dynamic search engine optimization (SEO) changes, ever-growing content trends, emerging technologies and other complexities in the field have made it necessary for social media managers (SMMs) to sharpen and diversify their skills to keep up their game and be future-ready.
In this article, we’ll explore how the role has changed over time and what social media skills need to be in your toolkit for success.
How have social media manager skills evolved?
A social media manager has to be a marketer, strategist, copywriter and a customer service rep—and excel at each of them. Managing all these diverse responsibilities requires you to be agile and adept at new skills that are becoming more critical by the day.
A LinkedIn report shows that social media manager skills requirements in the US have changed an average of 24.9% since 2015. Some of the top new skills mentioned include social media outreach, social strategy, social media communications and platform expertise like Instagram.
Other pertinent skills include project management and the ability to conduct nuanced audience research with AI-driven technology to create more data-driven social strategies.
Whether you are planning to become a social media manager or want to sharpen your skills for 2023 and beyond, here is a thoughtfully compiled list of the top skills every social media manager must have to thrive.
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Of all the social media skills, I believe effective communication skills are by far the most important. From writing a brief to compiling a social listening analysis for leadership, social media managers have to communicate ideas effectively to a wide range of stakeholders.
Communications skills are even more indispensable when you consider the breadth of internal and external audiences SMMs collaborate with on a regular basis, from teams as diverse as the legal and creative departments, to your followers and even social platform partners.
There are two crucial things to keep in mind here:
- When communicating externally on social media, ensure you’re consistent. For example, employ a consistent brand voice when communicating with followers on social media. This holds true whether you’re publishing a planned post, dropping what you’re doing to hop on a trending topic or handling a customer complaint. You also need to be consistent in your communication with external stakeholders such as creators or influencers. Clearly define expectations and campaign goals, and how you’ll collaborate with them.
- When communicating internally, articulate your ideas and plans to decision-makers and cross-functional partners. This could be about your social media strategy, content distribution plan or the revenue impact you expect from a campaign.
Resources to build your communication skills
- Presentation template: Use this social media strategy deck template to effectively communicate your social strategy to the leadership team.
- TED Talks on communication: Hear from some of the world’s most inspiring speakers on improving your social conversations, digital communications and storytelling abilities.
Social media managers have to be excellent copywriters who embody and enhance their brand’s voice on social. From witty, attention-grabbing ad copy to timely commentary, you should know how to write concise copy that speaks to your audience.
Whichever social networks you use, effective writers know how to tailor their writing for different audiences and platforms.
For example, while you can use up to 2,200 characters in your Instagram captions, data has shown that the most engaging length is between 1-50 characters.
While writing is an important social media skill for creating engaging content and conversations, it’s also important for building your social media career. The ability to express yourself clearly in reports, emails and presentations will help your ideas make an impression.
Don’t hesitate to use AI-based content tools and other helpful apps that can assist you in ideating a topic or providing inspiration when you need it. If you do use AI tools to generate content, you will need editing skills to review and proofread the copy to ensure that it is aligned to your expectations and brand voice.
Resources to help with writing
- Grammarly: This free tool checks your grammar and proof reads your content while giving you prompts to make your copy more compelling.
- Copy AI: This free AI-driven tool can generate creative Instagram captions.
- Hemingway Editor: Use this website and app to make your writing more concise and readable. While it is geared more for long-form writing, you can also use it for creating impactful social media posts.
- Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed: Broaden your vocabulary with words of the day, learn the difference between similar terms and enjoy a little snark when this dictionary Tweets about misused or made-up words in the news cycle.
Differentiation is one of the biggest challenges for brands in the saturated social media space. That’s why it’s critical to create content that’s exciting, valuable and relevant. It takes creativity to:
- Plan innovative social media ideas
- Produce visually appealing multimedia content
- Consider every aesthetic detail of a social post, from images to links to copy formatting
- Lead productive brainstorms that bring out teammates’ best ideas
- Hone and expand your brand’s voice and persona
Infusing creativity across multiple projects can seem daunting to even the most seasoned social media manager. That’s where technology becomes your best friend. There are several AI-based creative apps for design and copy that can be your sparring partner to kick start your creative process.
On par with being creative is having a sense of humor and the ability to improvise in any given situation.
Resources to flex your creativity
- Creative Mornings events: Creative Mornings is a global breakfast event series for the creative community. Join a local event or the online community to connect with other curious, creative leaders in marketing, design and social.
- Vidyo: This easy-to-use AI tool helps time- and resource-strapped teams create social-ready short-form videos from longer content.
- Illustroke: Use this tool to create quick AI-generated illustrations from text prompts to provide your design teams with more tangible direction.
- Fast Company and Campaign: These two publications offer thoughtful commentary and criticism on the creative ad world. Read for insight into brand and creative strategy, industry-leading campaigns and thought leadership.
- Sprout Insights Blog: You can find curated articles on content ideas for a variety of social platforms on our blog. Also check out this great video on how you can generate clever content and never run out of ideas.
- Improvisation classes: Taking improv classes can teach you how to problem-solve in a different way and give you more confidence in managing customer responses on the fly.
4. Efficiency and project management
As a social media manager, not only do you have to conceptualize campaigns and distribution rhythms, but you also have to lead and execute these plans from start to finish. To do this at scale, project management is a required social media skill. Becoming efficient at project management can also pave the road for future leadership roles in social.
Among the many time and project management tools available, such as Asana or Monday.com, a social media calendar (like the one in Sprout) can be super helpful in managing your different social tasks. You can use it to manage your campaigns more efficiently, keep all your collaborators on the same page, track your progress with different filters and more.
Resources to improve your project management skills:
- Asana Project Management: Use this tool to plan and manage your projects from start to finish.
- Pomodoro Technique and time-boxing: Sometimes you’ve got 50 messages to write and schedule all at once. Setting aside a limited block of time to work on a task helps keep things moving.
- Social Media Campaign Brief Template: Use this customizable social campaign brief template to organize campaign details, creative direction and other important directives.
5. Marketing strategy
Social sits at the intersection of marketing, customer experience and sales. It is also a source of valuable business intelligence. According to The Sprout Social Index™ 2022 social teams rank “proving ROI” as the third biggest challenge when it comes to strategy building. Marketing acumen combined with social intelligence can fill this gap to inform a more successful marketing strategy that is data-driven and customer-centric.
To create a social strategy that drives the most business impact, it’s important to incorporate both traditional and digital marketing approaches. This could mean documenting how your social efforts intersect with other tactics such as email nurtures, paid campaigns, corporate events, webinars and more.
More resources that you can leverage
- Sprout’s YouTube channel: Our YouTube channel is an excellent resource for videos on leveling up your social marketing strategy.
- Marketing influencers: Leaders like Joe Pulizzi and Seth Godin have stood the test of time with marketing wisdom all social pros can use.
- Textbooks and marketing courses: I find myself referring to my old sociology and marketing research textbooks all the time. If you’re learning on the job, check out LinkedIn Learning courses on marketing and strategy.
- Books by Malcolm Gladwell: Read “The Tipping Point” or “Outliers” to strengthen your understanding of human behavior and marketing.
6. Customer care
Customer care is one of those social media skills that combines customer service, people skills and an eye for uncovering opportunities. That’s why developing a social customer care strategy is an integral part of a social media manager’s job description.
Our Index shows that 44% of marketers use social data to inform customer experience. Brands also report that 53% of their social strategy is driven by insights from the customer service team. To truly be customer-centric, you must put the voice of the customer (VoC) at the core of your strategy.
Studies also suggest more than three-quarters of consumers expect a response on social within 24 hours. This means, not only do you have to listen to and understand the concerns of your customers, but also be proactive in your approach to handling emergencies.
For example, when a frustrated customer reached out to Delta Airlines on Twitter, the company responded immediately in a respectful manner, validating the customer’s feelings while offering the needed assistance.
As a social media manager, you are the brand’s biggest champion. Understanding customers and their perspectives enables you to make a positive impact in the hearts and minds of your community.
Additionally, personalizing your interactions by referencing conversation history can help take an everyday interaction and turn it into an extra special moment.
Resources to enhance your customer care skills
- Zendesk’s Relate blog and events: Check out Relate for consistently great content on relationships, customer service and leadership.
- Podcasts: Customer care starts with customer understanding. Some of our favorite podcasts on this topic include Hidden Brain, Invisibilia and What It Means. You can check out our full list of favorite podcasts here.
7. Audience research and making connections
Researching your audience for brand experience (BX) intelligence is a critical part of a successful social strategy. These insights are even more vital when derived from social listening through machine learning (ML) processes like Sprout’s social listening solution, which uses natural language processing (NLP) to extract rich brand and voice of the customer insights.
This is because audience insights can inform everything, from the content formats you choose and trends you jump on, to the best times to post for your brand.
Establishing and building relationships with your audience is core to social media skills you must have in your arsenal. According to the Q1 2023 Sprout pulse survey, 77% of consumers are more likely to increase their spending with brands if they feel connected to them, up from 57% in 2018.
That’s why social media managers need to be comfortable using AI-enabled tools to gather and act on VoC insights. This powerful, customer-driven, data-backed guidance can help you understand trends in audience behavior at scale but also fine-tune your brand’s social presence.
These AI algorithms can also scan audience sentiment to discover which influencers are the best fit for your brand, so you can make strategic partnerships based on audience insights.
You can also measure brand sentiment through AI-based sentiment analysis. Proactively keep track of how audiences feel about your brand at any given time and also dig deeper to investigate why audience sentiment is dipping or spiking.
As a social media manager, your quantitative and qualitative audience insights give you a holistic understanding of what your audience wants and needs.
Resources for understanding & connecting with your audience
- Step-by-step social listening workbook: This workbook can help you get clear insights into what audiences think about your brand and how you can optimize your strategy accordingly.
- The Sprout Social Index™: Our annual report on the state of social contains data and insights on what consumers really want on social and what marketers are doing.
The social landscape moves fast and even best laid plans can become irrelevant. This is why the ability to quickly pivot and react to new trends, opportunities or crises is a fundamental social media skill.
Being flexible can help you decisively respond to a frustrated customer (or an appreciative fan) in equally empathetic and personalized ways. But it’s also important to be agile when it comes to your long-term social strategy.
Social strategies have to be as dynamic as the platforms they are executed on. As a social media manager, it’s important to experiment with different tactics, or even shake up your strategy entirely to adapt to new trends or competitive forces.
Learning from your data by listening to customer feedback and keeping a pulse on your competitors in a timely manner can make you a more nimble and hands-on social marketer.
- Know Your Meme: This site can be helpful in keeping up with daily development of new memes.
- The Twitter Trends sidebar is a useful resource to keep an eye on when looking for emerging trends and new content.
- Google Alerts: Enter keyword alerts for a variety of reasons: keep up on company mentions on the internet, industry news and world news.
9. Data analysis
We’re all familiar with end-of-month reporting, but skillful social media managers regularly look at data and apply it in their strategies to accomplish goals.
The impact is even more significant when your metrics include quantitative and AI-enabled qualitative data derived through social listening, such as sentiment mining of comments and posts.
This gives you an accurate picture of your engagement levels and the “why” behind them. It also gives you tangible customer experience (CX) data to share with your stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators.
As the importance of social listening grows and brands feverishly compete for audience interactions, analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data will help you make a lasting impact on social. It will help you identify emerging trends and develop recommendations based on the voice of the customer to build a successful plan of action personalized to your audience and brand.
Resources for building your data analysis skills
- Marketer’s Ultimate Data-Powered Toolkit: This powerful toolkit is full of advice on how to use analytics to your advantage, from industry leaders including HubSpot, Litmus, Unbounce, Vidyard and ZoomInfo.
- Data storytelling: This article shows you how to build effective data storytelling so that you can communicate your data-driven strategy in a way that resonates with members in and around the marketing team.
10. Budget Management
As a social media manager, you have to expertly plan and manage funds for various programs including organic and paid media spending.
This includes managing the budget for content especially if influencers or brand amabassadors are involved in your project, or if you need to hire freelance professionals. These costs may vary based on where you are located, the size of the influencer’s following and how freelance writers or editors charge their fees. You may have to decide which creator partnerships to prioritize based on available resources and production costs.
To plan and allocate your spending wisely, you need to first thoroughly understand the goals of the project and conduct a social spend audit to compare the expenses from previous months or quarters. This will give you a better idea of which expenses are a one-time spend and which are ongoing.
Resources to enrich your social media skills for budgeting
- Annual Social Media Budget Template: Use this handy template to plan your annual social media spend so you can allocate your finances wisely, measure ROI and justify more investments in the future.
- Organic vs paid media: This article highlights everything you need to keep in mind when planning a hybrid social media strategy.
- Pattern89 AI Social Ad Budgeting Tool: This clever AI-powered social media budgeting tool helps you manage your paid social ads. You can optimize bids, plan spend and choose from the channels it recommends based on your audience. The tool is now part of ShutterStock.
Build your social media skills to transform your career
Social is a career path of lifelong learning, whether it’s your first social media manager role or you’re already a pro.
Continuing to hone your social media skills will benefit you at every stage of your career. For example, if you’re already highly organized and efficient, you can spend time developing other skills such as building your personal brand, or preparing to move into people management.
Mastery within an area of social media might open the door to your next career move. If you’re phenomenal at data analysis, perhaps you’d make a great social strategist. Or if audience research and connection are your forte, you might be an incredible community manager. Whatever your social media skills are, there is always room to grow.
To learn more, read this guide to building a long-term career in social.
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