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How to Manage Social Employees

I read this Harvard Business Review blog post, How to Manage Your Smartest, Strangest Employee, and of course thought that the same advice could–and should–be given for social business-related employees.

A few thoughts on how this concept relates to managing social media/community management staffers:

  • Just as engineers and mathematicians are known for their quirkiness, I think the same can probably be said for the “social media rockstar” kind of employee. Maybe I’m flattering myself and the people I know who “do” social media professionally, but I honestly think that a lot of us are probably some combination of atypical personality traits. After all, how many people out there just shake their heads at the idea of spending almost every waking hour online and connected? Plenty. But there are plenty who thrive on it–doesn’t it serve to reason that those people are differently motivated than “typical” employees who see social media as a chore and a waste of time? I’d venture to say they’re probably differently motivated and would appreciate different kinds of incentives.
  • Social media/community management jobs require flexibility and different performance measures than some traditional jobs. For instance, while it may be acceptable for a company to have set 9-5 office hours, the expectation for social media and online communities is quick–or immediate–responsiveness 24/7/365. Clearly the people staffing those efforts have different expectations and demands on them than employees who are able to just leave the office at 5 and forget about work until the next business day. So requiring them to conform to the standards of traditional jobs–in the office 9-5, Monday through Friday–in addition to also being online and accountable evenings, weekends and holidays is probably neither realistic or a good idea if you want to retain good people. If you want something different from these staff–a new kind of engagement with customers or members, and a window of responsiveness that extends well beyond 9-5, Mon-Fri, you have to give them freedom and let them work differently than traditional staff.
  • Model what you want to create. A lot of businesses are getting buzz from creating “social media centers for excellence” or something to that effect. Health insurance companies, computer companies, and nonprofits are  receiving all kinds of accolades for launching these social media showcases, and all receive significant positive PR for their efforts, as well as, probably, profit. That’s all well and good…but assume that part of that “excellence” is having productive, happy employees in those centers. If you had a candid conversation with the people in your org’s equivalent of a social media center for excellence–even if that boils down to a one person effort–would those people have the same glowing praise for the company as the media have? Or would they express frustration with the company’s lack of transparency or lack of clear career paths, or talk about feeling burned out or stressed? I feel strongly that a company looking to profit from social business–either from the standpoint of positive press or because they offer some kind of social business product or service–should practice what they preach and seek to be more human, overall, as a business. Am I idealistic? Absolutely. But I think it’s only fair–if you want to profit off being a social business, then you need to actually be one.
What am I missing? If you are a social media or community manager, what motivates you and how is it different than what maybe motivates someone in a more traditional field?


Willie_Matis July 24, 2012 at 7:31 am

Love this post.  I have never held a position that is STRICTLY “Social Media Manager”, but I do take care of all of the social media.
I think another important way to treat the ‘social media/community manager’ position is to always support their efforts to contact all staff from top to bottom.  Sometimes it is tough, especially for a new employee, to be able to plug themselves in and essentially – ask favors – of other staff to help gain content and put more of a transparent touch on the company or organization.
So if you are someone who MANAGES Social employees, then something that is held very valuable is the constant support to help make that connection between us and other employees.

maggielmcg July 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

 @Willie_Matis Thanks Willie–really good point! Especially at really hierarchical (sp?) orgs, this can definitely come into play and can be very frustrating for the person who is the external “face” of the org to not even be a recognized face within.

maggielmcg July 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

@spelletier I do, plus tons more in the for-profit world. Associations, not so much yet, but moving more towards staffing for social media

spelletier July 24, 2012 at 11:16 am

@maggielmcg thx! Seems like it can be layered onto existing jobs, which isn’t a great idea as skill sets/time/inclination may not be there.

warphzpjaw7 July 24, 2012 at 3:03 pm


Jessica Mean July 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Like Willie, my title is not “Social Media Manager,” but it is one of the many hats I wear/have worn for my current and former organizations.
As a “social media manager” I have the tendency to <i>assume</i> that people understand the personality and purpose of each social media channel – which usually isn’t the case. Additionally, unlike accounting, human resources, governance and a lot of other association management functions, there is no right or wrong way to manage social media. If fact, a social media manager with a unique voice can be an asset to your organization’s online persona.  
Having said those two things, I think it’s important for managers of social media employees to a) Be involved in the development of the organization’s social media plan – even if it’s just to gain a better understanding of social media, and b) Support (and encourage other stakeholders to support) creative social media – nothing is worse than getting chastised for giving stuffy marketing copy a conversational voice. 

BKneuer July 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Re: Willie_Matis comment about connecting – It seems so long ago now since the list first appeared from Chris Brogan (June, 2009), but I am thinking about his “19 Presence Management Chores You COULD Do Every Day” as a way to spur my activity (with modifications as needed) with fellow employees.  The list is still up at: 

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