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Ever wonder how your favorite brands manage to create flawless Instagram feeds, post insightful tweets, and link to relevant articles on Facebook — multiple times per day? Behind a great social media presence, you’ll find a social media manager: a person responsible for overseeing how a company presents itself across social channels and maintaining a consistent brand voice.
According to a survey conducted by Zippia, there are over 26,725 social media managers currently employed in the United States in various capacities. This trend is expected to continue and grow over the next few years as social media management has become a viable side hustle for many Americans
If this sounds like it could be you, keep reading for our step-by-step guide on how to become a social media manager, including free resources.
What Is A Social Media Manager?
As more and more companies rely on social media for their marketing, social media managers, sometimes called ‘community managers,’ are increasingly in demand. These sought-after professionals understand how to target a brand’s ideal clients, grow its audience and increase revenue by creating content that resonates with a core demographic. They’re intensely creative, highly organized, and exceptionally analytical — a triple threat.
A social media manager is responsible for overseeing social content planning, social media strategy, and content creation on behalf of a brand and monitoring the success of specific marketing initiatives using platform-specific analytics and reporting tools.
What Does A Social Media Manager Do?
Think social media management is just about taking photos and scheduling posts? Think again. Most social media managers wear multiple hats for the clients, with responsibility for developing a strategy, creating content, managing engagement, and reviewing important performance metrics and analytics.
Freelance social media managers may have the option to focus on particular elements of the role that best suit their personality, skillsets, and capacity, but agency teams and in-house professionals will generally perform all of the following duties at some point:
- Develop and Implement A Social Media Strategy: Identify a brand’s target audience and their preferred social media platforms. Coordinate with creators to develop targeted content. Oversee content scheduling and monitor analytics to determine the return on investment for free and paid content.
- Participate in The Development of Brand Identity: Coordinate with the marketing team to identify specific value propositions and ensure consistent messaging. Work with designers and copywriters to establish a visual aesthetic and tone of voice for brand content.
- Maintain Brand Identity and Guidelines Across Multiple Platforms: Review content for consistency and suggest changes where needed. Monitor content across platforms.
- Create A Social Media Content Calendar: Coordinate with marketing and business teams to develop a content schedule that supports product launches, company announcements, or new services. Review content performance across platforms and identify the best times and days on which to post new material.
- Create Content For Multiple Social Media Platforms: Write, design, film, and record material to develop into content tailored to specific platforms. Work on your own or enlist the help of graphic designers, copywriters, and videographers.
- Support Promotional Strategies: Provide the marketing team with feedback and insights on organic traffic, paid advertising, and influencer partnerships to identify the best return on investment.
- Support Visual Design Development and Strategy: Work with designers and branding experts to translate the brand voice into an attractive visual identity that translates across different formats. Create a style guide for freelance creators to use as a reference.
- Engage With the Audience on Various Platforms: Reply to comments, answer questions and share user-created content across brand channels.
- Monitor and Evaluate Social Media Analytics: Review post-performance to identify trends in organic traffic, calculate the return on investment for paid ads and evaluate the overall success of a campaign.
- Measure Results Against KPIs: Track campaign results, including lead generation and conversion rates, and compare against benchmarks set by the marketing team to evaluate performance.
- Measure ROI of Social Media Strategy: Track overall expenses associated with generating organic traffic, purchasing ads, and partnering with influencers to identify the most cost-effective campaign strategies.
- Recognize Social Media Trends and Opportunities: Observe industry trends and remain up-to-date on new platform features. Brainstorm new content ideas or campaigns to capitalize on changes.
Whichever task or tasks get you excited, the first step towards becoming a social media manager is developing proficient skills, learning the ins and outs of the various social media platforms, and building a social media presence for yourself, which can attract work or a hiring manager’s attention.
How to Become A Social Media Manager
Starting a new career as a social media manager is an exciting time, but it can quickly turn overwhelming if you don’t have a plan for how to turn your obsession with the perfect Reel into a source of revenue.
Below, we’ve laid out step-by-step instructions on how to become a social media manager, complete with resources for the tools and solutions you’ll need.
Step 1: Develop Proficient Skills
Before worrying about clients or platforms, or content calendars, remember that your success as a social media manager largely depends on your willingness to develop and practice a core set of skills. Some of these are what managers call “soft skills,” like time management and effective communication. Others are more industry-specific, such as how to measure the ROI of a PPC advertising campaign.
If you studied marketing or business in college, most of the soft skills would feel pretty intuitive, but it never hurts to brush up on new developments to popular platforms. And if you didn’t manage to finish that degree? Or decide not to pursue one at all? Certification courses can go a long way towards filling in gaps in your educational history, especially from reputable companies like Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Coursera. In these courses, you’ll learn how to apply critical skills, solve problems and manage your time, all in the context of a social media management role.
Courses can also help experienced social media managers change direction or break into a new niche. Particularly for technical topics, such as finance or software development, clients feel more comfortable knowing that you’ve made an effort to learn more about the products and how they work.
Before investing in certifications, however, you’ll want to consider whether you have (or can learn) the following skills all social media managers need:
- Communication Skills: In larger organizations, social media managers coordinate with multiple stakeholders, including marketing managers, designers, copywriters, and assistants. If you’re freelancing, you’ll need to communicate with clients about content assets, marketing initiatives, and posting schedules.
- Writing and Copy Skills: As the ‘voice’ of the brand, you’ll need to generate engaging captions that resonate with the target audience and compel them to take action.
- Creativity: Crafting relevant content on a daily basis demands a fertile imagination that’s always open to inspiration.
- Organization Skills: Planning a content calendar, monitoring post-performance, and coordinating with multiple internal stakeholders requires strong attention to detail and process.
- Customer Service Skills: Great social media campaigns evolve from audience feedback. Knowing how to listen to your audience and translate their needs into actionable content is critical to your success.
- Data Analysis Skills: In order to understand which types of content generate results and measure the success of a campaign, you’ll need to feel comfortable reviewing and analyzing large amounts of data and evaluate your findings against performance benchmarks.
- Flexibility: Understanding what matters to a brand’s audience at the moment and adapting content accordingly, forging the important connections that drive conversions. You’ll need to know how and when to tweak your content plan to maximize results.
- Ability To Follow Trends: It takes skill to know which trends to follow and which to ignore in order to stay relevant without compromising on quality or the brand’s voice. At the same time, when a trend fits your brand and your strategy, you’ll need to see it coming and jump on at the right moment for maximum impact.
- SEO Skills: Each social media platform uses a specialized formula called an algorithm to determine which users see what content. Understanding these algorithms and optimizing your content to grow your audience and raise brand awareness is a crucial skill.
The idea is to set you up for success, as improving your current skills and learning new things will only benefit you in the long term when you want to land a new job or get a new client.
Step 2: Learn The Ins and Outs of Social Media Platforms
Beyond developing the foundational skills you’ll need to succeed as a social media manager, you’ll also need to explore the different platforms currently dominating the landscape and familiarize yourself with how each one operates.
Every social media platform aims to connect people around the world, but they go about it in very different ways and cater to a wide range of demographics. Gen Z teenagers can’t get enough of TikTok but roll their eyes at their Facebook-loving parents. Meanwhile, graphic designers could spend hours designing a font collection, but that’s no use to you if you’re looking for spirited intellectual debate delivered sentence-by-sentence.
That’s not to say that any brand can’t develop a social media strategy that succeeds on any platform, but it’s generally more efficient to learn where your client’s target demographic likes to spend their time and the kind of content they like to consume:
- Facebook: The platform that started it all. From a rudimentary dating website to a multibillion-dollar business that connects users from all over the world, Facebook is now an integral part of American life and culture. Recently, the platform has shifted its emphasis to user groups and pages, focusing less on individual accounts.
- Instagram: Originally an app for photographers to share their work, Instagram has become a global social juggernaut. Short videos, known as Reels, as well as disappearing stories and static posts, comprise the bulk of the content on the world’s most popular platform.
- TikTok: Tiktok is a great example of a social media platform that does one thing and does it very (very) well. You won’t find groups or walls on TikTok, nor memes nor paragraphs of text. It’s all about the short videos recorded on a smartphone and uploaded with minimal editing.
- Twitter: Big ideas and breaking news from some of the most powerful people in the world, one 140-character post at a time.
- LinkedIn: Once the stuffy older sibling of Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn has become the place for thought leaders and innovators to share their views and promote their brands or companies in a more thoughtful, professional online setting.
- Pinterest: A smorgasbord of visual inspiration for anything from baby showers to classic cars to home cooking recipes. Users ‘pin’ images and links from around the world to create carefully curated virtual vision boards.
If you find yourself gravitating towards a particular platform, consider pursuing additional certifications that will help you unlock its total potential. Make sure, too, that you know the platform’s analytics like the back of your hand so you can quickly and accurately assess your progress and share results with your clients.
Step 3: Learn How To Use Social Media Marketing Tools
Whether you’re devoting all your time and attention to a single organization or juggling a few different clients, managing multiple social media accounts is a complex endeavor. Planning and scheduling are only half the battle — you’ll also need to efficiently collect and analyze data about your campaigns and generate reports. To succeed, you’ll need to select the right tools for your needs and your client’s goals.
- Buffer: A straightforward, easy-to-navigate scheduling tool ideal for small organizations and teams. Buffer makes it easy to create, post, and plan content. You can also track engagement and generate custom reports based on your organization’s unique KPIs.
- HootSuite: In addition to posting, auto-scheduling, and creating content, Hootsuite allows users to manage communications directly from within the tool. No need to log in to multiple platforms; you and your team can view and reply to comments and DMs without ever leaving Hootsuite. Enterprise plans include powerful analytics that large organizations need.
- Sprout Social: The only social media management tool that supports automated responses to new communications, Sprout also makes it easy to track brand mentions and collect social listening data. Many social media managers prefer to integrate Sprout Social with other solutions to maximize its customer service potential.
- Sendible: Designed for agencies, Sendible simplifies the process of managing multiple accounts for several clients. In addition to comprehensive analytics and sophisticated posting and scheduling tools, Sensible simplifies the process of implementing and scaling social media strategies for medium-sized and larger businesses.
- SocialPilot: A good choice for small and medium-sized organizations, SocialPilot has all the key features needed to coordinate social media campaigns across multiple platforms at an affordable price point. One big drawback? The tool has yet to integrate automated Instagram posting.
- Later: While Later does support multiple platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, it really shines when it comes to creating and scheduling content for Instagram and TikTok. It’s also one of the only social media management tools to offer a free plan, so you can try it before you buy.
If you’re a freelancer, it may pay to explore multiple social media management tools, as not all clients will use the same service. You’re also better able to guide new clients to the best tool for their budget and needs if you have firsthand experience.
Step 4: Build A Social Media Presence
Now that you’ve mastered the key skill sets of a social media manager and test driven the best tools in the industry, it’s time to focus on building your own social media presence. Writers and designers applying for jobs and pitching clients have a portfolio of samples to demonstrate their abilities, and social media managers have their own accounts. Sue B Zimmerman and Morgan (aka @theinstagramexpert) are great examples of how social media managers can showcase their skills and add value through their individual accounts.
While posting about social media management may help you attract clients, don’t feel as though you’re limited to providing Instagram tips and tricks or TikTok tutorials to gain traction. Anything that interests you is fair game, provided it leads to the kind of engagement you want clients to see. Don’t be afraid to show some personality! Social media experts and business coaches Isis Breanna and Mattie James share personal snapshots, inspirational quotes, and the occasional meme, along with how-tos and insights.
Step 5: Get Some Work Under Your Belt
Once you’ve built your own audience of loyal followers — and potential future clients — you’re ready to start putting out feelers for your first projects. Tempting though it may be to focus on big campaigns (with big paychecks), you may have better luck pitching to smaller businesses in niche industries, non-profits, and mission-driven companies. These organizations may not have the most impressive budgets, but you’ll gain far more hands-on experience than you would at a larger company with an established team. This is a great opportunity to discover which parts of social media management you enjoy the most.
Starting small also ensures that, by the time you’re up for a role or pitching for a project with your dream brand, you’ve got lots of practice selling your skills and explaining how you add value to a company. You’ll also have lots of material for case studies highlighting how you, for example, grew an audience to over 10,000 followers or leveraged a tiny ad buy into a massive conversion rate.
If freelancing isn’t your style, you can seek out internships or entry-level positions with established companies while learning the ropes. You may not gain quite the breadth of experience you would freelancing, but having a well-known name on your resume can help get your foot in the door as you progress.
Step 6: Define Your Scope of Services
Hopefully, your experience with your first projects gave you some insight into your particular strengths as a social media manager and the kinds of clients with whom you enjoy working. If freelancing feels the right fit for you, you’ll need this knowledge to begin developing a menu of services you feel comfortable offering to paying clients.
Don’t feel obliged to offer a service just because it pays well or everyone says you “should.” Social media management is a big marketplace, and there’s space for all kinds of packages and price points. As a start, consider including the following:
- Social Media Platform Management: The bread and butter of social media management, platform management involves overseeing all aspects of a brand’s account. From designing optimized content to drafting captions tailored to a specific algorithm to obsessing over analytics, you’ll focus on making one specific account the best it can be.
- Content Creation: If designing killer graphics, editing compelling videos, or crafting snappy copy really gets you going, you’ll want to focus on content creation. Clients provide you with raw materials — photos, videos, notes, music clips — and you transform them into engaging posts.
- Content Marketing: Ideal for wordsmiths and SEO wizards, content marketers craft captions, blog posts, articles, and video scripts designed to raise awareness by improving a brand’s search engine rankings and providing the audience with useful information.
- Community Engagement: From liking and responding to Instagram comments to managing a Facebook group of 5,000 members to fielding questions from potential customers via Telegram, community management is all about interacting with the audience in real-time to create a positive association with the brand.
- Social Media Consulting: If you excel at developing a social media strategy but find execution tedious, social media consulting might be for you. Brands hire you to review their existing social media presence and recommend changes to help reach a specific goal.
- Manage Paid Advertising On Social: For those who feel as comfortable with an Excel sheet as a Pinterest board. Paid advertising management helps clients maximize their ROI for any pay-per-click ads by purchasing the right kinds of ads targeted for the correct audience.
Ultimately, you want to create a menu of services that you actually enjoy offering and that meet your ideal client’s needs. Don’t be afraid to mix and match based on what you hear clients requesting or to propose custom bundles.
Step 7: Develop A Portfolio of Work And Services
While you don’t need a portfolio or a website to land clients, they certainly don’t hurt. Platforms like Wix and Copyfolio offer affordable subscription plans that make showcasing your work online as easy as dragging and dropping. If the thought of designing something from scratch leaves you cold, both services have an extensive collection of pre-made templates that you can customize to align with your own ‘brand voice.’
In addition to case studies and a services menu, make sure to include links to your social profiles, particularly for the platforms in which you specialize. Content writers might consider adding a blog, while designers can show off their visual flair. Don’t be shy about asking former contacts for testimonials — you know better than anyone the power of social proof!
Step 8: Define Your Compensation or Rate
Some freelancers advise publishing your rates on your website to avoid wasting time pitching clients who can’t afford your services. Others prefer to keep their rates unpublished to give themselves more room to bargain with tough customers.
Whichever approach you choose, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of your pricing structure before hopping on any ‘get to know you’ calls or drafting a proposal. It’s very easy for new social media managers to underestimate the value of their work, which can lead to difficulties later when they try to raise their rates. Likewise, don’t leap to accept an offer until you’ve broken it down into component parts. $50.00 an hour might sound like an amazing deal, but only if it comes with reasonable expectations about how much value you’ll provide each month.
To ensure you’re receiving fair compensation in line with industry standards for your region, take a look at platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed, Salary.com, and PayScale. Facebook groups for social media and content marketing professionals are also a great source of information and mentorship from others. Female social media managers can also review the extensive rate tables published by Freelancing Females.
As a starting point, a new social media manager can reasonably charge between $15.00 and $30.00 per hour. More experienced managers with niche expertise or specialized knowledge of a specific platform might command rates between $30.00 and $50.00 per hour. Experienced leaders prepared to manage a team, develop a strategy and oversee multiple accounts can earn up to $5,000.00 per month for enterprise-level clients.
Step 9: Find Jobs, Clients, And Work
Just because we’ve spent the bulk of this article discussing how to prepare for success as a freelancer, don’t feel limited to hanging out a shingle. If you enjoy a team atmosphere and prefer to focus exclusively on one aspect of social media management, an agency setting may fit you best. Alternatively, if you like the big picture and consider delegating your superpower, running your own social media agency could make the best use of your skills.
Finally, even cutting-edge careers like social media management can and do go in-house. Scrappy startups and established companies alike prefer knowing that your time — and expertise — belongs only to them. Keep in mind that while salaries for in-house positions can feel like a step down from freelancing, you’ll pay less taxes and shoulder fewer expenses than you would be working for yourself.
Become a Freelance Social Media Manager
If you like the idea of being your own boss and aren’t afraid of self-promotion, freelancing will likely fit your lifestyle. Time-strapped parents and digital nomads alike appreciate the ability to set their own schedules and work from anywhere, as well as the variety of clients. The catch? If you’re not already comfortable selling, pitching, and cold-emailing, you’ll need to hone those skills to create consistent revenue streams.
Start An Social Media Management Agency
Were you the kid who always needed to be in charge of group projects? If so, running a digital marketing agency is right up your alley. While you pitch clients and focus on high-level branding and marketing strategies for your clients, your team of crack writers, designers, virtual assistants, and analysts work to bring the vision to life.
Start by recruiting talented creatives through your network or via sites like Problogger or Behance. Next, focus on setting up the infrastructure you need to communicate with clients and your team, as well as track deliverables and deadlines. Popular project management solutions like ClickUp and Asana, and communication tools like Slack often offer a free trial plan that allows you to test out how your team reacts to a tool before committing. Finally, as the big boss, you’ll need to go hunting for clients and coordinate pitches.
Find A Job As A Social Media Manager
If you’re tired of hustling for clients after years as a freelancer or want to put that marketing degree you earned to good use, you may be ready to apply for an in-house position as the social media manager for a brand or company. Now’s not the time to neglect your own social media presence or online portfolio, but take the time to polish your resume and draft a convincing cover letter. Don’t be shy about sharing the ways your previous experience helped you develop the skills a brand needs.
In addition to putting out the word in your network that you’re looking for a permanent position, you’ll want to take a look at specialized job boards that cater to creatives and remote workers like:
Step 10: Nourish Your Clients and Relationships
Congratulations! Now that you’ve landed the gig or signed the big client, you’re all set, right? Almost. In order to keep growing an in-house career, make sure you nurture the relationships that matter. Bosses and thought leaders can make great ‘elevators,’ but don’t underestimate the importance of colleagues at your level. As you rise through the ranks, so will they — which means valuable contacts across the industry.
Freelancers, remember that you’re in the client relations and customer service business in addition to social media management. As much as you can without compromising on price or quality, work with your clients and show them flexibility and creativity when it comes to services and packages. Keep lines of communication open after projects wrap, and never hesitate to reach out if you’re in need of a referral. Happy clients love to see their favorite freelancers succeed.
Pros of Becoming A Social Media Manager
Starting a new career as a social media manager comes with a lot of perks. Some, like the cool job title, are pretty obvious. Other benefits might surprise you, however. Benefits like:
- Getting paid to spend time on social media: Platforms like Facebook and Instagram succeeded because most people find them, well, lots of fun. Earning money for spending time doing fun stuff is a sweet deal.
- Seeing real-time results: Social media is all about metrics. You know almost instantly if your strategy works or your content lands. It’s a powerful feeling.
- Making a difference: Viral posts can spark important cultural conversations and serve as drivers for social change. Before it became a movement, #MeToo was a Twitter hashtag.
- Exercising your creativity: Almost every aspect of social media management involves making something new.
Cons of Becoming A Social Media Manager
Of course, every job has its downsides. Social media management is no different from other roles in that respect. Before committing to the industry, think about how you’ll cope with the following:
- Spending up to eight hours a day on social media: Excessive exposure to social media has been linked to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Make sure you have a plan in place to limit your consumption outside of work hours to protect your mental health.
- Working under constant pressure: In addition to the need to come up with fresh ideas for content on a daily basis, you’ll also spend a lot of time tweaking and adapting to reflect big news events or important trends.
- Watching your mistakes go viral: As the voice of a brand, it’s on you to ensure that content meets the highest standards. No one wants to get famous as a #socialmediafail.
- Re-learning platforms as they evolve: In social media management, your success can hinge on your expertise and deep knowledge of popular platforms. Because those platforms never stay static for long, however, and seldom announce updates, it can feel like you’re always one step behind the competition when it comes to learning new features.
FAQ on How to Become A Social Media Manager
We’ve found some of the most frequently asked questions on how to become a social media manager, and here are our answers.
How Much Do Social Media Managers Make?
According to PayScale, the average salary for a social media manager living in the US is around $53,000 per year.
What Skills Do I Need To Become A Social Media Manager?
To succeed as a social media manager, you’ll need excellent communication skills, great time management, excellent creative instincts, and, of course, a passion for social media.
How Much Can I Charge As A Freelance Social Media Manager?
New freelancers can charge between $15 and $30 per hour, while those with more experience might charge between $30 and $50. A seasoned strategist with experience managing projects and teams for a national brand can command as much as $150 per hour or $5,000 per month.
Should I Charge a Flat Fee or Hourly Rate As a Freelance Social Media Manager?
The answer to this question depends on the type of work you’ll do for the client and the amount of effort involved. Likewise, some clients prefer a particular fee structure because it helps them control costs.
Always do the math on any offer before accepting it to ensure you’re receiving fair compensation.
Can I Become A Social Media Manager Without A Degree?
Absolutely! One of the best things about social media management is that it’s easy to demonstrate that you know how to get the results clients want. If you have a solid track record of designing campaigns that lead to increased revenue, that’s all the pedigree you need. That said, many in-house jobs prefer to see a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification.
If you’re wondering whether now is the time for you to make the leap into a new career as a social media manager, we hope this guide gives you the confidence to start planning your first steps.
Not sure that social media management is the best next step for you? Not to worry, there are so many side hustle ideas out there; we are sure you’ll find something that fits your personality and lifestyle.
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Laura Wolfe is a freelance writer covering topics including personal finance, retail investing, and FinTech. Before transitioning to writing full-time, Laura worked as a lawyer specializing in cross-border disputes. She believes in empowering individuals to make smart decisions with their money in a rapidly-evolving economy.