Career website Zippia estimates that there are more than 26,000 social-media managers in the US. While the social-media profession continues to grow in popularity, many social-media managers are deciding to leave their positions for greener pastures.
According to a 2020 study conducted by the Institute for Public Relations Digital Media Research Center, Ragan Communications, and the University of Florida PR Department, 57% of social-media managers were planning to quit their job within two years, and 47% also said they worked more hours than their colleagues. According to Zippia, 29% of social-media managers stay in their roles for less than a year.
One of the top reasons for leaving was a lack of growth. Even though 70% of social-media managers wanted to be promoted, only 40% saw any possibility to advance where they were, according to the 2020 study.
Insider spoke with four social-media managers about how they reached a breaking point in their corporate jobs and what they've chosen to do now instead. Some said they were forced to work at all hours of the night or take on responsibilities outside their job descriptions, while others said they felt their work was underappreciated or misunderstood. Despite these experiences, almost all of them have chosen to stay in social media or search for another role related or adjacent to the field.
The feeling of being stuck was precisely why Roseanne DosSantos, 39, left her position as a social-media manager for an IT solutions company in 2016. But like many others, DosSantos found that she couldn't leave social media all the way behind.
She told Insider she got her start in social media as an accounts manager for a staffing company in 2009. "This was back when you could buy a Facebook page from a third party. So we bought a Facebook page built from CareerBuilder," DosSantos said.
While her company was just beginning to utilize social media, she said, they weren't willing to put a significant amount of budget toward what they were building. She was managing social media as a one-woman team in addition to paid social efforts. By the time she left, she said, she was still the only person managing those social-media accounts, despite the company having grown to 23,000 employees.
DosSantos transitioned to a solutions-engineering manager role for Sprout Social, which provides software for businesses to manage their social media, in 2017. "I saw the impact social was having on businesses, and I wanted to take my knowledge from being in the field and show brands how anchoring their social program with a scalable technology would enable growth and prove ROI. It also opened up the opportunity to work with B2B and B2C companies, and not be stuck in one segment," DosSanto said.
Through working with other social-media managers, she's seen how things have changed since her days of working in their shoes. She said that there's less reliance on vanity metrics and more of an understanding of ROI, which leads to many social-media managers having more of a budget to work with than she had. But she's still not willing to go back to the life of a social-media management herself, where she said many in those positions are required to be "always on."
Gracie Clemens, 34, who worked for a digital marketplace that managed more than 100 brands from 2016 to 2020, said she found herself taking on far more responsibilities than just those of a social-media manager, including email marketing, copywriting, directing shoots for campaigns, and website management.
Though she enjoyed the work, she said she felt she was no longer being challenged and stuck in a place without growth. "I had lived in London for 10 years and worked at this company for four. My visa was coming up for renewal and being international, when you commit to a role in the UK, you commit to three to five years, depending on the agreement. So it was more the question of, 'Do I think I can grow here as much as I would like to in the next three to five years?'" Clemens said.
But like DosSantos, Clemens didn't leave social media behind completely. Instead, she opted to continue working as a social-media manager on a freelance basis. She's unsure of where she wants to live long term, and freelancing gives her the ability to move around whenever she wants.
While Clemens felt like her company understood how social media worked, she said that they didn't understand how time-consuming her job was. She still experiences that issue with her current clients, whom she's found through networking both online and in-person. Often, she said, the rates many potential clients offer don't respect her expertise. Although Clemens said her yearly income varies more as a freelancer, she made twice her former corporate salary in her first year freelancing.
"I think that's the biggest challenge right now: The workload is increasing, and the rates aren't going up as they should," she said. According to Zippia, the average annual salary of a social-media manager is $59,252. On average, that salary has only increased by 2.2% each year since 2013.
Going freelance has also allowed Clemens to set her own boundaries. While full-time social media managers may be worried about being available at all hours, Clemens makes sure not to set that precedent with her clients. "There are some companies that I only work 10 hours a week for," she said. "Once I hit those 10 hours, as much as I want to respond to their Slack messages, setting those boundaries is really important."
Even while freelancing, though, Clemens has still grappled with burnout. But she said she's found that she can now recover on her own terms and get back to work when she's ready.
Like Clemens, Elizabeth Miner, 43, opted to begin working for herself after spending seven years as a communications associate for two nonprofit organizations which saw her managing social-media accounts as well as doing copywriting, web development, and graphic design. She said she was asked to take on roles she didn't sign up for at those organizations and ultimately lost both positions due to funding issues. She wasn't up for risking that a third time.
"The job market was especially tough at that time. I felt pressure to pretend I was perfect for every role, even if they weren't perfect for me. Sending out dozens of applications every week felt like a waste of time that could be spent actually working, learning, and making a positive impact," Miner said.
But once she started her own marketing agency in 2011, she quickly decided to stop offering social-media management as a service, focusing instead on her other services, including web design, packaging design, and brand development. "I think it used to be that organic reach was so much easier. If you were good at brand voice and you knew what was interesting and could share it, you could get some worthwhile gains that way. And I think now it's become so complex that you really have to specialize and become an expert in strategizing and understanding data," she said.
Regardless of being freelance or full-time, with social media, Miner said you need to be able to do both sides of the equation: the creative side and the analytical side. With how much algorithms have changed over the years, you need someone who understands how it all works.
After feeling like she had to be available for her clients "24/7," she said she realized she "didn't want to give that kind of availability." Miner said her clients were also struggling to understand their return on investment. "I think people's buying decisions might result from encountering your business several different times in different places. And so the social media might be playing an important role, but it might be not that often that that one click is the thing that results in a sale," she said.
Rebecca Gibson told Insider she experienced a great deal of misunderstanding and pushback in her former role as a social-media manager for a healthcare company. Despite the company having hired her as a social-media manager, she said she was told that it "didn't see a point in social-media marketing."
"My greatest challenge was convincing my team that social media was important for their company and getting them on board with ideas I had that would help," Gibson said. She felt that she constantly needed to justify her work.
But even when her ideas were successful, she said, she received little recognition. Gibson left her position in 2022 after just under a year at the company and is looking for another social-media manager role. "I love the different things that come with it. Platforms are always developing and coming up with new features, some of them good, some of them terrible. But even the terrible updates are fascinating to how the platform develops and progresses, and I love working with social media to see how the field grows," she said.
But she added she's also struggled greatly with her confidence in her work due to her experience at her former company. "It has been a journey in itself, but I have built my confidence back up. Thankfully, I have a support network that is great at building each other up and giving feedback," she said.