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53 ways to beat social media burnout

December 18, 2012

53 ways to beat social media burnout

Early in my career as a newspaper editor, I recognized one culprit that could destroy morale, harmony and momentum quietly and viciously.


The dedicated journalists around me thought nothing of working late, pitching in and pushing themselves harder and harder to get the story right. And yet, this would eventually kill them. Or, at least, send them screaming from the newsroom.

Fortunately, I was able to nudge my colleagues into healthier approaches. I cared about their well-being more than about any one edition of the paper.

I see the same signs of burnout among my peers in social media. And I’m here to show you another way.

Some of you might be burning out simply from recent news events. “Say, does anyone have an opinion on gun control/gun rights, or mental health access, or how the media has covered it?”

Unbidden, everyone you know and don’t know weighs in with an opinion. And then everyone beyond that complains about everyone else sharing their opinion. Wash, rinse, retweet.

Let’s review the signs of burnout first.

Dread. If you’re starting to hate your Facebook stream, and consequently your Facebook friends, burnout isn’t far behind.

Fatigue. Updating and interacting a company’s social media account isn’t like digging ditches, no physical toll. But its mental toll can be sap your energy and cause physical problems: headaches, weakness, nausea.

Lack of inspiration. Coming up with ideas to fill 300-plus print editions a year can wear anyone out. (In news, this is called “feeding the beast.”) Even the savviest social media managers can occasionally struggle with a clever new update in this 24/7 environment.

Resentment. Few people want to be left holding the bag. But if you’re in charge of social media — whether you’re the most qualified at your company, or simply because everyone else doesn’t “get it” — you might feel resentful of your colleagues. They don’t have to deal with angry online customers and trolls. They don’t have to fear losing their job (or jeopardizing the brand) because of a mistake in a tweet.

That resentment, by the way, can spill over to fans and customers who will always have questions and suggestions and complaints.

Sadness. You may choose to spend our time with wonderful friends and family members in real life, but social media obligations may make you feel trapped at the worst Thanksgiving dinner ever. Whether your tweeps bicker over politics or share their incredible good fortune, those updates could bring out the worst in you: envy, irritation and yes, sadness.

You may recognize some or all of these signs in yourself, or in a colleague. Burnout is real, but it isn’t hopeless. This list of suggestions will help you turn it around in social media.

I have used many of them over the years, not only for planning and preparing thousands of issues of newspapers and magazines, but also for writing thousands of blog posts, 40,000 tweets, hundreds of email newsletters and much, much more.

  1. Limit your time on social media. No more than 30 minutes a day.
  2. Limit your interactions to people who are asking questions or having customer service issues.
  3. Stick to a schedule: Check at 9 a.m., noon and 4:45 p.m., and set a time limit on those sessions.
  4. Set “office hours” for your channel and post them. “This Twitter account is monitored from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST weekdays. Call 555-1234 in an emergency.”
  5. Delegate. Colleagues can be trained. If they can’t represent your company properly on social media, they’re likely unable to represent it well in person either. You don’t have a social media problem — you have a personnel problem.
  6. Start with a positive attitude. This is about connecting with people and helping them. I’ve seen colleagues start with an “all customers are idiots” view, which already makes the whole exercise pointless.
  7. For introverts (like me), understand that social media can enhance your extraversion skills. (And, it can also be draining, so take time to recharge in a quiet space.)
  8. Use Twitter lists, Facebook groups and other ways to categorize connections to focus on ones that matter. For example, a shoe retailer might have groupings such as Biggest Fans, Vendors, Direct Competitors and Industry News.
  9. Learn how to mute or block people. The 10 worst trolls probably consume 90 percent of your attention and create 90 percent of your headaches. Ban them now.
  10. Learn how to mute or block keywords. If someone keeps spamming your timeline with or FourSquare or other repetitive nonsense, get rid of it.
  11. Install your own filter. I thought it was brilliant that Facebook and Twitter users on Chrome could replace political posts with cute cat photos, using the extension. (Note: This is not an endorsement of cute cat photos, or cute cats.)
  12. Write and follow a response policy. Maybe you respond to everyone, even if it’s a polite thank you to a negative comment. Maybe you ignore trolls. A policy will help with consistency and save you from guesswork and wasted effort.
  13. Develop an editorial calendar. For social media? Yes, yes, yes. Burnout often comes from having to brainstorm 30 times a week at random occurrences. Decide the topics and the tactics in advance, and stick to them.
  14. Brainstorm with your colleagues. They will help develop new ways to approach your brand and your audience.
  15. Schedule your updates in advance. This prevents you from being trapped in social media every single minute. I developed #sundayread so I could not only share my love of reading and interact with fellow readers, but also to have at least 1 day a week to free me from social media.
  16. Build a community from scratch. This takes time, but allows you to set the rules and refine the membership. I created the new Birmingham Google+ Community to foster a civil but lively conversation about my hometown.
  17. Try a different channel. See above. Exploring a new network — Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest and hundreds more — can spark ideas and connect you with new friends. (Hat tip: Jen Barnett.)
  18. Vent privately. Sometimes, you just need to let it out to a trusted friend or colleague.
  19. Take a sabbatical. Whether 1 day or 1 month, clear your mind. I forced a friend to go without her phone for a couple of days, and the world did not end.
  20. Limit your social media to one device. That might be your office computer, meaning you can’t take your social media work home with you.
  21. Limit your work social media to one tool. For example, use HootSuite only to manage your company’s accounts while keeping your personal ones on your phone.
  22. Listen to your audience better. You don’t have to be social media 24 hours a day to understand what people are saying about your brand. For example, I showed a client how to use SocialOomph to receive keyword tweets to her email every day. Google Alerts can help you listen as well.
  23. Use better tools. You aren’t limited to the Twitter or Facebook sites to do your social media. A wide range of free and paid services can make your work easier and faster. I use Tweetdeck and SocialOomph daily, among others.
  24. Talk to real people face to face. If social media is where you spend the majority of time, find a way to re-establish a human connection. Take your online networking offline.
  25. Set a goal. If you or your company don’t know why you’re in social media, you could flop around for years, with nothing to show for it. The best goals have quantifiable outcomes and deadlines: “Increase visits from our Facebook page to our product pages by 30 percent by April 30.”
  26. Measure return on investment. If you don’t know what your company Pinterest page earns you (or more likely, costs you), you need to calculate the ROI ASAP.
  27. Narrow your channels. I met with a furniture company that had accounts on seven social media channels, plus a blog. Most have not been updated for months. Do one channel really well than seven really poorly.
  28. Automate your system. I advise extreme caution here. A typical scenario is a business owner updating his Facebook page, which then sends a duplicate update through his Twitter account. This is tweeting for the sake of tweeting. If you can make your message resonate on multiple platforms and interact with multiple audiences, then go for it. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.
  29. Set expectations for your audience. Define what help you can give online vs. by email or phone. Let them know how many staffers are helping with Twitter or Facebook, and when. Explain what the usual response times are.
  30. Set expectations for your boss. Show her what gets results and what doesn’t. Demonstrate to her the reach and the limits of your channels.
  31. Rewrite the rules. I’ve seen Facebook pages share 30-plus updates a day with fantastic results. I’ve seen Twitter accounts that follow no one but have 20,000 legitimate followers.
  32. Streamline your process. The hurdles for social media managers can include review of updates before sending (for compliance, editing, legal jargon), IT limitations, getting photos and videos from team members and so on. Do whatever you can to minimize time spent on these intermediate steps.
  33. Talk with your boss. If he sees social media as important enough to do, but not important enough to improve (through streamlining, shared workload, goal setting, review), you have a bigger problem than burnout.
  34. Advertise. Sometimes, spending money to promote a campaign is the smarter way to reach a wider audience than blunt force.
  35. Get training. Learning best practices would make your life easier, no?
  36. Repeat your updates. The fear is spamming your audience. The reality is a single update will reach a small percentage of them. I repeat my 365 daily blog tips every year, and I have 50 marketing messages I send over and over. Plus, I link to my posts several times, using different hooks.
  37. Avoiding talking at people. Listen and interact.
  38. Crowdsource material. Ask fans to share their suggestions, photos and links. Take them and show those fans off to everyone. The @InstragramBham account has done this with an array of local photos.
  39. Plan your marketing. Social media is but one component of your marketing, right? Make sure your marketing plan shows how it integrates with your other tactics, including e-mail, traditional media, events, content, public relations and so on.
  40. Elevate others. When I’m down, I find focusing on other people cheers me up. In social media, it’s important to focus on your audience, not just your brand. Show them off, their work, their wit, their brilliance.
  41. Hire a freelancer. Whether you need good writing or good photos (or even good editing), freelancers can help. Your company can really stand out in social media with clear, concise writing and dynamic images.
  42. Build momentum. Sometimes, burnout happens because it seems like all those updates have little or no impact. But a few small wins can reinvigorate you. Shoot for a couple of Likes here, a few retweets there. Build on that.
  43. Study your numbers. How do you know what’s effective and what’s not without looking at metrics? Don’t just tweet and hope.
  44. Discard bad tactics. Once you study your numbers, stop doing what ain’t working.
  45. Break the routine. Surprise yourself and your readers. Interrupters are the things that get noticed, the freak updates that go viral, not the cookie cutter updates.
  46. Consider your audience. This is a mindshift from “What can we share about Brand X?” to “What can we do to help the fans of Brand X?” This is a power move. Are you the store with a heart?
  47. Set clear boundaries with a social media policy. Ask any 10 employees about what’s acceptable on social media, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.
  48. Focus on the fans, not the haters. You’re giving out all the tickets to a rock concert. Do you want to seat the haters on the front row or in the very back balcony?
  49. Take good care of yourself. Easily the most overlooked. Eat properly, get enough sleep and walk around.
  50. Keep perspective. In a thousand years, no one will remember your status updates. (And perhaps, in 2 hours.)
  51. Accept people for who they are. No matter how much we would wish people would curb their tongue or be more civil, they will continue on as always. You can only fix you, including how you ingest and react.
  52. Accept the consequences. Working in social media is messy. The metrics are fuzzy at times. The wins are fleeting. But it can also be exciting working in the forefront of the communications revolution: talking to people around the world, learning about their interests and needs, sharing in an instant.
  53. Suck it up. This is what I’ve told myself for years. It’s what gets me through long days and nights. It’s what got me through 40,000 tweets. And to the end of this list.

Photo: Sausan Machari (CC)

How are you struggling with social media burnout?
What tips have worked for you?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Don’t miss: How to deal with trolls and haters on your blog

• • •

I can help you survive and thrive in social media,
from training on tools to developing a social media policy.

Contact me

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