Confessions of a social media editor: ‘I’m not confident this will be a real field five years from now’

Despite how fundamental it is to the success of brands and publications, social media continues to get a bad rap — be it for enabling the worst aspects of humanity, privileging the superficial or whittling down our collective attention span. Those who work in the space are subject to the same criticisms and also the same concerns.

Fashion media has become especially reliant on the medium to drive traffic to their respective sites, regularly tailoring their content (down to the title formats) based on what receives the most clicks. Facilitating this across multiple platforms are social media editors, the elusive humans behind many of the fashion and beauty feeds consumers know and love. Along with handling all outbound social content, these editors tend to have their hands in video creation, content strategy, analytics and more.

For our latest confessions, in which we grant anonymity for honesty, we spoke to a social media editor with ten years of experience, who currently works for a popular fashion and beauty site. Of her vague title, she said: “At this point, it’s used to describe everyone from a 22-year-old in their first professional role to someone 10 years older with a great deal of media experience.” Read on for her thoughts on the stigma attached to her job, the frustrating concept of “clickbait” and the uncertain future of her career.

Do you feel like there’s a stigma attached to working in social media, and if so, what is it?
I think there’s a general perception in the world right now that we’re responsible for all the clickbait that everyone hates on social media. While there certainly are some Facebook pages that do nothing but churn out that kind of thing, most of us have very legitimate backgrounds in media, fashion or journalism, and we’re always trying to balance the fact that we have to make you click with the fact that we hate clickbait, too.

[That term] is a pet peeve of mine, because “clickbait” actually means something: It refers to a super dramatic headline that is misleading or inflammatory, that clicks through to a different story than you were promised. If we say, “See the first photo of Taylor Swift and her new love,” and it’s a photo of Taylor and her new kitten, that’s clickbait. If it’s a photo of Taylor and the new guy she’s dating, though, then it’s not. Just because you have to click to get the full experience of the story doesn’t mean that it’s clickbait. Think of those clicks as a form of payment for enjoyable content.

What is the hardest or worst part of your job?
Social as an industry is ever-changing, which makes it fun and exciting on a day-to-day basis, but a little scary when contemplating the long term. We’re all really at the mercy of the platforms and what they decide to do as they face the pressure to become profitable businesses, and if they decide brands and publishers aren’t a part of the experience their users want, there isn’t really anything we can do about it. I don’t think that’s going to happen — at least not entirely — but no one is seeing the kind of growth on social they used to, and it’s just a lot harder to add value in my role than it used to be, through no real fault of my own.

It’s frustrating to feel like you’re failing when what is actually happening is the tools you’re using just aren’t as effective. My job was just beginning to be a real field five years ago, and I’m not confident it will be a real field five years from now — or at least not a field where there’s room for growth. I know I’m in for another career pivot within the next 5-10 years, and I have some ongoing existential dread about what that will look like.

What are some social media “secrets” used by brands and publications that the average person isn’t aware of?
The way businesses do social [isn’t much like] the way consumers use social. Yes, our content appears on Facebook, but we use scheduling dashboards, link shorteners, image templates and a lot of tools that the average person doesn’t use when they find a funny link and post it on their page. We’re often scheduling content well in advance, at a much higher volume than most people realize (often 40-50 posts per day), as well as being responsive to news and creating new content on the fly — and that’s just organic content. We also have access to suites of advertising tools, paid promotions and post formats that simply aren’t available to individuals.

Consumers have very little idea how we do our jobs, and they’re always super paranoid about the wrong thing. We get tons of comments if we feature a brand or a celebrity a lot, with people saying things like, “Did so-and-so pay you to post this?” and the answer is just, “No, they didn’t” — because if they did, we would clearly disclose that. It’s an FTC violation if we don’t. But then most people don’t react at all to the ads we do post and often interact with them, not realizing that that just confirms our ability to target consumers by interests, location, age, income, marital status and many other characteristics that would freak people out if [they knew about it]. Yes, it’s all anonymized, but the Illuminati isn’t putting all that content about the Kardashians in your feed. Big Data is.

Do you think social media editors get enough credit in the fashion industry for all the work they do?
They definitely end up being the unsung heroes of the fashion and beauty game. We get a lot of flack if the content doesn’t succeed, but editors get the credit when it does, and we don’t always get a say in the content we’re given to promote. Since we don’t have a byline, we’re not perked the same way editors are; we get way fewer gifts and press trip offers and, when we do get anything, it’s rarely the really good stuff.

Honestly, though, it’s fine. I make anywhere from 20-50 percent more than most of our editors, and I consciously chose to leave editorial for a higher-paying track. I miss the press trips a lot, but I can afford to take my own vacations now, and no one is ever going to gift me a down payment on an apartment.

How does working in social media affect your personal presence online?
I don’t have time for it, honestly. Some social editors live and breathe it and love maintaining their social presence, but if I have to choose in any given moment between doing what I do for money and doing it for free, why would I do it for free? I think many of us tend to be behind-the-scenes types anyway, and it’s not really possible to get the amount of social content you need to for work if you’re maintaining the kind of public social life that editors with a big following have. Most of the social editors I know who have a big personal presence had it already and parlayed it into a full-time job. I’ve rarely seen it go the other way around.

Plus, now that I’ve done this for a while, it’s clear it’s really not the quality of your photos or your strategy that makes an individual get huge on social — it’s a lot of things that, quite frankly, aren’t priorities for me, like being super thin or taking lots of photos of yourself in really fashion-y outfits.

I’m not worried about building my personal brand to get my next job. I can just pull up a Powerpoint deck of analytics showing that I’m capable of building one. I actually think it’s harder for editors and people who do work that isn’t as quantifiable; as a result, they feel more pressure to develop a real personal brand. I have data; I don’t need window dressing.

Do you ever get sick of social media? How do you avoid getting caught up in it?
I definitely have days where I’m sick of my job like anyone else, but in general, I just kind of love the internet and love talking to people, and I would never wish it all away. I’ve learned that unplugging fully doesn’t really work for me, and I actually think putting pressure on young people in digital to unplug — or telling them they’re going to be unhealthy or unhappy if they don’t — is alarmist and unfair.

What’s the weirdest or most aggravating experience you’ve had while dealing with the online community?
People say the most ridiculous things when they think no one is reading. When I was newer in this field and cared more about other peoples’ opinions, we’d get messages calling out something like a small typo that were like, “Fire your social media editor.” I would respond and just say, “Hi! I’m the social media editor, my name is X, and I’ll pass along your comment if you really think I should be fired, but I really don’t want to have to move back in with my parents.” Basically, I was doing the same thing you’re supposed to do if you’re kidnapped: Use your name, try to humanize yourself, make yourself relatable. Most people fell all over themselves to apologize. They’d tell me they didn’t realize anyone read their messages, that they were having a bad day or (my favorite) that they thought they were talking to a robot — which actually could be the case today, but was not common at the time.

There’s much more dialogue now about internet bullying and digital communities, so I kind of have the opposite problem today. We have followers who care way too much, messaging us constantly with feedback about content, community and even strategy. Like, I appreciate your investment in our brands, but maybe you should go grab drinks with a friend IRL tonight instead, you know?

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