Career-wise, I can say my summer has gone fairly well so far (I won’t be speaking of the other areas, believe me). I was very lucky to be the social media and web management intern at AmeriCares, a global health nonprofit for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, since it’s pretty *** close to my ideal job in the future.

While I won’t go into much specifics about my work there so far, I do want to share the best lessons I’ve learned about using social media in a professional context. I’ve always noticed that many students being brought into social media positions at companies have lots of use it in a personal sense, but not in a professional sense. I’ve managed to avoid that, and hope that other students looking at social media for their career can do so as well.

The below tips are simple but can apply to any professional social media work. So please take them to heart!

Scheduling is God

I can’t put this any more simply: schedule lots of social media posts in advance with some outside tools. Go for at least one or two days in advance, with even more on the weekends. Scheduling is my buffer to do extra work, meet with people, try out new ideas, and try to get one of those “life” things if I’m ambitious.

Scheduling is the way to handle social media, finish other work, and still have a life.

I thought it was just really useful before, now I realize it’s plain impossible to plan any real strategies without it.

One catch: I can’t let scheduling keep me from taking part in conversations. It lulls many into a false sense of security to not respond to messages or post about new topics. If that happens, it’s no longer social media, it’s just a digital megaphone. Scheduling can’t get in the way of social media being a conversation.

Play to Your Content and Brand Strengths

Regardless of what I see in different streams, it almost always comes back to matching it with our content and brand strengths. Trying to branch out into anything too different just comes across as opportunistic and won’t reach enough people. I make sure it always plays to our strengths.

In AmeriCares’ case, our strengths are our aid-focused work and our awesome photo database. That’s why posts like the above are the ones that spread the furthest and do the best. They’re different for every company, however.

Be Human on Social Media

At least when you’re working for a large company, it’s easy to come across as some nameless corporation instead of being run by individual, thinking people. Social media’s best use is overcoming that and showing your human side so more people can connect to it, so it should be a part of any company’s strategy to some degree. That’s why for the recent #DoubleYourGift campaign that would double donations, I worked to show a more human side of the people at AmeriCares to spread awareness and support.

Always Think of Your Brand

You’d be amazed how many reminders I needed to stay consistent with AmeriCares’ brand of efficient selflessness and giving. So much so I’ve needed the occasional work station reminder, such as drawing the Abnegation symbol from Divergent as a visual one by my computer. I’m not insane, it’s just a natural effect of watching tweets all day long, I swear. It’s not even the worst effect, but that’s a post for another time.

Research Common Hashtags Carefully

Hashtags are like glass: useful and beautiful one moment, then shattered and deadly the next. Keep that in mind whenever you’re using them for any of your posts, since they can be a big double-edged sword.

Hashtags are excellent when used sparingly, but deadly when overused.

Okay, that may be a harsh metaphor, but it’s still true. Commonly used or mainstream hashtags that fit with (or have the potential to fit with) our brand are excellent when used carefully. Using obscure or #ObnoxiouslyLongAndMadeUpHashtags can be impossible to recover from since they’re THAT annoying and desperate-looking. Just be sure to research. I wouldn’t have found the #SocialGood, #csr, or #sm4sg hashtags without doing a little research, and they can help a lot. Research means more than choosing some words you use a lot and adding some pound signs; it’s about listening to and finding the ones all your peers are using and using well.

Do Some Serious Research

Just because someone uses social media a lot doesn’t mean they know the science of it. Many don’t even know there is a science to it (I certainly didn’t at first). These science-y elements include optimizing your post structure, content, length, timing, and engagement factors that will both attract people without seeming too pushy, weird, or unrelatable. It’s not like solving quadratic equations, but it’s not as simple as just going by your gut either. Here’s a snippet of the kind of research notes I’ve taken for one platform in particular.

 Courtesy of “The Science of Marketing” via Dan Zarrella.
Courtesy of “The Science of Marketing” via Dan Zarrella.

So before your journey begins, get a few books with actual research and testimonials on what works in social media, such as the above, and do the homework. It doesn’t do itself.

Have an ROI Strategy

Social Media needs to walk a tightrope between conversations and conversions. This is the classic issue in social media that creates so much tension many of the obstacles I face. While a lot of my work has been about being trustworthy and engaging, part of it will always be seeking some kind of bottom line. Traffic to a site? Donations? eBooks or other kind of download? Spreading activism for a cause? Posts are best 75% conversation, 25% focused on conversion to your ROI at most. Any less conversation risks pushing away too many people who’ll see you as too self-centered. It may seem imbalanced, but that’s just social media for you.

Have Fun with Images

Unless the photo is especially awesome, it’s best to mix in some Photoshop magic when you can so a photo can reach its message’s potential. See the amazing example below by no one in particular..

Find the Right Management Tools

I officially bet you $10 there’s no social media manager who mainly posts from the sites themselves. Good managing tools are what let people do that wonderful scheduling thing, as well as following lots of vital accounts at once, give basic analytics, and letting people more easily collaborate on what to post.

Just be sure you invest your money wisely, since some of the “best tools” for the best platforms have been extremely overpriced and just not worth it (especially for Pinterest, which made me spend a week searching for something affordable). My favorite tools, such as Hootsuite, have an extremely useful free version that can do almost all the essentials. So don’t base quality off the price tag, base it off the essential functions it gives and how much control you have.

You Can Never be too Thankful

Thankfulness is one of the best currencies in social media. While you’re better off thanking specific individuals for specific reasons, general ones can work if you add enough awesome to them (again, look at the below example by no one in particular).

You Always Learn on the Job

Because social media is built on conversations, there are no reliable concrete principles that people can always follow. While some rules stick around longer than others, change is always possible and often inevitable. That’s why I’m always learning new ways to do the job better and experimenting to find which ones work best.

Social Media Managers need to learn an infinite amount of knowledge little by little.

Cheers, Max A