Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Looking Back at the Last 10 Years of Social

 In the last week of my senior year of high school, my homeroom teacher pulled out a box and set it on her desk. She looked at the class and said, “These are the letters you wrote yourself your first day of Freshman year.” She passed them out and the sound of shredding and crinkling paper filled the air. I hesitantly opened mine and began to read. It was clear that I grew, I matured, I metamorphosed into something very different in those four years, but more than anything I wanted to go back and tell that girl what to do differently. As I come upon my decade anniversary of managing social media I have a few things to tell the Kaytee from ten years ago. 

Speak up.

I recently saw a tweet from a social media manager that said, “So much of the work we do in social never gets seen (and that can be a good thing). Half of this job is talking people out of bad ideas.” [Tweet url:] 

I like to think social media managers have their hands on the pulse of society. We see and hear the conversations that play out across platforms and between audiences. Early in my career, I would hear bad ideas or be asked to share something I knew could potentially have backlash, and while I did make suggestions, I didn’t truly speak up and say, “Hey! This is a really bad thing and I don’t think we should promote it, or share it, or say it!” 

Over the years I have developed the ability to communicate those “gut checks” and voice it in a way that can sometimes lead to change. Secondly, I’ve learned to speak up for those that aren’t in the room. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have asked myself, are the people who should be part of this conversation here? Are their voices being heard? I’ve learned to do that and not only has it made the content we create better, but it’s also led to policy and structural change within our organization.

Find your community. 

Early on in my career, I was barely treading above water in a sea of social media. I spent years thinking I was the only one who felt the way I did. It wasn’t until I started to attend conferences, follow other people in my field on Twitter, and join online groups that I realized I wasn’t alone. It was like one day I looked up and here came a life raft filled with some of the brightest, funniest, and most helpful people I have met in my life and they pulled me from the water. 

It can be hard to ask for help, especially when you aren’t sure what you’re asking. Don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions, because chances are someone else has experienced it and wants to help. 

You never stop learning. 

You blink and there is a new social media platform. You take a breath and there is a new tool. You take one step forward and you’re somehow five steps behind. Digital communications and social media are constantly changing environments, and at times you will feel like you’re running through an obstacle course. You may get knocked down a couple of times, but you will get right back up. For many, like myself, you will learn graphic design, copywriting, video editing, branding, digital advertising, video production, and so much more. You will be a one-person band that will lead to an outstanding and memorable portfolio filled with some of your best work. 

Give yourself grace. 

You will see the best of people and you will see the worst of people. You will be yelled at and then get a direct message from someone saying the photo you shared is one they had never seen of their great grandfather. In the moments when you feel you’ve fallen overboard remember it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to turn off notifications, it’s okay to only work 40 hours or less a week, and it’s okay to talk about burnout. It’s okay to change career paths and sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. 

The truth is I am not sure if I can do this for another ten years, but I know that I am proud of what I’ve accomplished and grateful for the relationships I’ve made along the way. I’ve grown, I’ve made mistakes, but more importantly, I’ve learned from them. 

Take a deep breath... it’s going to be okay. 

Author: Kaytee Smith brings more than 10 years of digital communications and museum outreach experience to her role as Chief Content Officer at the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, where she helps tell North Carolina's story and oversees the department's editorial and content production team. 

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