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The Job Where Abuse, Anxiety, And Being 'On' All The Time Is The Norm

When Angelle Gullet's CEO made a surprise TV appearance one Saturday morning to say "some really awful things", it was Gullet's job to clean up the mess.

As the only salaried member of her company's social media team, Gullet was the only one available all weekend to manage the negative reaction on social media .

"I can still viscerally remember the icy feeling in my stomach when one of the guys in the office texted me, 'Um, you might want to turn on CNBS....'" she said.

"And that was almost five years ago."

The role of the social media manager isn't the same role it was two years ago, or five years ago, or a decade ago, when Twitter and Facebook were in their  infancy.

People spend 24 hours a week online, according to a landmark report from UK last year. This is twice as long when compared to ten years ago.

And companies are starting to pay attention.

Three years ago, it was common for the office receptionist to manage social media on the side, according to Max Doyle, managing director of social media marketing agency Hello Social.

"Now companies are trying to take it a bit more seriously," he told 10 daily.

"People are on social all the time, whether that's Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, and as a result, therein lies a marketing opportunity."

Social media has been accused of being a "pink ghetto" job -- which is dominated by women, undervalued, and with low prestige.

A 2017 study of 150 job listings found that employers advertised for candidates with sociability, deft emotional management and flexibility.

"Such industrial imaginings incite workers to remain ever available, juggle various roles and responsibilities, and engage in persistent emotional labour—both online and off," argued researchers Brooke Duffy and Becca Schwartz.

"These expectations, we argue, allude to the increasingly feminised nature of social media employment, with its characteristic invisibility, lower pay, and marginal status within the technology field."

It's a characterisation that isn't necessarily unfair, said Doyle, but also reflective of the fact that marketing as a larger industry is dominated by women.

IMAGE: Getty Images

As for pay, he says the average salary is increasing year-on-year, and this shows that business are beginning to take social media more seriously.

"It's the clients who control the purse strings," he said.

"If they're not willing to invest, you can't pay staff what they deserve. As time goes on, the size of retainers is going up."

In one example, he said a role paying an annual salary of $65,000 a few years ago is today being paid about $78,000.

But is it fair pay for all the additional duties of being a social media manager not generally advertised?

As well as being 'on' all the time, social media managers have to be at the forefront of social politics, memes, and internet culture.

In late 2018, a Californian aquarium apologised for calling a larger-than-average otter a "thicc girl", an "absolute unit" and "chonk" -- phrases which are ubiquitous online.

It then did a four-part Twitter thread explaining why its original tweet was problematic.

Closer to home, Woolworths found itself in hot water a few years ago by trying to capitalise on ANZAC day.

It posted an image of what appeared to be a WWI soldier with the words "fresh in our memories", a riff on its long-time branding as "the fresh food people".

The fallout from that misstep was that Woolworths had to apologies, the then-Veteran's Affairs minister Michael Ronaldson weighed in, and the agency responsible briefly went into hiding.

It's now known in the industry as "brandzacing", a portmanteau of "branding" and "ANZAC", and the advice is: don't do it.

Woolworths was forced to apologise for this post.

Ella Dawson, who manages social media for TED, asked her followers on social media last year about their worst day on the job.

"My professional low point this year was reading every new post on 4chan nonstop for 72 hours when one of our speakers was the target of a harassment campaign," she said.

"The amount of revenge porn, antisemitism, cruelty and violence I saw -- just due to my job -- deeply damaged my health."

Dawson turned her thread into a LinkedIn post, in which she described working in social media as being akin to a "digital bodyguard" for brands.

"When you make fun of 'social media interns', you're undermining the work of someone who I can guarantee has been exposed to shocking amounts of graphic language and imagery, violent references and racial / gendered / homophobic slurs, all without mental health support," she wrote.

Mental health support is one of those "in an ideal world" type scenarios, said Doyle.

Larger companies will sometimes provide some form of counselling to all staff if required, but smaller businesses may be simply be unable to afford it.

But as the industry as a whole continues to grow, the professional hazards faced by its workers will be too significant to be ignored.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au