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9 Unique Ways to Explain Social Media Marketing to Pretty Much Anyone (Even Your Boss)

Aug 2, 2016 12 min readSocial Media Marketing

Quick quiz for social media marketers:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been asked, “So, you get paid to go on Facebook?”

Probably quite a few of us, right? People get social media. But it seems many are still bewildered by social media marketing.

So how can you explain the value of what you do, to those who matter most to you?

To be sure, social media marketing is an incredibly new (and ever-changing) industry, unlike finance, engineering, sales, law, medicine, and more established fields. Plus most people use social media for fun, so social media’s place in business can seem suspicious.

Nevertheless, there’s a way to get your value across and explain social media marketing to stakeholders, bosses, friends, and family in a way that they’ll get. Keep reading for some tips on how to have these important conversations, and we’d love to hear any tips or stories you have to share in the comments!

What people think I do vs. What I actually do

Sometimes, when talking to different people about social media jobs, it can feel a little like the “What People Think I Do/What I Really Do” meme:


These general guidelines can help.

3 Guidelines for Talking to Anyone About Social Media

  1. Be patient with those who might not know as much about social media as you do
  2. Remember your audience and customize your message accordingly
  3. Use stories to engage the other person and help them relate to you

1. Be patient

You’re constantly using, discussing, experimenting with, or reading about social media.

Others aren’t.

It can require some patience to remember there are plenty of people out there who don’t know Twitter recently changed its 140-character rules (and even if they did know, might not be too interested). So, if you try to explain social media marketing to someone and they’re not getting it, don’t get frustrated. Be patient with the other person, and be grateful — it’s actually pretty awesome you get to be an (unofficial) ambassador of social media.

2. Remember your audience

It’s tempting to come up with one “silver bullet” explanation and use it with every person who says, “So, tell me what you do.” But you’ll be more successful if you account for each person’s background and reasons for asking.

For example, a stranger at a party is probably making conversation, while your mentor probably wants to know how social media marketing can help her department.

3. When in doubt, use stories

As Leo has previously explained, our brains light up whenever we hear a story. Why? They’re engaging! In addition, they make complex ideas feel simple and easy to grasp.

whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. Whilst we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else.

This graphic from the New York Times illustrates it well:


If, during the course of explaining your social media marketing job, you notice the other person’s eyes glazing over, stop and say, “Let me explain with a story.” Then, share a situation that exemplifies the value of your job:

  • That time you helped a customer resolve an issue
  • The day you generated a ton of leads for the sales team
  • The campaign that brought in 100 new attendees for a company event

Now that we’ve got the basics down, check out how to discuss social media with these 8 types of people in your life.

8 Ways to Explain Social Media Marketing to Bosses, Clients, Family, and More

1. How to Explain to Your CEO

Give your CEO numbers that tie into goals

If you ask your CEO, “Is it important for the company to be on social media?” they’re almost guaranteed to say yes. After all, 96% of businesses invest in social media marketing—so somewhere down the line, your budget got their approval.

But that doesn’t mean your CEO is totally sold on or even completely understands the concept. You can help them see the value of social media marketing by drawing clear connections between the organization’s high-level goals and your own responsibilities and results.

Let’s say one of your company’s biggest priorities right now is generating better leads. You could tell your CEO, “After looking at the data, my team realized our most qualified prospects were coming from LinkedIn. So, we started focusing our energy on LinkedIn and dialed it back on Twitter and Facebook—and now, the number of MQLs we’re shooting over to sales has gone up by 30%.”

(Here’s a guide to KPIs, if it helps.)

Brand Connections’ useful guide to goals <> KPIs might come in handy, too.


Of course, you’ll want to adjust your approach depending on how fluent your CEO is in social media. Some executives will be crystal-clear on, say, the differences between Meerkat, Periscope, and Snapchat, while others might say, “Meer-what?”

If your CEO is closer to the second, make sure that you provide simple, quick explanations for every new concept you introduce. To give you an idea, you might say, “We’ve been getting 20% more event attendees ever since we started filming ‘behind-the-scenes’ videos with Periscope, a tool for live broadcasting.”

  • Periscope might equal “behind-the-scenes videos”
  • Facebook Live might equal “streaming video feeds”
  • Snapchat might equal “in-the-moment entertainment”

Bonus: Here’re some tips on how to convince your CEO about social media’s value, using data!

2. Your CTO

Help your CTO evangelize on social media for your company

Social media marketers can be a huge help to their CTOs.

As digital and content strategist Zane Razane explains,

The CTO serves as the public face of technology for a company, so my job is to support their social platform engagement with the audience both online and offline—conferences, events, etc.

When you’re explaining your function to the CTO, Razane recommends saying something like:

Together, we’ll come up with a strategy for your online presence that aligns with the company’s brand, vision, and values. With that locked down, we can create content for social media, our blog, third-party blogs, and more. By establishing you as credible and trustworthy—not to mention a valuable source of information— we’ll support the business goals and online reputation of the company.

3. Your Coworker

Explain what you do in context with what they do

New coworkers will always ask, “Oh, what team are you on?” However, even when you’re talking to people who have known you for years, it’s helpful to have a job description you can whip out during meetings and random conversations.

The key? Customize your explanation to the person’s own role.

To give you an idea, let’s say you’re talking to someone on their first day.

You: Welcome to the coolest company ever! What team are you joining?

Them: Thank you! I’m a support engineer. What do you do?

You: Oh, awesome. I run our blog—so actually, I spend a lot of time with the support team, since your interactions tell me so much about how our users think and what type of content they’ll like.

Now, here’s how that interaction might play out if they were, say, in HR.

Them: I’m a PeopleOps associate. What about you?

You: Nice! I’m a social media coordinator, so I figure out what to post to our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. In fact, our customers love seeing candid pictures from our internal events—hackathons, company celebrations, speaker lunches, etc.—so I’m sure we’ll get a chance to work together as you plan out the lineup.

Describing how your role fits into the other person’s role makes it easier for for them to relate to (and later remember). Plus, it’s a nice way to lay the groundwork for future collaboration.

Teams like Typeform make it a bit smoother to see where new hires fit within the structure of the organization. Their Trello-based org chart helps you see who works where and on what — making the social media marketer’s explaining a bit easier.

typeform org chart trello

4. A Potential Contact (Who’s Not in Marketing)

Ask them about their favorite brands — and use that info to frame your answer

It’s always challenging to explain your job when you’re networking: You want to be interesting and memorable, yet accurate. And when the person you’re talking to is from a different industry, it’s even more challenging — now you also have to describe your role in a way they’ll appreciate.

The best solution I’ve found? Ask about their favorite brand, then use that brand as your example.

Here’s how that might play out:

Them: I manage HR for Capstone. What do you do?

You: Oh, cool! I’ve heard great things about you guys. And I work in social media marketing—actually, it might be easier with an example. What’s a company you like?

Them: Hmm. I love Shake Shack.

You: Ahh, me too. Well, if I worked for Shake Shack, I’d be the one posting those drool-worthy pictures to Instagram, writing food-themed posts for our blog, working with Marketing to make sure our latest restaurant openings will be covered on social… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

5. A Potential Contact (Who Is in Marketing)

Solicit their advice on a social media marketing challenge

Let’s face it, answering the “what do you do” question is much easier when it’s coming from a fellow marketer. You can just say, “I’m a community manager,” or “I manage our digital media efforts,” without giving any follow-up details or definitions.

However, while there’s nothing wrong with simply providing your job title, you’ll be missing an awesome opportunity. Surface-level answers are huge road-blocks in the conversation when you’re talking to someone new—the more in-depth or specific you go, the more you and the other person will have to discuss.

With that in mind, consider asking for advice on a challenge you’re currently facing.

You: I’m a social media coordinator for Owl Insights. Actually—I’d love to get your expertise on an issue we’re currently struggling with.

Them: Oh, sure!

You: So, I’m in charge of our Instagram page, and I’m really struggling to come up content ideas that our audience will be interested in. I’ve been posting “behind-the-scenes” pictures, but they’re not driving much engagement.

Them: Well, I love how Granular—who’s also B2B—has started a UCG campaign…

Not only will your reply spark a strong (and potentially productive!) conversation, you’ll make the other person feel great by asking for their help.

Worried that your coworkers wouldn’t want you sharing so much info? You can still use this technique: just describe a problem you encountered in the past, then ask how they would’ve handled it.

You: I’m a social media coordinator for Owl Insights. Actually—I’d love to get your expertise on an issue we recently dealt with. I’m not sure our approach was the best one.

Them: Sure.

You: So, I’m in charge of our Instagram page, and…

And hypothetical situations are always an option as well. Here’s some inspiration from a list of what social media managers are working on today.

what social media managers are working on today

6. A Hiring Manager

Share your specific social media results. Mention data plus strategy.

In order to get a job, you need to convince the hiring manager of one major thing: You will make their organization more successful. Everything else — from your previous experience and education to your skill-set and certifications — only matters because it indicates whether or not you can do a good job in this role.

So when you’re talking to an interviewer, focus on your results.

And get specific.

For instance, “I grew our Medium followers by 200% in three months,” is only meaningful if you add, “… by bringing in some of the most well-known writers in our space to guest-post, publishing one high-quality piece per week rather than three average ones, and incorporating custom graphics.”

Sharing more details is even better. To give you an idea, you could add:

“I decided to reduce how often we posted per week after running a short experiment. I compared our engagement for a week with three medium-researched, 700-word posts to a week with one highly-researched, 3,000-word post. We gained twice as many followers the second week and got four times as many comments and likes—in part because the longer piece was recommended by several key influencers.”

This level of detail shows you’re analytical and thoughtful. It also tells the interviewer that you didn’t get those results through luck.

7. Your Friends

Figure out the last time they interacted with a social media manager (whether they knew it or not)

Although they might not realize it, your friends probably interact with social media marketers on an hourly basis. You can demonstrate the value of your work by finding some of those interactions.

For example, you could ask a friend to show you the last 10 photos he liked on Instagram. There’s a strong chance at least one will belong to a business or brand.

Once you spot one, explain, “This company’s social media team posted this picture to increase engagement with users just like you. They know seeing this picture makes you more loyal and engaged.”

Next, connect the dots by saying, “I use a similar approach at my job. My company posts [X type of content] on [platform 1] to build relationship with [these types of customers]. We also post [Y type of content] on [platform 2] to build relationships with [different/related types of customers].

Nate Hill, a web and social media strategist for the University of Michigan’s career center, advises ending with:

I look for new ways to get people to interact, consume, or share the content we’re putting out for them.

8. Strangers

Have a story ready

From random people in the grocery store to friendly strangers on the street, you never know when you’ll meet a total stranger who will ask what you do. In these cases, you don’t have the background knowledge necessary to tailor your explanation. That’s why it’s extremely handy to have a universally relatable example up your sleeve.

Florina Gobel, who handles social media strategy for the non-profit New Organ, uses this one:

“I’m like a chef. I cook up stories. I want people to like my food, talk about my food, and get their friends to come over and recommend it to their friends. So I plan the menus carefully: what story will be served, how, and when. I design strategic menus of stories. Bite-sized appetizer stories, individual courses, dessert, etc to be served at the right times, the right places. I analyze customers’ response to inform future menu decisions. And I also respond directly to both positive and negative feedback. A job well done means building a thriving, loyal community driven to take actions that support the restaurant’s business goals and growth.”

9. Your Grandparents

Make your role feel relatable

The number of older people on social media has tripled since 2010, with roughly one in three people over 65 using at least one platform.


That’s good news when you’re trying to explain your job in social media to your grandparents. But even if they’re familiar with the ins and outs of Facebook, you might still need to outline how your activity (on all the channels) contributes to your company’s success.

Start by providing an illustration of marketing they’ll be familiar with.

For instance, you might say:

“You know how you’ll be flipping through a magazine, and you’ll see an ad for a new car model? And then maybe you turn on the TV, and you see an ad for that car again. Next thing you know, you’re listening to the radio, and you hear a broadcast for that same car. If you’re going to buy a new car in the near future, that brand—if not that exact model—will be on your mind.”

Now link your example to social media, like so:

“You’ve probably noticed how much time people spend online. Well, I put information about my company and our products online, where potential customers can find it. I also try to keep them satisfied after they’re….”

Over to you

Do you have any awesome ways of describing your job to the people in your life?

I’d love to hear your stories of what worked—and what hasn’t worked—in the comments!

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