What Digital Teams Need For People To Thrive

If you have worked in social, you know it’s a different beast. Between the always-on nature to the ever-evolving landscape, no day or role you take on is ever the same. The work often includes long and unthankful hours. And while the adrenaline rush and challenge of it all is exciting, this industry can also be exhausting and frustrating.

Lately, it feels like a lot of good and seasoned people are leaving out of frustration, burn out or a combination of things. People that this industry needs as we look for digital natives to take on more seasoned leadership roles to drive the thinking home.

Jayrd Wilson, formerly of the Hawks, is one of the latest – and he’s been candid and honest about his decision to leave (read his blogs here). With the long hours and frustration that come with working in social, it’s not a surprise, but it’s disappointing. It doesn’t have to be like this.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately about the struggles and need for change in the industry. There is one thing that keeps coming to mind. Organizations want digital success without understanding what that means within infrastructure and culture.

As mentioned, working in social (and especially social in sport) is a difference beast. It requires leadership to approach the team, work and expectations differently. There’s nothing traditional about the 24-7 nature of social media + sports and it can’t be approached that way. In order for digital teams to thrive (not just survive) the following things need to happen:


Leadership, that grew up in digital.

There are people who have “grown up” in the industry who have enough experience now to take on leadership roles. Digital teams desperately need people with digital-first thinking to have a seat at the table in a decision-making capacity.

A person whose career started in social / digital understands the roles and work required of their team. Because they’ve been there, they understand what it means to be a community manager and what growth should look like in roles. They know the long hours, the pressure and the stress. And, how to spot talent and structure the team.

Putting digital natives in leadership roles will build a strong foundation for the team. They will be able to mentor, provide growth and relate to the struggles and the triumphs of the industry. They’ll be able to translate the work / results to business goals and celebrate success. They’ll add a different perspective to the leadership table and advocate for their team. It’s something that’s sorely needed.


A true structure, with thought.

Today, digital is marketing and marketing is digital. It’s the front door to brands. And, as a result, the expectations on teams keep increasing. It takes a true village to do good work in digital. Teams need strategists, creators, community managers and more. It’s not the job of one or two people at all anymore.

Too often I see teams hiring blindly without understanding what true structure should look like. Hiring without understanding why doesn’t fix headcount issues. It puts a temporary band aid on them.

Every team should do an audit of their current structure. Take a step back, talk to the current staff and identify the actual needs and holes. Don’t assume you need another strategist when your team might actually need a creator. Don’t assume you need another community manager when your team might actually need an email coordinator. Bottom line: Don’t hire blindly, hire intently. A lot of issues can be fixed — without having to hire 20 people — by thinking through the structure and making smart, strategic hires.


A team, not a person.

Often it’s the sole responsibility of one (maybe two people) to manage the account and community. One person to manage the calendar, write copy, distribute content and respond to fans. Even some times, one person is expected to run strategy and produce content. Come on now, that’s crazy!

After years of being in the industry, I’m a firm believer that the one role you should double up on is community manager (well that, and content creators).

Why is it important to build a team of community managers? First, it allows people to have some balance. We’re lucky to work in sport, but that doesn’t mean people should sacrifice their lives. If you have a team of trusted community managers people can rotate shifts. That way coverage is always taken care of, but without the high risk of burnout.

Additionally, a team account should never be about one person and their voice. When you have a team contributing together to the voice of an account it makes it about the brand and not about one person.

Don’t expect one person to be on 24-7. Don’t make the account about one person. Build a team of people who all help contribute to the account. You’ll have a more energized, productive team. And, an account that’s about the voice of the brand and not a sole individual.


Balance, encouraged.

Most of us are guilty of being on all the time, whether it’s sending emails at odd hours or answering them on PTO. People who work in digital are innately “always on”. It’s so hard to turn it off. But, it’s critical to unplug at times to get energized and avoid burnout.

Because digital teams work unconventional hours (even more than others in sport) and can’t seem to turn work off, it’s important to have candid conversations about expectations and even office hours. If your team worked until midnight, are they allowed some flex time the next morning? Does your team feel comfortable coming to you if they’re feeling a little burnt out (a very real thing)? Leadership must set clear expectations, welcome honest conversations and celebrate some kind of balance.


An understanding of growth.

Like any role in any org, it’s so important to understand what growth looks like on the team. Too often in digital people get pigeon-holed into tactical roles. For any front office or organization looking to build out their digital team, make sure you understand the path for growth. Your digital team members aren’t button pushers; they are a critical piece of the marketing team. No one should be staying in a community manager role for years and years, while piling on other thing.

Social & digital team members MUST be integrated into the bigger picture. They need to have a voice at the table and be allowed to take on bigger and broader marketing roles as they grow within the org. Don’t put them in a corner.


Autonomy + appreciation.

Finally, digital drives business result. It drives revenue and brand awareness for teams and orgs. And, it’s time that the industry gets its due. Trust the people that you’ve hired and empower them to do their work. Appreciate what they contribute to the org by providing growth and the appropriate pay for the hours they put in and the way they elevate your brand. Autonomy and appreciation goes a long way.

Look, working in social and sports is a dream come true. This isn’t meant to take away from the fact that I’m so thankful and lucky to work in this industry every single day. But, I do believe that people don’t have to sacrifice their lives 24-7 to work in social. Organizations must understand how different of a beast it is to work in this field and build a culture and team that offers some balance. Otherwise, the industry will continue to lose talented people.

What do you think needs to change in the industry for people in digital to survive and thrive? Share your thoughts below!

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  1. You’re so right, Jess. I was hired by Jaryd to be the next digital content assistant for the Hawks organization and my very first day he broke the news he was leaving. He dropped subtle hints about what he was doing next in his career but after reading his blog it was eye opening. As a young and fresh face to the industry I am working as much as possible to ensure my future within social for the Hawks – let alone any organization or program. However, reading what Jaryd has written has put so much into perspective. I’m nowhere near a social media manager yet, but one day I plan to be. Although I know the hours and sacrifices that comes along with having my dream job, I can’t see working effectively with upper epsilons of people not understanding what my role and colleagues in my field are doing for THIER business.
    For my future, and the young talent I consistently see being made at collegiate programs, I want there to be structure of bigger content teams. Or at least the notion from management of what we actually do for them and invest in it. Social has no days off. None. That’s what I’ve signed up for and am more than happy to do my part for an organization. However, while management and some other in the organization get to go to Malibu and unplug, I have to be aware when I go on vacation that my phone has its notification alerts on and a computer nearby just in case something comes through.
    Jaryd really paved a way for us here at the Hawks organization and we are doing really well. I have seen nothing but positive moving forward because Jaryd, and our director Aaron Lane, has us set up for success. I’ve learned a lot from this organization already. Especially the coordinator Annie Finberg. But at the end of the day, you’re right. Management needs to see the value. They need to invest. They need to encourage. They need structure. And they need leadership within the realm of social and digital to fully grasp what’s at stake for their organization when their content team can’t run effectively. I’m in this industry at the right time and I have hope that organizations will start taking the right steps into appreciating the work social teams do; and putting value and investment into those positions. I personally can’t wait to grow in this industry individually as well as with the industry itself with management doing their part. #TrueToAtlanta

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