If you work in social media, you already know that your role is often misunderstood. Those on the outside looking in may assume social marketers have a fun, stress-free, entry-level role. But that’s simply not true.

With the goal of highlighting the realities of working in marketing, Social Media Tea provides an outlet where social media and digital marketing professionals anonymously spill their secrets, their frustrations, and their experiences. What started on Instagram as a cathartic side project quickly turned into a multichannel social community with thousands of followers.

Sprout’s Senior Manager of Social Media, Rachael Samuels sat down with the brains behind @SippinSocialTea, Alexa Heinrich and Austin Braun, to find out what they’ve learned from running such a hot social account.

Rachael Samuels: Hello everybody. I am Rachael Samuels. I’m the Senior Manager of Social Media at Sprout Social. I am joined here today by Alexa Heinrich (pronouns she, her) and Austin Braun (pronouns he, him). I’m honestly so struck to meet these two today because they’re both part of our Sprout community, I know them actually way better by their handles @HashtagHeyAlexa, @AustinOnSocial—but that’s social media for you.

We have them here because they run this awesome social media account called Social Media Tea so I’ll just let you both introduce yourselves real quick, and then we can just roll in. I have a bunch of questions to ask you today, since we’re all very meta in the social media world and I feel like we’ve got a lot to talk about so Alexa, I’ll sling it over to you.

Alexa Heinrich: Thanks for having us here today, first off, it’s great to see you, Rachael. I’m Alexa, feel free to call me Alex so your Amazon devices don’t go off. I am the social media manager for St. Petersburg College in sunny, Florida, but I’m originally from Chicago, which is where Austin is now.

Austin Braun: That’s right. Hello everyone. My name is Austin Braun. I just moved from Boulder, CO, to Chicago, and I’m soft transitioning on my role as a digital media strategist at the University of Colorado, Boulder College of Engineering to pursue my startup, which is based out here in Chicago. I’ve just moved here and I’m excited to be here.

Rachael Samuels: So excited. I didn’t share where I am, but I’m coming to you from Haverhill, MA. So remote life. Austin, Alexa, I’ve got a lot of questions, but let’s start with, how did the two of you meet? And what is Social Media Tea? What inspired you to create it?

Alexa Heinrich: In true pandemic form, Austin and I have never met in person. We know each other through the higher education social media community, which is vast online, so we kind of know each other through there. I started Social Media Tea by myself last June, and then Austin went and tried to spoil my fun. If you want to tell her about that.

Austin Braun: So I was seeing the Social Media Tea account pop up here and there, it was gaining some traction and something just clicked. I don’t know if it was intuition or just luck or a bit of both. And I was like, “I know that tone and voice from Alexa’s social media, that’s her” and back then it was of course still anonymous. So I slid into those DMs and I was like “Okay, Alexa, is this you? You have to tell me.” Lo and behold, it was.

Alexa Heinrich: Seven days, I lasted seven days anonymous.

Austin Braun: I was like “There’s no way it’s not her” because she speaks in that specific tone that we’ve all come to analyze in our role and [on] social media, we can pick up nuances here and there. I was like “Bingo” that’s Alexa, right there.

Rachael Samuels: That is so funny. I’ll be honest. I noticed the account as soon as it popped up. Being a social media manager who markets to other social media managers all the time (as Sprout Social is a social media management tool), I follow a lot of social media communities, social media marketing Twitter, Facebook, all of it. And I was seeing this account everywhere. And I too had a hunch that it was Alexa. So when the account was revealed, I was actually really just proud of myself that I was like, “Oh man, I know my community so well!” I had a totally selfish, proud of myself moment.

Alexa Heinrich: It’s funny because Alicia also suspected it was me and I told her because she and I are good friends. There were people that knew, but I didn’t last very long.

Rachael Samuels: For anyone who doesn’t know, Alicia Johnston is our Director of Content so it makes sense that she’s also in that community.

So I guess I will say that account has blown up. I know you two have been working on it and changing things, you’ve learned a lot along the way. So as the account has grown so much, I still see it all the time, what have you learned with that rapid growth? What have you learned about the community? What has that rapid growth been like for both of you?

Alexa Heinrich: It was staggering in the beginning just because the higher education community found the account and it started to gain traction as people were sharing it to that large community. And I was like, “Oh gosh, they’re going to figure out it’s me.”

Then Matt Navara found it and shared it to his thousands of followers. There was a day I had to turn off my notifications because my phone was overheating from how many people we gained in a single day. I’m pretty sure Austin was the one who went in and actually turned off the notifications because they were just nonstop. I would open my phone and it was just all Instagram notifications.

But I think just learning how to balance that project with what we do for our nine-to-five job has been a real learning curve and balancing all the communities that are involved with Social Media Tea, because it’s not just social media people. There are digital marketers from every spectrum.

Austin Braun: Echoing all that she said, the bigger question is “What haven’t we learned?”

You know, we learned the workflow, we learned what things work and what don’t in the beginning. But then we also really learned, or at least for me personally, I realized that the community at large is so passionate about the work that they do online and the impact that they’re always trying to push for and achieve. That’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience to just see that in action and know that there are other people out there who care and want to do good and connect with others in their community.

Alexa Heinrich: Definitely. And also I want to praise Austin for the fact that he puts up with my chaos, but also he makes sure that there’s alt text on every single post that goes out, because he’s in charge of scheduling Twitter, so point of pride for me that he’s so good about it.

Austin Braun: I’ve learned so much about the alt text side and accessibility side through Alexa and that has paid its dividends far and wide. I would highly recommend if anyone’s looking to better their social media game, follow Alexa, take her pro tips and put them into play because it’ll return really well.

Rachael Samuels: Alexa is the accessibility queen and I praise her daily for all of her contributions to our community.

So I want to unpack this a little bit. So you experience this rapid growth, you also have other jobs. You touched on this a little bit, Alexa, but how do you manage it all?

And if you have one tip for knowing your own worth, reducing stress or adding bandwidth, what would that one tip be?

Alexa Heinrich: When we started out, I was just getting confessions left and right because it was this novelty. There wasn’t an account that really existed like this, specifically for social media. So I was making the posts willy nilly, posting them whenever.

Then after I brought Austin on to help me manage all this, because I thought, “Well I want to do Twitter eventually. We’ll probably do Facebook eventually, just cover the big three.” We decided, okay, let’s do three a day on each platform. We’ll stagger them.

After a few weeks of that, I was like let’s just do one a day because we have a lot of content coming in and I [thought] it would be easier from a scheduling standpoint. So, we post once a day on each platform. They’re staggered based on when they came in, because we obviously started Instagram, and then a few weeks later we started Twitter, then a few weeks after that we started Facebook. And we only post Monday through Friday. We don’t post on the weekends in solidarity with our colleagues and peers who shouldn’t have to work on their days off.

We did that and that’s really worked for us, but also Austin and I are always communicating. We text all the time and we talk all the time. We did a Zoom chat last week to talk about this, so I feel like communication has been really big for us.

Austin Braun: Absolutely. Communication is key and having the passion and the energy in order to do this, to allocate the free time, that’s really fulfilling and makes it easier to do. It’s not something we think about doing or we make a chore out of, we just do it because we want to do it. And the growth we’ve seen, it just keeps us rolling. The community that we connect to is really our main fuel

Alexa Heinrich: And we try to schedule a month at a time too, just so we’re like “Okay, we’re good for the entire month,” and once the last week rolls around we’re like “Okay, got to do next month.”

Rachael Samuels: That’s amazing. That’s really smart. A month ahead is a dream state for me, that’s awesome.

So you’re starting to dive a little bit into strategy and you’re talking about submissions. Just so the audience knows what Social Media Tea really is, is submissions from your community around their own experience with social media marketing and being social media marketers.

Austin, I love how much life that gives you because it gives me so much life too. It’s one of the reasons I love being a social media manager for Sprout because I get to commiserate, but also realize that we’ve got this strong community of marketers [who] are all focused on this common good and increasing accessibility in marketing, increasing diversity in marketing, increasing inclusion in marketing.

So, I think that there are so many crossovers, but I’m curious, how do you collect those submissions? And how do you decide which ones are going to go up? Or what’s the strategy for Social Media Tea’s content?

Alexa Heinrich: Social Media Tea really is the greatest user-generated content project that I never thought I’d start. We take submissions through Instagram, Facebook, through Twitter and we also have an email.

We’re very clear on our website that you need to keep all of your content within your submission anonymous. So, you can’t name names, you can’t name brands. If I can make something even more vague, I will, like taking out genders for people, and I just put them into this giant spreadsheet that Austin and I have as they come in.

I take down the submission, the date it came in and then I give it a number so that I keep them in order. And then there are columns for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, as well as the emoji that they get assigned, which is just random and whatever I feel like giving it at this point. We just do them in chronological order and that seems to work out just fine. But Austin, do you want to talk about our strategy?

Austin Braun: The best part about our strategy is that it’s continually evolving and there are no guardrails that we put up around ourselves. We always want to experiment or see if this worked or this didn’t, let’s try and make something better about it.

You can see our pinned Tweet on our Twitter, for our Twitter strategy, which is basically just to be freeform and ad hoc in all regards. And when we have the scheduled content, that’s our content, but on the side, Alexa and I will go on the accounts and just throw our thoughts into the void and hope they stick if they feel relevant. A lot of times that comes through really well.

Rachael Samuels: I love that about the account. I love that it’s UGC, but it also has a voice and the account’s pretty open and honest about being a social media account and I just love that transparency. I definitely see the strategy there and I also think iteration is the battery of a strong social media strategy. You should always be changing, always be owning up to things that you need to—I just love that approach, that’s awesome.

I have to ask, I’m curious what is one of the most common submissions or grievances or opinions that are aired out.

Alexa Heinrich: We get a lot of people who just share like the common things we hear as social media professionals. One that we posted last week on Instagram was someone quoting someone that said, “Hey, can you just push this on social?” And for whatever reason that really resonates with people because it’s such a triggering phrase for us. “Can you just put this on social?” Okay, that’s not the entirety of my job, but thanks.

So that’s one, and there are really humorous ones. There was one about how this person would hide weird phrases in her report every month to see if people actually caught onto it. And she’s like, “That’s how I knew no one was reading my reports,” because no one ever said anything about the weird phrases she was randomly dropping in there.

Those are always interesting, when social media professionals do something to take back their power, people really relate to that.

Rachael Samuels: I know I relate to that really hardcore. That’s absolutely why I love working at a social media organization. I tell people all the time it’s because people speak my language, but I feel like the core of it is—and we hear this a lot from our community too—that social media managers are at the nucleus of an organization. They know the customer the best, they’re doing all the work, they’re being strategic, iterating constantly, all of these different things, wearing a million different hats and nobody takes them seriously or no one cares to look at their reports or even ask for a report in the first place when that data could be so powerful.

I feel the plight of the social marketer and I think it is our time to shine, so I absolutely was not surprised that this account just totally took off.

So my next question and my last question is, knowing everything you’ve learned from all of the community over the past year and in the coming year, what do business leaders need to know? What’s going to get them to take social marketers more seriously? What would you like to impress upon organizations and businesses about their social marketing teams and the way that they approach and listen to social marketers?

Austin Braun: I’ll go ahead and take that one to start. The thing is that sense of self-awareness for people and what they think they know about social, versus the people who they work with whose job it is to know social. A lot of times they’ll get certain leaders or whomever that say “Make this go viral” without realizing the granular minutia of what it takes to get something from point A to point B.

People at the top, the leaders, need to realize that social has a big and large place in their marketing, especially for community building as a whole. And it’s also important that they have the trust in their social media managers to do the right thing, to handle it the right way, because that trust comes from so many days and months and years of doing this.

That isn’t just an overnight thing you can turn on and off, it’s not a knowledge thing you can just read into and think you know it, because it’s always evolving. For leaders, it really comes down to understanding what you do and don’t know, but also trusting the person that you’ve appointed to know and manage social—to actually give them the free rein to do what they need to do with it.

Alexa Heinrich: And I think understanding, not just for brand leadership but everyone out there who engages on social media, that the person behind an account is a human being and we are experiencing so many different emotions and dealing with so many different situations every single day. And with this pandemic, a lot of us are burnt out creatively, emotionally. It’s very taxing mentally, our work.

The response that we get a lot with the Tea account when people find it the first time is, “Oh my gosh, this is so therapeutic,” or “Oh my gosh, this is so cathartic,” to the point where Austin and I recently did a collaboration with our friend Ariel at Thrive Works. We did some questions that were based around mental health and working in social media. Then Thriveworks graciously had one of their therapists answer those questions from a social media standpoint. So many people when I posted it to Instagram were just responding with “I needed this today, thank you for doing this, I really needed this.”

Understanding that your social media manager is probably burnt out, is probably a little tired, needs less screen time and needs support, not only from the tools they use, but from emotional support. They need mental health days. So it’s not just playing around on Twitter all day. We manage a lot and it’s different job to job.

Rachael Samuels: Preach. All of that, I feel that so deeply, I couldn’t be more grateful that you two exist and I couldn’t be more grateful that you two are part of this Sprout community and are running this account. So, thank you for doing this for all of us, I speak on behalf of all social media managers, we needed you. And thank you for chatting with me today. That’s all I got.

Alexa Heinrich: Thanks for having us, this was wonderful and obviously the Tea account is a Sprout user so we love Sprout. It makes it a lot easier when we’re bulk uploading for a month.

Austin Braun : No kidding. This would not be as seamless as it is without Sprout. We’re grateful to be running this and getting the message out there and we’re grateful for the interview today.

Want more insight into building strong, vibrant digital communities? Read our guide on 5 ways to strengthen your community management strategy.

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