'Tis the season of cocktail parties, 'tis the season of explaining what a social media pro does exactly. It's always been an issue for me. My parents cringed in disgust when I told them I was going from a communications researcher to a social media director. They kindly let me know that they hoped it was a temporary thing until I found a more research oriented job in Miami, or got over my obsession with the sunshine state and moved to a "real" city. They are just finally getting what I do, and acknowledging it as a real profession.
Being a social media pro makes cocktail parties a bit dicey, especially when the dreaded "What do you do?" comes up. Every time the question of comes up, they either shrug you off because they assume you "play on Facebook all day" (direct quote), or they nod and pretend like they know what that is. I think I hit my breaking point when a guy who thought he was winning my affection responded, "I'm a social media pro, too. I bet I'm better at it than you. Check out the followers on my Instagram." While there are so many things wrong with his response, I coyly responded, "I mean, I'm a social media pro in that I write social media strategies for Fortune500 companies." Needless to say, that was the end of our conversation.
The ignorance of society to what social media actually is as a profession is quite daunting. It either results in people thinking you just wasted your college degree, or people feeling weird because they have no idea what social media actually is.
Part of that is our fault, isn't it? Isn't part of our job as social media pros to educate people on what that means? You can't blame people for not "getting it". It's a brand new thing that actually did start out as people "playing on Facebook" to see where it could take a brand.
So how do we describe what we do without sounding like we're coming back with a sarcastic response? I think it's great that some companies are renaming the role --> digital strategist, connections strategist, etc. After all, there is hardly a social media role out there these days that does not require working with all faucets of digital.
Here are my tips for being prepared when "What do you do?" comes up:
- Write your own boiler plate.
- Think of what you would write about yourself at the end of an email or a press release. This has taken me some time to nail down. I continuously modify it based on feedback I get at parties, network events.
- Be prepared to answer questions in 140 characters or less.
- Being in love with your job means you can go on and on about it for hours, right?! It also means that the question-asker probably isn't as in love with it as you are and just needs the shortest answer. Twitter has prepared me well for these conversations because I can quickly respond in a short sentence to most questions about my job ;)
- Relate your job to the real world.
- Think of something at the cocktail party, event, etc. that you can relate social media to. For example, if there's a bottle of vodka, mention how awesome Absolut is on social, and pull up an example of your phone. Then compare that to what role you would have had in that campaign, whether you are a strategist or a community manager.
- Don't act offended.
- Don't automatically assume the person just thinks your stupid and all you have to do is create Facebook posts all day. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and make sure you speak up to them and not down to them.
- Use it for research.
- Get them involved and ask them how they use social media, and what they thought social media strategists (fill in the blank for what your role is) do. You'd be surprised by the great answers you get from this that tend to be helpful when creating new strategies for target audiences.
I'm interested to know how the rest of you fare during the holiday season --> comment below with your stories of explaining your out-of-the-box role to family, friends and new acquaintances. I'll let you know if anything else comes up for me :)
- Marji J. Sherman