Social media career advice

Graduation Cake Guy

Ugh. Nothing worse than unsolicited advice, right? Well, I guess it’s not entirely unsolicited. This is a post I started mentally writing back when all the colleges and universities were sending a crop of new grads into the world but it wasn’t until yesterday, when Toronto-based PR educator Barry Waite tweeted and asked for advice for new PR grads, that I started actually thinking about how to make this coherent.

Sorry Barry, I need more than 140 characters.

First a disclaimer. I’m probably not the first person a young grad would turn to for advice. Yes, I’ve got social media in my job title but I’m certainly not an expert. I don’t have legions of followers, I don’t have a book deal and I don’t have an iPhone app.

What I do have, though, is 10 years or so of experience working in PR/comms type roles and a career I’m pretty happy with.

You gotta “get” social media. But there is more

There seems to be a lot of pressure on new PR grads these days to “get” social media. With good reason. Social media are radically changing the way that PR, communications, marketing and media relations are done. However, there seems to be a lot of people who are taking that idea to its illogical extreme, trying to find out how to make a career in social media. Recent grads are hanging out their shingles as social media consultants or looking for work as a social media expert.

Yes, I am the “social media guy” at non-linear creations. My experience in social spaces got me in the door here. But it’s my experience in web strategy (as an in-house comms guy who worked on a half dozen web projects in three years) that keeps me relevant and allows me to work as part of an amazing team of web strategists, information architects and user-experience designers. It’s my ability to write integrated digital outreach strategies (that include but are not limited to social media tools) that makes me an asset to our clients.

When I was in talks with NLC before I came on board, I asked that the word “integration” be included in my job title. As a rule, I don’t put much stock in titles but I wanted that to be front and centre when I was introduced to clients because, at its heart, that’s my job. My job isn’t to teach people how to use social media, it’s to help them integrate social media into their overall outreach strategy.

Nobody is hiring a semaphore consultant

Is there a market for social-media-specific training or consulting? Yup. For now. But, at its core, outreach via social media isn’t rocket science. There’s a learning curve, sure, but it’s not that steep. And as these tools and the communities of knowledge around them mature, social-media-specific consulting as a concept is going to sound as insane as fax-machine-specific consulting or press-release-specific consulting.

My job title is “social media integration consultant” but my job is communication. My role is to work with clients to understand their needs and objectives then recommend tools and strategies to help them meet their goals. I come at projects with a social media mindset but I don’t work in isolation and I don’t throw blinders on. Some projects scream out for a social component. Others don’t. It’s my experience as a general communications professional and the insights of the rest of the NLC strategy team that help decide which are which.

So to the PR or comms or marketing grads 2010, I humbly offer you this. Don’t specialize to the point of putting yourself on the path to irrelevance. If you want to work in social media, understand how social media works with traditional outreach channels – those aren’t going away. Don’t just understand your niche, understand how your niche fits in the bigger picture.

At the end of the day, PR, comms and marketing aren’t about the tools, they are about understanding the underlying human behaviours. How people communicate. How people interact. Don’t be a social media specialist or an any other kind of specialist. Be a communicator first.

Creative Commons License photo credit: CarbonNYC


  1. Thanks Joe for posting this. Great advice! One thing above all that I’ve tried to stress with students is that while social media may be the wave of the future, it is still in many ways a shiny new toy that can people can latch onto and forget its but one of many tools available to communicators. At the end of the day you need to understand how social media works just like any other communications platform and how it fits into your overall strategy. It’s why I believe its essential that communicators direct social media.

  2. Well said. I’m not established as a “social media guy” but I run blogs, Facebook and Twitter pages for a few organizations, and have helped set up more. And yet I’m always hesitant to put “social media” anything on my resume, simply because I feel like anybody should be able to run a Facebook fan page, so I don’t feel like that necessarily provides a competitive edge. It certainly isn’t the number one thing on my skills-sheet– communications is.

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