Let's face it: There's a lot of BS involved in social media.
There are lots of people who talk about how to get more followers, blog subscribers and fans. There are lots of people who talk about how to make gobs of money from blogging or podcasting or email newsletters. There are even more people who will tell you social media/the Intertubes/blogging can make you rich.
At best, this is inane advice. At worst, this is delusional thinking that can lead good people (hopefully not you) astray. Massively astray, in fact.
With the societal interest in social media growing and growing, so to are careers in the field. Perhaps the most coveted titles are social media expert, blogger and consultant. “This,” we tell ourselves, “is the pinnacle of success in the Web 2.0 world!”
Again, I say, “blah.”
Saved by the Bell
In between my last job as a pastor and my current (amazing) role as social media/marketing practitioner at Monk Development, I briefly considered venturing out as a blogger/social media consultant. Thankfully, that idea was a fleeting one. I had a few experiences that very quickly showed me the risk was not, in fact, worth it. Add on the responsibility of supporting a family, and I praise God everyday for the opportunity I eventually took at MonkDev.
Listen to how TheCynicalGirl.com blogger, Laurie Ruettimann, puts it:
Stop envying bloggers and social media consultants who churn out infographics and seem to spend all their time doing really important things on the internets. Everyone in the game of social media and blogging is hustling. Hardly anyone makes money.
Did you read that last part? Hardly anyone makes money.
But you might say, “Justin, I don't do this just to make money. I have a passion for blogging/consulting/social media!” If you're jumping into the consulting/blogging world purely based on passion, you are a much more noble person than me. Further, I don't believe you. Most of us consider this field because the potential for income is lucrative.
If, that is, you can get the work.
Don't Ever Call Yourself an Expert
The reality is that unless you're Pete Cashmore, Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, iJustine or Darren Rowse, it is very difficult to earn a living as a social media expert, blogger or consultant. I know this from talking with friends who have attempted to do it and from my own experience.
This highlights the problem of anyone who runs with the title of “expert” or “consultant.” If a title like that is self-assigned, one runs into the problem of credentials. In other words, “What makes you more of an expert than the hobo down the street who plays ‘Jimmy Cracked Corn' on a five-gallon drum for money?”
I never want to put myself into a position where the knowledge and expertise I've been able to acquire is undermined because of some goofy, self-assigned title. Which is why I think being a “practitioner” is better than being an “expert”, “blogger”, or “consultant”.
A practitioner admits they don't know it all and they're constantly learning. A “guru” or “consultant”, well, they come at things a bit differently. And that isolates them. Again, from Laurie Ruettimann:
Many of these gurus and consultants are sad & lonely souls who wish that Corporate America would find the time to hire them into a department with infrastructure, political infighting, and a mediocre budget.
Although it might not be perfect, serving in a team-based context gives you more credibility than self-assigning a title ever could.
Why Being a Practitioner Is Better Than Being an Expert
A brief example to show you what I'm talking about. I'm a huge fan of Scott Belsky. I love the work he and his team produces. I love his work philosophy. His book is one of my top-reads. Generally speaking, I think he's got his poop in a group. When he talks, I listen. Why?
- He speaks with authority. He's not conjuring these ideas up, he's living them everyday.
- He's getting a constant education. If he speaks on an idea that no longer works, he'll find out much quicker than an “expert,” mostly because his context will tell him what's not working.
- Others do the talking for him. I've become reluctantly convinced that a modicome of self-promotion is necessary. That said, the “expert” and “blogger” usually go overboard in this department, constantly talking about themselves. In Belsky's case, because he's a “practitioner” putting his knowledge to work, others speak his praises for him. As little self-promotion needed as possible.
All the benefits of being a practitioner. Someone who speaks from a place of practice and authority rather than self-diagnosed expertise. That's the ticket!
So… What if I want to be a blogger, consultant or social media expert?
First, great question. Second, if that's you and you've managed to read this far without being totally offended, you're on the right track. I never said having one of those careers is unattainable. Let me give you a few thoughts on how to go about getting the gig you want:
1. Find a position on a team somewhere, big or small, where you can flex your creative muscles. That's right, I said go work for someone else. At least for a bit. Don't take all that risk right out of the gate. Speaking from my experience and the experience of others, starting out as a consultant/blogger/social media expert right away very risky. And somewhat stupid. If your only experience with the trade is sitting in your basement and auto-following people on Twitter, you're not ready. Trust me. You're not.
2. Bury yourself in the craft you want to learn. If you want to be a social media expert, take over every last shred of social media space within the organization. Learn the tools of the trade. Think of your position within the company as a future investment on yourself. You have the security of a regular gig and the freedom to explore the industry you're most excited about.
3. If you're good, people will come to you. My sister is a rockstar food blogger. She kills it day-in and day-out. She gets results, plain and simple, and people take notice. So much so that organizations are now contacting her to get her feedback, help and strategy with their social media and blogging platforms. She didn't have to farm her advice out, people came to her asking for it. Game knows game. If you know your stuff, it will show and people will want you to be a part of what they're doing.
4. Learn, learn, learn. One of the biggest pitfalls I see with consulting and “experts” is that they disconnect themselves from a learning environment. That's why I doubt I'll ever fully jump into the “consultant”. I want to be in an environment where I can instantly apply the things that I'm learning. Keep learning and you'll win, everytime. Stop learning and, well, you'll become one of those blowhards who spout theoretical nonsense rather than practical, real-world findings.
Making money is hard. Making money doing what you love is even more difficult. Don't make it impossible by giving yourself a goofy title that no one believes. Spend time cultivating your craft in a setting that gives you the freedom to test your learnings in a real-world environment..