How NOT to Start a Career in Social Media

There are not a lot of topics on which I feel that I am truly an expert, but building a career in Starting Your Career as a Social Media Managersocial media happens to be one of those topics.  You see, in addition to working in online since 1997 (when Mark Zuckerberg was 13 years old), I sort of literally wrote the book on it in 2012: “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager” (and if you are one of the ten people who bought the book, thank you).  Interestingly enough, one of my kids found the Goodreads reviews of the book (I had never seen them), and they didn’t suck!

Eleanor Pierce’s post in Spin Sucks this morning, “Are You a Certified Social Media Professional?” got me thinking – and worrying – about the future of my craft.  In her post, she pointed out that someone found, and alerted her to, a GROUPON deal for a certificate that one can gain as a CERTIFIED social media professional – for the low, low price of $99.  That’s probably if you order before midnight tonight.  And they’ll throw in a free Flowbee too (extra credit points for ANYONE who knows what a Flowbee was – tell me in the comments).

There is so much wrong with this topic that I don’t know where to start, so without echoing what’s in Eleanor’s informative post, I’ll just add:

  • You get what you pay for.  I have taught social media at the graduate school level at two universities where my students paid THOUSANDS of dollars for a top-notch education, and many have gone on to be successful in their respective careers – many of which have involved social media.  It’s not something that you can get on the cheap, and potential employers will see right through it if you do.  Those people with degrees from Georgetown are your competition.
  • You can’t just have a lot of followers on Facebook and think that you can walk into a business setting and be successful.  Sure, it’s great if you have 1,000 friends, but that does not guarantee that you can give sage counsel to internal nor external clients on how to build a brand, respond to a crisis, or even gather a following for a business.  Nope, nope, nope.
  • Your professional path can take you many places, but most will have you working with two types of clients: internal and external.  A lot of what I talk about in the book and taught in the classroom was not only how to make external clients happy, but how to manage internal clients.  You see, there will be inevitable turf wars:  IT will want to “own” social media, as will communications, public relations, public affairs, legal, and others.  To be an effective social media practitioner, you need to develop a skill set to manage the internal turf battles of who “owns” social media in your workplace.
  • You need to have a firm foundation in communications FIRST.  Of the dozens of people whom I interviewed for my book, not one of them began his or her career in social media.  Their backgrounds were varied (broadcasting, speechwriting, politics, marketing, public relations), but all had one thing in common:  they first learned how to craft a message and deliver it to a targeted audience.  That’s a fundamental skill set in social media.  The magic in NOT in the bright, shiny social media tool, it is in your ability to use that tool to accomplish a communications objective (oh, and measure it as well to prove that you were successful).

I could go on and on (and do in the book – another shameless plug), but please, please beware of snake oil salesmen when it comes to making one of the most important choices of your life – which direction your career will take.  People increasingly spend more and more time at work, so it’s more important than ever to make the right choice – and NOT to drink the snake oil that people try to sell you in the form of a “certified social media professional” certificate.



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Sobrr Will Make You Wish You Stayed at Home – Sober


There are bad ideas, there is stupid personal behavior, but when you have an app that encourages a mix of both and records them, it’s a bad idea.  A stupider idea is actually using that app.

Courtesy of my friend, Tonia Reis, I found out about Sobrr, which seems to me to be the grown-up version of Snapchat, but one that encourages recording um, more “adult” behavior.

Sobrr’s perspective is the following (I am quoting): “If you only had 24 hours to live your life to the fullest — with no baggage from the past and no future to worry about — what would you choose to do?”  Thanks to Sobrr  — a new location-based mobile app where everyone you friend and everything you post expires in 24 hours — that life-changing moment is NOW.”

Their video is below, which is the centerpiece of their web site, but their message to me is:

  • Use our location-based app to find other people who want to “seize the moment”
  • Do something that you would not normally do.  Think bars, think alcohol, think opposite sex (watch the ad carefully – it pairs men and women)
  • And, at the invitation of Sobrr, “BE EPIC: Do the things you’ve always dreamed of doing and document it on Sobrr with updates, photos, and chat messages. Others can swipe once to cheer you on.”
  • Again, at the invitation of Sobrr, “MOVE ON.”

According to Sobrr, “everything you’ve shared and all the friends you’ve made automatically ‘expires’ in 24 hours.” Relationships?  Gonzo.  Pictures?  Nuked.  Chat records?  In the trash can.  Supposedly.  But in the era of screen shots, or drunken people forgetting to use the app to shoot video and pictures, breaking established habits, what happens then if something is still recorded?  Are you still EPIC?  Or BUSTED?

I am not here to judge others on how they spend their free time and what that entails (I gotta admit though, that this SCREAMS one night stand in my mind), but like I said, this is the adult version of Snapchat on steroids – with adult actions and consequences.  One of their suggested activities is “An epic Vegas bachelor party that you can’t quite remember — nor forget.”  Right.  I have done plenty of stupid things in my life, didn’t need an app to encourage me to do them, but also did not do these things in the era of social media, where everything you do can be public.

Have a look at their ad below and let me know what you think.  I think rather than being EPIC tonight, I’ll stay home and be LAME.

Image: The Wild Party, Rosie Kay Dance Company, via Flickr Commons

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St. Baldricks and Why You Should Give

donateI am raising money for pediatric cancer research and am asking you for money.  I am honoring Lauren G., whom I have sponsored since 2008.

Lauren is now 12.  On March 4, 2005, seven years ago today, was diagnosed with Langerhan’s CellHistiocytosis/Ensophillic granuloma.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have a sick child, but when you hear scary words like “chemotherapy” and “survival rates” as a parent, it is beyond one’s ability to process. Moreover, on December 13, 2007, Heather’s husband – and Danielle and Lauren’s daddy – George – was killed in an automobile accident. Imagine police knocking on the door. Having to tell two little girls that their daddy has gone to heaven – right before Christmas.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I am both participating in the annual St. Baldrick’s head shaving ceremony, but also running a half marathon in the hopes that I will attract more donors.  That, plus the fact that it’s important to me to do more than just show up and have my head shaved.

Children are supposed to run, laugh and play.  So I am running – longer than I have ever run in my life – because of the children who can’t.  Or the parents whose own grief and angst does not allow them the psychological freedom to do something for themselves.

Please give whatever you can to St. Baldrick’s.   Small donations add up.



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The Dark Side of Teenager-Generated Content

I am the father of two young children and I frequently speak with them about bullying.  Schools seem to take it much for seriously than when I was in junior and senior high school.  These days, there are all kinds of acronyms, programs, guidance counselors and other resources designed to reduce or even put an end to one child (or childrens’) cruelty to another.

Back in the day (which is what middle-aged people like me use as a euphemism for when we were younger), it was a dog-eat-dog world in junior and senior high school, a caste system in which you were to assume your rightful place.  Jocks, nerds, “popular” kids, you name it.  There seemed to be a category for everything.  And you had to conform, or else.

And there were the weak.  The kids who got picked on incessantly, and often times, got beat up.  That was bad, humiliating and worse yet, that reputation followed kids around high school.  “Hey, Danny got his ass kicked the other day by Chris.  You wouldn’t believe it!”  Being a “wimp” was a moniker that followed kids around like a dark shadow that they could not outrun.

What sparked my thinking on this was a disturbing Washington Post article, “When school fights land on YouTube.”  The premise of the article is that one poor kid was on the losing end of a fight, but this one-sided brawl was captured on a cell phone, uploaded to YouTube and garnered the wrong sort of attention:

Two boys are fighting in a Calvert County middle school. A crowd of students laugh and jeer until a teacher arrives to break it up. Later discipline is meted out.

But the fight is not nearly over.

A video goes up on YouTube — 32 seconds of personal humiliation for the boy who is taking most of the punches. He has often been bullied in middle school, according to his family, and now is shown being hit in the head and side and placed in a headlock.

There is no apparent serious injury, and the clip is posted as “Weak People Fighting.” It is uploaded onto Facebook, tweeted, shared and commented on.

Embarrassing or humiliating incidents caught on YouTube are nothing new (ask Giselle Brady, Tom Brady’s wife), but this sort of torment takes humiliation to a different level.  One’s supposed weakness/”wimpiness” is captured, recorded and spreads virally in the child’s community – that in which he has to live, go to school and just survive.

The article goes on to state:

The episode Feb. 8 left 14-year-old Darin King feeling too taunted to continue at Windy Hill Middle School in Owings, his family said. For now, he is being home-schooled. “This took it to a whole new level,” said Vicki King. “This was for the world to see.”

I wish I had an answer for this, some strong condemnation coupled with a call to action to keep this thing from happening.  I don’t and I don’t hold YouTube responsible either. There will be fights for sure, but the humiliation should not go viral.  When YouTube was contacted (by the Washington Post, no less), they pulled down the video.  But the damage was done.  It was shared on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Read the article, but the usual cast of characters (school officials, think tank people, privacy “experts”) were interviewed, but the bottom line is this:  it’s not right, it takes cruelty and humiliation to a new level at the time at which kids are forming their own sense of self – and having it severely damaged in the process.  It is so, so sad.

When I was a kid, I was in a couple of fights and ended up on the losing end.  But as I watch what happens now when kids film just about anything on their phones, combined with a a teenager’s lack of judgment, I have altered my stance on fighting.

I may get flamed for this, but I have repeatedly told my son, “Don’t ever start a fight, but if you are in one, finish it.”  This may encourage violence; it may be Neanderthal “guy speak”; it definitely runs counter to all of the counsel that the school provides.  But I would rather he go down fighting than have to be faced with an “Internet is forever” clip of being humiliated – that will follow him throughout his time in school.

Primitive?  Probably?  Protective? Given every kid with a camera phone, you’re damn right.


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Rant: Social Media Bullshit Artists Pollute the Space

It’s entirely possible that this post is filled with envy and narcissism. But I don’t think so.

This topic has been brewing in my mind for some time, and yesterday, I arrived at a point at which my thoughts crystallized and I could make sense out of what I was thinking.

My point: I hate social media bullshit artists. As a practitioner, it is getting harder to teach internal and external clients the skills to distinguish what is helpful, concrete advice and what is self-serving of shallow counsel. This frustrates me enormously because some high-profile names pollute and dominate the space with pontifications and advice that I feel is at times, self-serving and at others, a firm grasp of the obvious. This makes it SO much harder to have solid advice sink in when a client’s response might be “Well, [person here] has written four books and was the keynote at BlogWorld Expo. Why should I listen to you?”

I’ll tell you why: because I am not a bullshit artist.300

Could I have envy that so-called “A-Listers” write books, get huge speaking fees and make a bazillion dollars a year? Sure. But again, I’m content with my place in the world of social media advice but am frustrated that some big names make it harder for the rest of us who try to offer actionable advice. Recently, I was horrified to read a blog post in which an A-Lister posted his normal speaking fees, and the cost of one speech – ONE SPEECH – could easily outstrip the annual salary of a junior social media worker bee in a smaller market.

I have to offer a caveat, and it is a big one: I am writing a book so point the finger at me with many of the same criticisms that I will level here. Here’s the difference, though: I am not trying to sell more books (it’s not even out yet), but an important part of the book is to attempt to help up-and-coming social media practitioners distinguish between those who are smart and they can learn from, and those who I think are phoneys and bullshit artists.

The best advice that I can give here is a combination of my own ruminations, those of my colleagues and friends in a Facebook group (you know who you are) and specifically what my friend and author of “The Like Economy,” Brian Carter pointed out. When starting out or hiring someone to help formulate a social media strategy would be to ask them:

  • In the recent past, what accomplishments can you point to that you have achieved for others? The unspoken point here is, aside from writing books, counting your Twitter followers and crowing about your speaking engagements, what have you actually done that has helped others achieve their social media communications objectives? And how have you measured the success?
  • What types of clients have you served? Again, many offer case studies about helping Fortune 500 companies (or at least speaking at their events), but the majority of companies in this country are small or medium-sized enterprises. Is the strategic advice that you give applicable to all companies, and does the difference lay in the tactics? Most companies don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to throw at social media. When I was teaching, the fixation of texts and Harvard Business Review articles to focus on Fortune 500 companies missed a critical point: most people will NOT end up working there. They will end up at much smaller organizations and need advice on how to make it work there.
  • Finally, is there as much listening as there is pontificating? I spent nearly 15 years in the agency world, and through practice (and mistakes), I learned to listen to clients and tease out what is was that they were attempting to accomplish through the use of social media. Start with the client’s communications objectives. Some more recognized names go on about the latest, shiny tool, but one size does not fit all. Nor does one strategy or one tactic. And tenting ones fingers and saying “engagement” over and over again serves only to pollute the space in which many of us operate. It makes it harder: damn harder.

So yeah, I’m writing a book and have pimped it here. I am at best, a B-minus Lister, but in my career (or for most of it) I have tried to be a good listener, stay on top of what is new and interesting in social media and offer practical, actionable advice to clients. Not sell books. Not trying to build my “personal brand.” Not increase my Klout score. And certainly not crow about what I charge for people to come listen to me.

Am I envious? Not really.

I’m disgusted.


Image:  Shark Bait Shirts.

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