Gini Dietrich made a big mistake in hiring me.
Turns out, I’m not a qualified social media professional.
I can even upgrade to $199 and get a complete social media strategist package (which, incidentally, comes with “diplomatic immunity”).
What a relief—hopefully it’s not too late!
Ok, you may have picked up on a little bit of sarcasm there.
First, I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the offerings of Social Media Academy. They very well could offer excellent training programs—and perhaps in certain circles their certification programs really do bump up certain resumes to the “interview” pile.
But when I interviewed with Gini before I began working for Arment Dietrich, there was no conversation about being a certified social media professional.
In fact, Gini and I shared a similar “how we got into social media” story.
Here’s how it went: We tried social media.
We played around with it.
We made some mistakes.
We read some blogs (in my case, there was a good amount of time spent on this blog you’re reading now).
And along the way, we picked up enough skills that we became authoritative. People started to ask us for advice about social media.
It’s not a glamorous social media education, but it’s a pretty effective one.
So What Does a Social Media Professional Need to Succeed?
If I’m not a big proponent of online certification, it’s fair to ask what I think you do need to be a successful social media professional?
Here’s my list:
- Be a good writer. Be able to write long form—get some clips together by starting your own blog or guest blogging on other sites. You should also be able to write short. You can demonstrate this by cultivating your own social media profiles that show off your unique voice. And, of course, how do you actually get good at writing? Stephen King says it best in his book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
- Have a solid communications and marketing background. The social media networks themselves change fast, but the basics of communication are pretty consistent. If you don’t know what a landing page is or understand how sales and marketing relate to each other, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out the purpose of all this social media chatter. If you want to learn more about social, I’d suggest that you spend more time learning about communications, public relations, and marketing than studying the intricacies of the social media tools. Once you get the basics that form the foundation of your marketing strategies, you can start digging into how to execute your brilliant strategies with the tools that make the most sense when you need them.
- Don’t be afraid to quickly find the answers to questions you’ve never heard before. Look, don’t tell Gini, but… I don’t always know, right off the top of my head, the answers to every question that’s ever asked of me. So what do I do? Despair? Cry? Gnash teeth and pull out my hair? Most days, no. Most days, I just figure out the right answer. It’s not always as easy as it sounds. Google does not always have the answers—and even when Google helps you out, you still have to know (or figure out) which resources are reliable and which aren’t. Often, you have to be willing to dig in, give something a try yourself, and see if it works. That means you have to be able to think quickly. The more you practice this kind of problem solving, the better you’ll be.
- Be genuinely enthusiastic about connecting with people online. I’m a particular kind of nerd: I genuinely believe social media are powerful tools to connect people. If you’re patient with me, I can tell you several stories off the top of my head about the friends—some of my very best IRL friends—that I initially met through social media. And, of course, I’ve also found an array of jobs through social media, both full-time jobs and freelance gigs. If you’re not passionate about social media, if you don’t think it’s interesting, if you’ve never had a hard time stepping away from Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook, you probably don’t want to spend most of your time doing it and thinking about it. Another line of work might be a better fit for you.
- Have a strong sense of what to do in a crisis. If you didn’t catch last week’s crisis communication webinar with Melissa Agnes, I hope you at least got the recording. Here’s the thing all online communicators have to understand: A crisis can erupt at any time. And you really need to have a plan in place for what you will do when one strikes. When people start freaking out on social media, most of us have the same knee-jerk reaction—our fingers itch to start deleting. Make the bad people go away! It’s a totally natural instinct. But it’s also a perfectly terrible response. If you don’t have a solid understanding of crisis communications principles, there’s a very good chance you’ll do the wrong thing. Educate yourself so that when you’re in charge, you’ll have a plan of attack beyond the delete button.
That’s my short list of attributes that make a good social media professional.
What would you add to the list?