What Do We Call Ourselves?

[fr] Un article de plus dans la longue série "Stephanie se demande comment appeler ce qu'elle fait". Si "social media expert" a été usé jusqu'à la corde, que reste-t-il à une "spécialiste généraliste" des nouveaux médias comme moi?

This morning I read 6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Brand Yourself as a Social Media Expert. It echoes with a piece I wrote earlier this year: To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist, in which I (a) explain that I have finally understood that the core of my work is strategy and (b) wonder what to call myself.

I pride myself in being one of these “early generation” people, not a “me too”. This year the blog you’re reading will celebrate its 9th birthday, which means that although I’m not the oldest dinosaur out there, I was already blogging when many who are now considered respected old-timers wrote their first post. I’ve been earning money in the field of what we now call social media since early 2005 — and this is Europe, little Switzerland, not the US of Silicon Valley. And without wanting to blame all my failures on being too innovative, I like to think that at least some of them have to do with trying to do things too soon, before the market was ready for them.

The facts above are not just to toot my own horn (a little, I’ll admit) but to drive in the point that I have a very different profile from people who discovered social media, noted that it was (or was going to be) hot, and decided to jump in and make money out of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… I think. I’m somebody who has always been driven more by my interest in things than by “earning money” — my somewhat mediocre business skills (monetizing, marketing, sales). What “title” can I find to differentiate myself from all the other people who are now in the field?

When I was reading Dan’s article, I kept thinking “yes, but what if I really am a social media expert?” I’m not a “had a blog for 18 months” or “I know what Twitter is” kind of expert. And I’m also not somebody who sticks to one kind of activity or domain of expertise (e.g. “teenagers and the net” or “blogging for internal communications”).

A few days ago I came upon this diagram by Budd Caddell, which has had me thinking:

Venn diagram for happiness as a freelancer.

I’m aware that part of my ongoing struggle to define myself for others has to do with my internal struggle to figure out what it is exactly that I do, want to do, can get paid to do. I know what I have been paid to do during the last three years. I have more insight into what I don’t like doing and others want me to do, and am learning to say no. “What I do well” is a bigger problem, because part of me keeps thinking that I suck at more or less everything I do, and though I know it’s not true, it makes self-assessment tricky.

I also think I have a bit of a “generalist” profile: I’m good at a lot of things, but probably, for each thing that I do, you can find somebody who is a bigger “expert” — but who will have a more limited field of expertise. I view myself as a kind of “generalist specialist”, or “generalist expert” in my field.

Many years ago, I wrote a rant in French about so-called “blogging specialists”. (For the sake of the discussion here, let’s consider that specialist = expert.) At the time, I was concerned about the need of the press to be able to quote “specialists”, and they were labeling bloggers “specialists” left, right, and centre, me included. At the time, I felt anything like a specialist, and resented the misattribution.

I guess the same thing bugs me today. People labeling themselves “experts” when, in all honesty, they’re not that much of an expert (see reason #1 in Dan’s article). It’s easy to be somebody else’s expert when you know more than them: au royaume des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois. I see it a lot. It annoys me for two reasons: first, there is sometimes a certain amount of dishonesty or deception (conscious or not) involved; second, if everybody is an expert (reason #6), how do you distinguish between the experts? How do I label myself to make it clear that I am not the same breed as the buzzing crowd of “me too” web2.0 or social media “experts”?

Dan offers a solution in his article, but I’m only half-convinced:

The pioneers of new media are still successful today, but they don’t even brand themselves as “social media experts.”  Think about experts such as David Meerman Scott, Paul Gillan, Chris Brogan, Charlene Li, Steve Rubel, and Robert Scoble.  David is an author who has successfully blended social media with PR and marketing before everyone else.  Chris Brogan focuses more on social media’s impact on community building and he’s been blogging religiously before the medium became mainstream.  Don’t try and brand yourself as one of them because you’ll fail trying.

I guess this works if you really have an area of specialisation in social media, but that’s just not the type of personality I am. I see it in other areas too, take judo, for example: most judo practitioners have one “special”, a move that stands out — I have at least 3 that could be my “special”; how about studies? I spent my career switching between arts and science.

So when it comes to my work, what am I good at? I’m good at a lot of things:

But in none of these areas am I “the most extraordinary person out there”. My strength is that I do all these things, and pretty well too — but there is nothing I can put forward to say “I’m the ultimate expert on X”.

How do I market myself? What do I call myself, if I can’t call myself a social media expert?

Update: Prompted by the same blog post, and written as I was writing this one, do read Suw’s excellent article about the necessity of keeping the E-word around: Hi, my name is Suw and I’m a social media expert.

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This entry was posted in Being the boss, Social Media and the Web and tagged branding, competition, Consulting, freelancing, marketing, name, Social Media and the Web, social media expert, social media strategist, terminology, title. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to What Do We Call Ourselves?

  1. I can relate to so almost everything that you write, except that I think you’re more of a “Social Media Expert” than me ;)

    I’ve been struggling as well, especially to stand out from all the (Dutch) marketeers on the web 2.0 roller coaster, claiming to know all about it, but missing the underlying (deeper) changes.

    I’ve noticed with others that are successfull in their freelance/business life, focus on something other than the social media side. KM en CoP’s e.g. Social media is part of their solution.

    Perhaps you need to focus on the deeper level in the work you do. What kind of strategies can you help clients with? Working better together? Communicative flow with customers?

    “But in none of these areas am I “the most extraordinary person out there”. My strength is that I do all these things, and pretty well too — but there is nothing I can put forward to say “I’m the ultimate expert on X”.”

    I could have written this. A female thing?

    Slowly, I’m becoming aware that no-one would call him/herself “the ultimate expert”.

    Look at the unique combination of skills you bring to the table, Stephanie!

  2. Claude says:

    In software we have a name for the kind of people you describe: Renaissance Developer

    I like thinking of you as a “Renaissance PR Specialist”

  3. Marie-Aude says:

    You have a question at the end, and you gave the answer at the beginning. Strategists are not experts in one field. They are people with a broad view, a capacity to put things together. I think you also have a field of expertise many of the people mentionned in this article don’t. You’re European :)

  4. Stephanie says:

    Elmine, you got me thinking. I guess what is specific about me is that I am at the same time a strategist and a practitioner. And one thing I’m really good at is explaining things, and help people sort their thoughts out.

    Thinking more.

    Marie-Aude: you’re right, I do give the answer at the beginning. But defining myself purely as a strategist isn’t completely satisfying. It makes it sound like all I do is talk about big abstract ideas and wave my hands in the air, when I also like to put forward the fact I am in contact with the ground, and am good at teaching stuff.

  5. Being a strategist and at the same time able to put stuff into practice sounds like a perfect combination for hiring you, especially if you can explain it very good to me :)

  6. Marie-Aude says:

    OK teaching is slightly different, and would be definitively a second “service”. But really good strategists are not, imho, people with the head only n the stars. They must be also down the earth, just to be able to confront their ideas with realities. Or they become just the kind of consultants you find in big firms.

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