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Tag: Social Media and the Web

Stratégie médias sociaux: à distance ou en dialogue? [fr]

Stratégie médias sociaux: à distance ou en dialogue? [fr]

[en] I'm always astonished when I hear about people developing social media strategies for a client "on their own". For me, the strategy emerges from the discussion between two parties, each bringing their expertise to the table: social media, and the company/context the strategy is for. I sell a process rather than strategies.

Je me souviens de la première fois qu’on m’a explicitement demandé de “pondre” une stratégie médias sociaux. Pas avec ces mots, bien sûr. On m’a demandé, après un entretien d’embauche, de “juste” mettre par écrit une stratégie pour l’organisation en question.

J’étais à la fois estomaquée et confuse: premièrement, je ne m’attendais pas à ce qu’on me donne une “mission” (et j’ignorais totalement que ce genre de chose se pratiquait, m’étant présentée à un seul véritable entretien d’embauche dans ma vie), et deuxièmement, produire de mon côté, en toute autonomie, une “stratégie médias sociaux” me paraissait d’un non-sens sans nom.

Au fil des années, j’ai rencontré à plusieurs reprises cette idée de production de stratégie médias sociaux “à distance” de l’organisation qu’elle concerne. Comme exercice pour des étudiants, comme demande de la part de clients potentiels, ou encore de la part d’agences.

Et je ne comprends toujours pas.

Pour moi, une stratégie est le résultat d’une rencontre: moi, qui amène à la table mon expertise en médias sociaux, et le client, qui amène à la table son expertise sur son organisation et les contraintes et moyens qui fournissent le cadre dans lequel on travaille. La stratégie émerge de la discussion. Pas de mon cerveau, ex nihilo, après avoir absorbé quelques généralités concernant mon client.

Du coup, ça m’a aidé à être plus claire avec mes clients — qu’ils soient le “client final” ou non. Je ne vends pas des stratégies, mais un processus d’accompagnement pour développer ensemble la stratégie. Economie d’énergie, économie d’argent, économie de temps. Une approche née du monde numérique, dans lequel il coûte peu de tester une idée directement, de planifier en cours de route, plutôt que de prendre des lustres “hors terrain” pour tenter de deviner ce qui prendra.

Certes, la planification a sa place. Mais des fois, il vaut mieux faire, et voir.

(Scoop: je suis restée indépendante.)

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Talk: Be Your Best Offline Self Online [en]

Talk: Be Your Best Offline Self Online [en]

[fr] La conférence que j'ai donnée mercredi à Women in Digital Switzerland à Lausanne.

Kelly invited me to be the guest speaker for the Women in Digital meetup in Lausanne on Wednesday, with a talk titled “Be Your Best Offline Self Online: How your personal online presence helps your business/career“.

It was streamed live on Facebook, which means that even if you weren’t able to attend in person, you can still listen to my talk now. I’ve put it up on YouTube for easier access outside of Facebook.

(Feel free to go “audio only”, the slides aren’t that important.)

There is a lot to write about this topic, and hopefully I will, but for now I’m at least making sure that you have access to the video! This makes me think I should get the various videos of my talks I have collected over the years on YouTube, even if the quality of most of them is not that great, and make a playlist of them.

A big thanks to Kelly who held her iPhone as steady as possible to capture this talk. I’m extremely grateful to have a recording of it.

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Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur ma carrière et les enjeux du marché d'aujourd'hui pour les "pionniers des médias sociaux", avec en toile de fond l'effondrement de nos contextes d'être et de communication dans le monde en ligne (Facebook, bonjour).

Contexte collapse. It’s crept up on me. It used to be semi-overlapping publics, or more precisely, they point to two different faces of the same thing.

Semi-overlapping publics remind us that we do not all see quite the same public. This was the “new” thing Twitter brought compared to our old IRC channels. Now it’s trivial, obvious even, to point it out.

Walking Alone

Context collapse points to the fact that the natural boundaries in our lives have broken down. I was aware of this going on, and it never really troubled me. On the contrary: I loved (still do) the idea of bringing people from different places together, of the melting-pot, of wrecking the big, artificial and sometimes even harmful boundaries we have erected between our private and professional lives. We are whole people.

But what I’m seeing now is that contexts have collapsed to the point where it is putting a break on our desire to express ourselves. I am feeling it myself.

I just had a great catch-up call with my old friend Deb Schultz from over the Atlantic. We shared our observations on our professional lives, so similar. I’ve had other conversations with my peers lately, people who have “been around” this “online social stuff” for a long time. I went freelance 10 years ago, and as I already mentioned the “market” has changed dramatically. From medium-sized fish in a small pond, pretty much the only person in my geographical area you could call up to interview about “blogs” or ask to give a talk on the topic, I feel I am now in a really big pond full of fish of all shapes and sizes, thrashing about much more vigorously than I am.

Talking with Deb tonight, I realised how “not alone” I was in my current professional predicament. And here’s what it has to do with context collapse: I feel I have lost the spaces I used to have which were public enough to be useful, and private enough that I might feel comfortable saying “hey guys, time to send me work/clients if you have any leads”.

Facebook is full of everybody, including ex-clients, future clients, even current clients. Peers, family and friends. Context so collapsed it is flat as a pancake. I think I did well online in the early days because I am not as scared of context collapse as most people. I am comfortable talking (and being honest) about a lot of things with a lot of people. My online presence brought me visibility, which brought me a career. Contexts “just collapsed enough”.

But everybody has their limits, and, like many people, I find it hard to talk about the challenges I might face running my business with people who are paying me for said business. Because you want your clients to trust you, and believe in you, because you’re good, right, and if you’re good you cannot be anything but successful. If there is a crack in your success, it can only mean you’re not that good.

It could mean you’re not that good at self-marketing and sales, though. (That’s another — long — post.)

(And a shout-out to Robert Scoble, who was an early inspiration to me when it comes to “putting it out there”, and who has come back from Facebook to tell us where he’s at. Read his post.)

During tonight’s discussion, on the backdrop of other recent conversations with my peers, I realised there really is a whole generation of us early independent social media professionals who are facing similar issues. Our industry has matured, “social media” (or whatever you want to call this online stuff) is in every company and agency. Those who arrived later in this area of expertise are specialised: you have community managers, social media marketers, digital content specialists, etc, etc.

We early birds often have more generalist profiles. I know it’s my case. We’ve touched all this, seen it grow and take shape. And now we wonder where we fit in. Personally, I’ve been wondering for years (on and off) if there was still a market for what I do. Is there a decent business case for “Stephanie Booth freelancer”, or am I just fooling myself?

At this stage, I don’t really have the answer. One answer I do have is that there is definitely still a market for what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years when I reframe it as “digital transformation” or “digital literacy”. I’d known for a long time that describing what I did as “social media” was problematic, because it bundled me up with “marketing”, or had people thinking I was a “community manager” who would “update their Facebook page”. So, it’s been a big relief to find a way to talk about this aspect of my work that feels right.

What I don’t know yet is:

  • how do I talk about “the rest” of what I do/can do: analysing needs, challenging solutions to make sure they really solve problems, digging to identify real problems, offering solutions, coordinating, planning…?
  • do I have the “business skills” (sales, marketing) to “make it” as a freelancer when I’m not benefitting from media spotlight or being one of the only fishies in the small pond?
  • is it time to “reboot” and work as an employee for a few/many years, and if so: client-side, agency, consulting… — and am I “employable”, at 40+, having been freelance for almost my entire career?

The “safe spaces” to talk about these things are not completely gone. We have one-one conversations, if we take the trouble to plan them, like my friend and I did tonight. We have spaces like the Going Solo Slack, where a handful of us chat from time to time. And newsletters. I really believe the context collapse and fragmentation of the major social spaces like Facebook has something to do with what I sense as renewed enthusiasm for a certain type of newsletters.

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I Am the Bridge, the Tourist Guide, the Ferryman, the Hostess [en]

I Am the Bridge, the Tourist Guide, the Ferryman, the Hostess [en]

[fr] Réflexion sur mon véritable domaine d'expertise. Depuis des années, je me débats avec cette casquette "médias sociaux". Je fais à la fois plus et moins que ça. Et j'ai compris, je crois -- quatre semaines de vraies vacances ça prépare bien le terrain aux prises de conscience. Ces idées doivent encore mûrir, mais j'ai une piste: ce que je fais, c'est aider les gens à accéder aux cultures avec lesquelles ils ne sont pas familiers -- y compris la culture numérique, celle du monde en ligne. Si "médiation interculturelle" n'était pas déjà utilisé pour faire référence à autre chose, c'est ce terme que je choisirais. "Médiation technologique", pour la partie "technologique". Mais ça ne s'arrête pas là. A suivre...

Next summer I will have been fully self-employed (in a one-breadwinner-home) for ten years. I feel quite impressed saying it. I remember when I hit the 3- and 5-year milestones: most businesses don’t last that long.

In ten years, the industry my work falls in (social media) has evolved tremendously. I started out as a “blogging consultant” in a world which had no Twitter, no Facebook, no “social media”. We had blogs, forums, wikis, and “social software”. I was a pioneer, I found what we then called “the living web” fascinating, and was lucky to be at the right place and the right time in my little corner of the world to make a living introducing others to this incredible digital world I knew.

Vallée du Rhône

I helped people build websites, gave talks in schools and businesses about blogs, MySpace (yes!) and later Facebook and Twitter. I helped organisations make sense of these new tools and figure out what they could do with them. During the past five years, I have mainly facilitated relationships between bloggers and organisations, founded and directed French-speaking Switzerland’s first comprehensive course on social media and online communities, and been blog editor-in-chief more than once.

Quite a ride.

For a few years now, I’ve been feeling more and more estranged from the business of “social media”. I definitely still fit in there somewhere, but a lot of it is not really of much interest to me. It feels like it’s been eaten up by marketing: most of the time, trying to do the same old stuff in some new channel.

And in parallel, I’ve felt a growing frustration about the fact that my marketable skills are certainly wider than what I’ve been openly advertising, and that I’m staying stuck in this social media consultant career track because I haven’t managed to identify them clearly enough and figure out (even less communicate) a business proposition around them.

Transitions are great opportunities to stop and think. As my engagement as editor-in-chief for Open Ears ended, I decided to take a real holiday, a good long break to clear my head so I could look at my business with fresh eyes. Taking time away is vital for creativity, and I really hadn’t had much of that these last few years.

It seems to have worked, because it really feels like the pieces have been falling into place this last week, since my return. I’d like to share this thinking in progress with you.

Family in Sonarpur

From the beginning, what I’ve found interesting with the internet is people and relationships. The human side of technology. I have a background in humanities, in addition to being a bit of a geek, so the whole “psychology + sociology” side of social media is really what makes me tick. Not so much the “selling” or “branding” part.

A couple of months ago, I was describing my work as blog editor to a potential client. He pointed out that what I was doing was quite a balancing act, and seemed quite admirative. I had never looked at it like that, or thought much of it, but it’s quite true: whether managing a blog or a blogger relations programme, one important thing I do is balance sometimes conflicting interests from the different parties in play.

For example, the brand behind a blog might want more positive content about their products, or more promotional content, and on the other hand the blog’s editorial independence must be preserved or it will lose credibility as a space for authentic expression and relationships. The same goes for blogger relations: if an event invites bloggers, it hopes for positive coverage, but on the other hand the very reason bloggers are courted is because of their independence. So, how do we run a blog without it becoming a corporate mouthpiece, and how do we associate with bloggers without making them sell out?

This is actually a crucial part of my work, but that I hadn’t properly put my finger on until that conversation. More importantly, this means that it is value that I’ve been implicitly providing my clients, without ever selling it explicitly. (Is there a market for this? That indeed remains to be examined.)

I had previously identified this “talent” somewhat in my personal life. I would often find myself mediating between people who have trouble communicating. (Pro tip: don’t do this, it’s not good for your friendships.) I’ve done it too (with more success) in professional situations, by helping maintain communication between parties involved in a project. At one point I wondered if I should consider becoming a professional mediator, but that seemed to be taking things too far: I’m not interested in spending the whole of my professional life helping people resolve disputes.

That’s where things were when I left for India, and a discussion with a close friend and fellow freelancer upon my return revealed to me the common thread in my various professional interests — including some wild dreams and crazy brainstorms alongside stuff I have actually been doing and some I want to do more of. My unifier.

I introduce people to unfamiliar cultures. I am the bridge, the translator, the ferryman. I’m still looking for the best way to say this.

I’ve always said I considered the digital world as a culture, and that my work with social media made perfect sense with my background as a historian of religions, specialised in Indian culture.

This explains why I like working with clients who are “starting out” so much. I introduce them to the digital world. Help them understand how it works. How they can be present in it. What it can bring them.

When I was giving talks in schools, I would tell parents and teachers that I was their “tourist guide to the internet”.

During my last year with Phonak, I gave a series of digital literacy workshops — something I’ve been wanting to provide for years.

When I dream about different lives for myself, I see myself organising guided tours to “my India”, helping expats settle down in Switzerland. Outside of work, playing Ingress, I naturally settled down in the role of welcoming new players. I am the hostess.

Kolkata Streets 2015 26

In Kolkata, Aleika and I brainstormed business ideas to run in India, and all of them have to do with this same “bridging cultures” theme.

I take people by the hand and show them the way, or sit in the middle so that different worlds can collaborate.

Clearly, these skills go beyond social media, and also do not encompass all of social media. I’m understanding better why I’ve struggled so much with my “social media consultant” label these last years.

There could very well be areas in the business world where such skills are useful, but that I do not know of — or am not thinking of. The doors are open, but I’m not sure what room I’m in yet.

Does this make sense?

 

You can also find this post on LinkedIn, Medium, and Facebook.

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The Frustrating Easiness of Sharing a Link on Facebook (and Twitter and Google Plus and Tumblr and…) [en]

The Frustrating Easiness of Sharing a Link on Facebook (and Twitter and Google Plus and Tumblr and…) [en]

[fr] C'est tellement facile de partager des liens sur Facebook et autres que je finis par ne plus le faire sur mon blog, parce que c'est laborieux. Il y a un moyen plus simple?

Today, when I stumble upon an interesting link, I share it on Facebook. And usually also on Twitter. And on Google Plus.

It’s easy. More often than not, I found the link in question on Facebook, Twitter, or G+. Resharing on the same platform is two clicks maximum. The link is expanded into an excerpt and a photo which are nice and pretty and often spare me having to write any kind of introduction to the link (I do, sometimes).

Sharing on other platforms? At the worst, copy-paste (goes quickly when you use keyboard shortcuts and know your way around your browser tabs). Or the bitly bookmarklet.

Sharing on social media is rewarding: people are there already, they comment, they like, they reshare.

I pull quotes out of what I’m reading with the Tumblr bookmarklet and post them to Digital Crumble. That in turn gets sucked into Facebook, to the annoyance of some and the delight of others. Super easy.

You know what’s not easy? Collecting a bunch of interesting links I’ve found recently into a blog post on Climb to the Stars. That sucks. I’ve done it at times, yes, but I do wish there was an easier way to do it than copy-pasting article titles and putting links on them, after having let them pile up in an Evernote note until there were enough of them.

I’m sure there is a way to do this more elegantly. Tell me!

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Life and Trials of a Social Media Consultant [en]

Life and Trials of a Social Media Consultant [en]

[fr] Le marché et l'industrie des médias sociaux a beaucoup changé depuis que j'en ai fait ma profession (c'était en 2006, pardi!). Petit regard en arrière sur le chemin parcouru et où je me situe par rapport à la pléthore actuelle de services tournant autour des médias sociaux. Un profil de généraliste avec deux domaines de prédilection, les blogs et les indépendants.

Since I went freelance over six years ago, a lot has changed. We weren’t talking of social media back then. I was a “blogging consultant” and what I told people about was “the living web”. At some point what we did was “social software”. Somewhere along the line “social media” showed up (who still speaks of “web 2.0” nowadays?), and it’s become a pretty well-accepted umbrella term for all sorts of stuff from “viral videos” to “facebook marketing” to blogging to digital strategy to online communities… And all the rest.

At some point here in Switzerland, the social media industry matured. I went from being one of the very few people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland who could come and give a talk on “blogs and the living web” (when I started out) to one of the many fish in a larger and larger pond (including, sadly, some sharks). In other words, there are now people who specialize in creating marketing campaigns for facebook pages, others who are experts at Twitter, yet others who are full-time community managers.

I realized a couple of years ago that there was no point in me trying to compete with marketing/advertising agencies. Or community managers. I’m not a marketing expert. Or a community manager. Or many of the specialized roles that have appeared over the last couple of years. Today there are people who have full-time corporate jobs with “social media” in their job title — good luck finding any of those in 2004-2006.

You might remember my specialist/generalist series of articles. In today’s industry, I have a generalist profile (it’s a question of point of view of course, I’ll always be a “social media specialist” to the outside world). That makes me a great person to bring in during early stages of social media adoption/development (one reason I work with lots of freelancers and small organisations) and in situations where a wider view of the field is necessary to break through what are becoming the social media silos. It also makes me a good social media course director, because I have this global overview 🙂

There are, however, areas that I am specialized in — or have specialized in, over the years. I started out being a web standards advocate (Pompage.net and the associated mailing-list live on). I gave a whole bunch talks (and wrote some code) around the question of languages and multilingualism online. Until recently (and still sometimes, actually!) another area of expertise of mine was teenagers and the internet (I’ve lost track of the number of talks I’ve given in schools, but it’s probably somewhere around 50).

Today, the two areas I “expertise” in are blogging and freelancers/freelancing. I’ve been doing quite a bit of soul-searching as I prepare the much-needed revamped version of my professional website, which I won’t even link to here, it’s so horribly painfully out of date. Maybe once the new version is up I’ll come back here and add all the relevant links 😉

Blogging: I’ve been blogging since July 2000. Blogging is my thing. It’s in my DNA. I’ll probably never stop, even though I am blogging less than I used to, because there are now other channels of communication and self-expression that were not there in the early days of blogging. I’m a blogger. Professionally, that means it’s a tool I love, and that if you need somebody to get you started in the world of blogging, or help you progress along the way, I’m your person.

I’ve been playing around with WordPress since forever (even written a bunch of plugins). I’ve been the editor of the French-language ebookers travel blog for three and a half years. Last year I helped get the Paper.li community blog off the ground (not even mentioning the countless others amongst my more “modest” clients). I’ve advised and coached companies as varied as Intel (2007), Fleur de Pains (2008) or Solar Impulse (2010) on their blogging, and developed services in blogger relations for Web 2.0 Expo Europe, LeWeb, Solar Impulse, and now Orange. And how could I forget Bloggy Friday Lausanne!

Enough with the list. I’ve been doing this blogging stuff for a long time, and doing quite a lot of it.

Freelancers/freelancing: the freelance ride has not been smooth for me, though I’ve made it. I’m somebody who self-analyzes a lot, and so I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how to manage one’s life and job when one freelances. The first outcome of this trend was the Going Solo conference (now a group on facebook), and then the eclau coworking space in Lausanne. For many years I have also had lots of freelancers amongst my clients: people who have little or no web presence and want to get started, or learn how to blog, or use social media to make themselves more visible. All this ties together nicely, and I appreciate it goes beyond social media: business strategy, productivity, negotiating and dealing with relationships, work-life balance…

So, there we go. I initially wanted to speak about the wisdom (or not) of specializing in “blogging” nowadays, but the introduction of this post took on a life of its own, so there you are! I’ll keep that question for another post.

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Idea: Working as a Freelance Researcher [en]

Idea: Working as a Freelance Researcher [en]

I had planned taking today off, but as I’m up to my neck in work I decided to spend it in the office instead. Result (don’t mess with yourself when you promise yourself time off): I’ve spent most of my morning down the blog-hole — reading a ton of interesting things online, particularly on Penelope Trunk’s blog. (Yeah, I know not everybody likes her, but I do. More on that another day, maybe.)

So, as I was reading blogs, sharing snippets on Tumblr and links on Twitter, I was thinking to myself: actually, one thing I’m pretty good at (and love doing) is finding and reading interesting stuff, thinking about it, and sharing all that with other people. (For those of you familiar with StrengthsFinder: my #1 is Input and my #2 is Communication — more about that another day, too.)

I pinged Suw on IM to see if she had any ideas how to “monetize” (still hate the word) this kind of activity. She suggested working as a researcher.

I like the idea. Need your homework done on something? I love learning about new stuff, I know how to search online, I have a great network, I’m smart (let’s say it), and I know how to write stuff up. Think of it, a lot of my popular blog posts are the result of me taking the plunge into a topic, learning about it, and reporting back. And for anything related to social media, I have the huge advantage of already knowing a lot.

This doesn’t mean I’d be giving up my current activities. But I’m getting increasingly frustrated that I don’t have time anymore to fool around online, research stuff, read more books, learn about this space we inhabit — online and offline.

Do you know anybody who works as an online researcher? Would you hire me as a researcher? (Not asking if you need my services as of now, but more “do you think I have the profile?”) If I decide to provide this kind of service, how might I go about to (a) decide what to charge (b) find gigs?

This is a very fresh idea for me, and I’d gladly welcome any thoughts you may have on the subject. As for me, I’m off to do some research on… freelance researchers :-).

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BlogTalk 2010: Call for Papers, For You Too! [en]

BlogTalk 2010: Call for Papers, For You Too! [en]

[fr] Il est encore temps d'envoyer des propositions pour la conférence BlogTalk. Ne ratez pas cette occasion si vous travaillez dans le domaine des médias sociaux ou applications sociales, que vous soyez académique dans le monde des affaires.

Like last year, I’m on the programme committee for BlogTalk, the international conference on social software. BlogTalk was the first ever conference I went to, way back in 2004, in Vienna. It’s interesting in that it tries to bridge the academic and business worlds, with speakers and attendees from both sides.

We’re currently looking for people to submit papers on topics related to social software and social media. The submission date has been extended to 21 June 2010. You can submit the paper through the BlogTalk 2010 EasyChair site. More details are available on the BlogTalk 2010 Call for Papers page. There is also the later date of 7 July for those who want to submit demonstration or poster proposals.

If you are doing any work in the field of social media/social software and would like a chance to talk about it to a smart and diverse audience, I really encourage you to submit a proposal.

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What Do We Call Ourselves? [en]

What Do We Call Ourselves? [en]

[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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To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

For years now (since I became self-employed, and maybe even before) I’ve been struggling to define myself and what I do. There are two main components to this problem, as I see it:

  • working in a fast-moving, cutting-edge field, where I’m creating my job and job description as I go along, and boldly going where none have gone before (haha)
  • inside that field, having a bit of a “generalist specialist” profile, which means that I do tons of different things which don’t always seem to go together (talk about teenager/education issues online; give strategic advice to startups; install blogs and teach people how to use them; etc)

Now, along my freelancing career, I’ve called myself a bunch of things (non-exhaustive list following):

  • blogging consultant
  • social sofware consultant
  • social media consultant
  • web consultant and commentator
  • 2.0 consultant

More recently, I more or less dropped the whole title thing, going for taglines like “I help you understand the internet better” and even giving up almost entirely before Lift09 and having “Online Person” written on my badge.

So, again: part of the problem is me (and my issues with defining myself) and another is the field in which I am. High tech and social media is a bubbly field. An expression is hot one day and cold the other. Hot in some circles, passé in others.

Take “blogging consultant”: when I started out, there were hardly any blogging consultants around. A year or so later, everybody and his dog who knew how to set up WordPress suddenly started calling themselves that. I remember talking to a friend some years ago: his company had hired a “blogging consultant” and we were both appalled at the kind of advice he was giving and things he was doing.

So at some point, to distance myself from such people (newcomers clearly more intent in blinding their clients with buzzwords), I stopped calling myself a “blogging consultant”.

Basically, it’s been more or less the same problem for all the titles I’ve tried to wear (like clothes).

Now, back to my own issue: the trouble I have explaining and defining what I do. I had a breakthrough conversation with Florian Egger at the Lift09 party (despite the dreadfully loud music during what was supposed to be a “networking lounge” time slot).

Here’s the image I like to use to explain this breakthrough: what I do could be represented by a tree. There are many branches and leaves, and a trunk. Until then, when I was asked what I did, I would talk about the leaves and the branches, but I never managed to pinpoint what the trunk was. It left an impression that what I was doing was ill-defined, scattered.

I have now understood that the trunk of what I do is new media-related strategic consulting, thanks to Florian who made me go through example after example of what I did, concluding each one with “well, that’s strategy too, if you think of it” — and I’d go “no, it’s not strategy… oh, actually, yes, I see what you mean… it is!”

So, that would make me a New Media Strategist. It sounds nice. And it fits. You know, like when you finally find a pair of trousers that seems to have been stitched for you?

And clearly, being able to say “I do strategic consulting” sounds way better than “well, I know a helluvalot of a stuff about the internet, and all this so-called web2.0 stuff, and I’m really good at explaining it and helping people and companies figure out what the hell they’re going to do with it, and how they can use it, and why it’s interesting for them, and I can give talks, do training, help set blogs up, promote stuff online, coach people on more or less anything social-media related, oh, and give advice, of course, people keep coming to me for advice, you know, and a whole lot of other things…”

See what I mean?

I also realised that until then, the services that I had advertised were my “side-services” — my branches. In a way, I’ve always tried to do the strategic/advisory stuff undercover. Not very satisfying!

So now, the question this post is leading to: is “New Media Strategist” already old and loaded? What does it sound like? Is “everybody” calling themselves that nowadays? (I hope I don’t come across as pretentious because I consider I have a tad more expertise on the subject than newcomers in the field who have been blogging for 18 months and tweeting for 6…)

One could argue that titles don’t mean much, specially in today’s hypernetworked world, where connections are the most important thing in life (aside from drinking water… and even that could be subject to debate). Reputation, that’s what counts.

I disagree. I may be well-known and respected amongst my peers, but given the nature of my job, my clients are usually outside (even very far outside) the social media bubble. A title of some sort gives people a starting-point to figure you out.

“Social Media Consultant”, in my opinion, is dead from overuse and abuse. “New Media Strategist” seems better to me (because I “came up” with it during that discussion — of course I’d probably heard or seen it somewhere before, but it didn’t sound like something that is being thrown all over the place on Twitter et al these days). Or “Social Media Strategist”? What about “Social Media” itself… does that sound too much like an empty buzzword today (just like “Web 2.0”, which I never liked and honestly, was a media/marketing buzzword from the start). And then, for me, is the added issue of translating things in French. “New Media Strategist” doesn’t translate well — neither does “Social Media”, actually.

Lots of questions, as you can see.

Do you have trouble defining what you do? What do you put on your business card? What do you do? I’d love to exchange stories. And, of course, hear what you think about “New Media Strategist” — as a title in general, and to describe me… if you know me, of course. 🙂

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