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. 🙂

14 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

  1. Well said! I don’t like “Web 2.0” either and some titles are plain stupid. One of the worst I’ve come across is “Floating Social Worker” and a friend once had his title changed from “General Store Manager” (GSM) to “Business Unit Manager (BUM)! “

  2. Oh, I’ve been through exactly this problem! “Social media consultant” has now been so badly hijacked by people who have picked up a few buzzwords and think that that’s all they need to fleece gullible clients. (Although sometimes I don’t think they even comprehend their own lack of experience.)

    Plus there is a real backlash against social media consultants now. I am more and more often hearing that phrase used sneeringly, or frustratedly, or angrily. It should just be a descriptor, but it’s not anymore – it’s loaded with layers of meaning that distort attention away from what we’re trying to achieve and focus it instead on what others have not.

    I’m not keen on the phrase “new media”, personally. It seems a bit old-fashioned and I advise against using it. I mean, how long can something stay “new” anyway?! And as I’ve blogged before, “social media” itself has bad connotations outside of the geekerati. Think social housing, social disease, social workers, social care, social services… none of them particularly positive, and social media risks being tarred with that brush.

    “Participatory media strategist” could potentially work… but is a bit long and unwieldy. The problem I have is that there’s not a short word that is a good synonym for “social”. The thesaurus gives “gregarious” but somehow “gregarious software” doesn’t work. 😉 Even “conversational” or “collaborative” seem too long and miss out some of the nuance.

    I’m starting to think about how I describe my job to immigration officials when I go to the US. Usually I say that I’m an “internet technologist” and that satisfies them. Early on in the history of blogging as a career, one of my friends got significant hassle when he told the immigration guy that he was a professional blogger and they didn’t believe him.

    Maybe “Internet technologist, specialising in social media” might work, even though it’s quite long. But this is worth considerable thought and discussion, because as much as we would like not to have a job title, we still need a way to sum up what we do. Without it, it’s rather hard to bring new people into the discussion about what social tools can help them achieve.

  3. I remember having a similar discussion with Suw 🙂 My problem is that “strategist” is really broad, and perhaps in terms of personal branding, it may be better to decide what you’re a strategist for. I kept “strategist” in my title for all of two months, and ended up dropping it. Granted, I have the luxury, at the moment I co-founded my own startup and it doesn’t matter what I call myself.

    In terms of what I bring to a project is product direction and delivery, therefore in that context I am a product manager — and most of my role is strategic. I’m a practitioner in user experience (a field that’s also struggled with its myriad of job titles and sub-disciplines), so at this point in time, I’m also a user experience designer, and again, most of this role that I play is also strategic.

    My point is: try and angle yourself by what you can deliver to a project. A strategy can be a branding strategy, it can be an implementation strategy, it can also be product oriented. You may be able to do all three or more — but what is it that you’re really good at, or that you most enjoy? Instead of encompassing all that you can do, pick your title along the core of what you can deliver; then the rest of what you can do is a bonus to your clients.

    A job itle means very little. In the end, it’s your portfolio and experience that speaks for itself. 🙂

  4. In a landscape where everyone can, and does, call themselves an expert, how does one define and separate oneself from the competition? Well, given that it’s hard to post credentials (case studies, testimonials), one clear way to differentiate yourself is by blogging. It is, after all, the one place where you can truly demonstrate your superior understanding of your subject. Your blog is your knowledge center and the base camp for your expertise. If you have the content then it’s really just a question of getting your “story” out there. Twitter, with its fractured content of conversation, opinions and ideas, is one way of attracting people to your knowledge center. But there are many others. What’s really important is the content your drawing them back too.
    I suppose my real point is the title means little in comparison to what lies behind it. It’s a bit like calling yourself a photographer. Anyone can call themselves one, but few have enough ability to make a living by it.
    Social Media Guru, New Media Maven, pick a moniker that feels right. If your content lives up to your claim – and in your case, it does – then, by golly, that’s what you are.
    Great article. (Loved trying to follow the French)

  5. Today, without really giving it any thought, I wrote “Online Strategy Consultant” under “occupation” while filling in a form.

    At least it avoids the buzzwords. What do you think?

  6. Ian: yeah, maybe my real problem is that I’m not very good at showcasing my stuff. Maybe I should concentrate on that. And it connects with what Steph says (and I believe, actually) — that portfolio and experience are the most important.

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