27 things to know before you work in social media

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I’m immersed in social business every day.

I spend as much time on my computer as some people spend in their shoes. I rarely talk about “social media” except with clients, because to me that’s like talking about “pencils.” I’d rather be using one than talking about what they do.

I use social media tools to work on SOBCon with @Starbucker, to build communities and brand visibility for clients, to write blog posts, and to curate content for people with similar interests. Social tools are business development, customer service, marketing, PR, community building, change management, and leadership—all at the speed of the Internet.

So you could say I work in social media. If that’s your reality, your goal, or even a possibility for you, I’d like to point out a few things about working in social media worth knowing. This is not a rant, but simply a set of observations, which are quite similar to the challenges of any communication-based, people-centered endeavor.

RELATED: Master the can’t-ignore social media tools after Mark Ragan’s one day social media boot camp.]

The purpose of this list is merely to share that most people who are in this new and quickly changing area of business are finding that the work often has more nuances and challenges than we expected.

The problem with working in social media is that:

1. When you start, no one will believe you know anything useful—and you might not.

2. You’ll have to be multi-lingual, speaking and translating between two vocabularies—that of the social media culture and that of the people who’ve little to no experience with it.

3. You’ll have to figure out how to measure something that traditionally hasn’t been measured and to explain why those measurements are valid. You’ll need goals, tools to match the goals, and reasonable expectations. Without history, that’s hard to do.

4. Some folks will believe impressions, eyeballs, and broadcasts are the best use of the tools.

5. Although you were enlisted to bring about change, the very folks who enlisted you might be the most uncomfortable with changing. (One friend advises you might take care if you’re hired to be the “heretic,” because heretic stories never end well for the heretic.)

6. Some people won’t be able to see the value of making relationships to grow business and keep satisfied customers—even though relationships have fueled businesses (based on decades of trade shows and sales calls).

7. When you do social business well, it looks easy. But it’s not, and no one will care how hard it was.

8. Some people will misread safe responses as dangerous ones and dangerous responses as safe ones. Understanding the culture of social business online is a learning curve that most folks acquire incrementally.

9. You’ll find most folks have a different sense of urgency, which will change as they experience the speed of the Internet.

10. Social media work isn’t glamorous.

11. The pay for the hours worked is even less glamorous.

12. If you build a strong public presence, your mistakes will be public, too.

13. If you build a strong public presence, some folks will think you are all about making yourself “Internet famous”—and that might be true.

14. Some folks will be confused when you promote what others are doing; you might be accused of “going native.”

15. You’ll need to personally invest and be detached simultaneously.

16. You’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know how to say things nicely.

17. You’ll be critiqued by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

18. You won’t have resources to bring all of your strongest ideas to life.

19. Some of your ideas will be out-of-sync, out-of-reach, or out-of-date before you have them.

20. Only other social media advocates will “get” what you do; you won’t be able to explain the thrill of a retweet from someone you admire.

21. Your significant other may think you care more about your online friends than your offline friends—and your significant other might be right.

22. Being social online means you’ll have to be social offline, too.

23. No one is good at every aspect of social media interaction.

24. No matter where you sit, stand, listen, or talk, you’ll have to change your point of view to see and respond to the whole picture.

25. The second you forget that social media is about the people, the people will find a way to remind you—sometimes they’ll remind you even when you haven’t forgotten.

26. Each day will require that you focus fiercely, that you trust yourself so that people can trust you, and that you learn more things faster than ever before.

27. If you’re the person introducing social media to a business, you face the challenge of getting people to imagine the possibilities of something they’ve never experienced. And here’s the one thing that makes those 27 worth it.

Inside each frustration is a chance to be a leader, to reach out and invite people to help build something we can’t build alone. The effort, the explaining, the energy can transform a business by enlisting and celebrating customers, employees, vendors, and partners who help it thrive. The first connection occurs when we show folks how these new tools make what they do faster, easier, more efficient, and more meaningful.

Soon enough, I hope we lose the term “social media” in the same way that we no longer have classes in “computer” or people who teach “email.” In the meantime, I tell my family that I write spy novels. It’s easier.

Bet you could add to this list. What do you think people need to know about working in social media?

Liz Strauss is the CEO and founder of SOBCon, a speaker, and author of Successful-Blog.com, where a version of this story originally appeared.

This article first appeared on Ragan.com in July 2012.

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