What I learned on Social Media Day (June 30, 2010)
Yesterday was Social Media Day, as pronounced by Mashable. I only heard about it a few days earlier and I really wasn’t sure what the purpose of a Social Media Day would be, even after reading Mashable’s explanation. But as someone who is, I’ll just say, interested in social media and its future, I didn’t debate whether or not I would participate, but rather debated which local event I would attend.
There were two haphazardly organized events: the first one at Campbell University’s business school nearly an hour from Raleigh and the second one in Cary organized for everyone who didn’t want to drive the distance. I ended up grabbing a ride to the Campbell University event with three other social media buddies (Tedd Huff, Regina Twine, and my sister Rianna Mallard) expecting that there would be between 3-5 informative presentations on real-world business applications of social media. I expected that there would be some talk of local startups I was already familiar with, but I was going there in hopes of learning something new. Because that’s what I do: I go out there, experience, and hope to gain some sort of useful knowledge I didn’t have before.
In a way I sort of did, but not what I expected.
What I really learned is that I am way ahead of the game. I come to these sorts of events from the perspective of a measly 24-year-old college graduate (without a degree in anything like Marketing, Computer Science, Journalism, or Business) with little paid work experience—which, for the past 2 years, has been in the survey research field. I show up as if my mind is an empty receptacle for knowledge from the more experienced professionals.
Normally that’s not a bad angle to take, but not when the discussion is about social media. I’m actually ahead of 99% of the world when it comes to social media. Those of us who are intimately familiar with social media are always complaining about how we hate it when people declare themselves a social media “guru”, “expert” or “aficionado”, or how ridiculous it is when someone starts up a social media consulting business after only creating a Twitter account 6 months ago.
I had this revelation yesterday that I just don’t agree with all that anymore. All of us active social media users tend to run in the same circles and interact with the same people: and it’s a much smaller circle than we think. If you walk out into the street and ask the next 10 people if they know what Twitter is and if they use it, I would bet you that a few wouldn’t even know what Twitter is and if they did, they probably wouldn’t use it. We tend to think that everyone uses social media (and I don’t mean just have a Facebook account) around us, but the truth is that most people still don’t.
Example: When I spoke at the ProductCamp RTP unconference in May, there was a Career Transition Panel session that I was considering attending after my session. We weren’t sure if the session would be useful for us (me & 2 other fellow job-hunting social media users), so we asked the woman running the panel what they would be discussing & if she thought we would benefit from it. She asked us what we were already doing in our job search. We mentioned things like going to networking and tweetup events, blogging regularly about our fields, building a personal brand on Twitter & LinkedIn and managing our Facebook privacy settings. She point blank told us it would be more beneficial for us to attend a different session because we were “already way ahead of the game.”
So if we are already so ahead of the game, why do our peers get irritated when we call ourselves experts? I think it’s a semantic issue. We’re actually social media pioneers. Of course we don’t have all of the answers because the field is changing and evolving so rapidly. I like to call myself a social media experimenter. If I were ever to open a social media consulting business that’s what I would call myself. There are some guidelines to follow, but the rules are changing pretty quickly. I couldn’t guarantee specific results just because they worked in a different situation 2 months ago. A social media “guru” is really just someone having the basics down and be willing to experiment with the tools and rules, whether that be in a business, educational, or job-search setting.
So wake up and realize that the world is actually a really big place! There’s enough room for more social media “experts”. We all just want to help make the world a more social place!