I have to admit, I didn’t really keep up on my feeds last week while I was out of town (and I’m still playing catch up).  So I almost missed the poignant, slightly melodramatic saga of Bob, the misunderstood social media explorer.  If you missed it, too, go ahead and catch up.  I’ll wait for you. 

Done?  Okay.  Good.  Short version?  Bob was engaging his employer’s customers in social media.  Bob was told explicitly by his boss to stop.  Bob didn’t stop.  Bob ended up being called to HR for a formal reprimand.  

Don’t think I don’t sympathize with Bob.  Who hasn’t felt that they were in a company where their skills and talents weren’t appreciated?  Or where they felt they weren’t being allowed to stretch and grow as a person and a professional?  It’s natural to be frustrated, and to look for opportunities to demonstrate that you’re capable of more.  A few people have noted that regardless of his passion for it, you can’t just ignore your boss, so I won’t belabor that point.  I do think there are some valuable lessons to draw from the whole tale, though.  

Based on the story as relayed through Chris Brogan, though, I think Bob failed to notice a few key things.

First, by all appearances, he clearly wasn’t in an organization that cared about his preferred career development path to begin with.  It sounds as though he was a good producer in one field who was moved to another entirely different field and a different location, not based on his strengths, aptitudes and desires, but because “we have a hole and need a reliable body to fill it.”  

Second, if there was already a designated department that was supposed to be handling social media, doing an end-run around them (thereby making them look bad) is not the best way to get into their good graces and get officially invited to participate.   

Third, ignoring that a company isn’t ready to actively, directly engage customers in social media and just doing it anyway is sort of like dragging your 11-year-old screaming and crying onto a rollercoaster he clearly doesn’t want to ride at the amusement park.  The 11-year-old will probably NOT end the ride going “Oh, wow, mom/dad!  That wasn’t so bad!  Thanks for forcing me to face my fears.”  Instead, you’ll have lost any trust they have that you’re looking out for their best interest.  They’ll see you instead as someone who pretty much only cares about what you want.   Not the road to career advancement nirvana (or good parenting, either.  Just trust me on this one.)  

So let’s say you are passionate about social media, fluent in the culture, and convinced that your career bliss lies in being a social media strategist or online community manager.  

However, you’re stuck in a job or an organization where either they aren’t going to take the plunge and engage in social media, or for whatever reason, they won’t let YOU do it on their behalf.  What’s my advice to you?

Well, my first advice would be “are you crazy?”  At this stage in the game, I would say that breaking into social media is going to be roughly equivalent to trying to break into show business.  It’s doable, especially if you’re smart, hardworking and talented.  But it’s not going to be easy.

With that caveat out of the way, I would say look to your avocational interests and passions, and say goodbye to that lifestyle perk known as “free time.”   

By way of example, let’s go back to Bob.   What if, instead of putting energy into trying to force his work life to be a rich, fulfilling experience, he instead poured that passion and enthusiasm into some avocational interests?   Let’s say he renews his high school passion for running.  

Bob’s put on a few pounds since marriage/kids/adulthood, and so he takes up running to get fit, and starts a blog to document his progress.  He engages other bloggers by commenting, and talks about his rediscovered passion for running.

He joins message board communities devoted to running and fitness.  He becomes a leader/influencer among the people in social media who are passionate about running, eventually getting to be a moderator or admin for one or more running community sites.   Maybe he creates a Ning community devoted to running.  Maybe he starts playing around with Garage Band and Skype, and starts doing a podcast featuring great running mixes each week.  All of this could be done outside of his work.  (Yes, it can.  I know.  I’ve done most of it while working a full-time job previously.)

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  But think about what Bob could learn within a year or two.  How to set up a blog (and possibly how to theme one or optimize it for search engines).  How to develop content, network with other bloggers, and find an audience.  The mechanics of podcasting.  He’d have experience in online community management.

In short, he’d have developed the skills and experience to sell himself as a capable advocate for an organization in social media.  He’s his own case study.  And because he’s had an outlet for that passion and self-expression outside his job, he may find, in the short term, that his stress at that job decreases. 

Expanding your existing responsibilities by volunteering to be the social media explorer for your company is one way to be a social media champion, but if it’s going to get you fired, there are other avenues.  

In social media, as in all things, never risk more than you’re willing to lose.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

    These are such great points, Jason…

    Not only would Bob be fulfilling his passiont he would be creating some proof. As you say, he would be his own case study and a powerful advocate for Social Media in his company. He could propose a small pilot project… maybe he could even use his experience as a bargaining chip, after a while, to get a more Social Media related role in his company. And if that failed, well he would have enough under his belt to either resign and work for a company that's along the curve, or, if he wanted to, consult.

    And he'd have what few people have… a first hand experience of how to get social media acceptance in a Fortune 500 company.

  • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

    These are such great points, Jason…

    Not only would Bob be fulfilling his passiont he would be creating some proof. As you say, he would be his own case study and a powerful advocate for Social Media in his company. He could propose a small pilot project… maybe he could even use his experience as a bargaining chip, after a while, to get a more Social Media related role in his company. And if that failed, well he would have enough under his belt to either resign and work for a company that's along the curve, or, if he wanted to, consult.

    And he'd have what few people have… a first hand experience of how to get social media acceptance in a Fortune 500 company.

  • Mark

    Jason, Thanks for the insights. I know Bob and he has decided to start doing what you talked about. Start engaging in social media outside of work and build up from there. I know he will go far if he takes up this passion outside of his company and strikes out on his own.

    • KatFrench

      Wow, that's really encouraging, Mark! Thanks for the update. Truthfully, it's how I started in social media. Five or six years ago, I was at a company that was skeptical of the web in general, much less social media. So I poured my passion for the web and for online community into personal and “side business” pursuits.

      Now I'm amazingly lucky to be working with Jason here at Doe, doing what I love. :)

      Oh, and I REALLY need to remember to put my avatar on ALL the posts I write here at SME. The tiny “posted by” line can't compete with Jason's giant head over there in the sidebar… :)

      As you've probably guessed from the post after this one, things have been hopping here, and I forgot to drop it in.

  • Mark

    Jason, Thanks for the insights. I know Bob and he has decided to start doing what you talked about. Start engaging in social media outside of work and build up from there. I know he will go far if he takes up this passion outside of his company and strikes out on his own.

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    Very thoughtful analysis!

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    Very thoughtful analysis!

  • http://joelima.wordpress.com Joe

    Hi Jason,
    I am going through this right now. I have been trying to evangelize social media within my company even though I am not in the marketing group. And to Nicky's comment, I championed a couple of projects that were eventually killed for internal reasons. It has been an uphill and frustrating battle.

    So I am working with a friend on applying these concepts to his business as well developing my own blog.

    Thanks for the insightful posts!
    Cheers,
    Joe

    • KatFrench

      And I'm betting that even though you have less “free time,” you're happier because (A) you have an outlet for that passion and (B) you're no longer beating your head against a brick wall that, for now anyway, isn't ready to move.

  • http://joelima.wordpress.com Joe

    Hi Jason,
    I am going through this right now. I have been trying to evangelize social media within my company even though I am not in the marketing group. And to Nicky's comment, I championed a couple of projects that were eventually killed for internal reasons. It has been an uphill and frustrating battle.

    So I am working with a friend on applying these concepts to his business as well developing my own blog.

    Thanks for the insightful posts!
    Cheers,
    Joe

  • Derek Forrest

    There is no easy road to the life we want to lead. Hard-work, dedication, and focus will always hold true.

  • Derek Forrest

    There is no easy road to the life we want to lead. Hard-work, dedication, and focus will always hold true.

  • http://www.LaneVids.com LaneVids

    And to touch on the point about companies not embracing social media, I think that that is crap, think about it. What if we have a retail store, let's say a jewelry store, and all of their employees were on twitter. Everytime they sold a nice $2,000 diamond ring, they twittered it! that would be some of the best publicity for the company, and maybe the customer is also on twitter and tweets about it. double whammy. I do not understand why companies, ESPCIALLY Retail, have not gone totally into social media, it just makes sense!

    • KatFrench

      There are a lot of factors in play: generational culture, corporate culture, and mostly an environment where communications have all funneled through official “gatekeepers.” It's a lot to overcome. I understand why companies don't jump in with both feet; but the thing is, if you're truly on-fire about it, and they're not, you're going to get nowhere.

      It's easy to slip into the mindset of some religious folks who get so excited about their personal faith, that they get angry at people who don't automatically embrace it.

      But that's a digression that would take us pretty far afield. ;-)

      • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

        “There are a lot of factors in play: generational culture, corporate culture, and mostly an environment where communications have all funneled through official “gatekeepers.” It's a lot to overcome.”

        Kat – this is a huge thing. For those reasons and more (such as a lack of understanding and skepticism) large companies can't simply jump in with both feet, the risk is too great – and much of what they find frustrating is the focus on tools, Social Media as the latest greatest thing that everyone's doing… and lack of a business case that tells them how how social media can help them meet business objectives. And let's not even talk about proprietary or confidential issues…I take heart that a few companies are moving forward…starting internally. But I also know that Social Media isn't automatically appropriate for every company.
        So, it's like any other career aspiration. If your company doesn't meet your own aspirations and you're not willing to keep the status quo, then it's time to find one that does. Change rarely comes from bottom up in a large company. It's just the way it is

  • http://www.LaneVids.com LaneVids

    And to touch on the point about companies not embracing social media, I think that that is crap, think about it. What if we have a retail store, let's say a jewelry store, and all of their employees were on twitter. Everytime they sold a nice $2,000 diamond ring, they twittered it! that would be some of the best publicity for the company, and maybe the customer is also on twitter and tweets about it. double whammy. I do not understand why companies, ESPCIALLY Retail, have not gone totally into social media, it just makes sense!

  • lmckeogh

    Hi Kat,
    I read the post earlier and discussed it at great length during dinner this evening. I came to the conclusion that I was a sort of Bob. While I am not employed, I felt the expectations of some future employer and limited my postings to neutral topics. I didn't want to admit that I had other sides. After discussing Bob's approach, it seemed reasonable to combine these two sides. The bonus that was pointed out to me is that it presents me with greater depth. If someone didn't understand the passion outside of work, would I really want to work for/with them? Probably not. Unlike Bob, as a free agent I at least have that option.

    • KatFrench

      It's tempting to go for vanilla, isn't it? You don't know what that prospective future employer will want, so why not try to be a blank slate?

      And it sounds like you've recognized that the answer is “Because a blank slate is boring.” I know lots of people in social media who have WILDLY different opinions on lots of topics that aren't “safe” or “neutral.” We all get along because we treat each other with respect, and remain connected despite our differences.

      And you're right–as a free agent you have an unprecedented opportunity to put your best, most authentic self out there, and hopefully that will attract an employer who is a terrific fit.

    • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

      Imckeogh – When it comes to Social Media in corporations, like it or not what we have is a clash of cultures. The culture of most big corporations is to be risk averse and no amount of social media evangelism is going to change that. Most are paranoid at letting everything hang out in whatever forum you care to name. And when you work within those corps you have to play by the rules or not work there. On the other hand some may become convinced in specific areas – if they see how it hits bottom line etc. At the same time, even if you are an employee in said corporation, it is an asset to have and develop this expertise outside your job… and either wait for your chance to influence, go to another company or strike out on your own even doing as a side business. Life is far too short and careers too fragile (as we have seen) and unreliable NOT to do this. And of course, focus on the businesses that do have the werewithal to experiment – small businesses.

      That way you hold all the cards. I call it picking your battles… and only fighting the ones you can win. As for future employers… if you're not already working for someone then I would only seek out employers that value all your sides.

  • lmckeogh

    Hi Kat,
    I read the post earlier and discussed it at great length during dinner this evening. I came to the conclusion that I was a sort of Bob. While I am not employed, I felt the expectations of some future employer and limited my postings to neutral topics. I didn't want to admit that I had other sides. After discussing Bob's approach, it seemed reasonable to combine these two sides. The bonus that was pointed out to me is that it presents me with greater depth. If someone didn't understand the passion outside of work, would I really want to work for/with them? Probably not. Unlike Bob, as a free agent I at least have that option.

  • http://www.louisvillepm.ning.com LouisvillePM

    Kat,

    I disagree with your second point about Bob making the designated “social media” department look bad as a result of engaging the customer. From the customer's standpoint its one company and it would be pretty easy for the designated department to marginalize Bob via HR, “take it from here,” and claim a victory from his efforts. Office politics and all… ;)

    However, I really like your take on the DIY method as an outlet for <fill in the vocations> who have the desire to learn and explore different social media channels. Your scenario resonated with me and my quest to understand how to build and manage a community during my off hours from work. :)

    -chris

    • KatFrench

      Chris,

      Sorry, I should have clarified; I meant that he made the designated department look bad internally. I agree, the customer doesn't make that kind of distinction and doesn't need to know about the internal workings of the company. And if they had been open to it, that kind of pass off could have happened.

      But how likely was it, given most corporate cultures you've encountered? There is too much territoriality and defensiveness in most companies for that to have been a likely outcome.

      I was really hoping taking that more narrative, storytelling approach would resonate. I was kind of riffing off Chris Brogan's “social media marketer,” “social media teacher” and “social media pastor” posts.

      And the “What if” scenario I created for “Bob” was pretty much pulled from my own experiences, as I mentioned above. I was in a company that wasn't interested in growing in the same direction I wanted to grow in. So I found a way to nurture that desire for growth outside the office.

      In the short term, for several months, it made working there much easier and less stressful. After a while, though, the very same growth pushed me to move on to a new job that was going to be a better fit. But I made that move from a position of strength, not desperation, and with the tools and experience built up that would allow me to succeed.

      Eventually, if you keep growing, it's time to move on to a bigger container. :)

  • http://www.louisvillepm.ning.com LouisvillePM

    Kat,

    I disagree with your second point about Bob making the designated “social media” department look bad as a result of engaging the customer. From the customer's standpoint its one company and it would be pretty easy for the designated department to marginalize Bob via HR, “take it from here,” and claim a victory from his efforts. Office politics and all… ;)

    However, I really like your take on the DIY method as an outlet for <fill in the vocations> who have the desire to learn and explore different social media channels. Your scenario resonated with me and my quest to understand how to build and manage a community during my off hours from work. :)

    -chris

  • KatFrench

    Wow, that's really encouraging, Mark! Thanks for the update. Truthfully, it's how I started in social media. Five or six years ago, I was at a company that was skeptical of the web in general, much less social media. So I poured my passion for the web and for online community into personal and “side business” pursuits.

    Now I'm amazingly lucky to be working with Jason here at Doe, doing what I love. :)

    Oh, and I REALLY need to remember to put my avatar on ALL the posts I write here at SME. The tiny “posted by” line can't compete with Jason's giant head over there in the sidebar… :)

    As you've probably guessed from the post after this one, things have been hopping here, and I forgot to drop it in.

  • KatFrench

    And I'm betting that even though you have less “free time,” you're happier because (A) you have an outlet for that passion and (B) you're no longer beating your head against a brick wall that, for now anyway, isn't ready to move.

  • KatFrench

    There are a lot of factors in play: generational culture, corporate culture, and mostly an environment where communications have all funneled through official “gatekeepers.” It's a lot to overcome. I understand why companies don't jump in with both feet; but the thing is, if you're truly on-fire about it, and they're not, you're going to get nowhere.

    It's easy to slip into the mindset of some religious folks who get so excited about their personal faith, that they get angry at people who don't automatically embrace it.

    But that's a digression that would take us pretty far afield. ;-)

  • KatFrench

    It's tempting to go for vanilla, isn't it? You don't know what that prospective future employer will want, so why not try to be a blank slate?

    And it sounds like you've recognized that the answer is “Because a blank slate is boring.” I know lots of people in social media who have WILDLY different opinions on lots of topics that aren't “safe” or “neutral.” We all get along because we treat each other with respect, and remain connected despite our differences.

    And you're right–as a free agent you have an unprecedented opportunity to put your best, most authentic self out there, and hopefully that will attract an employer who is a terrific fit.

  • KatFrench

    Chris,

    Sorry, I should have clarified; I meant that he made the designated department look bad internally. I agree, the customer doesn't make that kind of distinction and doesn't need to know about the internal workings of the company. And if they had been open to it, that kind of pass off could have happened.

    But how likely was it, given most corporate cultures you've encountered? There is too much territoriality and defensiveness in most companies for that to have been a likely outcome.

    I was really hoping taking that more narrative, storytelling approach would resonate. I was kind of riffing off Chris Brogan's “social media marketer,” “social media teacher” and “social media pastor” posts.

    And the “What if” scenario I created for “Bob” was pretty much pulled from my own experiences, as I mentioned above. I was in a company that wasn't interested in growing in the same direction I wanted to grow in. So I found a way to nurture that desire for growth outside the office.

    In the short term, for several months, it made working there much easier and less stressful. After a while, though, the very same growth pushed me to move on to a new job that was going to be a better fit. But I made that move from a position of strength, not desperation, and with the tools and experience built up that would allow me to succeed.

    Eventually, if you keep growing, it's time to move on to a bigger container. :)

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  • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

    Imckeogh – When it comes to Social Media in corporations, like it or not what we have is a clash of cultures. The culture of most big corporations is to be risk averse and no amount of social media evangelism is going to change that. Most are paranoid at letting everything hang out in whatever forum you care to name. And when you work within those corps you have to play by the rules or not work there. On the other hand some may become convinced in specific areas – if they see how it hits bottom line etc. At the same time, even if you are an employee in said corporation, it is an asset to have and develop this expertise outside your job… and either wait for your chance to influence, go to another company or strike out on your own even doing as a side business. Life is far too short and careers too fragile (as we have seen) and unreliable NOT to do this. And of course, focus on the businesses that do have the werewithal to experiment – small businesses.

    That way you hold all the cards. I call it picking your battles… and only fighting the ones you can win. As for future employers… if you're not already working for someone then I would only seek out employers that value all your sides.

  • http://nickyjameson.com nicky

    “There are a lot of factors in play: generational culture, corporate culture, and mostly an environment where communications have all funneled through official “gatekeepers.” It's a lot to overcome.”

    Kat – this is a huge thing. For those reasons and more (such as a lack of understanding and skepticism) large companies can't simply jump in with both feet, the risk is too great – and much of what they find frustrating is the focus on tools, Social Media as the latest greatest thing that everyone's doing… and lack of a business case that tells them how how social media can help them meet business objectives. And let's not even talk about proprietary or confidential issues…I take heart that a few companies are moving forward…starting internally. But I also know that Social Media isn't automatically appropriate for every company.
    So, it's like any other career aspiration. If your company doesn't meet your own aspirations and you're not willing to keep the status quo, then it's time to find one that does. Change rarely comes from bottom up in a large company. It's just the way it is

  • http://twitter.com/MarkMayhew mark mayhew

    great post, esp. as I was fired last week, by Denny's restaurants, for using social media (Twitter)

  • markmayhew

    great post, esp. as I was fired last week, by Denny's restaurants, for using social media (Twitter)