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). Â So I almost missed the poignant, slightly melodramatic saga of Bob, the misunderstood social media explorer. Â If you missed it, too, go ahead and catch up. Â I’ll wait for you.Â
Done? Â Okay. Â Good. Â Short version? Â Bob was engaging his employer’s customers in social media. Â Bob was told explicitly by his boss to stop. Â Bob didn’t stop. Â Bob ended up being called to HR for a formal reprimand. Â
Don’t think I don’t sympathize with Bob. Â Who hasn’t felt that they were in a company where their skills and talents weren’t appreciated? Â Or where they felt they weren’t being allowed to stretch and grow as a person and a professional? Â It’s natural to be frustrated, and to look for opportunities to demonstrate that you’re capable of more. Â A few people have noted that regardless of his passion for it, you can’t just ignore your boss,Â so I won’t belabor that point. Â I do think there are some valuable lessons to draw from the whole tale, though. Â
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. Â 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 becauseÂ “we have a hole and need a reliable body to fill it.” Â
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. Â Â
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. Â The 11-year-old will probably NOT end the ride going “Oh, wow, mom/dad! Â That wasn’t so bad! Â Thanks for forcing me to face my fears.” Â Instead, you’ll have lost any trust they have that you’re looking out for their best interest. Â They’ll see you instead as someone who pretty much only cares about what you want. Â Not the road to career advancement nirvana (or good parenting, either. Â Just trust me on this one.) Â
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. Â
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. Â What’s my advice to you?
Well, my first advice would be “are you crazy?” Â 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. Â It’s doable, especially if you’re smart, hardworking and talented. Â 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.” Â Â
By way of example, let’s go back to Bob. Â 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? Â Let’s say he renews his high school passion for running. Â
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. Â He engages other bloggers by commenting, and talks about his rediscovered passion for running.
He joins message board communities devoted to running and fitness. Â 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. Â Maybe he creates a Ning community devoted to running. Â Maybe he starts playing around with Garage Band and Skype, and starts doing a podcast featuring great running mixes each week. Â All of this could be done outside of his work. Â (Yes, it can. Â I know. Â I’ve done most of it while working a full-time job previously.)
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Â But think about what Bob could learn within a year or two. Â How to set up a blog (and possibly how to theme one or optimize it for search engines). Â How to develop content, network with other bloggers, and find an audience. Â The mechanics of podcasting. Â 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. Â He’s his own case study. Â 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.Â
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. Â
In social media, as in all things, never risk more than you’re willing to lose.