A few years back, a friend who was going through a tough time started a communal blog project. When I saw what she was doing, the little self-styled “social media expert” part of me doubted it could gain any traction. But it succeeded brilliantly, because it was simple, honest and resonated with people. And I learned I was being stupid and that “expertise” can become an elitist position. Thankfully, I’ve since realized we are all social media students more than experts, and that anyone with a good story and passion can build a community.
Sadly, we still see so many power struggles and posturing over who can be a social media “expert.” Cathryn Sloane touched off a firestorm with a recent blog entry on Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25, rightfully critiqued on its self-absorption and sense of entitlement. It touched off rebuttals from across the blogosphere, noting that having a Facebook account and being a “digital native” (scare quotes intentional) do not alone qualify one to work in social media marketing. But it also does not mean that age, or any other general factor, disqualifies one from doing it well.
The best of the business of social media are of various ages but share key traits including dedication to customer service, brand comprehension, being a good listener and willingness to try new technology. Note that those traits do not denote any kind of expertise and the arrogance that comes with it. On the contrary, they all point to one overriding trait: humility.
Dedication to customer service: While some people are better at customer service than others, this is a mindset more than anything. It requires putting arrogance and the me-first attitude aside and seeing what you can do for your client, patron or user.
Brand comprehension: I bristle when so many in higher education tell students to focus on building their own brand. While I understand the concept, once they get a job, their own brand does not supercede the company brand. If you’re one of Zappos’ excellent social media representatives, you’re living their brand (which also happens to be outstanding customer service) not the me-me-me-first self-promotional brand.
Being a good listener: The late Stephen R. Covey put this best: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Focusing on others is the only way to understand their problems and, correspondingly, what your company or institution can do better.
Willingness to try new technology: When we try something new, we sometimes (often?) look silly. So many people never leave their comfort zones or want to try (and fail) at something new. To be a learner is to open yourself to vulnerability and embarrassment … but also to open your mind to experiences — and technology — that can ultimately improve everyone’s experience.
What I’ve learned is anyone with the right approach to social media — or any field — can be successful in it. But the key is not to approach it with arrogance but instead with humility, passion and a desire to learn.