Confession: as a student in public relations, I always thought I’d be a behind-the-scenes practitioner. I didn’t really like shining the spotlight on myself and thought my strength would always be hiding in the shadows shining a spotlight on the company or cause I was working for.
Now… Five years since I’ve graduated, I’ve gone in a completely different direction. My first realization was at my first job, where I had tied all my social media accounts to the company I was working for, I was also blogging strictly on our company blog. It felt rewarding and seemed right at the time. However, a year after I started there, the company was acquired and suddenly it felt like all the work I had done was suddenly irrelevant! In fact up until yesterday even my LinkedIn URL was tied to that first job.
Even though I had been operating as a corporate account, I had also been learning the personal advantages to participating in social media. After launching our company blog, I spent a lot of time commenting on other related blogs, because 1. I was generally interested in learning more about the industry and the people involved in it and 2. I wanted our company blog to be a success and it seemed like a good way to drive quality traffic. Well I was tickled a few months later when a prominent blogger emailed me and told me he was writing a book and wanted contributions from other industry bloggers. Wow, if only he knew I was 22 years old and less than six months out of college! I obviously accepted the offer and was very proud of this personal accomplishment that I never expected or even purposely pursued!
Also I have to note here how lucky I was to have a great role model and nurturing boss. She had built a great network of contacts which was really the foundation of her successful business. Also while many junior PR people start their careers ghost writing for executives or superiors at work, my boss encourages me to get my own name out there as much as possible and she was always eager to give me credit for the work I had done.
So that’s how I started to build up my own name in social media–I was further motivated when I started looking for my next career move and found that tying myself so closely to the business had also created the impression that I was an email marketing specialist and not a more general communications practitioner, which is how I saw myself. I knew I was passionate and excited about social media –which I had been using at work for two years by that point, and on a personal level for many years prior, so I started this blog with a focus on social media as a tool for communicators. It’s obviously gone through more than a few transitions over the years and currently I’m at a cross road about exactly what I want it to be but I’m hoping to commit more time to writing it and connecting with my readers.
Anyway, the biggest lesson I’ve learned since graduating is learning doesn’t end when you graduate–it’s really just the beginning. And building your career out in the open… in a public forum (such as through a blog and/or on Twitter or other social media) is tough work. The smart, influential and established people you look up are often reluctant to connect with someone they don’t already know. This is something I used to take personally, but have since learned to understand there are SO many people out there vying for attention, asking for favours, and trying to be noticed, that the more you build up your own profile the more you have to be choosy about who you interact with, because on the most basic level, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to interact with every interesting person out there!
Secondly as you learn, you make mistakes. In fact making mistakes, acknowledging them and learning from them is definitely the best and fastest way to learn. Of course when you publicly make a mistake people don’t see it that way. They may call you out on it–or worse just think less of you without telling you. Personally I think I’ve gotten better at dealing with public mistakes, and more importantly, I am more forgiving and sympathetic to others who make mistakes (and acknowledge them).
Another struggle is to not let success go to your head. Fortunately for me, it seems like the point when my head starts to inflate happens to correlate with me making a stupid mistake so it usually evens out pretty quickly.
What I love about social media (or generally being well connected) is if you look, you can always find someone out there who is smarter and more successful and that can give you a new goal to strive for.
On that note, you also don’t always need to be looking up to continue learning. I love meeting and talking with current students and recent graduates because they have such a fresh perspective on the working world. While I continue to learn so much, I also realize that I tend to forget important things I learned in school. Also when we get really good at something, we tend to get complacent and then we stop learning. Working with students or junior professionals is a great way to realize your own complacency and put a stop to it.
I’ve learned so much over the past five years, but I need to remind myself I’m still early in my career and have a long way to go. The frightening part is that every step along the way is documented online and forever findable on Google. I hope this will be to my advantage–so far I’m proud of everything I’ve done–including the mistakes I’ve made. The ability to look back at what I’ve done hopefully will just help me even more in the future.