Sep 21 2009
Ever notice how people always want to put you in a box (image from Kevin Dooley)? Yet, getting dubbed a “social media expert” a “PR professional” rankles me. In the end, it’s semantics, and in both cases, somewhat true. But it makes the hair on my neck stand up on end, and in actual discourse I tend to correct my counterpart, and say, “No, I am a communicator (or author or entrepreneur).” Here’s why:
Social Media Expert or Snake Oil
It comes down to this: The running joke is you can find more than 60,000 self-professed social media experts on Twitter. What’s the difference between one of these folks and a snake oil salesman? Not much!
This has been discussed here many times before. Just because you know how to become popular in the high school cafeteria (a.k.a. Twitter), does not mean you know how to architect a communications strategy for an organization, on or offline. In fact, these so-called experts are bad for organizations because they don’t know how to methodically create strategies and programs to achieve outcomes.
Further, to declare oneself an expert in anything seems ostentatious. Let others do the declaring. Even if I am an “expert” as others call me, in this super dynamic online world, if I rest on my laurels, it’s likely that any expertise garnered will become dated within six to 12 months.
And Then There’s the PR Guy Thing
Rather than rehash the differences between a publicist, a PR professional in the classically defined sense, and a SM expert, I defer to Rich Becker’s excellent blog post from last week. For the purposes of this post, a simplified definition for PR is really about building relationships between organizations and their stakeholders. There are many honorable and good PR professionals in the market, friends of mine, and they get upset with me when I disparage the term PR.
While I understand that my friends do the job right, PR has become associated with publicity — media relations — and usually done poorly, via techniques like spamming press releases. In fact, many of the “PR pros” I’ve met over the years qualify as publicists and nothing more. Right or wrong, PR has become associated with slimy publicity, a case of the bad apples ruining the barrel.
A similar terminology debate occurs today in the medical profession. They insist on dubbing the latest flu break-out as H1N1, but the public still calls it swine flu. I wish the health care pros luck in fighting this tide.
The reality of the matter is that I do more than publicity, and in fact, historically, my career has included more than the best definition of public relations. I’ve been trained in communications and Internet theory. I have branding training, and helped launch a Design & Advertising practice for one company. I built and sold a company, and have been a part of four other communications start-ups. I also used to be a journalist, am a blogger, and have written three books (only one of which has been published).
So in this business, I think the right term is communicator. Consider this definition:
A person who communicates, esp. one skilled at conveying information, ideas, or policy to the public.
Yup, sounds like me. It doesn’t limit me to a box, and allows me to integrate across tool sets. Of course watching a communicator communicate sometimes brings to mind a therapist trying to raise children, but that’s a different story for another day. :)
I also have equal pride as an entrepreneur and one of the few authors in the United States. Selling a company or publishing a book remain two of the most difficult, noteworthy accomplishments of my career.
There’s little I can do to change what people call me or how they think of me professionally, but at the same time I don’t have to accept their representation as fact. So, thanks, but no thanks to the PR or the social media expert titles. I don’t want to be put into those boxes.
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