Social media as a profession is very interesting compared to other industries. Because it is still relatively “new,” there are some people who have been around the industry for years, and then there are others that are just getting their start in the field (ex. students and young professionals). However, this is a profession where you can get involved at any age and at any time, which makes is pretty rewarding. Social media has also been a profession that requires constant attention to details, trends, networks, and the associated tools that go along with it.

I have been researching, teaching, and even consulting in social media now for a while, and while I have a great group of colleagues I correspond with on a regular basis and learn from, I have felt in many ways I had to make my own path in the field as a professor.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with one of my mentors from my time at USC, Craig Carroll. I took Craig’s research methods class my first semester at USC (still one of my favorites to this day) as well as his corporate reputation management class (this actually got me started thinking about my research in my PhD program). Craig and I have known each other now for over ten years and he’s still someone I look up to for advice and help. We were talking on the phone the other day about blogs, research, and the journey I have been on from being a student of his back in the day to now getting tenure at the University of Louisville.

I mentioned in my journey to this point how there were some things I had to overcome and deal with (ex. gatekeepers, dealing with “academic families”, etc) to make my own opportunities happen. That is when Craig said something that made me stop and think. He said:

Karen, you are a self-made person. 

If you had seen my reaction, you’d see me saying “whoa” with the lightbulb emoji go off right above my head. This made so much sense to me. This statement really resonated with me because it captured my journey.

With that being said, this has not only impacted my own journey, but also in other aspects of my profession. I also realized how much this impacted the way I teach my social media class. I am absolutely 100% supportive and there for my students of course. I am there to encourage them and mentor along with their own understanding of social media. However, I am also trying to make sure they are their own profession and brand once they walk away from my class.

All of these things made me think about the social media profession as a whole and I asked myself: Is it better to stand on the shoulders of “social media” giants, or is it better to be your own self-made person?

My answer is: You want to do both, but be prepared to be on your own.

So, how do you try to teach this mindset to students? Let me show you how I have approached this with my students in my social media class:

Embrace the coach mentality. You want to be able to help students with the lessons, key concepts, and test them on their understanding of these ideas in the classroom. However, you need to be able to allow them the opportunity to test and apply these out in the real world. That’s what we have been trying to do with my social media class here at UofL. The students have been able to propose ideas for social media and work with the Louisville Bats. Their ideas, suggestions, and work have gone from just conceptional ideas to actually implementing them in real time.

You essentially are training them for the duties and obligations they will be expected to perform at their internships and jobs. As a student-athlete for ten years, do you think I spent all of my time watching people throw and not actually practice myself? No. My training ratio to video ratio for the shot put was 80/20 at the most. Apply this into your classroom settings here as well.

Take this image for example. I was scouting in the Louisville Slugger for the “Cookie Lady,” who always sells some amazing cookies at the baseball games. I text messaged my students where she was at, and they came to me with some ideas they had for the content across the various platforms (this case was IG and Snapchat). I said this was great and I stepped aside to let them create the content for the Louisville Bats. They were able to create content and see the metrics come from what they posted on the respective accounts.

One request I share with my students when it comes to mentoring them is simple: Pay it forward. Make sure when they get to their dream job and future position, they take the time to help others.

Be comfortable in taking a step back. It is very easy as a professor to micromanage your students and become somewhat of a “helicopter professor.” You want to be there as a resource, but there is a level of trust you need to make sure you are able to have with your students before they enter the real world.

This goes down to the next point (having high expectations) and inspecting what you expect from them at the event. I went to every event my students covered for the Louisville Bats this year. I watched, observed, and offered any help they wanted. I didn’t create any of the content, but I was there if they felt they needed to have some coffee to do their best work.

The result? I was able to witness students from class become the professionals I knew each of them could be. I saw confidence, support amongst the group, respect and professionalism with fans and with the client, and happiness to know they were making an impact on social media for their client.

Set high expectations and encourage certain behavior. If you let your students know your expectations, this sets the tone for the class. What I have found is you are not only teaching students key concepts, but also behavior and tasks they will be able to continue on after they are out of your class.

From networking opportunities to what you expect from them in their reports and even their professional conduct with their speakers and clients, all of these points come into the overall culture and community you are setting forth here.

Also, there are times where you can see this happen that you did not plan on it happening. For example, I have my students write blog posts for the class, and there are certain weeks where we did not have blog posts assigned. There were still students who wrote these extra blog posts and other content that was shared on social media without any encouragement. Did I mention this to the students? Yes, and they said they had gotten into the routine of writing for class, they naturally did this on their own. Again, as a professor, you are not only teaching key concepts, but a certain mindset for students to have to work in this industry.

Encourage creativity and exploring the possibilities. There are sometimes barriers people set up for themselves before they can take action, and what you want to do. Creativity needs to be fostered and allowed to come out. As I tell my students, there are no bad ideas (well, decaf coffee is one!).

I also think it is important to provide students an opportunity to get practice in establishing their own voice and point of view in the field. I have seen in a span of four weeks how several students have really transformed into amazing professionals on these points. It’s been exciting to see this evolve over time, but also see it in person, as I did this weekend.

There may be a time where students need to be independently driven and confident to be able to take these actions. Yes, there are always certain barriers, challenges, and obstacles that we need to be aware of. However, we also have to make sure our students know the possibilities and how persistence in working towards your goals may take time, but will eventually happen.

Being a self-made person myself, I feel like I have tried to instill this mindset and approach with my students as well. In this day in age for social media (especially with personal branding), you have to be well connected and knowledgeable in the field (talk the talk), but you also have to know how to walk the walk as well to take action for yourself.

To be a self-made professional in social media is one that has a balance of being persistent in investing in your future as well as understanding of when to ask for advice, help, and guidance. It’s a balance of the two.

I am very proud of each of my students this semester and everyone I have had in previous courses. I feel they are in a good standing to not only continue building their networks, but also become their own professional. Yes, mentors and people we look up to can always help us, but in social media, it is also important to be able to stand on your two feet and have a voice that contributes to the field.

We are heading into the final presentations and had our last class last week (where I shared some additional tips).

Hope you all are having a great day!

Best Wishes,