I don’t know what I’m doing

I recently came to the conclusion I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Throughout the entirety of my professional career I have been an engineer (okay, so it’s industrial engineering), and then about three months ago I changed directions and became a PR person. The things is, I didn’t know I was changing directions. I didn’t even realize I was becoming a PR person. I thought I was just taking a fork in the road.

The story of how I got to said fork isn’t particularly long, but it isn’t particularly interesting either so will Cliff Note it:

  • Bill starts working at Henry Ford Health System in the management services department in 1997
  • Bill learns about blogs in 2001 and starts several as a hobby
  • Bill keeps working at HFHS in the management services department which is adjacent to the marketing department (physically speaking, not functionally) and Bill gets to know the marketing folks
  • Bill starts splitting time between HFHS and a small consulting firm.  Bill is happy
  • Small consulting firm sells to somewhat larger consulting firm and Bill continues on splitting time
  • Somewhat larger consulting firm drops Bill who is a contractor and not an employeee
  • Bill tries to pick up the remaining hours in management services.  Management services does what it can, but Bill is still at only 80% employment
  • Manager of Web Services (which is a subset of marketing) knows of Bill’s history of blogging (which is like 5 years at this point) and his need for hours and Bill joins the marketing department for 8 hours a week.
  • The web department continues to grow.  The manager becomes a director.  And earlier this year Bill is offered a full time position in web services as a manger over the intranet and social media efforts. Bill accepts position.

At first I spent the bulk of my time a)working on technical intranet issues, b)learning what it’s like to have direct reports, c)finishing up management services projects. But my overall mindset hadn’t changed.

Then in October I started to ramp up the social media aspect of my job.  I started to do some research and benchmarking.  I’m pretty familiar with social media.  As a veteran blogger I was familiar with that aspect.  I consume podcasts and vodcasts. I post to del.icio.us and Stumble sites on occasion. I have my Facebook account and I had been Twittering off and on for awhile. I get the tools and how to use them as an individual.  But I wanted to see how companies were using them.

I started searching around for information and discovered many great new blogs – which were largely written by PR people.  I tracked the social media buzz on Twitter and start following smart and interesting people who were talking about the things I needed to learn about.  And they were all PR people.  It was about that time that I realized – I’m not a technical person any more.  I’m a PR guy!

My identity, or at least the part of my  identity that is tied to my occupation, had just been rocked. I don’t mean this in a bad way at all and don’t want to offend my new PR colleagues.  But it was quite the shift. I guess I never realized it while I was busy being wrapped up in the technical aspects of the tools and of the chance to leverage new technology. I never thought of it as PR (or at least in the way that I’d always thought of PR), but as a way to engage and communicate with patients in a whole new way and ultimately grow the business.

So I don’t know what I’m doing – at least in terms of formal training. And after the initial shock of that wore off I became very excited about the new direction my professional career has taken. In terms of social media it is so new and so quickly evolving I don’t know what formal training I’m missing out on anyways. Instead I get paid to be on top of what’s new.  To try things and measure the results and see what works and what doesn’t and if it doesn’t work I get to examine what went wrong. It’s PDCA.  The same basic stuff that was taught in those early industrial engineering classes. So maybe I haven’t strayed that far after all.

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