I am not an expert

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"Marketing is a discipline in a period of great change of which it is still evolving."

That was the opening sentence of a cover letter I received a decade or so ago when I was hiring a marketing communications coordinator at a previous company. Despite managing the difficult rhetorical feat of being simultaneously pompous and meaningless, it did not win the applicant an interview. But it has stuck with me ever since for two reasons. First, because I love found absurdity. Second, because it reminds me of a valuable lesson:

Beware the Grand Pronouncement.

A lot of social media bloggers love Grand Pronouncements, and a lot of them are good at it. I enjoy reading their Grand Pronouncements, but as I launch this blog I am publicly reminding myself that isn't what I'm here for. Many people have ruminated on whether or not it's possible to be a "social media expert." I'm saying right up front here in my first blog post that I am not an expert. I am not going to tell you what to do. I'm going to tell you what we're doing at SAS in social media and what we're learning from it. I'm not trying to set myself up as a guru. I'm trying to contribute to the community of people in jobs like mine who are figuring this out as we go along.

SAS has been in business since 1976 and the company has learned how to do things the right way (which explains our unbroken history of growth and profitability). When we decided that social media was here to stay, we created a group called the Marketing 2.0 Council, made up of senior people from across the company. I counted myself lucky to be invited to serve on the Council in my former position handling corporate public relations. We spent nearly a year looking at all the different areas of social media and Web 2.0, deciding which ones we needed to address and what we should do. We came up with a wide-ranging list of recommendations, one of which was to create the position of Social Media Manager. I counted myself doubly lucky when I was offered the job.

I started at SAS in May of 2007 as a corporate public relations representative. My colleagues deal with our industry solutions in finance and healthcare and education and all the other areas where SAS helps people apply analytics to large amounts of data to make better decisions. I worked with journalists who wanted to write about the company as a whole, and managed our applications for awards like Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. It was a great way to learn about SAS. I know who to call to find out the business case for providing a fully-staffed medical office on our headquarters campus. And I know who to call to find out how many tons of M&Ms we put out in our breakrooms last year (22).

It was a great job for a generalist like me. I started my professional life as a reporter at The Chapel Hill News in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and sold out after a few years for regular hours and a dental plan. I worked in marketing communications for technology companies like Nortel and Geomagic, and consulted for smaller companies as well. My first social media experience came in 1994 when I joined a forum on Delphi, in the days before the World Wide Web. I cut my blogging teeth in 2002, writing the daily diary for the Iceland Airwaves music festival, back before we knew to call it a blog. Before coming to SAS I ran web sales and marketing for indie label Yep Roc Records, launched their web store and learned the terrible beauty that is the fan forum.

I've spent a fair amount of time in the past five or six years blogging on company time, and I'm excited that it's now part of my job description. The Marketing 2.0 Council, like social media itself, is an ongoing and evolving venture, and in this blog I'm going to chronicle what we're talking about, what we're debating, what we're trying, what works and what doesn't. SAS has a tradition of sharing knowledge and information and doing things that benefit both us and the community, whether it's giving away our Curriculum Pathways software free to educators, building a solar farm and incorporating green principles into buildings on our headquarters campus or creating an environment that truly allows employees to balance their work and their lives.

I'm thinking of this blog in terms of that tradition, because I genuinely believe that social media can be a positive force in the world, not just for marketing software. I will measure the success of this blog by the number and quality of conversations and connections it facilitates among people like me who are figuring out whether or not you can, in fact, manage social media.

It's not very pretty yet and I don't even have my bio up, or any connection info, but I'm tired of waiting. Here we go.

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