Turning social media attention into income

By Srininvas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

A few months ago I was let go from my job heading up the social media efforts for Flightster.  I immediately entered panic mode and frantically searched for a job only to realize that living in Costa Rica was going to severely limit my chances of finding anything. So I decided to table my job search and return to the United States.

Over the last two years I’d seen several people use their social media presence to help them find a job. Given that I’d built a decent footprint online, I thought I wouldn’t face any of the typical challenges of a job search.  I tried leveraging my blog and my connections to launch a job search campaign.

I thought there was no way I could fail with this considering I’d seen people who were not nearly as connected as I am wind up with multiple job offers. I emailed everybody I could in my network and asked for their support in getting the word out and my blog post about my job search was tweeted 153 times. The campaign fell flat on its face and I didn’t receive a single inquiry about my job search.

Despite my tireless work in the “attention economy,” I could not convert this to cash.

Why the Social Media Job Campaign Failed

I’m not sure if I could come up with an exact reason that my job search campaign failed, but I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at some elements that might have limited me:

  • Too Much Transparency: I have a reputation for being extremely transparent on my blog. I don’t sugarcoat anything, tend to be opinionated and let people know a good deal about my life. It’s no secret to any of you who know me well that surfing is a HUGE part of my life. It’s possible the fact that I’ve been so open about this may have caused a potential employer to see this as a red flag. On the flip side of that I think that transparency is exactly what keeps people from ending up in a job they’re going to eventually hate.
  • Lack of Specifics: Looking back at this campaign I think I could have been far more specific about exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been involved in a wide variety of projects over the last two years and I made it a point to showcase the work I’d done on those. It’s possible I didn’t articulate the value I could bring to an organization as well as I could have.
  • Not Pushing the Klout Score: Truth be told I’m not a big fan of Klout and can’t stand the idea that somebody would hire me because of my score. But it’s something that probably would have been worth discussing in my job search campaign, given that it is a measure of influence that does have significance to people who are hiring specifically for social media positions.

After sulking for about a week I went back to the drawing board, demoralized and wondering how I would ever stand out in this job market.  Sending out resumes led nowhere, and the more I thought about it, the more I started to think that maybe finding a traditional job was no longer in the cards for me.  My friend Josh Waldman told me:  “Well I think you’re in an odd position because of all the entrepreneurial stuff you’ve done. The right company will see you as a tremendous asset, but many will look at this and see you as a liability.”

When I thought about this, my job search took a new turn as I decided to focus my efforts on  personal projects and keeping an eye out only for opportunities that I considered a perfect fit.

Taking a Dive in the Deep End of the Entrepreneurial Pool

A few weeks ago Stanford Smith wrote a great article on {grow} about the social media mistake that far too many people make and I mentioned in a comment that in many ways, I had become the poster child for being “social media popular” and unprofitable.

I have a blog with close to 3,000 subscribers, a podcast gets 25,000 downloads and multiple speaking gigs and I still can’t live off of what I’ve created.  I have hit a wall.  How was it that people who’d started after I did had become more successful?  I questioned whether I had what it really takes. Why was I not making the kind of money that I thought I was worth?  Questions like this plagued my mind and finally after weeks of soul searching I realized that I’ve reached a point of no return.  I absolutely have to see the social media properties I have built become a success or die trying.  But I had to do something different if things were going to change.

Every single day that I came across a compelling blog post, I decided to act on it. I launched an e-book for a $1.99.  I started writing a guest post at least twice a week for a blog bigger than mine. But I knew there was no way this was going to give me the income I needed in the long term.  I got my hands on books like The Wealthy Freelancer and realized that it might be time to bring in some outside help and hire a business coach.

The Harsh Reality of Making it On Your Own

I am finding that is not easy making it on your own in the social media space.  You have to have a high tolerance for risk and uncertainty.  You don’t know where your next paycheck is going to come from. People around you continually seem to doubt whether you’re going to make it and seem intent on advising you that you’re out of your mind.  The low barrier to entry created by social media has flooded the market with aspiring entrepreneurs, freelancers, and people trying to make it on their own.  Standing out in it is only half the battle. You have to figure out how to turn social media attention into social media income.  Have you successfully evolved from blogger to entrepreneur?  What steps should I take next?

Srinivas Rao is the founder of Blogcast FM and writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did.  

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  • Thanks for your honesty about your “social job search” Srinivas. Turns out finding work via the social web is NOT so easy after all (I’ve had this experience myself).

    I used to work for a recruiting firm, and I can tell you that a lot of entrepreneurial work can really make you somewhat unemployable back in the regular 9-5 world. Not that the good people of that firm discriminated – it was hiring managers who typically balked at entrepreneurs. The theory was that HM’s saw that and thought, “here’s someone who is used to being their own boss, and won’t like having a boss.”

    I was sorry to hear that this wasn’t working out for you though. I really wish you the best of luck in finding something that allows you to make money AND surf to your heart’s content.

  • Oh boy! Do I know how you feel or what!?!?  I was laid off in my position as social media strategist 3 days before Christmas last year. I had a choice: collect unemployment and look for a job or hang my shingle. I decided that unemployment was not going to pay the bills so I started my own company – catering to the multifamily and military housing industries.

    My non-compete made it impossible to target apartment communities so I started reaching out to vendors in the industry. I focused on an industry that I already had connections with and have been moderately successful. I’ve learned a ton of hard lessons and some of them were expensive.

    I’ve continued my job search but nothing seems to “click” so I’ll keep on keeping on. My advice – find a niche and operate largely within it as a consultant or an LLC until you find what you’re looking for. Good luck to you!

  • I love working for myself, but considering my location in the middle of NC, there isn’t always a constant stream of “big enough” business to make me over-confident that my company will be here in 20 years… what that means is that I always keep my ear to the ground in case something spectacular should pop up. 

    That being said, here are my observations… no one is hiring in this area.. unless you live in a Tier 1 city or are willing to move to one, good luck. What I find ironic about it is that what we do in social media is literally virtual. Companies who think they’re cutting edge still look to have people in cubicles.  They also want paper resumes.  The BEST job posting that I have seen lately was on the GetGlue put out. (check it out).

    Unfortunately, I know all too well that now that I  have ventured out on my own, as Jenn Whinnem said so well – HR departments are going to be scared of people like us. What’s to say that we won’t leave after 2 years. I don’t think that I would make a great employee. The entire reason I started my own company was so that I could have the flexibility to work whatever 80 hours in the week that I wanted to in order to spend time doing things with my family.

    Good luck to you but I have a feeling you won’t need luck… just a longer trail to blaze!

  • Marieg

    Bless you Srininvas for your open heart. You have what it takes. Hang in there. Marie 
    P.S. Follow Mark’s lead, as he too started from relative scratch. Look at him now!

  • Lucy

    I’ve yet to start my blog but from what I read from pro bloggers is that it takes a lot of effort and hard work to monetise your blog – up to a year of working solidly on it. Given that you’ve had great success in building an audience, I’d suggest looking at affiliate marketing to boost your income. Also  maybe your ebook is at a too low price point – it wouldn’t encourage other bloggers to promote it as the commission would be tiny. I’m going to have a crack at blogging and whether it will be a success or not I don’t know, but it will be great experience. Fortunately I have a income from consultancy to keep me going in the meantime!

  • Onlyifyoulikeme

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  • So many people have found themselves in your shoes over the last couple of years. My father lost his job and decided to start his own consulting company. He secured a few roles and, like you, was speaking at events across the country. But it wasn’t reliable income and it didnt pay the bills. It’s not an easy feat to transition from part of a team/company to running the show on your own. He hadnt considered how to market himself (aside from calling his rolodex), he didnt know how to build a website or write the content that would fuel it and compel people to act. He didnt know how and what to charge for his services. He could do the work – VERY well – but he wasnt a true business owner.

    I lost my own job this past summer and decided to start my own blog. I recognize I am not ‘quite there’ when it comes to going off on my own and consulting which is why I hit the pavement applying for jobs and working with recruiters. I turned to my network and spent tons of time guestblogging and participating in the social channels. I have an awesome network as a result and wouldnt hesitate to help anyone in it if I am able. I hope someday to venture out on my own and figure out how to do it on my own without working for a coporate brand.

    Best of luck to you! I found that the job search was extremely similar to marketing. You gotta try different things and see what converts the best.

  • I find myself in a similar situation, but with a very small fan base. I have to support myself and my son and have come up fairly empty too. All I can say is maybe finding others who are in the same situation, who try to reach out, may be in a good position to be of assistance.

    Maybe the other answer is in not just talking about how great you are, but in how you can fit in. Reading your ‘hire me” post a second time, it seems like an awful lot of “me, me, me” and employers tend to really hate that. Perhaps highlighting how well you work with others would be more attractive to them. Just a thought…

  • Hello there.
    I seen, heard and followed some of your journey.
    One thing I do know is this: “The right road, leads out at the right place” and I have travelled that quote myself.
    I wish you well. 
    Your article is an honest view of what happens to us in life when we are looking for something else.
    Billy

  • Hi Jenn, 

    Thanks for your comment. I was honestly somewhat hesitant to write this post when Mark asked me about it. I couldn’t help but think it might be building the case for not getting hired. But there have been some interesting developments in the last few weeks. My podcast got sponsored by Livefyre and I’ve become far more strategic in how I’ve thought about all of this.  It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. 

  • Hey Billy, 

    Thanks so much. I think that it everything happens for a reason and we can’t quite predict how the dots will connect. 

  • Nancy,

    I thought quite a bit about the “me, me, me” part and realize that may have been the downfall of the post.    The good news is there have been some interesting developments in the last few weeks that could lead to some big changes. 

  • Christina,

    I think you hit the nail on the had about it being like marketing. There’s not one proven way to do it. I don’t think there’s a formula. The willingness to experiment is key. 

  • Thanks.  Appreciate your kind words.  

  • It’s definitely an interesting journey. I know Mark published this today. Shortly after I wrote this some interesting developments took place. The podcast I host got sponsored by Livefyre. I’ve also started to lay the foundation for some interesting freelance work. i’m not sure what exactly it will all lead to but it’s a sign that things are getting better. 

  • Thanks.  Fortunately I’ve been able to live at my parents house and save money.  But I think what really was hard was having such high expectations from my efforts and not meeting my own standards. Fortunately things seem to be taking a turn for the better. 

  • I just have to ask this NASTY question.  It’s not meant to offend anyone but just an observation.  Srinivas, what you are experiencing is obviously shared by many so, why are so many “Social Media Experts” having difficulty leveraging Social Media to further their own careers / businesses? Is it a “Cobbler with no shoes” issue or something deeper? 

    Srinivas, you suggested that some things are now starting to pop after you wrote this post. What changed? What did you do different that had an impact?

  • Yesterday I was talking with a referral partner of mine who I also mastermind with in terms of running her own business. Many of the people she asked for advice were employees not business owners, so their advice came from that point of view, which is very different. Now don’t take that as it’s a wrong point of view – it’s not. It’s simply very different.

    If you’re working for yourself the best thing you can do is surround yourself with others doing the same. They can relate, they can offer helpful advice (especially if they’ve had a business or two), and they could bring you in on projects.

    I’ve also found that working with a business coach can help a great deal as well. Lauri Flaquer has helped me a lot. It’s easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and freak out, especially when things don’t seem to come as easy as we hope. But they will come as long as you stick to your principles and never stop moving ahead.

    As to your last question, I started as a business person and became a blogger. I’ve seen many people run into the same issues as you have with starting a blog. I’d advise looking at what you really want to do, who you really want to work with, and then work your ass off making it happen.

    There’s only one way to success today – it’s all out massive action and surrounding yourself only with people doing the same.

  • Just to clarify @marieg, I did work in business for 27 years before I immersed myself in the social media scene. My last position was as a global marketing director for a Fortune 500 company. I also have two masters degrees in related fields and my undergrad in journalism has been a good preparation for a career creating content. So, in fairness, I haven’t really starting my career from scratch but I appreciate the vote of confidence : )

  • Just to clarify @marieg, I did work in business for 27 years before I immersed myself in the social media scene. My last position was as a global marketing director for a Fortune 500 company. I also have two masters degrees in related fields and my undergrad in journalism has been a good preparation for a career creating content. So, in fairness, I haven’t really starting my career from scratch but I appreciate the vote of confidence : )

  • Really superb advice Robert.

  • Thanks for the advice.  It’s funny you mentioned a business coach because that’s exactly what I’ve been working on finding. I realized that you do have to take advice from people who have accomplished what you’re trying to accomplish.  I know you and I spoke about that whole idea of bloggers and entrepreneurs when you were on BlogcastFM. The one thing that I think has really changed is that my reading material has shifted from blogging advice to entrepreneurial advice. 

  • Steve, 

    What  I think it this is caused by is that people know plenty about social media, but not enough about business. I talked to a business coach recently who told me there are people you’ve never heard of who make far more money than the “popular” people. The lesson for me has be to stop focusing on attention and instead on what value Ic an provide to somebody in a business. It’s also forced me to evaluate the importance of a business coach. 

  • Once you start working for yourself you’re in another world. I’ve also had trouble finding jobs in the past due to working for myself.

    If ultimately what you’re after is a job I’d seek out entrepreneurial companies who won’t worry about losing you in a year or two because they’re looking for a robot to simply do work. They’ll be wondering how best they can use what you already know how to do really well.

    Outside of that working for yourself can be awesome. I’ve done it for the better part of 11 years and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure it’s a hell of a lot of work but in the end it’s worth it. But you’re either all in or you’re out. There is no halfway that I’ve seen work out for anyone.

  • Hi Srinivas, A great post that hits home for me as well, left corporate 3 years ago mainly to be available for my special needs child. Although the journey has been difficult transitioning from “being employed” to “self employed” with mastering a whole new mindset. The difference it has made in my child’s life makes it all worth while but looking back I can now see the BIG issue has been the lack of specifics although I knew it was to do with social media as learned more my focus and “speciality” really started to fall apart. I can see that if I am not clear to what I have to offer how our my potential client to know they want to hire me. (work in progress) 
    Thank you for your transparency (something I am working at becoming more) your story is helping many and that is what bring real value to all!

    Manon 

  • Srinivas, I couldn’t agree more! I still believe the problem is that lot’s of people know plently about social media but lack the clear understanding about what it can deliver to clients / employers that turn into meaningful financial returns.  Once that is communicated not only does it help someone rise above the crowd / noise but also clearly commincates your personal value in a way that helps land mutually viable financial relationships. 

  • I’m so glad you were brave enough to write this post, Srinivas. I know you’re not alone. I’ve heard of even some of the very big names in social media having trouble finding a job. This is a difficult economy which exacerbates all the usual problems of finding a job and maybe being penalized for being your own boss. I know that our small business has to work hard, constantly, to keep the pipeline active. Every small business owner I know who talks about their situation in private is in the same boat. I’m just hoping things start to improve and life becomes a little easier for all of us. And I hope that it becomes easier for you very soon!

  • I appreciate your honesty and willingness to put your struggles out there in the open, Srinivas. I think many of us feel as though we must be the only ppl not rolling in cash through our social media efforts, so for you to be honest about your situation is actually very inspiring. 

    The biggest challenge I have is feeling as though my content is something I can and should charge for. Not my blog, but other online content I’ve created. Many ppl/businesses have asked me to allow them to use it but don’t feel they should pay. I’ve actually taken my content site down for a while to simply focus on blogging and becoming better at Twitter/FB. I wonder if that’s something that comes with the territory for SM/online content? It’s also difficult to control when to share vs when to say, “Hey, stop stealing my content.” Wondering if that might factor into your struggles?

    For what it’s worth, I find you to be someone who inspires and motivates me with your Twitter and blog posts. You do an awesome job of “connecting”. I know it’s naive, but I do firmly believe that good things happen to good people, and I see good things in your future. Be patient and follow your gut. All the goodwill you’ve created will lead to something that’s right for you, which I selfishly hope will also allow you to continue to put out the great content that you now do!

    Thanks for sharing on this post.

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  • Karen Bice

    Srininvas, FWIW, I think one can still do all the right things in a job search and not come up with anything. It’s the economy. We’re in a jobs crisis. Many people are working multiple PT jobs to make ends meet. I appreciate your honesty in your post as it shows the reality and difficulty in finding work. I would be interested in followup posts about your job search. Also, I have a hard time understanding why your love for surfing would be seen as a negative issue. My best to you!

  • Wow! I am going through this right now.  This post really hit home.  Thank you for sharing your experience.  How are things going at this point in the saga?  Have you bridged the gap?

  • I’m so glad to hear that. Sharing this part of my story wasn’t really glamorous.  But the fact that I’m not the only one going through these challenges makes me realize that maybe I’ve been a bit too hard on myself.  My focus has really started to shift to align my actions with goals that generate revenue.  The lack of specifics is actually something quite common for many people. Many of the books I’ve read talk about the importance of getting really specific about the customer you want to serve. 

  • Nicole,

    it’s interesting how much we assume that the big names are just living a life of smooth sailing and money is filling their pockets. AS you said every small business has to work to keep a pipeline full. What’s become so apparent to me is that I’ve got tons of blogging advice and put that into action, but I have to really look at business advice. Since I wrote this a few weeks back there have been some interesting developments like BlogcastFM getting sponsored. I think that it’s a step in the right direction. If there’s anything that all this has taught me it’s that success is not linear. 

  • Karen,

    Thanks for your kind words. I think you do hav to find a balance between sharing great content for free and charging for it. I think my balance has been a bit off there. I think that interesting thing about the network that I’ve built is that it’s paid off in some very unusual ways that aren’t necessarily monetary. My philosophy on relationships could be really be summed up with the following: “Think beyond the life of your blog and make friends, not followers.” 

  • Hey Tyler,

    Its a work in progress. How the next couple of months unfold is going to be really interesting. 

  • Karen.

    Thanks so much. I’ve seen some friends really struggle after we finished business school. That was 2 years ago and some of them are still fighting a losing battle.  My love for surfing might be seen as more of an obsession :). It’s something that takes up a good amount of my time, but I figure when you have a passion that lights your eyes up, it permeates every area of your life. 

  • I started with a local company who needed someone to handle their social media. After that, people heard about what I was doing and wanted my help too. There are so many companies out there who want social media help but have nowhere to turn and don’t know where to start. Enter YOU. I would say start with a local company, focus on their sm, then build. Word of mouth has been amazing for me!

  • I knew about your social media campaign and even retweeted. I’m sorry to hear that it failed. I remember thinking at the time, if you can take the constructive criticism, that the ‘campaign’ wasn’t all that special when reading the blog post or in how you executed it. I think something more unique needs to be done. Like Marian Schembari who used a facebook ad to say she wanted X company to hire her, or Jamie Varon who built a whole hashtag and website about how twitter should hire her (or something like that… btw both ended up launching themselves as freelancers/entrepreneurs instead with the attention and added creds they got). Those were successful because they both had blogs but did something above and beyond their blog to get attention..I also think that once something has been done, it’s harder to copy and get the same results. Another reason the campaigns were successful is because it was never been done before and that got a lot of attention, even in the media! I’m not sure if that will help you any but what’s done is done. That being said, I TOTALLY think you have the entrepreneurial drive and with the network that you have, I’m not sure it would be entirely too difficult to start monetizing. Just make sure people know exactly what your blog is about in 3 seconds or less and have some sort of ‘hire me’ page… start offering services and products. I’m sure you know the drill, but I too find it VERY difficult to actually start making livable income, no matter how many blogs I read that do the same.. Good luck!

  • I think that you bring up great points. I’ve interviewed both of them for BlogcastFM. No doubt that once something has done it’s hard to replicate. I think one other thing that didn’t help is that I didn’t know what it was SPECIFICALLY that I wanted. My friend Josh in his book had lots of advice that I could have put to us if I had a target company in mind. AT the end of the day I think the effort has to be a bit more strategic than a hire me page just because so many people do that.  i’ll be updating with some interesting developments in the near future. 

  • I think that you bring up great points. I’ve interviewed both of them for BlogcastFM. No doubt that once something has done it’s hard to replicate. I think one other thing that didn’t help is that I didn’t know what it was SPECIFICALLY that I wanted. My friend Josh in his book had lots of advice that I could have put to us if I had a target company in mind. AT the end of the day I think the effort has to be a bit more strategic than a hire me page just because so many people do that.  i’ll be updating with some interesting developments in the near future. 

  • Just remember how the new suit showed up, so will the next thing you are going to do. It will fit too… he smiles

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  • Hi Sirini

    I love this post and that you wear your heart and mind on your sleeve (or wetsuit in your case)

    To answer your question though – my road from blogger to entreprenuer has involved a pit stop – working for others.  I thought I would be producing and selling my own courses now but what I have found is that I have more financial success working for others, inside their courses.  And I’m ok with that – I still have my entreprenurial dreams, but they can wait until I can build up more funds and experience.

    Ainslie

  • This post is spot on. I think many out there developed a wrong perception towards making a living out of the cyberspace – to make money the easy way by just staying home. They forget that it still requires lots of commitment and risk taking just like how you’ve described. Thanks for sharing your story, Srinivas 🙂

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  • Good article and honest reflection on the difficulty of both rising above the noise and converting attention into dollars.

    I did some twitter inequality analysis. The findings corroborate participation inequality, albeit not quite as extreme as Jakob Nielsen’s 90-9-1 rule would suggest. You can find the analysis and discussion on my Blog here:

    http://visualign.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/inequality-on-twitter/

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