Social Media and the Blurring of Professional Roles

In a rare post today, Paul Conley stated the obvious: he doesn’t publish much on his blog anymore.  Well, duh–all his fans are painfully aware of that.

(If you’re not familiar with Conley, I recommend a thorough study of his archives. Admittedly, that can be depressing for someone like me—Dammit, Conley, why have you always already said what I want to write about, and better than I ever could? But for anyone interested in B2B publishing and communications, it is essential and enlightening reading.)

Obvious or not, what made his statement today interesting was the way he said it: Not, “I don’t blog much anymore,” but “I’m not a blogger anymore.” In focusing on the identity rather than the activity, he underscored for me one of the most profound aspects of the social media revolution: professional roles don’t matter much any longer.

It’s no longer as meaningful as it once was to say you’re a blogger, or a journalist, or a marketer. The functions are still distinct, but the walls separating them are crumbling. You can be a blogger one moment, a marketer or journalist the next. It is, for me, one of the glories of this connected age.

It is, of course, one of the immense disruptions as well. It can be hard to accept the blurring of professional boundaries, and to give up thinking in terms of “them” versus “us.” But as the mass media era recedes into the past and is replaced by the conversational age, the act of rethinking our roles, our identities, is a necessary if sometimes painful exercise.

In his essay, Conley asks, “If I am no longer a blogger, then what am I?” I would argue that it doesn’t matter. As he has proved, you don’t need a clearly defined and delimited role to have an impact on others. Though he blogs less often than he once did, he remains active in the B2B conversation via Twitter and still inspires lesser lights like me to try to shine more brightly.

It’s perhaps more relevant than he realizes that Conley cites Ralph Waldo Emerson as his inspiration. As Merton Sealts Jr. once wrote, Emerson’s cultural role was hard to pin down: “Indeed, the problem of what to call Emerson has bothered critics and historians since his death in 1882. . . . we too are uncertain how to classify Emerson, how to deal with his poetry, or even in what course or department to consider his Essays.”

Should we call Emerson a poet or a philosopher? Should we think of Conley as a blogger or an essayist?

Who cares? More than ever, in the social media era it’s not what you are but what you do that counts. Whether it’s a blog post, an essay, or—can one hope?—a book, I look forward to whatever Conley does next.


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