From specialist to strategist

September 13, 2012

Life, Social media

Look! A dude air surfing on a puzzle piece. Crazy, huh? Also a metaphor for the 30,000-foot view of our clients’ business we need to take when moving from specialist to strategist (image credit:


Last week I wrote a post on the career ceiling social media specialists, and all specialists for that matter, will eventually hit. Got some interesting comments and insightful conversation, which I’d urge you to check out. The one theme that stood out above all others was that many people have started their careers as specialists and would like to move into the strategist arena. But they aren’t sure the best way to go about it.

It’s an important question with a lot of different potential answers. I’m taking my shot at shining some light here. But please feel free to sprinkle some braindrizzle of your own in the comments. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Only 98 percent of them :) .

 1. Raise your hand. Nobody is going to read your mind and say, “Gee, I have a strategic planning opportunity for a client coming up and you look like you’re just itchin to learn how to be strategic.” There’s a better chance that you actually win that Lotto thing. But people are always looking for and respect initiative. So take it. Volunteer to work on projects outside your specialty. Or ask to sit in on strategy sessions just to listen. Speak up and let your supervisor know you’re ready to learn. Put me in coach.

2. Ask questions. When you’re just starting out in your career, it’s a good idea to do what you’re asked to do. But after a while, you need to stop working with your head down. Ask your colleagues or clients why they do things a certain way. The answers may lead to a broader discussion about how the approach was developed. Or uncover a need for further strategic planning.

3. Speak the GSOT language. GSOT stands for goals, strategies, objectives and tactics. This is the language of strategic planning…or at least, it should be. When you speak in GSOT terms you do two things — 1) Show you know strategy is relevant to your project, 2) Frame the situation in a way that strategy can’t be ignored. Goals are a brand’s high-level aspirations. Objectives are the measurable things you want to accomplish to help achieve your goals. Tactics are the work you plan to execute to make these objectives a reality. But Strategy is the who, where, why and how. It’s the glue that holds your plan together. And the tactics should come from it, not before it or in spite of it.

4. Read, watch, attend, learn. What happens in school when you don’t know something you have to learn for a class? The professor gives you books to read and videos to watch to learn about it. You attend class to discuss and understand it better and learn how it might apply to your life. If you want to move from specialist to strategist, you have to approach learning about strategy the same way. Read books and blogs. Watch videos and webcasts. Attend community and online networking events. Learn from others’ experiences learning and applying strategy.

5. Change the way you present yourself. Are you Justin, the social media specialist, or are you Justin, a communications consultant who has specialized in social media for a variety of clients? There is a big difference when it comes to perception. When asked what you do, how do you respond? With stories of Facebook posts and Pinterest boards? Or with a strategic eye toward what makes the most sense to help your clients achieve their goals and objectives?

Those are some tips that helped me with the transition. What can others learn from you? How did you shift from specialist to strategist?

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Great stuff, Justin. Far too many people focused their sights on social media without realizing that it's just a tool - and one of many for integrated marketing (or corporate comms) success. Great post here to get people headed in the right direction :))