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Know your niche

September 15, 2010

Today’s world is all about multi-tasking. Even as I write this blog post I’ll admit that I’m watching a football game with my husband, checking and responding to e-mail, discussing current events and debating curtains for the nursery (no joke). And it’s not just me who seems to have an obsession with multi-tasking; in many ways we’re raising this newest generation to be hyper-active. Gone are the days when young people have that one hobby or skill that they enjoy – today’s youngsters are enrolled in multiple activities and a variety of sports, as well as being glued to smart phones and a multitude of media at all times.

There’s no lack of scholarly research into the idea of multi-tasking and performance, and while it’s easy to think of this topic as product of today’s digital natives, it has been researched for years. Now, since I’ve already admitted that I’m a serial multi-tasker in my first paragraph, I’m not going to chime in on the multi-tasking debate. But it does make me think about a topic that typically comes up as a freelancer working in the very broad world of communications – niches.

There are a lot of supposed jack-of-all-trades media professionals. There’s also a relatively new trend of “social media maven” or Facebook and Twitter expert. While I’m skeptical of anyone who builds a career on a platform rather than on a skill or trade, I do think there’s something to be said for finding your niche – and being really good at it.

This is certainly true of media, where many technical geeks now claim to be online communications professionals and PR flaks feign expertise in search engine optimization. And in my experience folks with true knowledge across the broad spectrum of communication –  from technical knowledge to strategy and research to media outreach – are few and far between.

My genre happens to be military communications and social media. This isn’t happenstance – my degree was in International Affairs with a concentration in conflict and security, and some of my favorite professors just happened to be current or retired marines. I developed a passion for military blogs because as a writer,  I loved the way they were telling the Army story. And thus a career developed as a military-focused digital media strategist. And it’s proven to work out fairly well. That isn’t to say that I’m not capable of other things, and it’s certainly not to say that I’m not keen to expand my professional experience by working in other areas. But I will say that I promise to never tell you I’m an expert on search engine optimization or the right person to build your html web page.

Anyone in public relations could stand a healthy dose of self-reflection, especially when it pertains to our true capabilities. I’d call on a lot of the social media experts out there to do the same, and be sure they’re representing themselves accurately, especially in building relationships with clients.

It’s incredibly important to know something. It’s sometimes even more important to be able to admit what you don’t know. We all have a niche – we just need to embrace it.

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