“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I wonder how many of us are in fields or jobs that didn’t exist when people asked us that question as children. If you asked the 10-year old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, you wouldn’t hear “I want to be a communications professional!” come from my mouth!

But if you asked the 18-year old me, after she completed her first year of university, what she wanted to do after she finished her degree, I would have answered confidently, “I want to work in communications.” And my answer hasn’t changed since.

Explaining what I do and what I am passionate about can sometimes be a challenge. As a result, I’ve created pre-formulated responses for whenever people asked me “Where do you work?” or “What kind of job do you want after you get your degree?”

Sometimes when I answer one of these questions, or hear people’s responses, I think of those “What People Think I Do/What I Actually Do” memes! And now, I’ve finally created my own.

A meme that depicts what my mom, my friends, my clients, society think I do as a communications professional

The meme above is based off the amusing generalizations, ideas, and responses I’ve encountered over the years. But let’s explore this meme I made in a little more detail. By the time you’re done reading this post, you’ll have an accurate idea of what working in communications is all about!

What My Mom Thinks I Do

Girl from Baby Driver film asking

My mother provides excellent advice when it comes to major life decisions (like that time I had to decline an excellent job offer). If it isn’t obvious, she is super supportive of the career path I’ve chosen.  I’m not sure, however, if she fully understands what my career is. Here’s a transcript of our conversation between my mom and I:

ME: Alright Mom, so what do you think I do as a communications professional?

(long beat of silence followed by laughter from my Mom)

MOM: As a communications speciali— uh, a communications what?

ME: Professional.

MOM: Um…I don’t know? Communicate with people regarding certain issues? Working with companies on how to effectively bring their business to others outside. That’s it. Next question.

ME: Okay. That’s all you think that I do? Okay. What do you think I do as a social media manager?

MOM: Just remember I’m not into social media so I don’t know… (trails off)

ME, (interjects): Yes, that’s okay.

MOM: Okay, as a social media thing, I guess you’re up to date with the different issues out there, you comment on it. You ask people’s feelings on it, and then you express comments on it.

ME: Okay, thanks Mom.

(I begin walking away)

MOM (hollers): “So what exactly do you do?!”

What My Friends Think I Do

Olivia Pope from Scandal says

While I don’t mind comparisons to Kerry Washington, what I do isn’t the same as what Olivia Pope does. I asked some of my non-communications friends what they think I do as a communications professional

I think your work is very similar to that of a publicist – you help people to engage with other people effectively and efficiently. In term of my relationship with you, I believe that your work as a communications professional is closely linked to your ability to use different interfaces such as social media and your blog to create relevant and informative content that is easy to understand.” – Kristen

I think you do research on what aimed audiences like and use that information for marketing purposes, I also think you come up with witty designs, templates, and slogans for companies! But the funny answer I guess would be that you talk a lot and never stop! Haha, but seriously I think it’s a lot of statistics and using that info to create best practices for your platform.” – Habbiba

Communications has to do with the way you present an entity (an organization or company or whatever it may be) on social media (like Twitter or a blog). It also deals with things like editing and professional writing. I think your job is a combination of an editor’s job as well as a person who solely deals with social media.” – Caroline

Shoutout to my friends – some of them think they answered terribly (it wasn’t a test ya’ll!), but they’re not too far off from what I do!

What Society Thinks I Do

CP24 Breaking News screen

Sometimes when I tell strangers or acquaintances that I work in communications, I hear something like, “Oh so I am going to see you as a reporter on CBC one day!”

Professional communications is a broad field that encompasses much more than broadcast journalism. People who study and go on to pursue a career in communications might work as: creative directors, public relations professionals, advertisers, editors, graphic designers, social media specialists, web designers, writers, bloggers, marketers, media relations professionals, professors, public speakers, and more.

Fun fact – almost every industry employs communications professionals. This includes education, health, finance, not-for-profits, the government, and sports.

And the communications job titles are endless: Web and Digital Media Editor, Communications Coordinator, Director of Communications, Marketing and Communications Officer, Content Marketing Coordinator, PR Account Manager, Media Relations Specialist…

So now you may be wondering – OK, what area of communications interests you, Clivane?

I am interested in the specific area of social media and community management. When you tweet your favourite brand, see a Facebook ad, like a company’s Instagram post, read a How-To blog post, watch a recap YouTube video, or open an email newsletter – you see examples of my work. Social media and community management can be done in any industry, and remotely!

Even though I refer to myself as a “Social Media & Community Manager,” they are actually two distinct roles – Sprout Social has an excellent article about the difference between a Social Media Manager and a Community Manager. I just want to be both. 🙂 I want to do it because I find joy in educating, engaging, and empowering communities using social media.

“Community is much more than belonging to something, it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.”

– Brian Solis

Why do I find joy in this type of work? I believe that community is the most powerful catalyst for positive change. That’s why I use a quote by Amel Monsur on my About Me page: “We are only as strong as the people around us and the people we choose to empower.” When you empower an individual, you empower them to contribute in a meaningful and positive way to their community.

What My Clients Think I Do

Elle Woods from the Legally Blonde film asking 'What, like it's hard?

Every job has it’s challenges, so yes, it can be hard, thank you very much.

Here are some of the challenges I face as a communications professional:

  • tight deadlines
  • writer’s block
  • multiple, changing priorities
  • limited information
  • misunderstandings about the nature of social media strategy and management

Sometimes clients give me what feels like “mission impossible.” Can you make this post go viral? Can you film, edit, and publish 3 social media videos for next week? Can you come up with a branded social media campaign in the next hour?

Ultimately, even though my job has its challenges, I am the expert. It’s my responsibility to foster understanding about the work I do, stay updated with industry best practices, promote collaboration, and encourage my colleagues and supervisors to trust my expertise.

But if you’re ever my client, Hootsuite published an excellent article on their blog about 4 questions you should never ask a social media manager. And if you have a friend who works in communications, read this article that explains why it’s not okay to ask them for coffee to “pick their brain” about social media.

What I Think I Do

Derrick Morgan from Criminal Minds kisses Penelope Garcia's hand and says "You are the best"

As a social media and community manager, I like to think I’m Penelope Garcia from the show Criminal Minds.

Garcia is a Technical Analyst and Co-Communications Liaison at the FBI. Essentially, she is the hacker-tech genius of the team, and the team calls Penelope when they need information you won’t find from a Google search. We’re both a little dorky, fabulous, and we spend most of our time behind screens.

Now, I’m no self-proclaimed “Supreme Hacker Genius of the Internet,” like Penelope. And just because I spend a lot of time behind a screen doesn’t mean I’m on Facebook all day. Nope – I’m busy saving the world, 140 characters at a time! Kidding! (Kind of.)

Part of my job does require super-sleuthing skills to find information from tagged photos, advanced Twitter searches, and Google Alerts. (And now I’m not kidding – communications professionals are the ultimate investigators and Masters of Google Searches.) The more information we have, the better we can effectively target our audience on social media, blog posts, emails, videos, and more.

Penelope and I are integral members of the organizations we work for. Whether I work as a team of one, or team of five, the work I do contributes to achieving a company’s strategic goals. Everything from how fast a website loads to how quickly I respond to a customer’s tweet, plays a role in an organization’s success and reputation. So heck yeah, we’re kinda the best!

What I Actually Do

As a communications professional, I guess you could say I’m an amateur juggler. I wear many hats, I use many skills, and I have many traits . One of the reasons I love this type of work is because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always changing.

Articles from Buffer, Hubspot, and Sprout Social, provide excellent insight into the specific skills and traits needed to be a social media manager. Regardless of the area of communications someone works in, the below skills and traits are likely to be the same.

Skills: Writing, graphic design, public speaking, research, video editing, blogging, social media strategy, community engagement (online customer service), data analytics, photography, search engine optimization, coding (HTML and CSS), budgeting (yes, social media ads cost money), storytelling, and project management.

I use a minimum of 5 of those skills in my work on a daily basis. So if you’re proficient in most of those areas, you’d make a great fit as a social media manager!

Traits: You would make an excellent social media/community manager if you are curious, proactive, flexible, independent, collaborative, creative, community-oriented, empathetic, and inclusive. Bonus points if you’re a quick learner and have attention to detail. You should also have excellent time management, communication and problem solving skills.

And guess what? You can be introverted, or extroverted, or somewhere in between.

But first and foremost, you have to be a communicator – able to communicate ideas, key messages, data, and stories to the right audience, at the right time. This is at the core of what communications professionals do – regardless of whether you are a Social Media Specialist or Vice President of PR and Communications. You work behind-the-scenes, but it’s never a dull moment.


So there you have it – an “overview” of what a communications professional does. After reading this post, what do you think about the role and responsibilities of a communications professional? Did anything surprise you? Let me know in the comments below!