Laurier Purple Leaf

Social Media and Content Strategist (English and Communication Studies, BA)

Miranda Markham, Citizen Optimum

Many students quickly rush into further education following their undergraduate degrees. That is, except Miranda MacDonald, a 2006 English and Communications graduate who refused to follow the path of immediately pursuing more education. Miranda had been led to believe that in order to pursue a career in public relations she would need postgraduate courses following her BA. Instead, Miranda began accruing volunteer, work and networking experiences early on in her academic career in order to make her resumé strong immediately following graduation. “I didn’t think that there was anything that a one-year PR course could do for me except cost me money when I could be making some.” Despite not having a specialized diploma, Miranda continually committed to volunteering and career exploration throughout university and conducted an assertive job search following graduation, all of which has paid off.

Miranda first launched her career in the corporate communications world with RIM, followed by roles with Nor tel and Rogers Communications Inc. Miranda loved the field of communications and the tech industry, but was eager to broaden her expertise and gain exposure to other industries leading her to her current role as social media and content strategist with Citizen Optimum, which is an award winning PR agency that provides strategic PR advice to leading industry brands, corporations, governments and non-profits. As an employee of Citizen Optimum, Miranda has the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in Canada including Maple Leaf Foods, P&G brands like Pampers, IAMS, Downy, Egg Farmers of Canada and Hyundai to name a few.

Social media has revolutionized PR and marketing practices creating unique career roles managing organizations’ online image, content, message and brand. Within Miranda’s current role, she advises large brands on how to utilize social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to accomplish their business goals. “I act as a consultant within the Citizen Optimum team, which is great because it means I get to work on a broad range of clients – everything from dog food to farming. I strategize on how to use social media for marketing campaigns, product launches and media relations. I make recommendations on the best social platforms to use to amplify the stories we’re telling on behalf of our clients and get people talking online. While Twitter and Facebook are the main platforms our clients are interested in leveraging, I also advise our clients on how to use platforms like Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, Slideshare, and others.”

What Miranda loves most about her work day is the brainstorming. She is excited about the energy that transpires from a creative team of people who get to sit together to think big and come up with great ideas. “Our team is full of creative thinkers and it is fun to problem solve with them and come up with unique ways to tell our client’s stories – both through traditional public relations, and social media. When we have a great idea, it’s so exciting. I can’t wait to put it on paper and pitch it to the client.” She also points out that there is a lot of strategy that goes into developing social media plans and she loves the process of figuring it all out. Not being 100% sure as to the outcome and whether it will be successful also keeps Miranda on her toes and excited about the campaigns. “You never know if that YouTube video will go viral, but if it does, it’s tremendously rewarding.”

Miranda’s work week entails a great deal of variety and she spends very little time at her desk. One day she might be spending at her client’s office, the next day up in Ottawa pitching a new plan, or on set staffing a video shoot. Something Miranda finds rewarding, but also challenging is staying on top of the demands from different clients and managing their expectations. “Because social media is such a rapidly changing discipline, another challenge of my role is being able to constantly stay on top of social media trends and news. Whether its changes to Facebook’s newsfeed, or the latest viral video, it’s my job to know about it.”

So how does one land this job? In summary, being extremely assertive, strategic volunteering and networking, networking, networking! In fact when Miranda decided she wanted to explore social media on a deeper level she embarked on a networking mission that involved having coffee with over 32 different people (for “informational interviews”), which lead her to an opportunity to meet with a senior director of social media at Rogers Inc. which resulted in her landing her first role that was dedicated expressly to social media.

As far back as high school, Miranda worked as a reporter and photographer with her hometown weekly newspaper, The Kincardine News. As a university student, Miranda served as a production assistant, news writer and photographer. Volunteering with The Cord was a great activity for Miranda as it gave her the opportunity to try out a bunch of different journalism roles including interviewing and writing as well as production and graphic design. To examine whether a career in public relations (or more specifically social media) is the right career path for you, like Miranda, you need to cultivate volunteer or paid opportunities that allow you to hone your writing skills. Miranda indicated that many corporations actively track coverage in blogs as much as they track coverage in mainstream business and trade publications. Miranda notes that “citizen journalism” is a revolutionizing form of media as it provides an excellent way for a company to generate a discussion that will allow people to talk more candidly about issues, products or services that may have traditionally been filtered by mainstream media. Maintaining your own online presence that is professional, authentic and dynamic (via blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) is also integral to showcasing your writing talent and social media savvy. “For any applicant we get on this team, we very often search them out on Facebook, Twitter and Google. If nothing at all comes up - as in they have no online footprint, it wouldn’t really speak highly of their interest and dedication to online/new media”. Miranda stresses that if you want a career in social media strategy, you need to use social media and the best way to understand the field is to immerse yourself in it. “Start looking into what your favourite brands are doing online and note their strengths and weaknesses.” Author and maintain a blog to showcase your writing and creativity. Also, some great sites to follow are Mashable, or Social Media Today and there are a wealth of inexpensive social media conferences you can attend like ‘Third Tuesday Toronto, Social Media Week or PodCamp as a few suggestions.

Miranda points out that although not absolutely necessary, traditional PR training programs and experience can help you get your foot in the door to a social media focused career role. Since public relations and marketing are merging closer and closer together, traditional marketing roles can also be a good stepping stone to a career in social media.

Although social media is largely interacting with your computer, you need to be an outgoing and personal person off-line as well. “A lot of my role is also about client relationships so it’s important to build rapport quickly and develop solid relationships. Flexibility is another key trait that is well suited to this type of role. You really need to be willing to change course – sometimes multiple times per day. If you’re into structure and well-planned processes, this job could stress you out a bit. It’s a little bit of organized chaos.”

Miranda urges students early on in their career to take calculated risks. She herself had doubts about leaving a traditional PR job to venture into the social media world because of the uncertainty as to its longevity and where it was headed. “At the time, it was a new and uncharted territory, but I felt like it had opportunity. A lot of people questioned it and thought I should go the PR agency route from the get-go, but I’m glad I went with my gut. I got into an emerging field in the early days, which has been absolutely invaluable in my career thus far.”