The most common conversation I have when I go to an event goes somewhere along these lines: New acquaintance: "Tara, I see your name everywhere, but I still don't quite understand what you do."

Me: "Well, I make a living as a marketing consultant, specializing in online communities and strategy, but I spend more of my time these days as a community organizer and armchair economist. I also have a book coming out in April of 2009, which also makes me an author, and I travel around the world speaking at conferences on the online marketing and strategy work that I do."

That's sort of it in a nutshell. But my background is varied and so are my interests, so I believe that leads to a great deal of confusion for people as to what exactly I 'do' for a living. Even though my 'about' section as well as my resume outlines my experience and expertise in the area of marketing strategy (both online and off in less 'traditional' types of marketing), I admit that I spend more time reading, thinking and writing about a much broader array of subjects.

I'm deeply interested in social issues and how economics underpins much of our social world. That is what got me into the study of social capital. The current understanding of economics tends to be pretty simplistic and focused on personal wealth - that is, what is in my bank account at any given moment and what the damned government is taking out of it at the end of each year. I think this is a most unfortunate situation as economics is complex and cash money isn't the only wealth we accumulate or distribute over our lifetimes that is of value. Certainly, we cannot pay our rent or eat if we don't have cash money in the bank, but how we get it in there and how it supports us is what interests me a great deal. I also think it's changed over the years, especially with the advent of the internet.

So, what I 'do' for a living - marketing consulting - is made possible because of my social capital, which is the culmination of my:

  • connections
  • reputation
  • influence
  • bridging capital - the number of connections you have across to different industries, social strata, etc.
  • bonding capital - the depth of your close connections (how close and how much you could ask of your connections)
  • access to ideas and talent through your connections
  • access to resources through your connections
  • “potential” access to further resources (more distant, but very legitimate)
  • saved up favors (reciprocity is huge - which is why doing good stuff matter alot with social capital)
  • accomplishments (slightly different from reputation, it is the more fungible form of SC - resumes, awards, etc.)
  • and the Social Capital of those who you have relationships with (Bordieu’s ideas on the French elite talk about this)

Added to this is my accumulation of cultural capital, which "is the knowledge, experience and or connections one has had through the course of their life that enables them to succeed more so than someone from a less experienced background."

Both my social capital and my cultural capital are intimately woven into my economic capital. All three types of capital support and foster the growth of one another. I meet people (social capital) and learn things (cultural capital) which help me meet potential clients who see my experience as an asset (social capital) and hire me (economic capital), which produces more experience (cultural capital) and, if I do good work, opens me up for new lucrative relationships (social capital), which turn into more work (economic capital).

I think it may be tough for some people to understand the diversification of work, but I know very few people who can sum up their careers in a single word. Personally, I don't believe humans were designed to be singularly focused, I believe we were designed to be innately curious and questioning of how the world around us works. And those of us who push the boundaries around the definition of work help innovate and pioneer new paths for new job definitions.

In regards to what I do NOT 'do' for a living...well, I don't consider myself a social media consultant, the new term for someone who uses the online tools well and helps spread buzz through online communities (I think that's accurate). Of course, that is part of my function, but I consider myself more of a strategist. When setting up Citizen Agency, I thought long and hard about how to define what we offered and came up with the idea of the tripod of strategy: environment (that's where research comes in - understanding the market well), product (product development, innovation and designing for what you know about the market and where it is moving) and community (mostly the customer community, but also how you fit into the wider business community). Once again, all three of these, like the legs on a tripod, have to be balanced and working together towards a solid strategy. So what does Citizen Agency do? An organic strategy. I won't take on projects where I'm asked to come in and slap together social media band-aids. I won't advocate for a client until I believe they will be beneficial to my community of followers and friends. But I will help them get to the point where a social media strategy and community advocacy is part of the overall plan.

So, what do I 'do' for a living? Well, mostly I think too much about stuff and produce loads of content that, I hope, helps others come to positive conclusions and helps create a smarter marketplace. But if you want to boil it down to a pitch, I am a marketing strategy consultant.