Entry #6 – The End Of The “So What Is It That You Actually Do?” Question

I have a couple of friends with real jobs that involve actual human interaction and occasional touching. (No. Not the sex industry.) One is a loss adjuster and the other a nurse and they’re not into webcams yet. I also from time to time, hang out with friends of friends who count firemen, plumbers and decorators in their number. I bet you know a lot of these people too? People with worthwhile, noble and completely tangible occupations who occasionally, and without meaning to – make you feel just a tiny bit pointless.

It happens on those occasions when we search professionals leave the laptop alone, turn the gaze away from the navel and actually do stuff like have dinner with such people. It’s the part when everyone has had a couple of drinks and someone you have known for ten years finally ‘fesses up “so I’ve never really understood this properly; but what is it really, that you actually do?”… And as everyone else goes a bit quiet, someone else says “yeah?” Then they press around you keenly in a ‘damn straight I’m on Twitter now so geek-me-up bitch’ sort of way. You know this question, right? How do you answer it?

Because search can be a bit of a “members-only club”; (difficult to get into, but a slight sense of differentiation when initiated). How do you respond without the use of three-letter abbreviations in a way that explains to people that what you do has significance? That actually your skills are what makes or breaks an online business? Please help me, because as of yet I’ve tried a few approaches and crap analogies that result in eye-glaze, coma, or at best “oh right, so like web design yeah?”

This is my repertoire:

When Talking to Gran
Me: “So you know when you do a search on Google?”
Gran: “Yes”
Me:”and the first few results at the top of page have a blue background?”
Gran: “Yes”
Me:”and the ones below that don’t have a blue background?”
Gran: “Yes”
Me: “Well they are two different types of result.”
Gran interrupts “because one is blue and one isn’t?”
Me:”Well, that’s not really the ’why’, that’s more of a distinguishing marker – like the… er… “(I try to wrap this one up around here. This one never goes well.)

When Talking to People Much Younger and Cooler
“I help brands surface their content and message to all of us, through search.” (This one makes me want to kill myself and usually provokes the “oh, so like web-design”? response).

When Drunk
*sings* My linkbait brings all the boys to the yard and they’re like (pause) it’s better than yours. Damn right (pause) it’s better than yours. I can teach you (pause) but I’d have to charge.

It really shouldn’t be this hard!

And it won’t be for much longer, I promise you. We’re on the cusp of change. All the signs are there. I’m talking about the first significant indication of a true paradigm shift and that is that for the first time ever, of any country in the world, during the first six months of this year; internet overtook TV ad spend in the UK. Now this is hugely significant for a number of reasons, but most obviously this indicates change in how we, as a society, act and interact. We can be confident of this because we know that advertisers don’t tend to do things lightly, nor spend £1.75 BN on a whim. There is other evidence too. In July of this year, global search volume exceeded 100BN according to comScore, and that is a staggering 41% YoY increase. 100BN separate needs, interests and desires of the people of the world, were recorded in July search logs. (“Alien invaders! Put down your anal probes and journey to Mountain View as there is the record of all you need to know about the human psyche”.) Of course I can’t continue without referencing social media, and again here there are some pretty phenomenal statistics for YoY growth, audience penetration etc. – but to step outside of that for a second and think of social media on a conceptual level. We are now, frequently and as a matter of course conducting our personal relationships via media. It will not be long until we start to see other game-changing statistics. It will not be long until the headlines tell us that 50% of all shopping takes place online, or that every home in the UK has internet access.

As the internet becomes part of the everyday fabric of society, there will be a general public awareness of the professions that support it, just as there is with other professions that have been an intrinsic part of life for as long as we can remember. If we think about the emergence of the professions in terms of clock analogy, with prostitution and tax collecting first to be born around 12:05 am, closely followed by religious leaders. Lawyers would appear sometime around dawn, trailed by the teaching and medical professions. Much later; (probably early afternoon) we’d have engineers, then in the evening we’d have ‘ad men’ and astronauts. Computer programmers would register as darkness falls and then finally; somewhere around a minute to midnight, pops up Danny Sullivan. My point is that, as a society we have had thousands of years of knowing, working with, being related to and using the services of lawyers and doctors. It is no wonder that nobody knows who we are. Until now…

[Editors note: This blogpost is part of the SEO Chicks 'recruiting new bloggers' competition, to vote for this blogpost go here]

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7 Responses to “Entry #6 – The End Of The “So What Is It That You Actually Do?” Question”

  1. Agnete says:

    I love this blogpost! Will definitely try the “when drunk” version the next time someone asks what I do for a living. I usually use the Gran version on everyone, and it works pretty good :-)

  2. @Agnete that little ditty stood out for me amongst the post as well, but being a bloke i am going to have to change the wording here and there, it made me smile and this post gets my vote!

    I would have loved to have seen a shortlist of alternative phrases to use in reply to “what is it you do?” but that maybe for another post?

  3. Sharon Clews says:

    Love this post, well written, got me reading all the way to the end without giving up and even made me laugh! I may just vote, but I am locked in a tie break…..Good luck. You will certainly be in great writing company if you win!

  4. Sam says:

    This is an excellent post. Everyone can relate to this, it has got to the point where I just say yes to whatever my friends or family say I do. Nod and smile, nod and smile :0) Love the blend of humour and information used. The humour kept me interested and then you hit with the point of the post which was very powerful. Well done.

  5. Agnete says:

    Congtrats on being one of the new SEO Chicks! If you ever find yourself wanting to blog in Norwegian (or to let a Norwegian SEO translate your work from English), feel free to contact our guy/man/Y-chromosome-free SEO blog as well :-)

  6. Mary Bowling says:

    Nicola, awesome post. I have to come up with an explanation nearly every time I meet someone new and it’s true you have to tailor different versions to different crowds. I’,, be using these, thanks. Congrats on being an SEO Chick!

  7. It was so difficult having to keep my mouth shut when I saw all your amazing positive comments against my post. Thanks so much! I just hope I can continue to entertain and maintain the brilliant standards of the ranks I’m joining. :-)

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