10,000 Hours to a Social Media Career

Most people are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, or at least the 10,000 hour rule: To advance in a skill to the level of expertise, it takes about 10,000 hours.

Outliers, of course, centers around violin players. Playing an instrument is a skill – an intense one – but violin is limited. It can evolve if you start composing your own pieces or learn to play it as a fiddle, but violin skill has a few key, specific aspects to it.

Social media is different. Blogging is different. YouTube is different.

What about those of us who are working on creating a social media career? How many hours does it take to become an expert YouTuber? Or an expert blogger? Or an expert blogger-YouTuber?

What it takes to be a successful blogger

I decided to write out a short list of all the skills I’ve had to develop so far on my journey toward becoming a successful blogger and YouTuber:

  • Writing (posts, video scripts, interview questions and interview answers, video descriptions, image captions, comments, pitches to brands, answers to inquiries from consumers, brands, and other bloggers, copy for social media posts)
  • Photography
  • Photo editing
  • Graphic design
  • Content marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Networking (both online and offline)
  • Web design and light coding
  • Videography
  • Video editing
  • Advertising
  • Web analytics
  • Marketing
  • Public relations
  • How to operate on any number of platforms, including (but not limited to): Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Periscope, Twitch…

(It kills me to read over that, too. No, I don’t sleep.)

My friend Hannah standing by her car and looking out into the vast wilderness of the Sandia Mountains.

It’s gonna be a looooong road ahead of us.

So I got to thinking: okay, Mr. Gladwell, the 10,000 hours of dedicated practice are fine and dandy. But these are wildly different skills.

If I spend 10,000 hours writing, my writing will be incredible! But I won’t have learned anything about Photoshop or WordPress, and my Twitter and Pinterest presence will be non-existent, so I will have one of the most gorgeously-written pieces never published, because I won’t know how to design a featured image and I won’t know how to promote content effectively.

Blank page syndrome in picture form. A Word document that has a lot of nonsense.

Also, do I count the hours I spend banging my head against the wall towards my total? Asking for a friend.

And that’s kind of the nature of blogging in general. You start out focusing on your writing and crafting great content. A couple weeks later, you read some advice that tells you to use lots of pictures in your posts to keep people reading. Then you find out that the pictures you use need to be branded and consistent. They need to follow a particular style so that your Pinterest boards look professional.

Writing a post is no longer about writing. It’s about keyword research, bolding the right places, finding the perfect image (or taking it yourself), and then turning it into a graphic to pin. And then you have to edit that same graphic to fit on Facebook. And Twitter and Instagram. And hopefully you kept that keyword research in mind because each of those are going to require hashtags. And you may as well kiss the next couple hours goodbye because nobody’s going to read your stuff unless you’ve interacted with them – preferably today.

Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging. I love YouTube. I love social media. I want this to be my career, full-time, forever. But it’s exhausting and complex and ever-expanding.

Screenshot of the timer app on my phone because why not.

Now hold that thought while I run over to Photoshop to resize this screenshot, which vaguely conveys my idea and was also an opportunity to work in the keyword “creating good images for blog posts” in the file name.

Is 10,000 Hours Enough?

If you figure that you’re spending 40 hours per week on a skill, you’ll each “expert” level after about five years. But how do you become an expert blogger when so many skills go into it? Can you get by if you focus on perfecting your writing, graphics, and Pinterest abilities? Maybe. But you’re going to have to do more than that if you ever want to connect with sponsors and start turning a profit.

And what does it mean for someone like me, who wants to run both a successful blog and a successful YouTube channel? Surely it will take more time for me to become an expert in both my fields than it will for, say, my good friend Donna Yatan, who focuses specifically on her YouTube channel, right?

But her YouTube channel is about psychology. She has to be an expert on both psychology and YouTube to be successful in developing her channel, right?

Also, seriously, check out Donna, because her channel is incredible. She does weekly vlogs and weekly psychology lessons in a series called Psych IRL. Plus she’s gorgeous and friendly and wildly entertaining and professional and bomb af. 

Okay, how about someone who focuses on easier subject matter, like lifestyle bloggers? Would 10,000 hours of running a lifestyle blog make someone more successful on the blogging front than I will be on both fronts? If both of us started today, five years down the road, would this hypothetical blogger be at my level? Above my level? Below my level?

And most importantly, why am I bothering to ask this question? Why is this bothering me so much? Why am I writing this post?

Are you my mother?

Where am I?

How to Become a Successful Blogger-YouTuber in 10,000 Hours (maybe)

The answer is that it totally depends on the person. Obviously.

Duh.

I’ll see myself out.

Please subscribe before you send me hate mail though. I need the numbers.

A person’s level of expertise in any skill will, of course, depend on a combination of time, energy, focus, and dedication. Because one thing is left out of the 10,000 hour rule when it comes to practice: Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

When it comes to making a career out of social media, you’re relying on certain things aligning. Yes, you do need to have a certain level of skill in several areas. Ideally, you’ll be a great writer – an entertaining or useful (or, ideally, both) writer, at that. You’ll want to be passable when it comes to graphic design and having a grasp on how to promote your content and network with other people who will enjoy your content and promote it for you.

Because eventually you want to get to the point where your friends and your fans (or the YouTube algorithm gods, if you’re a vlogger) are doing all the promotional footwork so you can focus on creating instead.

The Instagram algorithm change will hopefully not look like the YouTube algorithm change.

It’s times like this that I debate just started yet another gaming channel.

But if you’re putting in the time when your head isn’t in the right place, you’re not going to see success. You’re not going to be advancing your skills. If you’re writing a post for the sake of putting out a post or making a video for the sake of publishing a video, you’re wasting your time. The only skill you’re developing is the skill of not actually giving a fuck (which is a good skill to have! But it’s not going to help you be a blogger).

So let’s focus for our 10,000 hours or however long it’s going to take to reach total expertise. No matter what skills you’re prioritizing in your social media career, keep your time focused. Keep your head in the game. Appreciate the grind. And some other vaguely-inspirational nonsense. Plus, a true expert never stops improving in his or her skill, because experts became experts due to their passion and love for their skill.

And while you’re at it, let me know what skills you think are most important for bloggers to develop in the comments down below. What do you focus on the most? What has brought you the most success so far?

As for me? I’ve been at this for about 6 months, and I figure I spend about 40 hours a week actively working. I’m 1/10th of the way there. I hope to see some of you around when I’ve reached my 10,000.

2 comments on “10,000 Hours to a Social Media Career”

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