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Leading Ladies - Nikki Sunstrum

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If you ever wanted to see a woman who must hear "I don't know how she does it" anytime she talks about her career, her public service, as well as her family, this is Nikki Sunstrum. Nikki has gone above and beyond in her quest to "never be bored" with her career and yes...even her family life! With five children, being bored isn't really an option. However, in her career, she has been quoted as saying, "each year I ask myself how I can raise the bar higher" and well, this girl isn't scared of heights. 

Inspiration is coming your way from this next powerhouse! Meet, Nikki and connect with her on Twitter!

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?

An interest in politics and government led me to a job with the State of Michigan following my undergraduate degree. In my spare time I was also coordinating events for non-profits, municipalities, and held public office. Leadership took notice and I transitioned into a special projects role. Social media began as just one of those projects. There was an existing flow of conversation taking place by our constituents that we were not participating in. By translating teaching techniques I was learning in graduate school into a facilitation forum, I began training departments and programs on how to utilize social platforms to disseminate dynamic messaging where a large audience was already gathered, for free. As social media gained momentum, a statewide board was formed and I was asked to serve as chair and primary liaison to departments and Governor's Office staff. After four successful years of establishing the State of Michigan as a leader in government constituent engagement I was sought out by the University of Michigan to do the same. Moving into the higher education space was a perfect opportunity for me to enhance and combine my skill sets, allowing me to not only create and implement best practices but educate and teach others how to as well.

WHAT RISKS DID YOU TAKE?

I used to say ‘my role didn't exist five years ago, and may not five years from now,’ but only the latter part of that may now hold true. Still, choosing to blaze a trail in an often-undervalued medium has been a risk. Not just in the terms of my potential career path, but in the way in which your expertise or knowledge base is valued in a professional setting. Be innovative in the ways in which you approach and apply your education, trainings and surroundings. If you find worth in something, make it the best something you can possibly do -- and prove its necessity to others.

WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU?

Most often, I'm awake thinking about the challenge of balancing daily requests with innovative, creative ideas that will continue to establish us as a thought leader in social engagement. If I really take a step back however, I often worry too about how specialized my career has become and how that will translate into my next professional pursuit.

LOOKING BACK ON YOUR CAREER, WHAT WAS A MAJOR TURNING POINT FOR YOU?

I’m often asked about what I studied in college in order to pursue a social media career. The funny thing is social media wasn’t even prevalent until I was midway through graduate school. I’ve based my professional life on a foundation of solid communications principles, dynamic leadership and a passion for success. Social media emerging as a new and popular way in which I could disseminate and apply those skills completely altered my career irrevocably and I’ve been riding that wave ever since.

WHAT ARE THREE PIECES OF ADVICE YOU'VE RECEIVED THAT YOU'VE CARRIED WITH YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?

While I’m not certain any of these have truly been advised to me, they are some primary guiding examples of my daily life:

Dress for the job you want: My children particularly hate this one, as I’ve often been known to say, “I don’t get to wear yoga pants to my job, so you can’t wear them to school either.” What we wear and how we are visually perceived plays a very large role in our professional aspirations.

You should write a book: Not really typical career advice I know, but the fact that people might find value in both my life and professional experiences has empowered me to be more dynamic in my pubic speaking. As a mother of five and a Director of Social Media, I’m able to combine two really important careers in order to help parents protect their children online, children and young adults build and curate respectable digital footprints, and businesses and organizations learn how to engage younger demographics.

Carpe diem: I’ve been told an exorbitant amount of times, “I don’t know how you do it.” Want to know my secret? I just DO! Why not? What is stopping you? Each day for me is another opportunity to do something spectacular, make an impact, and set an example.

BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I know it has been my personal experience, that too often we devalue all that we actually do, and the impact it makes. Particularly, in a developing industry such as social media, there are no existing parameters for success. Recognizing and championing the importance of my craft and taking pride in my work have been huge factors in my success.