Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I’m Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh.

Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

How Average Players Use Twitter and a Human Voice to Become Social Media Superstars

Have you heard of Brandon McCarthy, Paul Bissonette, Pat McAfee, and Antonio Brown? If you're like most people, you probably haven't. We're not exactly talking about Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter here. Why would you know anything about a middle of the road starting pitcher, a left-winger with 5 career goals, a punter, and a wide receiver who has been a starter for exactly one season? If you happen to run an organization or handle public relations for an organization though, you should get to know them because there's plenty you can learn about communications, public relations, and branding from them.

Take a look at their Twitter feeds – they talk about partying, drinking, farts, pranks, and the women they go out with. They make fun of their teammates, curse, and share personal pictures. They're pretty much your typical PR person's worst nightmare. They don't speak in sanitized sports jargon ("we just took it one game at a time out there and gave it all we had"), they don't attempt to drive traffic to the team's website or sell merchandise, and they don't try to cultivate their "personal brands." They are, for better or worse, acting like themselves and talking to their fans on Twitter like they might talk with a group of their friends.

Thing is, they're GOOD at it. And the very reason they're good at it is because of, not in spite of, their complete and total disregard for traditional PR best practices. In the same way the Pittsburgh Penguins have actual players deliver season tickets to their fans, the Green Bay Packers players ride little kids' bikes to practice, or baseball players toss foul balls to their fans in the stands, these players aim to forge a personal connection with their fans. They're good at using Twitter because they're not interested in using it for PR or marketing or branding – they're using it simply because they enjoy interacting with their fans. 

If you've read one of my favorite books, The Cluetrain Manifesto, you'll recognize that this desire to get beyond the marketing and the branding and speak in a human voice is one of the major tenets of the book.

"Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall."

Though this certainly applies to professional athletes and their fans, the ability to speak in a human voice and forge real relationships with your fans and customers is one that translates easily to the business world as well.

Do yourself a favor and check out the Twitter feeds for some of the less well-known athletes on Twitter and I bet you'll start re-thinking some of those PR and marketing best practices you've read about. What makes them so effective? 

  1. They're honest. [tweet https://twitter.com/BizNasty2point0/status/168081177054412801] Politically correct? Ummm…not exactly. Honest? Definitely.
  2. They're real. [tweet https://twitter.com/Mrs_McCarthy32/status/171452231684591618] This is just one of many conversations between Brandon and his wife. This is a conversation I could totally see myself having with my wife too. Rather than just being some rich ballplayer living a life beyond my imagination, I've gotten a glimpse of him that I'd never get in an interview or on the back of a baseball card.
  3. They put their money where their mouth is. One of my favorite stories of the year was this one where Antonio Brown answered a fan's offer to go out to lunch which then led to an actual friendship. This is a story about a player going above and beyond what's expected of him. He realizes the esteem that his fans hold in him and
  4. They're funny. [tweet https://twitter.com/PatMcAfeeShow/status/166997616498974720] A little humor goes a long way – this particular Tweet was retweeted more than 50 times, but McAfee's feed is filled with funny Tweets like this.
  5. They're random.  [tweet https://twitter.com/BizNasty2point0/status/167862185110941696] Somehow, I don't think this Tweet would have made it past the approval chain in a typical branding campaign. It doesn't direct anyone to a website, it doesn't hawk any merchandise, it's totally random and shows his followers a totally different side of himself.

Now think about your employees. Think about how (or even if) they're communicating with your customers.  Are they allowed, nay, encouraged, to be honest, real, empowered, funny, and random or are they hampered by restrictive policies, approval processes, and message platforms? Instead of worrying about the damage your idiot employees will cause by using social media, maybe you should look into why you've hired and developed idiot employees? Instead of trying to mitigate the trouble they may get into, consider the opportunities that exist. Organizations have become so risk-averse so as to not offend anyone that they end up saying nothing to everyone. 

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Do You Have a Social Media Superman Complex?

Are you trying to hard to be a social media Superman?

I've become the designated "social media guy" for a massive organization (25,000+ people). For a while, the responsibilities of this role consisted primarily of explaining what the Twitters were and why people cared about what you ate for lunch. As social media has grown in popularity, so too has the internal and external demand for people who know what they're talking about (the demand is so great that even people who have no clue what they're talking about are in demand). My time has since become monopolized by my colleagues asking me to join meetings, review work products, pitch clients, and "pick my brain." Once the words "social media" were uttered, the call went out – let's get Steve in here right away!! 

I liked it. I was in high demand, and I became well-known throughout my huge company as THE social media guy. It was fun and led to awards, promotions, and raises. I became the social media Superman, flying in to win new work, solve problems, and offer innovative solutions! I built a team and developed a mentality that if there was social media involved, I'd swoop in and save the day, wherever and whenever I was needed. The fact that I didn't have the resources, the budget, or the authority to scale this across an entire organization was a concern, but I figured that would come soon enough – how could it not???

That's when I realized I had a problem. I had a Superman complex. Wikipedia defines a Superman Complex as an unhealthy sense of responsibility, or the belief that everyone else lacks the capacity to successfully perform one or more tasks. Such a person may feel a constant need to "save" others.

I felt this enormous sense of responsibility that if there was a project using social media, I needed to know about it and my team needed to be involved. If I heard about a project where we were doing any sort of public outreach, I felt like I needed to butt in and help them integrate social media. If there were people working on a knowledge management strategy for a client, I had to get on the call and talk with them about social media behind the firewall. I felt like I needed to be there to ensure that we had the absolute best people working on these projects, that they were armed with the best intellectual capital we had and that they were consistent with the overall approach to social media that I had established. When a project's social media efforts fell flat, I felt personally responsible. What did I do wrong? Why didn't they get me involved sooner? Why wasn't one of my people working with them already? Why didn't they just ask for my help?? Now, remember, I work at a firm that generates upwards of $5 billion in annual revenue. That's a LOT of projects to keep an eye on.

My team and I quickly found ourselves drowning in reactionary meetings just trying to keep our heads above water. We were becoming a social media help desk. My Superman complex, helpful at first, had become a detriment. I soon realized that my small team, based in our Strategic Communications capability, was never going to get the budget, resources, and authority needed to manage EVERY social media initiative for the entire 25,000+ employee, $5B company. My Superman complex had led me to believe that I could fix everything, regardless of the challenges that had to be overcome. Our recruiters aren't using social media as effectively as they could be? No problem – I'll hop over there and give them a briefing! Intelligence analysts struggling with how to analyze social media in the Middle East? I'll be right there! Instructional system designers stuck in a rut? Give me a few hours and I'll get them up to speed on social learning! I saw opportunities EVERYWHERE to fix things. I needed to be a part of that proposal team. I had to attend that meeting. I had to review that strategy. I had to give that presentation.

Fact is, I didn't have to do any of that. What I had to do was stop. Stop and realize that by trying to fix everything, I wasn't fixing anything, and in some cases, I was actually making things worse:

  • People were lacking incentives to develop their own social media skills because they could just rely on someone from my team to swoop in and help
  • We were too focused on just equipping people with the social media fundamentals that we weren't able to focus on diving deeper into some of the niche areas of social media
  • We were becoming "social media experts" instead of communications professionals who understand social media, pulling all of us away from our core business area and into all kinds of discussions that may have involved social media, but had nothing to do with communications

If you find yourself developing a social media Superman complex (or need to manage an existing one), try the following:

  • Know your role. Do others in your organization expect you to have a hand in EVERYTHING related to social media or is that a responsibility you've taken on yourself? Understand what's expected of you and meet those expectations first before trying to solve all the world's problems.
  • Let others learn. Sometimes people in your organization are going to fall. It's ok – they'll learn and do better next time. Focus on the people and the projects you're responsible for first, do what you can help people in other departments, but don't let them steal your time and focus away from your core mission.
  • Develop your team and set them free. You can't be everywhere all the time. Spend some time developing people on whom you can trust, equip and empower them to succeed and then step away and trust that you've developed them right.
  • Accept that there is no one way to "do" social media. Social media are just tools, and different organizations will use them for different purposes. What works in the Department of Defense may not work in the private sector and vice versa.
  • Respect other people's expertise. Sure, you may know social media better than anyone else in the room, but also realize that you're going to be working with people who are experts in their chosen fields too. Successful social media initiatives require both old and new school expertise.
  • Assess the situation. Don't assume that because someone isn't using social media that they need your help – they may not have the budget, internal expertise, client support, or a whole host of other reasons for not using social media like you think they should.

Social media Supermans bring a ton of benefits to your organizations but they also run the risk of burning out, alienating their colleagues, and creating a culture of dependency. Understand and embrace the balance between Superman and Clark Kent.

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What Kind of Online Community Do You Have Behind Your Firewall?

As CIOs and Chief Knowledge Officers bring tools that have been used on the Internet – blogs, wikis, microblogs, profiles – behind the firewall, they tend to expect the same results. "We'll have our own Wikipedia!" Or Facebook…or Twitter – you name it. Unfortunately, as many have already discovered and many more will continue to discover, successful communities are dependent on many variables, from the accessibility, speed, and reliability of the technology to your community managers. Despite the newsletter articles, blog posts, press releases, and conference presentations, many "communities" are nothing more than a new version of the same old Intranet, only with shinier tools.

So, if you're deploying social tools internally, what kind of community is your organization creating?

  • What group/community receives the most visits and/or posts on a particular day?
    1. The Intranet development team
    2. The Social Media/Web 2.0/New Media Community of Practice
    3. The Android/iPhone User Group
    4. An group focused on the core mission/operations
  • On any given day, what % of your organization participates (reading or contributing) in your community?
    • Less than 10%
    • 10% to 49%
    • 50%-74%
    • More than 75%
  • Senior leadership participation can best be classified as:
    1. Shhh! Don't tell them or they'll shut this site down!
    2. Big Brother-ish
    3. Lurking, but not active
    4. Active and insightful
  • If someone posts, "I can't get my email to work on my phone – help!" What kind of response will they get?
    1. Total Silence
    2. "Call the help desk at 1-800-555-5555"
    3. "What problem are you having – maybe I can help?"
    4. "Many people have had issues with this so we created a wiki page to walk you through how to set it up the right way"
  • Your CEO announces large-scale layoffs. You visit your online community later that day – what do you find?
    1. "I'm not going near that one!"
    2. Complaints and criticism
    3. Praise for leadership and the difficult job they have to do
    4. Balanced, professional discussion containing constructive criticism, ideas, and empathy
  • Most of your employee profile pictures look like:
  • Someone publishes a blog post highly critical of a senior leadership decision – what's the reaction?
    1. Trick question – all posts have to be approved by management and that never would have made it through
    2. The administrators delete the post and send a note to the employee's manager
    3. Other employees leave comments recommending that the post may be unprofessional and warrant some editing
    4. The senior leader in question posts a comment himself thanking the employee for his feedback and explaining the rationale behind the decision
  • You create a wiki page for your team containing the text of a report you're working on. What kind of edits can they expect to receive?
    1. Yours and yours alone, since no one else your team understands how to make the edits themselves
    2. Your project team's edits because no one else can access the page
    3. No edits, but you do receive several comments and questions on the page
    4. A wide variety of edits ranging from minor to major and coming from your team as well as from people you don't know
  • Your boss asks to review the latest version of a document you've been working on. You sent her the link to the wiki page where it's stored. What's her response?

    1. Can you attach the file and send it to me?
    2. I couldn't figure out how to make any changes so I've just included them in the attached MS Word file
    3. She makes her edits as comments to the page
    4. She edits the page directly
  • The conversations that occur within your community most resemble:
    1. An empty room
    2. A board meeting
    3. Happy hour
    4. The hallways at the office
  • It's Friday night and you just discovered that you have a TPS report due first thing Monday morning. To do it, you need some examples of similar reports that have been produced by other teams. Where do you head first?

    1. You email your immediate team
    2. You send a blast email out to multiple distro lists asking for help. After all, at least one or two people have to respond, right?
    3. You search your Intranet with every keyword you can imagine
    4. You search the TPS forum and post your request there

Do you have a better idea of what kind of community you're building? Healthy communities aren't just about collecting users – they're about interactivity, a positive atmosphere, usefulness and more. Why do you log into Facebook every day? Not to play with all of the cool features, but to interact with your friends and family. Internal communities should have some of these same qualities – they need to have a purpose and be based around human interactions, not the latest technology.

If your score was 16 or less, you don't have a community, you've got the man cave of a new dad. The place is filled with the latest technical toys but no one is around to use them. From the Xbox to the pool table to the fully-stocked bar, you had envisioned many nights partying with the boys watching football, but now that you have a new baby, the only thing all those toys are doing is collecting dust…just like your blogs, wiki pages, and profiles.

 

If your score was between 17 – 24, your community most resembles China. You've got a lot of users (primarily because people are forced to create profiles), but very little sense of community. People talk with one another because they have to, and only when they need something. Conversations are guarded and transactional, and information is protected even more closely as trust between individuals is lacking. Non-work conversations are prohibited – none of that "social networking" stuff here!

 

If your score was between 25 – 33, your community is most like a high school full of people still trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, and how to communicate with each other. The adults are confused by the kids, the kids are kind of wary of the adults, but they all co-exist fairly peacefully. Diverse cliques form early and often – iPhone enthusiasts, social media geeks, developers – all with different goals and reasons for being. A few individuals stand out and connect these cliques across the entire school. Social conversation occurs, but is often forced, as people are trying to fit in and test the boundaries of what is allowed and what isn't.

 

If your score was between 34 – 44, congratulations! You've got the makings of honest-to-goodness social business community. People willingly share information freely across geographic, administrative and cultural lines not because they have to, but because they realize that by pitching in and helping, everyone benefits. Conversations run the gamut – some days, they're about LOLCats, but on other days, they're focused on how to best create a culture of innovation. They are overwhelmingly professional in nature, but the content is also overwhelmingly informal. People are only vaguely aware of the number of abbreviations following someone's name and the titles that precede it, but hold the value an individual brings to the rest of the community in high regard. Employees willingly (and often) spend their own time and money to improve the community, whether via handing out awards or creating new features. And most importantly, this sense of community exists both online and off. From the conference room in the morning to my couch late at night, I know I'm not just an employee number, I'm a valued member of a community that depends on me.

I took this test for my own company's social Intranet tools, and I discovered that we're most like a high school. We still only have a fraction of the firm using the tools on a regular basis and the relationships between staff, management, and senior leadership are in that awkward stage where we're all still trying to figure out how to talk with one another.

(note: this isn't meant to be used as some formal "diagnostic" or "roadmap" or anything of the like so please take it for what it is – a fun way to gauge how well your community is actually acting like, you know, a community)

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If You Want a Culture of Collaboration, You Need to Accept the LOLCats Too

"Even with the sacred printing press, we got erotic novels 150 years before we got scientific journals."

– Clay Shirky at TED Cannes in June 2010

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people in the business, Clay Shirky. I particularly like it because it illustrates the period many organizations find themselves in when trying to integrate social media internally.  Before wikis were used by the Intelligence Community to develop reports on IEDs, people were creating user badges to show off their favorite NFL teams. Before my own company's Intranet won any awards, we had people talking about how they enjoy skinny dipping on their profile. Before our VPs starting using Yammer to communicate with the workforce, we had groups of Android geeks and fitness gurus.I'm telling you this because if you're implementing any type of social media behind your organizational firewall, you should prepare yourself, your colleagues, your bosses, your senior leadership for this one inexorable truth.

If you will freak out when you see this on your Intranet, you're probably not ready for a social intranetIf you want to create a vibrant culture of collaboration, you need to be OK with pictures of LOLCats, posts about the NFL playoffs, arguments about Apple and Android, and criticism of company policies.

Accept and embrace this fact now and your communities have a much better chance at succeeding. Or, continue thinking that things like this are a waste of a time and are unprofessional, and get ready to pay a lot of money for a system that ultimately no one uses unless they absolutely have to.

Unfortunately, "social" seems to have become almost a dirty word in the workplace, conjuring up images of employees whittling away their time on Facebook, talking to their boyfriend on the phone, or taking a three hour lunch break.  Let's all agree now to stop trying to take the social out of social media. "Social" interactions not only needs to be OK, they need to be encouraged and rewarded. Shirky explains why at the 5:33 mark of the below TED video:


Shirky says:

The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing. And someone who makes a LOLcat has already crossed over that gap. Now it’s tempting to want to get the Ushahidis without the LOLcats, right, to get the serious stuff without the throwaway stuff. But media abundance never works that way. Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.

The same principle holds true when talking about social media and the business world. There's this tendency on the part of senior leadership to want to skip the blogs about company policy workarounds and the wiki pages detailing where to get the best burritos near the office and move right to co-creating methodologies with cross-functional teams and crowdsourcing initiatives that save millions of dollars. It doesn't work like that. Collaborative communities don't just start innovating because you build a website and send a memo. Just like we had to experience erotic novels before scientific journals and LOLCats before sites like Ushahidi, we will also have to accept the fact that your employees will be talking about fantasy football and what they're doing over the holidays before they're going to be ready to use those tools to conduct "real" work. 

This makes intuitive sense though, doesn't it? Isn't posting about fantasy football or your favorite lunch spot a lot easier (and less frightening) than uploading that report you've been working on for three weeks? If someone doesn't like your favorite restaurant, who cares? If, however, someone criticizes the report you've spent weeks writing, that's a little more intimidating.  Once you've taken that step – that step from doing nothing to doing something – it's a lot easier to take the next step and the step after that. After engaging in that conversation about your favorite burrito, it's suddenly easier to join the conversation about the new IT policy. Then, maybe you upload a portion of the report you're struggling with to see if anyone can help. Viewed from this perspective, even the stupidest posts and most worthless conversations have value, because they provide a safe, low risk means for people to dip their toe in the water and take that first step. It takes time for employees to feel comfortable using these social tools at work. If you give them the ability to grow and learn together at their own pace, your community will become much more scalable and sustainable.

So embrace the LOLCats, the fantasy football threads, the lunch discussions, and the custom avatars – at least your employees will be creating and sharing something with someone else. Because what will follow is that these stupid, silly, foolish discussions will lead to relationships, questions, answers, and finally, very cool innovations, products, and solutions that will save you money, win you awards, and really and truly create a social business.

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