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The Year in Social Media Strategery

As 2011 comes to a close, it's only natural (and for a blog, virtually mandatory) to reflect on the year that's passed. Since that first post more than three years ago until now, this blog has served as the foundation for everything I've done in creating and building the social media practice at Booz Allen. During the first year, it was the pioneer, carving the way for others throughout the firm to feel empowered to create their own blogs as well. The second year was probably my most enjoyable year authoring this blog because I had moved beyond the "justifying my existence" stage, the Gov 2.0 community was active and engaged, and I found myself really in the trenches with a lot of my clients helping them work through many of the issues that I got to write about. This third year though, was a little different. As my firm's social media capabilities matured beyond the start-up phase and expanded to other areas of the firm, I found myself struggling with how to scale and sustain these efforts and this was reflected in my writing too. 

I wrote about a lot of different topics this year – from community management to higher education to public relations, and even personal introspection – reflecting the many different focus areas I had in my own career over the last year. Was I going to focus on Enterprise 2.0? Or Public Relations? Social Media? Social Media and Higher Education? Sports? Change Management? Management? While I remain interested in all of these topics (and many more), I've realized that I have do a better job of focusing, both professionally and personally. As I look forward to 2012 and my fourth year of blogging here, I'm going to do a better job of focusing my energy on a few areas instead of trying to get involved with every opportunity I'm interested in. Now, I just need to identify what those focus areas are….

While I think through that, here are my top five posts of 2011, as determined by how much you liked them, the reaction they generated, and how much I enjoyed writing them:

  1. Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas – Probably my most controversial post of the year as some applauded it and others (predictably, some social media ninjas) heartily disagreed. While I used stronger language than I usually do, that's because I really do think social is better when integrated into other functions rather than operating in a vacuum.
  2. Seven Things About Social Media You're Not Going to Learn in College – This post actually received a lot more interest over on the PRSA blog, comPRhension than it did here, but I was still very proud of this post as I heard time and time again from students and professors alike who referenced it in their classes.
  3. The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager – One of my favorite posts I've ever written because I lived it and because this was one of the best ways I found to really show other people what it is a community manager actually does and why the role can't be filled by just anybody.
  4. More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term, "Public Relations" – This one hasn't gotten as much traffic as I would have hoped, but I'm including it here because I'm tired of the bum rap us PR practitioners get and because we've got an opportunity now, as an industry, to change this perception. We have the tools to put the relationships back into public relations.
  5. Insulate Open Government Efforts from Budget Cuts – This post became one a frequent soapbox of mine over the course of the year, as I frequently found myself asking both my team and my clients, "what's the business objective you're trying to achieve? Your goal isn't to get more Facebook fans – what's your real goal? How does this effort tie back to your mission?" 

This blog, much like myself, was a little all over the place this year. I'm looking forward to this next year, to meeting more of you who read and share my thoughts, to working on projects that really make a difference, and to sharing my thoughts and experiences with all of you. I hope everyone has a great holiday season and finishes out 2011 having a great time with great friends. See you all in 2012!!

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Rest in Peace, Social Media Ninjas

Ninja

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Seth W.

Let’s get this straight – a few years ago, you read The Cluetrain Manifesto or Groundswell or one of the other hundred social media books out there, you started reading Mashable, you created a Twitter account, and you developed a bunch of presentations you used internally to help get buy-in from your organization’s senior leadership for your social media ideas. It’s now two or three years later, and you’ve become the organizational “expert,” “guru,” or “subject matter expert” in social media, your social media blog receives a lot of traffic, you’ve championed the use of Enterprise 2.0 tools internally, and you’re managing your organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Everything’s going according to plan, right?

Eh….not quite.

Here’s the thing – over the last few years, you’ve probably gotten a few raises, won some awards, maybe you’ve even been promoted one or two times. I hope you’ve enjoyed your rise to the top because I’m here to tell you that the end is near. If you’ve ridden the wave of social media and branded yourself as the social media “guru,” “ninja,” or “specialist,” I hope you’ve got a backup plan in place because what once set you apart from the crowd now just lumps you right in there with millions of other people with the same skills, the same experience, and the same knowledge. A few years ago, you were innovative. You were cutting-edge. You were forward-thinking. You were one of a few pioneers in a new way of thinking about communicating. Just a few short years later, and you’re now normal. You’re just doing what’s expected. You’re one of many. Social media specialists are the new normal. Oh, you were the Social Media Director for a political campaign? Congratulations – so were the other 30 people who interviewed for this position. What else have you done? What other skills do you have? People with social media skills and experience on their resume aren’t hard to find anymore. It’s those people who don’t anything about social media who stand out now.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the end.  Instead trying to be a social media ninja, try being a communications specialist. Try being a knowledge management professional. Try being a recruiter. Try being an information technology professional. Because guess what – THAT’S what you are doing. Instead of talking about how you have thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans, talk about what those fans have helped you accomplish. Instead of talking about the number of blog subscribers you have, talk about how much revenue that blog helped generate for your organization. Instead of talking about the number of members of your Yammer network, talk about how that community has positively impacted your organization’s workforce. Start talking about social media for what it is – a set of tools that people with real professions use to do their jobs. Don’t try to be an expert at using a hammer. Try to be the master builder who can use the hammer, the saw, and the screwdriver to build a house.

When everyone’s a specialist, no one’s a specialist. What makes you stand out now?

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Seven Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College

I talk a lot about the need to do a better job of integrating social media into the world of higher education. That’s why when my my alma mater asked me to speak at their annual Communication Week this year, I jumped at the opportunity (well, that and I was able to take my daughter to see her grandparents for the weekend). Because these students are already learning the basics of social media in their core communication classes, I didn’t want to do yet another Social Media 101 type presentation. Instead, I wanted to help them understand that even though they may learn what Twitter is, how to use it, and some case studies, there’s nothing like doing it in the real world. That’s why I gave a presentation last Friday titled “The 7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College.”

Here’s the presentation I gave, with the key takeaways below:

1. I am not an audience, a public, a viewer, a demographic or a user – I am an actual PERSON with a VOICE
Throw out what you learned in Mass Communications 101 and instead focus on what you learned in Human Communications or Interpersonal Communications. You’re better off knowing and understanding the fundamental principles behind communicating with someone face-to-face than trying to replicate the influence that the War of the Worlds broadcast had on the American public. The megaphone approach doesn’t work when everyone has a megaphone. Learn to interact with actual human beings instead of nameless audiences and users.

2. I don’t care how many friends, followers, likes, or blog comments you have
I really don’t, not when anyone can go and game the system by buying thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 followers is irrelevant to me. I want to know that you’ve at least tried to use Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Foursquare for a purpose other than getting more people at your Edward Forty-hands parties. Having demonstrated social media experience on your resume is great, but not because I care about the numbers, but because it shows me that you’re willing and able to try something new. It shows me you’re willing to take a risk and follow through. So don’t tell me that you have 10,000 Facebook likes, tell me how you used Facebook to increase the donations to a local animal shelter. Using social media in a professional context is hard, especially if you’re not learning it in class. I understand that – that’s why I care more about the effort than the numbers.

3. “Social Media” is not a career option
The New Media Director is just a means to an end.  Sure, there’s lots of demand now, but what happens when social media is no longer the new hot thing? You can’t JUST be a social media specialist. That’s a short-term role, much like the “email consultants” that sprouted up 15 years ago. I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.

4. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job
Not everyone has the personality or interpersonal communications skills to take full advantage of the full potential of social media. Are you comfortable introducing yourself to new people? Telling someone you really liked their work? Building a relationship with someone without having an ulterior motive? Disagreeing with someone in a very public way without offending them? Knowing how to apologize? Comfortable with having every aspect of your professional life available for public criticism?  It takes a special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness to be really good at using social media to effect some sort of impact. I can teach someone how to tweet, but it’s much more difficult to teach someone how to really enjoy getting to know other people.

5. Your innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge ideas aren’t as innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge  as you think
Most of corporate America has VERY little knowledge of social media for business purposes, so by simply proposing that you use Twitter as part of your marketing plan during your internship, you may end up becoming THE social media subject matter expert. Here’s a news flash – you’re not.  Senior leadership, your boss, your peers – they may very well start referring to you as a guru, ninja, SME, etc. but just because you know the basics doesn’t mean you’re an expert. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines an “Expert” as someone with ten years or 10,000 hours of experience. Twitter just turned five years old. You do the math. You MUST continue to learn, to network, to read, to listen because that’s the only way you’re going to keep up.

6. You’re always on and everything is public
Your day will not end just because it’s 5:00 PM. That picture of you doing bodyshots off that waitress? Your boss, your clients, your peers – assume they’ll all see it. It doesn’t matter that it’s up there on your “personal” account or because it happened while you were on vacation. Your online life is your online life, both professional and personal. Your name and face will be freely available to everyone online – are you comfortable with a client recognizing you at the bar on Saturday night?

7. You’re going to come across a lot of jerks – don’t be one of them
Ever meet someone and the first thing they do is tell you all about how they graduated magna cum laude from Harvard or Yale? Or, they throw around their job title? Or, how much money they have? Or how they’ve got this great idea you have to invest in? Maybe you have a friend who never has money and needs you to spot him when you guys go out?  How about that guy who always seems to have an ulterior motive – he always needs a favor, some money, a ride, a recommendation? Do you LIKE being around them? Do you WANT to do them any favors? You can’t hide anymore – you can’t lie, you can’t be a jerk. People talk….about you, about your work, about how you talk about them.  Everyone is connected – that guy whose blog post you stole last week?  He’s probably in a Facebook group with your client, and guess who’s going to see him complaining about you?

Ultimately though, none of this matters because you’re not going to have a choice. While the tools that we talk about will change over time, the kinds of communication that social media enables isn’t going away. As communications students, you can either start learning about social media now and be a forward-thinker or be forced to learn it later on the job where you’re expected to know it already.

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The Many Roles of an Internal Community Manager

When someone in the communications industry refers to a “community manager,” they are usually referring to someone that can manage the online relationships for a particular brand, using tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. However, over the last few years, a new Community Manager role has emerged – the internal Community Manager, responsible for increasing and maintaining user adoption for social media tools behind the organizational firewall. With the growing ubiquity of Enterprise 2.0 software, vendors and clients alike have come to realize that these communities don’t just magically appear. Along with this realization has come greater demand for people to handle things like user adoption, marketing, and community management – we’re witnessing the rise of the internal community manager.

It's a living

The Internal Community Manager wears many hats

While these positions may sound like the perfect job for the social media evangelist in your organization – moderate forums, write blog posts, garden the wiki, give briefings about social media, develop user adoption strategies, answer user questions, monitor and analyze user activity – the internal community manager actually wears many other hats, some of which aren’t nearly as fun and exciting, and many of which aren’t going to be high on the wish list of potential candidates. Let’s take a look at the many hats of the internal community manager:

  • Referee – When someone posts a link to a political article and the conversation is starts to devolve into partisan name-calling and vitriol, guess who gets to be the one to steer the conversation back toward professionalism and healthy debate? Oh yeah, and you can’t use your admin privileges (the nuclear option) to just “lock” or delete the conversation either because then you’re not community manager, you’re big brother.
  • Ombudsman – When the community starts complaining about the speed, reliability, or accessibility of the platform, you need to be the one to bring up those concerns with the developers and push to get these issues fixed. If a new feature is riddled with bugs, you can’t just toe the company line and say it’s great – you have to be able to offer your honest, unbiased opinion. After all, you’re the advocate for the community, not a mouthpiece for the development team.
  • Party Promoter – Know that guy passing out flyers outside the club you walked past earlier today? Yeah, that’s going to be you. You’ll be handing out flyers, sending emails, giving briefings – anything you can do to get people to come by and check out your community.
  • Comedian You can’t take the ‘social’ out of social media. There has to be someone there who can show the rest of the community how to have a little fun, and the community manager has to be comfortable using humor in a professional environment (no, those are not mutually exclusive).
  • Teacher – Ever try to teach someone to change their golf swing after they’ve been doing it the same way for 20 years? Get ready for a lot more of that feeling. It’s very much like trying to teach someone to use a wiki for collaboration instead of using email. Get used to people copying and pasting the content off the wiki and into a Word document, turning on track changes, and then sending you the marked-up Word document for you to “take a look at” before uploading to the wiki.
  • Inspirational Leader – You will not have enough hours in the day to do everything you want. You cannot possibly garden the wiki, write your blog posts, moderate all of the forums, stay active on Yammer, run your metrics reports and do everything else a community manager is asked to do by yourself. You’re going to need to identify others in the community to help you, and oh by the way, you’ll need to get them to buy into your approach and do the work but you won’t have any actual authority and they’ll all have other jobs too.  Good luck!
  • Help Desk – When the WYSIWYG editor on the blogs isn’t working right, guess who the users are going to call? The answer isn’t the help(less) desk. It’s you. You’re going to receive emails, Yams, phone calls, and IMs from everyone asking for your help because you’re the person they see most often and using the platform. Who are they going to trust to get them an answer – the person they see using the platform every day or some faceless/nameless guy behind a distro list email?
  • Psychiatrist – When that executive starts a blog and no one reads it or comments on it, you have to be ready to go into full out touchy-feely mode and help reassure him/her, manage their expectations, give them some tips and tricks, and build their self-esteem back up so that they will continue being active. For someone who was able to live off their title for so long, getting out there and having to prove oneself with their content again can be a tricky proposition.
  • Troublemaker – Work conversations can get pretty boring – a community filled with blog posts about your revisions to the TPS reports aren’t exactly going to elicit a lot of conversation. You will have to be the one who can start start and manage difficult conversations with the community. Guess who gets the write the blog post criticizing the new expense reporting policy?
  • Cheerleader – When community members use the platform in the right way and/or contributes something really valuable, you need to be the first one to share it as far and wide as possible. You need to be the person putting that community member’s face on the front page and tell everyone else what he did and how others can be like him. You need to be the one cheering people on to give them the positive reinforcement they need.
  • Project Manager – These communities don’t build themselves. You’re going to be responsible for creating and delivering all kinds of reports, briefings, fact sheets, and metrics and you’re going to need a plan for how to meet those deadlines and still engage with the community itself.
  • Writer – Every community platform has some sort of front page along with some static “About this community” type of content. You need to be able to write that content in a way that’s professional yet informal enough that people will still read it.
  • Janitor – When you open up your local shared drive, you’re likely to see 47 different version of the same document, hopefully, with one of those containing a big FINAL in the filename. The old version are good to keep around just in case, but all they’re really doing is cluttering up the folder and making it difficult to find anything. The same thing happens in an online community. People post things in the wrong forums, they accidentally publish half-written blog posts, they upload documents without tagging them, etc. You get to go in and clean up these messes!

Wow – when you spell all out like that, maybe being an internal community manager isn’t such a great position after all. Seems like it’s a lot more difficult than simply blogging, managing user accounts, and coordinating change requests! Before you grab that one guy on your team who has some extra time on his hands and volunteer him for your new community management role, you might want to think about these other hats he’s going to have to wear and really ask yourself if Johnny, your social media intern, is really the right man for the job or if you should hire an experienced community manager.

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