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How a Social Media Evangelist Became a Social Media Realist

October 15, 2012

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When did I become the guy who gets tired of social media? I haven't blogged here in more than a month. I'm substantially less active on Twitter than I used to be. How did I go from annoying everyone around me by my incessant yammering about social media to the guy who grows increasingly annoyed when people talk about everything social media will do?

I'm not suggesting that I'm no longer excited about social media. I'm not suggesting that social media is dead (imagine that link bait, though). Quite the opposite, actually. Social media is not only not dead, it's so alive that it's become ubiquitous. There are Google+ master classes. You can read multiple books for marketing your business on Pinterest. You can go out and get a social media certification. You can buy thousands of Facebook likes. There are more than 125K social media experts on LinkedIn. There are more than 5,000 books on social media marketing. If you're looking for a job and you don't have the words "social media" on your resume somewhere, you aren't even trying. Social media is where it's at man. Everyone's doing it.

And maybe that's the problem. Everyone, from the government to big brands to schools to my parents, feels like they have to be using social media. And there are all too many social media experts, ninjas, and gurus ready to help them get on Twitter, start a Facebook page, and check in on Foursquare. When I first started using social media professionally back in 2006, it was because I recognized that these new tools could fundamentally change the way organizations communicated and collaborated. Back then, using social media in the government was like being among the first cavemen to discover fire. I was part of a small group of people who recognized this and committed to using this newfound knowledge to help the government become more efficient, more open, more transparent, and more collaborative. It was not only fun, it was incredibly rewarding as well. We were helping change the way government worked. We were effecting change that people said wasn't possible. We just happened to be using social media to do that.

Obviously, things have changed since then. Where I used to have to fight tooth and nail to get my clients to use social media at all, social media is now viewed as the first option. Social media has become almost a cure-all for an organization's problems. Suffering from negative media coverage? Start a Twitter account! Poor Q1 sales? Get on Pinterest! High employee turnover? Create an internal blogging platform! Whatever problem you have, social media will be there to solve it! And, there are literally thousands of social media experts out there ready to provide that solution to you (at a low low price if you sign up right now!).

I love getting a senior-level client up and running on Twitter or Yammer, not because I'm getting paid to do it or because these tools are just sooo cool, but because most of the time, it represents the first time in years that he or she communicates with the public without a PR or legal or compliance filter. I was able to give them the confidence, knowledge, and tools to actually talk with people – their customers or employees – like a human being. The only thing that made me happier than seeing a senior executive read an unfiltered feed about their organization and start participating in the conversation was seeing those conversations manifest themselves in actual changes in how the business operated. Now, all that's given way to marketers, consultants, and gurus whose only goal is to get people using social media.

My goal is never to get someone blogging or Tweeting – that's just the means to help them understand how to better communicate and collaborate. Simply using social media should never be the goal – social media is just the means, not the end. For years, clients have been asking me to develop "social media strategies," and for years, I've been telling them that they don't need a "social media strategy." What they need is strategy to help them solve whatever business problem they're looking to solve. Maybe they'll need social media, maybe they won't. I guess it was never about social media after all. It was about what social media enabled people to do, and increasingly, the only thing it's enabling is jamming the same old business practices into Tweets, blog posts, and status updates.

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Recovering from a Social Media Mistake

July 24, 2012

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Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. Don't worry so much about the past and get back up on the horse. That's what will define you, not one post.

On Friday, the NextGen Journal published an article titled "Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25" by Cathryn Sloane. This article predictably generated a TON of traffic (More than 6K Facebook likes, 1K Tweets, and about a billion times more traffic than any other article on the site) not to mention a ton of online vitriol from the social media community. Let's put aside the content of the actual article – there have been plenty of posts made already by really smart people that do good job of offering alternative viewpoints. Let's put aside the discussion around what Cathryn did (she wrote a blog post that pissed off a bunch of a people – join the club) or didn't do (she hasn't responded to the people carrying pitchforks outside her window – I don't know that I would have done any differently at that age either). Instead of discussing what Cathryn said or should have done, let's discuss how we can help her and others like her and move forward from here.

Cathryn could have easily been one of my team members or mentees. Lord knows I've pushed and prodded the junior members of my teams often enough over the years to do more writing, sharing, and commenting online. If you were going to be advising a client or colleague how to use social media, you damn well better be using it yourself too, right? That's why I've spent an inordinate amount of my time on internal mentoring, giving presentations at colleges, sitting on the SMCEDU Board of Advisers, and holding social media training for internal teams. To say that I've been passionate about helping this next generation use social media more effectively, both personally and professionally, would be an understatement.

That's why I want to use this opportunity to do what my friend Mark Story recommended in his rebuttal post and offer Cathryn some career counsel.

Dear Cathryn,

First of all, I want to tell you congratulations. You took a step many aren't willing to take and you played the game. It's a hell of a lot easier to sit back and say that you don't have the time to start a blog or that you're just a kid so who cares what you think and never actually use social media in a professional manner. You got up on that stage and took a chance, which is more than most will ever do.  You've written posts for NextGen Journal and USA Today. You've already taken the most difficult step – going from doing nothing to doing something. You've already done more in this space than most people you've graduated with and for that, you should be congratulated. It shows me that you have initiative and that you can take risks and that's something to be proud of.

Right now, you're getting a first-hand education about social media that you wouldn't learn in any class or from any book. Last Friday, you published a very controversial post that angered a lot of people (and understandably so). I'm sure you've already read through all of the rebuttal posts and comments people have posted and have been completely overwhelmed by it all. I've read through many of these as well and was a little taken aback myself. As you read through them, remind yourself that most of these comments were written by people over the age of 30 who feel as though you were attacking them and their livelihood. Please put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them before dismissing them as trolls. You have to understand that there's a history of ageism within this community – for the longest time, employers automatically assumed social media could only be understood by the young kids and so they were the ones given these new positions instead of more experienced individuals. Only recently have employers and the C-suite begun to realize how important social media is and how important it's become to identify the right people for these positions. So when they read your post, I think many people saw it as an opportunity to again demonstrate their value, to show potential clients why they should hire them instead of someone under 25.

That said, a lot of those comments were made by people who should know better. People who should realize the difference between disagreeing with someone's opinion and vengefully attacking the person behind the post. People who should realize that their comments, whether they're made online or off – "good luck getting a job in this industry, you idiot!" – reflect on them too. I hope they know that just as they bully you and try to destroy your reputation, they're doing the same to themselves from a managerial perspective – I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to work with someone with a history of treating people like that, be it online or off.

Once you've gone through the thousands of comments, posts, and Tweets and weeded out the hateful ones, spend some time absorbing the feedback. Do you have a better understanding of why people were so upset? Do you feel any empathy toward their position? Do you still agree with the basic premise of your article or have you changed your mind (there's no right answer to that one, but either way, make sure you have some thoughts/facts to back up your assertion)? What were some of the most beneficial pieces of feedback you heard? Once you've collected this feedback and filtered out the garbage, start drafting a follow-up post. One of the reasons this situation spiraled out of control so quickly was because your voice was MIA the entire weekend. As Tony Heyward or any of the dozens of CEOs who have paid the price of silence can tell you, it's important that you communicate early and often.  Now, I'm making the assumption that you haven't spoken up because you were utterly overwhelmed by what was happening and had no idea what to do. That's totally understandable, especially given the tone and amount of the feedback as well as your experience level in handling stuff like this.

Boil the feedback you received down to 3-5 key points and then address each one. Admit where you were wrong, but also don't be afraid to disagree with them.  Don't give in to the mob collective just to get them off your back if it's not something you believe in. Did people misinterpret what you were trying to say? If so, tell us why. Were you just not aware of some of the points made in the comments/posts/Tweets? If so, tell us which ones and why they've changed your mind. Tell us what you would have done differently. By the same token, tell us what you would have done the same. Explain what you've learned and how you'll apply that in the future.

In your follow-up post, I would inject a healthy dose of humility but I would also tell you to balance that by telling you to stick with what you believe in too. No one wants to see a "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" post where you essentially back off everything you wrote. Turn the whole thing around on everyone and tell us what people of any age can do to show employers that they know what they're doing when it comes to social media. No one, at any age, likes to hear that they're disqualified from doing something simply because of their age. Talk to Dara Torres or Missy Franklin about being told they can't do something because of their age. Give some advice to your generation about the things they can do to bridge the gap in years of experience. The opportunity is there for all of you – YOU are already taking advantage of it. You can write blog posts, engage with professionals on LinkedIn, participate in industry Twitter chats. You can bypass recruiters and job postings entirely and talk directly with VPs and other hiring managers. If they're impressed with your writing and approach they're not going to care that you only have four years of experience instead o five.

Once you write the article, send it to a mentor to review before hitting publish, someone who is knowledgeable and whom you can trust. Whenever I write a post, at a minimum, I always have my wife review it first to tell me if I'm coming off too arrogant, if it flows nicely, if she can understand it, if she's having the reaction I aimed for, etc. Hell, send it to me and I'll take a look at it for you. I'd recommend having at least two people familiar with the whole situation read through it before publishing and then publish it – the sooner the better.

The other thing that I'd recommend to you and I can't say this strongly enough – don't let this incident get you down. When I was building the social media practice at my old firm, one of the first things I told our SVPs was that yes, social media will do a lot of great things for us, but there WILL be mistakes made. We can't stop them but we can mitigate the negative impacts by planning for them. That's what I'd recommend you do as well – don't stop writing. Don't disappear. Continue writing, but develop a plan to back you up in the future. Have someone you trust review every post before publishing. Never post anything before you go offline in case a firestorm erupts. Never publish something without sleeping on it at least once. Develop a mentoring relationship with someone in the industry with a lot of experience and run your ideas by him/her. Before publishing, spend 30 minutes thinking through the potential negative and positive reactions the post may elicit and be prepared with a response.

But most of all, just get back on the horse. This post isn't your legacy. How you react and move on from it will be. Everyone makes mistakes out here. Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. It's the cost of playing this game. Write your follow-up post, put in some processes to help guard against similar issues in the future and continue writing. As Mack Collier says in his post, "another thing about social media and such firestorms is that we all tend to move on quickly.  In another day or so most of us will have moved onto something else and your time in the spotlight will be over." I can't imagine not hiring someone over a single silly post, but I can easily see interviewing someone who wrote a post that caused a firestorm and then recovered from it. Because we're all going to make mistakes – that's a given. I'm more interested in how someone recovers from those mistakes. 

After all, you've already taken the first step and done something. You've also already gone through your first challenge. Now, you just have to react and move on. You'll be fine. In fact, if you do get up, dust yourself off, and continue writing, give me a call – I could use people who have this type of real world experience.

To the people who continue to personally attack Cathryn for this post, use this as an opportunity to empower those in Cathryn's generation to use social media more professionally. We need more people like Cathryn out there using social media now so that they're better equipped when we need to hire them. We can't afford to drive this young talent away by publicly crucifying them for not being experts.

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From the Government to Big Brands, From the Left Brain to the Right Brain

June 24, 2012

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Three months ago, I made a huge change in my life. After eight years as a government consultant in DC, I picked up my family and moved to Chicago to work at Cramer-Krasselt. I went from DC to Chicago, from consulting to PR, from government clients to big brands, from the suburbs to the city, from leading virtual teams to being in the office with my entire team every day, from being at the tip of the spear of the #gov20 movement to being just another PR guy prattling on about social media – and for the last three months, I've been trying to adapt to this new life of mine.

As you can tell, a lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same too. I still spend way too much time in meetings. I'm still having varying levels of success managing office politics. And I'm still trying to change the status quo. I'm not ready to say that PR in the private sector is any better or worse than government consulting – it's just different. And for me, different is good. Instead of being the grizzled veteran who's been with the company longer than most people, I'm the new guy. Instead of being the guy everyone runs to for social media advice, everyone here at least knows the basics, with many knowing much much more than that. Every day, I feel challenged. Every day, I learn something new. Every day, I realize I'm in an entirely different world now. Even though I still do PR and communications, the clients and the environment are very different. So while there are some similarities, in many ways, it's like a whole new career.

This isn't to say that one is better or worse than the other – in fact, it's the dichotomy of the two that I'm enjoying. While I find myself learning more and more about branding and advertising every day, I'm also teaching my new colleagues a lot about staff forecasting, team management, performance reviews, and strategic planning too. If I've learned anything over these last three months, it's that the typical PR pro would be more effective if they thought more like a consultant, and that the typical government consultant sure could benefit from some more creativity and risk-taking.

If you've done PR in both the public and private sectors, what kinds of differences have you experienced?

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Seven REAL Ways You Can Use Social Media to Find Your Next Job

May 27, 2012

3 Comments

I read this post yesterday that included an infographic from Online Colleges discussing some of the ways in which you can use social media to find your next job or internship. It even included five tips to help you "stand out from the crowd." Unfortunately, rather than highlighting some of ways in which people have used Pinterest to land their next job or created a resume using a QR code, or creating an interactive video resume, they instead recommend the exact opposite. Recommendations like "be your most professional you," and "treat your profile like your resume," make you blend in with, not stand apart from, the crowd.

The infographic is right about one thing though – social media does give you an opportunity to stand apart from the crowd. But you're not going to do that by treating your profile like your resume, being professional, and keeping your accounts updated. Stop looking at social media from a place of fear ("oh my god, my Facebook profile has pictures of me drinking a beer!!!  Ahhhhhhhhh!") and start looking at it from a place of opportunity ("other applicants may have more experience, but how many can actually showcase their entire philosophy and beliefs to the interviewer before ever actually stepping foot in the interview room?"). 

Social media opens up all kinds of doors for today's job-seekers – 

  • You don't have to rely on the formulaic resume and cover letter
  • You no longer have to post your resume and pray that someone sees it
  • You don't ever have to talk to that "to whom it may concern" guy again
  • The company's resumes@companyname.com email isn't your only point of entry

So if you're truly interested in using social media open these doors and land that next job or internship, try these seven tactics:

  1. Be present. If you send someone your resume, one of the first things they're going to do is Google you. Be aware of what they will find. Yes, like most people will tell you, having that local police blotter article about your DUI five years ago show up on the first page is bad, but so is not having ANYTHING show up. If you're allegedly a PR professional, and I can't find a single thing about you beyond your high school team softball photo, your resume better be damn impressive because that's all you're giving me to go on. 
  2. Make sure your online presence is reflective of the type of job you want. Are you trying to be an accountant? A designer? A PR specialist? A management consultant? As you might imagine, these positions require very different skills and personalities. I would expect that the online profile of someone trying to get hired by an advertising agency to be VERY different from the profile of someone trying to get hired by a government consulting firm. Blanket statements like "be your most professional you" are meaningless because they mean such different things to different people. "Professional" to a government consultant is probably going to come across as dry and boring to me.
  3. Be You. The best personal brand is the one that best reflects who you actually are, not some contrived image that you want people to think you are. It's going to be much better for the both of us if we're open and honest about who we are and what we're looking for. If I bring you in for an interview based in large part on your super creative Pinterest-based resume, I'm going to expect a super creative person in the interview, not to hear that you hired someone to create that resume for you and you don't actually know how to do that. 
  4. Talk about what you do and who you are. The easiest and most effective thing you can do. Are you a PR specialist? Then start a blog and talk about your approach to public relations. Get on Twitter and share your thoughts on the latest PR crisis. Share links to PR articles you're reading on Facebook. This isn't rocket science. If you're a graphic designer, talk about the latest trends in graphic design. Share your opinion on who's doing it right. Don't tell me that you do something, show me your thoughts and beliefs and what sets you apart from the hundreds of other people who claim to do that as well.
  5. Talk with people in the industry you're trying to get into. Want a job in government public affairs? Get on GovLoop and start commenting on people's blogs. Want a job in public relations? Participate in the PRSA LinkedIn group. Want a job in sports? Get the #sportsprchat on your calendar. Be a part of the conversation. 
  6. Talk to the person/organization you're trying to work for. The old advice was to research the company that you're applying to so that you know what work they do, who their clients are, etc. That advice still applies, but that's literally the bare minimum you can do. Be prepared to do more than some simple secondary research and instead look to see who from that company is on Twitter and start following them. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Comment on their blogs. And for the love of God, talk with them about something OTHER than the fact that you want a job. You wouldn't walk up to them in real life and hand them your resume before even introducing yourself would you? Then don't do it online either. Tell them how much you liked their last blog post. Answer a question they asked on Twitter. Give them your thoughts on that last link they shared on LinkedIn – just do something other than say "hey are you guys hiring? Check out my resume!"
  7. Start early. I don't want to see that you started your Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channels all on the same day two weeks ago and now you're applying for a job with me. Start building up your online presence before you start looking for a job. I don't want to hire someone who is just going through the motions – I want to hire someone who understands that their use of social media is about a hell of a lot more than just finding a job. It's about becoming a better professional, demonstrating that you're a lifelong learner, and explaining who you are rather than just what you did.

What other tactics would you add? How have you used social media to get a job or internship? 

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