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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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Don’t be Like Cleveland – How to Succeed Even When Your Star Leaves

When Your Star Leaves
Cleveland sign

Don't be like Cleveland...prepare for when your star leaves

UPDATE: Slides embedded!

We all know the story – local high school star LeBron James joins the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, becomes a star, leads his team to the playoffs for five straight seasons and then “takes his talents to South Beach.” Without their superstar, the Cavs finish the next season with one of the worst records in the league, something my home state of Ohio was very unhappy about!

What if your social media “star” left your organization? Would you turn into Cleveland?

Over the last several years, as social media has become increasingly ubiquitous in many of our daily lives; government, nonprofit and commercial organizations have begun using social media to connect with their internal and external stakeholders. While some organizations have taken a systematic approach to building out their social media presence, many, especially those that were early adopters, relied on social media advocates within their organizations – people who saw the value of social media and evangelized for its use.

We all know the type: the one that others call “that social media guy/girl” that was willing to take risks, challenge the status quo, and sometimes drag their organization kicking and screaming into having a Facebook Page, engaging with customers on Twitter or helping their research department to use a wiki to share knowledge. In my organization, Booz Allen Hamilton, one of those people is Steve Radick, who played an integral part in advocating for building out a social media practice for our clients as well as helping the firm to adopt our internal Enterprise 2.0 site, Hello. In my own work, I’ve helped clients to build social media programs from scratch, making first steps in taking advantage of the latest technologies to engage with citizens, patients and employees for Military Health System organizations and other agencies.

But what happens when your star leaves? What happens when your “social media guru” is promoted and doesn’t have time to Tweet like they used to? What happens when the consultant who has been updating your Facebook Page completes their contract? Or that intern you asked to make viral videos for you goes back to school? How do you sustain your social media program so that it doesn’t rely on the power of one or two personalities that have been driving it forward?

These are some of the questions I’m looking forward to engaging with PRSA International Conference participants in during my session “When a Star Leaves: How to Sustain Social Media Efforts Over the Long Term.” Based on the experience of myself and my colleagues at Booz Allen who have helped to build social media programs with staying power for Federal Government agencies, I will give you some best practices to help you think strategically about how to set up your program to stand the test of time as well as discuss what to do now to prepare for when your “rock star” moves on.

While I’ll have more to share in Orlando, here are five tips you can start thinking about in the meantime:

  1. Plan your social media program as if your star won’t be here tomorrow: Your star’s role will likely change in the next year, whether by their action or because of changes in leadership. Assume the torch will need to be passed to someone else, and plan for it
  2. Structure your social media program to be scalable and future-proof: Anticipate demand for help, for social media across your organization will increase as different departments see how it can be successful. Additionally, think about social media in a platform-agnostic way, creating practices, policies and strategies that are easily adaptable as technologies and trends change
  3. Don’t stop at a star, build a whole constellation of people who understand and use social media throughout your organization: Think about creating a social media coalition within your organization. Identify champions in different departments and engage them regularly in meetings to share successes and challenges
  4. Integrate and normalize social media into daily communication practice across your organization: Digital and social media are integral for communicating with your consumers and valuable for communicating in your organization. Find ways to incorporate social media into your communication, training and performance systems
  5. Make sure your star knows their success will be judged by your organization’s ability to sustain the social media effort after they are gone: Mentoring and nurturing talent is integral to long-term success. If your social media program disappears when your star disappears, your program, and your star, will be seen as a failure

Stick around for the last set of workshops on Tuesday afternoon at 2:15 before you head home (or to Disney) to join me in an engaging conversation on making your social media program stand the test of time. I look forward to talking with you, and will be providing an update of how it goes after the conference. See you there!

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What Can Advertising Learn From PR When It Comes to Social Media?

Two brothers

Image Courtesy of Flickr user cgallent

Public Relations vs. Advertising. Earned media vs. Paid media. Huge budgets vs. tiny ones.  Advertising and Public Relations have been engaged in a love-hate relationships for decades. What’s more effective? What offers better ROI? How should they work together? Should they work together?

For years, advertising has been the big brother in this often tenuous relationship. Whether it’s the massive budgets or the Super Bowl ad campaigns, or the allure of millions of YouTube views, advertising always seems to receive the most attention from an organization’s executives. Public relations, on the other hand, tends to operate more in the background. Need to make budget cuts? Take it from PR. Need a job for that intern? Just give him to the PR team – anyone can do that stuff anyway.

Things are starting to change though. Google became the dominant search engine yet it didn’t air a single TV ad until last year’s Super Bowl. Product launches are now done via strategic leaks, keynotes, and even by purposely keeping your customers away. For the first time in 20 years, Pepsi ditched the 30 second, $4M Super Bowl ad, and instead sunk $20M into the Pepsi Refresh project. What’s going on here? Is this the beginning of the end for advertising?

Of course not. But social media has forced some changes to the advertising industry, whether the old-school likes it or not. And if advertisers want to keep up, they would do well to take some lessons from their PR brethren. In many ways, PR professionals are better equipped for successfully using social media – whether it’s their ability to build and maintain real relationships or their reliance on plain language instead of marketing fluff, PR pros have largely adapted to social media better than than the advertising industry. Here are a few areas where advertising would do well to follow PR’s lead:

  • Advertising should always be looked at as a means to an end, not the end itself. In some ways, advertising itself is the goal (see USA Today’s Ad Meter or the press releases that companies issue about their ads) and has led to a greater focus on views, friends, and Tweets than on sales, revenue, or market share. Your ad campaign isn’t successful because it had a million YouTube views – it’s successful because it’s led to increased sales or customer loyalty or some other actual business objective.
  • Be honest. Consumer trust in advertising is low and continues to fall. When it comes to your company, I’m more likely to trust, well, anyone, other than you. Stop with the boastful, deceptive marketing messages and be honest about your strengths AND your weaknesses. If something didn’t go right, tell me why and what you’re doing about it. Don’t gloss over it and try to blame someone else.
  • 50% of 10,000 > 1% of 50,000. PR hasn’t had the benefit of massive budgets like advertising does. Bashing the public over the head with your ads and hoping for one and two percent returns doesn’t work anymore. Instead, spend more time crafting messages that relate directly with the audience you’re trying to reach.
  • Speak like a human being. I’ll take a line from one of my favorite books, the Cluetrain Manifesto – “Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.”
  • Show me, don’t tell me. Stop spending millions telling me how fantastic your product or your customer service is and show me. Virgin America’s advertising budget is less than 10% of American Airlines‘ yet Virgin consistently outpaces the traditional carriers in things like customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer service. I don’t know about you, but I will often pay more money to fly Virgin America, JetBlue, or Southwest just to avoid having to deal with one of the big carriers.

I'll be speaking on a panel on Thursday, Sept. 22nd at Ad Week DC

PR and advertising are going to continue to work together more and more – each would do well to learn from each other. If you’re interested in hearing more about how social media is impacting the PR and advertising industries, I’ll be participating in DC Ad Week where I’ll be joining John Cangany and Karen Untereker for a panel moderated by Robert Udowitz called “What Can Advertising Learn From Public Relations When It Comes To Social Media.”

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Listening for Change in Public Health and Social Marketing

The ubiquity of social media means that just about every industry, from non-profits to sports to higher education to government – has hundreds of different blogs in each of these industries that are devoted to studying social media’s impact on pretty much everything. Within the organization, we’re seeing this same long tail manifested in the form of hundreds of different corporate social media accounts for individual product lines. To handle this growth, more and more companies are moving toward the Dandelion business model.

Now, as some of you may know, I work at a massive company where we support an enormous range of client needs including Defense, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Commercial, and non-profits. As one of the leads for our Digital Strategy & Social Media capability, I would field calls for social media help from people working on Public Health projects in the morning, followed by Intelligence Analysts in the afternoon, and reviewing a proposal for the Department of Defense that evening. As my team and I were spread thinner and thinner, we decided to instead create smaller teams of individuals who were able to dive deeper into the unique issues of a specific industry and how social media can help address those. One of those teams became our Digital Health team, led by Jacque Myers, Don Jones, and Mike Robert. This team has really dived deeper into how social media and digital technology is impacting public health, military and veteran health,  accessibility, and many other issues unique to the healthcare industry.

"The Health Digital" is a new blog focused on using digital technologies to help health organizations address key issues

I wanted to take this time to introduce their latest initiative, “The Health Digital,” a blog where they will be highlighting current digital health issues and exploring the ways in which technology can help (and sometimes, hinder) social change. If you’re interested in learning more about Jacque, Don, or about digital health issues, Don, as well as several other members from the Booz Allen team, will be participating in CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media next week. If you’ll be in Atlanta next week for #hcmmconf, stop by and say hello and learn a little bit more about the work they’ve done with the Real Warriors campaign, the Military Health System, and the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade.

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