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

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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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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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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The Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist: An Introspection

“The Social Media Strategist must choose one of two career paths – build proactive programs now…or be relegated to ongoing cleanup as social media help desk.”

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group have put together yet another thought-provoking report chock full of statistics, research, and stories – “The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk.” As I clicked through the report, I found that I couldn’t put it down – it did a fantastic job of putting into words some of the things that I, and many of my #gov20 counterparts have been talking about, not on the conference stages, but in the hallways of events like Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

The whole report is a must read, and I encourage anyone who’s leading any sort of social media effort, public or private sector, big or small organization, to read it. For me, it made me look in the mirror and contemplate exactly which phase of this career path I’m in, where I want to go, and what I need to do to get there.

Click to see full-size image on Jeremiah's Flickr page

I find myself at Phase 4: Career Decision Point (see graphic at left and on page 10 in the report below). I mentioned this to some of my colleagues the other day – it’s almost like we built this great start-up and are now struggling with how to turn the cool start-up into a scalable business. We’ve  made a ton of progress over the last three years, but as more and more business units across the firm become aware of the new business we’ve brought in, the impacts that we’ve had, and the skills that we have, we’ve found that we’re receiving a TON of new requests ranging from the harmless – “can I buy a drink and chat about social media capabilities?” to the endless time sucks – “would you mind if my team bounced some ideas off of you every now and then?”

The biggest reason for my team’s success isn’t our social media skills, but our willingness to take risks and rally stakeholders from across the organization (page 12). We have 25,000 people spread across the world and in seemingly hundreds of different business units. However, our approach has always been and always will be, that social media doesn’t and can’t exist in a vacuum.  This isn’t something that one team owns.  Rather, we purposely set out to ensure that we’ve brought the folks from our Privacy, IT, Legal, Training, and HR teams into the fold.  As I’ve told many of my colleagues – I’m not all that smart, I’ve just become friends with a lot of really really smart people :).

Over the last year, I’ve found myself less and less in the trenches, and spending more time developing and implementing our overall strategy, and securing the top cover that’s needed for the rest of my team (page 13). Three years ago, I was THE guy to talk with about all of the latest and greatest social media tools and technologies. Now, I’m much more likely to redirect those sorts of questions to someone else on my team as they’re working with this stuff day in and day out with our clients. I’ve discovered that I welcomed this evolution with a combination of trepidation and relief. On the one hand, I’ve been able to focus more of my time on scaling our social media capabilities and laying the foundation so that it becomes a true capability, not just something that I do. On the other, I sometimes miss the day-to-day excitement of working with one client.

Our social media capabilities resemble the Dandelion model (page 15).  Because Booz Allen is such a huge organization that

Altimeter's Dandelion Model

Altimeter's "Multiple Hub and Spoke" or Dandelion Model

encompasses so many different disciplines, we realized early on that there was no way that a small team was going to be able to serve the entire organization (the Hub and Spoke model). That’s why we set out to identify leaders in different business units across the organization who could serve as other hubs within their teams.  That’s why in addition to the people on my team with communication backgrounds, we also have people like Tim Lisko with deep privacy and security skills, Walton Smith and his team with their IT and Enterprise 2.0 skills, Darren West and his team’s analytical experience, and so on and so on. This diversity not only allows us to scale, it allows us to dive much deeper into these others areas of social media that no one team could do on their own.

Internal education is a primary objective of ours this year as well (page 17). Whether through our reverse mentoring program or our new hire orientation classes, we’ve committed to ensuring that social media just becomes something that we do, regardless of team or discipline. It needs to become integrated into everything that we do. This then sets the foundation for other innovative ideas for how they can use social media better in their work.

Dedicated resources are still hard to come by (page 18). While our senior leadership has unanimously bought into the power of social media and have been a key reason for the success we’ve had so far, identifying and securing the right people to serve the enterprise has been a challenge. You see, the people who are the best for this role are also really really good at other things too.  And other people realize that too. Smart, innovative, skilled consultants are quickly snatched up by other project managers, so when the decision comes down to staffing those people on client-billable projects or internal programs like this, guess who wins out? (not that I necessarily disagree – just that it makes scaling these programs all the more challenging).

The end goal remains the same – “in five years, this role doesn’t exist.”  (page 20). I said this last year and someone in the Altimeter study agreed with me. I don’t want this to become something where my team and I are relied upon for every little thing involving social media. The goal is to make this just something we do. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to identify other leaders in the organization and empower them to become another hub with their own spokes. As more and more of these hubs are formed, the need for a dedicated “social media guy” will decrease.  As my friend John Scardino said on our internal Yammer network the other day, (paraphrasing) “I feel like I was helping to lead the growth and adoption of this community at first, and now, it’s almost like the community is self-sustaining and other leaders are emerging to take on those roles.”  I think my role is to help identify and develop that next wave of social media leaders, so that it truly becomes integrated across the firm.

Have you read the report yet? If not, I’d recommend downloading it and as you’re reading it, perform a similar audit of your role in your organization.  You might be surprised what you find out.

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’

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