Tag Archives: career

Stop Wasting Years of Your Life, Social Media Strategists

This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

If you work in the marketing industry (“social media” is not an industry), you’ve probably either read or heard about this anonymous piece in Digiday and either scoffed at or empathized with the author’s plight.

If you haven’t, here are two of the most resonant points:

I sat in a brainstorm. We came up with a bunch of content ideas for our brands’ social channels—images, GIFs, and lines of witty copy. I went back to my desk, opened a container of leftover lo mein, and realized I’d wasted the last four years of my life.

And:

The underlying issue is that social departments place too much value on engagement. Those “likes,” “comments,” “shares,” “re-tweets,” and “pins” are the metrics that social content creators use to (1) judge success and (2) dictate what future content looks like. Here’s the catch. The people who are engaging with that content are predominantly worthless.

As someone who works at an agency that provides similar support to our clients, I empathized. I’ve been that anonymous author. I’ve lived that life. I feel your pain, anonymous author.

Here’s the thing, though: Empathy and pity aren’t going to solve the problem.

frabz-like-and-share-if-you-love-your-grandma-ignore-if-you-want-grand-dafc21Instead of going back to our leftover lo mein to come up with more variations of “Keep Calm and Carry On” posts while questioning our life choices, I figured it would be more productive to offer tips on how to get out ourselves and our clients out of this rut. (Unless your job and/or bonus depends on amassing more “likes,” fans, and followers—in which case, have I got a lead for you.)

First things first—stop taking yourself so seriously. You’re managing Facebook and Instagram, not performing brain surgery. Stop thinking your customers are waiting with bated breath for your content. They’re not.

Stop treating your social media like paid media, and start treating it for what it is—a place for brands to come out of their ivory towers and interact, listen, talk, and share with their customers. Experiment. Be on your customers’ journey with them. Try new things. Engage in actual conversations. Act as though you actually care about what your customers need and want rather than what will get the most “likes.”

“But,” you say, “my client/boss wants to see the ROI of our efforts and if I can’t show the numbers going up, our budgets are going to get cut/I’m going to get fired!”

Here’s where you change the conversation. Review the metrics you’ve been using, and throw them away. Build a new key performance indicator chart, one that’s actually tied to your business goals.

If your goal is to increase e-commerce sales, show how much traffic is coming in through your social channels. If your goal is to improve your brand’s online reputation, point to the quality of the search results. If your goal is to increase awareness, point to the total number of mentions across all media channels. If your goal is customer service, track how many cases you’ve resolved via social media. If your boss/client gives you a hard time about wanting to see more “likes,” comments, and pins, that’s because you haven’t given her any other metrics from which to judge success. Figure out what role you think social media should be playing for your organization and measure against that.

You also should work with everyone in the marketing mix. Figure out what role social media plays in that regard. Figure out how you can use social media to help advance the other areas. Figure out how they can help advance social media. As a component of marketing, social media does not exist in a vacuum—and neither can you.

Rather than fighting for more dollars, headcount, or attention, look at the bigger picture and take a realistic view of where social media can and should fit in. It’s quite possible you’re stuck in this never-ending loop of crappy content because you have a much bigger budget than that of other areas and your clients (internal and external) want to get their money’s worth.

Don’t be afraid to look at the bigger picture and say: “What if we took some of the money we have allocated to Facebook ads and reallocated that to PR so that we can get some more earned media coverage? That would, in turn, drive more social engagement, because we’d be tapping into those publications’ social media channels, too.”

Finally, be ready to find and create content that makes your brand/organization unique. Everyone and everything has a story, so instead of following some social media guru’s best practices formula for online content that will increase followers, friends, and comments, think about the story you want to share and the conversations your customers actually want to have.

When building your social media content calendar, create and share content about your organization’s history, or the “why” behind some of your business decisions, or your organizational culture, your causes, or new product uses. Maybe it’s just to ask them what they think; you might be surprised at what you find out. If you’re scared of how your “fans” will react, you have problems that go beyond social media.

The Digiday piece struck a chord with so many because we’ve let our excitement for these channels overtake our better judgment. All is not lost—let’s not resign ourselves to a fate of leftover lo mein and crappy content. Let’s admit our faults, adjust our mindsets, and push forward.

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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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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I've fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn't because it was mandated  or because I beat it into them (I don't have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively. 

The "Follow Me" statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don't) or because they'll get fired if they don't (they won't), but because they believe it's the right way? 

That's one of the big things I'll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let's not fall into the same trap.
  • It's not about the technology, it's what the technology enables – Something I've said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don't get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients' goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don't try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it's the "next Facebook!" Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don't try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that's what you need to do to get promoted  or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks – If it's been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you're probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks, but don't be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I'll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks. 
  • Don't become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn't the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don't forget that you're a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – "In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court." Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let's not look for "established best practices" for our clients – let's create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don't identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one's ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person's handbook. 
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you're interested in something, I'll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I'll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I'll reply as fast I can.

I'm sure there are many more that I've forgotten here (if you've worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I'll learn along the way. I'm excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time.  Until then, I guess it's time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings 🙂

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Time for a Change

Eight years ago, I left my job(s) delivering pizza and operating a crane in a steel mill in West Virginia to become government consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. Consulting. For the government. I can honestly say this was something that never even entered into my mind while I was majoring in Public Relations at Bethany College, and here I was picking up and moving further away than anyone else in my family to do it. My plan was to move down to Northern Virginia for a few years, get some experience and then move back to Pittsburgh where I’d get a job in public relations.  This Wednesday, more than 3,000 days later, will be my last day at Booz Allen. This week I'll be moving to Chicago and then on March 19th, I'll be joining Cramer-Krasselt's PR team as a Vice President, Management Supervisor. 

My first day with Booz Allen was October 6, 2003. To give you some idea of how long ago that really was, consider this:

  • Facebook didn’t exist (it wouldn’t launch on Harvard’s campus for another five months)
  • The #1 song in the country was Beyonce’s Baby Boy
  • The #1 movie at the box office was School of Rock
  • The Red Sox defeated the Athletics in the playoffs and would go on to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series (the Aaron Boone game was 10 days away). In the National League, the Cubs and Marlins were about to play in the National League Championship (the Steve Bartman incident would happen on Oct. 14th)
  • The most popular TV shows at the time were NCIS, Two and a Half Men, Fear Factor, Chappelle’s Show, and Survivor.

Things never really work out according to plan, do they? What happened? For one, I never expected to still feel challenged after so long with one company; I never expected to have even half the opportunities that I’ve had here; I never expected to enjoy working hand in hand with our clients as much as I did; and most of all, I never expected to love working with the people here so much. Over the last four years especially, I felt as if I was at the tip of the spear when it came to things like social media policy (this blog and my Twitter account were the first transparent, employee-owned, external social media properties), Enterprise 2.0 (I created our now 6,000 member+ Yammer community more than three years ago), and Gov 2.0 (I was on the Programming Committee for the first Gov 2.0 Summit). It was exciting to be among the leaders in the burgeoning social media community in the DC area, and I had a lot of fun in these roles.  That’s one reason why I enjoyed working here so much – my proclivity for challenging and changing the status quo was encouraged and often rewarded.

Eight years at one place is an eternity anymore though, and over the last year or so, I found myself itching for a change and a new challenge. For a long time, I really enjoyed the role I was playing here, disrupting things that are being done “because that’s the way they’ve always been done,” and helping create new roles, processes and policies for my colleagues. However, as I've alluded to here before, being a change agent at the tip of the spear can be exhausting. I was spending just as much time, brainpower, and energy trying to make changes internally and take the organization new places as I was on the client delivery and marketing tasks that I was being paid to do.

You know how you feel when you feel when you’ve been dating someone for a really long time, but don’t want to get engaged because you're not ready to commit for the long-term? How you end up breaking up because you’re not ready to settle down yet?  That’s how I felt. I came to Booz Allen right out of college and have been there ever since. It was time for a change. It was time for me to move on to something new, something different, something that would help broaden my experience beyond the federal government and something that would strengthen my communications skills. It was time for me to experience something entirely different.

It's not without mixed feelings that I say goodbye though. At every step of the way over these eight years, no matter what crazy idea I had, there were always people supporting me and making me better. Sometimes that was my leadership giving me the top cover to take a risk (I wouldn't be where I am today without my mentors, Grant McLaughlin, Terry Mandable, and Jim Hickel). Other times, it was one of our Vice Presidents challenging my ideas and forcing me to back up my ideas with data instead of assumptions. It was people like Jacque Myers pulling me aside after a meeting to tell me very candidly that I was going too far and needed to pull it back a little. It was seeing people like Michael Dumlao, Tracy Johnson, Anna Gabbert, Don Jones, and Mike Robert help me not because they had to, but because they shared my vision and passion for social media and the potential it had to impact our business. Seeing them progress in their careers, get promoted, win awards and develop their own teams is one of the things I’m probably most proud of. I'm excited to see where they take social media after I'm gone. I can't wait to see how they develop their own teams and the next generation of leaders following in their footsteps – people like Margaret Lahey, Matt Allen, Colleen Gray, Amanda Sena, Emily Springer, Liz Helms, and so many others behind them.

I'm looking forward to my new job, employer, colleagues, clients, city, and of course, all of the new friends that I'll be meeting in Chicago. At the same time, I'm really going to miss DC and all of my friends and colleagues out here. Ultimately though, I'm think I'm most excited for the start of something new.  While I'm at C-K, I'll continue to blog here about social media, PR, advertising, and branding as well as my experiences in the PR industry – I hope you'll continue to read and engage with me here. 

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