Rediscovering my voice

I took the latter half of 2017 off from blogging. Not because I didn’t want to write- quite the opposite. It’s that I couldn’t figure out how to communicate what I wanted to say through the persona that I’ve created for myself. I’ve felt fundamentally stuck.

And I don’t think I’m alone nor that it’s just a function of social media. The 2016 election and 2017 fall out has ruptured the pseudo-belief that we could (and should) have a separation between our work selves and “personal” [read: political] selves . (Others went further and said that there IS no separation- most notably the google-glassholes and brogrammers.)

We created empty personas for ourselves- using motivational quotes and stories as substitutes for actual authenticity. The rise of livestreaming led to an additional level of pseudo-transparency. “Look”, the self-proclaimed motivational speaker states, “This is what my day-to-day live looks like. If I can do it, so can you!” And yes they get followers and build up fan bases- because that’s what we do as humans- we look for opportunities to connect particularly with charismatic individuals.

So this new breed of thought-leader/motivational speaker began to write books and get speaking gigs, all coining their various branded hashtags and “communities”. And we let them do it- in fact we supported them.

But did you ever take a moment to look at them? I mean really look at them? Notice any similarities?

Yep.

But we couldn’t talk about it. Just like we couldn’t talk about the fact that “diversity panels” tended to be led by men or the fact that a celebration of women in leadership turned into a carefully cordoned off “women’s lunch”- where men feared to tread.

The BIG no-no was calling out the lack of diversity in speaker line-ups and influencer lists. “Women just aren’t interested” was the line. Heaven-forbid there be any type of systematic bias.

But there was. And there is.

I could go on and on but I won’t- there are already some excellent articles documenting the barriers women and minorities face in the “thought leadership field”.

My point is that these are the issues I didn’t know how to raise on social and my blog. Like women in other industries have written, I too worried that I’d be labeled as “difficult to work with” which could be a death knell to advancement in our very relationship-based industry.

So I set up guardrails. My Twitter account and blog would be for social media and marketing related content. On Facebook I used lists to limit visibility to posts containing personal opinions to non-work contacts. Over the years I made two exceptions: Ferguson (during which I lost a lot of Twitter followers due to my retweets) and marriage equality. But when you look at the blog posts I wrote about both (here and here) you can see how I threaded the needle.

Then Trump got elected and everything changed. Really it had been building up over the summer of 2016. That’s when many of my marketing “friends” wrote posts on Facebook saying that they were unfollowing (in some cases unfriending) anyone talking about politics or the election. (I had quite the blog post written about that on my phone which I never posted.)

It hit me how much I let others dictate what I talked about and how I talked about it. It also struck me that I was enabling this to continue by teaching others how to selectively wall off the parts of themselves that might make others uncomfortable in the creation of their own “pseudo” personal brands.

I came to realize that I’ve long operated according to the rules of another’s dream: to have a space free from uncomfortable personal issues- such as gender, race, culture, politics, immigration status, maternity/paternity, age- all of those things that startups allude to when their “well we didn’t have HR excuse”.

I don’t exactly know where I go on to from here. I don’t quite have a strategy- which for me is rather disconcerting. But I do know that I do others a disservice by not sharing my truth and by failing to speak up.  Let me be clear- speaking up does not have to mean shouting or condemning. Rather it is adding an additional point of view to the conversation and insisting that it get equal treatment.

This, then, is what I’m going to be devoting 2018 on this blog to. I’ll be discussing how we have conversations with each other online and offline. How we ensure that all voices are brought equally into the conversation. If that’s something that you’re interested in as well then I invite you to follow along and share your thoughts.

And finally a special thanks to my community who has stood alongside me since this blog’s beginning back in 2013. This blog has always been a place for me to try to put the various pieces of my reality together and pull together what that means for me as a professional. This is where with your support I believe I first came into my own as a social strategist. It seems fitting that this is where I take the first stab at articulating my next steps.

If you enjoyed the POV of this post then definitely stay tuned….

Day 2: When it’s a bit too personal

It’s important to realize that while sharing secrets to a faceless screen might seem easier, the real-life consequences are still the same as they always have been. In fact in our super-google-powered world, these consequences have never been higher.

I often think about how terrifying it must be to be a teenager in this digital world. I was bullied so badly that my parents moved me to a different school for 8th grade. That move brought instant relief and I started anew as a totally different person. I remember how terrified I was when the following year in high school a girl from my original middle school showed up. I was sure that she was going to blow my entire cover and somehow get all my new friends to turn against me. Of course she didn’t and everything was fine. But I remember those moments of pure terror- a feeling like my escape had been a cruel dream. That I was destined to be bullied forever. Trust me- it’s a horribly dark place to be.

I can’t imagine what it’s like now- where school communities must bleed into others. Escape for the bullied takes much more than moving districts. There’s no ability to hide. No anonymity. It was this experience that led me to write this blog post a few years ago when some geniuses decided to make a burnbook app (yes it was as bad as it sounds). Eliminating privacy is not the same as “authenticity” regardless of how many misguided posts out there on personal branding proclaim the contrary. We do not live in an episode of Black Mirror.

Being “authentic” online is not about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s not about erasing the barrier between the personal and the public. Rather it’s about figuring out how you want to present yourself online in a way that is consistent with your offline persona. Your online personal brand should support who you are offline not undermine it. And remember- we all show different facets of ourselves to different groups of people. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Just remember that anything that goes online should be the lowest common denominator as far as what you’re willing to personally share. Because even if you have privacy settings in place all it takes is one ill-willed screenshot and your private views become very publicly shared.

That’s the point of a personal brand. You put out there what works for you. You figure out how to be authentically you- and no one can tell you how to do that but you.  I encourage you to sit down with a glass of wine, some soft music on and a sheet of paper. Start writing and see what comes out. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Then think about what type of content goes along with that persona and give it a whirl.

Honestly if you’re thinking of spending money on creating a personal brand you might consider spending some of that into a good therapist as opposed to a marketing professional (and I speak as one!). Because helping you to think through your personal narrative is something that they are uniquely suited to. And you might learn a lot about yourself in the process!

Like yesterday’s post, this is the point where I’d probably want to go back through an add some more links, perhaps do some editing to make it flow better. BUT I’m resisting the urge- so I apologize that it’s a bit stream of consciousness 🙂 

Personal Branding Is Much More Than Self-Marketing

I hate the term personal branding. It’s one of those catchphrases that by now has been written about ad infinitum. Much of what’s out there tends to carry the same message- to the point that there’s even a wikipedia article on it. Personal branding is equated with the term “self-packaging” with the goal of marketing yourself along the lines of a company with the goal of furthering your career.

This definition is a major turn-off for many people- myself included. It’s rather ironic. Most of these articles begin with some form of argument about how you ignore your personal brand at your peril and yet the definition of a personal brand is incredibly narrow and appealing to only a certain subset of personality types.

But they do get one thing right: You do ignore personal branding at your own peril. The information is already out there and anyone who googles you will make a set of assumptions based on the information available. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t care about this- you absolutely do. Think about your personal brand as an extension of your offline personality. We all spend considerable time and money presenting ourselves in the most favorable light from fashion choice to speech pattern to what we reveal about ourselves in different situations. Personal branding doesn’t have to be about sales or trying to get ahead in your career. It can be as simple as making sure that your online footprint is consistent with your offline.

That being said, the quest to discover your personal brand can also be an opportunity to think through who you are as a person. In our fast-paced and career-centric world this often gets overlooked.

Here’s the exercise I use for my Social Media and the Brand Course:

During this course, I have my students work on a semester-long personal branding project. The goal is to hep them put together and implement an online extension of their offline personality and then experiment with how to engage with others around this personality. They choose a single platform that they can easily monitor through analytics- Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.

I give them the following guidelines:

  • Be authentic: People can always spot someone trying to be something they’re not
  • Don’t overshare: Set boundaries just like you do with your offline circles.
  • Be mindful of your audience: Prospective employers & VCs will see this. Humanizing yourself is great. Being off-putting is not.
  • Have fun: It shouldn’t be a chore to post content

I then have them go through two group activities. To encourage conversation I switch up the groups between each exercise. We also come together as a class between each exercise to hear what each person came up with and offer feedback.

First activity: Talk about ideas for your personal brand. Who are you? What do you want others to know about you. Put this into 140 characters.

Second activity: What platform are you going to use for your project and why? What type of content can you share to introduce yourself to others and communicate your personal brand?

They then have a set of 4 milestones during the project:

  • Introductory paragraph: Taking what they discussed in class and coming up with an overview- the platform they’re going to use and why, the type of content they want to share, any additional ideas they have.
  • 1 Page Strategy Document: A more formalized document going over what success looks like for this project. This includes their goals and how they anticipate accomplishing them. (note: they are not graded on achieving these goals- rather the insights the draw from working towards them)
  • Weekly Check-in document: They turn-in 3 screenshots of content created the past week and 2 insights they can draw from how the content performed. This encourages further self-reflection.
  • Final Report: This is where they look at their initial strategy and draw insights from the overall project. I also ask them to think about the next steps for their brand. This can be anything from starting a blog, working on another platform, applying what they’ve learned to their start-up accounts, etc.

My goal for this project is to help my students establish connections between their offline and online personalities. I also want to empower them to get used to posting content on their accounts according to a set strategy to get that personality to come through. This is an opportunity for them to find online communities that they can tap into and engage with.

Personal Branding is important. As I’ve written elsewhere– it’s an insurance policy and one that’s come to my aid more than once. BUT it’s about far more than self-marketing or humble bragging. It’s figuring out who you are and translating that online to engage with others. After all, that’s how genuine relationships are actually built and those are the ones that will come to your aid as you work to advance in the future.

Personal Branding- Your Insurance Policy When Life Gets Tough

I stood in front of my students a few weeks ago to talk to them about creating their personal brand strategy. This is a semester-long project I’m having them do. It was a bit emotional for me given that just a few days previously my full time position had been downgraded to contractor work and I’ve found myself suddenly in the position of turning back to my personal brand to get me to the next step in my life.

It’s made me reflect on how it all began…

We talk a lot about personal branding in the marketing world. Some people really dig the opportunity to talk about how great they are but that’s never been my thing. I’m most comfortable being the geek behind the scenes who makes it all come together. I love empowering others and building communities. I don’t relish the spotlight.

BUT it is no longer enough to send in a resume and hope someone will notice. That’s particularly the case with my background. I’m not the person with a marketing degree and 6-8 years experience working with brands and agencies. I’m the grad student who spent time in Belgrade talking with nationalists to understand what made them tick. I’m the girl passionate about understanding why communities come together and what internal psychology fuels that sense of group identity.

And I’m the PhD student who stumbled into social strategy by accidentally leading a grass-roots revolution at the University of Virginia to reinstate their first female president.

My first job in social strategy was at UVA while still a grad student because they figured it was better to bring me into the process rather than have me outside at the gates. That ended up being my out once my advisors made it clear that my research on public opinion and social media just wasn’t going to be supported (that was 2012… have a feeling they’d be singing a different tune now)

January 2013 I knew that I needed to leave and get into the private sector if I wanted to continue to follow my passion of harnessing social analytics to understand how individuals participate in communities. So that’s when I started my blog, ramped up my Twitter and Linkedin accounts and got rolling.

That’s how my personal brand was born. Out of crisis and out of necessity.

It was this that I worked to communicate to my students, particularly those currently working or leading start-ups. Your personal brand should be something that you can use in your job BUT it should be more than your job. It’s your opportunity to think about what makes you YOU. What makes you unique?

I broke them into groups and it was probably a class more akin to psychology than marketing as they talked with each other about who they are as a person and then shared that to the class. We learned that one student is a single mom another a veteran. One guy spoke up with a lopsided grin and said that there was nothing that made him unique and that he was in fact rather stupid and easily distracted but he said it in a way that made the whole class laugh. We encouraged him to run with that- and by the end of the class he had begun to think about how he could actually leverage that bit of him into a full strategy.

That’s what personal branding should be. It’s not about the humble brag. It’s about introducing yourself and entering different communities to share your story and engage with theirs. As humans we want to build relationships and we want to help each other. Creating a personal brand allows that human attribute to translate online. It’s why we embrace each other when we meet IRL. We know each other and are rooting for each other. That’s the power of the personal brand.

I’m Suzie. I’m the girl with the red hair. I’m quirky and caring. I am at my best when I’m building and creating new opportunities for engagement. I work to translate this passion and personality online through my blogs, engagement in groups, and participation in conversations. It’s honestly who I am.

I’m Suzie. I’m a kick-ass strategist and I’m on the market. Tweet, DM, InMail me- let’s talk.

Why I’m a Social Strategist (and it has nothing to do with social media)

“So what do you do?” It’s a question that I’ve learned to dread outside of the marketing world.

How do you explain the role of social strategist to a cabbie who is trying to make polite conversation or to a great aunt who barely knows what Facebook does? “Oh, so you post stuff on Twitter?” is hardly the response you want to get particularly when, let’s be honest here, the “What do you do” question is the opportunity to do some humble bragging. My current go-to is “I advise brands on the type of stuff they should post on Facebook and Twitter. You know the Super Bowl? Yeah stuff like that.” And then I change the subject.

Okay so it’s not really important that a cabbie understands what I do. But it does get a bit frustrating when it comes to family and friends. And I know I’m not alone. Get a group of Community Managers and Social Strategists together and within a few minutes we start to commiserate. Because here’s the thing. We do way more than work on social media. Sure that’s what you tend to see but for most of us what draws us to this career runs far deeper.
And that’s what you want to share in response to the “So what do you do?” question.
Social strategists are equal parts dreamers and doers. We’re best utilized in roles that intersect at the center of marketing and creative design. Often we’re the bridge between the two. That’s because our jobs require a blend of the two. It’s all too easy to loose this when the main output you see is various analytic reports but look closer and you’ll find that every social strategist has a strong creative streak. That’s why the unexecuted or failed social strategy hurts so much. It’s like a commissioned painting that was never finished.
My passion for social strategy is rooted in the joy of building- particularly communities. I firmly believe that there is more that can unit us than divide us. I look for individuals who are interested in learning, doing, or contributing more and find ways to build communities to empower them because we can do more together than divided. “Wait,” you’re probably saying, “aren’t you a marketer? This sounds like some airy fairy idealistic crazy talk.”
The way that I see it, any opportunity to demonstrate the power of community and our commonalities is a win. Anything I build that focuses on facilitating conversations between individuals who might not otherwise interact further ignites my passion. That’s why I do what I do.
Take a minute to look back through this post. You’ll notice that with the exception of the first paragraph I haven’t mentioned social media once. That’s because being a social strategist is about far more than those platforms. And that’s why I get a strange twitch in my eye when I have to use those mediums to try to define what I do.
Now I do have an ulterior motive for writing this post and that’s a call to action to make use of the full potential of your friendly social strategist. Sure we can answer your social media questions, manage your accounts and write blog posts.
But if you take a step backwards and let us into your wider content strategy and vision we can do so much more.

My Social “Secret Sauce”

As a Social Strategist I do a lot of work with clients on building up their brands and executing various types of initiatives and relationship-building. But, as a lot of you know, I also spend a good bit of time building up my own “personal brand”. Now before I go any further let me make it clear that this post is not designed to be a “How to Build Your Personal Brand” post. If I was going to do one of those it would be super short: “Your online persona should be an authentic representation of your offline self.” *mic drop*

The way that I go about building my personal brand may not be how you should do it. A blog, for example, might not be the best fit for you. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be authentic with others. My goal with this post is to talk about how I’ve gone about creating my own personal brand and, specifically, the tools and metrics I look at to figure out how to make sure I’m engaging rather than broadcasting.

Let’s start off with a story. A lot of social strategists don’t have a large following. That’s because we tend to be super focused on the brands that we work with which doesn’t leave much time to work on our own. In February of this year I had 1,500 followers and a Klout score of 63 (I’ll be mentioning Klout not because it’s the end all be all -I don’t think it has any bearing on Influencer metrics- BUT it is a marker for our industry so, in my opinion, for personal branding it does hold, well, clout). 

Over the past few months I’d been gently encouraged by my mentor and boss Bryan Kramer to spend time on my own brand. I was at Interconnect mid-February, listening to Brian Fanzo giving his first Ignite talk, when something just clicked and I decided that in the future I wanted to be up there. Overall there’s a total dearth of women within the social strategy space- we tend to be behind the scenes- and I want to change that.

Here’s where I feel like I can be helpful to some of you out there. When I’m co-hosting #H2HChat I tend to see the same question pop up from the audience “How can I become an Influencer?”. I’d like to gently say that that’s the wrong question to ask. It’s like being a leader. No one goes out and says “I’m a leader and now you will all follow me” at least unless they’re in a Totalitarian regime. You’re a leader when others begin to call you one. And you have to give them a reason to do so. The same thing goes for being an Influencer. People can tell if you’re faking it.

Back to my story. Between March 1 and July 1, my follower count grew to 11K and Klout score to 77 and I can honestly say that it all comes from being authentic, listening and engaging with my community. I’m constantly testing different types of posts and monitoring engagement. I also look at which communities tend to follow me back when I follow them.

Here are the 3 primary tools I use to accomplish this:

Buffer

I decided to invest in Buffer’s basic account because it’s a terrific way to 1. find interesting content; 2: easily monitor the types of content my community engages with; 3. repost that content. I use the “suggested content” sparingly but there are absolutely some pieces that I’ve discovered and that my community loves. I’m a big fan of their RSS feed feature. Among my feeds are Adweek, Mashable, FastCompany and, of course, Bryan Kramer’s blog. I try to make sure I’m mixing up my content and I always try to include an image. Occasionally I’ll change up images on a post if it doesn’t do as well as I thought it would to see if that helps. Recently I’ve been testing out some humorous images.

Twitter Analytics

A seriously underutilized tool. I wrote a whole blog post about it here so I won’t go on about it too much. In particular I look at the ratio of impressions to tweets for each day. I also scroll down the tweets and see rate of engagement. This gives me an indicator of what’s doing well and what isn’t. I also use Twitter’s analysis of my audience to decide the type of content to post. For example, my audience is as interested in Technology as in Marketing. Once I found this out I made sure to include some content about interesting inventions every now and again.

ManageFlitter

This is the other tool that I’ve invested in. It’s $12/month and a great way to find followers. Often these tools can get abused for mass follow/unfollowing but ManageFlitter let’s me tailor my searches to very specific audiences that I think will be interested in my content. My favorite feature is the Power Tool. When you’re trying to increase your following, which in the age of vanity metrics is something we do all think about, work on doing so in a targeted an authentic way. I’ve gone so far as to force unfollow any spam accounts that follow me because I want to make sure that my community is genuine.

And that’s it folks. Those three tools empower my social secret sauce. I’d love to say that I use more and I absolutely do at times but these are the ones that I use daily to check-in with my audience and make sure that what I’m sharing and how I’m communicating is of value to my community.

What do you use for your personal branding? Tweet me @suzimcc – I’d love to hear them 🙂