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.

Enough with the Pokémon GO Hate Already!

Pokémon GO. It’s the app that’s taken the country by storm and sent masses of people running around trying to “catch ‘em all”. This had led to both some hilarious and Darwin-award worthy results. It’s also created a significant strain of haters, writing blogs and posts on various platforms strongly decrying this app as both stupid and dangerous. The fact is that there is an important discussion to be had here but all the hate against the hype is overshadowing it. The articles can be broken into two camps:

The first is a reaction to the game itself. Look. Pokémon GO is a game. It’s based on a ridiculous children’s show from the ‘90s and the subsequent craze that went along with it. The premise is simple- there are these creatures called Pokemon and you go around the fictional region as a “trainer” catching them. It’s not designed to be sophisticated.

So if you think it’s stupid- that’s fine. No one is claiming it’s anything other than a rather simple game. Those of us who enjoy playing it on our DS’s and other platforms do so because it’s fun and silly. Whether or not you enjoy it is a matter of your preference. there are plenty of popular games that I find to be ridiculous- Minecraft is one of them, Candy Crush another, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. It just means that it’s not my thing.

The second, however, is important because it’s a reaction to the app as the first widely used example of mobile Augmented Reality. For all of app’s warnings to stay aware of your surroundings the fact is that an AR app by it’s very nature nature requires us to be less aware. The information provided by an AR app is designed to supplement our surroundings and divide our attention from the physical reality. Other apps such as Blippar are working to become as widely used in the day-to-day. These apps present themselves as adding to our experience but they require that we look at the world through our phones.

As I wrote in a prior post, for an app to get widely used it has to be addictive. An addictive app (see Candy Crush) is one that we want to use all the time. So is it any wonder that these accidents are happening? While Candy Crush has led to some bizarre self-injuries , AR apps that encourage us to interact with our environment as we move raise the stakes considerably.

We need to talk about these negative consequences and put together a game-plan before it’s too late and other addiction AR apps arrive on the scene. Pokemon Go presents this opportunity but as long as you’re caught into the hate against the hype that’s what the conversation will center on. So let’s move on to the real conversation and leave people to hunt Charizard in peace.

Why Did Facebook & Twitter Succeed?

Facebook started in 2002, famously, in a dorm room. Twitter started in 2006 as a side project. As of 2015, Facebook has 1.5B Active Users and Twitter has 289M Active Users. Why did this happen? Why those networks? Why have they made it while so many others haven’t?

This was the rhetorical question I posed to my students a few weeks ago. We talk about “right place, right time” when it comes to the big two of social networks but there’s more to the story. It’s why Google+ as envisioned would have never become Facebook even if without the competition. It’s why we still don’t have a “Twitter killer” and why (as I’ll discuss in my follow-up post) Instagram is now the fastest growing social network.

What is a social network?

This may seem like a basic question but it’s important to start with this. A social network is NOT the platform. Rather it is the net of the connections and community that surrounds it. Success for a social network such as Facebook or Twitter stems from more than the need to attract users. They had to attract and/or build entire social networks to use and interact on their platforms.

The image is taken from a social network qualitative study done in the 1980s mapping out comparative strength of social network ties. Note the importance of kin and their inter-related nature. This was critical for Facebook.

The real value of Twitter and Facebook does not stem from the platform. It’s the people on the platform. Too often we get lost in the tech. Both Twitter and Facebook were started before the “app” hype. Both had clunky codes and Twitter even became known for the “fail whale” due to how often it appeared. The tech was essential but NOT sufficient- not even close.

Leading up to this course I asked my Facebook network the following question: “Why did you join Facebook/Twitter and why did you stay? Here’s a sample of what they said:

Note how well the reasons for joining Facebook maps onto the strong ties to the kin part of the social network image above. Also recall that Facebook started in the university community- a place designed to foster the rapid development of offline social networks. Twitter, by contrast, is a platform of purpose. It’s no coincidence that the “a-ha” moment sparking real Twitter adoption typically occurs around an event hashtag. This actually just occurred for two of my students through the #copa and #Eurocuphashtags. They had been struggling to get themselves into the platform and seeing the activity on those hashtags did the trick. This is a story I hear over and over.

Think about what your Twitter versus Facebook networks look like in terms of relationship source and depth. Need additional proof? Just think of what it means to unfollow versus unfriend.

So why does this matter? Sure it’s interesting from a geeky and intellectual perspective but as a marketer why should you care?

We need to understand the psychology of people acting within a social network and community in order to create strategies to get them to want to connect with our brand and share our branded content. This is why simply cross-posting content (as enticing as Hootsuite makes it) is a bad idea. That’s why your brand shouldn’t be on every platform. And, this is why, only a few social media apps can truly be called social networks (more about that in my next post).

Successful strategy is built based thinking through the psychology of the community. People will be attracted to and interact with your content depending on their reasons for being on that network. This impacts everything from content strategy to influencer marketing.

Here’s Why Your Mobile App Isn’t Taking Off

I’m writing this post because I’m tired of startups touting their apps as the next big thing and then being utterly shocked when they fail to takeoff. I’ll only say this once: It doesn’t matter how new and shiny your technology is and how excited it makes your VCs- the public has to decide that they want to use it for you to ACTUALLY get traction. So stop investing in big blow-out bashes and start investing in the basics of a social strategy and, in particular, community managers.

As we all know, the mobile application field is incredibly competitive and consumers do not mess around. The average consumer has 26 apps on their phone but mainly only uses 5. Also there’s zero tolerance for tech issues. In 2013, Compuware, found that 79 percent of users will discard an app if it fails to launch after 1 or 2 times. For an app start-up that can be absolutely disastrous. Sure your app may top the iTunes download list and get major publicity for that but if hardly anyone ever opens it after that that’s just a hollow number.

This happens over and over again. One recent example is Peach. It got massive buzz at CES 2016 with the typical “will this replace Twitter, Instagram, Facebook” headlines but within just a few days it was old news for the general populace. This is a great lesson-you can attract a few early adopter types but they tend to be very fickle and unless you harness them as influencers or knowledge sources they will likely be off to the next app to tout as the “next big thing”. Even if you do harness them you’ll still be left with a ghost town of a network which isn’t ultimately going to generate that coveted ad revenue you promised your VC’s you would be able to collect.

So what’s the secret? Clearly it’s not just in the build. There are a bunch of cool apps out there that just don’t get traction. For a non-app example think about Google+. It had users built in thanks to gmail accounts and people still didn’t utilize it. App adoption- social network or not- requires the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to solidify into actual use.

To get people to repeatedly use an app you need to have some type of offline trigger. The best way to do this is to get an entire community to become hooked. Facebook nailed this by activating entire universities and Twitter did it as well (albeit much more accidentally).

Here’s one idea- I call this the water-cooler effect and it goes like this:

  1. App developers do a soft-launch for a few early adopter-type people who, critically, are part of offline networks. They need to be active on several social networks, have a physical office that they go to and, ideally, a circle of friends outside of work. (Social strategists are basically stalkers and this info is easy to get) This is also a time to get feedback on usability- pay attention to this as it is critical. Remember, users will only try to open an app 1-2 times. Make sure that these people are majorly pumped about the app AND have a reason to want others to use it as well.
  2. When the app is ready for prime time let the beta testers know and make it a big online event. Get them super excited- even perhaps think of a way to gamify growing their circle of friends on the app. Because here’s the key- THEY are your offline ambassadors and gateway to adoption and retention of app use. It just takes one very simple question asked casually: “Have you downloaded this app yet?”followed up by “Here let me show you how it works” It’s that simple. Imagine what that would do say in NYC. I’m not going to go through the math here but even if you only got 10% of the people to spread the word you would get exponential growth.
  3. Community Management is critical to keep the momentum going. There WILL be rollout issues and features that people really want to see. Your Community Management team needs to be always on for those first few weeks to answer every question promptly and keep excitement growing in using the app. Invite users to give feedback, work with the internal team to adopt some of the ideas. Maybe there are 3 easy feature ideas you could put together in a week- why not put them up for a vote to see which ones the users want. This developers community and keeps users coming back for more.

Do you see the theme? It’s Community that makes your app succeed. This is a lesson that has been proven time and time again so please stop ignoring it. This is where your money needs to go. It’s a people campaign. Putting your logos everywhere doesn’t translate to retention! It’s the community that brings in the value and that’s what will make people continue to use your app. That’s what will get you that coveted revenue and make you more than a few day blip on TechCrunch.

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.

Being Human in 2016: A Year of Decision

Trying to predict trends in the New Year is a publishing tradition. With the rapidity of technological innovation,  these posts increasingly concern innovations in technology. This occurs both directly, such as WIRED’s “2016 Will Herald the End of Google (sort of)”, or indirectly, like Inc.’s “6 Predictions for the Most Disruptive Tech Trends”  and “The 5 Most Undercovered Marketing Trends for 2016” in Forbes.

But there are other trends in the world that dwarf the promises of emerging tech. Problems that can’t be solved by an algorithm or rich guy’s donation to “charitable purposes”.

There are certain points in human history that we look back at and see as pivotal turning points in our collective experience. These are years when politics, culture, economics, and technology come together to create an unstoppable force of transition around the world. One of the most recent such years was 1968. These years force change. They do not “disrupt”, nor can they be fixed through new apps. They come out of the fundamental aspects of our human nature and the way in which we relate to one another. Most importantly, they are moments of choice. We are headed towards such a moment.

Global inequality is the principle challenge of our time. On average in developed and developing countries, the poorest half of the of the population controls less than 10% of the wealth. This is not something that will be wished away by the Sharing Economy or fixed by a buy-one-give-one model. It is not something that Elon Musk can solve.

Worldwide population displacement is at an all-time high. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” This is not a tenable situation, particularly as it coincides with domestic calls to raise borders trapping these refugees in horrific situations such as the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. There is no crowdfunding this problem away.

In the midst of these issues, the threat of global terrorism and conflict loom. There are enough articles out there so I won’t go into everything here. But suffice it to say, when taken together in a single equation, we are facing a crisis — one in which technology, for all of its shiny promises, can only play a minor role in solving. These are human problems that require human solutions. 

These solutions do not come cheap. Nor are they likely to create opportunities to be the next big unicorn. They will not revolve around the creation of a new economic paradigm. Rather they will be focused on empathy. Remembering that hard work had nothing to do with where we were born and the opportunities that it afforded us. Remembering that no matter how bad things are there is always someone worse off than you. Empathy does not need to be blind. But it does require taking the time to listen, to learn, to understand, and at times simply providing a shoulder to cry on. Technology can assist in the creation of solutions but, to be effective, our ultimate goal must be helping others, not turning a profit.

My 2016 prediction is that this year will be simultaneously one of exciting innovation and deepening inequality. I challenge all of us to not turn a blind eye to the world’s problems. We live in an increasingly connected age with access to myriad sources of information. 

Let’s make 2016 the year of empathy. 



Your Group Might Not Be a Community and Here’s Why

This is the first in a multi-part series I’m putting together around the concept of Community within social media.

Community is a term that gets thrown around constantly within the social media space. Typically I find that it’s used to express the basic value of an investment of resources in an online social network. When we think about it, community is at the heart of any social media strategy which is why terms such as “Influencer” and “Advocate” matter so much. The power of social media marketing lies ultimately in the ability to transmit large scale messages in ways that seem personal and authentic. The recipients of those messages are labeled one’s “community”. That’s why we call individuals who maintain our social channels “community” managers rather than social media managers.

Where did this come from? I think that as marketers began to realize the revolutionary power of social networks they grasped for a term to describe this new way of perceiving the customer base and “Community” seemed to fit. On the one hand, I believe that the introduction of this term was a boon to social strategy because it made certain that there was a continued recognition of the human-relationship element within our strategy. It has also allowed for the introduction of social science theories into the world of business and marketing (which is actually how I ended up in this space–but that’s a story for another time).

But on the other hand, there’s a highly problematic side to the widespread adoption of the term “Community”, particularly when it comes to the job title of community manager. Simply posting social media messages and responding to posts does not create a community. A community taken in that sense is superficial at best and artificial at worst. No one can actually “create” a community. The power of a community comes in the form of a social network. To harness the power of a community, it must already exist in some shape or form and this is why every social strategy must begin with extensive research and listening. There must be a reason for a community to exist and it cannot simply be because a brand decided to start tweeting.

Community is a concept as old as human society and refers to a segment of individuals possessing some type of unifying characteristic, such as proximity, norms, interests, or heritage. Communities endure and are seen as greater than the sum of their parts. If they are broken, it is a traumatic. Groups, by contrast, can be loose-knit and a function of a time and place.

Social media of course has loosened up some of these concepts and shifted our conception of what relationships look like. For example, I have yet to meet in person some of the individuals I consider close friends. But even though they some aspects have shifted, there are still sociological and psychological roots to the formation of a community. And if those roots don’t exist then no amount of managing will make them appear.

It’s essential to define what is and what is not a community because it ultimately effects what a social strategy can accomplish. A loose-knit group that shares common interest space with a brand can be powerful in its own right. In fact, I believe that many of the online “communities” out there built around brands should by all rights be called groups. Groups can make social posts go viral, engage in lively discussion, and follow a brand on multiple social channels. Communities, however, are where relationships are formed and trust is built. They are where the real potential of social networks lie and, as I’ll discuss in part 2, why few organizations have yet to harness it.

Stay tuned for my next post which will discuss how a community gets built out of a group.