Day 0: So I was thinking…

It’s how all good announcements begin right? And the listener of course knows that, much as the speaker claims to the contrary, what they are listening to is in fact a well-formulated and thought out plan- not something that they were just thinking about.

Except in this case.  I literally woke up and started typing this post. Actually it started as a Facebook post but then I realized that rather than talk about this idea I wanted to actually DO it so it’s now an official Day 0 blog post announcing–>

I’m going to be publishing a daily blog post throughout the month of July.

I’ve never done anything like this before but I REALLY need to get back into writing and, knowing myself, the only way that’s going to happen is if I make myself do it daily AND involve my community.

I have no idea what I’ll write all 31 posts about- and that’s part of the reason I want to do this. As a strategist and recovering academic I think about what I write ad infinitum. But I’ve found that my best performing posts are always those that I put together in 30 minutes because they come from the heart.

I’ve been out of touch with that side of me for nearly a year and it shows. I’m frustrated. So VERY frustrated. I don’t want to blog when I’m like this because I want to create posts that are well put together- but the fact is I am a creature of passion. I FEEL social strategy- that’s why I’m good at it. My first foray into social strategy came when I built the online movement to reinstate UVA President Theresa Sullivan back in 2012. That translated into my first social strategy position working with UVA’s development team to try to understand what their alums wanted from them on social media.

The attraction of social media for me is not the tech part nor the marketing potential. It’s the ability to unify people online into into action offline. It’s inspiring each other to do bigger and better. It’s about taking risks. It’s about helping each other. I dealt with depression and social anxiety when I was an undergrad and I know that college would have been much scarier if I hadn’t been able to feel a semblance of belonging via Facebook.

I post on various social platforms because it’s where I interact with my community. So consider the next 31 blog posts an extension of that: I’m going to be sharing with you the backstory of the Girl with the Red Hair, about why I do what I do how it all came to be and what’s coming next. 

You can also expect to get an assortment of cat stories, complaints about the humidity in NYC in the summer, stories about teaching and no doubt the occasional rant. Warning: There will be little proof reading involved because the point is to write- not to strategize- not to edit. This is me. Unfiltered. Well mostly unfiltered- some secrets are good in any relationship 😉
Interested?
Well then I’ll see you tomorrow….
(and if you’re not interested well… sorry about that- but this is happening so… not really sure what to tell ya.)

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.

Our Shared Rainbow Moment

Only a few days in my life can compare to the feelings of pure joy and solidarity that I felt on June 26, 2015. It’s one of those markers that I believe is going to go down in history as collective memory- a “what were you doing when you heard” moment in time that we share with each other in years to come. Events such as those make us want to come together as humans- introverts and extraverts alike- to be with each other. Sharing those moments with others is a major part of the experience and we see spontaneous congregation in city centers to be with each other. Everyone wants to be a part of it.

On June 26th we saw the way that Facebook and Twitter in particular have become virtual city centers. Within minutes of the announcement profile photos across the social space were redone in various shades of rainbow. Tons of Brands joined in with, in my opinion, no real visible marketing strategy, rather they seemed to be motivated feeling that they should be a part of this momentous occasion. (A H2H moment!) And while Facebook didn’t change their logo they launched the “Celebrate Pride Tool” to create a rainbow filter of your profile picture. By the end of the day my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of rainbows. A visual testament to our unity at a momentous time in history.

What does this mean? Probably not much in the long run. A bitter election campaign is right around the corner. Our profiles and feeds will be full of various opinions and divisions. Statistically unfollowing and de friending WILL occur. But let’s remember this moment. The field of rainbows- each an individual decision to create. Each representing a moment when we made a very human decision- to stand up and be counted and unite our voices together in celebration of equality.

Yes I’m waxing eloquent and no I don’t care. Blame it on the rainbow.

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In Defense of 140 Characters

Twitter’s 140 character limit occurred because they envisioned it to be a SMS-centric network. SMS messages allow for 160 characters so 140 characters leaves 20 characters for a username. witter’s decision has had a transformative impact on human communication. In addition to ushering in the hashtag Twitter brought us into the world of abbreviations. Informal abbreviations came into being with SMS and AIM but before Twitter it was highly doubtful that you’d see an elected official publicly using those abbreviations.

Many lament this as a massacre of the English language. A few years ago I sat on a committee at a prominent University during which an administrator blamed Twitter for increasing poor writing skills (newsflash- that has more to do with cuts in funding).

But as someone who has always had a passing relationship with spelling (thank you LA public schools!) and a creative approach to grammar I don’t see the problem. Someone who is going to write well will always write well. A social media platform isn’t going to change that.

And I’ll go a step further. The 140 character limit makes us think before we speak or type. This is an important exercise and one with which I have always struggled. I had a professor for my Russian Politics class who made us write a paper on the rise of Stalin using 5 sources limited to one page, single spaced 12pt times new roman with 1 in margins. Every sentence that went over a page would drop out grade by one letter. This was one of the most frustrating and most rewarding exercises I did. It forced me to deliberately examine the need for each word and quote I used. Before then I had never realized how much filler I threw into my papers. I found that when I stripped the filler from my writing my argument became tighter and more reasoned.

This goes against the grain of free-flow communication. But let’s pull back and think about the best conversations that you have. A good conversation is a dialogue and when it’s really good it often involves talking at the same time. In other words- engaging each other.

I believe that the 140-character limit facilitates this. It forces us to open ourselves up to conversation and tweets asking “what do you mean?”. That’s a phrase you seldom see on Facebook. Rather those conversations tend to be an exchange of opinions and on average I find that conversations on Facebook tend to be less back and forth and more broadcasting. Of course there are many differences between Facebook and Twitter that could be the cause of this difference-chief among which is the difference in friends versus following/followers dynamic. But I believe that there is a correlation that should be taken into consideration.

All of this being said, adding a few characters to Twitter most likely wouldn’t change this dynamic. But my question is why bother? Let Twitter be a place for rapid-fire conversations shaped by the necessity of abbreviations and creative spelling. Don’t try to fit an entire thought into one tweet. Embrace the chaos.

Twitter is not Facebook and for that I’m very thankful.

How to Beat Rush Hour Through Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing-a word that vies with “Engagement” for being the most overused and abused term in social media. In the case of Waze, however, the term is dead on.  Waze is a “community-based traffic and navigation app” available on both the Android and iOS operating systems that utilizes crowdsourcing technology to “outsmart traffic.” Simply open the app while you are driving and Waze will do the rest. Your car will appear as a little animated icon showing your average speed. You also have the option to update your fellow drivers on road conditions- everything from construction to a speed trap.

Waze also has a “community-edited maps” option.  When I first heard about this option, I must admit to a significant degree of skepticism. So many crowdsourcing apps have great ideas that just don’t catch on and the map-editing option seemed a bit too complex. Often the main issue is the lack of an offline component to allow individuals to meet face-to-face.  Turns out that Waze realized this as well! They host a series of “meet-ups” to introduce the map-editing tools to noobs and give updates to veterans. Their results seem to speak for themselves. In 2012 they had 500 million map editors. Think of this as the map version of Wikipedia.

The difficulty with crowdsourcing apps is that they don’t work unless you build a large enough community that the data is consistently being updated. Just as Wikipedia is reliant on niche experts for quality control, Waze depends on getting a significant mass of users in a given community to utilize their App.  For Waze to work, users have to be willing to keep it open and not use other applications to get them to work. To this end, Waze also integrates the gas buddy technology to provide users the option of updating gas prices in their neighborhood. They have also put together a voice turn by turn navigation system to keep users from turning to Google or Apple. These are big competitors to take on. But Waze has played their cards wisely. Rather than marketing themselves as a superior technology-which let’s be honest, they aren’t- they market the community atmosphere. They sell an idea of community togetherness. In addition to the utility of their app, they have an instant messaging service and provide the option of connecting users via Facebook.

Waze is a great case study of the importance of community-building and outreach and how to utilize social media to do so. But it is also yet another example of the difficult in pinning a value on such a company. Arguably, a huge amount of the value of Waze stems from the relationship it has built with its users. It is not at all clear how much of that value actually translates to monetization as a recent buyout attempt by Apple demonstrated. Bottom line: this is a company to keep an eye on!

For more info check out their adorable video here:

Dealing with Troll Trouble

A few weeks ago I was on the sidelines of a conversation on Twitter between social media strategist @DrDigiPol and other users on how to deal with Trolls. Just so we are all on the same page, “Troll” is internet slang for “someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Initially dealing with Trolls was the purview of the forum moderator. However, as the Internet becomes more and more geared towards group discussion, dealing with Trolls is something that anyone who engages in such a discussion can be susceptible to. In many corners of the internet the advice is non-engagement. Yet with the rise of Twitter in particular, some within the social media community, such as @DrDigiPol, advocate a policy of strategic engagement with Trolls. When I asked him to elaborate, he said that he knew that his engagement with the Troll was in the context of speaking to the larger community. It was important, he said, to bring their comments out into the light of day. Engaging with trolls, therefore, can be part of the community discourse. This suggests that moderators should trust that the larger community will react in a moderate fashion themselves to the Troll and for many I believe that that is quite a radical thought. 

The legacy of the Wild West of the 1990s and early 2000s forum culture still casts a pall over the way that some people view online engagement. Many organizations in particular fear what will happen if they create a means for members of the public to engage with them. Of course part of that comes from the need to shift marketing mentalities from a monologue to a dialogue. But there is also a need to recognize that the internet is a very different place in 2013, the era of social networking sites, than it was in 2000, the era of internet chat rooms. As the table below  demonstrates, not only do more adults now utilize the internet (47% in 2000 versus 78% in 2011), the demographic composition of those users has also evened out quite a bit.

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A similar trend has occurred in forum/social network use. In 2000, Pew found a stark generational gap among those who took part in chat rooms: 53% of 18-24 year olds had gone on chat rooms and 8% did so daily whereas only 14% of users over the age of 50 had ever gone on a chat room and less than 3% did so daily. By contrast, as the table below shows, while the younger demographic still participates to a greater degree in social networks, even the 65+ demographic has a 32% usage rate.  Internet use and more importantly, the directly social aspects of the internet, are now much more representative of the offline population. This means that more and more online communities have the potential to resemble off-line communities which is good news for community-building and engagement. The logic is simple: the ratio of extremists to moderates tends to resemble a bell-curve in society. So it follows that as more and more members of society across demographics engage in an online community, moderates will outnumber extremists. (Of course the logic inherent is that this is for a neutral type of group. If you build something that caters to extremists-some of the Reddit forums for example, then of course extremists will outweigh moderates.) 

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Moreover, if the online community resembles the offline community then there is a strong chance that you already intuitively know how to “strategically engage” with those who create discord. I want you to think about the last public meeting you went to-home owner’s association, Student council, School Board, City council, etc. Think of all of the personalities involved. I’m sure there was conflict and there is always that person there for who takes his or her role way too seriously. I bet there was also some heated debate. Perhaps some hurtful things were said. I’m also sure that if you attend those meeting regularly you know that certain discussions are more profitable than others. You also know what type of rhetoric to use if you want to calm the situation down versus if you are simply mad and want to let people know. Think about what the chairperson does to make the meeting productive. There are times that he or she engages- asking further question or allowing discussion and there are time that he or she decides to move on.

I could go on and on but my point is that all of us are conditioned to understand the nuance of these types of forums. We know the importance of dialogue, we know that things become heated, and we also can often sense when someone is simply out of control and should be instructed to cool down. Most importantly, we know that often heated debates can prove the most insightful in terms of discussion. 

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

Why Your 2,000 “Likes” Don’t Mean Squat

Social media allows an organization to build a community that it can then leverage to accomplish its goals. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer new ways to directly engage with your target audience. The million dollar question, however, is how to efficiently leverage them. Everyone has a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Depending on the organization they often have many “followers” and “likes”. They may actively solicit this as well. If you are on LinkedIn you have probably seen posts saying “follow me on Twitter” or “like my organization’s Facebook Page.”
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But beyond bragging rights these numbers in and of themselves mean diddly-squat. What matters is your rate of engagement. How often do followers “retweet” or respond to your posts? Similarly how often do you get replies or “likes” to your Facebook posts? Also important to both is the percentage of your followers and “likes” who are engaging. For example, If you have 2,000 “likes” but the same 10 people are the only ones engaging then your actual community is much smaller than your may think. In order to effectively utilize social media in your organization you must actively work on building your community and then maintaining it. 

Every organization must have a clearly articulated social media strategy in order to effectively utilize Facebook and Twitter. For small organizations this seems like a daunting task. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to afford a separate social media strategist, indeed, often they don’t even have a communications officer. But this is actually all the more reason for a clear strategy. The initial strategy is the lynchpin to successful subsequent social media use. The goal of the strategy, moreover, is to make sure that your social media use is as efficient as possible. Whether you are starting up a social media campaign or already have a Facebook Page and/or Twitter account it will be worth your time to spend times going through the following steps:

First you will need to create a community-building strategy: 

  • Niche: What will you offer? Why should people engage in your site?
    • Specialized news? Connections? 
  • Goal: Why do you want to build this community? 
    • Branding? Outreach? Event attendance? Fundraising? Activism? 
  • Target Audience: Who do you want to attract?
    • Women? Alumni? Americans? Minorities? 20-somethings?

Second, you will need to articulate a community maintenance strategy. Remember- there is a reason that someone decided to “like” your page or “follow” you. You have piqued their interest for some reason. But in our fast-paced world this interest is going to ebb unless you begin to engage them. This is something that the 2012 Obama campaign did very well. When an individual said that he or she would be interested in getting involved, the campaign made it a point to reach out to them within 72 hours. Obviously their goal was to reach people individually. But this is not feasible for most organizations. A way to make use of this principle, however, is to make sure that you are constantly engaging with your community by giving them something to DO.

  • Post something they will want to share
    • photo, quote, video, news story
  • Ask a question or write a thought-provoking post that is worded to facilitate dialogue 
  • Create events in which they can participate
    • online: live-tweets, live-blogging, storify, live-stream
    • offline: encourage invitation
  • For an activist community, create daily missions or “operations”

 So at this point I bet you are feeling a bit overwhelmed–“I thought you said a small organization could so this without a social media strategist!” is probably going through your mind. Yes I did and it’s true. Here’s how you take this strategy and turn it into action:

Get your hands dirty- EXPERIMENT! Once you know what you want to accomplish begin to post on that topic and see which types generate engagement and which do not.  Reach out to groups and individuals with similar interests by “liking” their pages and “following” on Twitter. Often this will generate reciprocity which will increase your overall reach. Track your progress using some of the free analytics tools to hone in on a concrete strategy. For some overall inspiration on what to post, check out Beth Kantor’s excellent blog and specifically her article: Content Strategy, Creation, Organization, and Measurement. She also discusses the way you can add a blog into your social media strategy mix.

Facebook Page Insights: Once you hit 30 “likes” on your page, Facebook begins to provide you with an analytics tool to help you figure out who is seeing your page and sharing your posts. It is not the best tool out there by far- BUT it’s free and will give you some helpful feedback as you experiment with posts. A year ago, Social Media guru Brittany Botti posted a great article talking about some of the updates Facebook made in their analytics. I like this because it gives you a sense of how powerful this tool can be.

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For Twitter analytics, my personal go-to tools are Tweet Stats and Twitter Reach. Tweet Stats allows you to look at the performance of your Twitter account for the past year. This is useful if you have had your account for awhile and are looking to increase its effectiveness because it will generate a baseline against which you can then compare.

Twitter Reach is a very powerful tool for assessing your engagement week to week. The picture below is the report for my personal Twitter account. The number is compiled based on who retweets you and how many times. This reflects the fact that a retweet from a person who has 30 followers is less significant than one from someone with 3,000 followers. 

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You can also search the reach of a particular hashtag or even tweet. This is very useful if you are liveTweeting an event and want to see how successful you were.

To conclude, utilizing social media in your organization has tremendous potential and if done with a clear strategy will generate a net benefit. However, all of this is contingent on your willingness to engage in community maintenance each day. If you are unable to do this then I believe you should delete your social media presence all together. This may sound harsh but an outdated account with your organization’s name on it may actually hurt you (think about your own reaction when you see a website that has an out of date event calendar).

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Your Twitter feed should have (5-10 tweets) throughout the day. You can make use of a Twitter Scheduler application. I’m a big advocate of spending a least a few points in the day retweeting so that you make sure to engage with other users. You should plan on posting something on your Facebook Page one to two times a day. I would mix it up a bit between multimedia and personal commentary. Consider sharing links to your page as well- this is a way to reach out to similar organizations or individuals and potentially generate some reciprocity which expands your reach.

Anyone can create a great social media strategy for their organization. The fundamental hurdle is setting aside the time to do so. I challenge you to set aside a weekend or two to really get into the basics of social media and to explore ways that it would help your organization accomplish its goal. You won’t regret it.

photo credits: williamedia via photopin cc
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