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….

Musings on Leadership & Influence

Many years ago I gave a talk on being a leader to a group of undergraduates who were in a leadership program a top 10 university. One of them asked me, in that adorably naive way of type A super honor students, how they could get people to follow them as leaders. It was one of those out of sync moments where I had to do a few mental steps to keep myself from laughing out loud at such a superiorly entitled question. When I finally responded I’m sure my answer was a bit of a disappointment- “You’re a leader when others call you that, not before. Leadership is earned.” I’m sure many were puzzled, if respect mattered so much then what in the end, was the use of the elite university program that they were enrolled in? Thankfully no one actually asked me that question- I was, after all, a guest speaker of said program!

Leadership, like influence, is a concept that cannot be defined in a vacuum. Simply listing “Leader” or, for that matter, “Influencer” on a resume without any context is a misnomer. Identifying leaders or influencers should begin with an assessment of community and/or organizational strength. In a democratic system people choose who they are led and influenced by. That’s why communities and healthy organizations are the bell-weathers of true leaders and influencers. Brute strength and force can accomplish only so much- as Travis Kalanick found out to his chagrin.

It’s for this reason that influencer marketing is such a fickle game. The big money is invested in the celebrity influencers but, with a few exceptions, their fleeting popularity is a numbers game with little community to support it.

Influencer marketing is appealing to brands because of its root in human psychology. We listen to certain key people in our lives and trust them when we make purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, the conflation of influencer with celebrity means that more often than not these are not the people being recruited by brands for influencer campaigns. People may be amused by Kim Kardashian and click “Like” but that must not be mistaken for an act of trust. And it’s trust that gets your community to take measurable actions such as supporting a cause, downloading an app (and using it), or making a purchase.

Until brands and agencies alter their approach to influencer marketing- trading in the “Insta-famous” to a verifiable multi-variate analysis- they will consistently fall short of their potential. Influencers can and should be held to a clearly defined return on investment. But it first starts with turning the process of identification upside down and starting with the community not the persona.

 

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.)