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.

Refresh Ushers In a New Type of Mobile App

From politics to marketing, strategists are increasingly focusing on using social media for relationship building. For example, in 2012, the Obama campaign used their Facebook app to send targeted messages to their advocates saying, “send your friend, Sandra, this youtube video on healthcare policy”. A huge portion of their time and money was spent on measuring social networks to identify which influencers they should tap to target the perusable.

The same trend is visible in the realm of marketing. Brands are increasingly turning to their employees as their number one product advocates. The 2014 Edleman trust survey found that consumer trust in official press releases is declining while trust in recommendations from family and friends is increasing. My absolute favorite example of a brand running with this strategy change up has to be Intel’s Tablet Smart Squad. They gave their employees Intel Tablets to try out and then asked them to share their experiences. Seriously- that simple. Check this out:

This move towards micro-relationship focused strategy (or Human to Human in the words of Bryan Kramer) has created a new market for relationship-building/facilitating tools. Enter Refresh -a brand new iOS app designed to reduce the awkwardness of small talk and maximize networking. The best way to explain it is through an example. First, create an event in your calendar, then open Refresh and add the name of whoever is going to be attending the event with you. Refresh will then pull in all of the public social network data for that individual.

I’ve chosen to use Bryan Kramer as my example here in part because his extensive social presence allows me to demonstrate just how crazy deep Refresh goes (I’ve only included 50% of the screenshots!) As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words. In this case I’m betting it’s worth 100,000.

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This degree of interconnectivity and data mining (including the scores from the last game of your favorite sports team!) is phenomenal. I also love the capacity to go directly to the person’s various social profiles. It also incorporates your gmail history into the profile-showing  the most recent email you’ve exchanged as well as the first one. Think of the practicality here. The most recent email probably contains the info about where’ you’ll be meeting and the first contains the initial seed of your relationship.

From a technical standpoint the app appears to be built very well. I have yet to experience any loading delays- which is saying something given that I often have fairly spotty 3G service.

But what about those people who aren’t connected to social networks? My father-in-law, for example, only has a sparse LinkedIn account. But Refresh was still able to pull together several mutual relationships and some basic info- enough to get a conversation started. And, let’s be honest, a lack of presence on a lot of social networks is also a good tidbit of info!

Refresh is purpose built to connect online and offline relationships. This makes it not only an invaluable tool but also a potential trendsetter for the next generation of mobile apps in a world increasingly focused on relationships.

Why A Social Strategist Should Be Your Next Hire

“Social (insert job title here)” has been a huge fad whose time is up. Just like “Tech” was big in the 1990s, “Social” took over in the late 2000s. In the mid-1990s, if you could set up a website for an organization you were a Big Deal- a tech guru. But by the early 2000s as webpages became easier to create and software companies began to standardize their programs, the “Tech-“ jobs began to dry up. Computer skills were assumed, and while setting up the wireless network still generates a fair amount of cursing by and large the IT person can handle it- no all knowing tech guru needed.

The same thing is happening with social media. There was a glut of positions incorporating the term “social”. Companies created social media accounts seemingly along the logic that more is always better. “Facebook”, “Twitter”, and “Hootsuite” were included on resumes where Microsoft Word and Excel has previously been.

Now in 2013, the hype over social media jobs has died down. Indeed, within many quarters, managing social media channels is the duty of the intern. A large part of this is because no one was able to figure out the ROI (Return of Investment) for a Facebook Page or Twitter account. So they downsized to an infrequently updated account with posts consisting of “We are excited to announce the rollout of [insert product here]”. And for most Twitter is just a mystery. Brands now have social channels because they know that are supposed to have them in the same way that you’re supposed to have a website. The direction is “keep things updated” in the same way that the front page of a website is updated. Investment is spent instead in integrated marketing campaigns- things that have a specific ROI tied to marketing. This is not to knock these types of campaigns- indeed they work very well. My point is that integrated marketing is just the tip of the iceberg of the potential of social media. It’s right to move away from the hyphenated job titles- the hype is over. But this does not mean that social strategy should stop.

A social strategist is empowered with the mandate to implement and execute strategy. A social strategist knows what social media can and can’t do. They are simultaneously big picture and detail oriented.

Several Brands have chosen to take the leap and invest in social strategy. By doing so they have generated a powerful network of advocates and influencers and also made a name for themselves within the social media community as innovators in their own right.

Casestudy 1: General Electric

GE wanted to communicate that they do more than create light bulbs. So they embarked upon the “innovation” campaign and included social strategy as a key component. A social media strategist knows that the power of social media comes from tapping into the pre-existing social media communities in a way that is keeping with the reason that individuals interact with these communities.
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GE utilizes Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr in their campaign but, and this is where the social strategy comes in, each has a specific type of content designed to maximize the outreach to the target communities in a way that will spark conversation. But all content revolves around the concept of “innovation”. Coming away from these pages that’s the word that you come away with. That’s why it matters and that’s the ROI. A social strategist will insist that you clearly define your goals and then create a strategy to match that.

Casestudy 2: Maesrk

Maersk decided that they wanted to be more than a shadowy shipping line. They’re a fascinating case because they are purely B2B. The average person is never going to give them money. But they recognized that in the age of faceless corporations there was considerable utility in generating a positive brand image. Other brands will want to work with you. The wisdom of this was borne out when one of their ships accidentally killed a whale. Of course the outcry occurred on social media. Since they already had defined social channels and had built up a community, they were able to genuinely respond to the situation with concern. They even created a Pinterest board in memory of the whale.
Maersk Norwich Whale Pinterest Page
Maersk specifically decided to “unmask” themselves and create a community. Every piece of content they create, every social channel that they use, works towards this goal.

If you do not have a clear strategy behind using your social channels you are missing a huge opportunity. As far as ROI is concerned, it’s best to think of it in terms of measurable projects with set goals just as you would for an ad campaign. Demanding a per-tweet or per-post ROI while the campaign is on-going is just like demanding a per-billboard ROI.

Hire a good social strategist, clearly communicate your goal, give a set budget, and watch them go. Your brand is already present on social. Even if, like Maersk, you are far removed from the B2C scene, you are only one accident or blunder away from becoming a trending hashtag.

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Why You, Yes You, Should Join a Tweetchat

I know your secret. You want to be “that person”. The one that everyone follows on twitter for industry advice and information. But let’s be honest, unless you have the offline cred (journalist, on the speaking circuit, celebrity, etc.) then you can probably forget it. Of course you could do a video that goes viral, run a humorous account that goes big, or have an unusually grumpy cat but that’s pretty unlikely.

For most of us, getting to that gold standard of “influencer” takes a lot of time and effort. You have to build the right audience and create the right content. The former requires lots of strategic following and unfollowing. Tools such as JustUnfollow and Tweepi are very useful. The latter requires a content strategy such as creating a blog, using Instagram, Pinterest,Vine, and other multimedia sharing options.

Yet that only takes care of the broadcasting element. Your strategy won’t be worth beans if you don’t interact. As any social strategist knows, you can get a lot of traction by retweeting content and then thanking people when they follow or retweet you. You can also reply to people on your twitter feed and sometimes strike up a cool conversation. That will get you known in some smaller circles and you can definitely work it to drive traffic to your blog and get your content shared more widely. That can lead to larger circles and more connections. You can of course also live tweet from events which similarly can put you on the radar and get you connections. These are all great tried and true social strategies and they will absolutely garner you attention and increased influence.

 But if you want to take your strategy to the next level you really need to get in on the world of the Tweetchat. Here’s why:

  1.  They provide you with an opportunity to show your knowledge in a given space. It’s all the more beneficial if you choose a tweet chat that is in line with the content you create because it adds to your reputation as an influencer and thought leader.
  2. It creates content! Of course make sure you send out the obligatory tweet to your followers that you’ll be spamming their feeds because you’re on such and such a chat, BUT there’s a strong chance that some of your followers may end up also joining the chat because they have a common interest. And that reaffirms the sentiment that you’re the person to follow.
  3. Tweetchats give you access to influencers with whom you otherwise might not be able to converse. If you say things that are insightful they may retweet it to their followers- and that’s a powerful validation.
  4. Finally, they provide you with an additional point of contact to members of your community. Saying “Thanks for the RT” or “really enjoyed your insights” after the chat may well spark a further conversation and access.

 Of course at the end of the day like everything in social media, it’s all up to you. You have to prove that you know what you’re talking about and you have to interact and you have to make the contacts. But being strategic about those interactions is the name of the game and tweetchats are a fantastic way to go.

Check out Tweetchat for a list of tweet chats going on as well as some great resources for getting started! 

Tea & Twitter: The Importance of Brand Personality

On Monday a hilarious conversation unfolded on Twitter. What differentiates this from other convos, however, is that the key participants were official Brand twitter handles. The conversation unfolded between @tescomobile and another user. It’s pretty weird but that’s actually keeping with their image as a customer service account full of witty banter.

Here’s a recent exchange (the conversation starts at the bottom):

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This past Monday their banter ignited a full on British tea party joined by Yorkshire Tea, Jaffa Cakes, Walkers Crisps, Phileas Fogg and others.

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Conversation ranged from what they’d be bringing to this party to whether Jaffa Cakes were really cakes or biscuits.

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The conversation got picked up by Buzzfeed under the catchy title: “This Is The Best Twitter Conversation You Will Read Today” and, at the time of this blog post has been shared on Facebook 31K times and Tweeted 15.5K times. The Buzzfeed article ends with “Well done Social Media Managers” and a  pretty awesome gif (it isn’t often we get such a great shout-out!).

Several articles have been written about this conversation and no doubt other brands will try to copy the banter to varying levels of success just like the Oreo tweet generated a wave of funny and not-so-funny realtime campaigns. (I think we can all agree that #royalbaby was a bit fat fail) But this got me thinking about brand personas in general on twitter. Like it or not, every brand has one. Wonder why you don’t get RTs and can’t get followers? Well it’s probably because you have a really dull personality.

But it’s a mistake to think that the only personality option is to banter and be humorous. Humor is tricky- you always need to think about your audience and be aware of which lines you cannot in any circumstances cross. But being paralyzed and simply broadcasting snippets of your most recent press releases is a big yawn. So how do you figure out what works for you?

I always advocate thinking about strategy like this in terms of offline actions. So let’s imagine what happens when you go to that annual work Christmas party. I like the analogy because it’s a time when we’re all hyper conscious about our personalities and that’s a good analogue to tweeting on behalf of a Brand- you always want to make sure you think through what you’re saying before you say it. Also, taking the analogy a step further, the Christmas party is a time when it’s easy to get giddy (with help from the spiced mead) and say things that you’ll regret the moment you wake up the next morning. Success at the office Christmas party comes from being likable for who you are and not forgetting who you are in the height of the moment. Remember-being dull is usually just as bad as being over the top.

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So who do you want to be?

We live our lives making rapid assumptions about each other. One Twitter a brand is personified- which is one reason for crisis social strategy- whatever is said on Twitter is seen as the voice of the company. The Twitter account rivals a company’s spokesperson in importance so it’s essential to make sure that you’re communicating exactly what you want to communicate- and this goes beyond the text of the tweets. One thing is for certain- like it or not, you already have a personality on Twitter- so why not make it one of your choosing? A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself- “would I want to follow me?” If the answer is no then you have a problem and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.