You recently hopped over from REI and are now Ignite’s West Coast Director. Tell us what an “average” work day looks like for you and what keeps you thriving even on rainy, overcast days.
I love my job because there’s never an average day. Most days I’m working on East coast hours from the West coast to collaborate with my team in Raleigh, but occasionally I’ll “sleep in” when I’m headed to a networking event at night. I’m also really lucky to work at Ignite because we have such a diverse range of clients. I get pulled into strategy and brainstorming meetings that range from social media to mobile strategy on a different topic every week. I’m also in a really fun and challenging place because I get to help shape what our office looks like out in Seattle. In addition, I’m also heading up our mobile team.
I don’t have time to worry about the weather. I’m at a place in my life where I like to take on everything. I am working on my Masters of Communication at University of Washington, I teach mobile strategy classes at the Seattle School of Visual Concepts, I help local nonprofits with their social strategies, I am going to start helping with logistics for the Seattle Social Media Club and I just did my first triathlon. Getting up at 5am has the advantage of being able to go hiking with my dog, mountain biking, kayaking or snowboarding when everyone else is still working.
From double…and even triple rainbows to Old Spice, Steven Slater and beyond, social media opens a huge avenue for people to focus efforts specifically around generating attention via remixes, spin-offs and yes, even mockery of original content. What steps do you think are key to ensuring a brand proactively plans for the potential “second wave” of attention, be it good or bad?
There’s a few exceptions, but I think the most memorable and viral videos are usually created on accident. It’s challenging to try to take organic material and turn it into something that the world is going to accept when you’re a big brand. Recently Microsoft pushed out a spin-off of the double rainbow video to promote Windows Live Photo Gallery. It was on the homepage of Yahoo, there was a write up on Mashable and it got a ton of coverage all across the internet. It may not all appear to be all positive, but I’ll tell you what… a lot more people now know about Windows Live Photo Gallery and the photo stitching feature. It’s hard to offer any steps to success here because it’s really about the particular brand in my eyes and carefully strategizing what makes sense.
At REI, you must have done some pretty cool stuff like tweeting upside down while scaling a mountain sans safety ropes, right?! Or maybe just while wingsuit jumping? Any good adventurous social media moments?
REI is such an easy brand to love. Our stores were a prehistoric version of Facebook. People walk through the doors and instantly feel a sense of community. I was so lucky to have a part in translating that component of the brand to the internet, social networks and mobile. Every single day was an adventure working there. There were people slack lining, biking, doing yoga, playing volleyball and running all the time. The employees really lived the brand, and my co-workers pushed me to do a lot of things.
During my first “Bike to Work” month I wondered how I was realistically going to get from Issaquah to Kent on a bicycle, but three months later I did my first century. I believe it’s really important to work for a company you can really stand behind that also pushes you to be better and (most importantly) one that lets you have fun. I also thrive on having teammates that challenge me and teach my at least nine things everyday. REI was all of those things, and when I decided that it was time to make a career move I looked for those same things, and that’s why I’m at Ignite.
Some fun things I got to do at REI were to write a blog post that featured my dog, Kiwi and to be in our standup paddleboarding video. It is one thing to run a YouTube page, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to be in the content that you’re pushing out. It’s things like that which make REI such an authentic brand.
I’m continually impressed with Seattle’s nonprofit community. Any that you work or volunteer with that stand out in your mind?
An organization I really love is EarthCorps. They bring people together from around the world to Seattle to do environmentally focused projects. Outdoors for All and Girls on the Run are also two of my favorite nonprofits. No matter what hobby or passion you have there’s a nonprofit in Seattle to volunteer at. That’s incredible. Volunteering will always be a huge part of my life. I can do all the things I love, share those things with others at the same time and have an impact on so many people. Everyone reading this should make an effort to spend at least an hour a month donating their time to a nonprofit. It’s such a small amount of time, but can make such a difference.
This latest version of People You Should Know highlights Amy Sample Ward, global community development manager for NetSquared. Amy is someone I’ve kept close tabs on for her excellent insight around community building and social media marketing in the nonprofit arena. Thanks Amy!
Since your transition from Portland to London, you’ve started focusing your work more around global as opposed to local nonprofit communications. What have you enjoyed about this shift?
Hmmm…I guess I wouldn’t say that my focus has changed. I’m certainly able to connect offline with organizations working in a different geography and being in Europe means there are far more groups working “internationally” than in the US, so in those ways there’s been opportunity to shift. But my work with NetSquared has stayed the same and we have always been a global-facing organization and community (with now 70+ groups in 21+ countries).
I’ve enjoyed the local work here quite a bit as it seems that the distance between organizations using new technologies and those not doing so is much larger than it was in Portland. Part of this comes from the very structure (both cultural and organizational structure) of the organizations in the UK and the US, and the way work of government, nonprofits, and citizens crisscross. It’s been a challenge at times but it’s also been really exciting to help share lessons from one country to another, and back again.
I think nonprofits often get seeded with a reputation for being behind the curve on social media but in my mind, nonprofits have the advantage of being nimble and able to take a bit more risk in the space. What are a few nonprofits that stand out in your mind as leading the way in the social space that are able to demonstrate the benefits of being engaged online?
I think nonprofits and businesses are alike in that some are early adopters of everything, whether it’s technology, advertising, engagement, or marketing; and some, well, they just like to keep on doing things the way they always have. It’s even the same with agencies, governments, and communities. Why? Because it’s not about the type of organization or group, but about the culture and environment that group operates in.
Organizations that are able to move quickly, operate nimbly, and adapt to/adopt the tools their communities are using are most often community-driven organizations. 350.org is a perfect example. But, that doesn’t mean large, traditional institutions aren’t able to drive the space forward as well. Great examples – the National Wildlife Federation, American Red Cross, and even museums like the Women’s Museum in Texas and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
In your experience, what are the top 3 reasons nonprofits fail to dive in head first or hedge way when results aren’t immediate from utilizing social media?
First, I think many organizations may adopt a tool or try out a platform without knowing why they are doing it, and thus what kind of metrics to look for. It’s really difficult to say something is or isn’t working if we don’t know what we’re looking at. So, not having a strategy and measurement plan in place is definitely the biggest reason organizations fail to more forward with social media.
Secondly, and this ties in to the first part, is the failure to do the homework: not knowing who the community is or which tools they are using already. Imagine how hard it would be to show up to the playground that none of your friends are at, instead of calling around and seeing what part of town everyone was already in. Doing research before adopting any tools will put you in a much better position to succeed.
Last, I would point to support. I know many instances in which maintaining the social media presence for an organizations fall to one person and is only one small part of the work on their plate. Social media is really all about communication and engagement, you get back what you put in. So, if there isn’t support for the work, it can’t be expected to go very far.
The Big Bang – #1 trend you’re seeing on the nonprofit social media front that you think will carry well into 2011 and beyond?
Blending online and offline. Whether it’s through hyperlocal tools like foursquare or Meetup Everywhere, or it’s campaigning around the world with 350.org, we see the opportunities to use online media to actually blur the lines between engaging on and offline growing. I’m really excited about this because I really believe that an online-only campaign, program, and even message will never take you or your organization as far as something that puts clicks and status messages together with feet on the street.
You’re a staple in the nonprofit community and I’m sure many folks would love an opportunity to chat with you. Should people stay tuned to your calendar for a good opportunity to connect offline at any upcoming conferences?
Wow – thank you! I try to keep my presentations page as updated as possible, so that is a great place to check in to see if we’ll be in the same place at the same time. I am also happy to connect with people on my blog and Twitter.
We’re halfway through 2010 and the social space continues to change daily. From a B2B social media strategy perspective, what larger trends are you focusing on to keep your clients top-notch in the space?
The big trend that impacts my work and my clients the most is that there’s no longer a simple or obvious answer to the question, “Who are the influencers?”
Unfortunately, because of financial constraints, traditional media are being forced to lay off staff, leaving the remaining staff spread thinner than ever before. That’s not to say they’re losing credibility or influence, but for many B2B niches especially, social media have allowed passionate experts to help fill in the gaps and build up significant audiences via blogs, podcasts, etc. that we’d be foolish to ignore. Additionally, more and more brands are trying to become their own publisher of valuable content. Suddenly everyone has a voice, which is both exciting and challenging.
So for communicators, I see two lessons here: first, it’s become more important than ever to uncover and build relationships with these new influencers. Second, if we expect to compete and be part of the conversation, we have to go directly to audiences via social channels with our own valuable content. To be sure, traditional media relations isn’t going away, but it’s definitely changing because of the social web.
In your mind, what are the main challenges facing B2B marketers and new tech start-ups in the social space?
There’s still a misconception that social media is only relevant, or even mostly relevant, for B2C companies. I disagree. For example, the lengthy buying cycle for most B2B products and services presents a great opportunity to offer your potential customers all sorts of valuable content and engage in conversations in social channels. Research from firms like Forrester shows that in IT buying, for example, more and more decision makers are starting to use social media for business purposes. That being said, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype, and social media is not a panacea but just one component of a communications strategy.
One of the biggest struggles for any social media strategist is balancing time on the research front.What sites/blogs do you recommend any account manager spend time reading each day?
Way, way too many. Instead of adding more inputs, lately I’ve been adding more filters. For example, for the latest tech news, I’ve largely given up monitoring of dozens of RSS feeds and replaced that with a short list of tech experts I trust on Twitter and the occasional glance over at Techmeme, which can be a little heavy on the Apple/Google stuff but is still a useful aggregator. Their relatively new sister site, Mediagazer, is equally useful for the latest media news. So far, this has saved me time and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.
We also hold a weekly, hour-long internal call here at Burson-Marsteller where we compile an agenda of the most interesting and relevant social media news and trends from that week and discuss what it means for our clients and our work. It’s an invaluable part of my week and a great way to crowdsource the task of staying up to speed on this stuff.
Finally, as old school as it sounds, I get a lot out of value from once-a-day email newsletters which I rely on to go out and collect the most relevant stories on a given topic and deliver it to my inbox every morning. A few that come to mind include Ragan’s PR Daily and SmartBrief’s newsletters on topics like social media and IT.
Those are just a few examples, and while I still suffer from Google Reader Guilt occasionally, these filters are helping.
You’re a co-founder of Social Media Breakfast Chicago which has turned into a wildly successful group. Who should look to keep tabs on attending these events?
The events are intended for anyone in Chicagoland interested in how to put social media to work for themselves or their organization. We cover everything from search engine optimization to the basics of social media measurement, and our moderators and attendees include folks like me from the agency side, in-house communicators, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, publishers, and more. Anyone interested in finding out more information can do so at www.smbchicago.org.