Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interested in a social media career? Laurie Boettcher speaks! (INTERVIEW)

If you're interested in learning more about making social media a career, here is a name you should remember: Laurie Boettcher (@LaurieBoettcher). As a public speaker and trainer, she runs Laurie Boettcher Speaks, social media 'for real people and real organizations'. She is also a classmate in the MS in corporate communications at Northwestern University, making a nearly-six-hour commute down from Eau Claire, WI, to Evanston, IL, every week. Laurie has been interviewed many times, including by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times, as well as quoted by US News & World Report. I'm hugely honored to have had the chance to interview Laurie this week for my social media blog!

Aatif Bokhari: Laurie, you’re clearly a social media maven. How do you describe your job title when people ask what that means?

Laurie Boettcher: In the beginning, my title was “Social Media Enthusiast,” because that is what I was – an individual very enthusiastic about using social media to communicate. Others were very creative in their titles, but I always hated the terms “ninja”, “wizard” and “guru”.

Now, when I introduce myself, I say I’m a speaker and trainer on the topic of social media, and thrilled to be adding author later this year as well – my business cards read Social Media Professional, Speaker and Trainer. Basically, I speak, train, tweet, and write on using social media to government agencies, municipalities, public libraries, educational institutions and groups/associations, and my niche services are for non-profit organizations. 

Personally, I choose to be independent, so I am not employed exclusively by any single organization.

You’ve turned your passion for social media into a business. How did you do this, and what sort of demand is there for people with your skills?

In all honesty, my business was an accident. Here’s my story …

I became interested in the topic of social media while working as the Communication Manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. On August 7, 2007, the I-35W Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Being in such proximity in St. Croix County, which borders Minnesota, my office fielded media calls concerning bridge integrity, safety, inspection schedules and so on.

As a communications professional, I could not help but notice that within minutes after the collapse, cell phone towers were jammed. People were unable to get word to their families and friends of their safety or otherwise. So instead of calling they were turning to social media – MySpace, Facebook and Twitter (the new kid on the block at the time). It was the first time I experienced people using social media tools for anything other than social. It was also the first time I saw the potential power of social media for my profession. It fascinated me!

After leaving WisDOT, I joined the library sector and taught 56 library directors and their staff how to use social media. I immersed myself into everything social. I used the tools from the perspectives of businesses and individuals, so I could anticipate questions and concerns. Many people who attended my workshops recommended me to groups within their communities. Word spread, and soon I was speaking all over.

I left the library world and went back to school to earn the education I desired to accompany my experience and expertise. I was hoping to garner enough workshops to get me through school, but was blessed with that and so much more. I found my passion and find speaking in front of audiences to be the greatest adrenaline rush ever.


My audiences are truly phenomenal. They are super engaged, laugh, ask great questions and make me feel like I am giving them exactly what they need to be confident in their own efforts. There is no place I would rather be and nothing else I would rather do.

Some people feel that they can’t get into social media because of a lack of experience. Is this realistic? What jobs have you held and how do they help you in your role now as a speaker on social media topics?

Yes and no. Answering those questions is a little complicated!

If employees are averse to using social media tools, I always advise employers to appoint someone else to do the job. The reason is that social media is transparent. If someone does not like doing it, that is going to be evident in their engagement and will adversely affect their followings. That makes the effort a failure … and I don’t like to set myself or anyone else up for failure.

Since my professional background is in design and communications, with exposure to the public and private sectors, I felt better prepared to make the jump. I already had a deep understanding for communications as a whole and simply focused on social media. All of this helped me learn how to tailor messages for my audiences, as well as harness the newest technologies to reach those audiences. Individuals with no technical or communications experience may experience a more intense learning curve to acquire the necessary skills.

My personal story should not dishearten anyone who wants to get into social media but doesn't have a formal communications background. Here’s the heart of the matter: the essence of social media is knowing your audiences and engaging them in something they love. For example, if you sell boats and love selling boats, that is going to be evident in the way you communicate to your audience. Making sure that feeling of transparency and passion exists is key to connecting with people and being successful. If you can do this, you can do social.

How do you build a portfolio that shows your social media strengths? Is focusing on raising Klout and Kred scores really important to getting a social job?

Now that social media is no longer a novelty, there are more specific demands for social media professionals. Today, over 850,000,000 people have a Facebook account. The result of this explosion in social media use is that individuals who initially were able to sell themselves on their personal experience with social media are long gone.

Today, businesses want people who know how to use social media for business. Prized skills include knowing how to choose the right platforms for business needs, create a solid presence, listen to and monitor discussions and build an audience. Businesses also want people who know how to tailor messages, continuously engage with followers, analyze insights, communicate the social media experience and explain results to executive management. If this were not enough, social media specialists must adhere to and advise the company’s social media policy, as well as be fluent in social media research to stay on top of trends. It’s not a game anymore.

To build a stellar portfolio, you need to have credibility. Whom are you following in social media and who is following you? If it’s just in good fun, it will come across that this is a fun hobby for you, not a career. How are you engaging others? Who have you worked with? Who are you connected with on LinkedIn? Are your connections valuable to potential employers and are they a reflection of where you want to go professionally? My favorite aspect of social media is its transparency – you cannot hide your skills or lack thereof.

As far as Kred and Klout scores go, they are simply that – a way to keep score. Of course I like it when my Klout score spikes, but does it matter to my clientele or my audiences? Most of them don’t know what such scores are. If I provide value which is relevant to businesses, that is what they remember and find important.

What are the different roles that you foresee being hot for the next few years?

Community managers will continue to grow in importance and number. However, the demand for businesses to measure social media analytically, in terms of ROI (return on investment) and ROE (return on engagement), is increasing dramatically. Those with analytical skills will become more valuable. I also think that legal roles specializing in social media will be in demand as laws begin to catch up with technological advancements. 

Above all, I think the most in-demand roles for social media expertise will be in education. We need educators to teach current and future generations about “being social”, that is the etiquette involved with social media communications, including rules, messaging, ethics, legalities and policies.

We cannot expect to fill the aforementioned positions unless we have a pool of educated workers to fill them.

How do face-to-face and social media contact relate, and can one replace the other?

I love social media – it’s my livelihood and my passion. However, for me, nothing takes the place of face-to-face communication. I prefer face-to-face communication, and encourage others to do the same.

It is easy to forget people and commitments in our busy lifestyles, but reaching out through a social medium makes me feel connected and lets my connections know that although I am not always in personal contact, I have not forgotten about them.

Knowing how to connect with people is a problem for many Millenials and Gen Cs. They are so immersed in social media that the human element is completely falling away. Unless we as a nation remedy this, we will produce a completely disconnected generation.

How do you make time for your family and social when both are 24-hour demands?

I love this question! I’d like to say I’m superwoman, but I would look simply dreadful in those tights.

The truth is that I have to practice balance. I follow blogs, participate in education, and read information that allows me to be efficient. I know my niche, and I know what is relevant to me and my audiences. As interesting as other information may be, I don’t have time to do it all. I try to remain focused and on top of my industry.

As far as my family is concerned, I believe in modeling behavior. During family time, we don’t allow technology to interfere. Cell phones are off and so are computers. We may play a game or an app as a family, but it is about everyone being together, not escaping. We go on vacations where we are digitally disconnected. That means no technology allowed, except my Kindle Fire for reading or an iPod for music. If I don’t practice balance in my life, then I can’t be realistic with clients. It also means I’m completely negating my responsibilities and passion for being a wife and a mother.

There is a lot of repetition in social media as more people try to get attention for causes using social media. How can social media specialists be both innovative and relevant to audiences?

Don’t participate in discussions about things you know nothing about. It infuriates me when I see people interjecting their opinions about something they are clearly not educated in just to be present and seen. Don’t get involved with interactions that are not relevant to your audiences or you are not qualified to speak on.

What kind of money is there for people looking to get into social media positions?

Honestly, it varies widely depending on what you do with the social media position:

graphic courtesy of OnwardSearch

Many organizations are understanding the importance of integrating social media into current communication efforts and are therefore hiring community managers. These individuals are responsible for handling online communities, including social networks. 

Organizations that cannot afford the luxury of community managers seek out those with technical expertise that match their social media needs.

There are some businesses out there that stubbornly resist social media as being a “distraction”. What do you think about this? How do you convince companies to embrace social media, especially ones staffed by people averse to social media?

I approach the challenge honestly and realistically. I’ll explain.

You don’t have to like social media or even do it, but what every business does need to do is understand it. When email first emerged, many people thought it was a waste of time and effort. “Why can’t we just call someone on the telephone?” was commonly heard. Now, e-mail is how we do business. That is the same with social media.

Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest will come, go and evolve, but the fact that they have changed the way we communicate will not. If businesses do not embrace social media and participate in online conversations, they will be isolating key demographics. This will affect their businesses.

Luckily for me, the organizations I have the pleasure of working with don’t generally need any convincing that it’s smart to be social. That is good for me, because my job is to train businesses, not convince them. However, that does not mean that there is no convincing involved! I need to sometimes convince businesses to use appropriate platforms and use them effectively. But, I personally only need to convince others about the need for using social media at specific speaking engagements.

Where do you see the future of social media going?

We will continue to see social networks grow and evolve. I think we will see more adaptation by smaller businesses because it has become attainable for them. Larger corporations will start to bring down the value of the platforms, and they will struggle to find ways to remain personable. 

Social networks will find generating revenue to be an increasingly important factor, so those social networks not strong enough to resist will become over run by ads and promoted posts. Niche sites will increase and advertisers will better be able to target their customers on those networks. 

All of these possibilities make sense to me and are natural extensions of where we are now.

What would it take for a new site to dethrone Facebook, in the way MySpace was over taken by Facebook?

That’s the million dollar question! It has to be something completely unique. Pinterest is rising through the ranks so quickly because it is social without being too social, while tapping into a dream demographic. Whatever is coming will have to cater to the instant gratification nation we have become, provide a piece missing from other platforms, be highly intuitive for the wide array of experience now present on the net, and be social in a whole new way.

Last question: what do you like most and least about social media, and why?

Most: The constant change and newness. It consistently keeps me intrigued and on my toes.

Least: Lack of education and laws not being caught up with technology. They both are doing a great disservice to all of us.

To contact Laurie Boettcher, email her at Visit her consultancy at

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(BOOK REVIEW) The Marketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising, and Web Firms

What works (+)

·         Years of experience compiled in a value-packed volume
·         Twitter handles are cited throughout
·         Valuable advice for aspiring social media professionals
·         Future of PR is explained clearly

What doesn’t work (-)

·         Too many bullet points to go through when numbers would be easier to read
·         Order of topics may confuse junior social media professionals
·         The last few motivational chapters seem out of place, and are probably unnecessary for hardened PR pros

“Have you read this book?” raved Mike Nikolich (@mikenikolich), president of Tech Image (@techimagepr), a boutique PR agency in the Chicago suburbs serving technology firms. “This is the book that I always wanted to write, it perfectly describes what I want to do with Tech Image.”

I first got turned on to TheMarketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising,and Web Firms when I met Mike earlier this month at his digital PR agency. Title noted, I went home and ordered a copy through Amazon. I then tweeted Mike, mentioning that I had ordered the book and would be reviewing it for my blog. 

I wanted to review the book for three reasons: I’ve always found book reviews to be a great way for me to absorb information; I love to read as much as I love to write and a book review is a good excuse; and anytime a player I look up to like Mike mentions a book, I take that seriously – I’m always looking for opportunities to grow and learn new things.

I received my first inkling that this was not going to be your average book review a few minutes after I tweeted Mike about what I was going to do.

Ping! My Android phone alerted me to a new tweet. It was a message from Paul Roetzer (@paulroetzer), author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint and the founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based marketing agency.

“@aatifbokhari Hope you enjoy #AgencyBlueprint. Look forward to your blog post! @techImagepr @mikenikolich”

Ok, Paul had my attention.

Clearly Paul wasn’t just looking to make a name with his book – Paul was walking the walk, and that always gets my respect. I dove in, intrigued by what he had to say.

Having finished the book, I can say that Paul totally gets it. The book is not perfect – what book is? – but I think that it is very unique and useful. 

Here’s why: If you are interested in knowing the future of digital PR, you could read several different books and try to connect the dots yourself, which is possible but time consuming. Or you could save yourself a lot of time and read The Marketing Agency Blueprint for a strong overview. Regardless of your choice, this is a great, slim summary of how PR is changing as an industry. It belongs on every digital PR professional’s bookshelf.

Clients come first

Paul begins his book by explaining that PR agencies need to focus on “a la carte services” for clients, billed by results produced rather than hours worked. To paraphrase, Paul says that hourly billing can disguise inefficiencies and distractions that prolong projects. Offering a flat rate is fairer than billing by the hour.

“There are countless factors that can affect a professional’s efficiency, but distractions, time tracking and motivation are three of the biggest culprits,” he writes. With hourly billing, “the client is actually penalized, and forced to pay for the agency’s inefficiency and professional development.”

I agree with Paul, but I also think that it cuts down on confusion and potential conflict over billing with clients who don’t understand the process of producing PR projects and/or campaigns. Having moonlighted as a freelance copy writer while working as a journalist, I can think of few headaches that are as easily avoidable as explaining hourly rates, not to mention the indignity of arguing with clients assuming that I am prolonging the project’s time so that I can be paid more.

Although I learned years ago that clients were happier to be working with writers who offered flat rates, Paul’s idea that agencies should offer flat rates was new to me. I think the book could have been stronger if it had explained how to deal with clients who drag their feet, taking advantage of the onus being on the agency to produce.

Hybrid vs. Traditional approaches

Paul then explains that traditional approaches, such as placing advertisements in newspapers, are dead in the water. The new trend is to focus more on a “hybrid” approach, focused not only on PR but also on content marketing, SEO and social media. The hybrid methodology is better because results can be easily tracked, unlike with traditional approaches. Hybrid agencies tend to be lean and can easily change directions for clients, unlike huge, traditional organizations. Hybrid agencies are thus in a better position to provide value in real time.

The hybrid approach also makes more sense for reasons not mentioned by Paul. Technology is removing barriers to competition and making it easier for organizations around the world to compete on a level playing field. Although this level field can be scary for traditional agencies that have relied on protectionism and size to rule markets, it is a great opportunity for smaller organizations. As long as smaller hybrid organizations can provide the same or greater value for clients as traditional PR firms, there is no reason that they cannot be successful and disrupt the old models of doing business. Simply put, hybrid organizations punch above their weight.

Leaders of the new school

Of particular interest to me in The Marketing Agency Blueprint was Chapter 3, “Think Talent and Teams”, especially because I am not an agency owner and I wanted to know what digital PR agencies would find attractive in social media employees. I have seen so many threads started on LinkedIn by people interested in starting careers in social media, but not sure what skills they should be developing. Luckily, Paul covered this as well.

“A Player Competencies and Traits” is about the qualities that make A players more valuable to PR agencies than their peers. These include being analytical, confident, detail-oriented, intrinsically-motivated, listeners, relationship-builders, risk-takers, social web savvy, tech-savvy, and writers. They also have a strong work-life balance and possess the “it” factor.

Most of these qualities are not explained in detail at this juncture, but reading through the whole book fleshes many of them out. For example, Paul mentions on page 167 that all employees at PR 20/20 must complete the Google Adwords Certification Program, which “fosters analytical thinking, refines budgeting skills, and expands knowledge of how search engines work.” Obviously completing this program would be a great way for social media specialists to raise themselves to a higher standard of professional excellence, as well as stand out from their peers.

Although I probably don’t have time to take the course now – I’m a student in Northwestern University’s MS in corporate communications program – I plan on investing time in it when I graduate soon.

If you build it they will come

Paul explains how to “Build a Scalable Infrastructure” in Chapter 4, “Devise an Inbound Marketing Game Plan” in Chapter 5, and “Control the Sales Funnel” in Chapter 6. Before starting these chapter, I thought that they would be of limited use. After all, I’m not looking to build a PR agency anytime soon! But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was some relevant content for digital PR professionals not running an organization.

In Chapter 4, there are five lessons that Paul says make for a scalable infrastructure: 1. prepare for perpetual change; 2. build through trusted solution providers; 3. understand your limits; 4. find reliable advisers and mentors; and 5. create a funding runway.

Basically, the message I got here was that agencies need to be able to change technologies quickly, but at the same time make sure to stay grounded with services that are not likely to disappear soon. Also, it is important that agencies take “a macro-level view of how increases in revenue and staffing will impact” the organization.

Chapter 5, “Devise an Inbound Marketing Game Plan”, begins with an important lesson. “The marketing world is full of thinkers, talkers, and self-proclaimed gurus,” writes Paul, “but after awhile they all start to sound the same. What we need are more doers – agencies and professionals that drive change by practicing what they preach.”

This chapter covered different approaches digital PR agencies should use, and focuses on tried and true marketing concepts: differentiation, segmentation, branding, and so on. I didn’t find the marketing concepts to be very detailed – you would be better served by reading a dedicated marketing book if you want to know more on the subject – but it was still a good reminder, especially because people looking to get into social media often are unaware of how important marketing and business practices are.

Chapter 6, “Controlling the Sales Funnel”, is about “leads, prospects, and customers. Agencies need to fill the funnel at the top, nurture in the middle, and convert at the end.” Paul really focuses on sales in the section.

I was shocked to find that in a Kurlan & Associates study cited by Paul, “one hundred percent [of respondents] did not follow a sales process. Salespeople that do not follow a process encounter and wind up accepting lots of put-offs, stalls, and excuses.” “Although they might have taken some training or read sales books, there is something in them that is keeping them from executing as they were taught,” says Paul.

Although the results of the study were extreme, they were seemingly in line with what we learned in a Marketing class taught by Richard Kolsky at Northwestern last quarter – that sales personnel tend to use short-term, tactical, practical approaches closely integrated with people skills, while marketing personnel take a longer, predictive, more strategic view of business grounded in analytic reasoning. 

Often these two groups are at loggerheads, because they don’t understand each other. We discussed ways to get both groups to work together and appreciate each other, for example, making marketing staff work in sales for a period and vice-versa, but it is definitely a major problem, not just in digital PR but in other industries as well.

Almost perfect

The Marketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising, and Web Firms, is tantalizingly close to perfection, in my opinion. It suffers from a few problems that take away from an otherwise excellent overview of digital PR.

There are far too many bullet points, with the result that topics become more difficult to follow. After struggling to read several lists with 20 items, my mind started turning off. Also, the book makes more sense for individuals who have a comprehensive exposure to different aspects of digital PR, such as SEO, social media, marketing and business. If I was new to some of these subjects, I’m sure that it would be much harder to pick up on where the author was going. Finally, the last few chapters are about “commitment to clients”, “learning from failure”, and “delivering results”, which for senior PR professionals are unnecessary. I would suggest anyone in need of inspiration look for books dedicated to those topics.

However, the above are not very serious problems. Paul Roetzer has written a wonderful book that explains what is the future of digital PR in a way that will likely not be outdated for some time to come. He does this while ensuring his work will be useful to a wide range of interested readers, and provides additional valuable material, such as case studies, online at

Highly recommended!

You can visit the Marketing Agency Insider community on Twitter (@AgencyIn), as well as follow conversations about the book using #AgencyBlueprint.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(GUEST POST) Stop Kony 2012 in the view of an international development professional based in Kenya

The Stop Kony 2012 social media campaign launched by Invisible Children had slick production values and a compelling message, but was it factually correct and ethical? And  what did the campaign have to do with international development? What was the campaign for? All important questions for social media professionals.
The following is a guest post on Stop Kony 2012 written by my friend Dave Algoso, an international development professional based in Nairobi, Kenya. He generously agreed to share it with my readers. He blogs at Find What Works, which he says revolves around "international development, politics, and whatever else catches my eye". 

I resisted. I really tried. But here I am anyway. Writing about this campaign. If you’re on Facebook or other social media, you don’t need me to include the video itself, since it’s popping up everywhere. But this post won’t make much sense without it, so here it is.
Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012″ video

If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen that I posted commentary last night as I watched it. It’s 30 minutes long, but took well over an hour to watch on my internet connection. That allowed me plenty of time to chew it over. Afterward I checked out their website. I resisted the urge to write anything substantial until I’d read other critical commentary, then slept on it, and woke up with a reluctant decision to blog.
Reviewing the tape
On the one hand, this is a very well done film. The videography, editing, music, everything. It looks good. It’s crafted well enough that millions of Americans are spending half an hour to watch something about a conflict on the other side of the world. That’s no small feat.
On the other hand, those millions of Americans are learning almost nothing about that conflict. I’m so impressed with the filmmakers’ ability to capture attention that I wish they would put it to better use. I wish there was some discussion of Uganda’s political situation or even a mere mention of the name Museveni, because what Invisible Children proposes will have both positive and negative ramifications for that country. I also wish they wouldn’t focus so much on Uganda, because Joseph Kony isn’t even there anymore and the LRA is a regional problem. And while we’re at it: I wish they wouldn’t refer to Uganda as being in Central Africa, because it’s actually in East Africa.
How did I spend half an hour watching this, yet learn so little? Partly because the filmmakers have a strained relationship with questions of empowerment and agency. I wish the ratio of empowered-white-people to crying-black-children in the video wasn’t so high, and that the levels of both were lower. There are a lot of amazing Ugandans doing amazing work to better their communities. Those are stories worth telling.
Finally, there’s what Invisible Children actually advocates: grassroots pressure from Americans to ensure that the U.S. military continues to assist with the tracking and capture of Joseph Kony. In some ways, this is an ideal role for U.S. special forces advisers. If our country has the expertise and the resources to help end a long-running conflict, then let’s do it. But what happens if limited support fails — a strong possibility given Kony’s demonstrated skill at living on the run — and Washington’s decision-makers feel public pressure to do more? Do we switch to drone strikes? Commitment of ground forces?
Whipping the American public into believing that we’re morally right to intervene militarily is always fraught with danger. Stripping away the nuance and complexity of the issue makes it worse. And make no mistake: while Kony is undoubtedly an evil man who should be stopped, the history of the LRA and the governance/military situation in the region make this whole thing more complicated than it seems.
Advocacy’s Golden Rule: simplify but don’t distort
I’ve written about advocacy campaigns before. My stance is a bit contrary to that of many other development bloggers, likely due to our different backgrounds: I started my career in advocacy, while many of my blogging friends are academics. While academics cringe at the narratives used by advocacy groups, I’ve made my peace with their need for simplification. If a given problem requires government action, and we think about the politics and strategy required to make the government move, we can’t help but conclude that our messages must be simple. Otherwise our cause gets lost in the noise of Capitol Hill, or Turtle Bay, or wherever.
But that doesn’t give advocates a free pass. While writing about conflict minerals legislation a few years ago, I distinguished simplifications of reality from distortions of it. This is what I wrote:
Unlike a distortion, a simplification is actually backed by and derived from a more considered analysis. A simplification is tied by a clear (if unstated) chain to a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the problem. Some advocates would claim that it’s okay to use a distorted narrative, as long as it leads to the right policies. This thinking is dangerous because it detaches your policy agenda from reality. You start believing your own distortions and lose any assurance that you really are pursuing the right policies. Even worse, other people start believing your distortions.
So simplify, but don’t distort. I’m only stretching the term a bit when I call this the “Golden Rule” of advocacy. When you distort an issue, you encroach on other issues. If you inflate the numbers on the severity of the problem you’re addressing, you steal resources from other programs. If you misrepresent the causal chain or fail to give sufficient history, you hamstring policymakers and future advocates (including a future you) who have to deal with a mis-educated grassroots movement (see “Save Darfur“). Do unto other issues as you would have other advocates do unto yours.
Invisible Children has done a great job of slimming down reality into a simple narrative, packaging it, and selling it. And boy, do they sell it. You can get an action kit complete with bracelets, t-shirts, posters and more. But they’ve gone too far. Too much style, not enough substance. Their “policy manifesto” weighs in at a mere two and a half pages. The story they tell about Joseph Kony and the policy they advocate for stopping him amounts to distortions of reality. They’ve got the resources, the networks, and the skills to truly promote better U.S. policy in the region, yet they’ve focused it too narrowly in order to make something attention grabbing. I wish they had set their sights higher.
The posts I linked to above, and other resources: