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.
LAURIE BOETTCHER DISCUSSES HOW IT'S NEVER TO LATE TO JOIN FACEBOOK
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.