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Yes, we have a social media mentor problem

I recently had coffee with a younger colleague who plays a key social role for a fairly large company here in Minneapolis. He/she was sharing a story I’ve been hearing more and more lately. Essentially it boiled down to this: There’s no one in the senior ranks at my company who knows more about social than I do.

Folks, that’s a BIG problem.

And, these younger people are starting to recognize it.


Why is this such a big issue? Because without “social mentors”, younger people in this space are lacking the direction, sounding boards and support they need as they attempt to figure out an entire discipline on their own (because, believe me, that’s what’s happening).

Think about it. You’re a 25- to 30-year-old who’s tasked with leading social media for a company (which is not that unusual in many cases). You’re knowledgeable about social. You get content. You know how to measure results. But, you need help, just like anyone else. You need someone to turn to for advice when you run up against a unique situation. You need someone you can bounce ideas off–someone who understands the tools and channels. And, you need someone who’s been around the block a time or two.

These “social mentors” are hugely valuable–and unfortunately, I am finding fewer and fewer companies have them on staff.

Why? Two big reasons:

1: Gen Xers largely eschew social media roles. As I think about fellow Gen X’ers in Minneapolis/St. Paul in social roles right now, it’s a pretty short list. I think about people like Bryan Vincent (UHG) and Kevin Hunt (Mills). But, like I said, the list is pretty short. I would say most X’ers I know chose to “stay in their lane” when social became a thing years ago (which is fine). But, it’s left a significant void of senior-level talent in the social arena. And, that means fewer of these “social media mentors” in company and agency ranks.

2: The Millennial to Xer/Boomer ratio is huge. According to reports, Millennials outnumber both Boomers and Gen Xers in the workplace (53.5M to 52.7 and 44.6 million, respectively). So, simple numbers tell us there are most likely more Millennials and fewer Xers (and Boomers, to a lesser extent). Then, think about how many Millennials are in these social media roles (A LOT!), and how many Xers/Boomers have experience in that area (not too many). You begin to see the math just isn’t working out…

So, we have a huge need for social media mentors among the younger set. And, we have a huge lack of social media mentors among the older set. Not a great recipe for success. What can be done?

I’m not sure I have the answer. Many of the Millennials who started in social roles the last 4-8 years will begin to assume more senior-level leadership roles in the years ahead, and they will become mentors to the new generation (Gen Z). It’s just too bad they don’t have more senior-level support right now–and whether they want to admit it or not, I think a lot of younger people could use that support.

Until then, I guess we just have a social media mentor crisis on our hands.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear from younger folks on this one…

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Trend: Repurposing Snapchat Stories across other social media channels

We’ve all heard about the “storification” (yeah, I just made that word up) of the social web and how it represents the future of social. And how companies should start paying attention because “stories” are the new news feed (that’s questionable at best, in my view).

But, we haven’t seen too many good examples of companies using that “story” functionality creatively.

Which is why I immediately paused when I saw this video from Walmart in my feed last week.

You’ll notice Walmart repurposed a string of Snapchat stories (I think) and incorporated it into this video they they put together and shared on its Walmart Today Facebook channel.

Pretty interesting, right?

I actually found this video interesting for a number of reasons because I think it represents three big trends we may end up seeing much more of the months/years ahead:

1: Repurposing “stories” across other social media

Haven’t seen too many brands do this effectively yet, but Walmart seems to have repurposed Snapchat Stories into Facebook/YouTube content (if you’re wondering how to do that, here’s a nice tutorial). This isn’t exactly groundbreaking work, but it is damn efficient as Walmart was already grabbing the video content via phone on location. That video content then served as the bulk of this short-form social video. We’re always talking about ways to make your content work harder for you–perfect example right here.

2: Social company spokespeople are becoming a “must” not a “want”

Another trend this post highlights is the need for the new wave of “social corporate spokespeople.” In the video, you see Bo and Antonio, Walmart “DJs” right at the top. These two are, in fact, Walmart spokespeople. Not in the traditional way you might think about spokespeople–more in a social way. These are the storytellers of 2017. And, they have the skills required for many social stories in 2017. They can get in front of a camera and convince employees/customers to talk and react to the camera (a key skill many in our industry DON’T have). They can put a story together. They have a feel for what will work via social channels. These are the skills Bo and Antonio bring to the table–and they’re going to be skills more companies look for in the years ahead, given our preference for video content online.

3: How do we find these company spokespeople?

Usually, you’ll go out and try to hire them. Which will be tough, given the current landscape and tight job market. But, what’s really interesting in this example is what Walmart did. Instead of trying to go out and HIRE social spokespeople (these two were really hired as radio DJs, but for this example, they’re also social spokespeople), they looked internally. They held a contest to find the first two Walmart Radio DJs who would run Walmart Radio–what a cool job for two lucky Walmart employees who had an interest in radio. And, that’s exactly what happened for Bo and Antonio.

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Are online media placements worthwhile if there’s a paywall?

The paywall.

On the media side, some see it as the savior of their business.

On the PR side, it could be seen as a major hurdle.

Because here’s the scenario that’s playing out increasingly with PR folks: You secure a great story in The Washington Post. Your client is excited. You’re pumped because, well, it’s The Washington Post for crying out loud.

The placement hits. You share it on social media. You share the URL with your client.

But, you start getting comments on the Facebook post about people not being able to read the article.

Your client sends you a note quickly saying she can’t get to it either.

Enter the world of the paywall.

It’s great for the media (and I’m not saying media shouldn’t be using this model as a revenue source–believe me, I’ve been a subscriber of the Star Tribune for 4 years now). Not so great for PR.

Based on the social sharing and online-driven world we now live in, online PR placements are more valuable in many ways than the print version. But, if there’s a paywall, that’s all negated.

No sharing on social media–you’ll just frustrate your readers/followers.

No sharing with the client–you’ll just light a fire under them.

No sharing in client e-newsletters–you’ll upset your current and prospective customers.

My question for you all today is simply this: Is this a legit concern for our business?

Are there really enough newspapers with paywalls to make this a legitimate issue? WaPo has one. And, according to one study, more than 80 percent of all newspapers with a circ of more than 500,000 have one (wow). And, certain industry pubs have adopted the model (I couldn’t find a comprehensive list anywhere, to my chagrin).

Will paywalls become more common as a revenue source, or will they recede as newspapers and media outlets continue to experiment with and change their business models (Nielson thinks so)?

And, what does this mean for us as PRs? If paywalls do rise in prominence, does that impact our approach in using media relations as a part of our toolkit? I sure think it would.

It’s an interesting discussion. I’m curious to hear what you have to say.

photo credit: domimartin 86 berlin the wall via photopin (license)

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PR Rock Stars: Boston Scientific’s Amanda Gebhard

You know how when you meet some people you can just tell they’re going to be a big deal some day. That’s how you feel when you meet Amanda Gebhard. And I’m quite sure that feeling will pay off in the years ahead (you watch!). She’s currently in a social role over at Boston Scientific, but I think the comms/marketing world has much more in store for this young woman. Let’s hear more from this PR Rock Star:

You’re a senior communications specialist-social media for Boston Scientific. Since social positions vary widely from company to company, what does your typical day look like?

I would say my job is roughly 60% content (strategy and execution), 25% analytics/reporting and 15% community management.

Here’s what a typical day might look like for me:

  • Check email, news and social feeds
  • Read daily alerts and monitor brand accounts twice daily for comments, mentions, etc. – take action as needed
  • Meetings
  • Content work
  • Evaluate incoming content requests, edit copy, assist with legal/reg reviews
  • Draft posts, work with brand team on visual assets, send posts through legal/reg review, schedule or publish
  • Develop content strategies for larger campaigns/initiatives
  • More meetings
  • Reporting
  • Pull data and create report for listening, campaigns, etc. (not daily but at least once or twice a month)
  • If time, make progress on longer-term projects


In your six-year career you’ve worked for three health care companies. In those six years, what have you learned about working in social in a highly regulated industry?

While each sector of healthcare has different regulations, the processes – and challenges – are mostly the same across the board. Many healthcare companies take a very conservative stance when it comes to social content, which is understandable. But it can sometimes hinder innovation and creativity, and it definitely creates time and work. However, as you build trust with your legal and regulatory teams and learn what their biggest concerns are, you can start to form partnerships and forge a path forward. It definitely takes time, though.

I would also add that there is still SO much gray area in healthcare regulations when it comes to social media. The regulations can’t keep pace with the technology, so it leaves a lot of room for interpretation.


Working in social for a health care company is decidedly less “sexy” than working for companies like Target, General Mills or Best Buy. Why do you continue to choose health care over other industries?

It goes without saying that healthcare is rarely (if ever) on the cutting edge of social and digital media – especially with larger orgs. So if your goal is to do cool, exciting work that makes for good case studies, healthcare probably isn’t right for you. But if you enjoy interacting directly with patients and customers, and you want to work for a company that’s making a tangible difference in people’s lives, healthcare could be a good fit.

Aside from the meaningful work aspect, healthcare is also a thriving industry (especially here in the Twin Cities). And I’m personally very interested in the intersection between health and technology – I see lots of potential there.


What’s the biggest trends you’re seeing in social media when it comes to health care marketing right now?

Surprisingly, live video seems to be an emerging trend in healthcare. One organization doing a lot with this is the Mayo Clinic. They host regular Facebook Live Q&A sessions on various medical topics. I think this is a great way to connect with and educate patients in a more authentic, interactive way.

Influencer marketing is another trend that’s gaining traction in medical communities. According to CDW Healthcare, 87% of physicians ages 26-55 (and 65% ages 56-75) are active on social media. Some have built significant personal brands and are very influential within their networks.

Paid social is a pretty large topic of conversation as well. It’s increasingly important for all industries, but it’s particularly complex in healthcare due to evolving regulations and platform advertising rules.


You volunteer your time with Social Media Breakfast as a community manager, and have since 2014. What have been the primary benefits of donating your time to this organization?

Volunteering with SMBMSP has been one of the smartest career moves I’ve made. Aside from the obvious benefit of learning from other social media professionals, here are a couple of the benefits I’ve seen:

  • Connections – SMBMSP has vastly expanded my network, and I regularly stay in touch with people I’ve met there.
  • Resume building – Volunteering with an industry group looks great on your resume. Before I accepted my position with Boston Scientific, my involvement with SMBMSP came up in nearly every interview I had with every company.


What are the biggest skill gaps you see amongst today’s social media professionals?

One of the major gaps I’ve seen lately relates to human resources, of all things. Whether it’s employee relations issues that surface on social media or talent acquisition social strategies, there is a clear disconnect between the teams that typically work on social media (in marketing or communications) and HR. If HR is at all integrated into the social strategy, there needs to be a resource that understands both the discipline and the medium enough to guide both teams.

Also, as a counter point, I would actually argue that there are too many expectations placed on social media professionals. We’re expected to be writers, designers, photographers, videographers, project managers, community managers, customer service agents, marketers, crisis communicators, recruiters and analysts. Those jobs require vastly different skill sets, yet to some degree, companies expect it all from one person. They’re getting a heck of a deal.


You mentioned at the last SMB that you’d love to get your hands on some Snap Spectacles. How do you see brands adopting this new technology in coming months/year?

As cool as Spectacles are, I honestly don’t see most brands adopting them since they only show one individual’s point of view and they only work with one platform – a platform that many brands (aside from media) have been slow to join. But I do think they’re a great proof of concept that will lead to a more “brand-friendly” product – perhaps one that isn’t tied to a single platform or device (like Samsung’s Gear VR) or even a single perspective. I think the immersive, interactive experience of VR is here to stay, though it will evolve, but I predict the “wearable” VR trend won’t stick around.


For years, I’ve said there are two things I will not talk about online: politics and religion. I’ve walked myself back on the former recently, but I noticed that you don’t hold back in talking about your religious beliefs. Can you talk a little about why and the role your faith plays in your life?

First, I understand and respect why many people choose not to talk about religion online, because it’s very easy to misinterpret or take things out of context. But my faith is a large part of who I am, and I’ve made the personal decision to show up online the same way I do in person. I do think there’s a right and wrong way to talk about your faith, especially on social media, but I don’t believe in avoiding a topic altogether simply because some people may not agree with it. Also, I’ve found that it opens doors to more meaningful conversations and relationships, and that alone makes it worth it to me.


Like me, you’re a South Minneapolis resident. Best place to live in the city! I’m curious: What are your favorite restaurants and/or coffee shops on the south side?

South Minneapolis is absolutely the best place to live – I love it here. There are SO many good restaurants and coffee shops; it’s hard to pick my favorites. But here are a few spots I keep going back to:

  • Wise Acre Eatery (locally sourced food and giant, thick-but bacon)
  • The Lowry (chicken and waffles – enough said)
  • Red Cow (I’ve tried most of the menu and have yet to be disappointed)
  • Five Watt Coffee (fantastic coffee without the crowds of Spyhouse)

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9 things to consider before making the leap to being a solo PR consultant

What tips do you have for someone considering making the transition to being a solo marketing/comms consultant?

It’s a question I hear more than you might think. Partly because I am a solo. And partly because it seems like more people are considering this as a career path all the time (certainly more than when I made the jump eight years ago).

There’s so much to consider when making the leap. And, next Thursday, I’ll be talking about all of it as part of a panel on MIMA’s first ever “Career Development Series” around modern career management.

But, for now, I thought I’d tap into one of the best communities I’m a part of: The #SoloPR Facebook Group. I asked these fellow solo PRs what tips they would have for someone considering the transition. Here are the top 9 tips they provided:

1: Set realistic goals for the first year. “Focus on replacing your income first. Don’t take on any overhead like offices or expensive subscriptions. Put your head down for a whole year and only work on revenue generating things. No free stuff! Get a good lawyer to help you with a general contract. Hire a bookkeeper day 1.” — Maria Coppola Cummins, Maria Coppola PR

2: Find your first client BEFORE you leap. “If you are leaving an agency, check the terms of the non-compete clause in your contract. If you are in-house, discuss with you boss to see how your employer might become your first client.” — Janet Falk, Falk Communications and Research.

3: Network, network, network! “Find out what conferences/events there are in your field and attend them to learn more and meet new people. Get your social profiles going before you leave your new job. Be prepared to hustle and learn to accept disappointment – it won’t always work out the way you want.” — Tanya Churchmuch, MuchPR

Invite people in your network who have gone solo out to lunch. (Individual lunches, this isn’t a group thing.) It doesn’t have to be someone working in the same field. Ask them what works, what doesn’t work. Or, if not in the same locale, have a virtual coffee with a solo professional then send them a gift card for Starbucks. I conducted several of these advice-gathering meetings before I went solo and they were immensely helpful. — Jennifer Freeberg Frighetto, Frighetto Communications

4: Don’t underestimate your expenses. “You are now responsible for quarterly tax payments including an extra 7.2% hit for your employer share of social security taxes, health insurance, liability insurance, and consider getting disability insurance if you don’t have another source of household income.” — Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Falcon Valley Group

5: Step outside your comfort zone. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Can’t freak out every time a payment is later than you want, work you want doesn’t come through on your schedule, or a client moves on. If you’re prone to that sort of reaction to circumstances that are definitely going to happen, this isn’t the right path.” — Stu Opperman, Impact Players

6: Crunch the numbers. Then, crunch them again. “Numbers are everything. From setting metrics for yourself in reaching potential new clients to the amount you charge to cover salary, overhead and your own marketing. You won’t survive “estimating” any number for your business.” — Ebony Grimsley-Vaz, Above Promotions Company

7: Trust your gut–even when you’re just getting started. “For example, don’t be afraid to accept low-paying work at first-it could turn into something bigger. Get good insurance-health and disability for example.” — Terri Thornton, Lampe-Farley Marketing Communications

8: You need to be a jack-of-all-trades. “How much passion do you have to learn the two dozen+ components of running a business like important areas of operations, finance, technology, human resources, business development, strategy rolled in?” — Kris Vruno Huson

9: Make sure insurance is locked up. “Get disability insurance before you leave your full time gig. Save up a small cushion to help you through cash flow challenges. Think through how to market your own business.” — Susan Stoga, Carson Stoga Communications

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