For years, Ryan Pena was one of those people I definitely knew about, but never had a chance to meet. I recently figured it was time to change that, and asked Ryan to happy hour. And man, am I glad I did. Not only is Ryan a leading-edge social media marketer (and future pop star–have you seen his Facebook videos this past week? :), he’s also–and more importantly–one of the nicest and most engaging people you’re ever going to meet. Our happy hour went by just like that–you only get that feeling when you’re talking with someone like Ryan Pena. So, maybe I should stop chit-chatting so we can meet this Social Media Rock Star!
Can you start by telling us a little about your current role at Be The Match?
I work for their Marketing team as a Social Media Strategist. In short, I oversee the day-to-day social media efforts we do and how those initiatives and campaigns perform…I then identify ways to improve those efforts to help drive more people to join our registry, which will then help save more lives!
Now, you started in social at Be The Match, but then transitioned to be part of an Innovation Lab before returning to social. Can you talk a little about that? How did that come to be?
It was a crazy yet awesome time for both my career and our organizations company culture. In the summer of 2018 our CEO announced to the organization that we will launch our first-ever Innovation Lab in 2019 and they would recruit 6 people from within the organization to completely step away from their current roles and come together to innovate around a specific challenge the organization/industry is faced with.
A few months after this announcement, I learned I was one of the 6 selected and we worked off-site for 7 months working on what needs to be done to increase one of our life-saving donation options for patients in need. We recently came back to the organization with our recommendations backed up by research and data. After off-boarding our recommendations, we have all come back into the organization with a refreshed approach to problem-solving as we reconnect with our careers again.
Like a lot of people who work in social media marketing, you didn’t start out in comms/marketing. Can you talk a little about how you made the transition from your HR/IT job to one in social media marketing 10 years ago?
I was struggling in a sales role. Constantly cold-calling people that I knew had no interest in speaking to me, since they didn’t know me or the value I genuinely wanted to offer to them. It was 2008 during this time and I decided to start leveraging LinkedIn as a tool to identify and connect with these managers I wanted to get in front of. I focused on doing what I thought would be valuable to me, so I provided them with valuable market information on the platform, engaged on their content, and started meaningful conversations online with them. Those conversations eventually turned into in-person meetings and the organization caught on to this process and had me train other team members.
While that specific job didn’t formulate into an actual social media role, when I moved to the next organization, we worked together to build on my passion for social and created a role that would elevate their business goals by leveraging this marketing channel.
You’re one of a small number of people in town that have been working in social now for almost 10 years. What’s the single biggest change you’ve noticed recently about working in the industry?
Automation…or the lack of the true human element come through on social as much as it used to “back in the day”. While I’m all about change and understand the need for automation with users in the billions, I am constantly pushing organizations I work for to bring the human element back into our social strategy. It’s something we are all thirsty for and, unfortunately, don’t see as often as we can with the power of social media.
Over the years, you’ve built quite the reputation as a video host for the brands you work for. I remember you playing host with MentorMate at MIMA Summit a few years ago. I know you’ve been a video emcee of sorts for BTM. Why do you continue to find this role? And, where do you see video going with social in the years ahead?
It plays into the previous question I answered…people CRAVE human interaction, especially when it’s for a brand that’s not broadly known, like most brands out there. For example, MentorMate is a custom software company…not something that’s very sexy to see/learn more about on social media from a traditional brand awareness standpoint. Because of this, I worked with the team to shoot and produce dozens of employee spotlight videos that brought out the people behind the brand, their passion, and the work they do at MentorMate. Though those videos, we saw a major increase in traffic to the brand.
In short, video is one of the most effective ways to bring a brand to life and humanize the mission.
You’re in charge of a small social media team at Be The Match. What skills and abilities did you look for when you were assembling your team? What were the skills you absolutely felt you like you had to have and why?
One of the top things I look for is their problem-solving abilities. During interviews, I give them challenging scenarios to think though that could happen on social media. Hearing how they think on the spot is a super helpful way for me to determine how their quick-thinking works since social is NOW. I also look for elements on collaboration and communication skills since that’s critical to an effective team.
Any interesting projects you’re working on at BTM right now?
Apart from building out a revised strategy for social, I’m also working with our team to find creative ways to increase diversity recruitment within our registry. It’s exciting because the more we uncover with what works best, the more lives we can save!
We talked about this when we met, but you’re a big bike commuter. In fact, you commute from Plymouth to downtown Minneapolis! That’s quite a commute on two wheels. How did you start commuting via bike? What do you enjoy most about it? And, what tips would you give those considering it?
I used to be a runner before my wife and I started a family. I’d train and run marathons and that kept my body and mind healthy. Once kids got into the picture, I was trying to find a way to still have my “alone time” while being able to work it into our new lifestyle. While the initial idea of commuting from Plymouth to MPLS sounded nuts, I tried it one weekend, learned the route, enjoyed it and thought it might just work out. 8 years later, I look forward to riding every single day! It helps me think through and plan out my day in the morning and then allows me to decompress from work on my way home.
What’s the one social media trend you have your eye on as we head into 2020?
Short-form content, like what’s blowing up on TikTok. While new social platforms are always popping up and then quickly dying down, TikTok is the exception. Start as a video meme app in 2016, it now has over 500 million users, acquired Musically for one billion dollars in 2018 and continues to set new records while taking a very different approach to video content. Most people write it off as an app the kids use, but trust me…check the app out to see the completely new level of creativity and entertainment happening on the platform. From not showing video views to how easy it is to share content onto competitor platforms directly from the app, they are completely changing the game. I’d expect to see a lot of their features being implemented in some capacity within the top 2 social networks soon.
Finally, you’re increasingly showing up on the speaker circuit locally and nationally. What is it about speaking you enjoy so much? And, where can we see you in the coming months?
Simple: I attribute most of my success in this space from what I’ve learned from others over the years. Having an opportunity to share my learnings with others to give back to the social community–that’s the motivation right there. I learn by making structured mistakes, which often times lead to major success. Being able to give back is a humbling experience.
Today’s internet culture is very much predicated on one basic principle: Me.
Me, as in, how can I create more thought leadership to share on Twitter.
Me, as in, how can I become an influencer and make hundreds of thousands of dollars on Insta, YouTube and TikTok.
Me, as in, how can I talk more about me and how great I am.
We see it every day. And, we’re all guilty of it. Every single one of us.
But, in all this “me-ness” what often gets overlooked is the tremendous value of being a follower.
Yes, there are benefits to being a follower–and not always creating content yourself or making everything about me! After all, we can’t all be thought leaders and influencers, right? Even the influencers and thought leaders would be wise to be followers a bit more.
What do I mean by this? Allow me to share a few examples.
Example #1: You want to become more of a thought leader. You want to establish your “personal brand.” And, you think more speaking gigs will help. You might be right. But, in addition to the focus on speaking, what about routinely attending and listening to other speakers who you admire and find interesting. For me, this means hitting up MIMA events I find interesting. And, the upcoming Digital Summit in Minneapolis (wish I was going!). Attending these kinds of events (and being a follower, instead of a speaker) have many benefits. First, you’ll meet new people. No question. That by itself is worth it, as those connections can lead to new jobs, new business and new relationships. You’ll also expand your horizons more by listening and talking to other followers than you will by sharing your expertise via speaking! Think about it. When you’re speaking, you’re not necessarily learning. YOU’RE the one that’s sharing. Others are learning. When you’re listening, however, you’re learning. You’re absorbing. And, that has much more benefit than speaking.
Example #2: You’d like a more senior role. So, you try to elevate yourself online by creating and sharing more content on LinkedIn. Smart idea. You show up more among people who might hire you. And, you position yourself as someone who’s ahead of the curve in your industry. Yay, you! But, there’s also tremendous value in consistently commenting and adding value to other people’s posts on LinkedIn. And not just any posts, but posts from people who might be in hiring positions. Think about it. Those people frequently have big followings and draw a lot of attention on LinkedIn (compared to you, who might be more in the beginning or middle stages of building a persona via social media). Think about someone like Dave Schneider, CMO at Red Wing Shoes. Definitely someone who influences hiring. Definitely a big deal. And definitely someone who posts on LinkedIn regularly and draws many likes and comments. Wouldn’t there be tremendous value in commenting on his posts and adding value? Wouldn’t he–along with other smart people like you–see those comments and think “Wow, that’s a really insightful thing to add.”? Sometimes, I think we all get so preoccupied with sharing our own thoughts and content on our own social profiles, we forget about the huge upside of adding value to OTHER people’s content.
Just something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been trying to practice this more myself, as I’ve been guilty of the “me, me, me” approach for a long time.
This fall I’ll assume a role I’ve been working toward for the last 20+ years.
The role of professor.
I’ll be teaching my first class as an adjunct professor at the University of St Thomas starting on Sept. 3. The class? Strategic communications. It’s a capstone class of sorts, previously taught by the outstanding Bruce Moorehouse, who recently retired from full-time teaching.
I’m so excited for this new role, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my summer thinking about and organizing how I’ll approach this class in the fall and talking to people who have done it before (Betsy Andersen, Bruce Moorehouse and Mark Jenson, in particular, have been hugely helpful). Then, I thought–hey, maybe I should blog about this experience! Great idea, Arik! 🙂
So, I plan to post about my experience in the classroom–probably at least once a month.
My first post? I thought I’d share a little about how I plan to approach the class and how I’m setting it up.
Overall, my thought process was this: What kind of class would I want to sit in on? What kind of class would I have wanted 20+ years ago when I was in school?
And the answer was pretty easy: A class with more hands-on learning and real-world examples and best practices–and far less book learning. You see, I was never much of a book learner. I never really liked to read as a student. In fact, I only discovered my love for reading as an adult, well after my scholastic career. But, I remember sitting in many classes as a college student wishing we had more hands-on learning opportunities involving more real-world scenarios.
So, I’m structuring the class with that backdrop. Here’s my general plan:
1 – Structure a big chunk of the class around real campaigns students will work on for a real client. I may ask some of my clients and former clients to serve as clients for the kids. Or, I may let the students pick. I haven’t decided yet. But, this will be the biggest component of the class, with the idea of the student presenting to the client their final communications plan and suggestions toward the end of the semester. Along the way, there will be lectures about the primary elements of a functioning communications plan. I will provide support and coaching to the students. But, in the end, they will do the work. And, they will most likely learn a ton.
2 – Real-life case studies. Every Wednesday is going to be Case Study Day. I’m going to being 1-3 case studies from the previous week into the classroom and we’re going to discuss them. What would you have done differently, if anything? How would ethics have played a role in your decision-making? What tools would you have used? How do you think things worked out for this client? That kind of thing. Students will be graded on participation, so I’m hoping for a lively discussion. I know I’ll have to bring the energy and enthusiasm to these talks, but I also know the real-world, this-just-happened aspect to this will be powerful and relevant for the kids.
3 – Learn how to network. Teach what you know. That’s a suggestion that’s coming through loud and clear from a lot of the former and existing profs I’ve been meeting with this summer. So, why not talk about networking! It’s a subject I know well. It’s something I practice every day. And, it’s something I believe many people are woefully under-prepared for as they enter the workplace. So, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about networking. And I’m going to challenge the kids to meet with 3-5 pros in their spare time outside of class so they can start practicing the art form.
4 – How to find that first job. Maybe the most important thing some of these kids will take away from the class will be the ability to market themselves when they graduate next spring (or the spring after). After all, that was a major disappointment of mine in school. I had no idea how to do this, and no one was offering to help. So, I’m going to help students develop their first “marketing plan” for themselves. We’re going to talk about reasonable objectives, creative strategies to help secure interviews and meetings and how to “close the sale” and land that first job. I really think students will enjoy this piece of the class.
So, that’s it. That’s my plan for my first class, which is now less than six weeks away! (Ahhhhhhh!!!!!).
What do you think? Am I on the right path? Anything you’d do differently? I know some of you readers have been adjuncts in the past (or, are currently teaching), so I’m full welcoming any and all feedback for this first-time professor.
In case you missed it, AdFed officially posted its 32 Under 32 list a few weeks ago. This is a great event that has taken on a life of its own the last few years. Seemingly everyone in town under the age of 32 has been nominated for this award!
Jokes and cheap shots aside, I think it’s great that AdFed is recognizing these young people for the work they’re doing. HOWEVER…
If you take a closer look at the 2019 list, you quickly realize almost the entire list is made up of agency folks. I only found THREE people who WEREN’T agency people on the list!
What’s more, it wasn’t just agency people–it was one specific agency! A whopping 10 32 Under 32 winners came from a single agency: Carmichael Relate (or Carmichael Lynch).
Now again, I’m not taking shots at AdFed or the good folks who put on this event. It’s a thankless task and as someone who’s been on the MN PRSA and MIMA boards in the past, I know it’s a lot of work.
But, man, I can’t help think what a missed opportunity this is.
We all know we have a strong agency community here in Minneapolis/St. Paul. And, I realize these kinds of events are driven by nominations. But, you just can’t have an event recognizing the best of our industry and completely exclude the people in corporate, non-profit and solo settings.
That’s just not a realistic picture of our industry.
So, instead of continuing to point out the shortcomings of this award and complain, I’d like to recognize 17 people under the age of 32 (because, it doesn’t HAVE to be 32, right?) who work for corporations or non-profits or are solo practitioners that I believe deserve the spotlight (some nominated by me; others nominated by friends). The one caveat I’ll add is that these people have not been part of the 32U32 winners list in the past.
Kayla Krosschell, Digi-Key Electronics PR & Marketing Communications Specialist
“Kayla has been our client contact at Digi-Key and has made our partnership as seamless as possible. Before we even began working with Digi-Key, she had blazed the trail in developing innovative PR programs and processes for one of Minnesota’s largest companies, Digi-Key Electronics based in Thief River Falls. Kayla’s exceptional work has established her as a go-to source for writing, corporate communications, integrated marketing campaigns and media relations counsel within Digi-Key. As the company continues to expand internationally, Kayla’s role communicating to audiences around the world is growing right along with it. Kayla’s positive attitude, bright mind and standout writing capabilities have made her a valuable asset both to Digi-Key and our team. She’s also been a champion for her community – getting involved in multiple Digi-Key Cares community outreach initiatives. One thing is certain: Kayla is just getting started – and with all that she’s already done in her six years at Digi-Key, we can’t wait to see what she achieves next.” – Shelli Lissick
Katie Zess, social media strategist, Renewal by Andersen
“In her three-year tenure at Renewal by Andersen as a social media specialist, Katie Zess has pushed our public relations efforts to the frontlines. By regularly communicating with marketing teams at 100 Renewal by Andersen locations across the country, she’s constantly working to identify and develop great story ideas to feed our earned media, public relations, influencer and content marketing strategies. Katie is also a board member for SocialMedia.org, where she represents Renewal by Andersen in discussions about social media among the world’s greatest brands.” – Adam May
Jake Wallace, senior marketing communications specialist, Trimble Transporation
“Jake Wallace is a remarkable force behind a great deal of change at Trimble Transportation over the past few years as their senior marketing communications specialist. Although he got his start in the agency world at Weber Shandwick, he quickly moved to the corporate side and joined transportation technology company PeopleNet—now Trimble Transportation — in 2015. Jake has helped navigate the company’s market presence as it shifted to Trimble ownership, and now is managing public relations and strategic communications efforts for multiple business units under Trimble’s Transportation Division. He is focused, driven, calm under pressure and deeply attuned to detail. We’ve had the chance to work with Jake for the past three years, and beyond all his professional attributes, he’s simply a blast to work with.” – Bellmont Partners
Kristen Felegy, People Incorporated, communications and marketing manager
“As People Incorporated celebrates its 50th anniversary, Kristen has led efforts to reintroduce the nonprofit to external audiences, including donors, volunteers and the general public through a variety of communications strategies and tactics. In addition to external communications, Kristen also oversees internal communications with People Incorporated’s 700+ employees at several locations in the Twin Cities metro area. Kristen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Spanish, as well as a Master of Science degree in Marketing. She’s also a certified professional project manager. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Circle Lake Association, among other volunteer activities.
Kristen is always enthusiastic, laser-focused on outcomes, and an insightful leader who puts great thought into everything she does. She’s fun to work with, and truly cares about the organization’s mission, employees and clients. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more – always happy to sing Kristen’s praises!” – Bridget Nelson Monroe
Eri O’Diah, founder, Collective.ly Digital
“Eri is a dynamo! A 2012 cinema and TV arts grad of Cal State Northridge, she spent several years in development and producing in L.A. and has made her way back to the Midwest to build a digital media remote team, Collective.ly Digital. She’s been a fundraising leader for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I’ve seen her getting lots of recognition in the media recently!” – Heather Olson
Lilian Vo, associate art director-The On Being Project
“Lilian is a 2018 grad of Macalester in Global Studies, Anthropology, and Japanese, yet she’s developed the Vietnamese bridge-building initiative “The Sticky Rice Project,” learned graphic design on her own, and has risen to Associate Art Director at On Being.” – Heather Olson
Chelcy Walker, corporate communications associate, General Mills
“Chelcy is a great fit for General Mills, on a professional and personal level. She’s innovative, and a highly-collaborative teammate, which was extremely valuable in her key role in our recent intranet rebuild and launch. She also knows the importance of expressing her point of view to our business partners, rooted in strategy. On top of all that, she’s a skilled writer who can quickly get to the heart of a story and how best to tell it.” – Kevin Hunt
Amanda Gebhard, social media communications manager, Boston Scientific
“Amanda’s a social media expert, through and through, as well as an excellent communicator and collaborator. Amanda sees the picture, and understands how critical social media is today to marketing, public relations and human relations. She accomplished a lot in her time at Prime, elevating all the social media channels and the overall strategy. Any company is lucky to have her on their team.” – Adriane Sylvers
Liz Erickson Monson, senior marketing communications manager, CH Robinson
“Liz is a charismatic and disciplined marketing and comms leader. She consistently keeps the intended audience at the center of her work ensuring that strategies, tactics and measurements are developed in alignment with their needs/wants and those of the business. Masterful at identifying actionable insights from a variety of data sources, distilling them into dynamic marcomm strategies and executing the tactics therein efficiently and impactfully.” – Ryan Roddy
Caitlin Hannah, social media strategist, Explore Minnesota
“Caitlin was a wonderful intern and has a bright future in the communications world! Caitlin took direction very well, had wonderfully creative ideas, and was always eager to help. Having said that, she would be a great addition to any team and I hope to one day work with her again.” – Jeremy Josephson
David Jungers, social media director, Optum
“It’s rare that you come across standout talent like David. I had the pleasure of working with David for a year at Sprinklr. I was impressed by his functional knowledge and willingness to always help out others. One of David’s biggest strengths is his flexibility within an organization. He brings a diverse background of skills that and can be slotted to fill a variety of needs.” – Michael Killi
Katie Miller, owner, Kate Rae Digital
“I had the pleasure of working directly with and for Katie during our time at Olson Engage. In addition to her talent in all things social and digital, from strategy to content creation and everything in between, Katie has a unique ability to lead and inspire others. She is smart and talented with a work ethic to match—a dangerous combination and invaluable asset for anyone smart enough to hire her.” – Dan Bonebright
Laura Jollie, content operations manager, Life Time
“Nerland Co. has been lucky to have Laura Jolie as an agency assistant in 2014 to support our cross-functioning teams. In a growing agency, we needed glue to keep the office running as well as support for our Account Directors with project management, scheduling, writing, research, client support, communication, mailings, and team meeting organization. She also handled a few client projects and lead our creative team to produce great work, on budget, and had client success.” – Nathan Nerland
Brittany Gadient, marketing and digital media manager, The Waters Senior Living
“Brittany’s true passion for paid media is remarkable. She is dedicated to creating eye-catching, quality ads on all channels. Her constant curiosity drives her to always be on top of any changes or updates in the digital world. She is always excited to learn new things and teach others about her expertise. Brittany is a great coworker and is an incredible asset to any digital team.” – Alex Rothstein
Susan Garcia Hagen, assistant director-account services, University of Minnesota
“Susan is a fantastic colleague. She is a strategic thinker who simultaneously has deep empathy for her audience. She is able to expertly weave those two skills together to create marketing campaigns that speak to the audience and meet business goals. She is a natural leader and is seen so by all that work with her. Her attention to detail ensures that everything she creates is without flaw. I have had the pleasure of working with Susan for 4 years and she is truly one of my favorite coworkers.” – Lisa Case
Natalie Conrad, communications and social media manager, Minneapolis Northwest Tourism
“Natalie works tirelessly on behalf of Minneapolis Northwest Tourism as its communications and social media manager. For the past two years, she has implemented communications campaigns to promote the cities of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove. Whether it’s setting up itineraries for visiting bloggers (and driving them around personally), or writing attention-grabbing blog and social media posts, or attending meetings with community leaders, or appearing on local TV to discuss the upcoming events in the area, or being quoted in the Washington Post, Natalie does it all, and always with a smile on her face. She’s also active in Minnesota PRSA and pursuing her APR.” – Bellmont Partners
Ice cream truck’s bold claim: We’re charging influencers DOUBLE (and why it might signify a tipping point in influencer marketing)
In case you missed it, a soft-serve ice cream entrepreneur in California made news recently. Yeah, instead of catering incessantly to influencers, he’s basically thumbing his nose at them. In fact, he’s going well beyond that. His recent Instagram post sums his approach up best:
“We’ve decided to make this thing official with signage. We truly don’t care if you’re an Influencer, or how many followers you have. We will never give you a free ice cream in exchange for a post on your social media page. It’s literally a $4 item…well now it’s $8 for you. #InfluencersAreGross.”
It made news on Fox earlier this month. And, anytime Nichhi (the owner) talks about it on his Insta page, it blows up. Needless to say, I think he’s struck a nerve.
It’s a bit of the same trend Kahlua’s picking up on with its “Zero Likes” campaign that was unveiled just this week. And, it’s not the first time Kahlua has taken this approach–it promoted its #BottomNine tool, too, to give followers the chance to curate their least-liked posts.
Almost like an “anti-influencer” movement.
Clearly, there’s something here. And, I tend to think it’s about to grow even more.
Recent reports claim influencers have seen their engagement numbers plummet recently. Engagement rates for sponsored posts fell to 2.4% in Q1 2019 from 4% three years earlier, while the rate for non-sponsored posts slid to 1.9% from 4.5% for the comparable periods.
And, recent news from Instagram itself tells us they’re looking to get even MORE influencer posts in your feeds soon. Most (if not all) from influencers you don’t even follow.
Where am I going with all this? For the first time in a while, the data (and my gut feeling) say we may be reaching a tipping point with influencer marketing.
I’m not predicting the demise of IM–far from it. That same study I mentioned earlier said engagement rates for influencers with at least 10,000 followers was steady at about 3.6%. And, influencers with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have an engagement rate of 6.3%. Best yet, those with a following of 1,000 to 5,000 have the highest rate at 8.8%. So, one trend I definitely see in IM in the year ahead is much more focus on micro-influencers (which, I know, we’ve heard before, but bears repeating).
And yeah, I know surveys say the lion’s share of companies are continuing to invest in IM (or investing even more in the year ahead!). However, that doesn’t mean we’re not reaching a tipping point. If anything, it makes me even more confident that we are! Saturation will (eventually, at least) lead to more companies pulling back on IM budgets. It’s just a matter of time–I just happen to think you’d be wise to get ahead of this and pull back a bit now (and this, coming from a guy who specializes in this service offering!).
The smart companies will continue to leverage IM–but, they should be increasingly careful. Choose your influencers wisely. Use your influencers for much more than just Insta posts–think about ways to fold them into your organization, across the board (using them at employee events, for example). Lock influencers into year-to-multi-year contracts–make them feel a part of the organization instead of treating them like a tradeable commodity.
Yep, IM isn’t going away anytime soon. But, I see pushback coming. You can get ahead of it, or fall prey to it in the coming year. Pursue at your own peril.