At the risk of adding yet another “what I’ve learned during the COVID-19 crisis” post to the internet ether, I just wasn’t sure what to write about this week. Clearly, COVID-19 has taken over our personal and professional lives. So, for the time being, it almost feels weird to write about anything BUT the virus.
But, for me, as with many others in our business, writing is cathartic. It helps us express our emotions and feelings in a different way. And, at least in this post, it will allow me to take stock and reflect back on one of the most intense and stressful weeks in my 25+-year career.
Because, there were a lot of factors playing into that this week:
- All COVID-19, all the time. Obviously, you couldn’t get away from it this week. Many of us in comms are news junkies. We love to track the news. The more information the better, right? But, in times like this when the news is almost always negative, that is not always a good thing. For me, that was definitely the case this week. The more news I consumed, the worse I felt. So, about mid-week, I made the conscious decision to pull back on my news and social media consumption. I was unusually busy, so that wasn’t all that tough. But, I also retreated to my family. To my health (I ran EVERY day this week!). To music. That all helped–immensely. I plan to continue that approach this week, too.
- Vacation hangover. Last week, when this was all breaking, my family and I were in Palm Springs with my parents. It was surreal to monitor all this from what I describe as “The Truman Show” (Palm Springs is sunny and 80 every day it seems–although this year, we did have two rainy days, which was a huge bummer). We returned very late Saturday, and had one day to get ready for the workweek. But, when Monday hit, it hit hard. I would have had a stressful week this week WITHOUT the virus news.
- Learning to teach remotely–on the fly. We found out the University of St. Thomas, where I teach as an adjunct professor, would be online until after spring break when I was in Palm Springs. So, when I got back, I had to figure out how the heck I was going to teach my class ON MONDAY virtually–something I, along with my professors I’m guessing, had never done. I took a quick Zoom class on Sunday night, reworked my syllabus a bit and jumped in. I told the students we’d figure this out together. I told them I was stressed and scared, just like they were. But, that this too shall pass. We made it through week one with no visible scars. Zoom actually worked pretty well! And, while my class is going to change drastically as a result of not teaching in person, life, and class, will go one. We will figure this out. Together.
So yeah, stressful week. And, I know I’m not alone. I know all of us had stressful weeks last week. For some, a lot more stressful than mine. But, I also learned a number of key lessons this week that I will be mindful of this week, and in future weeks, as this crisis evolves:
- Empathetic leadership will pay off. I was so impressed by one client this week who was managing a team remotely through this crisis. I’ve been on many of the calls, and through it all, she has managed with an incredibly high level of emotional intelligence. She’s quick to ask everyone how they’re doing on many of the calls (which might not be happening as much as you’d guess). She acknowledged hard work and team wins throughout the week (something we all need right now). She pushed hard, but she also did a lot of listening and leaning on key people to give her advice. In short, she was an amazing empathetic leader. I think those who lead this way through this crisis are going to come out the other end in a tremendously good place. And, I’m hoping we see a lot more of it in the weeks to come–because I think we’re going to need it.
- You HAVE to step away from the computer. This whole “work from home” thing is new to the majority of the workforce right now. And, I’m sure many are struggling to walk away from their computers this week. Partly because it’s been “all hands on deck” and partly because they’re still figuring all this out, and work can be a place of refuge. But, as someone who’s been doing this for 10+ years now, I can safely say you have to step away. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes for a walk outside. Or, to meditate. Get away from your computer for chunks of time. Your health depends on it right now.
- Human connection is needed more than ever. As the week wore on, I noticed something about myself. The more I talked to people (and SAW people on Zoom), the better I felt. I read something the other day that said they shouldn’t call is “social distancing” but “physical distancing”, and I think that’s so true. We need our social connections now more than ever. So, make sure to CALL people this week. Try a Zoom call with a colleague or friend. Heck, try a Zoom happy hour! (we did this with a couple friend of ours Saturday night). Sure, you want to stay connected with your family and extended family right now. But, don’t forget your work family, and your network right now. They’re stressed, too. They’re hurting. And, they’d probably love to hear from you.
It’s been repeated many times this past week, but I say it again: We’re in this together. Especially as communicators. We’re taking the brunt of it right now, in our day jobs. And, the stress doesn’t let up after we shut the computers. So, please, take it easy on yourself this week. Talk to friends, family and work connections. Practice gratitude. And, focus on kindness and empathy in your work lives. We’ve got a long ways to go, folks. Let’s take it easy on each other.
By now, the “war for talent” has been well-documented. We’re facing a shortage of talent. Employees hold all the cards. Employers need to adapt in terms of what employees really want in the new economy.
Except, here’s the problem: They’re not doing that.
Not even close.
According to Ragan’s 2020 Salary and Workplace Culture Survey, employers seem to be going through the motions when it comes to attracting and retaining key talent.
What am I talking about?
For starters, the survey found that a full 57% of respondents got a 1-3% salary increase in 2019. I’m so motivated just hearing that number! How do you expect to keep star employees motivated when you’re giving them, essentially, what amounts to a cost-of-living increase? If attracting and retaining talent is truly key to a company’s success, this just isn’t going to cut it.
Personal story: I worked for a health care company earlier in my career. This company offered the standard 1-3% increase each year. These increases were doled out to employees based on performance, believe it or not. As though the employee who received the 3% increase was saying “Man, I got a 3% increase! I’m going to work even harder next year to get 3% again!” This was extremely demotivating and actually was a contributing factor in me (and most likely many others, at the time) looking for other opportunities.
But, we know pay isn’t the only factor in attracting and retaining key talent. Benefits play a central role in 2020. Unfortunately, the gap between what employers are offering and what employees want could not be wider.
The Ragan survey asked respondents what they wanted, in terms of benefits, from their employer? Here were the top results:
Professional development – 63%
Ability to work from home – 63%
Free coffee – 62%
Flex hours – 55%
No surprise there, right? I’m constantly AMAZED in talking to friends and colleagues that companies refuse to pay for PRSA, IABC and MIMA memberships. I mean, we’re talking about $300-400! Worse, they’re usually not open to funding trips to professional development conferences and events either. Want to up your content marketing chops by going to Cleveland to hit Content Marketing World? That’s usually met with “why don’t you find a local event instead?” It’s time to start taking professional development seriously. It’s not a “nice to have”–it’s a MUST HAVE. This data is reinforcing what we already knew.
Or, what about the ability to work from home? Another huge perk almost every employee would value. I can’t think of one person I know who wouldn’t want to have the flexibility to work from home every now and then. Yet, companies simply refuse to adopt this cultural shift–for many reasons (namely, they don’t trust employees). This one feels like the easiest perk for employers to provide–with a huge upside. I mean, what’s the downside for employers here? Less real estate costs, potentially? More satisfied and fulfilled employees? I’d love to hear real, honest reasons about why more companies can’t do this. It just seems ludicrous in our field to not allow employees to work from home once in a while.
On the other side, here are the top benefits companies ARE providing employees in 2020:
Medical insurance – 98%
Vacation – 97%
Dental insurance – 95%
No one is complaining about receiving medical coverage and vacation time. But, we don’t see the most coveted benefits (professional development, flex time, ability to work from home) anywhere on this list–not at all.
What’s more, a key benefit on the compensation side is only offered to 15% of respondents–profit-sharing.
Companies don’t seem to be taking recruitment and retention seriously. Not really. Not when you see stats like these. Not when you hear stories like I do from colleagues complaining about not having the ability to work remotely, not getting paid what they’re worth, and not getting what they need in terms of professional development.
Now, that’s not to say this isn’t happening at all. Agencies like Bellmont Partners, locally here in Minneapolis, do encourage employees to work where they need to, as long as employees get their work done. Or, my friend Heather Whaling’s agency in Columbus, which “focuses on delivering high-quality results instead of billable hours.” Really smart.
So, it is happening–just not in big numbers. Not in the way it needs to if companies are going to attract and retain the talent they need to succeed in the next 10-20 years. It’s working…for now. Mostly because the Boomers are still in charge. Once that changes, over the next 10-20 years, I think you’re going to see a big shift in the way companies treat employees. Time will tell, of course, but that’s my thought–and hope.
Last week, Greg Swan shared an interesting tweet as part of his presentation on the state of social media in 2020. It talked about the “half life” of content. See below.
Fascinating to compare the half-life of content across platforms (time it takes for a piece of content to reach 50% of its total lifetime engagement) 🧐
Twitter: 20 mins
Facebook: 5 hrs
Instagram: 20 hrs
LinkedIn: 24 hrs
YouTube: 20 days
Pinterest: 4 mos
Blog post: 2 yrs
— Anu (@anutopiaa) January 28, 2020
Greg glossed over this tweet fairly quickly, as he had a lot of ground to cover. But, I thought it was very interesting–and worthy of more conversation considering the implications for social media marketers.
What piques my curiosity the most is the inverse relationship between the platforms where we spend the most time (Facebook, Insta and Twitter) and the half-life values for content.
We’ve all seen the stats that show where social media marketers are spending the most time–typically, Facebook and Insta are at the top of the list (Twitter has fallen off, but many marketers are still investing time there).
Meanwhile, which networks and tools do we see fewer social media marketers using? Pinterest, for sure. In fact, only 28% of marketers claim to be using Pinterest as a social media tool.
And, just over 50% of Fortune 500 companies do have a corporate blog, that number is far cry from the number of Fortune 500s that use Facebook, Insta and Twitter as social media tools (and, most likely, don’t update their blogs as much as those other channels, either).
And, as you can see from the tweet above, those are the two platforms with the highest content half-life values. Create content for Pinterest or a corporate blog, and it tends to stick around for a while. And, in the process, drive value for your brand.
What’s behind this? A couple key factors.
First, easy of creation. Let’s face it–it’s a lot easier to create a few Facebook or Insta posts each week than it is to create a 750-word blog post. Creating longer-form blog content takes time, resources and money. According to research, the average blog post takes more than 3 hours to create! I’m guessing it probably takes a fraction of that to create a Facebook post.
Second, immediacy is playing into this, too. Marketers want to see immediate returns for their content investments. Make a post on Insta, and you’re seeing likes, comments and tags within minutes. Create a new board on your Pinterest page and it’s litereally months (or years) before the final returns roll in. Our bosses are (typically) demanding immediate (or, at the very least, monthly) returns for our content investments. Long-tail assets like blog posts and pins don’t satiate that desire for immediacy.
I would add podcasting to this list, too. If it were on it, I’m guessing it would reside right between Pinterest and blogs. Same issue–tougher to create (much tougher than a blog post, in fact), little to no immediacy, but long-tail value for weeks and months at a time.
This all speaks to the “what have you done for me lately?” marketing culture we’re now living in. It’s tougher to sell a social marketing approach that won’t pay dividends for months vs. one that will see (almost) immediate results.
I’m usually an advocate for a social content strategy that embraces the immediate (Facebook, Insta, Twitter), but also the long-tail (blogs, podcasts, even LinkedIn, in some ways). As usual, it’s all about moderation and hedging your bets. In this case, it’s also about owned channels vs. “rented” channels.
Again, I thought this was good food for thought as you think about your ongoing social content strategy–and it was worth a little deeper conversation.
Last week, a friend sent me a note the posed an interesting question:
“How do we remain authentic about our business selves on LinkedIn? Comms people are ethical, authentic and we challenge our leaders to be authentic communicators. Yet, on LinkedIn everything is so positive. Rarely do people show any hint of humility.”
Great point, right? So good, I thought it was worth a more lengthy discussion and exploration here.
First, are comms folks really so braggadocious on LinkedIn? In a word, yes. I spend more time than the average person on the platform, and I can tell you: the number of people who don’t either 1) promote their company more times than not or, 2) promote themselves more times than not is pretty small. Like, I can barely think of anyone that DOESN’T do these things. David Armano at Edelman comes to mind (always has thoughtful posts and rarely promotes Edelman or his clients), and Amber Naslund (who does talk about her employer, LinkedIn, but rarely in a “look how cool my job is”-kinda way).
No, that observation is spot-on by my friend. We are self-promotional on LinkedIn. We do show only our best selves. And, we rarely show any chinks in our armor.
And, that is odd. Because, like my friend said, we would never encourage leaders or others at our company to do that. In fact, when I’ve led trainings for clients on LinkedIn, it’s one of the first things we talk about–don’t promote your company too much. Work on building relationships. Work on commenting and sharing other people’s content. Work on showing humility.
But, are we practicing what we preach as communicators? Are doing those things on LinkedIn?
I’m not so sure.
But, it can and should be happening more often. After all, I firmly believe most people who work in our industry are ethical and sensible.
So, what we can do to right this ship? A few easy things come to mind.
1 – Focus on being a listener.
Like I said, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. But, the bulk of it is spent on listening–not talking. I’m looking for posts to comment on. Information I can use to send someone a private note (job promotions come to mind). Or, nuggets I can use to build a blog post or podcast “talking point.” Add to the conversation–instead of always trying to start a new one.
2 – Seek to open up discussions around topics that interest you.
This is one of my favorite things to do on LinkedIn. I’ve done this with case studies (recently, the Winona Super Bowl Ad discussion). I’ve done this with “controversial” topics (like how and when to correct people when they misspell your first/last name!). Give it a try sometime. I think people are thirsty to participate in these kinds of discussions on LinkedIn, but we just don’t see too many of them. Give us something to react to. Give us something to talk about with you. Start a MEANINGFUL conversation that doesn’t involve your brand or company. See where it goes. Report back!
3 – Instead of promoting yourself, seek to promote your colleagues, bosses and friends.
Everyone wants recognition. I get it. And, I’m no different. But there’s so much value in promoting your colleagues and friends vs. talking about yourself. First, it’s going to feel really good. Trust me. For me, nothing feels better than writing and sharing one of my PR Rock Star interviews–and then seeing the comments of support from the Rock Star’s friends, family and colleagues roll in. You can do the same thing on LinkedIn. The next time a friend or colleagues scores a new job, showcase them in a post of your own (instead of just commenting on that post noting their promotion in your feed). I guarantee your friend or colleague will notice–and so will a bunch of other people.
“What’s a typical day look like for you?”
It’s a question I heard a lot last semester at the University of St. Thomas. The students asked that question of the guest speakers. They asked it when we went on our tours at Best Buy and Padilla. And, they asked it of me!
I also love these “day in the life”-type posts when I see them on other sites. I’m a sucker–I’ll read them almost every time, no matter the profession or person!
So, what does a “typical” day look like for me as an independent consultant and now, adjunct professor? Goes without saying, but there is no typical day! So, I pulled a random day out to give you a glimpse at one 24-hour period!
6:30 a.m.: Wake up; walk dog; eat breakfast; get one kid to school. I am not an early riser person. I leave that to people like Susan Beatty and her 3:30 a.m. runs!
7:50 a.m.: Drive to nearby Starbucks. I always start my day at the coffee shop. I live near 3-4 different Starbucks. I try to mix it up, but often find myself at the one on 54th/Lyndale, although it has to be one of the busiest Starbucks in the city!
8:03 a.m.: Take a peek at the social communities for my biggest client (of 10 years now!), Sleep Number and respond to about 20 comments and private messages on their behalf. Over the last five years, we’ve created a social media playbook document that makes this a lot easier!
8:46 a.m.: Start research and writing a byline for my Trustmark client. Much of the work I do for them revolves around B2B media relations with HR publications, podcasts and blogs. We’re pitching a lot of bylines to these kinds of pubs, and in many instances, I’m on the hook to take the first stab at the draft.
9: 51 a.m.: Putting the finishing touches on a new business proposal I’m very excited about! I proof it twice and send it off, hoping I hear back shortly. It’s for some social + PR consulting for a health care start-up in town. I don’t normally do a ton of start-up work, but this referral came from a friend and I really like the people involved, so I went for it!
10: 17 a.m.: Walk dog–again (don’t look at me like that! I just took you for a walk!)
10: 28 a.m.: Scan LinkedIn; comment on a post where a friend got a new job; make a post promoting a Talking Points Podcast episode we just completed the previous day.
10: 41 a.m.: Do some last-minute prep for class! Finalizing a lesson plan and coordinating details for a few upcoming speakers coming into class. Don’t let anyone fool you–teaching a class is a lot of work!
11:01 a.m.: Draft social content for my Visit Richfield client. This usually involves coming up with creative ideas to sell the city of Richfield and promote tourism (i.e., hotel stays) in the city. Fun creative challenge each month!
11: 44 a.m.: Change into my professor clothes (just kidding, but I do change to go to class); and head over to the University of St. Thomas for class.
12:15 p.m.: Class starts! I review a few to-dos with the students and lecture about social media marketing. I only have 10 students in my class this semester, but they’re all fantastic in different ways.
1:20 p.m.: Class is done–head back to south Minneapolis to let the dog out.
1:42 p.m.: Work on drafting social content for my Sleep Number client for March. I work with the wonderful Kellie Weiland on Sleep Number’s Employer Brand work. We create content for Sleep Number’s Careers Facebook and Instagram pages and the company’s LinkedIn and Glassdoor pages. Super fun work and Kellie is one of my favorite all-time clients.
2:21 p.m.: Follow-up with the 30+ folks in the local mastermind group I manage with a note about our meeting tomorrow. This is a group of senior-level communicators at the biggest companies in town (General Mills, Toro, Medtronic, etc.) We get together every other month to discuss trends, professional development and case studies. I’m so proud I have the opportunity to know these folks (many are friends; this is just a few of the people in the group below) and chat with them each month.
2:38 p.m.: Walk dog. Again.
2:49 p.m.: Daughter walks in the door (she’s in seventh grade); I leave to pick up my son who’s in ninth grade at a local private high school (read: No bus!).
3:08 p.m.: Media follow-up outreach for my Truth Initiative/EX Program client. We made a pitch last week and I’m following up with a few key reporters to gauge reaction.
3:29 p.m.: Blog post research. Writing a post about influencer marketing trends and I’m knee-deep in research. It usually takes me 2-3 hours (at least) to write each post. I’ve been writing at least two posts a week for 10+ years now. I have the process down to a science, but I still love the process!
3:57 p.m.: Check the Sleep Number Careers Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram pages again for comments. I check-in with these pages three times a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening).
4:18 p.m.: Do a little work on an Employer Brand presentation I’m giving in the coming weeks (a version of which I gave at Social Media Breakfast back in December!). I created this prezo 100% from scratch, so it took a while to do all the research. I figure I put in easily 30+ hours for each deck like this I build.
4:52 p.m.: Start meal prep for family. My wife texts that she’ll be home in 15 minutes.
5:43 p.m.: Dinner.
6:01 p.m.: Family time; read the newspaper (yes, we still subscribe to the Star Tribune!).
7:15 p.m.: Run to Mall of America with my daughter to shop for dresses for her school dance. I’m lobbying for Father of the Year for the 35 minutes I spent in Pac-Sun watching her try on somewhat inappropriate clothing for a seventh grade dance.
8:47 p.m.: Catch the tail-end of the Timberwolves game. I’m a huge b-ball fan–and Wolves fan, despite their less-than-stellar history. But, with the “New Wolves Order”, I’m all in again this year! #GoWolves
9:35 p.m.: Check on my Sleep Number communities one last time.
9:51 p.m.: Do a little work on another new business proposal. Would like to get that out to the client tomorrow.
10:12 p.m.: Walk dog for final time. I hope.
10:24 p.m.: Check phone for any urgent client issues one last time before I turn it off for the night.
10:32 p.m.: Watch episode of Fleabag with my wife–our new favorite show.
11:12 p.m.: Pass out. Day over. (I almost always fall asleep before my wife! I’ll have to catch the end of that Fleabag episode tomorrow!)