Look, I’m comfortable in my current position as an independent consultant. In fact, I’m thrilled I get to do this job day-in and day-out. I’ll do it as long as my clients let me.
But, from time to time, I’ve given thought to what it would be like to take one of these lead social/digital roles you see around the Twin Cities and start (or revamp) a digital team from the ground up.
It’s a fun thing to dream about (although again, to be absolutely clear, I have NO intention of pursuing this!).
And, I think it’s a good topic to discuss, because I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. And, I think a lot of companies struggle with how, exactly, to do this.
So, here’s my thinking, from an independent consultant, mind you 🙂
Step One: Hire a strategist that’s way smarter than me.
I don’t have a ton of experience managing large teams, but one concept I know I’d embrace if I went down this road is this: I’d always hire people smarter than me for key positions. I’ve never been one to worry about my job (which is what people often worry about in situations like this). I actually take the opposite stance–I think smart people will make us all look better. So, I would hire a really, really, really smart strategist and build around that person.
Step Two: Over-pay for an above-average content producer
After working with large companies across the Twin Cities for the last seven-plus years, I’ve seen the importance of having content talent in-house. I know that may not be the smartest thing for a consultant who makes his living off content development to say. But, it’s true. Content producers benefit by sitting in a chair within an organization. Sure, you *could* outsource those roles–and many companies do. But, I just think it makes more sense to have them in-house. And, I’d be more than happy to over-pay for this role, because I think it’s that key to success.
Step Three: Find a solid community manager–but don’t overspend
I’d want all community management in-house, too. All of it. But, unlike the content role, I wouldn’t over-pay for this. It’s a more commoditized skill set. And, it certainly doesn’t command a higher salary. I recognize community management is a key piece of the team, but I also know there’s a LOT of people out there that can do this job effectively (unlike the content roles).
Step Four: Find a social designer/video producer
Here’s where I’d get greedy. We would need a social/digital designer on the team. Key role in today’s visual-first environment. But, I would also want that designer to have video know-how. They don’t have to be a video expert. I’m not talking about someone with 20 years of experience. But, I want someone who has design chops–but also knows a little about iMovie. I would seek a hybrid here. I know it would be hard to find this person, but I would also be willing to train someone up here.
Step Five: Outsource media buying
Could be controversial, but I’d outsource media buying. Why? Because the skill set is so new, it’s going to be awfully tough to find. The agencies have more “talent” in this area right now. And, I bet if you looked hard enough, you could find a solo who specializes (even a little) in paid social and digital advertising. I think hiring for this role would just be too tough right now–as in, I think you’d be likely to have a revolving door of people looking to learn on your dime. No thank you.
Step Six: Find and develop analytics talent
Another tough role to find right now–but they are out there. And, I’d actually go into this hire with the full expectation that I’d want to (and in many cases, need to) coach this person up a bit. I’d work directly with this person to do that–and probably pull the strategist in, too. I’d look for learning opportunities outside the organization (like Minneanalytics). I’d look to pair him/her with an analytics mentor outside the organization. I’d make this a priority, because this would be a key role on the team.
Step Seven: Outsource the niche areas
Podcasting or audio help? Outsource it. Influencer outreach campaigns? Outsource it. Big ideas for our social campaigns in the coming year? Outsource it (here’s where I’d use agency brainpower). My theory is simple: Invest in the primary digital areas and nurture home-grown talent. Outsource niche and hard-to-find talent areas.
Photo Credit: HTSABO
Last week, I wrote a post about the importance of networking outside the four walls of your company.
Like others, I maintain this is an essential and critical strategy to bolstering your career trajectory–and to help your current company in many different ways.
In the post, I wondered aloud why so many people ignore this advice. And instead, choose to stay put and rarely network, save the times when they need a network (i.e., losing a job).
A few people made the point: Maybe some folks don’t know *how* to network.
A point I hadn’t really thought of.
But, it’s probably spot on.
Because most people do want to be the best employee they can be. And, they want to improve their career options.
So, it makes sense.
In light of that, I thought I’d take the time today to offer up my advice on this topic–HOW to network.
I don’t profess to be an expert networker–far from it, in fact. But, I do, essentially, get PAID to network. It makes a lot of business sense for me to know a TON of people. And, for those people to think good things about me, when they think of me.
So, if I had to start networking from the ground up, here’s what I’d do:
Organize regular coffee meetings
I’d take a five-step approach.
Step one: Take stock of your existing network
Everyone has a network. Friends. Family. People at church. People you play softball with. Others you camp with. Sit down and write down EVERYONE you know. Start a list. You’ll probably be surprised how many people are on it.
Step two: Start with your inner circle
Tick down this master list and put “stars” next to the people you would deem in your “inner circle.” Those people you trust the most. Those people you would confide in. Those people you would ask for advice. These are the people you’re going to ask to coffee first.
Step three: Think about your approach
My networking approach: Very casual. I want people to feel at ease with me. So, I ask a lot of questions at coffees. I don’t talk about myself, unless asked. And, I try to appear happy, laid back (yet motivated) and outgoing. I know that sounds kinda stiff and lame, but it pays to think about your approach to these meetings. Do you want to appear more formal, or take a more laid back approach? Are you going to take notes? Will you dress up? What about your appearance? All things to consider with your overall approach. Remember, these meet-ups will start to define people’s impressions and perceptions about you–make sure they start to think what you want them to think.
Step four: Preparation and follow-up
Next up–ask these inner circle folks to coffee. But, don’t just get together with them and “have coffee.” Treat it like a business meeting. Start by preparing. Find out what they’ve been up to lately–new job? Family news? Passion projects? Start a list of 3-5 business-related questions you can ask these folks. You don’t want to be too formal with your prep, but you want to be prepared. After the coffee, practice your follow-up. Send them a note, thanking them for their time. Throw in a couple links to stories or items you talked about in your meeting.
Step five: Ask for 2-3 introductions from your inner circle
Here’s where the “networking” piece really comes in. Ask your inner circle folks to introduce you to 2-3 additional folks from their networks who they think you might benefit in meeting. Might be someone in your industry. Might be someone completely outside your industry–but someone who might be interesting to meet for different reasons. Whatever the case, this is where things really take off. Let’s say you have just 5 people in your inner circle. If those five people refer you to 3 people each, that’s 15 new coffee meet-ups for you! And, keep in mind, these are “warm intros”–so you’ll have at least one point of commonality with the people you’ll be meeting up with (your common friend).
Only use larger “networking” events as conduits to more coffee meet-ups
I’ve written about this before, but the infamous “networking event” is the most over-rated event ever. Think about the scene: 100 people on a rooftop in Uptown Minneapolis. Within an hour, most have had at least one drink. Many are talking to people they already know. Many conversations last 5 minutes or less. Does that sound like the kind of environment where you can really make an impression on someone? My approach to these events: Use them as a way to organize more one-on-one coffee meet-ups. Try to meet new people at these events at all costs. Don’t be afraid to stick out your hand and introduce yourself. After all, isn’t that why you’re there? It’s certainly why other people are there. Meet people. Get contact info. And follow up with those people you think were moderately interesting, and ask them to coffee.
Think about your “soft” networking events
Networking doesn’t have to just happen in a coffee shop or at industry events. It can happen at church. Or, camping. Or, on the boat. For me, my “soft” networking events happen in a few different venues: 1) On the golf course, 2) Camping, and 3) At sporting events. Golfing is a huge one for me. Think about the scene. I get 3-4 UNINTERRUPTED HOURS with an individual doing something I love doing (and hopefully, something they love doing, too). That’s actual networking gold. A close second would probably be sporting events. I attended numerous Minnesota Timberwolves games this year with many different people. Those were all opportunities for me to get to know these folks a bit better–in a scene that’s NOT the workplace. So, think about your soft networking opportunities. Could be volunteering at your kids school. Could be church-related activities. Could be working out. All represent an opportunity to meet new people in a different kind of setting.
Get creative and leverage scale
One thing I love to do is create my own networking opportunities–at scale. I’ve done it many times in the last seven years. A few years back, I tried organizing semi-regular happy hours where I’d invite 5-6 “inner circle” friends and ask them to bring a friend I didn’t know. Worked beautifully. I met new people. My friends met new people. And, we had a lot of fun along the way. More recently, I started a corporate communicator mastermind group here in Minneapolis. We get together every other month for a business meeting followed by dinner. What a great way to meet up with 10-12 of the smartest communicators in Minneapolis–while delivering tremendous value for them. I have another big idea in the works for this fall–but you’ll have to wait for more details on that one 🙂 Think about how you can get creative, once you’ve sharpened your networking powers. How can you create group environments to leverage scale and meet more than one person, while still keeping things fairly intimate.
That’s my advice. Hope it helps a bit. Any other tips you’d share?
I want to preface this post by saying, I sucked at office politics when I was on the client side.
Worse yet, I had absolutely no interest in it.
I didn’t want the corner office.
I didn’t necessarily want more responsibility (read: a bigger team).
I just didn’t want to play the game.
That said, I have 20 years of “observing” office politics–and, as such, have learned a lot about what to do, and what NOT to do.
As a consultant, I often-times use this knowledge to my advantage. It helps to understand how to work a room in a big meeting (even if I’m not the one “working it”). It helps to know why my client can’t make the project move forward–because “Jerry” in marketing is stone-walling her through her boss.
So I get it. I don’t like it. But, I get it.
And I thought I’d share some of my observations (from a consultant’s view), on how you can navigate the complex world of office politics:
Rule #1: When it doubt, keep your head down and just crank out good work on deadline
When things get hairy. When people start getting itchy. When it seems like things are so bad, someone might get fired, just put your head down and focus on the task at hand. Resist the urge to “grease the wheels”. Resist the urge to gossip. Resist the urge to bad mouth your cube mate. Just do your work. And do it well.
Rule #2: Let your colleagues gossip. You should focus on listening.
One lesson I learned the hard way. During my tenure at one former employer, I was usually quick to jump into the gossip fray. It was easy. It was fun. But damn, it was dirty. And looking back, that wasn’t fun at all. Or productive. What did I learn? That people are always going to gossip. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean YOU have to gossip. When your work friends are gossiping, listen. Don’t talk. Don’t join the party. Don’t even comment. Just listen. Half the time, your work friends just want to get stuff off their chest anyway. This way, you’re being a good “work friend”, you’re not participating in the evil gossip machine, and you’re probably learning a few interesting things about your colleagues along the way 🙂 Best of all, you won’t feel guilty 24 hours later.
Rule #3: Learn how to merchandise results–effectively.
Make no mistake about it–this is a BIG part of any job. Whether you’re an AAE, or a VP of marketing, merchandising the results of your work is a big deal in the workplace. If done well, it means: 1) More budget for projects down the road, 2) More people on your team, 3) More recognition from your boss and your boss’ boss, and 4) More money for YOU in the form of raises and job offers in the years ahead. But, merchandising results is an art form–not a science. You have to read your boss. You have to know how to share the results. You have to know WHEN to share the results. Getting a feel for how this works is one of the biggest hidden skills no one talks about. And I’m not sure why.
Rule #4: Follow the Golden Rule. Always.
I’m constantly amazed at how some managers and leaders treat those around them. Both their peers–and those who report to them. They usually don’t treat their managers too poorly–for obvious reasons. But, everyone else? Not so great. If you really do follow the Golden Rule in your work life, you will be playing office politics the right way in my book. The leaders I’ve admired over the years have been those who have done exactly that. They have been fair with direct reports. Sympathetic with peers. And just as even-keeled with managers as with those who report to them. Those are the kind of people 99.9% of the workforce wants to work for. That’s good office politics.
I know what you’re thinking: “What the heck is Houzz?”
If you don’t work in the construction, architectural or design worlds, you wouldn’t know. But, if you do work in those worlds–or, you have recently redesigned your home–you know all about Houzz.
Houzz is THE niche social network for construction, design and architectural professionals. And, it’s a veritable treasure trove of ideas for consumers looking to redesign or rebuild their homes. I only wish Houzz was around when we redesigned our kitchen 10 years ago, or built out our basement. C’est la vie.
These days, I’m involved with Houzz on the client front. I have a relatively new client who’s involved in this world, and it’s been fascinating to dive in and learn more about this niche social network.
And, what I’ve learned is that few brands have really figured out how to use Houzz well. So, opportunity, right? In the meantime, I thought I’d highlight a few companies, designers, architects, design/build firms and contractors that using Houzz in interesting ways–and what we can learn from them.
What can you learn from Fiorella Design on Houzz?
One of the best ways companies can help consumers on Houzz is simply by showing up each day and answering common (and frequently, easy) questions. Obviously, that’s easier said than done for most brands and companies on Houzz. Fiorella, on the other hand, has answered more than 1,300 questions in its time on Houzz. That’s amazing. And it demonstrates that she’s showing up each and every day on the platform. Now, are any of those questions and engagements turning into leads? I’d be willing the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”–although I’m also sure the direct line of sight to those leads is as fuzzy as it is on other social networks.
What can you learn from John Kraemer and Sons?
Showcase a variety of projects. On Houzz, it’s all about visuals. It’s the Pinterest of the design/build world. So, it pays to have a variety of projects for consumers to browse through at a moments notice. These guys have 51 projects in total–plenty for consumers to get a feel for what they do, and what it looks like. Projects titled “Norther Wisconsin Cabin”, “Historic St. Paul Mansion Renovation” and “Country Rambler” give you a broad sense for the kinds of homes they build.
What can you learn from Martha O’Hare Interiors?
As with many social sites like Houzz, reviews are paramount. Especially in an industry where referrals and credibility are everything. Martha O’Hare has 113 reviews on the site. And, you see Martha herself does a great job of interacting and responding to most reviews. Judging from this particular review, there’s a reason she has 113 (mostly positive) reviews.
What can you learn from Paradise Restored Landscaping & Exterior Design?
Ideabooks are also a big part of the experience on Houzz. The idea? INSPIRATION! And Paradise wins big time here. They feature a full 72 ideabooks that provide ideas around restored fireplaces to stonework to restored pools. And, some fantastic photography, I must say (the site is FULL of it, as you can imagine). It’s key to think carefully through your ideabooks–what are your customers looking for? How can you inspire them? What kinds of inspiration are they looking for?