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Where are companies turning for digital professional development?

Allison Kent-Smith, founder of Smith & Beta, a talent development firm, had an interesting quote in a post this week:

“Agencies continue to invest in acquiring talent versus developing talent. The surprising thing is that there’s not more investment in the people that walk in the doors every day.”

Kent-Smith was talking about ad agencies in this particular quote–but couldn’t you say the same for PR firms and PR functions within large organizations? Do we really work hard to develop our internal talent on a daily basis?

Digital Prof Deve

And, it really gets interesting when you start talking about DIGITAL or SOCIAL talent within those teams. Sure, companies are seeking top digital and social talent–but what are they doing to DEVELOP these folks?

Now, I don’t currently work for a large organization (although many large orgs are my clients). I don’t work for an agency. So, I’m not sure I’m qualified to have a strong opinion here. But, I have a hunch most organizations and agencies aren’t doing an optimal job in this area.

And, according to Smith & Beta’s “State of Advertising Talent Report”, I may be right.

According to the report, “agency employees frequently rely on sources other than their employers to learn how to do their jobs. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they learned helpful job skills on their own or from friends or peers. Another 23% relied on blogs, books or online resources. Only 9% said management imparted those skills, and another 9% relied on events or conferences.”

If that’s happening at ad agencies, my guess is it’s probably happening at PR agencies and large companies, too.

We’re neglecting our digital and social talent, folks. And, it’s time we start to change that.

This issue will be front-and-center when I sit down with Alex Tan, director of digital at Golin and Matt Rozen, director of social at Adobe on Sept. 14 at the University of Minnesota for the first-ever Talking Points Speaker Series event (register here–only 25 spots remain!).


Back to the issue at hand. The challenge is, historically, PR and comms folks turned to professional organizations like PRSA, IABC and AMA for professional development. And, over the years, those orgs have done a great job of providing learning opportunities around many areas within PR and communications.

However, I’m not sure that’s the case when it comes to social and digital.

That’s not an indictment on professional organizations–it’s just a observation that no professional org is really doing a good job of providing consistent training and learning opportunities around social and digital topics (outside of MIMA, locally here in Minneapolis).

So, folks are left to turn to friends, colleagues, blogs and their own devices.

That’s fine–social and digital are new and rapidly evolving disciplines. But, I feel like we’re about 10 years in now. It’s time for us to start taking this stuff a little more seriously. It’s time to start investing in our talent and developing people from the ground up.

So, what would I do if I were managing a social or digital team and I wanted to provide more structured professional development opportunities?

I’d start creating a program of my own–right in-house.

I’d bring in thought leaders from across different sub-disciplines within social and digital to talk about niche topics and evolving areas.

I’d create mini-mastermind groups around different topics, led by internal folks who have a particular expertise or passion in the subject matter. That way, our internal experts would create more internal experts by sharing the knowledge they’ve gleaned.

I’d create a weekly email where I’d aggregate the best posts and articles I read this past week for my team to review (sound familiar? Shameless plug: You can sign up for Talking Points HERE!) so they could stay on top of industry trends, new tools and case studies.

I’d bring in peers from other agencies or companies to talk about case studies from time to time and commiserate on best practices and what they’re seeing in the industry.

Doesn’t sound all that hard, right? But, it would require TIME and COMMITMENT. I hope we see more of both of those soon.

In the meantime, again, hope you’ll join us on Sept. 14 to talk more about this topic–and a whole lot more about the social media skills gap–on the University of Minnesota campus (again–register here).

photo credit: BLC07_ 051 via photopin (license)

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What the new (upcoming) LinkedIn Company page format means for brands

Looks like LinkedIn is revamping the layout for “company pages”–and it’s testing the concept with some of its biggest customers (GE and IBM are the two I’ve seen so far).

Since I’ve seen no official news from LinkedIn or other media organizations so far, I can only assume this is a beta version (see the URL for proof) and that the new layout (with additional tweaks) will be rolled out to all other brands in the near future.

As we wait for the new layout to roll out to the rest of us, there’s a lot to review and prepare for if you manage a LinkedIn company page. Let’s take a look at the new layout and what changes you can start preparing for now:

Cleaner look and feel


Right at the top, you can see content is now allotted in three distinct buckets: Overview, Jobs and Life. A simple click on each produces additional content below. The design is much cleaner than the current design and (in my view) much easier for users to navigate. Net win for everyone.

Overview doesn’t change much


Click on the “Overview” tab and you’ll see a collection of information you most likely have on your current LinkedIn company page–about, recent updates, showcase pages and similar companies. The only new content here is “company photos”, which will give organizations a nice way to provide prospective employees a deeper look into the company. Win for companies.

On the downside, company updates are relatively minimized with the new layout. Not only do you have to click on the “Overview” tab to see them, you have to scroll down a ways as well. Obviously, most people will see these updates in their newsfeeds, but this is probably a net loss on the company side.



Jobs section simplified

GE Jobs

This section, again, seems cleaner and easier to navigate than the previous “Careers” tab. I’m sure some might see this as a “downgrade” since it appears there are more branding opportunities on the current Careers tab, but I tend to think simplicity rules and this makes it much easier for job seekers to get to the information they want faster.

GE jobs 2

I also love sticking the “Employee insights” in this section. This is useful information for job seekers can use to make employment decisions. No additional work required here for brands, but I think this section is a big win for job seekers.


Life tab paints culture picture

GE exp

What’s great about this completely new tab is that it aggregates all the information that would help you paint a picture of the company’s culture in one spot. It looks like company’s have the opportunity to feature a video right at the top of the tab–which some companies have now, but it’s at the top of the “Careers” tab. But, right below is where things get REAL interesting–and useful, if you’re a job seeker (and an employer).

I love how they highlight the leaders at GE right below the video. Now see THIS is key. Sure, GE’s leaders have complete LinkedIn profiles. Beth Comstock is one of its “influencers.” But, how many other companies have senior execs who have LinkedIn profiles worth perusing? I’ve researched this before–I can tell you the number isn’t that high. So, this is an area of “opportunity” for many, many brands. Start working with your senior-level execs now!

GE exp 2

I also love the ability to add more detailed content around “About” and “Culture” sections right on the page. The opportunity to add more videos is HUGE! This is all great, useful information job seekers will undoubtedly be reviewing when making hiring decisions. The “Culture” section is new–so this is an area where you might want to think about what content you’ll add there now, rather than later.

GE exp 3

If you keep scrolling down in the “Life” tab, you’ll then see a section titled “Employee Perspectives.” This section aggregates LinkedIn posts from any employees who may have used the LinkedIn Publishing feature in the not-so-distant past (I’m speculating here–hopefully, LinkedIn will give us the opportunity to highlight the employee posts we want to highlight here). But here’s the key for brands: You need content published by employees to highlight! Again, GE has this content because it’s leaders have been at this for a while. Other companies can’t say the same thing. I’ve been highlighting LinkedIn Publishing as an untapped resources for leaders for more than a year now–finally, it now has an official spot on the company page.

Finally, the “Life” tab gives us even more useful info right at the bottom in “Languages we speak”, “Causes our employees care about” and “Organizations our employees support.” Most likely automated info, but I’m also hoping LinkedIn offers companies some options here. For example, “Languages we speak” is relevant for GE since they operate and hire around the world. That same section might not be as relevant to a company based in Montana that operates in just 20 states.

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Why “Walmart’s Riding in Cars with Execs” is Employer Brand gold

If you’ve worked in the Employer Brand-Social space for any length of time, you know, great case studies and good work is hard to come by.

If you look around at what most brands are doing on the Employer Brand-Social front, it’s not all that sophisticated.

Much of the day-to-day content shared on Facebook by Employer Brands is garden-variety and predictable.

Shots of teams demonstrating how great it is to work for the brand.

Employee stories highlighting the positives of the company’s culture.

Shots of HR teams at job fairs.

Heck, some brands are still focusing on “memes” like “One Word Wednesdays” and “Motivation Monday”.

Then, along comes Walmart with this creative video execution featuring its CEO Doug McMillon.

What makes this example so great in the Employer Brand social world?

It plays on the popular James Corden idea

Obviously, Walmart is playing of this popular segment of the Late Late Show on CBS (side note: this is easily my favorite edition of the popular segment).

What’s smart about this is they didn’t mimic the idea entirely–they twisted it to fit an Employer Brand need (a chance to chat virtually face-to-face with the CEO of America’s largest company).

What a great way to humanize and soften up the CEO

In case you haven’t noticed, not everyone loves Walmart. As the biggest company in America, it has a bullseye on its proverbial chest. And, as the CEO of that company, McMillon is often cast as public-enemy number-one by those with an axe to grind with Walmart. So, from an Employer Brand perspective, this is a challenge. Prospective employees care about the man/woman leading your company. They want to feel like they’re following a leader who’s compassionate and visionary. They want to follow someone like LIKE. So, humanizing and softening up the CEO is almost always a priority for a big Employer Brand like Walmart. And, this was a creative, interesting way for them to do that via a medium which allows them to really draw people closer to Mr. McMillon.

Walmart kept it light–real light

One of the things I loved most about this video was how light, airy and fun Walmart–and Doug and the driver–kept the questions and banter. I mean, they could have made this REAL boring. Like corporate communications boring 🙂 But, they didn’t. The driver asked questions like “Was it hard to close your MySpace account?” and “Did you watch Beyonce’s Lemonade?” He also pokes fun at McMillon saying “Welcome to Facebook!” as soon as he gets in the car. How many employees do you think would say those things to their CEO? But, that’s what makes this so brilliant. McMillon doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s very disarming. In fact, he comes across as amiable, approachable and really, the kinda guy anyone would want to work for.

Walmart paid attention to the details

Little things like the tuxedo t-shirt the driver is wearing (brilliant). The fact that he just throws the questions/cards in the back seat after he’s done (funny). And, the fact that he asked a great series of timely questions (Chewbacca Mom/Beyonce) and hard-driving questions designed to get McMillion talking about employees (“What is one thing you’re seeing in associates that gets you really excited about the future?”). It’s only four minutes long–but it’s produced VERY well.

Overall, one of the better Employer Brand-Social examples I’ve seen on Facebook to date.

Kudos, Walmart Employer Brand team. Take a bow. You’ve certainly earned it.


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How long before brands completely abandon Twitter?

Before you click away, I encourage you to read on. Because this isn’t one of those typical “Twitter is dead” posts.

It’s more like “Will Twitter be dead to businesses within 2 years”-type posts.

Because, I’m starting to believe it might.

Twitter death

Brands have long (well, as least for the last 7-8 years) relied on Twitter as a customer service tool and a brand management tool. And, in spots, it’s worked for some companies.

But recently I’ve started to think differently. It started when I began a number of research projects for a few of my clients. When looking over competing brands’ Twitter accounts I noticed a trend: Very few of them were responding to any tweets. And I mean ANY. I realize this doesn’t mean ALL companies are ignoring customer feedback on Twitter. But, I’ve anecdotally noticed it more and more recently.

So, that got me thinking: Could Twitter legitimately go away as a company social media tool within two years?

I think so. And here are five big reasons why:

1: It’s increasingly not a safe place for users

Just ask any celebrity or athlete. Increasingly, Twitter has become a place where trolls and hate groups surface to dole out their tirades. Some celebs have even bowed out. Just follow any trending hash tag for 10 minutes–I liken it to the old comment sections in digital newspapers (just one troll after another). It’s not a pretty place anymore. It’s not the same Twitter we know from 2009. Not even close. And, if that’s the case, why would brands want to interact there?

2: It’s not an easy place for new users

According to a recent eMarketer report, Twitter growth is stagnating. I know I’m not breaking big news there, but Twitter has flattened out the last couple years. And, many speculate that the reason new users aren’t flocking to Twitter is because it’s tougher to use and understand. Twitter has never really overcome this obstacle–because, let’s face it, it’s always been an obstacle (remember those “I don’t get it” statements in 2008–they’re still happening). If Twitter isn’t attracting new users, it’s not growing. And what brand wants to invest time in a platform that’s not growing?

3: It’s not nearly the social ad darling Facebook is.

Sure, Twitter has a broad smattering of advertising options. It offers much of the same functionality Facebook does, in fact. But, the results are often less than what Facebook offers. Especially when it comes to driving traffic (see below) and CPC. I know there are certainly brands who have seen success with Twitter advertising, but I have to think the lion’s share of brands have seen much more success with Facebook and Instagram than Twitter. And, as social media progresses further and further toward a pay-for-play model, social advertising is everything.

4: It’s not nearly the engagement tool it once was for brands.

For you early adopters, think about Twitter of 2016 vs. Twitter of 2009. Remember actually talking to people on Twitter? When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you participated in a Twitter chat? Engagement simply doesn’t happen like it did before on Twitter. And really, that was always the strength of Twitter–as an engagement tool (and, a customer service tool). Go back to my research above. I recall sifting through many corporate Twitter accounts where many tweets had 2-3 likes and 1 RT. I mean, at that point, it’s probably not even worth the effort, right? So, if Twitter is not the engagement tool it once was, what’s in it for brands?

5: It’s almost a confirmed non-traffic driver at this point

We all know Facebook is king when it comes to driving traffic. But, did you know that Twitter is essentially the opposite? That it’s really driving NO traffic for brands? A 2014 Shareaholic survey claimed that Twitter drove just 1/15 the amount of referrals to publishers as Facebook. Now, I know that’s publishers and not brands, but that’s pretty damning evidence. Anecdotally, I can tell you Twitter is always near the bottom of traffic-driving sources for this blog–and many of the companies I’ve worked with in the past.

So, to recap:

  • Twitter isn’t driving the engagement it once was.
  • Twitter isn’t driving traffic for brands.
  • Twitter isn’t as safe a place as it once was.
  • Twitter is still hard to understand.
  • And Twitter isn’t the advertising vehicle Facebook and Instagram are.

If you’re a brand, how are you continuing to justify your time spent on Twitter? I’m legitimately curious.

photo credit: Twitter Hijacked? via photopin (license)

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Meet Minnesota’s Power PR Couples

If you’ve worked in this industry long enough, you’ve probably met one:

A PR “Power Couple.”

You know, that couple that either met in college in PR classes, or met early in their careers while working at an agency in town.

And, more often times than not, they are, in fact “power” couples. That is, they have ascended to the higher ranks more quickly than their peers. They hold powerful positions. They are rock stars in the local Twin Cities PR field.

The more I thought about this, the more couples I started thinking about. And, there are quite a few of them (and these are just the couples I know!). And I’m willing to bet, if you work in PR/communications here in the Twin Cities, you know ONE of the people below.

Jen and Brian Bellmont, partners, Bellmont Partners

Brian - Jen B

Couldn’t be happier for these two friends who have built Bellmont Parters into one of the fastest-growing PR agencies in the Twin Cities. I met them both seven years ago as I was starting my own consultancy–back then, it was just them and partner (and college friend of mine), Shelli Lissick. Today, they’re 15+ and feature a client that that includes Midwest Dairy Association, Reeher, and the Uptown Art Fair. Recently, they were even named the 11th largest PR agency in Minnesota!

Leslie (independant) and Rick (Bring Me the News) Kupchella

Leslie Rick

Doesn’t get anymore “powerful” than these two, does it? Leslie has been in the PR business for more than 30 years working with the likes of Carlson Companies, United Health Group, and as a press secretary for Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty. Meanwhile, after 20-plus years on the media side, Rick is now a definite serial enterpreneur starting with his successful Bring Me the News business.

Emily (GEOSYS) and Keith (Exponent PR) Negrin

Keith Emily

Between the two, Emily and Keith have virtually worked at every big PR agency in town–from Padilla to Carmichael Lynch to now (for Keith), Exponent. Also: probably my vote for the funniest power PR couple in town and two people I don’t see nearly enough of anymore (damn kids). Keith is a Practice Leader at Exponent PR while Emily is a Marketing and Communications Manager at GEOSYS.

Gail (Travelers) and Bill (ABRA Auto Body & Glass) Van Cleaf

Gail & Bill

This power couple actually met at a PRSA event (the now-defunct Alphabet Bash) years ago (I still remember the night!). Today, they’re looking after a little one at home, while still holding down power positions at Travelers and ABRA. Gail is also a former PRSA president (where I met her first!).

Sarah Hennen (Solve) and Josh (Target) Carter

Josh Sarah

Without a doubt the most Instagrammed and Facebooked couple on this list. In fact, Sarah and Josh pop up in my feed regularly–whether it’s at a local gala, their anniversary pics (OMG), or just around town, these two seem to be EVERYWHERE these days (sorry about the photo guys–it was the best I could find!

Heather (Mindsailing) and Tony (Level Up) Saucier

Heather Tony

Disclaimer: The Sauciers are friends. Another disclaimer: They may be two of the smarter friends I have. Of course, Tony will tell you Heather is the smartest person he knows (four gold marriage stars for you, Mr. Saucier), but truth be told, any agency or company in town would be more than happy to have either of these folks on their team right now (not that either are looking at the present time–Heather co-leads the agency Mindsailing while Tony recently broke out on his own as a strategist with Level Up Content). As with the soon-to-be Carters above, this was also the best pic of these two I could find 🙂

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