Make the technology support your strategy — Not the other way around!
This is the outline for the presentation “Make the technology support your strategy — Not the other way around!” to be given on Monday, January 31, for 40 Plus of Washington.
These ten points are based on what I’ve learned about using social media, networking, and blogging tools to support my own consulting, project work, and jobseeking.
Speaker’s Notes for “Make the Technology Support Your Personal Communication Strategy — Not the Other Way Around!”
Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D.
Having been a “gadget geek” years ago I remember how easy it is to jump on every new and shiny tool that comes your way. Now that social media and social networking tools are so popular, you see a lot of jumping around too as new networking and information sharing tools and technologies are introduced into the social, business, and government markets.
To use these tools effectively requires time and planning. That’s what I want to talk about today.
My Ten Points are based on what I’ve learned about using social media, networking, and blogging tools to support my own consulting, project work, and job seeking.
I became an independent consultant about 5 years ago. Before then I was a researcher doing Federal contract work, a manager involved in developing commercial electronic publishing and database systems, a systems integration project manager, and a corporate technology strategist. More recently I’ve been consulting with Federal and private sector clients on how to plan for and use social media and collaboration technologies.
A lot of what I talk about with clients now is based on my own experience with corporate system development, market research, and IT project management. But what I want to talk about here is based on my own use of tools like blogs, social networks, Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter and how I’ve used them on my own.
1. Target communities drive strategy.
This is the number one thing to consider when planning how you use social media and social networking tools. You have to consider all the different communities and groups you’ll be interacting with. Then you need to consider what your objectives are with respect to each those different groups. Some will be social, some will be professional, some will be family, some will be purely business oriented. Some will be people employed by potential employers or clients, others will be networking contacts and potential friends you’ve made.
One thing you need to research when looking at members of the different communities you’re interested in — besides the obvious details of where they are, how big are they, and how well do you know them — is how do they communicate already? For example:
- Are they using social media tools?
- Are they involved with traditional trade or professional associations?
- Are they active in local groups or clubs?
- Are they even open to using new media to communicate, or are they “old fashioned” and insistent on clinging to traditional methods?
What I found is that some of the people in my own target communities were “early adopters” of social media tools like Linkedin and Facebook, while others still think Twitter is the “tool of the devil” and that talk of “open” or “transparent” government is hogwash. Some folks actually have secretaries who screen their calls and schedule their meetings, others have their own blogs and work out of a home office and answer their own phones.
Being aware of how your target communities communicate is critical to understanding how you can “plug in” and participate. Which leads us to point number two.
2. One tool doesn’t fit all.
If you have a variety of individuals, companies, groups, and communities you’re targeting, you cannot assume that everyone will be using the same media as you. Not everyone will be on Linkedin, not everyone will use Facebook, not everyone will use Twitter. Even if some of the people you want to reach are using all these tools, they may be using them to reach different subsets and communities themselves.
In a way this is no different form what you learn with any type of business communication. Some people are just impossible to reach by telephone, some people never respond to voicemail, some people make it almost impossible to find out their work email address, some people can only be approached in person in a face to face meeting of some sort.
In my case, I’ve experimented with dozens of networking and sharing tools and I’ve settled, at least temporarily, on using a few key tools coupled with ongoing research, blogging, commenting on other websites and blogs, and a regular use of email and personal meetings.
There’s also a good portion of my target communities that doesn’t use social networking tools, or if they do, they’re out of my connection reach, as happens when someone in Linkedin isn’t in my network. So for some people I use plain old email, phone, and meetings to stay in touch. With others I can expect a response via a Twitter message almost immediately.
3. Conditions change. Be agile.
But these conditions, I’ve found, change constantly. People go through stages of involvement in online communities, just like they do in “real life.” An organization can set up a temporary Facebook page to support a project or initiative of some kind, people you want to know can come to that group and start interacting — then the group goes dead, shuts down, or moves on. If you’re not paying attention you’ll get left out.
One thing I’ve seen a lot is that an organization — say, a nonprofit, a small consulting company, or an association — decides to jump into social media and quickly establish an online group somewhere, say, on GovLoop. Management will pay attention to the group for a while and will create content, then they realize, “Hey, this is lots of work!” They then let the group die or, what I’ve also seen, they bring in interns to manage things and post news releases.
Regular and consistent “community management” is critical to maintaining an effective online presence. The same is true when you’re managing your personal professional communication strategy. You also need to consider how seriously to take a group established by one of your target companies or communities before you start to track it and engage in online discussions in order to get known.
4. Don’t expect immediate results.
Whatever you do online, know that you can’t expect immediate results. Immediacy can be an illusion when you’re developing relationships and selling yourself.
Once when I was managing a consulting group of senior IT consultants my company decided to use cold calling to generate meetings with prospective clients, in our case, CIOs and senior corporate IT managers. We trained up to do cold calling, we built a tracking system to plan and monitor our progress, and off we went. After some time I ran the numbers to see what it was actually taking to reach and connect with a targeted, named individual to get an appointment, and I was shocked to see that it might, on the average, take 20 calls to finally connect by phone and ask for an appointment.
That taught me a couple of things (besides how not to use cold calling!).
One was, you can’t assume the answer is “no” till you actually get to ask the question. Many times the people you’re targeting just don’t have the bandwidth to listen — they’re just too busy, but by the time you actually get through to them voice to voice or in person, they’re willing to listen. But it takes time, energy, persistence, and good data.
The same is true for using social media and social networking as part of your mix for jobseeking or business development. It takes time. You can’t expect to “go for the close” the first time you make some kind of connection. You need to develop a relationship of some sort, and that will mean more than “friending” someone on Facebook or “connecting” with someone on Linkedin. Some folks are there to make big numbers, some are there just to establish a framework for their own advertising — but some are there to meet people like you. Don’t expect to figure this out overnight.
5. Expect YOU will change.
But you will figure all this out eventually. You’ll adjust your communication strategy accordingly. At the same time you’ll need to constantly monitor, objectively, what’s going on in the marketplace.
I say “objectively” based on hard personal experience. When I became an independent consultant 5 years ago I immediately jumped onto the “web 2.0” and “social networking” bandwagon that was rapidly spinning up with expansions in blogging, podcasting, and social networking. It was easy in those days to be an evangelist for web 2.0 thinking and using social media, but making a living was something else entirely. That has changed in the past couple of years, but I think it’s critical to know how things are changing. I’ve come to understand that my clients and potential employers use a mix of communication channels — and they’re not all devotees or believers in social media. You may find the same to be true in your own communication strategy.
6. Keep track of your contacts.
My experience includes database design and construction work so I’m a firm believer in managing and scheduling contacts using a very flexible database approach.
In the past I’ve bounced back and forth from structured off the shelf systems like ACT to homegrown Microsoft Access databases to web based solutions like DabbleDB. Some people I know use Google Gmail and calendar for everything, and that’s great. I’ve come around to the point that having lot of bells and whistles in your tracking system is unimportant as long as you can keep track of contacts and contacts schedule details in a disciplined fashion.
What I do think I’ve learned, though, is that nothing works if you don’t keep it up to date, and you need to be able to “slice and dice” your contacts in terms of the different communities they belong to. For example, what you say or send to your Federal contacts may not be the same as what you say and send to, say, your tech or private sector contacts. Plus, you might end up using the built in messaging or email of systems like Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain copies of what you send in a central location. Tracking these contacts in a centralized location is essential. But the tool itself is less important than your displine in using it, as long as it’s accessible.
My current preference is a web based system called DabbleDB whose owners have moved over to Twitter. I can create and manage “campaigns” quite easily and get at the information from any computer since data are stored in the “cloud,” not on one of my own computers. I’ve found several times that this is really important when one of computers dies; I can still get at my calendar and contact information as long as I can come up with web access.
7. Be wary of “economies of scale.”
What do I mean by economies of scale? I mean using new social media and social networking tools to broadcast the same message to many people. You see this a lot in Linkedin Groups and Facebook; some people are there not to build relationships but to get large numbers of “friends” and followers whom they can then target for commercial messages and promotions. Some people call this “spamming.”
That’s fine for some types of products or services, but when it comes to using online systems for communicating and building relationships, blanketing a lot of people with a standardized message does not build trust, friendship, or the right type of awareness.
You see this a lot in Linkedin Groups that aren’t well moderated. Some folks will repeatedly spam the group with sales and promotional messages. Before you know it interest in the group — and your opportunity to build your own relationships and trust — goes with it.
Social media evangelists usually say that you build trust by offering help. The same is true for supporters of traditional business networking. Offering something without demanding something immediately in return does take time, like monitoring and commenting on a small set of industry blogs or web sites where you suspect potential clients or customers might be congregating.
8. Have an online “home base.”
You need a “home base” online, somewhere you can refer people back to for information about you, your interests, your skills, and your experience. My rule of thumb is that you need a permanent web link you can put in your email signature and on your business card. If you spread yourself too thin across the web by joining too many organizations or by commenting in short spurts on other people’s locations without having a plan and a permanent home base to refer back to, I think you’re missing out on the potential for establishing awareness and trust.
My answer to this is that I maintain my own website, which I’ve been maintaining since 2004. I’ve got my own domain name and I can always include that with my contact information. Some folks use Linkedin for this, which is fine; just make sure to check what your public profile looks like from time to time to make sure it’s up to date and providing the type of general information about you that you are comfortable with revealing in public.
Be aware, though, that you are not in charge of what people learn about you. Any Google or Bing search that people do to locate your name will have a mix of web sites, Twitter messages, photographs, and maybe even the comments you’ve left on other blogs and web sites. That means that people can create their own view of you. This is another reason why you need to maintain a strong and permanent online presence that you control if you expect to use the web and social media for building relationships.
9. Don’t switch tools too soon.
One word of caution; whenever a new tool, or network, or online publishing system comes along, consider very carefully if you should jump on it. This gets us into where you are comfortable being an early adopter and — more importantly — whether the people you are trying to reach are early adopters themselves.
In my case, for example, I have not started using geolocation services like Foursquare nor have I started using shared expertise systems like Quora, despite their rapid growth in popularity. In the case of Foursquare, I have no interest in broadcasting where I am — that’s my business. In the case of Quora, I’ve been down the road of hanging out with “early adopters” of social media and social networking, and that’s the group that’s finding it useful right now.
The bottom line for me is that early adopters are not necessarily the ones that will hire me as a consultant or as an employee, so for the time being I’ll pass and concentrate on more traditional networking and a few selected tools.
10. You are not a “brand.
Point number ten. It’s my personal belief that it’s wrong to think of yourself as a “brand,” even though “personal branding” is a hot topic with many social media gurus and experts. The concept of “brand” to me represents an attempt to manage something external from a product or service and may require constant manipulation of a personal image or reputation. That may be appropriate for a movie star or politician but may be much less appropriate when you’re selling yourself as a professional.
What you want people to know about you as a professional and as a person will vary from group to group and individual to individual, but what it comes down to is the impression you make when you’re actually interacting with people in person, online, or by phone (keeping in mind that much of your online interaction will be forever available on the web and not subject to change.)
Finding out what people are interested in and responding is key, no matter what channel or technology you use. You want people to respond to you for who you are and what you can do. You don’t want to appear artificial or managed. Honesty is key, no matter what the medium.