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Following up the post about why so many mid-career marketers have missed out on becoming outstanding content strategists, Emma Alvarez Gibson, from our West Coast (or Best Coast) Brainzooming HQ, is here discussing the steps to become a content strategist and avoid marketing career extinction.

How to Become a Content Strategist and Avoid Becoming Extinct by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Once I was a creative writer.

Then I was marcomm. Then I was a copywriter. These days, I’m a content strategist.

Titles change; it’s a fact of Western business life. But in this space, that’s not all that’s changed. Take a good look at the job description for any number of content strategist positions. More often than not, we aren’t just creating content. We’re managing SEO and Google Analytics, editing images and graphics in PhotoShop and InDesign, sending and tracking emails via a CMS or two. Or seven.  

I’ll admit it was a transition I came to reluctantly, and with a fair degree of resentment. Look, I remember saying, If I’d wanted to be a marketing analyst, I’d have become a marketing analyst. Are they also looking for chemical engineers who can rollerskate and sing opera? It seemed ridiculous and not a little unreasonable. But it’s been a few years now: I think that model’s going to be calling the shots for awhile.

Earlier this week, one of my fellow writers who’s looking for full-time employment expressed dismay over these broadly-drawn requirements, ending with: When did this happen? If you’ve not had to look for a job in a number of years, it’s a fair question. There were no announcements made. These expectations crept in slowly, like fog. When the market crashed in 2008, I saw many organizations let people go and distribute the resulting wealth of tasks among the employees who were left standing. No one’s going to complain about having a heavier load when their neighbor doesn’t have a job. You make it work. We all made it work as best we could.

Nine years later, here we are with a stronger economy and the continued legacy of these career mash-ups. We made it work, and we have to continue to make it work. That means getting on board with the expectations of our chosen field. It means stretching. Learn that CMS. Take the InDesign class. Familiarize yourself with basic photo editing. Pick up a copy of Web Analytics For Dummies. Read a few blog posts on how easy SEO really is. Things have changed, and that means we have to change. To deny it, to refuse, to stay stuck in the outrage, is professional suicide.

At the start of my career I worked at a PR firm. One of the publicists there was roughly 107 years old, to my twenty-something eyes. He was pure 1960s camp, only he didn’t know it. He seemed intrigued by the fact that women were in his workplace and held positions of authority. He referred to us, the assistants, as “the girls” (despite the fact that some of the assistants were, in fact male).  Best of all? He refused to have a computer in his office. He’d never needed one before, and he wasn’t going to start now. And if he did need to look something up that wasn’t in a book, “one of the girls” could do that for him. He repeated this speech often, and everyone would smile and nod, and wait for him to leave the room so they could roll their eyes and get back to work. He was a ridiculous old dinosaur.

But I’m not.

What about you? – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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I spoke about Social-First Content at the April 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. As always, I left this Social Media Strategies Summit with valuable insights on social content strategy plus great ideas for further developing our brand.

Social Media Strategists at the #SMSSummit

From this Social Media Strategies Summit, I took away a specific insight on the challenge for social media strategists.

With traditional marketing communication, there were numerous clear divisions among important roles:

  • Creative vs. analytical
  • Writing vs. visual communication
  • Strategy vs. design
  • Developing content vs. publishing content
  • Spokesperson vs. reporter
  • In front of the camera talent vs. behind the camera support
  • Media creation vs. media buying
  • Offline execution vs. online / technology execution
  • Mining customer and business insights vs. audience targeting

Looking back on the combined internal and external team we assembled to market our Fortune 500 B2B brand, we rarely had one person doing both sides of any of the pairs of talents and responsibilities above. Depending on a project’s size, in fact, there may be ten or more people involved across these roles.

Social Media Strategists Face Complex Roles

Now, consider today’s social communications landscape. The divisions between the complementary roles have largely disappeared. Today’s social media strategists must be functional, if not fully adept, at nearly all these roles to succeed.

This idea started developing for me as we started using Hubspot for inbound marketing. I’m continually moving between intense analytical and creative roles in developing and executing content-based workflows.

The realization really hit me while attending a Facebook list building, advertising, and re-marketing workshop at the Social Media Strategies Summit. The presenters covered audience targeting and Facebook advertising in detail. We don’t use Facebook advertising very aggressively, so the topic isn’t one that has occupied much of my attention. As workshop presenters continued, I recalled that in the corporate world, I told media buyers that I’d ask questions, but I understood they had a knowledge base that was difficult to have without living in their world. I depended on their expertise to guide and lead us toward accomplishing our marketing objectives.

Today, however, you can’t afford to make that distinction. Outstanding social media strategists must understand Facebook targeting, advertising, and remarketing. It’s just as important as understanding the fundamentals of writing a compelling story. They also must understand everything else on the list of communication roles.

Sure, in a smaller organization, I’m now taking on many more communication roles than as a VP in a Fortune 500 organization. A team of ten no longer exists for me. Talking with other attendees at the Social Media Strategies Summit, though, it’s clear a team of ten doesn’t exist for many of them either – even within large organizations.

Why Many Mid-Career Marketers Are Dinosaurs

Put all this together, and I think it explains why I see so many mid-career marketers are dinosaurs, either limiting themselves in comfortable, but career-threatening ways (“I just do PR” or “I write but don’t do SEO”), or floundering while they rework the calculations on how much longer until they have enough money to retire.

The much smaller group is leveraging career experience and diving into social content strategy with a passion. These folks are learning to become perhaps the best-positioned marketers: they heave experience AND social sensibilities.

Seeing this landscape for mid-career marketers is why I encourage them to attend as many social content marketing events and conferences as possible. It’s the foreseeable future. If they want to be a part of that future AND get paid, they must be aggressive and prepare to work with multiple generations that grew up in a marketing world where role divisions that made sense ten years ago no longer apply. – Mike Brown

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Mess Wright, who just recently opened Mess Labs in Dallas, has been an online friend for many years, and an in-person friend since August 2016.  

Invariably, Mess puts words to ideas that rattle around in my head in a half-formed state. Mess not only pulls ideas together; she puts herself out there by articulating them. Here’s the most recent example of this, with Mess weighing in on business mentoring and the importance of protecting your time and attention when you are trying to make things happen.

Trust me: Mess is a person that makes things happen! – Mike

Business Mentoring – Be Careful of Who Promises You Help by Mess Wright

Abe Nadimi and Mess Wright of Mess Labs

You can go ahead and file this one under, “Things You Aren’t Supposed to Say but Mess Says Anyway.” Oh, well, here goes:

It seems there is some sort of incubator, accelerator, or entrepreneurial center popping up everywhere lately.

I think this is supposed to (and can) be a good thing, but I have to tell you something.

I’ve been in this startup world for nearly a year, and I’ve found the majority of the “entrepreneurs” and “mentors” I’ve met are actually either hacks, delusional liars, con-artists, or people who are otherwise lost or unemployable.

It takes a minute to decipher the people who are actually “in business.” That minute is long and hard, but my advice is to take the time to really vet people you might let into your life.

I’ve taken a lot of hits (mostly inside my co-working space) for pointing out the people who are time and money sucks. I’ve been told it’s rude or impolite. I’ve been told “community” means “supporting” people, even people who are clearly trying to take whilst offering nothing.

I say all this because I think a lot of people romanticize self-employment or entrepreneurship. My advice for them is if you take that jump, be very selective about who gets time with you. You don’t have to say Yes to every invitation, every introduction or entertain every opinion. It’s way okay to be exclusive in some ways – don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

Just because someone is older, more experienced, more educated, or did the thing you want to do, that does not make them mentor material. Gravitate to people who lift you up, listen to you, and help you grow. Don’t worry if those people aren’t marketing themselves as leaders or guides. The ones who do aren’t always the support you are seeking and needing anyway.

Everyone who is in a position to refer mentors to mentees needs to also vet people better. Let’s hold anyone we call “mentor” to a higher standard and drop the assumption that “accomplished” or “perceived as accomplished” translates to “can mentor.” It’s a horrible assumption, if you think about it. And a bad mentor figure can do amazing harm to a mentee.

Finally, if you feel you want to mentor someone ask yourself if you have the time, you have the inclination, and if you truly hold the mentee’s best interests as a priority.

If you’re doing business mentoring to feed your own ego, stop. Just stop! – Mess Wright

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Chatting with a mid-career professional who is at the height of job frustration, she placed a career strategy challenge on the table:

  • “A résumé is supposed to have metrics, but I have no real metrics I can own for my contributions at my day job.
  • “What I’m doing in my day job isn’t the kind of work I want to do in my next job – at least under the same circumstances. I need to find something more fulfilling.
  • “I’ve done outside work at various times, but it’s not a consistent work history. Plus, I can’t jump back into entrepreneurship with its lack of stability.
  • “I have some starting points describing myself that have potential to go on a résumé, but they seem fluffy and lack concrete accomplishments.”

With all that backdrop, the question was, “What should I put on my résumé that is going to help me attract an employer’s attention when I email or post my résumé?”

I know this isn’t an isolated career strategy challenge.

Parts of it feel a lot like what I was facing at various points in my corporate career. When you are part of a big organizational machine, it is often difficult to isolate what you do to create metrics. And if you tend toward under-selling yourself, you freeze when faced with touting your own capabilities and accomplishments.

5 Career Strategy Challenge Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

What’s the answer to this career strategy challenge?

I don’t know that there is one answer, but here are the ideas I shared:

  • You can always go to a professional to help prepare your résumé. Here is one I’d recommend if you pursue this idea. A professional creates compelling stories for job seekers all the time, and there’s tremendous value in both that experience and the objectivity of someone else looking at your great capabilities.
  • Create your own metrics. Every organization wants to improve what it does and do it more efficiently. If you’ve struggled to compile metrics for your personal contribution to the organization, create a performance improvement project in your department. Go to your internal customers under the banner of bettering your department’s contributions. Ask them for specifics on where your contributions improve good things, reduce bad things, accomplish results with fewer resources, and improve efficiency and effectiveness in any other quantitative ways. Collect success stories, too, even if they aren’t metrics-based. All this work will improve your day job while giving you ample résumé material.
  • Reach back out to your outside clients and ask them comparable questions about performance improvements, cost efficiencies, and customer successes they can attribute to the work you did for them. Those could be easier, more compelling metrics to establish.
  • Beyond the success stories you are collecting, ask several people close to you to create a recommendation letter for you that highlights at least five key characteristics, talents, work accomplishments, and selling points that they would use to communicate about you positively to others. They will likely share things you don’t see in yourself that you should be communicating in your résumé.
  • Network like crazy! Start now, and continue for the rest of your career. If you are a unique talent who is hard to adequately and differentially describe in a couple of pages, why limit yourself to selling yourself in a couple of pages? My advice to this job seeker was that her next position is going to come from someone that sees and gets her talents and finds the right role. By meeting hiring decision makers personally through an aggressive networking effort, the résumé becomes less important. Then, instead of selling you sight unseen, it becomes a crutch for the decision maker to better describe you and what they see in you to others in the organization.

Those are my ideas.

They helped get her thinking about new possibilities. Ultimately, these ideas are all about action, and doing the hard work to bring them to life! – Mike Brown

 

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Here is Emma Alvarez Gibson’s report from a conference she recently attended. With a lot of suggestions and a little bit of arm-twisting, Emma implemented the ideas captured in our Introvert’s Guide: 23 Ideas to Meet New People at a Conference. She’s being very kind to share how she fared implementing the ideas to meet new people even though she was going solo at the conference!

Ways to Meet New People – Confessions of a Conference Newbie by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Make yourself socialize, he said. You need to meet new people, he said.

It’ll be fun, he said.

I doubted that last part. Very much. But I was going to a conference, alone, and it was clear I needed to do these things, because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that Mike Brown knows how to conference. (To be fair, I knew that long before he inadvertently wrote an entire post while gamely encouraging his slightly terrified, sometimes-misanthropic friend. That’s me, by the way.)

So I went with a select few of the items in that post, and remain surprised by the results. To wit:

Pack the clothing or jewelry you own that most often generates comments from others. Wear those as conversation starters.

This was the easiest step. I packed a big red statement necklace and a bigger silver statement necklace. And it worked. Both pieces garnered a ton of compliments, giving me many an opportunity to talk to people I might not otherwise have met.

Find out the conference hashtag(s) ahead of time, and begin monitoring them. Reach out to other attendees and speakers using the hashtag.

I was dreading this part. It felt forced and phony. But it worked. Within a few minutes my tweet (something about how I was packing for the conference) got favorited and had a couple of responses. This was when I started to think that maybe these steps would work for me.

Prepare a few open-ended, easy-to-answer multiple part questions to ask. Prepare to use them. Try, “Is this your first time at the conference?”

Well, it seemed a bit obvious. But–and I hope you’re sitting down–it worked. It got the shy people out of their shells, and it gave the outgoing people a willing participant. Bonus: I was relieved that no one seemed to think it was too obvious a question to ask.

Wear your nametag.

I’ll admit it: I loathe nametags. I feel like a jerk wearing a lanyard around my neck and a card that trumpets my name at everyone from behind a sheet of plastic. But of course it’s the only sensible thing to do at a conference. And Mike surely had a reason for spelling this one out. Can you guess what happened? Yeah. It worked. People repeatedly approached me, addressing me by name. (It’s almost like there’s a pattern, or something, here.)

Take advantage of social media to reach out and increase your visibility. Live tweet the sessions you attend.

This was fun as well as easy. The speakers and their presentations were engaging, informative, and often very funny. I live-tweeted speaker quotes and photos from their presentations, and used the conference hashtag. Several times this resulted in fun banter from attendees I’d previously connected with, as well as from those I hadn’t yet met.

Sign up for networking events and excursions. Make yourself go. Boost your confidence that you can enjoy these events on your own, while you look for opportunities to share experiences with others!

Here’s the thing: I dislike large groups. I dislike field trips with large groups. I particularly dislike field trips with large groups in which everyone seems to know someone and I’m on my own, and we have to eat dinner together. But off I went. It started disastrously. I had less time than I’d realized to get to the meeting point where we would climb aboard a handful of buses which would take us to the riverboat where we would spend three hours. My choices: hustle, and arrive sweaty and discombobulated, and possibly get there just in time to see the buses pull away and watch everyone point and laugh, or throw in the towel, find dinner on my own, and admit defeat. Conveniently, as I was deciding, two people from the conference hurried past, making jokes about being left behind. I asked if they were on their way to the dinner cruise, and that was that. They told me that if we missed the bus, I could hang out with them. Well, we didn’t miss the bus. And I felt so buoyed by the friendly exchange beforehand that it was much easier for me to talk to people for the rest of the evening.

Look for small groups at networking events, ideally with people you’ve seen at sessions during the day. Find a way to join them through proximity, listening, smiling, and shared interests (i.e., you all are at this event, were in some of the same sessions, and have drinks). Being around the crowd can be the right opening to start meeting other people on the edge of the crowd.

I was sitting on the boat by myself, near the end of the third hour, when I heard a group of people tipsily discussing the medicinal uses of the gin and tonic in days of old. One of them was earnestly trying to remember what element was important to those applications. “Why not?” I thought. I got up and approached them. “It was the quinine,” I said, and we had a rousing discussion practically all the way back to shore.

What I learned: a little bit of effort goes a very long way toward making the most out of a conference, especially when you’re on your own. Simple, straightforward tactics netted me great results, so much so that a few times I forgot to be self-conscious. (If that doesn’t sound shocking, I’m not telling it right.) In any case: thanks, Mike! – Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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Emma Gibson forwarded an article from Harvard Business Review addressing four factors that distinguish top chief executive performers in creating strategic impact.

In “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart,” authors Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang reported their analysis of several thousand CEOs. A database of individual career profiles, behavior traits, and performance results provided the data set for their review. They identified important profile differences between top performers and laggards.

The authors report four characteristics that set top CEOs apart, According to the article, “roughly half the strong candidates had distinguished themselves in more than one of the four essential behaviors, while only 5% of the weak candidates had.”

4 Critical Factors for Successful Executives in Creating Strategic Impact

The four characteristics relate to quick decision making, engaging employees, anticipating forward-looking change, and delivering consistent performance. For each characteristic, here are related Brainzooming articles with exercises and tips to improve your own performance creating strategic impact.

Quick Decision Making

Engaging Employees

Anticipating Forward-Looking Change

Delivering Consistent Performance

Can you look at your career performance and see where you are creating strategic impact through your performance in at least two of these areas? If not, dive in with the supporting articles and strengthen your depth and results! – Mike Brown

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A friend is heading to a business conference by herself today. Over the weekend, she mentioned she is nervous about going because of “everything: driving there, being there alone, not knowing anybody, whether or not to do the dinner cruise thing, just imagining walking into any of the socializing stuff, what to wear, what to do in my down time. Will probably just hide in my luxurious hut.”

I told her she needs to make herself socialize and meet new people at the conference, suggesting she find a friendly face that also doesn’t know anyone and become buddies. She was skeptical based on her most recent experience of showing up alone. As she recalled, “I stood around, walked around, smiled, said hi, introduced myself. Nothing. Except an angry nerd attached himself to me. No grownups were interested.”

I suggested additional ideas, then realized: I was writing a blog post on how I, as an introvert, force myself to meet new people at conferences and business events. Granted, there are LOTS of other sources on this, but this one is based on my personal experiences.

Speaking is a central part of my personal conference networking strategy to meet new people. Speaking helps tremendously in getting people to approach you to chat. If you’re the type of introvert that is fine getting up in front of groups and talking, that’s my number one recommendation.

23 Ideas to Meet New People at a Conference

Here are things I’ve tried (or experienced) to meet new people at conferences where I am not speaking:

Way Before the Conference

#1. Try to convince someone to go with you so you know somebody.

#2. Do whatever you can to scope out the attendees and speakers upfront. Figure out if you have connections to any of them (or even to people in the city where you are headed), and arrange meetings. That’s how I met Diane Black (who has done such great inforgraphics for us) and Mess Wright, both of whom inspired ideas that could re-shape the future of Brainzooming.

#3. Try wearing message clothing. By that, I mean wear a shirt that creates conversation, which may require pre-planning. I met this young woman at Inbound2016. With a shirt like this, I HAD to ask why she was looking for a new boss. I took photos and tweeted them to help her get attention. What message clothes can you create and wear to start converstations?

Right Before the Conference

#4. Pack the clothing or jewelry you own that most often generates comments from others. Wear those as conversation starters. (Orange socks, an orange watch, and all the other orange stuff I have prompt many comments and conversations. Even from other introverts! That’s how I got to know Claire Denbo of engage5w.)

#5. PACK BUSINESS CARDS. ENOUGH SAID.

#6. Find out the conference hashtag(s) ahead of time, and begin monitoring them. Reach out to other attendees and speakers using the hashtag. Ask and answer questions to start building relationships.

#7. If there are free times for lunch or dinner, book a reservation for four at a nearby restaurant and start asking people you meet to join you (and bring friends). I tried this the first time at the GasCan conference; long-time friend Kathryn Lorenzen became my anchor guest, bringing two other friends, while I invited Mike Farag of Fervor. We had a fantastic lunch!

#8. Prepare a few open-ended, easy-to-answer multiple part questions to ask. Prepare to use them. Try, “Is this your first time at the conference?” If it is, ask why they chose it or what they are looking forward to at the event. If they are returning, ask why they came back, and what you should not miss. This helps you uncover experts you can depend on or refer others to for meet-ups.

Onsite Before the Conference Starts

#9. If the registration is informal, chat with the people handling registration. Let them know this is a new environment for you, and you’d love to meet new folks. Maybe even give them a card or two that includes a way to track you down onsite. Tell them if they come across anyone looking for a buddy, you’re interested in hanging out with others.

#10. Arrive early and get the lay of the land in and around the conference facility so you can easily answer questions. Take on the role of being an informal conference concierge since answering questions is a great way to meet people. Be ready to point people to where meeting rooms and bathrooms are, know how long it takes from the elevators to the conference area, figure out fun things to do, where to eat, and the closest convenience and drugstores.

#11. Get up to speed on the agenda in a deep way. Understand the event flow, themes for the day or evening, and when things are. This positions you to pipe up with answers and meet people that will be at your table and ask general questions about the conference hoping someone can answer them.

During the Conference

#12. Wear your nametag. Make sure it’s visible. If it keeps flipping around, rig a binder clip to hold it in place.

#13. Be deliberate about your seating strategy at sessions with round tables. You can join a group and have people to start talking with right away (asking if a chair is free, introducing yourself, asking a question, etc.) Alternatively, you can scope out a table where no one is sitting. You then “own” the space and can play the role of a host. Either one works. One may suit you better than the other, though.

#14. Serve other people at the conference. Stock up on cough drops, mints, phone chargers, an extension cord, pens, and paper. Know how to download and use the conference app. Sit near the water pitcher at a table so you can offer to pour water or go get a drink for someone that just sat down. Be the one to get the Uber or car pool arranged. Those are easy ways for an introvert to meet new people and seem as if you are one of the most engaging people at the conference.

#15. Compare schedules with others. Learn what sessions they are attending. If it makes sense content-wise, give preference to sessions where you suspect you’re going to find people you have already met. (While it wasn’t a conference, this is why I, as a political science undergrad major, took a summer school accounting class: a woman I was interested in was going to be taking it, and so I just happened to be taking it, too.)

#16. Take advantage of social media to reach out and increase your visibility. Live tweet the sessions you attend (I’ve had people change sessions and meet me based on live tweets that made where I was sound more interesting.) Change the profile pics on social networks daily so they show what you look like and are wearing. This makes it very easy to spot you in a crowd.

#17. Type up your top ten take-aways from the day’s events and publish a blog post that evening or before the conference begins the next morning. Share it using the conference hashtag so people notice you are there. Invite conference goers reading the post to reach out to you at the event to request your full set of notes afterward.

#18. Unless you are actively using your phone for networking with social media (be honest here), leave it in your purse or pocket. Don’t make it look like your phone is your date for the event.

#19. Be careful with how you approach uber-confident, uber-outgoing, and uber-interested in telling everyone how great everything is people. I don’t know about you, but they can suck away what networking energy I have and leave me beating myself up for not being more outgoing and successful. That means I, at least, must be very careful about how much time I spend trying to hang out around them.

Networking Events

#20. Sign up for networking events and excursions. Make yourself go. Boost your confidence that you can enjoy these events on your own, while you look for opportunities to share experiences with others!

#21. Know how much alcohol gets you to where you start being engaging. Be careful if you need to drive afterward, but get to that amount of alcohol early on at a networking event to loosen up your conversation skills.

#22. Find other people that are alone and appear uneasy but hopeful. Reach out to them, essentially offering them an opportunity to be a part of a posse. Invite them to the group lunch or dinner you are planning!

#23. Look for small groups at networking events, ideally with people you’ve seen at sessions during the day. Find a way to join them through proximity, listening, smiling, and shared interests (i.e., you all are at this event, were in some of the same sessions, and have drinks). Being around the crowd can be the right opening to start meeting other people on the edge of the crowd.

That’s Not All the Ideas

I’m sure there are more ideas than this for an introvert to meet new people at a conference, but since this is probably the longest Brainzooming post ever, that’s all for today! – Mike Brown

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