Online social networks are changing how businesses and their leaders communicate and leverage their most valuable asset: their relationships.
In this series of articles, entitled New Rules of Engagement, I profile a business leader that I have observed to be using social networks actively and effectively in their leadership role.
This week, I talk with Augie Ray, Director of Voice of Customer at a Fortune 100 Financial Services Company.
Jay Palter (JP): Why do you invest your limited time to engage in social networks?
Augie Ray (AR): I sometimes ask myself this question. Between blogging, helping to administer a group on LinkedIn and engaging in the dialog on social networks, it is a considerable chunk of time. I think there is more than one answer.
First, I learn a lot – the people with which I network surface interesting and pertinent news and share insights and analysis that help me on the job. Second, I have a big drive to try to educate and to dispel myths, which is why I so enjoyed my job at Forrester and continue to blog, even though I’m on the client side and have no service, book or product to “sell.”
Last, I feel my social networking can help my career, although I’m also aware of the ways it may hinder it. On the positive side, my blogging and networking (both online and off) help to raise my visibility and strengthen my relationships. In fact, I can point to a single blog post I wrote that was instrumental in helping me land a job. There is a downside too. I once wrote a blog post critical of a social company, and since they were a partner of the firm at which I worked, it raised a few eyebrows and called into question if I was being a “team player.” It can sometimes be difficult to be a provocative, candid and challenging voice in the industry while working at a more traditional client-side firm rather than a research firm, agency or consulting organization.
JP: What social networks or tools do you consider essential and why?
AR: The big three social networks are all important to me.
Twitter is a great place for learning, connecting and promoting my blog. LinkedIn also fills those same needs, particularly since they launched their publishing tool last year. And Facebook is essential not just for personal networking, but has grown in value for professional networking, as well.
If Google+, Pinterest, Vine, Ello or even Instagram (on which I am quite active) disappeared tomorrow, I would hardly feel it. But life without Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook would feel very different.
JP: What techniques or habits have you developed to make time in your busy schedule for social?
AR: Mobile is key to making time in my schedule. When I have a couple minutes free, I actively check my stream. I also devour a huge amount of information every day, and if I read something interesting, I assume others might find it interesting, as well, so it gets posted. Flipboard helps to surface interesting news worth sharing, and Buffer is a great tool for managing cross-posting to my social accounts and timing of posts.
While that is my tactical answer, here is my more philosophical answer: I feel as if I have a constant dialog underway in social networks, and so attending to that becomes something vital to do throughout the day, just as I would give my attention to a conversation underway in the real world.
JP: What specific benefits would you attribute to your social networking activities?
AR: As I mentioned, I know of at least one blog post of mine that assisted me in landing a job at Forrester. The post was critical of a Forrester report and it sparked a dialog with two analysts. When a position came open a few months later, I was able to leverage that discussion and those relationships to get my hat in the ring. Of course, after that, it was a lot of hard work to land the job, but I would not have been in that original pool of candidates without my blog post and the conversation it encouraged.
I also get quite a lot out of my blogging, and I have spoken about this a couple of times at events. I recommend everyone do some sort of “blogging” professionally, whether they actually publish it or simple write things that remain private. For me, blogging offers a number of professional benefits. For one, it forces me to keep up with trends and news, which is always helpful on the job.
Blogging also sharpens my ideas and opinions. I sometimes sit down to write on a topic about which I feel quite confident, but the process of fashioning the logical argument and finding data to support my contentions can sometimes prove that my concept is not nearly as defensible as I thought. Sometimes, I even end up convincing myself I was wrong through the process of research and analysis. In the end, when I write a blog post, it becomes a full-blown idea I can call on in any conversation or meeting. I am simply better prepared and more informed because the blogging process forces it upon me.
And on a personal basis, I have made friends and built relationships thanks to my blogging and social networking. I can’t measure the ROI of that, but I value those people in my life.
JP: What’s one piece of advice that you have for your peers about social networking?
AR: Don’t think of social networking as something you need to schedule a half hour for every day. Think of it as the mortar in your day that fills in around the bricks of your schedule. Finding five minutes six times a day is easier to do than carving out a half hour. Plus your more frequent real-time interactions will improve your social networking engagement.
Also, be aware of the risks and the rules. Know your company’s social media guidelines and be aware of the way anyone can react to your posts and tweets. It’s all fun and games until you post something that is considered a sales pitch for your company, that reveals some confidential information about a company vendor or that rubs someone the wrong way. There is no need to be fearful – just be smart!
Augie Ray is the epitome of a social business executive, one who has figured out how to grow his personal brand and leverage it within his professional activities.
Augie is an active listener and recognizes that what he learns from social networks may be its most important benefit. Though he doesn’t use the term “social capital”, he clearly acknowledges that the interactions and engagement with people in his online networks have an impact on his career. Augie is clearly a creative, truth-seeker and a leader that isn’t afraid to put his truth-seeking out there.
One of the keys to Augie’s social networking success is his writing and blogging. His explanation for why he pours so much effort into it is reminiscent to me how Josh Brown describes the reason he writes: it helps him figure out what he’s thinking. This clarification process helps Augie in many ways professionally – and it would benefit many business leaders to do the same.
To me, this is one of the most important takeaways for business leaders: people want to know how and why you do what you do. They want to know how you think. Whether it’s your peers and colleagues, or your customers and prospects, or even your internal team or a future employer, there are enormous benefits of getting out there and sharing your vision and thought process. It contributes to the know, like and trust factor that drives so much of business. And it will make you a better decision-maker.
Of course, you need to be mindful of your pronouncements in social networks and the impact they might have on those around you. Augie suggests you be “smart” (and I would add “strategic”) in the discussions you choose to publically engage in.
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