Book Review: “Known”

Whether it’s on social media, in the workplace, or at school, it seems like nearly every person has an innate desire to become known by their peers. As a society, we tend to define who we are based on the opinions of others. We mistakenly confuse this phenomenon of believing the world’s label for us as becoming known. Being known isn’t dependent on who has the most friends or the most followers. It’s not dependent on who’s the prettiest or funniest. Being known means utilizing digital media to building an actionable audience that respects your reputation and authority.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Take an expert’s. In “Known: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age,” Mark W. Schaefer breaks down how to build your personal brand in four easy parts: find your place, determine your space, find your fuel and create an actionable audience. Although these steps seem relatively simple, each one takes a tremendous amount of research, thought, patience and desire. Schaefer intends for these steps to be used specifically for building a personal brand, all four are applicable across different subject areas, including social media.

Step One: Find your place

Growing up, teachers, parents and other authority figures say, “Find your passion and run with it.” But, what if I told you that isn’t enough? According to Schaefer, discovering your passion is only half of the battle when it comes to find your place. Now, I won’t lie. It took a lot of convincing for me to believe that. In my last blog, I talked about social media’s influence on my life, and how it led me to my passion. My life, including my career choice, has been built around my passion for giving others a voice. But after 27 pages, Schaefer had me convinced.

Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean it will translate into a successful and enjoyable career. As much as it pains me to say this, passion just isn’t enough. Instead, Schaefer suggests finding a sustainable interest. “What does that mean?” you ask. Well, please, allow me to enlighten you because I find this topic extremely intriguing.

Explained simply, Schaefer defines a sustainable interest as a topic you love, but that you want to become known for. But, this definition didn’t differ from the definition of a passion to me. Let’s paint a picture:

I graduate in approximately eight months (but who’s counting?). Within the next eight months, I need to start thinking about what my sustainable interest might be. Now, if there is anything that anyone needs to know about me, it’s that I have an undying love for dogs. A cute video of a pup can turn even the darkest of days around for me. But, I can’t necessarily make a career based upon my love for dogs. Instead, I need to think about something I’m passionate about, but that I can also pave the path for me to achieve my long term goals.

Schaefer used his past experiences to identify his sustainable interest, but that’s only one of many ways you could find yours. In fact, Schaefer was nice enough to give you seven different exercises to find yours:

  1. The “Only I…”
  2. The 2 by 2
  3. The Core Mash-Up
  4. Strengths Finder
  5. The beautiful questions
  6. Visualize your future
  7. The 35 headlines

Now, I’m not going to go through explain all of these, but I did them all as I read through chapter three. They were all helpful and helped me identify my sustainable interest, but I found “The Core Mash-Up” the most helpful.

When you go through “The Core Mash-up,” you find your sustainable interest by combining a personal values or characteristics with something you love to do or that you’re passionate about. First, start with creating a list of your core characteristics and values. It could be as little as 10 words or up to fifty. My list consisted of about 20 words, which I narrowed down to three:

  1. Honesty
  2. Creativity
  3. Communication

The trick is to mix and match the different values to create a sustainable interest. It’s apparent to be that my sustainable interest is going to fall somewhere in the public relations field – good thing since I’m about to have a degree in it. Now, I still don’t know specifically what topic I want to base my sustainable interest on, but that’s okay. If there’s anything I learned by going through these steps, it’s that not everyone is going to know their sustainable interest right away. The more you experience in life, the more apparent your sustainable interest will become.

Step Two: Determine your space

About 600 words ago, I mentioned that these steps could be applied to pretty much anything, like social media. But, what I should have said is this:

“..all four are applicable across different subject areas, especially social media.”

I think it’s safe to say most of us know the importance of social media when it comes to building your personal brand- at least if you’ve read my blogs you would. Social media gives you the opportunity to share who you are with the world. It’s probably one of the most powerful tools ever invented. That’s why finding the correct space for your sustainable interest is so important.

But as Schaefer explains, finding your space doesn’t just mean you should create a Twitter account or blog. Determining what your space is takes research, and a lot of it.  So, once again, Schaefer, that sweet man, gave us more steps to follow:

  1. Develop a unique tone or point of view
  2. Move to a social platform within your niche
  3. Dominate a content type
  4. Try a new content form
  5. Focus on frequency
  6. Find a unique demographic or geographic niche
  7. Connect with industry influencers
  8. Use curation as a niche

Unlike the exercises Schaefer gave us in the previous step, all of these steps are equally important. If you haven’t inferred yet, this process involves quite a bit of trial and error. Just like writing the introduction paragraph to this blog, the first step is always the most difficult. Developing a unique tone or point of view sounds really easy, but once you dive into it, you find out otherwise. This step is easy to underthink, but its just as easy to over think. I truly cannot explain the best way to do this better than Schaefer:

“It might be tempting to try to sound funnier / nerdier / hipper / snarkier than you are in real life, but that is likely to get exhausting. Your tone has to be a natural extension of your personality.”

Now, I’m not an expert on this topic by any means, but I am going to use myself as an example. Take this blog for instance. You come into this thinking that this is going to be formal because most book reviews are. But that’s just not who I am. If I tried to make this completely formal, I’d be exhausted writing it and that would come through while you’re reading it. Instead, I let my naturally conversational tone flow through my writing, which hopefully makes this blog more unique and enjoyable.

Now that we’ve got step one of determining your space taken care of, we can shift our focus back to social media. The rest of the steps focus on selecting the platform to display your sustainable interest based on your content type, your lifestyle and your niche. Let’s skip down to step, five. Now, when you want to focus on frequency, you have to consider your personality and your lifestyle, as well as your readers’. If you want to create a social media account as your main content type, you need to be able to post to it multiple times a day, or you will inevitably lose the interest of your audience. Maybe you think you can only create content weekly or monthly. There’s nothing wrong with that, you just have to shift your space. Maybe your space isn’t a traditional social media. It could be Apple Podcasts.

At this point in the book, Schaefer has me convince that he is a personal branding genius. “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. Step eight is an absolute game-changer. According to Schaefer, you can obtain first-mover advantage without even creating original content. Honestly, if you’re not convinced to pick up the book and read it yourself at this point, the snippet I’m about to share should sway you. Schaefer talked about the story of Christopher Korody, who established first-mover advantage when his interest in drones peaked during a client project. Korody didn’t create any original content. Instead, he curated content about drones and posted it to his site daily. Now, he’s considered an expert in the industry. Talk about working smarter and not harder.

Step Three: Find your fuel

According to Schaefer, your content is your fuel. In step two, you found your space. But like I mentioned, there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. This is the step where you can cut back on that. Schaefer starts to talk more about how your lifestyle and personality can lead you to selecting the right content type. Unlike the last two umbrella steps, he breaks this part down into only three subsets:

  1. Find the open space
  2. Figure out what you love to do
  3. Match content and personality type

Personally, I find that the first two steps are pretty self-explanatory. That could just be because psychology and personality type peak my interest, but oh well. You’re going to learn something new. Schaefer categorize personalities into two types: introverts and extroverts. Introverts would create content that is “slow and cerebral,” while extroverts development content that more on the spot. Schaefer gives the examples of blogging, interviews and visual social media content for introverts. Similarly, he says introverts will gravitate towards “quiet” platforms. On the other hand, Schaefer says extroverts create content on Snapchat, live-streams and Twitter chats. The platforms used by extroverts tend to involve more active engagement with audiences.

Which content type would you gravitate towards?

Step Four: Create an actionable audience

I know I’ve said this more than once throughout this blog, but I love this topic. Networking and building a following is so enjoyable for me. Creating an actionable audience is about building relationships with those who are interested in your niche. Schaefer touches base on a number of strategies that you could use to create an audience.

But we aren’t just talking about people who care about what you say. The keyword here is “actionable.” You want your audience to care about what you say, and then do something about it. Now, this next point I’m about to make Schaefer and I agree on without argument. Engaging with your audience is the most important thing you can do to retain their attention.

“Engagement is the glue that connects you to your fans and drives them to that “inner circle.”

Schaefer says that when your audience is engaging with you and your content, you’re moving in the right direction. But how you, as Schaefer says, activate your audience? Wow, I’m glad you asked. Building a personal brand is just like public relations and communications. It’s all about building relationships. Networking with your audience is the key to your success. They want to know who you are and what drives you. Once you establish that relationship, they’re more likely to engage with you.

I hate to break it to you, though. Activating your audience isn’t the end. Schaefer thinks you can take your brand to the next level. So do I. After you successfully complete Schaefer’s four steps, the options are limitless. You could write a book, become a public speaker, or start a whole new career. The only thing that could hold you back is you.

I really do recommend giving this book a read. Unlike other personal branding books I’ve attempted to read, Schaefer adds case studies, exercises and commentary to keep you engaged. I’m better off having this knowledge under my belt, and you will be to.

Social media changed my life

As I prepared to write this blog, one question came to my mind:

What’s something you hate, but can’t live without?

Some people said food because they wanted to lose weight. Some said working because they just wanted to travel the world. But the overwhelming majority said social media. You see, a lot of millennials, and even some in generation X, love to complain about how much they despise social media and technology. Yet, none of them delete their accounts. The next question that comes to mind:

Why not delete your accounts if you hate social media so much?

When I asked my friends, family, coworkers and classmates this question, I received an array of responses. Some said it was entertaining. Others claimed they’d feel disconnected from their social circles. But one response in particular stuck out to me:

Social media helped shape them into the person they are now.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but think about it. We were born in the late 90s, and the social media boom began at one of the most crucial developmental stages of our lives. As teenagers, we were discovering who we were and who we would eventually want to become. We were heavily influenced by our peers and inevitably, by social media. Social media helped mold a lot of us into the people we are now

Now, I’m not going to sit here and give social media all the credit. My parents raised me well. I’m surrounded by people who love me and push me to be the best version of myself. But, social media played a major role in my confidence. As a kid and as a teenager, I was bullied. A lot. I wasn’t the stereotypical girly girl who loved to do my hair and try on makeup. I wasn’t interested in boys. I knew there was something different about me; something I was too scared to admit.

Let’s fast forward a few years to high school. Sophomore year, to be specific. In that year to two year gap between middle school and where we are now, I figured out what was different about me. I was a lesbian. Well, I am a lesbian. But because I had been bullied since the fifth grade, I didn’t really have the confidence to just walk up to someone and admit that.

Enter Instagram.

Social media gave me to confidence to tell the world who I really am. So, I decided to put a clip of the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen on Instagram. In that post, I explained to my friends, family and strangers that I was in love with a woman.  I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I hid behind a screen, and no, I’m not ashamed of that. I was terrified of the reaction people may have had. I didn’t want to be bullied for being who I truly was, so social media became my safe place. It became the place where I could confidently be who I am.

That post changed my life. I walked into the school the next day, completely terrified of what everyone would say. But I was greeted with love and kindness. That post and the reactions I received from it not only molded me into the confident woman that I am today, but it made me understand the value of voice.

Fast forward again to the present. I’m now a senior at IUPUI, majoring in public relations. I get asked two questions all the time:

1. What is public relations?

2. Why are you pursuing a career in it?

I could give those asking the textbook definition of PR, which I’m sure my professors would love. Instead, I tend to give a more simple and personal definition:

 

Public relations gives voice to those who need it.

Remember when I said that Instagram post from my sophomore year of high school taught me the importance of voice? Well, it did more than that. It cultivated my passion to tell the stories of others. That passion led me to this career path. Now, I get to spend the next forty to fifty years utilizing social media to tell the stories of others.

Why isn’t Twitter taking a stand against hate speech?

Before I get too political, let me make one thing clear: I love Twitter. I use it every day. I check it when I wake up in the morning and right before I go to bed. It’s how I keep up with the news, my friends who are away at school and the latest trends. But, Twitter has a very big problem.

Last week, I mentioned that there is one very big downfall of social media: cyberbullying. Twitter, and specifically CEO Jack Dorsey, have chosen to ignore the problem rather than face it head on. Nearly a month ago, Karla Peterson, a contact reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, published an article addressing Twitter’s lack of action regarding fake news and hate speech.

In Twitter’s defense, its hard to monitor 335 million active accounts. But Peterson’s statement to Dorsey focused on one account; an account that garnered national interest due to its sensational and false statements. That’s right. Peterson was talking about Alex Jones and his infamous “news” outlet InfoWars. Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify banned Jones and InfoWars. So, why would Dorsey not follow suit?

“If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction,” Dorsey tweeted.

Peterson had no problem saying it and neither do I: Jack, you’re wrong. CEO’s of social media corporations are often referred to as guardians. They are the people who regulate who’s able to say what on the Internet, and they determined what falls under the protections of free speech. But where should they draw the line? Does hate speech fall under the protections of free speech? Do false information and conspiracy theories?

To answer these questions, let’s take a minute to refresh what we have learned about free speech from a legal and historical context. The First Amendment was adopted in 1791, but in the early 1900s, courts began to clarify what was and was not protected by freedom of speech. As of now, the constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking, to protest, to use certain offensive words or phrases in a political context, to donate money to a political movement, to advertise, and to participate in symbolic speech . However, the Constitution does not protect the right to incite action that may be harmful to others.

On the other hand, Twitter does not clearly define what is and isn’t considered hate speech on its platform. Twitter’s Hateful conduct policy focuses on three things: content, context and behavior. Users’ content can’t promote violence or attack or threaten someone else. But, the context in which content is evaluated is crucial. Tweets may seem offensive if they are viewed in isolation, but are meant to be part of a larger thread. In terms of behavior, its Twitter’s policy that abusive tweets have to tag specific users in order for it to fall under hateful conduct.

So do we all have a basic understanding of what freedom of speech constitutes now? Do we all understand Twitter’s policy on hate speech?  Cool. Moving on.

Jones has an avid and passionate following on social media. In fact, as Peterson mentioned, “his followers hounded the parents of a Sandy Hook victim so relentlessly, they had to move seven times in five years,” after Jones claimed the tragedy was a hoax conducted by crisis actors. Looking back at what we learned about free speech and Twitter’s Hateful Conduct Policy, should Jones be protected?

According to the Constitution, no, he absolutely isn’t. According to Dorsey, its not his job to worry about it.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen. CEO Jack Dorsey is pulling a classic CEO move: delegation. Rather than taking responsibility for false information Jones spews to 899 thousand followers, Dorsey delegates the responsibility to someone else.

“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” Dorsey tweeted, “so it’s critical journalists document, validate and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”

I think if Peterson and I had been in the same room while reading this tweet, we might have laughed until we cried. I agree. Journalists have a part to play in protecting free speech, but so do you Jack Dorsey. So does your company. In this day and age, it isn’t feasible for journalists to expose every right or left-winged conspiracy theorist who take snippets of correct information and develop an entirely false narrative. Donald Trump has declared war against the press. No one who follows Jones will believe anything a reporter from CNN, AP, NBC or ABC says. His followers will only believe the personal cheerleaders of President Trump: Fox News and InfoWars.

Since the public outlash, Dorsey had changed his tune… publicly, at least. But, it’s going to take a lot for him to convince me he’s willing to take a stand against hate speech.

Social Media: A Blessing, A Curse and A Tool

Like it or not, social media has changed the landscape of our society, both positively and negatively. If you take a blast to the past, say 25 years or so ago, social media was pretty much nonexistent; not even texting had been invented yet. If you wanted to meet new people or build a relationship, you actually had to talk to them. Weird, right? Social media has caused an entire generation to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. Instead, people hide behind their screens masquerading as who society wants them to be all for the sake of gaining a few extra followers.

And of course, I can’t forget to leave out what I like to call the plague of social media: cyberbullying. Sure, bullying has always been around. But like I mentioned, social media has given people an easy opportunity to have an alternate personality. A lot of times, these personalities are ruthless and hateful. One hateful comment, video or meme can go viral in minutes. Unfortunately, the comments or actions people take through social media cause their targets to feel worthless, depressed and alone. Sometimes, victims even take go as far to to take their lives.

But as in life, there are two sides to every story. The story of social media isn’t all bad; it’s not even mostly bad. A lot of good has come from the evolution of social media. Sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have connected the world it a way that it never has been before. Different people from different cultures find common ground without having met. News outlets share stories with readers without having to wait for the next paper to roll-out. Victims of school shootings establish activist movements that go on to inspire entire nations.

What I find to be the most beautiful aspect of social media, probably seems like the most insignificant. It feels like every time I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I see stories about hope. Whether it’s a friend who finally found their passion after years of searching, or a story of a stranger donating money to hundreds of teachers across their state, those posts show the best of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to see past all of the terrible things going on in the world. But, social media lets people have a voice and gives them the opportunity to provide hope where all hope might seem lost.

Social Media as a Branding Tool

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of people who use social media as an excuse to be someone they’re not. Social media can be used for the opposite purpose, as well. It’s a fantastic resource when attempting to amplify your personality and build your personal brand. Throughout my PR journey, professors have preached on the importance of personal perception. No matter the business field, employers want to know who they are hiring. What better place to find out than on social media?

While Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat are outlets for social interaction, it’s always important to keep in mind who might be watching. You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here.  Employers don’t want to associate themselves with candidates who don’t reflect their company’s values or mission. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’d be ashamed of your grandma seeing it, don’t post it.

Now, this isn’t my slick way of saying you need to be a cookie-cutter professional with no unique personality. That’s boring. Social media gives you the opportunity to show the world who you are and what you want to accomplish in your lifetime. Your personal brand on social media should set you apart by highlighting your values, skills, talents and goals.

Social Media as a Networking Tool

Public relations, much like life, is built on forming and maintaining relationship. That’s why I’m not mystified as to why a strong professional network plays such a large role in successful job or internship searches. You might be thinking, “I have over 500 connections on LinkedIn. I’m good.” I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it doesn’t matter how many connections you have on LinkedIn if no one is willing to advocate for you. So, no. You are not “good.”

Social media in itself is not enough to build a strong network. A strong professional network should be comprised of seasoned professionals who are willing promote your work. But, building connections on LinkedIn is a fantastic way to start. Don’t let that be the end of your story, though. Social media literally puts the world at your fingertips, giving you the ability to connect with millions of professionals around the globe.

Trust me, I understand that taking the first step can be slightly terrifying. When I started marketing myself as a professional, I was hesitant to connect with or reach out to anyone I didn’t personally know. Actually, that’s an understatement. I refused because, honestly, they really drilled “Stranger Danger” into me as a kid. As it turns out, strangers can actually be your allies in the business realm. Everyone has a different path and a different experience. It’s always valuable to reach out, listen to a new story and gain fresh perspective on your work.

When you take a risk, reach out and build a relationship, you’re elevating your personal brand. Your new network of professionals will likely connect with you on more than just LinkedIn; they’ll follow your twitter, instagram and your blog. More importantly, they will read and share your work with prospective employers.

As I continue on my PR journey, and through life, my blog and my social media will embody my values, passions and goals. Social media, like most things in life, is a blessing and a curse. But at the end of the day, its given each and every one of us something that no one can ever take away: a voice.