How to get promoted in PR (with the help of social media)

In this guest posting, Burson-Marsteller intern Zack Sandor-Kerr reassesses the careers advice given by the agency’s founder nearly 50 years ago.

In April 1963, William Marsteller was asked how to get ahead in the company. In response, he issued a memo to all employees throughout his public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller.

The subject: How to get promoted.

william marstellerHis 16 tips for success within the public relations field resonate as strongly today as they did the year The Beatles’ second album was released. What’s even more remarkable is how readily his advice can be applied to the evolving social media landscape.

Forty-seven years ago, the connective possibilities of broadband internet had not begun to be considered. Social media had not yet been imagined; yet Marsteller’s tips offer insight on how we can utilise social media to leverage relationships and achieve success in business.

What follows are Marsteller’s pearls of wisdom, interjected by my observations about how each piece of business advice corresponds to social media best practice.

I recognise that it may seem presumptuous of an intern to write this post. I haven’t been in the PR game for long. What makes me the expert?

I don’t claim to be one. I am leaning heavily on the words and insights that a PR giant gleaned in his many years of experience watching leaders emerge. These are his tips. His observations.

The same is true with social media. I’m not an expert.

However I am an avid social media user who sees the potential in this digital medium to drive public relations and business strategy.

Date: April 25, 1963

TO: Everyone

From: Wm. A. Marsteller

SUBJECT: How to get promoted

Be loyal. Don’t just be loyal to me or to the company as a name, but to the people who make up the company.

Mr Marsteller understood that loyalty begets trust.

Trust is one of the most important currencies on the social web. Social media thought leader Chris Brogan coined the term “trust agents,” and describes them as “people who use the web in a very human way to build influence, reputation, awareness, and who can translate that into some kind of business value.”

By being loyal to our communities – both on and offline – we are able to build trust and exercise greater influence. We are able to make more meaningful connections with consumers, clients and colleagues. These can open doors.

Reserve your opinion of people, good or bad, until you’ve observed them and lived with them long enough to be sure you’re right.

Jumping into social media without first listening to and understanding the conversations already taking place can harm your personal brand or your company’s.

Marsteller’s advice speaks to a social media user’s need to listen to the conversation, understand the context and then add value by voicing an opinion.

Quit worrying about your competition. The only real competitor you will ever have is yourself. Remember, I don’t pick our leaders; the followers do.

Many companies and brands feel the pressure to do social media to keep up; because everyone else is doing it. For fear of being left behind. They make hasty decisions without fully understanding the strategy behind using social media for business.

It shouldn’t matter what the other guy is doing. It shouldn’t matter what social media platforms they’re using. Don’t adopt social media because they are; do it because you want to engage your customers. By finding your brand’s own voice online on your own terms, you will be more successful than if you just try to play catch-up.

The people “out there” don’t follow the followers. They follow the leaders, the trend-setters and the outliers who bring something truly innovative to the table.

How will you innovate? How will you lead?

Look for the best in others and remember all of us have more weaknesses than we see in ourselves.

Internet forums, discussion boards, comment pages are packed with negativity. The FAIL meme is an example of internet users’ tendencies to express contempt in ironic or unfortunate situations. There is no discussion around improvement. Empathy languishes.

The challenge for social media users is to resist the temptation for blanket criticism without providing useful feedback.

Social media is much more powerful when it’s being used to help people, spread ideas, and connect people. Criticising is easy. Innovating is less so.

Be interested in the other person’s job. Make suggestions humbly. Ask advice. Build up your associates – to each other, to media reps and editors, to friends, neighbours, your family and visitors from our other offices.

Mr Marsteller’s message is clear here – nurture meaningful networks. Build connections. Leverage relationships. Share ideas. Help others.

This point speaks to the notion of social capital. Social capital refers to the connections within and between our social networks. When we cultivate relationships with the people around us by listening, taking an interest, sharing ideas and seeking advice, we are enriched. This is true both professionally and socially.

In the digital space, we can do this by sharing ideas and spreading content; by re-tweeting the work of others to expand its reach throughout our networks; by soliciting the help and advice of other thought leaders in the field. These processes are made easy thanks to social online environments. What’s more, social media enables us to keep track of weak connections and leverage them into valuable relationships.

Don’t waste your ability — write articles, make speeches. Stand out from the crowd or be lost in the crowd.

Publishers and editors are no longer the sole gatekeepers of the written word. The spread of content en masse made possible by the internet means that anybody can share the work they produce. As communicators, we have tremendous opportunities to spread our creativity and vision.

Creating quality content and using our abilities and skills is perhaps more important now than it was when this memo was written. There is a lot of digital “noise” on the internet. Everyone can publish, and multitudes do.

The trick is to be exceptional. Stand out or be buried.

If you have problems, doubts or suggestions about the management of this business, go to the management with your comments, not the guy at the next desk. He can’t do anything about it.

Social media allows us to reach out to, and connect with, key decision makers and influencers. The dynamics between consumers and corporations are changing and giving the public greater opportunities to reach out to ‘the people who can do something about it.’

Those people are listening and responding.

Never quit creating. The world is run by creative people.

This is not Mr Marsteller’s insight into search engine optimisation, and how Google prefers websites that produce regular content (though it’s true). Rather, it’s an assertion that a hunger to keep producing, contributing and innovating is the cornerstone to success.

The most successful people do not stop being creative. They continue to build.

In the social media space, we control our digital destinies.

Other people like a compliment as much as you do.

Sharing, building other people up, helping spread ideas, complimenting others. It’s social capital. The social web presents tremendous opportunities for reciprocity. Utilise it.

It doesn’t take much – be nice. Offer compliments generously and seek ways to make other people look good. One of the incredible benefits of social media is your ability to publicly give someone else kudos for a job well done. The internet needs more of this. Doing so is a way you can stand out from the masses online.

Don’t get discouraged. Look back at your progress, account by account, job by job, person by person. Thousands of good novels were never written because the author got bored or discouraged after the first chapter.

Building social capital doesn’t happen overnight. Your Twitter following may not be as big as the next guy’s. Your web traffic may not be as impressive. Don’t become discouraged. You can engage and grow your audience by constantly giving people a reason to come back.

It is a process. Be creative. Have fun with it.

It is easy for your initial social media enthusiasm to wane after a few months – or years, or decades. The blog ideas may not come as readily. Your Tweets may grow stagnant. Your Facebook Page may decay.

Fight it.

Continue finding things to write about. Seek out new sources of inspiration – chats over coffee, reading new blogs, or conversations overheard on the train.

Look to your past accomplishments to fuel your future ones.

Put a “Pride” file in your desk. This is a file of the jobs you have done that you’re really, really proud of. See how fast you can make it grow. Review it from time to time and to see if the oldest entries look ordinary to you. Great performers grow.

Produce work that you’re proud if. Generate ideas that you can stand behind.

At some point, go back and sift through your blog archives. When you do, ask yourself if your work has improved; if your ideas have matured; and if your readership has grown.

Is there content that still shines? Dust it off and come back to it. Rework it. Tweak it. Add new learning and insights.

Never lose your sense of humour.

I find that I’m drawn to funny people. So is the internet.

The social media and marketing campaigns that stand out in my mind are the ones that are funny, quirky and downright outrageous.

The internet can be a funny place. Stodgy social media users take note – find joy around you. It’s okay to laugh.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

There are a lot of opinions on how to do social media the “right” way.

I’ve read a number of posts on (debunking) social media etiquette. Do you follow back when followed? Do you Tweet your thanks for a re-tweet or mention? Should you reply to each and every comment, and if so how soon should you reply?

Conversations about authenticity abound. How do I build my personal brand online and personify a certain idea? How personal is too personal? How much about myself should I disclose? How do I tweet with integrity on behalf of a client?

I’ve followed many discussions about being authentic online by people who are taking it all far too seriously and consequently forgetting to be authentic themselves.

I may sound like a heretic, but it’s just social media, isn’t it?

Hang on to your humility.

Perhaps you work for an incredible brand with a fabulous social media presence. You’ve got lots of followers. Your Facebook page is well “Like”-ed.

Don’t assume that you’ve mastered social media. You’re only halfway there.

According to Mr Marsteller, real leaders will take this success and look at ways they can continue to improve. They will ask the opinions of those around them. They will diligently pursue the next innovation to make it better – not for the recognition – but because they’re intrinsically motivated.

They will also examine how this social media success can drive business results. Smart social media users recognise that the only metric that matters is engagement. Measuring the number of people that looked at your press release or clicked through to your product page or liked your website is all well and good, but how does it translate into action?

Your brand’s social media campaign needs more than eyeballs on screens. It needs engagement.

Page views are great. Sales are better.

Take your accomplishments and leverage them to something even better.

Remember, almost no one holds a confidence. It’s human nature to pass along stories. Be sure when you tell tales about someone else that you’re willing to have the subject get the story second-hand, credited to you.

The online environment can be ruthless to careless brands and sloppy community managers. Countless masses are poised to pounce on any social media mis-step. Don’t give them a reason to go after you.

If you operate with integrity, you’ll be fine.

You have so much power with social media. Use it for good, not evil.

You think you are able; I think you are able. When other people around you begin saying so, unsolicited, then you’re promotable.

  • Zack Sandor-Kerr recenZack Sandor-Kerrtly completed the public relations post-graduate program at Humber College in Toronto, Canada. He is interning with Burson-Marsteller Australia and Encoder Public Relations in their Sydney office. He blogs at Pizza Friday

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