A couple weeks ago I was presenting to a group of AARP field staff about the AARP Social Communications team. After sharing our structure, roles and some tips for rocking at social communications, I was asked, "How did you guys establish yourselves as the experts? How did you become the go-to people for social media at AARP?" It's not like we had a formula, or were plotting an exacting strategy, but in hindsight there were several things we systematically did to establish our expertise. When I thought back even further to my days in media relations or even my PR agency days, I realized I did the same things to establish myself as the go-to person for any number of subjects or tasks.
Consider this your hit list. Make time for two or three of these things a week and you'll be well on your way to being "that person who knows how to...." in your organization. Do the items that make the most sense for your role and your organization's culture, but also consider that being an expert means paving the way, leading, busting down boundaries and that may make you a little bit uncomfortable. That's okay, and mostly, that's good! It means you're stepping out of your comfort zone. But it also means you're embracing the risk as you put yourself out there and stand up for your ideas.
Always. Be. Selling.
My friend Jenna is in sales. She's whip smart and she can do the hustle better than anyone I know. But she's smooth about it - unobtrusive and never makes you feel like you're hearing a pitch. Listen, no one is going to get behind your idea just because. You have to sell your idea, but more importantly yourself. Jenna's so good because she understands what she's selling against. Maybe for one client it's driving traffic, while for another it's raising awareness. Depending on their needs she talks about how she can help people achieve their goals.
Understand the people you're selling to: what makes them tick? Maybe one boss loves numbers and analytics, while another religiously reads the Wall Street Journal and yet another might hate taking meetings but loves grabbing coffee. How you sell yourself and your ideas should be catered to the individual you're selling to, not yourself.
Share Ideas - With Context
I read more than 300 RSS feeds every day for a reason: sharing. When it comes to sharing articles and information with colleagues and higher ups, the key is context and ease.
In my PR agency days I learned that many of my clients weren't clicking on the links to news stories I sent them. Bummer. Then I switched up the format of my emails. I copy/pasted the headline of the article into the body of the email, provided a full link to the article and then a copy of the article in its entirety in the body of the email. At the very top I added a sentence or two of intro & context and 2-3 bullets with the key takeaways or questions I needed them to answer.
See, not many people have the time or the interest in reading the things you will send. What are the quick bites? What would you tell them if you were only going two floors in an elevator together? That's the most important part of the email, well, and a subject line that makes them want to open it. Add value to the article and it shows how you are valuable beyond being an over-glorified newsletter.
Walk The Walk
Don't just talk about it, be about it. You want to start a social media program for your company? You better have a social media program for yourself. Yep, a program. Think there's a more streamlined way of printing and mailing? Try it out on yourself first, take note of the cost savings, process and improvements for you alone.
Recruit the willing into your ideas. There are always a few people who are willing to try an idea or go rogue with you. Go for the low hanging fruit - easy wins, small projects and build critical mass around your ideas by actually doing them on a small scale.
For those times you want to scream, "I told you guys we should have done that!" Yeah, you knew you were right all along, and just now everyone else realized you were right too. Be gentle, focus on the positive and the future. Don't lay blame, and definitely don't be condescending. This is your chance to show the higher ups that you can fix a problem or improve upon a lackluster outcome by implementing that program, plan or process you've been selling so hard. Bonus points: work with your team rather than trying to lead the new plan or take it away from them.
A friend just shared this anecdote: if it takes you more than 15 minutes to figure out who the asshole is in a meeting, there's a good chance it's you.
Listening! It's a lost art. Especially at work! You do not need to clamor to make your point first, there are no points for talking louder or faster and there is no rule that you need to speak on every point or even in every meeting. Listen to what's being said, absorb it - is there a subtext? What are the goals you're trying to achieve in the meeting/conversation? Who is in the room? What might that mean? - and determine if you have any value to add. No value? Don't speak. Value? Speak away, my friend!
This is total PR girl advice. What are your three key points you're trying to make? You are these three points. Become the three points. Shamelessly repeat the three points. When you speak (sparingly) these are your go-to messages, or what you always bring your audience back to. These points need to speak to your capabilities, strengths or boil down your ideas into salient, easy to digest snippets.
Put on your big girl panties, this is going to require you to strap on some extra confidence. I want you to, unannoyingly and unobtrusively, "swing by" influential people's offices. Sometimes I want you to just say, "Hi!" Sometimes I want you to have a loose idea of something (related to your chosen field of expertise) to chat BRIEFLY about. Sometimes I want you to make friends with their assistant. Are you catching my drift? To be an expert you also need to be physically visible to the people who can help validate you.
If you want to be known as a social media expert, swing by a few times and offer to help a higher up download Twitter to their phone and get all set up. If the person you're visiting loves reading things on paper, drop off an interesting article you printed out. If they have a sense of humor, or love, I don't know, buffalos, tell them a joke you heard or mention a cool painting of buffalos on exhibit downtown. This is about personal relationship building that transcends your technical expertise. People work with people they like, not just people who are the smartest or most qualified.
It's not a science, but try putting a few of these things on your calendar every week at work as a reminder. If you passionately embody your ideas, and aim to share the benefits of them every day with people around you, you'll become an in-house expert. But remember it's a slow build - like growing an audience on Twitter - it's just going to take some time. (So start now!)
Photo Source: Me! (Alejandra Owens)