To be successful in the digital age you must invest in your digital first impression, tell your story and make it easy for others to discover who you are, why you do what you do and what problems and services you have to offer.
It’s been evident for many years that our first impression in business and life no longer happens with what we’re wearing rather what comes up when someone googles our name or finds us online.
This shift has empowered the “personal branding movement” a topic I’ve been writing about since 2014 and is probably not new to most reading this.
But for most of us, we don’t consider ourselves as creators or marketers and we don’t know what it takes to build a brand or create content or invest in a community and isn’t that work really just for entrepreneurs and those “want to be influencers” anyhow.
Like it or not times have changed and it doesn’t matter if you work for yourself or a company, how people see you, discover you and feel about you is often the key element for whether you get promoted, close the sale or get recognized for your hard work.
In this hyper-connected digital world, the only way to do this is by owning the fact that you must be the one sharing your experiences, invest in your digital-first impression, making it easy for people to discover you and telling the authentic stories you want to be remembered for.
The beauty of this hyper-connected digitally-driven world today is that it’s leveled the playing field giving everyone the ability to tell their story no matter your resume, your background, where you live or how much money you have. The possibilities of doing great things with this power are truly endless but this power is also the reason we are currently overwhelmed by fake news, bad news and those selling unicorns rainbows.
For the past 3 years, I’ve instilled in my community that to embrace my #PressTheDamnButton mantra you must first admit that perfection is a fairytale and control is an illusion.
For those that have done this, the results have been incredible. But for many, they still have questions such as: why do I need to put myself out there?
Where do I start?
How do I stand out from the noise?
What should I share?
What should I still keep private?
Interestingly enough, by shifting your perspective and answering the first question, you’ll almost naturally figure out on your own the answer to the second question.
One of the massive issues is the lack of awareness we currently have on how much time we spend or don’t spend on the good in the world compared to the bad. We aren’t going to beat fake news or bad news by continuing to give it the majority of our attention, media coverage, and watercooler talk.
But let’s face it in this comparison society we live in today we’d rather share the bad things happening to others which makes us feel good about our current situation than amplify our friend’s success and good things happening in the world for fear of how it will make us look or feel.
This must stop and we can each do our part by unfollowing, muting and removing those people who spew hate in our feeds while also going out of our way to tell our own stories and amplify the good stories happening around us each day.
Our Role In Making The World A More Empathetic Place
We can all agree that the world needs more empathy but wrapping our head around how we can make that happen can be extremely overwhelming causing most of us to consider the concept a pipe dream ultimately shifting our focus back to the small things in our lives that we can control that aren’t nearly as overwhelming. I break this down in more detail in my recent blog post “who or what is to blame for the lack of empathy in our digital world?”
This is only natural and when it comes to a concept like “changing the world” it can rightfully be overwhelming but I will challenge you that making the world a more empathic place is different.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another but the question I don’t believe we are asking ourselves is what role do we play in allowing others to understand and sharing in our own feelings?
This is only made possible by us putting ourselves out there, telling our stories, being vulnerable and amplify those around us doing great things.
Yes, investing in the future of your digital first impression should be plenty of motivation for valuing and building your personal brand and creating content that highlights your stories.
Still, if that isn’t enough, the harsh truth is if you don’t make this change, you’ll be drowned out by the bad and fake and we won’t move the world to a more empathetic place as we won’t have a chance to understand or feel for you.
In the world we’re living in today, we have never been more divided, especially here in the United States.
While at the same time, we’ve never been more connected, attached to our devices 24/7 having instant access to people around the world..
Yet for many of us, we’ve never felt more alone. Right?
The beauty of social media for many in the world today is that it’s leveled the playing field. It’s given everyone a voice. Yet the reason we have a problem with fake news, bad news, and people finding success by selling unicorns and rainbows is that social media has genuinely given everyone a voice to say whatever they want.
But let’s be honest social media wasn’t created to stop bad people from doing bad things or prevent stupid people from doing absurd things. Social media simply eliminated our ability to ignore and hide from these things and gave us access to people and actions that, for centuries, had never been exposed.
No social media isn’t to blame for this problem; we are!
I believe each of us owns a piece of the blame, and we each can fix it. Yes, the obvious reasons such as not caring enough to do our research and our preference to spend 10X more time discussing and highlight the bad/fake in the world opposed to the little attention we give to the good things happening around us each day.
One of my most popular keynotes in 2019 was titled “Digital Empathy,” with the focus of putting a spotlight on the idea that digital “should” empower us to have a deeper understanding of the world around us. Thanks to digital, we have direct access into people’s past, unfiltered access to the digital breadcrumbs influencing people’s actions in the present, and in most cases, plenty of insights into their plans for the future.
This digital access provides us a 360-degree view that at the very least should give us the framework we need to be empathetic towards those we are connected to.
Now let’s be clear this doesn’t guarantee trust just as authenticity or transparency don’t guarantee trust as they both provide a window into who someone is allowing us to determine faster and in most cases to a better degree how trustworthy someone is or isn’t.
Shouldn’t a 360-degree view enable Empathy?
Empathy isn’t just about having a 360-degree view, we must have the desire to feel, understand and share in the feelings that this view provides us. Or as I like to break it down on stage as:
It’s a desire to understand someone from all sides, being able to walk in their shoes and feel where those shoes have been without judgment or own bias.
In the world we’re living in right now, 2020, I believe social media has gone through a pretty fun evolution.
From it’s only a passing-fad period to a time not long ago.
To the days where both platforms and marketers were doing what they could to remove the “social” out of social media.
To a world-changing vehicle for movements and cultural transparency.
To become the preferred medium for the leaders of countries to share unfiltered thoughts and even engage with each other.
The idea that the preferred communication between world leaders over the last year has been Twitter is pretty mind-blowing if you sit back and think about it. Let’s take politics out of it and just think about the fact that President Roosevelt conveyed his thoughts to the US via fireside chats on the evening radio addresses that were scripted and weekly yet revolutionary. To today where we get instant access to the president’s real-time views and we can all agree his tweets aren’t scripted or consistent. Now some would argue that this access to a world leader can do more harm than good but let’s save that argument for another time.
Social media has given a voice and exposure to all the bad that has been happening in the world. And I believe we all feel that it was long overdue, but we had to get to a tipping point for us to get to a position where we move could level set and forward.
Role of Social Media Driving Forward Empathy
As we move forward, we must start fresh, not from the mindset of hiding the bad or the hate or putting technology first instead, each of us making it our mission to build a foundation of trust in this hyper-connected world.
We are living in an age where building trust must be a top business priority, which is requiring a drastic shift in mindset across company cultures. For years on stage, I’ve focused on helping audiences under the value of community, and how we as consumers don’t trust billboards or websites or marketers; we trust people we can relate to, which in many cases are our social media connections.
Interestingly enough in 2020, the micro-influencer and marketing education of today’s consumers might have pushed us to a point where a mass majority of consumers now question trusting their social media connections.
For many, our friendships and relationships will be put to the extreme test over the next 9 months in the US as our political divide injects itself into every aspect of our lives. Forcing us to realize our network isn’t as trusted as we think as most connections were built based on someone’s alliances and our assumed relatability with that person.
Sadly though, this lack of trust has been building for years, and marketers have always evolved or, in some cases, moved to the next shiny objects in hopes of the consumer never catching up. Social Media has given the consumer more information, access, and a louder voice than ever before, making it near impossible for today’s marketers to continue their old ways.
For those stuck in their ways or not willing to change, they look at this new lack of trust equation as a social media problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth and but we must acknowledge this type of thinking exists and impacts the world we are living in today. With the role, impact, and power of social media still being questioned today, it comes down to two different approaches:
We Blame social media and technology for the bad in this world and for forcing us to examine ourselves and others in ways that were uncomfortable and, in many cases, troubling.
We recognize and own the fact that we are all human, We are all vulnerable, we all make mistakes, and we have an opportunity to be better humans and leverage social media and technology to make the world a better place!
The answer is clear to me, as I do believe that we are living in the most significant time in history.
But as I said earlier to make the world a better place and disrupt the influx of bad news and fake news, we must all do our part.
We must do our part and that starts with us owning and telling our authentic stories while amplifying the good in the world, and lastly, removing judgment and leveraging our digital 360-view to better understand and feel for those around us.
In part 2 of this series, I will breakdown how we as leaders, can lead with vulnerability and authenticity while maintaining and, in many cases, increasing our authenticity.
The problem is many cultural transformations, and collaboration solutions are they focus on forcing change rather than a philosophy that includes those employees already disconnected or already feeling forced. At the same time, let’s face it; nobody likes being forced to do anything.
To truly drive cultural change empowering collaboration, there must be a shift in communication, and that starts with creating a foundation for three-way trust:
Trust in leaders/managers by employees.
Trust in employees by leaders/managers.
Trust in company tools/technology/data by leaders/managers and employees.
Creating this foundation of trust can create great strides in empowering employees and the initial adoption of technology that can help amplify and scale collaboration but doesn’t guarantee long term adoption.
But sadly, most companies stop when it comes to establishing a trusted organization, therefore, leaving the three-way trust to stand on its own. Without any process for change such as new employees, a shift in company policy, the addition of modern technology, and maybe the most disruptive, the lack of education. No, not the lack of education on how to use a tool instead of training focused on teaching employees the value of sharing knowledge and working with others instead of the old mindset of holding on to what you know to make yourself irreplaceable.
Let’s face it the power of collaboration for team success is a massive net positive, and in most cases for management and executive leadership, the cost benefits and cultural benefits of collaboration are transformational. But the value is harder to see for the employee looking at their career growth, investing in their brand, and wanting to do what’s best for them.
The ways we collaborate and communicate have changed over the years yet are still the same.
As with any change, there will be risks, and there will be rewards, and for the past 15 years, I’ve been an advocate of driving collaboration change in all different capacities.
But the truth is in each experience the roadblocks haven’t been the technology, although that’s the easiest to blame and fix or lack of leadership buy-in, which is what most analysts like to focus on so they can continue to get hired to consult and advise.
We had massive leadership buy-in across the entire military when I was working at the Department of Defense, deploying Sharepoint solutions across different military branches. Which I will argue might have been one of the hardest collaborating jobs in the world, getting the Army to share cybersecurity policies with the Navy.
Not only did we invest in the technology, but we invested in a massive team to deploy and manage the technology during my time as a Technology Evangelist architecting and implementing a social business solution at a booming startup. This is also where we even decided to eliminate the ability to email between employees to drive adoption and a shift in the process (No, this didn’t work as we planned).
To the last 5+ years working with organizations like IBM, SAP and multiple startups on the adoption of social media, influencer marketing, and employee advocacy, all with an underlying goal of linking data and information between teams, between customers and product managers and in many cases between leadership and employee.
The one theme that prevented real success across all of these unique deployments of cultural collaboration transformation wasn’t technology or leadership buy-in rather the lack of employee empowerment.
Over the years, I’ve heard thought leaders interchange the concepts of employee retention and employee advocacy with employee empowerment. Still, each has different goals and path towards successful adoption, and I believe when investing in employee empowerment first, retention and advocacy initiatives will have a much higher likelihood of success.
No, It’s Not Just Millennials That Want Empowered!
As a self-aware “pager-wearing Millennial” myself, the idea of employee empowerment for failing into the bucket of a millennial stereotype isn’t acceptable. Such as associating empowerment with the need for participation trophies or the need for attention, but no leader for a minute should believe that millennials are the only ones that want to feel empowered,. Doesn’t every employee want to feel like their boss appreciates them and that the work they are doing is having a more significant impact on the company they work for than we have a much bigger problem than collaboration?
Because it’s a company policy because it’s the only option…
Because there’s some random gamification element in the new software that you were sold on as the glue to bring everyone together?
Forcing every employee to collaborate and communicate the same way will never work. While at the same time, allowing everyone to use whatever tool, app, or technology they want would not only be impossible to manage but would be a cybersecurity nightmare as well.
Yes, the answer comes back to employee empowerment but not just “employee” but multiple employees that represent the different collaboration and communication personas within your organization. This can seem overwhelming, and depending on the size and diversity of your organization can be, but starting small and empowering, your employee change agents is the best place to start.
What’s in it for the employee?
There is no doubt a massive shift happening in the thought leadership space as leaders are no longer being praised for what they know rather how much they share with others and how good they are at conveying it in a relatable manner.
This shift hasn’t been as evident within organizations today because most companies still evaluate and incentivize employees based on the number of hours they work or in the more forward-thinking organizations the work they accomplish.
Seldom is an employee celebrated for the sharing of knowledge outside of their team or highlighted because of the content they created that builds trust and connection with customers.
Collaboration is ONLY successful over the long term if it’s both mutually beneficial and mutually empowered.
As I stated at the beginning, trust is the most critical component in creating a collaborative culture, and employees today WANT to trust their company. Still, trust can’t be just one-directional, just like collaboration can’t be all about the way the company wants to communicate.
As we continuously push forward in driving collaboration, I believe employee empowerment must be our highest priority.
This means helping managers create customize incentives for their employees!
Helping leaders see the value of investing in employee’s brands!
Employees are taking ownership of their own empowerment by driving change themselves and celebrating fellow employees driving the change they want to see.
Collaboration is nothing new and most organizations today understand the importance of teamwork and departments and business partners working together to reach mutual goals. More and more often the adoption of collaboration tools and strategies is driven by the fact that millennials now make up over 50% of the current workforce and are traditionally the biggest champions of collaborative work environments. Although collaboration is seen as an essential element within today’s business culture many companies still lack the key components to drive change.
Don’t throw technology at a people problem
Sharing of knowledge requires a mindset shift, don’t force this change TEACH it!
Celebrate collaboration success stories demonstrating productivity and value gained compared to doing it the old way.
Create procedures and policies that allow digital dinosaurs and digital natives to meet in the middle.
Incentivize managers to redefine workflow and key performance indicators to include collaboration tasks and goals.
Create a culture of collaboration by including collaboration practices in everyday tasks such as meetings, group messaging, conference calls, document sharing and company-wide announcements.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) adoption of collaboration tools must focus on simplification of basic tasks as the mindset shift is massive therefore the technology must increase productivity not add steps or time.
Establish an emotional intelligence baseline as with increased transparency and trust comes more exposure of mistakes therefore everyone on the team must understand the proper way to encourage continued collaboration after mistakes are exposed.
Define collaboration long term goals but include short term wins that allow for group validation to motivate and inspire the team both inward and outward.
Re-evaluate tools and technology on a regular basis as today’s collaboration tools are now growing beyond a singular SaaS based solution to include artificial intelligence, hardware integration.
I broke down collaboration in more details on a recent FOMOFanz Podcast episode you can listen to here: