How Do You Engage Online and Not Get Fired?

Marian SchembariBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

Not counting the informal 7x20x21 networking events, Digital Book World’s Digitize Your Career: Marketing & Editorial Forum was the new publishing community’s first in-person event since January’s inaugural conference, and the goal, according to Director of Programming and Forum moderator Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, was for the attendees and speakers to “leave here excited about what you do, with some new ideas on how to move forward.” A smaller, more interactive program by design — with an impressive number of Sterling Publishing employees in the room — I was surrounded by some the most innovative and plugged-in minds in the industry, all of whom I follow on Twitter and was finally able to put some real-life faces to their digital avatars.

Because I’ve become so ingrained in the publishing industry lately, and because blogs are where I get almost all my information, and because the people who run those blogs are the most plugged-in —  real publishing “celebrities” like Chapman/ChapmanLJNDawson.com, and The New Sleekness —  I never really questioned how their employers felt about all this public information-sharing and engagement. In my mind, I was sure they were cool with all the blogging and the tweeting and the Facebook stalking.

It wasn’t until Gonzalez asked, “How many of you have a personal blog? How many of you can’t have a personal blog because of corporate policies?” that I actually remembered these guys have careers outside of their blogging personas.

Approximately half of the room raised their hands to the first question, including Harlequin editor Stacy Boyd.

Stacy Boyd“Harlequin has a very open blog policy,” Boyd said, but then immediately followed up with: “I obviously can’t talk about anything confidential, and have to couch everything as my personal opinion. I try not to write anything that Harlequin might disagree with, but have run into situations that other people in our part of the industry – like authors – have disagreed with me. Authors are very important to us so it’s challenging to be both personal and corporate at the same time.”

Back when I worked the 9-to-5 grind, I was a book publicist while also keeping up with my own personal blog. I didn’t talk a lot about the industry, but I did often write book reviews, which my boss told me I had to take down as those authors might be potential clients. It was frustrating, but I did understand; an author is hardly going to hire a firm that employs people who write bad reviews of their books!

But I wonder how much of this is about companies playing CYA and how much is just plain ignorance about the importance of engaging readers and colleagues online?

“The whole system is hidden,” said Dan Blank, Director of Content Strategy & Development at Reed Business Information, former publisher of Publishers Weekly. “People don’t know the editors or publishers for a lot of these books.”

Most people know the name of bestselling authors, maybe even a major publisher or two, but that’s usually it. With social media engagement on the rise, though, more and more consumers are recognizing that there are people in the industry beyond the author who play important roles in a book’s creation.

@colleenlindsayA great example of an industry professional publicly strutting her stuff is literary agent Colleen Lindsay. Not only does Lindsay keep her own blog, she manages to use Twitter very well, both personally and professionally. In her #askagent sessions, Lindsay and other agents like Elana Roth from Caren Johnson Literary Agency, and Jason Allen Ashlock of Movable Type Literary Group, open up their Twitter feeds to answer questions from publishing hopefuls. The conversation is enormously successful and – while it’s now tacky to talk about numbers, I’m going to anyway – Lindsay has amassed over 18,000 followers, and done so without following over 18,000 people to do it.

“I can always count on a handful of folks who read my Twitter feed to pass the message along at the speed of light,” Lindsay noted in a recent post, “because most writers who have participated in #Askagent want to come back for more!”

We all love what Lindsay and her fellow agents are doing and how they’re using Twitter, helping demystify the industry by putting themselves out there to engage directly with people.

But what if your company isn’t down with having you and their business splashed all across the interwebs, and has policies limiting social media activity?

DanBlank.com“If you’re waiting for permission, it’s probably too late for you,” said Blank. “You’re already so far behind the curve.”

Maybe it’s a little harsh, but is he right?

“If you don’t think you’re going to get fired, you’re not doing anything interesting,” suggested Ami Greko, Director of Business Development for GetGlue. While that may be true, in this economy people aren’t going to start risking their jobs so they can have a little blog fun.

Instead, maybe it’s about figuring out how you can toe the line while helping move it forward at the same time?

Greko noted that while she was at Macmillan – a “great environment” – no one was doing much of anything online, and while publishers can benefit hugely from having an engagement strategy, it still looks like it’s up to the individual employees to really take advantage.

“If you want to be in the digital space,” she continued, “that’s what you need to do.”

What do you think? Has your blog/Twitter account/Facebook profile helped or hindered your career?

How do you keep your job safe while developing your own social media presence?

Or, do you just throw it all out there and hope for the best?

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

DBW’s Digitize Your Career Forum was the first in-person event since January’s conference. And the goal, according to Director of Programming Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, was to “leave here excited about what you do and with some new ideas how to move forward.” Putting aside the obscene amount of Sterling people in the room, the event was a crowded, noisy and optimistic success. I was surrounded by the most innovative and plugged-in minds in the industry, who I hopelessly follow on Twitter and was finally able to put some faces to the avatars.

Of course, the real publishing “celebrities” are the bloggers: Chapman/Chapman, The New Sleekness, The Shatzkin Files.

Because I’ve become so ingrained in the publishing industry, and because the blogs are where I get all my information, and because the people that run said blogs are the most plugged-in minds, I never really questioned how the employers felt about all this public information sharing. In my mind, of course they’re cool with all the blogging and the tweeting and the Facebook stalking.

It wasn’t until Gonzalez said, “How many of you have a personal blog? How many of you can’t have a personal blog because of corporate?” that I actually remembered these guys have careers outside of their blogging personas.

A good chunk of the room raised their hands, including Harlequin editor Stacy Boyd. “Harlequin has a very open blog policy,” she said. But then immediately followed with: “I obviously can’t talk about anything confidential and have to catch everything as my personal opinion. I try not to write anything that Harlequin might disagree with but have run into situations that other people in our part of the industry – like authors – have disagreed with. Authors are very important to us so it’s challenging to be both personal and corporate at the same time.”

Back when I worked the 9 to 5 grind, I worked as a book publicist while also keeping my own personal blog. While I didn’t talk a lot about the industry, I often wrote book reviews, which my boss told me I had to take down as those authors could potentially become clients. It was frustrating but I do understand; an author is hardly going to hire a firm that employs people who write bad reviews of their books.

But I wonder how much is about companies covering their asses and how much is just plain ignorance about the important of digital interaction.

Dan Blank, Director of Content Strategy & Development at Reed Business Information, said, “The whole system is hidden. People don’t know the editors or publishers for a lot of these books.” Most people know the name of bestselling authors, maybe a major publisher or two, but that’s it. But with social media involvement on the rise, more and more consumers are recognizing industry people as playing important roles in a book’s creation.

A great example of an industry professional publically strutting her stuff is literary agent Colleen Lindsay. Not only does Lindsay keep her own blog, but manages to use Twitter both personally and professionally. With her #Askagent session, Lindsay and other agents like Elana Roth from Caren Johnson and Jason Ashlock of Moveable Type, open up their Twitter feeds to answer questions to publishing hopefuls. The conversation is enormously successful and – while it’s now tacky to talk about numbers I’m going to anyway – Lindsay has amassed over 18,000 followers. She writes on her blog, “I can always count on a handful of folks who read my Twitter feed to pass the message along at the speed of light, because most writers who have participated in #Askagent want to come back for more!”

We all love what Lindsay and her fellow agents are doing and how they’re using Twitter. She’s demystifying the industry by putting herself out there.

Okay, but what if your company isn’t down with having you and your place of business splashed across the interwebs? Blank said, “If you’re waiting for permission it’s probably too late for you. You’re already so far behind the curve.”

Maybe it’s a little harsh, but is he right? Because of legal issues, no one is really talking about this in the corporate world, especially in regards to publishing. There is this inherent level of risk that most people aren’t comfortable with.

Ami Greko of GetGlue said during the forum, “If you don’t think you’re going to get fired, you’re not doing anything interesting.” That may be so, but in this economy people aren’t going to start risking their jobs so they can have a little blog fun. So maybe it’s about figuring out how you can toe that line in order to move forward.

Greko also said that while she was at Macmillan – which had a “great environment” – no one was doing anything in the online space. While publishers can benefit hugely from using that online space, it still looks like it’s up to the individual employees to really take advantage. Greko continued, “If you want to be in the digital space that’s what you need to do.”

So what do you think? How do you keep you and your social media persona safe? Or do you just throw it all out there and hope for the best? Has your blog/Twitter account/Facebook profile helped or hindered your career?

9 thoughts on “How Do You Engage Online and Not Get Fired?

  1. Dan Blank

    Hi Marian, good recap, and lots of good points in here. (and thanks for the mention!)

    I am not at all against permission or having a formal strategy – both are VERY valuable. My only fear is that they can overlook the two things that you MOST want to do with social media: care and help. To simply care about those in your industry, to simply offer to help.

    Waiting for permission can imply that one won’t step outside of traditional lines… won’t ask “how can I help you today” and really mean it. And let’s face it, we could all bear to hear that question a little more often!

    Have a great day.
    -Dan

    Reply
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  3. bibliotraveler

    My work tweets are very restricted: certain hours, don’t RT competitors, etc. and the best one – do it, but don’t spend any time on it! Therefore, we can’t engage in conversations and don’t have many followers.

    My personal persona, started months before we got permission to tweet at work, has had much better success because I’m allowed to learn and engage and change strategies. I also have an unlimited geographical area to reach.

    Reply
  4. Stacy Boyd

    I knew you’d find an appealing hook, Marian. (Thanks for the quote!)

    @bibliotraveler Do you have a separate Twitter IDs for work and for your personal use? Do you speak about your industry on your personal account? Just curious about how you walk the line.

    I find that the Twitter accounts and blogs I follow are most interesting if they have full personalities behind them, i.e., they don’t only talk about (promote) their own businesses. One thing mentioned at the forum, and elsewhere, was that embracing competitors when you like their stuff can build trust with your audience. Ann Kingman’s blog is an example. [http://booksonthenightstand.com/] She reviews books she likes, whether they are published by her company or not.

    Reply
    1. Marian Schembari

      Haha, no prob – you had some really good things to say. And I 100% agree with you about having personality. I stop following the publishing houses that just go and and on about their own books. Yes, that is why I follow them but it’s not really… interesting.

      I want to highlight what bibliotraveler says above: no RTing the competitors. In theory that makes sense, I mean, you want to promote yourself. But look at what Tor.com did! If they had just focused on their own books the site wouldn’t have been half as successful as what it was. We’ve written a lot about this recently as if you’re putting yourself in this niche it’s all about TRUST. And who’s going to trust you if it’s blatantly obvious you have your own agenda?

      And in terms of personal blogging, I’m not really interested in hearing/following/reading anyone who’s censored. Again, it’s just not interesting. I understand all those legal issues, but at the end of the day, unless you’re going against the grain and taking some risks, the whole point of social media just kind of goes out the window.

      Okay. Rant over.

      Reply
    2. bibliotraveler

      Stacy, I have my own personal Twitter account, @bibliotraveler. At work, we have a brand account, and I am one of two authors that maintains it – so it’s not attached to my name. I mention work once in a while with my personal ID, such as “working on a story about…” but I mostly expand into my other interests. And I avoid ranting about work (my previous comment is as close as it gets) through any online outlet. So far, so good.

      Reply
  5. Dan Holmes

    Great topic, Marian.

    Interesting in that a few months ago I was called on the carpet for blogging about a conference I attended on my personal blog, when I was sent to the conference on employer’s dime. It wasn’t an intentional act on my part, it’s just that my own blog is where I’ve gathered the most traffic, the most Twitter followers. My company website hadn’t expanded their blog network to include me.

    I quickly removed the blog post from personal site and went ahead and put it up on the company site (I had that authority all along but wasn’t really sure of it), and everything’s fine. There weren’t any hard feelings with employer at all. They were really nice about it. I think their point was that they’ve had staff moonlight on them in the past.

    I agree with much of what others have said here – you have to get yourself out there as a name/brand first in most cases. That name/brand may be attached to your employer, but if you ever leave, you’ll have an audience that will still serve as a platform for you to share information, establish your expertise, and also for you to turn to for answers.

    Reply
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