How Do You Engage Online and Not Get Fired?
By 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/Chapman, LJNDawson.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.
“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.
A 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?
“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.