Perspectives is a series uncovering routines, inspiration, and insights by marketing leaders shaping the future around the globe.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Claire Kennedy is a talented Social Media Marketing Manager, and a strong advocate of social selling, employee advocacy, and personal branding.
In her words, she shares:
- The importance of employee advocacy
- Why empathy is key to better marketing
- How to find your brand voice
What do you do for a living? What does your typical day look like?
When you ask people of all different levels and different industries what a social media manager is, it’s always different – but it’s always multitasking. You are social listening, whether that’s manually or through a tool, you are creating content, curating content, and making sure that you’re not over-indexing on a certain topic.
Working in research, we have a lot of research, so we’ve had to make difficult decisions to not talk about our research all the time, so it involves a lot of those conversations and partnering with brand, demand, product, and events to make sure that we’re speaking to all of those different avenues and enabling folks on social media.
That’s another hat that I wear in my role, where I enable folks on a one-on-one basis, so if they need specific help with personal branding, social selling, or that next level of enablement, that’s usually a one-on-one workshop that I do over the course of a couple of months. I also do group training around social selling and general social media help.
My brain is pretty much always thinking about social in some way or another. How can we get people to see us, to like us, to want to come back?
How do you encourage employees to actively participate in building their personal brands?
It’s something that I had to teach and enable at different levels for different folks. The way that I present it to sales is by starting with the data points of what they’re missing out on. If you’re trying to talk to sales, what happens if they don’t do something? What is the percentage of prospects or clients that they’re not reaching? What are the leads they’re not reaching? Or what is that cross-sell upsell number that they could be missing out on?
Then, the next thing you talk about is how easy it is for them to post content. If you have a content repository, sales enablement content, or even if it’s just “here all of the blogs that we have,” “pick a sentence or something from here,” or “we took time to create those for you so that you’re not searching for content.”
And then [you have to make] that output worth their time, so if you can gamify it in some way, or if you get one of their leaders or one of their managers to be involved… now, it’s that accountability layer – not my manager is watching so I have to do it. Instead, they know that it has a purpose; they start to understand the holistic selling journey of posting on social, e-mailing, calling, meeting in person.
When you have the data, some kind of content, and management support, you get a lot more folks who are willing to be active, and also a lot of it is confidence… It’s about having those conversations with folks on what is stopping you? Is it time?
A lot of the time it’s because they think other people don’t care and it’s deep-seated especially because they’re selling someone else’s product. They’re not selling their own thoughts, so getting them to understand that they know a lot more than they give themselves credit for helps – but [you must bring] it back to thinking of who your audience is.
You can’t be selling the concept of enablement and employee advocacy the same way to all people; it’s not going to resonate the same. Telling marketing that we can get more marketing source leads is probably a great way to go for marketing, but that’s not going to work for sales because they’re not as concerned about the marketing source leads. But find out what is that story that they fit into helps them see their purpose.
It takes time… you may end up creating seven different versions of the same PowerPoint, but it shows that you’re taking the time to understand their life versus trying to project your needs of employee advocacy onto them. And I found that extra empathy goes a really long way, especially when trying to get executive support.
What blogs or resources do you tend to follow for marketing insights?
They’re all competitors of each other, but I try to keep up with Hootsuite, Sprout, Sprinklr – all kinds of social media management tools and what they’re working on because they’re all trying to share great content. I don’t need to have them as a vendor to be able to download their ebooks, and I have an entire folder that’s constantly growing of ebooks and research.
I’ve also followed folks on Twitter who inspire me and are at my level – or maybe a little bit above or a bit below.
Earlier in my career, I used to exclusively follow “thought leaders” or LinkedIn voices, and folks that were so far away from where I was at because I saw them as aspirational. But after being a little more grounded in my career and having more confidence, I’m noticing that I like following people who are brand new to their career and have super kick-ass ideas that inspire me to do better… And that makes me think about social media differently – especially after .
You become a little bit jaded when all you’ve seen is chaos for 12 months straight… [it’s nice to see] someone brand new, who hasn’t really experienced that exhaustion yet, just be so excited to work at a company that’s paying them to let them do what they love. You feel that excitement you felt at your first job and I love seeing them be successful – just hyping them up and seeing their followers and confidence grow.
The same thing with people in their mid-career, and seeing them do really cool work and be the actual people on the ground doing the work versus the CMO and the executive talking about what their team does. I find that that’s a lot more inspirational.
I really spent the last year or so crafting my Twitter following and who I really get inspiration from, and I’ve had some Twitter best friends come out of it. For me, that’s a lot more inspirational to learn from folks who understand what I’m doing right now versus the people that are a little farther removed and don’t understand the crazy world of social media.
What’s something you feel like you learned in the last year?
I’m [pausing] and thinking about what really matters at that moment.
Especially in the United States, we had a lot of instances of needing to choose between brands speaking and letting the world speak for whatever events were happening. But it also translated for me later on in the year, too. Is this the right message for the brand? Do I need to be talking about this subject? Is my audience even engaging with this subject?
We can get really caught up and excited working at our companies; we think everyone loves us, everyone should love us, and you should feel that way – but that doesn’t mean that’s how your community actually feels.
[It’s about] looking at engagement rate, and not trying to project, “I think this content is great, so people will love it and if I just keep pushing, they’ll eventually engage.” But actually looking at how people are engaging.
It may be completely different than pre-pandemic; we’ve noticed [some] content wasn’t hitting the way it was. It used to rely on certain topics that just weren’t resonating anymore, and we had to come face to face with that and say, what is resonating versus trying to force that content back on the audience… especially thinking about not trying to post the same cadence we did before.
Think about posting messaging that speaks to the people versus the persona. Even though we write for personas, people aren’t personas. I am a white, queer woman in marketing – but I’m a lot more than that.
Think of the actual status of what these people are going through, especially if you’re reaching executives who are dealing with so much insanity of maybe bringing their team back to work – while they’re still trying to work for disruption. And they still haven’t recovered from the pandemic, and they’re trying to prepare for maybe another, all while trying to just run a marketing department.
Take all of that into consideration when you’re writing your copy… don’t just say,
this ebook is the best and that’s why you should click on it,“ or “we’re the best and that’s why you should follow us” – but actually help [your audience] feel better.
How do we make you better? How do we make you more confident and really have more empathy in our messaging?
In B2B, this goes a long way because they’re used to seeing case studies and so many things thrown at them all day; having messaging that speaks to them as human beings really stands out, and I know when I feel seen in messaging. You feel more connected to that company… you want to come back. That’s the kind of behavior that you want to create.
What’s something that you feel marketers need to stop doing on social media?
That super promotional content, even when I write that content, makes me cringe because I know that it’s not going to land.
We’re past that in B2B. There has been a conversation of B2B and B2C blurring for a while and people expecting more human, more empathy content. And it really sticks out in the feed.
Even when I get an ad that says this is the best event ever to sign up for XYZ event… I don’t want to do that now just because of the way you wrote it.
Also, it’s so strange and nitpicky, but whenever I see stock photography or footage that doesn’t represent the current state of work, it feels very outdated. Even just seeing an image of people “collaborating,” and they’re all in a room really close together, both touching the same paper, I get anxiety. They’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing… even though we’re moving out of this pandemic, it’s been over a year of trauma.
Seeing images that still portray this kind of old way of what collaboration looks like, versus virtual collaboration or having some distance between you wearing masks – even if it seems like you’re perpetuating this kind of current state of work – I think we’re going to be in that for a long period of time.
And again, that’s that empathy of thinking… How are people going to actually perceive this image? Does this resonate? Should we maybe update my stock account and get some new images?
You have to stop and remember that you’re speaking to human beings, and not just that persona, buyer, or the industry that the content is technically about.
This is where employee-generated content comes in; employees are sharing content from their own perspective of what’s really happening, instead of [outdated] stock imagery. Why do you think employee advocacy (or EGC) is so important for brands?
It comes across as quirky and fun instead of pushy and just, “hey, look at this blog.” Employee content, especially videos, has been really huge for us.
To be a little selfish, [employee-generated content] puts a lot less pressure on organic. You can geo-target on LinkedIn, but not Twitter. We can only hope that the right people are seeing our content, social listen, and make sure that we’re creating good content. But our employees are connected to their clients and to their prospects directly; they have a better idea of who their audiences are, they’re able to get our message across, and still source leads.
They’re able to say, “I have a government audience here, so I can share all of this government content and that’s going to resonate more than me sharing government content on Twitter.”
And because it comes from the employees who are selling it, marketing it, or writing it, it does come across as more genuine than people who actually care about this content because they work directly with the people that need it versus the company that’s selling it (even though we do care).
Coming from the brand voice, the brand has less authority over how people feel as humans. So, having an employee say, I’ve seen firsthand that this works, and I would love to share it with you versus the brand saying, look at our blog… It comes across differently.
It also allows our reps to develop better relationships with their audience, to where their audience feels like they’re almost getting a sneak peek, and reps feel like they have a deeper, more trustworthy relationship with our audience because they see them as someone who is trustworthy, sharing great content, and has this direct line of communication to the analysts versus the brand – which takes a couple more steps.
What’s something that you’d like to see more from marketers? What should they do more of?
This is really simple but inspired by Krystal Wu at HubSpot. She really inspired me to share a lot more polls and questions with my audience.
Last year, I reached out to her and said, HubSpot social media is incredible. I’m kind of flailing a little bit right now, I don’t really know what to do, nothing’s working.
And she was the one who said these tiny short bits of content have been really working for [them] because their main audience is social media managers – but people want to feel like they’re part of a community, even if it’s a poll, answering a question, or being part of the thread. You have this moment of time where you feel seen, you feel heard, and you feel part of that conversation.
This very virtual world – about to be a hybrid world – is still a socially anxious world. Having just a couple seconds in your day, where the majority of people in that poll decided that “grapes are the best” – it’s silly, but you feel part of something. And it sometimes creates a great healthy debate or discussion. Again, you feel part of this tiny little community that a tweet created.
I started doing that on LinkedIn with more in-depth questions. I’m asking how people are feeling and then on Twitter, asking them for a GIF that describes how they feel about creating a marketing strategy. So on Twitter, [it’s about] really leaning into knowing we’re going to get some silly answers and on LinkedIn, asking them how they help others with marketing strategy… leaning into the personality of those profiles, but allowing people to feel like they get to be part of a conversation that [a brand] started, which I think has a deeper effect than just here’s a blog on marketing strategy.
That’s been a huge shift for us and I would love to see more companies do that – even B2C companies and asking people for their thoughts; it’s almost like a form of UGC (user-generated content), where you’re allowing them to add their voices to your content, which helps with engagement and also helps you understand your audience more.
So, if you post a question and you think it’s going to be great, but no one answers it, [you can say], now I know that’s not a question or a topic that resonates. And it still allows you to grow and learn from it. But those tiny pieces of content, asking polls, asking questions, asking silly things like… what’s a GIF that describes how you’re feeling today allows you and executives to have a moment of vulnerability, share how [people are] feeling, and be part of this community. And that will actually allow people to come back and want to keep having that conversation with you.
I thought, “Do people want to interact this way with us? We’re a professional research company that’s expected to be serious.” When I posted that question I didn’t use a GIF, but other people did – and it reinforced the idea that people wanted to talk to us this way… we just never gave them the opportunity.
That was a big learning step, too – to humble yourself on social media and realize that there are better ways to engage your audience.
What do you feel most marketers tend to struggle with? What can they do to overcome this?
Not allowing themselves to have different versions of themselves on different platforms.
I see people have amazing brands on Twitter who are just themselves and it feels like a natural extension of their personality. And then, they don’t know how to build something on LinkedIn because they can’t really share memes and GIFs, can’t swear, and don’t feel like [they’re] able to be [their] full self there. It’s really just an edited version of you.
Over the course of the last five years, I’ve divulged more information about myself on my LinkedIn profile. But I’m still thinking about who my audience is; I’m looking to connect with more executives, folks that can give me opportunities, picking up podcasts, future employers, and people who can further my career. So I think of it through that lens versus Twitter, I think of it as hanging out with my friends.
[On Twitter], I’m able to be a little bit more rambunctious, salty, and silly – but it’s not that LinkedIn is less of me. It’s just a different side of me.
I follow a lot of people on LinkedIn that you would think are posting from Twitter because of how personal, how real, how honest they are. So it just really depends on which parts of yourself you want to show and what you want to craft.
[Then there’s] TikTok… that’s the one platform for me that is not business-related. It’s just my black hole of happiness where I can be social and see the chaos and enjoy the meme culture and not make it about business. But I also have colleagues that have created business accounts for the purpose of having a deeper relationship with their clients. So, if that’s a form of content and asset that you feel like you can create something very funny, that’s relatable, then great… put all of your efforts into that.
But don’t spread yourself so thin, that social isn’t fun for you anymore, or you feel like you’re pushing yourself into a box that doesn’t fit.
How do you think people can go about finding their own brand voice?
A lot of people will get stuck on who they are in their current company, or who they are in their current role. That gridlocks you into a persona that you have right now, and then you leave a job or move jobs, and then you have to build it all over again.
[Think about] that one thing that drives you no matter what – and that growth evolves… Who I was five years ago is not who I am now.
Your personal brand can evolve with you, but what is that one thing that makes you wake up in the morning and keep working? For me, it’s helping people, whether I’m helping employees, whether I’m helping people find the brand, whether I’m helping people feel seen in social media or I’m helping people on Twitter and LinkedIn feel seen and feel part of the safe space; no matter what I’m doing… helping is what kind of gets me through the day.
So think about that one thing that regardless of what you do in your career stays true. That’s where you build your brand off of, and then you start thinking of your types of content, or the types of topics you want to talk about, and then it kind of grows from there. But your foundation should be something that’s true to you, not necessarily true to your role, especially when people change careers out of nowhere and have to rebrand.
You can do that – but if you’ve always been true to what you stand for, and what your values are, people will follow you wherever you go regardless, and it won’t feel like this is a completely new person. That’s also why I always advocate for not having your Twitter handle attached to your company… because the personal brand that you build should belong to you.
It’s great to have; you’ll be able to give your company good press, but you shouldn’t belong to your company. The brand that you build belongs to you – not your title, not your current role, and not your current employer.
What does the future of marketing look like to you?
I’m waiting to see what Gen Z does.
Their humor, their culture, their language are so fascinating. I want to have Gen Zers work for me because they’re so creative, and their ability to have multi-layered means is astonishing to me. You can go on TikTok, and there’s a parody of a dance and you have to know all those layers to understand that one TikTok, and everyone in the comments is talking about all the multi-layers of this one video that’s 30 seconds long, and how genius it was. And by next week, it’ll be old.
It’s so fascinating to see their culture develop. I’m honestly really excited to see what they do with marketing. I want to see less of the Wendy’s on Twitter and I want to see more of just really genius, witty content… companies that are using memes and pop culture references in a really interesting way, and not just trying to act like a person but still act like a company.
What is a book, a podcast or a person, or event that you feel shaped your career?
I’m someone who likes to read for fun, so reading marketing self-help books never really appealed to me – and that’s probably an unpopular answer.
It’s really been individuals throughout my career. I became friends with them and did pseudo-interviews, where I asked: What led you to this point? What helped you in building up those relationships?
During an interview, I had no idea what B2B was; I came from a B2C world. I had no idea what SiriusDecisions research was or any of that. I tried researching the company, I looked at the website, and I was more confused than before I started. I thought I don’t know what any of this is. But I knew that I was good at social and I prepared for it, and I had a portfolio.
They asked me if I had any questions, and I said, “doesn’t matter that I have no idea what you guys do, but I know that I can do it.” And then they took that chance on me and said, “we see that you are talented and that you’re excited, even though you just admitted that you don’t know what we do.” And that was a turning point for me… people having confidence in me for putting myself out there, and applying for a job I don’t understand.
It’s led to so many incredible opportunities and having people around me who are constantly amping me up when I’m like, it’d be cool to have a global social selling training, but I don’t know. And then the head of sales [supporting me].
It’s been the people throughout my career that have continued to encourage me, and I always have way higher goals for myself than other people do for me. So, also having people kind of bring me back down to earth and be like, those are great ideas but don’t write them down as your goals, because then you have to do all of them, so let’s put down one goal just so it’s within reason.
And then more recently, my friends Syed, Jayde, and again, Krystal Wu, are just inspirational people who are always posting really great content and keeping me on my toes. Just when I think that I’ve really nailed it with social media and marketing, they post something and I’m like, Damn, that’s a really good idea.
It’s people like that who keep me centered, inspire me, and push me to be better and to do better. It’s just really inspiring to be in their aura.
Where do you tend to look for inspiration?
I’m building on my community building and management muscles because that’s something that’s really new to me. Even though I’m not new to social media, maybe I’ve never needed to be as intentional as I am now.
I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, following a lot of folks, and listening to podcasts on community management because I have a lot to learn there.
I’ve acknowledged that I’m not good at it, which as someone with perfectionism-anxiety, it’s hard to admit that there’s something that I’m not good at when you think I’m five years into my career, I should be good at this by now. But this is a brand new skill of learning. I’m just reading a lot.
For inspiration outside of work, I will read regular fiction books, walk around in nature, and do things that are completely outside of work to give me the space to be creative.
Something I’ve noticed is having burnout, which I think any person who works in a creative field gets… you’re thinking of content all day, thinking of strategy, or thinking of the concept of connecting with people all day. And you get to a point where like, I don’t know, I can’t think of a single tweet to write right now. Nothing that I’m writing sounds smart, and you just want to kind of throw it away.
So, [I give] my body and my mind space to think and just exist… It allows me to be a lot more creative and think of better ideas.
There are times where instead of a lunch hour, I plan a silent hour, where I sit and stare at the wall or outside, and let myself exist outside of work for a little bit. And I usually come back with a lot more fresh ideas.
What advice do you have for other marketers or creatives who look up to you?
They wouldn’t hire you if they didn’t think you were smart – and slow down.
I talk about this very openly a lot, but I used to have really bad debilitating anxiety, and I felt the need to fill every silence, every moment of pause, everything with my own voice because I was afraid that people didn’t think I was smart, or I had to be defensive of my own skills or the concept that I created in my mind that people didn’t think I was worth my job.
No one said that to me, but I created that world inside my head, so I alienated some folks early in my career and bulldozed over a lot of opportunities because I would talk over people, or I would take possession of a project to show that I could versus letting the person who deserved the project have it.
[It’s about] giving space for collaboration or for someone to think of what they want to say… rather than speaking over them and then they don’t speak up again.
These are moments that I worked on a lot in therapy… of letting a conversation breathe, and not needing to control everything (and that’s something I’m still working on). It allows me to work on the things that I really want to work on versus everything, and it’s developed way better relationships with folks if they don’t think I’m trying to control them or control everything that I do.
It’s also been a lot less stressful when you’re not trying to control every conversation or manage every situation that you’re in, and you just allow people to exist, and to speak as slowly as they need to, and gather their thoughts. And it’s a healthy, regular conversation… you come across a lot more empathic.
Even though that wasn’t my intention to come across as abrasive, that’s what happened. I’m glad that I got here and that I’m a lot better at it. But I think early on, I would have had a lot less stress and anxiety than I created myself if I hadn’t created those aggressive situations for myself.
How do you wind down from very stressful days?
As soon as my work is done for the day – as long as I don’t have an end-of-day deadline or something I need to get out – when my workday is done, I turn work off. I basically don’t have work on my phone, so it’s not an issue, but I close all the tabs.
Post workday I like to start with food, maybe take a nap, or do something. I’ll work until 4:30 – at 4:30 I’m not working anymore.
Creating those really strict boundaries with myself has been really helpful because otherwise, you could accidentally end up working a lot later, and then you still don’t feel accomplished because you work later, but then maybe didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to. And it’s easy to spiral into feeling like you aren’t doing enough. So telling myself, I’m salaried and I get to work until this time means I’m done suffering at this time. I’m allowed to stop working.
And also getting myself outside time. When working from home, it’s really easy to forget that you have the ability to go outside because you’re not moving and are pretty much in the same area. I have a balcony, thankfully, and even if I have five minutes in between meetings, I’ll stand outside and just remember what fresh air feels like because that is so invigorating. You forget what it feels like.
And scheduling time for friends. That’s something that, especially folks with anxiety, if you experience burnout can forget, or you may feel like you’re too tired to see friends. But if you even schedule one thing a month, it does give you the energy to be around other people and to be around people that don’t have to talk about work. And you can just hang out with dogs or grab a drink or get coffee, but it’s something that does make you feel seen and comforted.
It’s something that I always regret leading up to it, and then I’m so happy I did afterward.
What are you excited about or looking forward to and this is completely open to your interpretation?
I’m new to Austin, [so I’m really excited about] this new evolution of me.
Every time we move or get a new job, or something new happens to us, we [don’t always] like to reinvent ourselves – but there’s a new evolution and growth, and it’s already been really exciting to see my personality evolve.
I’m a lot less introverted than I was a couple of years ago and I always used to introduce myself as introverted – and now I can’t really do that. I’m definitely a lot more introverted; I need time to myself – but it’s been really interesting seeing my personality shine in conversations, making new friendships, and this interesting time in my life, where I’m really proud of where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m discovering about myself, and even things like having to buy furniture and put together myself… just silly things like that have been really, really powerful for me to experience.
Want first access to more interviews with marketing leaders like this? Subscribe to Future of Marketing for weekly insights, updates, and strategies.