Today I publish my 100th LinkedIn blog, and I’m getting close to 1,000 published blogs since seriously kicking this journey off in 2009. Milestones are always a time for reflection, and so I thought it was worth sharing the great and not so great of what it’s like to lay it all out there on social media. I know a lot are ready to embrace social leadership, so I hope my experiences help.

And of course, my presence is not just writing blogs, because social leadership is the entire way you participate across multiple social media platforms. I know amazing people who don’t blog at all! Instead, it is the intelligent way they are participating – delivering value to their target audience consistently, every day – that matters most. This approach equally builds loyalty, respect and drives customer wins. Yes, it does.

No matter how you go about it, it’s not an easy ride. There are rarely quick wins. There are no short cuts to success. It can feel like a grind. You don’t always get a lot in return. And well, it just feels like a hard and lonely thing to do much of the time…

But the wins are amazing, if you can make the commitment and never, ever stop.

So yes, I’ve learnt A LOT on this journey, and wanted to share from both sides of the experience…

The great

  • I have built an incredible business off the back of what I blog and share about. My social leadership position as The Digital Conversationalist continues to open doors to business leaders, who like what I discuss, how I position myself, and regularly reach out, wanting to speak and work with me. I never chase business. I never scramble for leads. I don’t like the hustle, so proving that this door is how you can build a successful business – off the back of your own credibility – matches my soul
  • My business is 100 per cent built on inbound leads from my blogs and the overall position I have built around my area of expertise. Inbound marketing is beyond powerful, which is why I’m so passionate about content marketing. I may have to evolve and start looking for business in different ways, but for now, 100% of my work comes from inbound marketing. And no, I don’t have all the tools, I don’t have automated content, I don’t have a lot of what’s recommended. I participate out there, hoping to draw people to me. So far, so good
  • People say to me all the time: but blogging is dead, right? NO, it is not! I can not emphasize enough that the ability to define your focus area and then put those thoughts out there on a consistent basis over a long period of time, is a complete winner. If you haven’t put your stake in the ground, get started. And you don’t have to write. Do video, base it around images, heck, you can draw stuff if you’re good at it. The important point is standing for something in the digital space and owning it
  • I have built a strong profile in my space, and that profile is international. I am known around the world in my area of expertise, by the people that matter most, and while human-to-human networks are critical to me too, the digital landscape has opened the possibilities wider. I have found that the opportunities only grow when you become hard to ignore
  • My personal credibility has always been very important to me, and my presence has helped me build this with a much greater audience. When you blog and share content, over time you are building trust with your audience, and there is nothing more important than earning trust today – as individuals and businesses
  • Writing blogs, reading widely in my area and sharing content, has helped me to hone my thinking, changed/challenged my ideas, I’ve learnt, grown, and ultimately, calmed my mind – because I have a channel to express myself. I’ve worked hard at it, because I’m not a natural writer. But every time I get a question I don’t have an answer for, or even if I do have an answer, that ability to put the answer into words to reach more people who might care, well it helps me get better at what I do and how I express myself in all forums
  • I love and embrace the conversations that open up around the content I share – my own and others. While many still don’t appreciate that this is what social media is about – creating a two-way dialogue or conversations – it is a delight to have a community that discusses ideas and offer alternative viewpoints. This helps me to grow and learn, it also helps me to understand new focus areas for future blogs, based on current thinking and ideas about where that thinking needs to shift to
  • I gain immense satisfaction from what I do, especially when people reach out to me publicly or privately with feedback that suggests I’ve made a significant and transformative impact on their lives. Just that is the reason I do what I do
  • I’ve come to appreciate that by caring deeply about what you’re sharing – because it’s a cause you’re standing for and representing – is how you increase your impact significantly. When you put your heart and soul into your work, because you believe in your message so deeply, the returns start to come – financial of course, but positively impacting lives is the main win I treasure
  • I love social media. I love participating and engaging in this digital world. It keeps me connected to all of the amazing people I’ve met around the world, and I’ve built wonderful relationships digitally first, which have led to human connections. When people express cynicism about social media, I love to open eyes to the neglected side – participation – because that is where the real beauty is. The gift of participating with meaning and intent, while being consistently present, helps you grow personally, and gives you access to opportunities you didn’t know existed before. It also helps to build powerful relationships and friendships

There are many many other things I could list, but I believe social leadership is the single greatest privilege of our time.

We continue to underestimate our collective impact and how we can change the world if enough of us own our space. We can make the world a better place, and we all have these incredible tools available to do just that, and with them, we can build opportunities for ourselves, our families and communities. Unbelievably powerful.

It’s not all sunshine and roses

Oh no, it’s definitely not! Here are some top of mind thoughts about the journey from the other side. I don’t like to moan, it’s not in my nature, but this is important to share too. So here goes…

  • When I started this a decade ago (or longer if you include my early mummy blogs from 2006), it wasn’t wide-spread to blog and actively participate, like it is today – especially in the professional realm. As a result, for the first eight years, I got a whole lot of nothing in return digitally. People would tell me they liked what I was doing when I saw them, but they didn’t seem to understand that to succeed, I needed their digital interactions too. When you interact with someone’s content, it convinces others it’s worth their time to invest in you. As a result, it often felt like a very lonely calling, one my husband questioned a lot, because he could see the disappointment I kept feeling. But I KNEW this was the future, and it was only my stubbornness that kept me going. It’s a lot better now. More people are getting it, but never underestimate how hard it is for anyone putting their heart and soul into their words. Support them if you believe in them – share their content, comment on their posts, don’t be a lazy liker. You will make their day and it’s such a simple way to make someone’s day
  • Extending on that point, it is hard to get support as an evangelist in your field. Some people tell you you’re doing great, so don’t think you need the support. Others read what you do but just don’t think about their role in helping you succeed. While others get into supporting the “famous” figures (usually out of the US, where they do understand this game) and forget, we can do better for our people, within our own markets too. So, when you’re not supported, what can you do? Well you can game the system, spend a lot of money to get exposure, be outrageous to attract attention, and more, but if you don’t want to play that way, it is the support of your community that’s critical. This is often a bitter pill to swallow if you want to grow your profile in your space from a place of integrity, because it’s harder to break through. But trust me, get your head down, believe in it with your heart and soul, and keep turning up and delivering excellence. You won’t be ignored if you become relentless. Also be a supporter today and lead by example
  • There have been days when I’ve been disappointed in humanity for sure. This work attracts attention, and for me, it’s been a lot of people asking for help, which, I always offer willingly, if I can. This side of life definitely ramps up as your profile increases. But there is one aspect, the calls for “coffee, my shout” start to get overwhelming and in my case, I had to start saying no. One of the main reasons I got better at saying no, however, is the amount of times I said yes and there was not a single moment of acknowledgement of my time – no follow-up email saying thanks, nothing. No update it they were looking for a job and I made a connection, nothing. Never interacting with me online, nothing. I struggle to understand this, but when someone gives you their time, a little bit of courtesy goes a long way, and while you don’t have to, helping those same people digitally succeed, goes a long way too. Understand that when people give you their time – willingly – it means they sacrifice time for themselves. People who love to help understand this is how it works today, but still can’t help getting jaded. We don’t want helpers to get jaded. Helpers make the world a better place. Please, don’t forget to appreciate anyone who offers to help you. Even an email saying thanks is something, but if they’re blogging, active on social media, or doing great videos, become a champion for them. That is an awesome way you can say thank you today
  • What I do takes a lot of time. I’ve worked for myself and other companies during this decade and haven’t had a break since I started. Yes, I literally work seven days a week – which is cool, because I really believe in what I’m doing. Equally, I’m not just doing professional blogging, I’ve got a whole other profile as well, so not everyone sees all that I’m doing – unless they know me really well. But it does take time, commitment, reading A LOT, being digitally present every day, and more. It also means you’ve got to fit it in around family, work commitments and other important obligations. I have always accepted this, because I love it, and while there’s been a lot of frustration on the journey – other things must come before this – I have kept the commitment up. It also helps to have a supportive husband, especially as he knows how important it is to me. So, when you embark on this journey, expect many things to get sacrificed, but equally, you’ll get sacrificed too. It’s intense. You don’t have to commit the amount of time I do, obviously, but accepting that there is a time commitment to building a strong profile, needs to be considered. Make it a cause and you won’t mind at all, because it is worth it. Then again, anything worthwhile requires this level of dedication, no?
  • I’m a female blogger, of course I get trolls having a go at me. I think I’m pretty good at handling it these days, although it can cut deep sometimes too. I try to be humorous in these situations, but I’m happy to tell someone to piss off if they go too far. I’ve also had the romantic proposals, the – you’re so pretty are you looking for a husband – yawn, yawn, yawn. It’s a lot of fun out there. However, I don’t feel that owning my voice on social media professionally, and being a woman with an opinion, has been a negative experience. I don’t feel that my femaleness takes away my right to have a voice in this world. I know that a lot of women do not feel they have the space to own their voice, but when it comes to a professional positioning, I have not experienced it negativity. A couple of grumbles, but platforms like LinkedIn are more welcoming for women, and if someone is awful, I have no problem pulling them up. I’d happily copy their bosses in too, because it’s not a good place to be an arsehole. So ladies, don’t let the stories of trolls and misogynists turn you off. The professional world welcomes us. I get asked about this a lot, which is why I wanted to mention it here. There is some stuff we expose ourselves too, but the professional profile attracts less nonsense
  • A smaller but persistent bugbear – I get a lot of people reading my work, then they reach out to me privately to share their first blogs, ask for feedback or for me to share their work!! These situations frustrate me when that person has never ever responded to anything I’ve done, never shared my blogs, never done anything for me. Don’t get me wrong – I never demand anything in return, but in this case, I just can’t comprehend these requests. If you are finally embracing social leadership and appreciate how hard it is, you’re missing the mark – and that is don’t ask others for help first, you help others succeed first. Read my blog from last week, where I explain this. It’s quite simple – support others if you want to be supported. That’s it! If you know you’re going to start blogging, get online now and support the people you want supporting you. I get a lot of requests for help, and due to the scale of requests these days, I can only offer my time to people who show me the same courtesy. You will be supported if you start supporting
  • Everyone is talking about influencer marketing, but do you know what? Brands are terrible at it, really terrible – especially in B2B! As a recent example, I was asked if I’d tweet about an event for a brand I’ve never mentioned. They’re not relevant to me at all, and if they looked at my profile, they’d understand this. However, besides the fact it wasn’t relevant, and I wouldn’t take payment anyway, it stood out, because the companies I do reference all the time – the companies I literally drive customers to – well they don’t do much at all. Micro B2B influencers – who are serious about the integrity of our standing socially, are not looking for financial reward. We’re not there to sell our soul to the highest bidder. A bigger platform for our voice is what we need. Offer that to your influencers and see what happens. Because you must think carefully about what you ask of us. I endorse because I believe, for no other reason. Perhaps a reward mindset for loyalty, versus trying to pay us to do nonsense is the switch that’s needed? Or maybe sharing the content when we talk about you would be appreciated? I am not a fan of influencer marketing for B2B, but it is a growing industry. My message to brands who want to work with people like me, is think hard about what we need to do this for you. I will never endorse a company I don’t believe in – never. Why would I? Look at my blogs. Isn’t it obvious? If you get an endorsement, it’s real. Many of us believe this. How can you help us be successful?
  • I have dealt with cynics for the last 10 years and I don’t mind people being cynical – it’s healthy – but I have proof that a powerful presence brings phenomenal rewards for myself. Additionally, because IBM APAC believed in my message, they gave me the opportunity to prove the value of social leadership at scale across an enterprise. This case study will help me so much moving forward, because before I could quantify it at the enterprise level, some cynics just wouldn’t hear me. Hopefully now they will and won’t have to endure those conversations anymore. BUT when you know how powerful something is and it’s not being heard, it can wear you down. No more! That is one of the downers of the journey though. You’ve got to keep going and believe in your message, even when it doesn’t appear to be breaking through

Time to get going?

For those ready to embark on this journey. Do it. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t worry about trolls or nasty people. Don’t let them turn you off getting out there and owning your voice, which is how we own the future we want for ourselves. I’m an example of what can be achieved, warts and all.

Everyone keeps talking about the dramatic shift in business, the future of work, the digital revolution… Well this is it, for you and for business. This is how you transform your business for the digital age – you empower and inspire your people to get out there, stand for something, and you will not only delight your employees by making them feel trusted to do it, you’ll delight your customers and move your business into the future, through the voice of your people. It’s incredible. Read the case study if you don’t believe me.

It’s also how you drive content marketing to the heart of your business, where it needs to be – because your social leaders become your content creators, and the stories they tell become the beating heart of your company. That is a thesis I set out to prove about five years ago, and today, I can say I’ve proved it.

One day I won’t have to talk about this anymore. I won’t have to convince anyone.

One day people will be more engaged in conversation too, and in supporting their community to be successful.

I look forward to those days, because I feel like I’ve been talking about this for a long time. I’ll continue for as long as it’s needed though, because I believe in it.

What say you?

Cheers

Andrea

Want proof social leadership transforms business and attracts customers?

Check out this case study with IBM Asia Pacific. Incredible results.

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I believe it’s time for all of us to embrace our voice and embrace the future. We do this by working and living out loud with meaning, intention and by being true to ourselves.

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