The Freaking Dots

GSMCON2019 is now in our rearview mirror, but I’m confident the lessons learned, contacts made, and stories shared very much remain on everyone’s minds. I have so many ideas to implement!

While listening to one of the excellent keynote speakers, I became aware that a friend in our business — an immensely talented and experienced government communicator — somewhat abruptly announced her departure from a fairly new gig. She answered my urgent text inquiry in a way that continues to haunt me a bit: New city manager didn’t think there was enough ROI for me.

Let that sink in for a moment, because it could happen to any of us.

I don’t know the circumstances of my friend’s situation, but many of us live and work in a world where, every year, we are vulnerable to newly elected or appointed persons who may not understand the value of what we bring to our organizations. That’s why I think it’s time for our industry to do more than simply generate periodic reports on our likes, shares and impressions. 

It’s time we connect the freaking dots.

You are humble to a fault

You are the ones who schedule posts on multiple social platforms. You coordinate the imagery, find the sweet spots for scheduling, hit the right audiences with the right messages, monitor the engagement, answer questions, knock down rumors, and ensure the campaigns of your coworkers get eyeballs and action. You do it day and night, and even on weekends. The success you invisibly achieve for others is thanks enough, right? 

Not anymore. 

In fact, I’ve personally had two experiences that make me certain of it.

Experience #1
Shortly after I left media and entered the world of government communications, I learned that my city manager was asked by a city council member, “What exactly does Jay Socol do?” Her answer?

“I don’t really know.”

I was beyond insulted and, at the time, I blamed her for such an egregious admission. Later, though, I realized that I had done nothing to make sure she knew. Yep, that’s on me.

Experience #2
A different city manager — an old-school leader who genuinely valued strategic communication — told me he didn’t consume social media, so he really didn’t understand why we invested significant time and resources in it.

Fortunately, I was able to give him examples of stories he had read in the newspaper and seen on the 10 p.m. news and then explain how the news outlets learned about those topics from our social media content (Blog post > promoted post via Facebook and Twitter > media picked up content on social > landed on his doorstep and on his TV > Voila!). It made sense to him after that.

Avoiding an Experience #3
Those two experiences convinced me a different strategy was in order, so several years ago we began assembling an Office of Public Communications Year in Review that…well, connected the freaking dots. We stopped letting others take sole credit for the outstanding media coverage, event attendance, program registration, successful issue management, marketing awards and so on. Why? Because if we don’t brag on ourselves, it’s unlikely anyone else will. Your leadership needs to know that big and positive things don’t necessarily happen magically; they often result from your strategic work. Let’s be honest, many times you are the early warning system, or you’ve done your best James Bond impression, and quietly saved the world.

If those who make budget decisions don’t understand or realize the important impact you make every day, then it’s plenty easy to cut dollars and positions without a second thought. Not only do you lose, but so do the citizens and other stakeholder groups who rely on all that you do.

(Disclaimer: There’s a fine line between educating and lecturing, and you know what that looks like. Folks higher in the food chain often would rather cling to perception than be shoved into a different mindset.)

I have a new city manager, too, and one of the things I immediately shared with him was our office’s 2017 Year in Review. He now has a copy of our 2018 version, which provides insight on the talents and capabilities of each Public Communications staff member, along with data and narrative that demonstrates our quality, capacity, criticality and relationship to each of the strategic initiatives set by the city council.

Just before I joined more than 900 peers in Nashville, including 150 gismos, my city manager sent me this brief note:

(I)f I haven’t said it lately, I really appreciate the work you and your team do. I feel very fortunate to get to work with you. Brings a ton of value to me, the org and the city. I know it’s a lot of unsung work but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Now is the time to reconsider how you communicate with your elected and appointed leadership. Now is the time to take credit for what you do. Now is the time to explain why your work in the social space matters so much to the success of your organization.

Now is the time to connect the freaking dots.

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