Grilling the Gurus: 10 Q&A with LinkedIn's Deanna Lazzaroni [SMToolbox]

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Grilling the Gurus: 10 Q&A with LinkedIn's Deanna Lazzaroni [SMToolbox]

Somewhere out in the vast digital desert I like to think there’s a graveyard for fallen social networks. In my mind this forgotten mausoleum looks similar to Las Vegas’ Neon Boneyard; a haphazard pile of icons and logos with flickers from a past life intermittently sparking in the dust and the wind.

It’s a sad fate for a heap of formerly promising ideas, but is ultimately a reflection of the reality that the vast majority of social tools and networks never make it to adolescence. The initial invention of a social platform is hard enough, and yet invention alone is woefully insufficient to sustain success in a platform-eat-platform world. The few social media platforms that have displayed success over a longer lifecycle have done so because they consistently iterate and innovate on top of an already good idea.

LinkedIn is one such success story.

I talked to LinkedIn Social Media Strategist Deanna Lazzaroni to get a sense of just how the company had sustained its success, and to find out what she’d learned along the way. As you’ll be able to tell right off the bat, Deanna is incredibly sharp and has a great sense not only for her company, but for the broader social media industry as well. 

So pull up your note-taking app of choice and pay attention, wisdom is coming!

1. Tell us a bit about your background–what’s your career path been like and how did you get your start at LinkedIn?

Digital and social media lit a fire in me about 7 years ago and it’s been the connecting thread throughout my career – not only allowing me to have the job I have today, but also to meet some of the most forward-thinkers I know. At Ogilvy and BBDO – where I got my start – I played an active role in shaping digital and social strategies for major brands, working alongside crazy talented creative professionals to help our clients seize possibilities that the “age of social” enabled. In 2012, I became one of those clients and took ownership of the social channels for the Coca-Cola brand in North America. Talk about a platform for change. Millions of fans, millions of expressions shared across those channels every day – and I got to be at the forefront of it all. Working with, again, crazy talented professionals at companies like Wieden+Kennedy and 360i, I brought to life digital and social campaigns that will remain highlights of my career for years.

And then LinkedIn came knocking and asked me if I wanted to help lead a content marketing revolution – again, working alongside crazy talented professionals at the top of their game. How do you say no to that?

Safe to say, I am where I am today because of relationships – and a touch of social media savvy.

2. What’s your day-to-day look like–what are the big challenges you’re focused on?

My day-to-day is a beautiful hybrid of my previous roles: I wear both the creative and the client hats. As a content marketer, I am constantly creating – coming up with new social campaigns, new blog content, new ways of engaging the audiences we are trying to reach and new ways to become even more effective marketers. But I definitely don’t do it alone – I have a talented team I work with at LinkedIn and equally brilliant agency partners who help me bring the work we do to life. From strategizing how to drive increased awareness for the LinkedIn brand, to optimizing our campaigns for the highest return, it really all comes down to balancing two things: emotional storytelling and data-driven marketing. As modern marketers, I think we’re fortunate to have data at our fingertips. The rub is unlocking how to use that data in impactful, inspiring ways to ultimately drive the business forward.

3. Take us behind the scenes of LinkedIn: what’s your team like, what’s the company culture?

If you follow Jeff Weiner, our CEO, on LinkedIn, you’ve undoubtedly seen his Venn Diagram for the type of people he wants to work with – and the type of people who proudly wear LinkedIn t-shirts, LinkedIn stickers, and loads of other LinkedIn swag around the entire globe.  These are people who dream big; they know no boundaries, they’re empowered to take intelligent risks and they actually take them. These are people who know how to get shit done; they are crazy collaborative and form relationships to accomplish big things. And to top it off, these are people who know how to have fun; they don’t take themselves too seriously and they are constantly infusing humor into our company culture.

Put it this way: When you see your CEO start dancing to Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” in front of 3,500 people, then turn around and, without missing a beat, deliver the most inspiring keynote on how our company is continuing to innovate in the year ahead – yeah, you know it’s a culture you want to be a part of.

4. Everyone on this site will be familiar with LinkedIn, but what are some of the things about the company–from its offerings to its principles–that people might not know?

Most people are likely familiar with LinkedIn for the value it offers to them when they are searching for a job. For years, it’s been an expression of your professional resume – and over time, the platform has evolved to enable members to showcase more of their skills and experience in richer ways, with photo and presentation uploads for example. But today, LinkedIn is so much more than just a resume; so much more than just a job search site. At the heart of LinkedIn is a mission to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Today, with the largest repository of educational outcomes in the world, we’re helping students navigate their careers with the right information and connections at their fingertips. We’re also enabling success for companies – to find talent, to become more efficient in the way they market and sell, and to ultimately grow their business.

5. Can you speak to how LinkedIn has evolved over the last few years? Particularly as it relates to its innovations and its goals in the content/news arena?

In October 2012, LinkedIn made a major shift towards content – launching the popular Influencer program. Since that time, business leaders from Richard Branson to Ban Ki-moon have shared their views on the world with professionals on LinkedIn. And today, those professionals are able to do the same – today, every professional on LinkedIn can publish long-form content as a part of their professional identify on LinkedIn. They are taking a stance, setting the standard, defining industries, shaping policy, and driving massive impact worldwide – all through the power of content. Companies are taking part, too, sharing opinions on topics relevant to professional audiences and achieving success through their LinkedIn content efforts. It’s truly become the professional publishing platform.

6. Where do you see LinkedIn going from here? What innovations/evolutions are the company pursuing that excite you?

I work for a company with one of the most insanely inspiring vision statements – to create economic opportunity for EVERY member of the global workforce. And we’re bringing it to life — we call it the Economic Graph. Imagine being able to map the global economy to enable people to connect to opportunities at scale. Imagine being able to train the employees of today with skills for the jobs of tomorrow. Because of social media, because of sites like LinkedIn, we’re more connected to people, knowledge, and opportunity than we have ever been before. But we have more work to do. It’s not a small task, but it’s not an impossible one either. And it’s going to make one heck of a data-driven story when it truly becomes a reality.

7. Do you have any examples of interesting ways people are using LinkedIn that might not occur to everyone? Talk to us about LinkedIn beyond the digital rolodex and the job search.

My focus at LinkedIn is telling the story of the marketer on LinkedIn – and I’ll be the first to tell you that marketers are doing some pretty brilliant things on the platform. Companies like Fruit of the Loom and Nissan have used LinkedIn data to help professionals celebrate milestones in their careers, like starting a new job. Other brands like American Express and Capgemini have leveraged insights from LinkedIn to act like publishers and share content that helps their B2B audiences succeed. And how could I forget the latest promotion featuring Taken 3’s Bryan Mills, who endorsed a LinkedIn member for his “particular set of skills.” The sky’s the limit!

8. When it comes to social media broadly who do you learn from? Who should we all be following?

I’m constantly learning from strong female leaders in the industry – Ekaterina Walter, Ann Handley, Margaret Molloy, and Nancy Duarte are a few whose work I’m pretty crazy about and who I’ve also been grateful to meet in real-life. All four post regularly on LinkedIn and on Twitter; follow away, you won’t be disappointed.

9. When you think about the future of social media, what do you envision? What excites you about this space broadly?

What ignites my passion for social media is the ultimate power it holds for good. Through social, the lines of communication have opened; now it’s up to us to use them to better ourselves, to better others, and to better the world.

10. Any last thoughts/advice for our audience of social media professionals/hobbyists? 

Don’t let social media get a bad reputation because you’re not able to “turn it off.” Use it to connect to people in meaningful ways, instead of letting it be the barrier that prevents you from meaningful connection. 

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Grilling the Gurus: 10 Q&A with Marshall Kirkpatrick [SMToolbox]

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Grilling the Gurus: 10 Q&A with Marshall Kirkpatrick [SMToolbox]

A few of you out there must remember the good old days (the 1980s and 1990s) when personal computing was a fresh idea and coverage of the tech industry played out in publications of varying levels of glossy. In these days, tech trades were devoured by those of us who cherished nothing more than our lightsabers and our Ms. Pac-Man high scores. (Be honest: as I’m describing early techies, how many of you are envisioning painfully awkward Rob Lowe right now?)

Years later, I look up and find myself no longer reading tech news on delay and in print, but in real time and on the Internet. Tech news is delivered with velocity, with insight and in its best instances with a bit of humor. Suddenly, it’s not so bad to be a techie, not so cringe-worthy to admit you know all about the latest devices coming to market. Being plugged-in is cool; being plugged-in is social currency.

It’s a world that today’s Guru, Marshall Kirkpatrick had no small hand in creating. As one of the new millennium’s grizzled tech veterans, Marshall was a reporter at the start of TechCrunch and an editor at ReadWriteWeb as it rose to prominence in the mid/late 2000s. In both cases, Marshall helped evolve how we write, understand and consume tech in some of the industry’s most formative years.

As a result of this experience, Marshall gained unique insight into what it takes to be influential and how those with influence can best be understood, reached and ultimately influenced themselves. With this knowledge in hand, Marshall jumped into another nascent industry: social media.

The result is the most exciting and well-regarded influencer discovery tools out there: Little Bird. In coming days we’ll post our own review of Little Bird, but in the meantime we can all learn tons from Marshall about Little Bird, social media and the tech industry generally.

Check it out…

1. Before your life at Little Bird you were a tech journalist–how did the transition from journalist to social media entrepreneur happen? How did Little Bird start?

I was a tech journalist, the first writer hired at TechCrunch and the co-editor of ReadWriteWeb, and I learned all about using data and systems to find news early and do research really efficiently there. I also worked as a consultant on the side, helping companies use data to find out who they should know and be known by on the social web. It was through all of that experience that I decided to productize my lessons learned in the form of Little Bird. The company started when I was in a bar in Dublin when I got an email from a consulting client saying they were overjoyed with the data I sent them and my wife Mikalina and I decided to get another round and turn my consulting practice into a business. 

2. Tell us a bit about how Little Bird helps users in the signal/noise department. How does Little Bird make identifying real influence easier?

Little Bird helps our users focus their listening and engagement on the people that the rest of a particular topical community listen to and trust the most. It’s not about absolute popularity in the world at large, that can be gamed, it’s about peer validation, finding out who influences the influencers. Companies use Little Bird to find out which 3D printing experts the other 3D printing experts trust, or which Dairy industry thought leaders, or cardiologists, or drone makers, have won the respect of other thought leaders in their respective field. It’s an ungamable measure of influence.

Little Bird maps topic communities on the social web (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs etc.) on demand, then tells you who you and your competitors are and are not yet connected to, then helps you grow those connections by giving you a filtered highlight-reel of the hottest conversations among top influencers.

Other systems start with topics, then go to content and then end with people. Little Bird does the opposite: we start with finding the right people first, then we discover the content they’re sharing the most and from that content our customers discover emerging topics of interest.

3. Give us a sense of your day-to-day at Little Bird–what do you focus on?

I recruit the team (now 17 people), I talk to investors, think about the product and join sales calls. I tweet a lot, I use our product all day, I go to meetings, I try to learn how to do my job (I’m a first time CEO).

I focus on different things depending on where the company is at a given month. I help bring money in the door, I think about the future of the product, I spread good news around inside and outside the company.

4. Who should use Little Bird? Who makes up your key customer segments?

Marketers and researchers in technology, retail and social change organizations. Product marketers, content marketers, PR, ad buyers and related functions.

5. What do you see as Little Bird’s role to play in the future of social media? How will your team continue to innovate?

That’s a big question! Little Bird is proving that there’s strategic value in knowing who to listen to on the social web, whether those people are talking about you or not. My team will continue to innovate by talking to our super-smart customers, experimenting and thinking creatively about the potential permutations between various fields of data.

6. You’ve viewed the social media landscape from several different lenses throughout your career–when you take a step back what strikes you about how the industry has evolved over the last few years?

I am excited about the continued growth of social activity but disappointed by the rise of URL-free experiences like many mobile apps. Without URLs, it’s uniformly hard to locate resources.

I am also surprised that more people haven’t made careers for themselves as professional bloggers. And then turned their experiments into automated tech companies, I guess. It’s pretty awesome. Really though, there’s SO much opportunity in the democratization of publishing. Get in here, people!

7. What excites you about the future of social media?

I am excited about the opportunity for social media to deliver understanding from one person to another, around the world, in real time, to foster learning and empathy on an unprecedented scale that changes the human experience for the better.

8. With Little Bird being a tool focused on influence, I imagine you have some interesting thoughts on what true influence is: how do people attain it and how should we measure it?

I believe influence online is most effectively built by making dignified, high-value contributions to public conversations of general interest. Different ways to add value to online conversations include: finding something important first, articulating something unusually well, aggregating multiple perspectives into one summary, taking an unusual perspective on a topic of general interest and being funny. But being funny is very hard.

9. Who impresses you on social media? Who do you learn from?

Jason Calacanis for his prolific public experiments and thoughtfulness. Marilyn Cox at Oracle for the high quality content curation she engages in. Alex Williams of The New Stack for being an inspiration in creating his own blog. Anil Dash for adding so much to conversations, so smart and sassy.

10. Any last thoughts/advice for our audience of social media professionals/hobbyists?

You should probably Tweet more. If you read at least five Tweets for every one you post, it’s good. If you subscribe to YouTube channels they’ll send you an email each day with new updates from all your subscriptions. It’s good to listen to people online who disagree with you. There’s too much How To Do Social Media content on the internet already. The internet is wonderful, let’s be good to it.

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