Sofie Sandell
Sofie Sandell 26 January 2015
Categories Social Media

Digital Leadership

What I learned about digital leadership as the first social media manager at a large publisher

It feels like an age ago that I started my new job as the first social media manager at a large B2B publishing house in London, a firm with a history of over 100 years. This was back in 2009 and the job ‘social media manager’ was not as common as it is today. Up until then I had been working as a management consultant selling large consultant projects and I felt as though I was doing the same thing at work over and over again. As you can imagine it was not a smooth and easy career transition, but I made it. Here is my story.


Just before Christmas 2008 I was sitting at home playing on my Mac when I found the function that allows you to record a video of yourself. This new discovery was the trigger that made me change career and become a social media manager and online video producer. At a dinner in January I shared my new career plan with some friends; they all listened and were pretty encouraging.


The following week my former manager, who I would describe as an aggressive Frenchman, asked me: ‘Sofie, what do you really want to work with?’


I have to be honest, I thought to myself: ‘I want to work with social media and video production, you know, YouTube and that kind of stuff…’ After our meeting he ran off to HR. He was very effective and came back with a job description that sounded as if I’d written it myself. Was it luck, or destiny?


When someone asks you a challenging question that can help you in your career you have to be honest. If you don’t yet want to say anything out loud, you have to at least be honest with yourself. I was unhappy in my job and I wanted to explore the world of digital media, that’s where I was at that point in my life.


I went through the interview process and I got the job. I became the first person responsible for social media and my task was to introduce new digital media ideas. My new manager Santa later admitted that she took a risk when employing me for the job. I had no formal training in the area I was about to start working in, but I had voluntarily edited websites and email newsletters, managed social media communities and filmed and edited videos. Those experiences are what I think gave me the confidence to apply for the job.


When I started my new job a few months later I did all the regular things you do as a digital marketing manager. When I knew all the routines better I started to think more deeply about what I could do to leave a legacy. My team and I engaging in and understanding social media was not going to be enough. I thought to myself that we had to go wider and bigger somehow.


Early one morning I was having a coffee with my colleague Victoria. We were talking about how fun blogging was and she was telling me about her book blog. We were talking about training, learning and the business’s objectives. Then she said, ‘Why don’t you come and train my team in what you can and can’t do with social media?’


This meeting was the start of me training almost every team in the building about what social media is, what it isn’t and how you can use it to reach your objectives for the year as an individual, as a team and on a larger organisational scale. Word of mouth spread the message that I was training people in social media and I met a lot of different people in the business when I trained them.


This training process created curiosity, and several people who were sceptical to begin with ended up being the most interested in exploring social media. One thing that happened that I didn’t expect was that everyone suddenly had a better understanding of what the marketing team was all about. My training built new bridges that had not existed before and people started to understand what was possible with the help of social media. Social media is about relationship, collaboration and communication, so now when I think about tit makes sense.


I was explaining and sharing ideas about how stakeholder mapping works and how it helps to know your audience when sharing your message online. The people I trained were aged from their early twenties to their sixties. As a manager driving change I had to accept and respect that different generations have different experiences of the new online connectivity. One thing that I kept thinking about was that we can all be better communicators - online, offline, wherever.


The publisher I used to work for publishes B2B guides and books. The foundation of the company’s business model is that thousands of people give up their time to share their knowledge so the company can establish consensus among experts  and present this in their books and guides. It’s a thorough process and it’s always hard to get experts involved. Using social media as an extra layer to engage and connect with these experts was great for everyone. Many people I trained took relationship management to a new level after gaining new insight into how social media works.


There were times when I felt as if I had hit a brick wall. I was enthusiastic about new content ideas such as a blog and I imagined myself managing the new posts and making contact with experts from all over the world. However, at that time, this didn’t happen. There was too much focus on changing the current website content managing system and I never got the buy-in I needed. One year after I left I heard that one of the big shots had asked: ‘Why don’t we have a blog featuring all our experts?’ Well, now you know the answer.


It was a challenge to change career from selling big consultancy projects to being a social media manager. I had to pick up completely new skills which were sometimes overwhelming, especially the film production part. 


Working with new digital content techniques means that you have to invest in new resources; in my case this consisted of training, equipment and new partnerships. To achieve this I had to constantly ask my manager for a bigger budget. It was during this time I realised that you never get anything if you don’t ask. We were exploring a new area and what you need when you do this is time to learn and reflect whilst simultaneously making new investments, otherwise you will just continue to do the same as before. 


With an attitude and belief that even a 100-year-old institution should use social media, my team and I started an internal social media movement.


Social media is not about one team doing all the social media for the business. It’s about many people engaging in social media together. We are all digital marketers now.


What I did in this job and the philosophy I followed are things I still stand by and believe in today.


Thank you, Sofie.

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