Marketing

The Internet Is Like a High School Cafeteria

I’ve been thinking a lot about content lately and how that relates to buyer personas. Mostly what I’ve been considering is this: How does a company with several buyer personas (some of whom would be interested in us for very different and completely unrelated reasons) access different people with content?

Lately I’ve been feeling like the internet isn’t just one echochamber – it’s a bunch of little echochambers. There are bloggers who blog about blogging and go to conferences about blogging with other bloggers. Craft bloggers talk to other craft bloggers. Recipe bloggers talk to other recipe bloggers. Personal finance bloggers talk to other personal finance bloggers. There’s so much content being created and shared and curated that there’s little choice other than to join an echochamber in order to handle it as a consumer. But what do you do if you’re a marketer who needs to appeal to multiple… well…echochambers?

Is there a way to cover every topic of the relevant echochambers that matter to your business, but do it in a way that maintains a consistent theme so you don’t seem unfocused and confuse your audience?

4 Helpful Slices of Startup Marketing Advice

startup marketing advice
I'm like a miniature Buddah.

I have drafts and drafts of unpublished posts reflecting on lessons learned. After oneforty, then HubSpot and now being at Shareaholic, I’ve definitely come out with some new wisdom that has made me happier and more productive. Some posts explaining this learning process ramble off topic and become too personal. Those posts get retired to the WordPress trash bin. Others haven’t been thought out enough. But these tips have been consistent from draft to draft, and I didn’t want to wait on sharing them any longer.

1. Blog First

When you’re starting a marketing plan from absolute scratch, it’s tough to know where you should invest your time in social media. Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Figuring out where your audience is why monitoring and listening is so important. No matter what platform you focus on, a great blog will give you content to share on that platform and will give people a reason to follow you. It also has the most clear business benefit from an SEO, brand messaging and conversion standpoint. So when it comes to prioritizing marketing tasks, think about your own content first.

2. Remember to Play

I crank out a ton of content each week between blog posts and newsletters. Writing compelling Tweets and Facebook posts to optimize for engagement is also a form of content creation. With so much to create, it’s tough to also consume content. This may sound silly, but I try to take time to just look at other brands’ Facebook pages, other Twitter accounts and other blogs to get inspiration.  I even look at ones that have nothing to do with Shareaholic. More than any blog or conference I’ve attended (although Unconference was pretty sweet), there is nothing like taking time to “play” to rejuvenate my love for marketing and make me excited to create content.

3. It’s Not a Matter of Just One Thing

In marketing it can be easy to get stressed out about one campaign. However, it’s not one article, event or blog post that makes or breaks your entire marketing plan. It’s the culmination of ongoing content, PR and engagement that gets the message out there and draws signups for a product. Don’t be short-sighted. I’ve had to learn to look at the big picture things, like how we’ll engage attendees from an event rather than fret about the number of drink tickets we sponsor. Looking at each project as one piece of a big puzzle is helping me make decisions faster. (And this is coming from someone who took three months to pick out a duvet cover.)

4. Timebox Your Ish

This one is my favorite because it had the most influence on me. It’s not just for marketers, but for employees in general.

Learning to timebox my projects better is something I’ve worked hard on over the past year. I used to work crazy hours during the week and then try to work all day Saturday and Sunday too. Then I realized something: I’m not actually getting anything done. I’m falling asleep. I would be trying to read a blog post as part of research to write a blog post, and it’d take me forever. I couldn’t focus. What I accomplished over seven days could easily have been produced Monday through Friday, leaving me my weekends to either get more done or spend time with friends.

A ton has been discussed about work/life balance in startupland. I’m trying to timebox things Monday-Friday, take Saturdays off and then get ahead on Sundays. It is very very difficult for me to discipline myself to put a hard stop to things on Friday. However, I try to do it so I can take Saturdays off.

At some point I decided that Saturdays were friend days. I check email but don’t touch the computer. I walk around Newbury St. Sometimes I drink bloodys at brunch, go to yoga and coffee, nap, tan and get ready to go out for the night. They are my favorite days and these days with my friends have enriched my life with interesting conversations, laughs and memories.

(I love you people.)

The time I spent away from work over the past year or so helped me grow into the best employee I’ve ever been. These relationships helped me become a calmer, more confident and actually more productive person. I’m not so paralyzed by my own edginess.

We all have our thresholds and each startup employee has to discover hers. Having my Saturdays was key for me.

What little nuggets of wisdom do you have to share with the class? Let me know in the comments.

Data As An Asset for Startup PR

I’m always learning new things about PR. I like observing what other companies are doing, and it seems like some tried and true strategies still work: Ride a trend, do a survey, predict yearly seasonal coverage (holiday gift guides anyone?) and insert your story into that… etc etc. But one strategy I’ve seen more and more is using your own company’s data to get coverage.

Boston startup folks at Runkeeper generated some buzz by sharing how getting featured in the Android Marketplace increased downloads by 637%.

I also loved what they did with their fitness stats for an infographic back in September. This got covered in The Next Web.

That’s a good B2C example.

For a B2B take, admittedly Social Bakers is an analytics company by nature so leveraging data for coverage isn’t that much of a stretch. But their presidential candidate Facebook stats infographic is a fun take on numbers and a good example of inserting your message/brand into a current topic of conversation.

(AND HOW CUTE IS THIS INFOGRAPHIC?)

This got them in TechCrunch.

I personally love a good infographic. But while fun, infographics may eventually wear out their welcome. As I’m learning about what works for other companies, thinking about a fresh way to present data is also something I’m considering for when I pull the trigger and use data (there’s a lot of it…) for our own marketing.

Data is particularly huge right now. Products and consumers generate and process tons of it. It’s overwhelming sometimes. And for some companies, this might not even work as the data may be confidential and inappropriate for a PR strategy. But in general, when it comes to data, I think marketers who are technically inclined enough to digest it, but also have the communication skills to promote it, will increasingly become assets to their companies. It’s two skillsets I’m definitely looking to enhance this year.

What data does your company have that could be an interesting pitch? Have you tried this before? Let me know in the comments!

5 Common Blogging Mistakes and How to Fix Them

This post originally appeared on the oneforty blog. It’s being reposted here as part of my blogging portfolio.

Whether your company is just getting going in social media or you’ve been at it for a while, there are some common mistakes people do every day with blogging that makes for a missed opportunity. Luckily, there’s typically a simple tool or tactic you can use to do more with your blog and fix whatever you are doing.

1. Blogging All About You

When all you blog about is you – your product, your service, your achievements etc – you don’t teach your community anything about your industry. You don’t have any sort of thought leadership or real takeaways. When people Google for information about your industry or when they’re asking questions like “how to ___” related to your industry, you won’t have any articles that explain that.  It’s only when the Google specifically you, that you’ll come up. That’s a missed opportunity.

HOW TO FIX: Monitor your industry. Read blogs and set up Google Alerts for relevant search terms and your competitors. Use Twilerts and set up search terms in a Twitter client like Tweetdeck for Twitter searches related to your product or service. See what people are talking about. What are their pain points? What are their questions? Blog about that.

2. Blogging About… Wait, What Exactly ARE You Blogging About?

When you blog about random or off-topic things, you draw in the wrong audience and therefore the wrong leads for your business. It’s inconsistent branding and you rank for the wrong keywords on Google. Subject matter counts, and by not focusing your content you are missing an opportunity to show your thought leadership in a specific space.

HOW TO FIX:

Find relevant people in your industry to follow with tools like Listorious. Use Cadmus to find the most popular articles that they are sharing and use that as an indicator of the types of subject matter you should blog about. Also try Twoolr and see what words are already used in conjunction with your brand on Twitter.

3. Ignoring Your Blog Comments

When people swing by your blog to engage in conversation with you, make sure you are being responsive! They came by to comment, and responding to what they have to say is a good way to build a community around your content. If you respond, they are more likely to remember you and subscribe to your blog and come back again.

HOW TO FIX: Use a commenting platform like Disqus or LiveFyre that makes it easy for people to comment on your blog and makes it easy for you to moderate and respond to comments.

4. Focusing on the Wrong Blog Features

I’ve seen some businesses pour a ton of time into dressing up the look and feel of their blogs. They get their graphic designer to make a sexy blog header, they’ve got sparkly fonts and custom this and that. This is important. You want to look official, professional and have consistant branding with the rest of your website. But don’t ignore the social sharing and subscription features that will get your content in front of your audience.

HOW TO FIX: Pick a simple theme and make sure your blog has these features before you get too caught up in the look and feel of your site.

  • Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn share options
  • RSS and email subscription options

5. Blogging Infrequently

If you’re going to do social media, you need to jump in with both feet to reap the benefits. Your audience will be more consistent and your community will grow and share your content if your content is there for them on a predictable basis. That might not be daily for your company at the onset, but if it’s less than weekly you might not see the benefits of your blog. And why waste your time if you aren’t going to commit to this?

HOW TO FIX: Create an editorial calendar and assign which blog posts will be written by which member of your team. You can use something as simple as Google calendar for this. Schedule Tweets and Facebook posts promoting your content with a tool like Hootsuite or CoTweet.

These are just a few common blogging mishaps we see out there in social media. Any other ones you see? Let me know in the comments.

Why the Twitter vs. Facebook Marketing Catfight is Dumb

This post originally appeared on the oneforty blog. It’s being reposted here as part of my blogging portfolio.

There’s been a consistent thread in the blogs and news recently where people are calling into question the true value of Facebook pages for businesses.

  • Forrester Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says Facebook will never become a powerful eCommerce platform. Mulpuru’s study found that the average Facebook metrics are a 1% click-through rate and a 2% conversion rate. Comparatively, e-mail marketing offers an 11% click-through rate and a 4% average conversion rate.
  • Gawker offered a sassier recount of the study, delivering this takeaway: “The main problem is that Facebook treats brands a lot like people. So when you “like” a brand’s Facebook page, your newsfeed fills up with corporate adspeak, drowning out important news of what childhood friends’ babies are up to and resulting in an uneasy sense of foreboding: It’s disconcerting to see “Ford Motor Company” congratulate random people on their marriage in your newsfeed; did Henry Ford rise from the grave and bless their union, or the board of directors, or what?
  • People say don’t waste time with Facebook for your startup.

But then again…

Some food for thought:

Researchers don’t know your business or your goals

You need to have some idea of what you want to do on these platforms, use them in a way that gets the most value and scale your time accordingly. (A social media strategist can help.) Before you write of an entire platform altogether, consider that.

Here’s an example: If I was a small, local, photography business, I’d want more people in my area to see my awesome photos and hire me to take photos of their engagements and weddings and babies. I’d most definitely be cranking away at a Facebook page and leveraging the connections of my customers who were in the photos I took. Spreading awareness for that business happens to lend itself to two really popular features of Facebook – photos and tagging. I wouldn’t ignore Twitter, but I might just use it slightly differently (maybe Tweet about what photo sessions I was going to that day (@mentioning my customers of course) and Tweet links to our photo blog.) I might join other LinkedIn groups for professional photographers to learn about best practices etc, but I honestly wouldn’t make one for my business.

On the contrary, oneforty for example is a different kind of business than that. We get a ton of engagement from our LinkedIn group, but we actually get more traffic from Facebook from people sharing our blog posts there. Twitter, however, spanks both traffic source-wise.

Know Your Audience. Tools Can Help.

This is why listening in social media is so important. Find where your current and potential customers are online and really invest your time in building a presence where you see the most value for the goals you have for your business. Monitoring with Facebook is admittedly trickier. Even paid social media monitoring tools like Sysomos that pull brand mentions from Facebook can only pull from public Facebook wall posts (many users have private Facebook walls.) Kurrently is a free tool monitors your public mentions.

Paying attention to your referring sites (under Traffic Sources in Google Analytics) is another good way for you to pay attention to how people are discovering your website and see where you are getting the most value – Twitter or Facebook. Traffic is traffic, though. What are people actually doing when they get to your site? Think a little deeper about what kinds of activities people who come from Twitter or Facebook are doing. What platform offers the most value for your time spent?

Using Argyle Social, you can track how many people perform a conversion (like registering for an event, making a profile or buying something) on your website from Twitter and Facebook campaigns using in-page analytics on your website.

In conclusion, keep up on the reports and social media news regarding the value of Facebook. Read the blogs, but don’t be afraid to be skeptical about said findings. Most importantly, when your boss asks – or when you question yourself – about your presence on Facebook or any other social media platform, I think your own metrics and business goals should be the major focus of the conversation as opposed to an article you saw ReTweeted a bunch.

How to Make a Content Strategy That Scales

What I’m about to share with you will shock my loyal readers and those who know me in real life because, well, I’m just clearly so friggen cool. But I was in fact a newspaper geek in high school.

Just for kicks, this is me when I was 17 with my BFFL Amanda, who ran the school newspaper with me.

Fast forward to 2010, I grew up, got health insurance and a desk job doing marketing at a startup. It was time to get serious about content marketing. Drawing upon my newspaper roots, I initially approached inbound marketing like a journalist, and honestly, this wasn’t the right idea.

I had an editorial calendar and listed the buyer personas I wanted to target with each post. To me, said personas signfied a section of a newspaper to be targeted each week. Usually, though, the content was ad hoc. Unless I was assigning the blog post to a guest poster, intern or freelancer, I was flying by the seat of my pants and just doing whatever it took to “crank out content,” do my best to hit a few keywords, toss on a catchy headline and hit a self-imposed daily deadline of 8 a.m. (Blog posts get more views in the morning and I wanted to move onto other tasks, after all.)

Creating content as a journalist is more about storytelling and covering breaking news. These somewhat apply to content marketing, but creating content as a marketer is a much broader perspective than simply taking each post day-by-day. Each Tweet, blog post and Facebook status can be thought about in a way that helps you use your time wisely. Each tactic is part of an overall content strategy that should be contemplated and measured.

Think of the Content You Push Out via Social Media

As a community manager, social media manager… (samurai…. whatever you call yourself)… you push out many different messages.

  • Tweets
  • Tweets with links
  • Blog posts
  • Hyperlinks to other content in blog posts
  • eBooks
  • webinars
  • Email newsletters
  • Facebook page posts
  • LinkedIn group posts
  • YouTube videos, Screencasts (Posted to Facebook page, embedded on blog post)
  • Slideshare presentations (embedded on blog post, Tweeted, shared on Facebook)
  • Photos (Twitpics, Flickr album or slideshow on blog post, Facebook photo album)

The key to a content strategy that scales is thinking about how each piece of content can potentially become another piece of content. This doesn’t mean linking your FourSquare to automatically update your Twitter to automatically update your LinkedIn and your Facebook. It means asking the question: “How can this article I’m linking to in this blog post I’m writing be used elsewhere in my social media marketing?”

To take that as an example, here are five content ideas that can be your answer:

  1. Got a sweet chart in that article showing off new industry research? Post just the picture of the chart to your Facebook page (link to the original article) and ask your fans for their thoughts about the research in the caption.
  2. Schedule a Tweet of the article.
  3. Post the link of that article to an industry-relevant LinkedIn group with your thoughts on it to show thought leadership. Join the conversation, yo.
  4. Include that article as part of a links-roundup email newsletter of industry news for your community.
  5. Think about what you liked about the article – it’s content? Research findings? Headline? Consider how you can replicate that style in your own original post.

To Create Content, You Have to Read Content

Reading is an important part of learning what your community or target audience wants to learn about. I use Summify to get a daily summary of the most popular news stories from my Twitter & Facebook community. Lucky for me, I have some low-hanging fruit, as that’s where my brand’s community is located for the most part too. You’d want to subscribe to a Summify for your brand’s community if that’s not a social media/marketing type of community. Cadmus is another tool that will show you the trending stories from Twitter. I still use Google Reader and segment my content into folders to stay sane.

Collect Ideas Gradually & Curate

I don’t sit down one day a week and decide what to blog about or assign to freelancers. I collect ideas throughout the week just by bookmarking articles in a Google Chrome folder. I curate this content by scheduling Tweets, and I do a “links roundup” style piece each Monday. This is a way to create another piece of content out of the Tweets we’re curating that drives traffic to our blog and to our CTA for an eBook download.

The links-roundup thing is all about how you frame the content. Here are a few examples:

For me, framing it as “10 tips to start your week” has been the most successful way (per pageviews and social shares) to execute this kind of blog post. But what works for my community may not work for yours, so measure and iterate until you find something that works.

Create Content From Content

It’s not just Tweets that can be turned into a blog post. Videos and photos from an event can also be used as a blog post. More importantly, think about how your blog posts can become more substantial pieces of content like eBooks, white papers and webinars that you can put behind a lead-gathering form. The blog post you write this morning is a chapter in an eBook you publish next week. (This applies mostly to B2B.)

Or, reverse that idea and consider how those eBooks, white papers and webinars can be broken down into smaller pieces of content to be distributed across your platforms, driving traffic to somewhere where they will fill out the lead-gathering form and download the content in its entirety.

An example from the trenches: I took an eBook about content ideas and broke it down into three smaller blog posts to give a “sneak preview” of the content, then had a call-to-action to get the full eBook. You could do this with a webinar as well. See how Chris Brogan did that here.

Design Your Editorial Calendar Accordingly

I’m still perfecting my editorial calendar and constantly strive to keep it somewhat organized and coherant for my (patient and awesome!) freelancers who keep up with it. I think an ideal editorial calendar should detail things such as:

  • Date (post due, post to be published)
  • Keywords
  • Categories
  • Buyer Persona targeted
  • Campaign
  • UTM codes for Tweets (I keep a separate Google Doc for these)
  • CTA
  • Notes/ideas on how to build content from content (IE, A “campaign” can be a week-long blog post series that becomes an eBook)

Again, this is much different approach to content creation than journalism because it’s a broader perspective. It’s not just saying “what’s the news to write about today?” or “hey we should do a blog post today.” It’s stepping back and asking “Why?” and very carefully thinking about how. This is a longer-term view of how your content fits into your marketing goals of driving leads. Although it seems like it requires more effort, it’s actually a much better use of your time.

How I Got My First Job in Boston

This is a re-post of a guest post I did for Greenhorn Connect. You can find the original post here. Greenhorn Connect is a great resource if you’re looking to learn about the startup ecosystem in Boston. There’s things like a job board and events calendar to connect you to like-minded startupers in the area. Check it out!

I’m awful at math. In 1st grade we learned things like odd and even numbers. When other munchkins were ready for things like addition and subtraction, a perplexed 6-year-old Janet thought, “What the hell?” and scripted surprisingly well-articulated  essays about why I hated math during writer’s workshop.

Battling my “clinical inability to deal with numbers,” I always had to ask for extra help after class or do corrections on math tests in high school. I was pretty cool. My amazing mother reassured me on nights I actually cried over algebra homework that learning to work hard was preparing me for something later in life. It did.

This taught me to turn anxiety into action, that achieving goals boils down practical execution and that believing in yourself means trusting you that you’ll do what it takes to make things happen.

I’m from Buffalo, NY and I graduated from St. John Fisher, which is nearby in Rochester, NY. I moved to Boston right after graduation in June 2009 for a PR internship at SHIFT Communications. In August 2009 I got my first big kid job as an account coordinator for Kel & Partners. Every single day I feel lucky that I got to move to Boston.

Unless you’re a computer science major, finding your first job out of college is generally tricky. You have to get someone to give you your big break because you haven’t proven yourself professionally yet. That’s tough in any economy, and 2009 was NOT an ideal time to be looking for that first job. Let me be clear: The recession sucked.

But I did it. I got my first job and moved to the city I love — and I am not special. You can do it too. These are the specific things I did that worked for my job search to move to Boston, and I hope these lessons can help you as well:

1. Networking on Social Media

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2008 for Introduction to Digital Media class. I knew I wanted to be in Boston and do PR. I followed PR agencies and PR people working in Boston to learn about the job market. I read blogs and wrote about my job search and what I was learning about social media on my own blog. This helped me connect with the Boston PR scene even though I was still in Upstate, NY.

My passion for social media stems directly from the humbling generosity I experienced during this time. People I met through Twitter, who didn’t know me and who had absolutely no reason to invest time in me, answered my questions and offered candid advice. People commented on my blog posts and shared them and that built my confidence. I quickly realized that the connections you can make in social media are very real.

These people know who they are and all I can say is thank you. You really helped me. And I’m doing what I can to pay it forward.

2. Informational Interviews

Everyone told me the same thing: “No one is hiring.” I couldn’t get real interviews, so I did a ton of informational ones instead. I figured that way, they’d know who I was if they were hiring in the future. (It worked! That’s how I got my job at Kel & Partners.)

In February I went on spring break with friends from BC. I turned that into an opportunity to (skip a midterm and…) line up an intense day of 5 or 6 informational interviews. That day was great. I experienced that exhilarating hustle of Boston that people can take for granted after a while and that you don’t feel when you’re here for vacation. Boston swept me off my feet that day and I knew I would make my job search a success because I wanted to be here so badly.

3. Ignored the News

I was relentlessly bombarded with articles about the bleak job outlook for 2009 graduates. The media loves a good sob story. Early on in my job hunt, I made a deliberate choice to have a Pollyanna attitude about it all and focus on things I could control – my actions.

I couldn’t control the economy or what the government was or wasn’t going to do to help. I could have perspective: I could feel compassion for the thousands of people whose names I didn’t know who got laid off at companies across the country that were on the evening news. But I couldn’t let negative news get to me and slow down my momentum in my job hunt. So for the most part, I just ignored that news.

I recommend this to all job-hunting 2011 graduates. It’s fine to be aware of the challenge ahead of you, but leave it at that and keep moving forward.

4. Kept it Real and Took a Chance

Of course I wanted a “real job,” but I was acutely aware of situation with the economy. I took a leap of faith and moved to Boston for a paid internship. I trusted myself that I would do what it took to get a full-time job for after the internship once I got here. This prepared me for startupland, where many times you’re faced with uncertainty and you have to trust yourself that you’ll just do what it takes to make a situation work.

Who Ya Calling Entitled?

People love calling Gen Y entitled, like we think the world owes us a job because we went to college. I’ve read news stories about people suing their alma maters because they couldn’t find jobs after graduation. Now that’s crazy talk, son.

I never felt like anyone owed me a job. Sometimes I felt scared because I was in Boston alone doing this internship, my student loans were coming and I didn’t really know where my life was going. (I’m only human; it’s called being 22.) Then I thought about hypothetical people with real responsibilities like babies and mortgages who maybe had just gotten laid off, and I clearly stopped feeling sorry for myself.

Most importantly: My story is not unique by any stretch of the imagination.

I am one of millions of motivated young people who want to work hard. We’ll stay late. We’ll rise to the occasion. We aren’t afraid of an uphill battle.

When you think about the future of Boston, don’t think of the entitled Gen Y-ers. Sure, there are people like that – from every generation. But those are the minority, the particularly odd and special cases, and that’s why they get coverage in the NY Times.

There are many young people in Boston who are not acting like people owe them jobs. They’re creating jobs by building companies and enhancing our startup community. HerCampus, Greenhorn Connect, Bostinnovation, Gemvara and Dart Boston are all led by Gen Y-ers and are all here in Boston doing incredible things.

A blurry sense of opportunity in Boston drew me here, but the very tangible innovation and optimism in our startup community is what makes me want to stay. I couldn’t be more thankful to those whose advice helped me move here, and I couldn’t be more thankful to that anxious, mathematically-challenged college graduate who took a chance on an internship and moved to Boston on a whim. You did the right thing.

How to: Get Started in Social Media for Small Business

I was so excited that SCVNGR invited oneforty to be a part of its small business social media summer school series. On June 27, I stopped over to SCVNGR’s (very cool) offices to talk about tips for getting started in social.

Here are my slides, as well as a little cheat sheet of tactics and resources that I handed out. Feel free to pass along to clients, your aunt with a coffee shop, etc etc. Whoever you think would find social media 101 tips to be helpful.

Something I said toward the beginning of my talk was that even though there are so many platforms to participate in and tools to choose from, there are universal things you’ll need to do on each platform no matter what. So, my message was to just understand these ideas, and that way no matter what platform you’re thinking of participating in, you’ll know how to approach them.

These ideas include:

1. Claim your page on that platform – Complete all the information, and represent your brand. (I used the analogy of, you wouldn’t walk into high school first day without your shoes on. You shouldn’t step out into social media that way either.)

2. Listen & Respond – Chances are, people are already talking about you on social media. First and foremost, set up searches so you can find these mentions and respond to these people, whether they are saying positive or negative things. This applies whether you’re monitoring FourSquare checkins or Twitter mentions.

3. Be Genuine – A first-person, human voice works best. Some brands’ styles are more casual and others are more formal, but either way people like to know that it’s a real human behind the logo-avatar. That’s how you build relationships and make the most of social media.

Here’s the information:

The Unpaid Intern: All Grown Up

I don’t think Diane Sawyer would’ve worried or complained about being an unpaid journalism intern. I can’t see her waiting around for her college’s career services center to place her in an internship. I envision her beating down doors to get the best opportunities she needed to perfect her writing, research and her on-camera presence, build her professional network – and, not to mention, craft her non-regional dialect of course. Her focus? Her opportunities. Not her limitations.

This recent NY Times article about unpaid internships compelled me to share my thoughts my internships two years after graduation from college, where I did four unpaid internships.

I have an admittedly odd take on unpaid internships.  Students work for free but have to pay for college credit. The companies they work for can say they are paying they student with credit. (The student paid for the credit…so the student is basically paying to work for free…so…um…get it?)

All that said, if I was a college student all over again looking for PR, marketing or journalism internships…here’s my take: I would not turn down learning opportunities at great companies just because they weren’t paid.

I know that’s controversial, but it’s true.

I took issue with several things in this article. I disagree with this:

“Colleges shouldn’t publicize unpaid internships at for-profit companies. They should discourage internship requirements for graduation — common practice in communications, psychology, social work and criminology. They should stop charging students to work without pay — and ensure that the currency of academic credit, already cheapened by internships, doesn’t lose all its value.”

Like I said, at face-value making students pay for academic credit for unpaid internships seems shady. But those were honestly the best college credits I paid for. And as far as the “cheapening of college credit”… Seriously? I’ve benefitted much more from internships than from a lot of the theory they teach in classes. I was delighted to skip out on that stuff that wasn’t going teach me to deliver value for a business, get into an office environment and learn skills that’d make me marketable upon graduation.

Discouraging internship requirements for graduation isn’t going to solve the problem of huge companies not paying their interns. It’s just going to lessen the likelihood that college students are going to take these vital professional opportunities for their careers. That makes them less likely to get jobs upon graduation. Quick! Name all the under or unemployed ’09 or ’10 graduates you can think of… without taking a breath. We’ll be here all night… The last thing we need to do is discourage students whatsoever from gaining this valuable experience.

Like the intensely career-driven 24-year-old I am today, I was a die-hard 19, 20 and 21-year-old as well. I aggressively pursued internships. I did five in college in various areas of marketing, PR and journalism. Then I graduated in the economic shitshow known as May 2009 and moved to Boston two weeks later for a paid internship at a PR agency in Boston. A paycheck?! For the first time?! I was thrilled.

I did a ton of free work throughout college other than internships. I ran my college’s newspaper for free. I did PR campaigns for local businesses through this student-run integrated marketing agency, PRIMA Connections for free. This free work helped me build a portfolio that I could bring with me to those internship interviews – where I would work… for free.

If I were a college student today, I wouldn’t wait around for a minute for my career center to place me in an internship. Why? Because the job market doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way, either. Your college career center isn’t going to be there for you after college to pick your apartments, find you a dentist in a new city, find you a boyfriend who calls you back – none of that. Remember: good things come to those who wait, but only what is left behind by those who hustle. Some would argue that things like a career center is what you are paying a college for. I would argue that if you are a communications student like I was, you are paying a college to support opportunities like a school newspaper etc for you to hone your skills in addition to internships. I didn’t pay St. John Fisher for daycare, thanks.

Again, I would not turn down an opportunity I really wanted because it didn’t pay. You might have to work weekends or do the internship part-time to make time during the week for a part-time job. Most importantly, remember: You are not above Starbucks!

(Side note: If we’re going to take up real estate in the NY Times to talk about issues of unpaid internships, let’s really focus on the people for whom this isn’t an option. Perhaps single parents maybe who don’t have time for school + unpaid internship + jobs?)

When I was an unpaid intern, I complained a lot to my unpaid intern friends about the unfairness of the fact that I wasn’t being paid. It was really exhausting to wake up, work out, go to an internship all day, go straight to the restaurant, work all night, then come home…and do that all week and/or weekend.

So was this always fun? No, it was stressful a lot of times. But it was my time to pay my dues. A little hard work never hurt anyone, in fact – all that hard work helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. And that’s exactly what internships are supposed to do – prepare you for your career. I am glad I did what I did and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The NY Times article recalls the “plight” of unpaid WNBC intern Will Batson who “scrambled for shelter” during his summer internship in NYC. To Mr. Batson and other unpaid interns I say this:

One day, gentrified and successful, you will be married and live in a house on a cul-de-saq with things like “sofas” and “duvet covers.” You will have non coin-op washers and dryers from legitimate stores like Jordans and not Craigslist or the side of the road. Your fridge will be stocked with essentials other than Bud Light and hot sauce and when the hand soap runs out you’ll buy new handsoap instead of passive-aggressively re-filling it with water until your roommate buys new handsoap. You may have a salary, 401k and savings. Most of all you, will have security. You will have certainty. You will have a career. You may attend block parties or BBQ’s with other former unpaid interns. After a few too many you might talk about college or that crazy summer you spent in NYC couch-hopping and how much fun it was. You’ll laugh until your stomach hurts.

If we really focus on our opportunities and not our limitations things work out in the end. I hope so. I’ll let you know.

In your late teens and early twenties (your unpaid internship and entry-level years) I think there’s this balance of being really comfortable, but yet at the same time being really uncomfortable, with the uncertainty that defines those years. How so? What do I mean? My discomfort at ages 19 through 22ish with not knowing exactly what kind of PR/marketing/journalism (or maybe law school? I considered a lot of things…) job I wanted after graduation or not having a job lined up drove me to internships. Action comforted me because it gave me direction. Being “just” someone’s unpaid intern wasn’t the most glamorous role. But I was comforted by the certainty that I was definitely gaining great experience at that moment, yet simultaneously discomforted by the fact that I so badly wanted to do more than that and earn more than that one day.

So that’s where I am today: content yet restless. Happy but unsatisfied, I’m constantly driven to do better and learn more. Oh and I get paid now, not in tips, and I don’t wear a name-tag, apron or tuxedo to work. That still feels really cool.

Enthusiasm from 9-5 (and 8-6)

enthusiasm corporate

 

When we’re young, when it comes to love, we have no reason not to feel hopeful, optimistic, and to see the sippy cup half-full.  It’s before petty arguments and passive aggressive texts.   It’s before we revel in the exquisite melancholy of unrequited love. It’s before all those Disney-infused high expectations are met with a startling reality of dating, being dateless, mixed messages, and the rest of the possible single-life conundrums.  Your high hopes are let down; your wall goes up.

It’s similar to that journey from the lecture hall to the board room.  You bust out of college into your first job with anticipation. Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, you practically cartwheel into the office in your freshly-pressed suit, promising not be jaded like the overworked journalist who hangs up on you when you’re trying to follow up to see if she wants to come check out your client’s super cute event.

Not that I’ve been hung up on before.

This is before the exhaustion from the grind, before you’re drowning in details, before the reality of the “real world” sets in.  Sometimes, dreaming about being a grown-up is a hell of a lot more fun than being one.

I think that enthusiastic people are more successful.  They get pumped up, they show up, they try harder.  Sometimes, it’s a lot more appetizing to be a Debbie or a Nancy and gather around the water cooler and whine.  It’s harder to take a step back, take a look at the big picture, and take a stab at remembering how much/why you love what you do.

But like I said, enthusiastic people try harder.