To learn how employees can use social media to advance their companies and their own careers, I spoke with Ian Greenleigh. Ian is the author of The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence. He is a social media and content strategist, helping companies turn data, ideas and relationships into thought leadership. His work has been covered in The Harvard Business Review and Adweek and he speaks on a variety of topics including consumer-brand relationships and personal identity convergence. Visit for more information, and follow him at @be3d. The following is a brief interview I did with him.

Dan Schawbel: How can social media help you become a more valuable employee?

Ian Greenleigh: We intuitively think of people in marketing roles when we talk about employees and social media. But I think there’s also a lot of value employees outside of the marketing function can contribute. There’s no role I can think of, for example, that shouldn’t be tuning in to what the outside world is saying about their employer through social. Not as a watchdog so much as a stakeholder.

In my experience managing corporate content and social strategy, one of the best ways for employees to help is simply to share content. Employees should never feel pressured or obligated to do this, but it’s an easy way to pitch in when and where it feels right.

Last but not least, I’ve never encountered a single company that couldn’t use more content. As content managers and strategists, we’re constantly wrangling and creating content, and it never seems like enough. If an employee has an idea for a great blog post, or better yet, an outline or draft, we’ll be eager to consider it—and extremely grateful. I think content from non-marketers performs better overall than content from marketers. It tends to be unique, useful, honest and concise.

DS: In what ways can connecting with influencers help you do your job better?

IG: Influencers can often do your job for you, and better than you can. If you’re in sales or marketing, your job is essentially to influence clients and prospects in ways that benefit the company. But we all encounter the same problem in this line of work: mistrust. When you have something to sell, you are perceived to be pursuing other interests (such as your own) over those of the person you’re communicating with. If you can find an influencer who has earned the trust of the same market you’re trying to sell to, he or she has already overcome the trust barrier that you can’t get past.

Some relationships follow you wherever you go, just as it was in the Rolodex days. You never really know how an influencer can help you down the line, so make sure to stay in touch, help them out with their projects (e.g., promoting a new book or YouTube series), and connect them to people even they can’t reach.

DS: Can social media help you engage better with the people you work with and with executives? Why or why not?

IG: Even at smaller companies, you might not have the chance to rub elbows with top executives. But as more and more C-suiters take to social networks, employees can engage in meaningful ways with company leadership, build name recognition and visibility, and find things in common that aren’t listed in stuffy corporate bios. Here’s an example from my book. Saatchi & Saatchi is without a doubt one of the most famous and successful agencies in the world, and their CEO Kevin Roberts has a really fascinating personal blog. Many of the posts have zero comments, or very few. If I were a Saatchi & Saatchi employee, I’d be all over that blog!

In my own life, I think my relationship with Bazaarvoice co-founder Brett Hurt was really strengthened through social media, even though we worked in the same building for three years. Brett is someone I truly admire, and he has helped me immensely in my career. I wonder whether we would have become friends quite as easily if it weren’t for those frequent, casual interactions that happen so easily in the social web.

DS: Are there lessons to be learned from those early social media adopters and the doors they opened that employees can take advantage of?

IG: The big lesson with any communications technology, from the days of the first telephone through the explosion of the social web, is take advantage of the access these technologies afford before that access is restricted by the arrival of gatekeepers and gatekeeping technologies. When adoption is relatively low, leaving open the means of access to you can be exciting; as adoption picks up that same degree access becomes problematic, distracting and even dangerous.

One of Seth Godin’s first books was called E-Mail Addresses of the Rich & Famous, and it was exactly what the title suggests. Imagine being in PR or a related field and having one of the first copies of that book at your disposal. You would have a field day! But if you were to pick up the book, say, two years after it came out, you would have had far less of an opportunity because many of the emails would have been changed, filters would have been put in place, and so on.

DS: What are three things that employees can do today to use social media to advance in their careers?


1. Create “The Embassy of You.” A place where people come to learn about you beyond your resume and CV. Blogs work really well for this, since they’re basically a record of your ideas over time. Link to your social profiles, and have a section that lists things like achievements, media coverage, etc.

2. Try to connect with people you otherwise couldn’t reach. That’s really using social media’s most unique feature, and yet many people only use these vast networks to connect with people they already know. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do, but don’t expect it to help your career.

3. Express yourself. Don’t be robotic. People tend to hire and do business with people they like personally, and social media is your chance to let a little more of the real you shine. Everyone should develop their own guardrails on this. For example, I tweet about politics all the time, although most “professional social media people” would warn against it. I share that stuff because I care about it. If I were constantly worried about crossing a line that might exist with someone, somewhere, I wouldn’t enjoy using social, and as a result, it wouldn’t have had such a profound effect on my career. I’m certain of that.

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