This blog is moving – please visit

Hi folks! I’ve decided to make the switch to a self-hosted WordPress blog. I’m leaving this blog online, but will not be posting any new content here. Please visit my new site, The direct URL to the blog is You can quickly sign up to receive email updates of each blog post, if you like.

The new site also comes with a new name: Gross, Point-Blank. I hope to continue to share my off the cuff, point blank observations on communication, leadership, and innovation. I hope you’ll stop by and visit my new web home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Key to Becoming a Social Business? Stop Focusing on Social Media

I’ve officially been a social media strategist for just over six months. I’ve spent at least eight hours every day logged into Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn while I communicate with customers, promote our presence, meet with internal stakeholders, and create and curate content. I’ve also been intentionally networking with social media leaders at companies of all sizes, in a variety of industries. All this has lead me to one big, unexpected conclusion:

My job is not about social media. Really.

I’ve done a lot of reading (my favorites have been Social Media ROI and Altimeter’s work about social business), and I’ve learned that my work is more about customer service, education, word of mouth, creating memorable experiences, corporate communication, and organizational change.

When Frank Eliason, SVP of Social Media at Citibank, took the stage at the Social Media Strategies Summit in New York last month, he offered an apology. He apologized because five years go, the people who understood how to win in social media didn’t speak loudly enough. They let themselves be overshadowed by newcomers (gurus, ninjas, and the like) touting new, shiny objects—and marketers in turn lost their way. We got caught up in likes and followers, and created an echo chamber that focused on the wrong things.

Shiny balls

Don’t be seduced by a shiny object.
PurpleLorikeet on Flickr

Social media is simply a tool. Right now those tools include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. I’m fully expecting those names to fall out of rotation and be placed by others within a few years. Maybe we’ll even have another name for those new networks and technologies, rendering social media a thing of the past.

Does that mean jobs like mine are going to fall by the wayside? I don’t think so. In addition to offering the occasional how-to session on the latest communication tool, I think people in my position have a huge responsibility to bear. We can use the new, shiny aspects of social media as a carrot to get our employers to re-examine the way they do business. To give more weight to customer voices. To empower a diverse workforce to impact business decisions from the bottom and middle of an organization, instead of forcing top-down initiatives. To respond in real-time to the needs of consumers. To let the actions of employees build the brand as much (or more than) the PR and marketing staff. To become a social business.

This is why I’m not chomping at the bit to bust out an Instagram video strategy, or snatch up as many Pinterest followers as possible before the platform figures out how to monetize. I’m more concerned with using these new, shiny tools to impact key business metrics like customer satisfaction than with the number of Facebook likes I acquire daily or how many impressions our last tweet received. I’m more concerned with being an internal agent of change, and helping my organization leverage the latest social technologies in a way that helps us be better.

We don’t need to win at social media; we need to win at fulfilling our promises to customers and treating our employees like valuable assets. When we win there, everything else will fall into place—even on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

YouTube & Your Slide Deck: Why You’re Doing It Wrong

A well-placed video in a presentation slide deck can serve many purposes:

  • Emotional plea
  • Expert testimony
  • Laugh out loud entertainment
  • A chance for the presenter to get a glass of water

Do you want to know what really bugs me? Watching a presenter futz around with clicking on a hyperlink, waiting for a video to load, or apologizing because the internet connection in the space is too slow. Worse, realizing that there is no internet so their awesome video remains a figment of my imagination. The worst: watching an ad before the video, during election season.

How not to include YouTube videos in your slide deck

The first two examples come from my old slide decks. We all had to start somewhere, right?

  1. Paste the link to the video into the slide deck and click on it when you want to view the video.

    PowerPoint Slide Screenshot - YouTube URL

    Yes, I also used a terrible PowerPoint template

  2. Take a screenshot of the video, place it in your slide deck, but hyperlink the video to the YouTube page.

    PowerPoint Screenshot YouTube Video

    I actually combined two no-no’s in this one

    Note: although this is a bad method for live presentations, it’s an excellent way to design a slide deck that you want to upload to Slideshare, since the great tip you’re about to read doesn’t work in that format.

  3. Embed the YouTube video directly in the PowerPoint slide using the embed code.
PPT Slide

Great for websites, not for slide decks

How to use a YouTube video in your slide deck

The answer is simple: download it!

If you don’t download your videos, you’re leaving yourself at the mercy of the internet connection where you’re presenting, or performance of YouTube at any given time. You’re also potentially making your audience sit through 15-30 seconds of ads. These are all risky situations for an otherwise polished presenter.

Downloading YouTube videos is easy with KeepVid (it also works with Vimeo). Just make sure you insert the link in the text box at the top, rather than clicking the large “download” button, which is actually an ad. The site even offers a bookmarklet so you can drag and drop videos to download on the fly.

Once you’ve downloaded your video, use Insert–>Movie to put it in your presentation. You can resize it however you like and adjust the setting to play when the slide loads or when you click.

Important: For this method to work, you must have the video saved with the slide deck, whether that’s on a hard drive or portable storage device. The video does not actually get saved within the slide deck itself. Rather, a link to the file you’ve saved is inserted into the presentation.

If for some reason this tip doesn’t work for you, let me know. It’s always worked for me, but things change. Happy slide deck building!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Free Advice: Getting Started With Your Company Facebook Page

I received a LinkedIn message from an old college friend last week. His company is just getting started with social media, and the execs are split in terms of buy-in. I realize that there are many people in the same situation that could benefit from the free advice I provided, so I’m posting it here for everyone to benefit from.

Here’s his message, sort of. I’ve protected his identity and cleaned up the questions.

I am quite sure you might have done this before, and I need your help. I am trying to engage my upper management team to use social media proactively. Half of them have not used it, and half of them are savvy. Kind of extreme. Right now, we only have 95 Facebook like, and we would like that number to grow. Questions that have been brought up are:

  1. How do we get more likes/followers?
  2. How do we make Posts/Status/Updates go viral?
  3. What are the do’s and don’ts?

 Do you have any handy PPT or flyer or doc about this?

My first thought was, “Wow, where do I begin?”

Social media is not a quick fix

Duct Tape fixing pint glass

Duct tape can fix a lot of things, but there’s no quick fix for your company social media. Photo: Anders Illum, flickr.

If your business is looking to launch a social media program, a handy PowerPoint or flyer won’t be the resource you need to get started. Walmart spent 6 months of planning internally before they launched their social media program. Smaller businesses might be able to accomplish this in a month or two, but it’s not a quick project. My first recommendation to my friend was to read Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard. I’ve been reading it for two months (yes, I’m still making my way through it), and it’s by far the most comprehensive how-to guide for corporations and organizations I’ve found. Olivier covers planning, staffing models, customer service implications, measurement, and…. the elusive ROI. Real ROI, the way they teach it in business school. The way that makes sense to executives instead of squishy social media metrics.

If you’re in charge and you want your company to get into social media, read the book. If you’re an eager entry or mid-level employee that wants to be a champion for social media, read the book. Copy relevant chapters and send them to your colleagues or your boss. Get everyone on the same page. Reading this book will allow you to set your social media goals within the context of your business objectives and develop a plan for execution.

Fans don’t grow on trees

Ugly puppets in a tree

You won’t be happy with what you get when you go for the low-hanging fruit. Photo: ffi, flickr.

Well, fake fans can be purchased pretty easily, but they have no value.  My advice in response to this question was:

To get more fans, focus first on content. Make sure you have a plan to share valuable content daily. It shouldn’t all be promotional; you should talk/share about news in your industry and regularly ask questions to engage your followers and improve your products. I’m sure there are a bunch of industry-related articles you can share to cut down on the number of promo-only posts. Also, I noticed your page doesn’t have the “about” section filled in—without that, a user has no idea what your company does and is unlikely to commit to liking it.

This advice can be boiled down to:

  • Content first!
  • Determine your desired content-type ratio. For example, you might aim for 60% industry-related, 20% promotional, 10% customer service, and 10% miscellanous.
  • Complete every social media profile in detail to enable potential fans to know what they’re getting themselves into.
  • Learn how to optimize content for each platform—adjust metadata for links, create images at the correct size, post in the appropriate length.

Overall, you need to demonstrate why your page is interesting for your audience before you try to implement a fan acquisition strategy. I generally develop a Facebook page for 2-3 months before I even start trying to acquire fans. You can do this quickly by backdating a bunch of posts to make it look like you’ve had a content strategy all along.

Once that’s all taken care of, integrate social links and calls to action in all of your regular communications (email templates, brochures, letters, etc.) with a clear message of why people should connect with you. You could do one quick targeted email campaign to your customers to explain why they should connect with you, but it clearly needs to demonstrate the value in doing so.  These tactics will result in high-quality likes—customers that want to connect with you.

You can’t make viral content


Do you really want your content to spread like a virus? It usually makes people sick. Photo: Sanofi Pasteur, flickr.

Virality is determined by the audience, not the creator. Content that has the potential to go viral will be interesting, informative, timely, and unique. But why are you focusing on viral content anyway? Will “going viral” get you more business, or just make you feel better about your social media program?

What you need to be thinking about is expanding your relevant reach. You can speed this along by investing in well-planned Facebook ads. I’ve got a few posts about ads on my blog, but Jon Loomer has a lot more time to write about it and is a great go-to resource for Facebook advertising.

Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think one particular type of content is automatically better than another. For years I’ve been hearing that we need to share images on Facebook, but some of my most engaging posts have been status updates about topics that were extremely interesting or timely for my community.

This is just the beginning

If you’re the person calling the shots, you can’t just ask someone on your staff to take your social media program on as a quick project. At the least, it will be an ongoing initiative. At the most, it will become a dedicated (or integrated) team and a significant item in the budget. Recognizing this will allow you to set realistic expectations and leave room for the program to grow and evolve.

I ended my message with this:

Alright, that’s all the free advice I’ve got in me. Any more, and I’ll have to charge you a consulting fee 🙂

I was serious. I’ve spent years learning how to make social media work for the various organizations I’ve worked with. Just because we’re talking about tools that many of use everyday doesn’t mean I don’t have valuable expertise. I’m happy to help a friend in need, but there’s a fine line between a helping hand and working for free. If you’re a decision maker in the position to be asking for advice, recognize this line and be willing to compensate for help when necessary. If you’re in the position to give advice, know your boundaries and don’t let yourself get sucked into uncomfortable situations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Add A Live Twitter Feed To Your PowerPoint Presentation

Last week I felt like I climbed Mount Everest, in a super nerdy way. While preparing for an upcoming conference presentation, I figured out how to embed a live Twitter feed into my PowerPoint (yes, PPT. Sorry Keynote users, I’m not at your level).

Instructions to do this used to be easy to find in a Google search, but they relied on the Twitter API. After some major changes this year, the tactic was no longer effective. After some brainstorming, I wondered if I could piggy back off of the tools I’ve regularly used to display a backchannel at events (Twitterfall, Visible Tweets, TweetWally, and TweetBeam are good options for that).

Including A Live Twitter Feed In Your Presentation

#1: Determine what type of Twitter feed you want to include

Twitter Search Operators

Use these terms to beef up your Twitter searches. Click to enlarge.

It might be as simple as a hashtag, or you might want to get a little more sophisticated. If you familiarize yourself with the Twitter search operators, you can display a much more sophisticated feed.

One very useful search operator that’s not found in the chart on the left is ‘+’. Using +, you can pull in tweets that only include a certain term. It’s pointless on its own, because that’s how a default search works, but when you combine it with other operators, it becomes powerful. For instance, if you wanted a stream of tweets from me that were about Facebook, you could search for from:lizgross144+facebook. Throw in the ‘AND’ operator and you could search for tweets about the same term from multiple users.

#2: Choose a website to display the Twitter feed

Yup, that’s right. Don’t even think about PowerPoint yet. Choose a website. Your choice will depend on what you want to display and how you want to display it. TweetBeam is visually appealing, but you’re limited at what you can search for (mostly a hashtag, although you can highlight individual users or a list). Note that TweetBeam is only provided free for non-commercial use. Twitterfall provides a lot of options, but you’ll only see each tweet once as it scrolls down and you must be logged in for it to work. Visible Tweets displays tweets one at a time and will accomodate any type of Twitter search. The background color will constantly change, though. TweetWally allows any type of Twitter search but also allows for simpler options. It also includes the option of explanatory text and prominent display of your Twitter account on the right side of the screen. For my purposes, I’d go with Visible Tweets.

Whatever service you choose, get it all set up to display how you’d like and then copy the URL in display mode.

#3: Install the LiveWeb PowerPoint add-in

This was my ah-hah moment. Follow the instructions here to download a simple add-in for PowerPoint. On your office computer that the evil IT staff have locked down? (I jest, my husband is one of those folks.) No fear – it shouldn’t even require administrative rights. Sorry Mac users – this only works on a PC.

#4: Open PowerPoint and choose the slide to display the Twitter feed

Click “Insert –> Web Page” and past the URL you copied from the website of your choice. Because you’ve likely chosen a website that automatically refreshes, you can uncheck the “refresh automatically” box. Then, determine how big you want the display to be on your screen. Think about where you’ll be presenting and how big the web display needs to be so that attendees can see the text of the tweets.

#5: Make sure the add-in is installed on any computer that will use the PowerPoint file

This one is important. If you go to all the work of creating this slide deck, throw it on a flash drive, and use an event-provided computer to give your presentation, it probably wont’ work. The add-in is required to both create and present the presentation. Don’t forget this crucial step.

So, that’s it! It’s really quite easy.

I’d love to hear how you put this technique to use—please share in the comments.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Soon-To-Be College Grad Seeks Killer Social Media Position: A Very Public Recommendation To #HireAlex

Update: Alex has accepted a job offer… at Twitter. Congratulations, Alex!

A little over a year ago, I sent this tweet:

Happy to help you land a soc media job in #highered "@a_kowalsky: Best idea ever, thanks @lizgross144: A few months till #HireAlex!

The time has come to make good on my promise. In a few short weeks, Alex Kowalsky will walk across the stage as a UW-Madison graduate. I’ve gotten to know Alex through Twitter over the last year, and he continues to exhibit social media management skills far above what I would expect from an undergraduate student. It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s been an intern for over a year with the UW-Madison University Communications & Marketing office—the campus won Klout’s influencer insanity, was called a smart social media school by PC Mag, and their #UWRightNow project is included in Social Works, a new book about college and university social media campaigns.

Alex will be the first to tell you that he can’t take credit for all of this, but he was a part of the team that made it happen. He’s been part of social projects larger than most campuses or companies could ever dream of. And, lucky for you, he’s currently on the job market.

Alex isn’t just a guy attending a Big Ten school with a sweet internship. He’s currently managing 18 credits, working three jobs, and assisting with a social media course. Frankly, it’s maddening that he hasn’t found a job yet. So, dear readers, please pass this on to folks you know who are looking to hire a social media savvy, liberal arts-educated (poli sci & journalism double major), ambitious, go-getter type. He thinks he’d like to work in a digital agency—and I’m sure he’d excel in that environment—but honestly I think that there’s a dream job out there for him that he’s not aware of yet. Is it in your office?

That’s enough of my thoughts about Alex. I sent him a few questions so I could prep for this blog post, and I’m basically going to let him speak for himself.

Alex KowalskyLiz: You’ve managed social media for a Big Ten campus, freshman orientation & first year programs, university libraries, and a local legislator. What are the similarities and differences to your approach in these different roles?

Alex: It’s easy to forget that social media is about being social. It’s about people—whether you’re making them smile, providing customer service or any other task you could be doing. I think it’s important to make it clear that there’s a person behind the account that listens and continues to give people a reason to follow the account. Social media is a conversation—you can use it to broadcast and gain thousands of followers—but people become more engaged and more effective brand ambassadors if they know that they can come to your social media presence for assistance as well as compelling, useful content.

The biggest differences are fully understanding the nuances of tones, content, audiences and strategies for various roles. I’ve been working with an assemblyman since November and it’s been really outside my comfort zone. I feel like I’ve had to teach myself a new language for the political pages. Even thought I’m a political science major, crafting messages and managing a political social media presence has been a whole new ball game for me. With UW-Madison, I’ve had years of learning the insides and outsides of the university community—so it’s easier for me to translate my Badger pride into communicating with alumni, students, campus and other audiences on social media. The fundamentals are the same—the platform, content and approach—but the most important is the people and knowing them.

Liz: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during your time at UW-Madison?

Alex: The values of patience and paying it forward. I think the best part of UW-Madison is how much I’ve been challenged inside and outside of the classroom. I’ve had to work to earn everything I’ve learned and done in the last four years. I tried out to be Bucky twice. I applied for dozens of campus jobs. I got rejected by the journalism school. But I kept trying and I found my way. I never could have imagined becoming a journalism and strategic communication major and the first social media intern at UW-Madison. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors on campus like John Lucas and Don Stanley as well as the rest of #UWSocial and University Communications staff. Dozens of UW alums—too many too name—have been more than generous with their time and resources to connect me with opportunities to learn and grow in new digital media. Badgers are wonderful people.

Liz: Staying within the realm of reality, what would your ideal first post-graduation job look like?

Alex: I’ve been told that there aren’t jobs for journalism majors out there. I’ve responded that every organization in the world needs someone to communicate for them and that’s where I come in. I really believe in the social part of social media and communications. I love people. I love communications. Whether I end up doing PR, social media, digital media, sales, advertising or anything else with the internets—I’ll be incredibly grateful for an opportunity to learn as much as I can. I want to work in a forward looking organization with the colleagues that are the best at what they do. I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last several years critically engaging with the best social media companies, ad agencies and brands and thinking about how I would integrate with their current products and presences. It’s a bizarre exercise—but as a true social media junkie, I process the world through framing organizations by their social media presences. I actively investigate the web presences of schools, companies of various industries, musicians, TV shows, etc. to further my studies of social and digital media. So, I want to find someone who will give me the opportunity to harness social media to advance their cause or brand. I don’t want to work for anyone evil.

Liz: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alex: 1) Accepted to the journalism school, 2) John hiring me as the first social media intern, 3) #UWRightNow, 18 hours in 2012, going full 24 hours in 2013, 4) UW-Madison becoming verified on Twitter

Liz: If you could do whatever you want without having to worry about expenses and a paycheck, what would it be?

Alex: I’d open a slow food, organic restaurant and the second floor would be my digital advertising agency. Oh and you can bring your bikes to our bike mechanic operation. #AJBeyond

Liz: In 140 characters or less, why should someone #HireAlex?

Alex: Experienced. Hungry. Ready to learn. But seriously, I’m hungry to win the internet. Let’s do it together. #HireAlex

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Marketing & Communication in Student Affairs: What We Didn’t Get To On Student Affairs Live

Student Affairs Live ScreenshotLast week I had the pleasure of participating in my first Google on-air hangout to join the Student Affairs Live conversation about marketing and communication in student affairs. I had a blast chatting with James McHaley and Kat Shanahan. Although I haven’t been working on a campus in over four months, I was immediately vaulted back in time, drawing mainly on my experience at UW-Milwaukee.

If you haven’t seen the show, I encourage you to check out the archive. We were able to cover some high-level strategy as well as nuts and bolts information within the hour. If you have any interest in marketing & communication and you work in student affairs (or collaborate with student affairs), you’ve gotta check it out. You’ll watch us discuss the following topics:

  • Professional background and journey to become involved in marketing & communication within student affairs
  • Our staffing structure
  • A look into our day-to-day work
  • Our role with student organizations
  • Common challenges our student affairs colleagues face regarding marketing & communication
  • Suggestions for improvement
  • How we approach the maintenance of a consistent brand voice across multiple campaigns and communication channels, especially when multiple staff are involved
  • Should there be a dedicated marketing & communication position within the Division of Student Affairs?
  • If such an office existed, what are the essential needs (equipment, budget, staffing) to make it successful?
  • Resources we use to learn how to do our job better, faster and smarter

Before the show, Ed Cabellon, our esteemed host, sent out a great list of questions. Between the great discussion and the added questions from the back channel, we didn’t get to them all. So, I figured I’d give you my answers to the questions that weren’t asked. Consider this your behind the scenes DVD feature (wait, are DVDs old tech?).

Who are you most closely connected with across campus to get your work advanced and shown on a larger scale?

When I was in a campus department, my closest connections were with recruitment & outreach, the first year center, orientation staff, IT, and the university relations team. It took a good 3-4 years to get all of those relationships to the level where they were mutually beneficial. Together, this set of relationships allowed me to best leverage in-person, online, print, and earned media to get my message to the campus at large. I learned a lot about campus politics and tricks of the trade from each of these departments. Strong relationships in these areas allowed me to do my job better, and hopefully it was a reciprocal relationship.

How do you promote innovation in your work?

I send out unsolicited, thought-provoking articles to my co-workers and supervisors. When they respond positively, I geek out.

I have a white board and I take time away from my computer to think, or read a related book to get my head out of the day-to-day. My whiteboard is a reflection of the ideas that come out of those sessions. It’s my in-between space, where I can consider an idea before it’s officially put forward, or erase it into oblivion if it’s completely crazy.

Similar to my time on campus, I try to form relationships with coworkers in different departments so I can begin to understand our organization holistically in order to contribute in a way that’s valuable to everyone.

What’s your favorite gadget, app, and software?

  • Gadget: my iPhone. I’m boring. And I’m never going Android.
  • App: Zite—sometimes I like to let other people curate content for me.
  • Software: At work I finally have access to enterprise-level social listening software. I’m in love with it.

Liz, what has been the biggest change for you in your new position outside of higher ed?

Before the show I told Ed that if he asked me this I’d have to respectfully disagree that I left higher ed. True, I no longer work on a campus, but I work for an organization that provides service to an absolutely needed aspect of higher education: funding through student loans. Semantics aside, here’s what I was prepared to say:

I’ve had to let go of my all hands on deck mentality. I work for a large company where people tend to specialize. I’m used to getting involved in projects and committees that were way outside my job description (and pay grade) just to get more experience. Now, I’m asked to focus on what I’m uniquely qualified to do, and let the folks who’ve been tasked with unrelated duties (like survey research or determining our conference booth design, for example) handle their own business. I still am occasionally asked for my opinion or point of view, but I’m expected to continually excel in my speciality area and allow others to do so as well.

Also, things move faster. When I’m working on a project that requires multiple drafts, the turnaround time is usually a week or less, not next month or next semester.

Truth be told, although this question was likely the least relevant to our conversation (and likely why it wasn’t asked), it’s had me thinking about it for a week. Look for more on this in a separate post. If you have specific questions related to this topic, feel free to add them in the comments and I’ll try to address them.

Did you watch the show? What did you think? Is the marketing and communication function in student affairs given enough attention?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments