Episode 13: The Hard Work of Social Media Management

Episode 13: The Hard Work of Social Media Management
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 37:45
 
1X

Special guest Ella Dawson joins J.S. Stansel and Joel Goodman on this episode of Thought Feeder for a candid discussion about the mental and emotional toll managing social media for brands can take on a person. Ella makes the case for why social media professionals should be valued as they take the first punches for the organizations they represent online.

Episode 13: The Hard Work of Social Media Management
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 37:45
 
1X

Special guest Ella Dawson joins J.S. Stansel and Joel Goodman on this episode of Thought Feeder for a candid discussion about the mental and emotional toll managing social media for brands can take on a person. Ella makes the case for why social media professionals should be valued as they take the first punches for the organizations they represent online.

Ella Dawson is an author, critic, and social media professional. She formerly was the Senior Social Media Editor at TED Conferences and currently is the Social Media Manager for Meet Cute.

The Hard Work of Social Media Management Transcript

Intro Banter

Ella Dawson
How do you deal with rejection? How do you deal with having all of your ideas shot down? How do you convince people that social media matters? How do you cope when they’ve said no to your project? And then, are you okay with never writing again? And I was like, oh! Bye.

Jon-Stephen Stansel
Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. I’m Jon-Stephen Stansel, and with me as always is Joel Goodman. Today we’re going to be talking to Ella Dawson, and we’re super excited to have Ella here. If you’re not aware of Ella’s work you need to be. She runs social for Meet Cute, formerly at TED Talks, and she is an incredible, incredible writer and blogger. If you haven’t read any of her work, get over to her website — we’ll put the link in the show notes — and check out some of her work. We’ll talk a little bit about that today. So first, welcome Ella! We’re so glad to have you here.

ED
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to talk shop.

J.S.
Excellent. Well, let’s jump right into it because I want to talk about a few things. When I first became aware of your work, a few years back when I was still at the Texas Department of Transportation, you wrote a post that really stuck with me about, I think simultaneously we hit the limit of being called interns and jokes about social media interns. You wrote a really great piece about how you were fed up with that and followed it up with a really good piece about what management needs to know about social media and social media managers. One thing that I’ve noticed is kind of a recurring theme in some of your work is that you refer to social media managers as “digital bodyguards” for their brands. Can you go into a little more detail about this and how being a digital bodyguard can have an impact on the mental health of a social media manager?

ED
Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve been in social media for six years, seven years — time has fallen apart for me as a construct in the last few months, but I started working in social media, right after I graduated from college, I had done some marketing internships in publishing before then, before identifying Social as like a field that I really loved. And in my time doing social media at TED Talks, which is where I was for the bulk of my career before now, I really saw the various types of expertise that go into social media management. Whether that’s building a community, whether that’s being the primary touchpoint between your brand and your audience or your customers, whatever relationship you might have with your audience, social media is where they come into contact with you the most, sometimes in daily ways. I saw the way that social media is brand building, it’s PR crisis response, it’s all of these different fields smushed into one, and you have to be a very sharp critical thinker, writer, you have to have excellent judgment, and you have to be very calm. And so for me, Social Media is one of those fields where the people who do social media well are incredibly talented. It’s an expertise, it’s a real industry.

So I became very frustrated, the more time I spent in Social Media to see the way people joke about how every brand account is run by a social media intern, or when somebody makes a mistake or post something wrong, “Oh, an intern’s getting fired.” Like, I felt that it was — it’s just a meme and it’s just a joke but it furthers the stereotype that the work that we do in Social Media is not serious and is not a real trade and shouldn’t be treated with the respect that it deserves. And when you combine that stereotype with the fact that social media managers and social media experts, in general, at companies usually aren’t listened to, usually aren’t consulted on major decisions, usually are left out of the conversation, that creates a real issue. So that stereotype has consequences on our careers and on our ability to contribute to decisions that are being made that are really important.

So, I have a habit of losing my patience and writing angry screeds online. I’m starting to grow out of it a little bit and put more thought into those angry screeds, but it was really nice to see how much that resonated with folks. And I think the piece that is really worth diving into is what you highlighted of the fact that social media managers are often digital bodyguards. We take a beating for the brand. When something goes wrong, we are the people who are reading the comments, we’re reading the angry tweets, sometimes we’re getting the customer support emails if that’s part of our job. We’re constantly the weather vane for the company, we’re exposed to the elements.

And it’s exhausting. There isn’t really much of a sense of hazard pay in digital media, but the work that we do, when something has gone wrong and when the brand or the organization or the university, whatever it might be, whenever it’s taking flak, the people who are getting that the most and exposed to that the most are the people who are running those digital channels. So I definitely encountered a lot of that in previous roles of being the person who’s like the first to notice when something has happened online, and then you’re trying to alert the rest of the company to it, you’re trying to help respond to it, you’re trying to help your audience, or your fans feel heard and that their concerns are valid while also not betraying the company. Like it’s, it’s extremely difficult and it is exhausting and often disturbing. And in the worst-case scenario is during my time at TED sometimes it would be a speaker was getting death threats or, there was a bizarre conspiracy theory for a while that TED supported pedophilia. And, like, I was the person reading that all day every day. I was the person on 4chan trying to track whether the threats to shoot up our office were serious. Like, that was me for like six days, for 14-hour workdays because I was the only person with the skills to do it. And thankfully my boss was like you get two free vacation days, get out of here, go to the beach.

But yeah, I did wind up leaving that job just from burnout, because I was like this is a real psychological toll, this has an impact on health. I’m out. And thankfully now I work for like a happy rom-com podcast where, knock on wood, being exposed to the elements is not that bad. But, even if you’re just doing social media strategy completely unrelated to the news, you have to spend a lot of time online and in moments like this [COVID-19, #BlackLivesMatter] just being online can be disturbing, particularly if you’re a person of color, are a black person who is being bombarded with all of these disturbing conversations that are really triggering and personal, even. Just trying to sell peanut butter right now, means being on Twitter, and that can be hard. So. That is my TED talk about that. But it’s something really near and dear to me because a lot of people who work in this field endure a bunch of things that are disturbing. And usually, we’re not very well paid or well supported or have access to medical care, especially for mental health.

J.S.
I think that’s definitely true. It’s something that I see and I’ve been dealing with. I’ve often said this job got a lot less fun after 2016.

ED
Yes.

J.S.
I just, immediately, like the day after, it got just incredibly more difficult, especially being on a college campus for me, where we’re kind of just this touchpoint of controversy and sort of the key battleground for some of these conversations that are happening today. So one thing I think is important, too, is you mentioned that right now and in the past, you’ve had bosses who were very supportive and said hey, go take that day off, go to the beach. I don’t think that that’s a luxury that everybody has, and I think it’s really important that we as social media managers advocate for ourselves in our own mental health in, our own needs. It makes some of these things known. So, do you have any recommendations for how people can better do that?

ED
Yeah, I think it’s difficult, especially when you are an employee whose boss doesn’t fully understand social media or has never done the job that you have done. I was lucky in my first few years at TED where the role that I had was the role that my boss had had before she rose through the ranks. So she knew firsthand what it was like to do what I was doing and to have the responsibility that I did. And so she was very empathetic to that and strove to create a team culture where if you were having a hard time if you needed to share the load with someone else, you should speak up and put yourself first. There was a real focus on that, but it was an intentional choice she made as a boss, to create that culture. I’ve also had bosses who didn’t really understand that, and I’ve had moments where I had to kind of explain the internet, while I was trying to make a case for myself as an employee and for what was best for me. I think that HR departments are usually horrible at understanding the unique toll of working on social media, or just social media, as it relates to the company. Or how seriously should we take this death threat that an employee has received over Twitter? Like, I’ve by-and-large seen HR as being very out of step with the internet age of work, so it can be really difficult to find allies who actually understand what you’re facing in your role.

What I used a lot of when I was working with managers and directors who didn’t really understand what my experience was, was data. There are thankfully a lot more articles now about burnout, incredible publications that can provide expert evidence of the fact that doing content moderation, or being a frontline customer service person is really taxing. I definitely passive-aggressively emailed a few things to HR about like the mental health toll of XYZ, so it can be helpful when you’re positioning it as, this is something that is really standard in the industry and in the field that I work in, and it’s not just me being a baby, or me, not having a thick enough skin. It’s like, this is the risk of the role, and that’s something that I would like to discuss and find a way to workaround.

Something that I also thought a lot about was, okay so maybe my company can’t offer XYZ, what are things that would make my work experience better that don’t cost the company anything? Maybe it’s arranging, can I just work remotely one or two days a week so that I have time to unpack my work and focus on things that are difficult to do in an office environment. Just so that I have a little more recovery time. Especially if you’re an introvert. That really helped me when I was going through a lot of burnout, just arranging a schedule with my boss, when I just would work from home, in a way that wasn’t disruptive to other people’s work.

I also worked out a shift system, so nobody would ever moderate comments for more than three or four hours at a time, and even that is really long, little things where there’s a process that is unemotional but productive to mitigate some of the higher risk tasks that people have to do. But it is tricky. It’s really tricky. It’s difficult to get employers and your workplace to think about the mental health of employees, and then when you add that to the fact that people don’t necessarily appreciate what we’re doing, or even fully understand what our job is, it can be really difficult to advocate for yourself. Something that I found really helpful was talking to other people in the field, who could say, that is a valid experience, that is a risk of the job. Wow, you’re taking on way more responsibility than this role should have, you should be paid about $20,000 more. Like, those conversations can be really useful for putting your own experience into context, and also sharing tricks of the trade, the way that we’re doing, of here’s how I had this conversation with my boss who doesn’t know what Facebook is to help them understand what Facebook comments are. But yeah, knowing that we’re on the bottom of the rung in some ways and finding ways to pull each other up is really the basics.

Joel Goodman
I think on the other side of the app, the social media channel, for those of us that see missteps that are taken by social accounts especially by brand accounts, how can we go about taking the really much-needed role of calling out those missteps while also trying to care for the person that’s actually behind the account? Because we see that all the time, right? And these conversations, before other huge issues dominated the public discourse, we had these conversations online a lot. Like, there’s someone behind that brand account, and they don’t deserve all of the hatred! But are there any things that maybe you kind of came up with as you went through these different things that you wish those of us that interact with brand accounts could keep in mind or should keep… like what’s a good way to approach that?

ED
This is one of my favorite things to talk about because it is an interesting position to find yourself in. When you are the social media manager who is being bombarded, whether it’s fairly or unfairly on Twitter, which is usually where it happens — unless it’s like an Instagram comment situation which is a whole other chaos, but we’ll just stick to Twitter for now — it’s a really unique position, and I’ve had that happen in moments where usually it was TED was being dragged for something fairly or unfairly, and a lot of what I tried to do as a social media manager was to take the concerns and the opinions of our audience and the needs of our audience and bring that data, whether it was qualitative or quantitative, to whoever it was that could make that decision. So whether that was the curation team that chose the speakers, whether that was our CEO because it was a brand matter, whether it was PR-related, whether it was just somebody hated the headline and I needed to explain why to the editorial director, all of those angry comments or tweets are data, and they’re incredibly useful when a brand is being called out for a misstep. All of that backlash is super useful and important and I think it is important to call out brands when they’ve made a mistake, that is the role of the public, that is the role of the audience, that is the role of the fan community to hold whoever it is accountable. But there are definitely ways to do it that are productive, that are mindful of the mental health of the person who’s reading all of that garbage.

When I personally am upset with a brand for whatever it might be, I try to write messages that are very clear and very firm but are not full of vitriol. So I stay away from violent, hateful language or profanity, although sometimes a well placed profane word is useful. But I try to keep it very clear of this is why I’m disappointed. This is what you did wrong. This is how I feel you didn’t uphold your values. The best is if they have a value statement that you can look up and screenshot and be like this is what you’re not doing.

J.S.
I’ve gotten a few of those tweets for the past couple of weeks.

ED
Yeah, they’re really effective and really like, ohhhhh. But then that is very clear data that that person, that social media manager can bring to their higher-ups. So that it’s clear that this is not trolling. These are people who are interested in us doing better, who we have personally disappointed. These are not just drive by jerks. This is not just callout culture. This is a real backlash that we need to pay attention to. When you do have a lot of like, eff Wendy’s or eff, whoever it is, it’s very easy for leadership to look at that and say, “who are these people? they don’t care about us. This is just hostile mob culture.” Whatever.

JG
It becomes kind of flippant, right?

ED
Yeah, yeah

JG
It’s hard to see the value when you’re in a leadership position, in something that feels not very well thought out.

ED
Yeah. And you’re like, why should I care and then it’s very easy to say, you know, who are these people they don’t really matter this is out of context, etc., but if you have a tweet that’s like, “Hey, this is who you say you are, this is how you failed that, this is what I as the consumer or the fan am no longer going to do because you have done X,” or, “this is what I need you to do in order for me to continue supporting you.” That’s really helpful and convincing.

I love it when I see people saying, like when they reply to a bad tweet or when they’re just calling out a brand and they say like, “no shade to the social media manager, I appreciate the work you’re doing. But you guys really messed up on XYZ.” Like that makes my life because I’m like that is a person who is being conscientious and clearly has a friend who works in social if they don’t do it themselves. But yeah, call out those brands, call out those decisions, call it those celebrities. Just think about how can I make sure they will hear what my criticism is because that’s I think the main problem. You can be super mad and your anger can be valid. But you need to make sure that they can count your decision, and that sucks. Like, I don’t want to tone police anybody, either, but I’ve been in that meeting where somebody has said “well these are just trolls,” and like no, they’re your fans, I can see how they’ve liked our page on their Facebook. Anyway… cranky.

J.S.
I think we’re all in kind of that spot right now.

ED
[laughs] Yes! It’s a cranky time.

J.S.
It’s valid. We can embrace that crankiness a little bit.

ED
It’s a productive crankiness.

J.S.
Exactly. And I agree with you. I’ve seen those tweets where it’s, you know, no shade to the Social Media Manager. And then sometimes as a Social Media Manager, before making that post I have been in my, you know, maybe not my direct boss’s office but some superior’s office saying, this is a bad idea, we don’t need to do this, or we need to work this differently, we should think about this before we send it out… And Social Media Managers often don’t have control over that and it’s, “post this the way it is written.”

ED
Yep.

J.S.
And sometimes getting that negative feedback, puts a little, “I told you so” for next time in your pocket.

ED
Exactly.

J.S.
Which can be useful.

ED
Exactly.

J.S.
In addition to brand missteps, one thing I’m kind of curious about and I’ve been doing social media full time for just over five years now and to some extent for a little bit longer, you’ve been doing it for about six and I’d say, you know, that’s about as long as it’s been a career. And I feel like you do a lot of on your personal accounts talking about social media management and some issues. How do we act as leaders, as social media professionals, and critique the work of others without harming the person who may have done that post? Not maybe particularly what the brand has done but, “Oh hey, this post is not really effective. You put 50,000 hashtags at the end of a tweet, and nobody cares that it’s #MotivationMonday.”

JG
One of J.S.’s latest rants.

J.S.
Don’t get me started on Canva.

ED
Oh, I’ve read your tweets.

J.S.
But how can we do that more effectively and work to sort of… Because sometimes I fear, with content that is, to put it nicely, amateur, it can drag down the profession a little bit. People see certain types of content and go “oh, well that’s what you do. It’s #MotivationMonday, everybody posts this.” And maybe that’s not the best practice. So what are some ways that you suggest of better kind of pointing out trends that need to go?

ED
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think particularly because so many social media teams or single Social Media Managers at a company are under-supported and under-resourced, it can be difficult to… it’s often when somebody has put up something on behalf of the brand that is under-baked or looks ugly or whatever it might be, it’s because they didn’t have the budget or because that company has skimped on hiring for that position. And so they literally did hire an intern, or they kind of just hired a millennial assuming they would know what the internet was, even though that person had no expertise. So it’s interesting to see when a brand does something that looks super amateurish, there are so many factors that go into why it looks like crap.

There’s also, in terms of training and communications, education, and professional development, as a field, there hasn’t been like a huge clear pathway in order to learn more skills. It’s like it’s something that I think a lot of people self teach, and I look at stuff that I did six or seven years ago and it is hashtag overkill, or “Oh my God, my eyes are bleeding looking at this graphic that you made,” or, don’t you know not to put white text on a black background because it makes you look like a MySpace page? Like, it’s funny to see how some people really do learn and teach themselves, and then some people just have no innate, whether it’s design judgment or editorial judgment, or are just not learning how to write strong copy.

It is difficult. I don’t really know what the solution is. I think in terms of giving feedback, it can be really helpful to… I honestly don’t know the right answer to that, because I think that it’s hard to give people feedback when they’re not looking for it or when they don’t know who you are and that you’re giving feedback with the best intentions. When you did start talking about Canva I felt both attacked and yet really challenged because I was like, I use Canva a lot just on my own personal, social, and it does kind of look like crap, and he has a point. And I think that by making it impersonal and just saying this is a trend that I see as opposed to, “Hey, your Instagram looks like garbage,” that really got through to me and got me thinking.

And I have this problem a lot because I have friends who work for, it’s particularly a nonprofit problem of like, horrible social strategy that hasn’t been invested in, and I see a lot of overreliance on hashtags and just like poorly written copy that doesn’t make any sense. I try to give the feedback of, what are the actual goals that your company is trying to reach? What is the goal of this post and how can you most effectively try to reach that goal? And your hashtag usage, maybe you’re trying to reach a specific audience and that’s what you think hashtags are for, but that’s not really working on this specific platform, it’s marrying that “let me teach you a little bit about this platform” or “let me help you think through whatever your goal is” and what the tactics can be because clearly, you’ve never really done that with someone who’s informed. But it’s hard out here for a Social Media Manager.

I agree that sometimes amateurish stuff makes our field look like garbage, and then a brand will post something extraordinary and innovative that uses the platform in a completely new way and that’s like, that’s clearly a genius and an expert. I try to uplift the good work as much as possible, as opposed to complaining. Or, not complaining, but focusing on the bad. It’s harder to say this is a good Social Media Manager, versus, this is a bad Social Media Manager. It’s a lot easier to do that with like, this is a good accountant or like, this is a good ad campaign sometimes, I don’t know, it’s a weird one.

J.S.
Exactly. I know it’s something that sometimes I struggle with and even kind of hold them back a little bit, and then I think you’re definitely right. Kinda doing the indirect versus direct, you know, sometimes even if I see a post that I’m not wild about rather than then retweet it, I find an indirect way to subtweet it or something like that,

ED
All about the professional subtweet. Because then you’re, you’re talking about where they messed up without throwing them under the bus and like maybe they’re not going to learn but somebody who just sees your subtweet might be like, oh, that’s interesting. And then you haven’t amplified the bad tweet,

JG
You’re like including everyone else that’s done the exact same thing

ED
True! [laughs]

JG
And someone’s bound to learn from it.

J.S.
Exactly. And, you know, I think sometimes too, we can advocate for the needs of the Social Media Manager. I fear that I preach to the choir a lot but I hope that some of the things that I share on my personal account would eventually reach to leadership to go, oh, maybe we need to look into hiring a graphic designer instead of relying on Canva.

ED
Exactly, yeah.

JG
Leadership doesn’t listen to you, J.S.

J.S.
No, they don’t.

ED
Here’s the thing though. Leadership is funny in that sometimes they don’t want to hear it from the person they’ve paid to have the expertise, they want to hear it from a random person on the internet, who looks really professional, especially if it is, like, a white guy. So sometimes like I’ve sent a lot of your tweets to, I have a group chat of people I’ve done social with and I’ll be like, “Look, he said the thing that we were trying to say! Can we like passive-aggressively tweet this to somebody?” So it can be really helpful because then folks can really, again, it’s having data from an outside perspective to be like, there you go I told you we needed a graphic designer and Canva was a dumb investment. So. Good on ya.

J.S.
Thank you. I’ve heard it referred to as the hundred mile / $100,000 rule. Like, if you don’t come from 100 miles away or we’re not paying you, you know, a lot of money, we’re not gonna listen. So, I think that that’s true of any case where

JG
That’s why I started an agency.

[everyone laughs]

J.S.
So. That said.

JG
It’s true. I mean it’s part of why I started an agency. I couldn’t get anything done internally so I might as well go external.

ED
That’s totally fair.

J.S.
I see it in higher ed, a lot of good people leave, where they are, or leave the field they’re in, because of that. We in higher ed, I think we lose a lot of internal people to external higher ed vendors because they don’t feel that their voices are heard by the people that are paying them right now. So, something to be aware of.

While we’re on to the topic of higher ed, you wrote an essay entitled, “Five years later, Wesleyan is still the best decision I ever made,” where you shared your love for your university in spite of some of the problems that it faces. And I think we all have been in that sort of position, whether it’s the universities we work for or alma maters, or both. I know I’ve been like that. But you ended with really good statement that said,

Hopefully in all that writing, I’ll be part of the fight to make Wesleyan better for the bright young rebels matriculating this fall. Wesleyan hit me up, I’m at your disposal.

Ella Dawson

So first, did they hit you up?

ED
[sigh] No.

J.S.
[quietly] Ohhhh.

ED
So, funny story. I left TED last Fall, partially because I was burnt out, partially because I was just tired of not being listened to by leadership on questions of audience, but, no I love my colleagues at TED. They were phenomenal. But I left, and I kind of kicked around for a few months doing like consulting work and freelance writing and then I actually applied for a job at Wesleyan to do social media on their Development team. They would probably be very annoyed with me sharing this story but I didn’t sign an NDA and I didn’t wind up getting the job so, it’s fine.

But yeah I wound up going through the interview process and doing like a basic edit test and I interviewed, I had a full day of interviews from like maybe noon to four, noon to five? I met with maybe 10 different people from all around the organization. And I certainly learned a lot about doing social media for a university and the various challenges but the question that I was asked in every single round of that interview by all these different people — who in the future should probably coordinate their questions with each other before going into the interview process — but every single person asked me “how will you balance the fact that you are a Wesleyan alumna with doing this job? And can you, in those moments where everyone is furious with the university, remain impartial and stick to the party line?” And like not lose your soul, was basically what I heard in the question. And I wound up actually pulling out of the job because of that.

Because what I realized was, I would rather be the loud alumni on the side, yelling than the person inside, trying to fight the battle, whether or not I’m getting anywhere because that’s just my personality. Really, I’m a loudmouth. Like I know my role as an activist and as a community member is to be the writer, it’s not to be like the internal operator. But it was definitely… It was a really interesting question for me of like where do I want to be in this community and where can I be most effective when it comes to helping this community? And the sense I got was it in that position I wouldn’t have been able to really help the community in the way that I wanted to. And then with the pandemic, I probably would have been laid off. So, kind of like, yeah. Glad I didn’t take that job. Last hired, first fired. And also a huge part of my job would have been working with alumni relations and reunion and commencement. They had to cancel reunion and commencement, so kinda like, good job! Good, good hunch there Ella.

But it’s funny I think that because I write about sexuality, I’ve written a lot about sexual health and what it was like to get an STD while I was at Wesleyan. Like, I am one of the most successful members of my graduating class. I have a presence online. People kept coming up to me at my five-year reunion being like, “I follow your work! I follow your political activism,” whatever it might be. But I’m one of the only alumni that the university has never celebrated or highlighted from my year. And I think it’s because even though I am the quintessential Wesleyan student, I am rebellious. I talk a lot about my humanities experience, I’m really proud of the university. I’m one of the few people who’s like, Wesleyan has a lot to grow, but I will always be a proud member. Like, I’m very rah-rah, drinking the Kool-Aid. But I’m also not the type of person who will help you recruit from like people who are considering going to Yale instead. I’m very much in the Keep Wes Weird part, and so I’ve seen a lot of my friends be featured by the Wesleyan alumni community or get shoutouts from the university president, and I’ve never gotten one.

And that’s, that’s okay. That’s fine like I’m, I’m a colorful person, I get it, but it’s been interesting as an alumna to see that too, like, I wonder what their strategy is, I wonder why I’ve been overlooked. And I totally get it too, like I totally get it, but it’s interesting, I have a lot of like convoluted feelings about this but, yeah, I’m just gonna drink my water over here and not take it personally.

JG
I actually worked for my alma mater straight out of college for a while with an eight-month gap, I think, where I actually worked at the Gap, or for the Gap. I worked at Old Navy. And it was not fun.

ED
It’s a good joke though!

JG
Yeah right? And then going back to work for the alma mater, = I was there for three and a half years, and it’s definitely a different side. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff where especially if you still know any of the administrative staff there, you know any of the faculty, there’s a little bit of a challenge in just overcoming the stigma of, “you were a student and you were under me for so long,” you know, that sort of thing.

ED
Yeah.

JG
And so I think there, there are a lot of challenges that go into that and it’s something that I think higher ed needs to do better. Just because a fair amount of people that end up working for universities are alums. Like, they go away for a long time and they come back as a, I don’t know, a fiscal comptroller or something. But all that stuff does happen very often and it’s difficult to even to get passed those cultural issues, I think especially if you’ve gone out and worked in the “normal” public and in a “real” job so to speak, it is a very different, a very different sort of experience coming back to school.

J.S.
I think, to kind of what you’re saying about who they choose to recognize, being in some of those conversations, it still is a very old school mentality and I don’t think there’s an understanding of… There’s a whole new movement about young alumni and engaging with them and, but that it’s still kind of slow to understand what a big deal, certain people are.

JG
It’s still traditional successes, right?

ED
Mmhmm.

J.S.
I just found out yesterday, one of our alums runs social for Pokemon. And, yeah, how cool is that. Like,

JG
It’s a big deal.

J.S.
I actually met her years ago when I was still teaching and I followed her on Twitter the other day and I’m like, I recognize her and say, oh that’s an alum! And I was trying to explain to my bosses: this is a big deal. She runs social for Pokemon they do so much cool stuff, and like, it’s a really big social account. It’s really cool and just… yeah, crickets. Like, oh, that’s nice. Does she own a business, you know like, they didn’t say that but that’s sort of the…

ED
Yeah, success looks a lot different now, particularly for millennial alumni, the soon-to-be Gen Z alumni. Like, jobs are different. The landscape is different. God knows the pandemic is gonna influence that too. Like, the types of role models to uplift in terms of a successful alum or an interesting alum — it doesn’t look the same. I picked up the university magazine when I was back on campus, I think maybe last year, and it was like a sports analysis guy who used data to track athletics. And it was some white guy who I’d never met at Wes and I was just like, this is not what I, an alumna, I want to hear. I just am like, I’m bored! I’m bored.

And Wesleyan’s biggest alumnus, at least of recent memory is Lin-Manuel Miranda, and like, Wesleyan has wholeheartedly embraced him as a huge part of the community. He wrote “In the Heights” while he was at Wesleyan. Like, I love Lin, but also there are more people than just Lin. At a certain point, I’m like, that’s enough Lin, like I love Lin, aagh! It’s really interesting.

But, yeah, I’m fine. I’ve just accepted the fact that I’m too much of a mess to be featured as an alum, but they’re gonna hate me when my eventual romance novel comes out that takes place at a reunion.

JG
Trick them into highlighting you at that point. [everyone laughs]

J.S.
I think one thing I run into kind of being that bodyguard is I am in my boss’s office constantly just predicting doom. Like, we are about to get hit. We need to be aware of this. I’m not trying to be negative but there’s gonna be hell to pay in a little bit.

ED
That’s literally what I said to one of my friends when I decided to leave TED was I’m tired of being the Cassandra. I’m tired of being the one who’s like, we’re sailing into a storm, or we’re not thinking this through, or we didn’t prepare this value statement, or whatever it is, and I’m tired of being the one who’s saying this is gonna be bad, and then having to be the one who cleans up the mess that I warned them about in the first place. And like that is not unique to TED, it is very specific to any PR or social or whatever it might be, but it is so exhausting. And part of the reason I really like my current job is, yes, I’m doing social marketing but I’m also the lead on brand development. So I get to be earlier in the conversation saying, hey, maybe we should do it this way so that I never wind up being the person who’s being handed a strategy at the end who’s like, Oh my God, why have you just given me this piece of garbage? It’s but yeah, no, it’s the Cassandra thing. It’s the Oracle thing. It’s like being the person who’s like can we, no? Oh, you’re not gonna listen. Okay, I’ll see you on the other side.

J.S.
That makes me so happy because I’ve actually used the Cassandra metaphor many times and had to explain…

ED
I was lucky that the President or CEO I don’t his, his title was Head Curator but the head of TED, Chris Anderson, was a sweet sweet man, has like a Philosophies Oxford background, so he got it. But it is, yeah, it’s tricky, and it’s… I got called out a lot for being oversensitive or for being the negative one who always assumed the worst. And I was like, Yeah, one out of 10 times, it will happen the way I’m predicting and nine times out of 10 it’ll be fine, but that one time out of 10 is going to be very disruptive. And I’m not like crying wolf, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m saying, if the wrong influencer notices this, or the wrong publication decides that they’re mad at us, we’re setting ourselves up in a precarious situation. And just because the Jenga blocks don’t always fall down doesn’t mean that we aren’t pulling out our foundation. So, that’s my rant about that.

J.S.
To kind of circle back a little bit, like you were saying about being in a place where you’re a little bit more, got a little more fight in you and a little bit more boisterous on Twitter. I would say that your account has inspired me to become a little bit more boisterous on Twitter.

ED
Yaaaaay

J.S.
And so please continue to do so. But yeah I’m kind of in that sort of place where it’s like, I’ve been doing this for a while. I present, I write about this for various publications outside of where I work, I know what I’m talking about. And I’m not gonna back down anymore. Like that. I think that’s good. I think more Social Media Managers need to kind of take that position of like, “Look, I’m not an intern, I know what I’m doing.” So I appreciate you putting that out there.

ED
Thank you!

J.S.
And continuing to do what you do because it’s been very inspiring.

ED
Well we need to demand respect for what we do, and for expertise, and it’s, it’s not being given to us easily and sometimes you just have to say like, no, I know this, and this is what I’ve seen, and I’ll be rude about it because you’re not listening when I’m polite. And it’s. Yeah. Good, keep doing it. I’m learning from you. I’m being much more cautious about Canva.

[Joel laughs]

I’m learning how to do better graphic design using Figma. Your impact is felt. [laughs]

J.S.
It’s more on college campuses, but I have a problem with it where it’s just like, every department just has the same Canva graphics. It’ s like we have a brand guideline. We have standards here, like, let’s not, we actually do have graphic designers that will just make stuff for you so…

Ella Dawson, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate you joining us on the podcast today.

ED
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.


JG
Thanks as always for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast, you can find us wherever you get your podcasts, and we would appreciate a follow, a subscribe, a rating, a review, whatever you can give us! We are @ThoughtFeedPod on Twitter, and you can also find us at thoughtfeederpod.com where all of the episodes are listed with links to every possible subscription service that we are on. Thanks again for listening.

Thought Feeder is hosted by Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel and edited by Joel Goodman.

Thought Feeder is sponsored by University Insight.

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