Carmen Shirkey Collins: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Carmen Shirkey Collins

The Carmen Shirkey Collins Q&A Session is happening on 9th January 2019 at 10:00AM PST (1:00PM EST)

Carmen is the Senior Social Media and Talent Brand Manager for Cisco’s award-winning Talent Brand team. She manages the @WeAreCisco social media team and strategy of creating personal connections with current and future talent by amplifying the employee voices in Cisco’s 70K-person organization.

Carmen was recently named PR Daily’s Social Media Professional of the Year for 2017, as well as the Stevie Awards 2017 Communicator of the Year, and PRNews has awarded her the 2017 Digital Communicator of the Year, named her a 2017 Top Woman in PR and made her the 2016 Social Media Professional of the Year. She was also recently named a Social Shake Up Show Mover and Shaker and surprised with the prestigious Robin Carey Connector Award in honor of the former CEO of Social Media Today.

Cisco’s Talent Brand can be found in social anywhere as @WeAreCisco. The team has won recognition for its Instagram account, its Life at Cisco blog, its Facebook Live program and its Snapchat (yes, you read that right, Snapchat!) accounts, as well as for their innovative #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork #Maythe4th employee advocacy campaign, among others.

The team’s mission is to make personal connections with current and future talent, and they decided to take “personal connections” to heart. The team uses social media and the #WeAreCisco employee hashtag to source stories and has built its entire social media program around user-generated content (UGC), or what they call employee-generated content (EGC.)

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Carmen Collins is the Senior Social Media and Talent Brand Manager for Cisco’s award-winning Talent Brand team.

The Q&A Session with Carmen was held on Wednesday, January 9th, 2019. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

I look forward to all of your questions. You’re likely to get the most useful answers on questions around social media, marketing and pop culture references from the 80s. HA!

Carmen, would love to hear your perspective on B2B influencer marketing… do you see this being a key ‘channel’ long term, and any tips based on what you see is working well (specifically on B2B)?

Here’s my answer, “it depends.” My team manages the WeAreCisco social media channels for the purposes of attracting talent for Cisco. We use ALL employee-generated content. Our employees are our ambassadors! I think, even outside of talent attraction, that is a key influencer base for B2B companies. Micro-influencers are also a much-overlooked kind of B2B influencer group. But I’m highly troubled by the trend of “fake” influencers, so I’d rather harness employee voice over anything right now.

You must be a huge fan of The Americans, then! How do you manage the employment brand with 70k voices? That’s quite a chorus to unify and amplify.

Do you know I’ve never watched that show?! Your question “how do we manage employer branding with 70K voices?” With lots of planning and practice.We have a goal for everything we do – a business case. Without a clear goal, you can never show success. We’ve developed a process. It all starts with employee sharing on social. We listen, reach out, interact, ask for permission to reuse their content (because they own it, we don’t), and that’s how we find our stories! It’s a lot more involved than that, of course, but that’s the 10K-foot view.

How does Cisco leverage video in their social strategy?

I love your question – I can only represent the WeAreCisco Talent Brand in my answer (we’re a big company, so we have lots of social teams), but for us, I’ve got to say that LIVE video hosted by our employee ambassadors has exceeded our expectations, and is where we double down. Even when we do a “produced” video (we have an awesome one coming out in February), it feels very natural and really represents our employee voices – as does everything we do.

How do you measure increases in revenue and/or profit driven by your efforts? Thanks!

I’m SOOOOO glad you asked that. I feel like social marketers stick to vanity metrics and don’t focus on showing how they drive business results. My team’s KPI isn’t revenue, but there is a cost to acquiring talent for a business, and retaining talent has a zero cost, so the better the talent we attract, the longer they stay, the less it costs to hire them, we drive the bottom line. But we still have to track “awareness” as a metric as well. Many people don’t know that Cisco isn’t your grandma’s hardware company anymore. We’re cloud, we’re software, we’re AI, and we need that talent to help take us forward. We measure our impact to the business by how we communicate that to candidates as well.

Curious what success you’ve found in PPC social ads for B2B, and which platforms you focus your efforts on (and why!). Thanks!

Thank you for your question! First, let me clarify where I think my team falls in the B2B / B2C categories. I call us B2E – Business to employees.But we’re competing with consumer companies like Disney, Apple, etc. for talent. So, I think we’re more consumer-leaning with our tactics than a typical B2B company would be. For our PPC, we’re really taking our organic employee-generated content which already gets us incredible results, and “boosting” that to key audiences. We don’t really create content for “advertising” as such. Which is probably not the answer you were looking for.

I would like to hear your opinion on the growing gig economy and how this affects attracting and retaining talent? Is the divide between contractor and employee widening or getting more narrow?

I appreciate your question. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m not an HR expert, and my crystal ball is in the shop. HA! My honest answer is that I don’t know that anyone has the answer to that. For us, it’s about creating a culture where people WANT to work. We had a Shark Tank entrepreneur amongst our ranks, and I was always curious why she left her “gig life” and worked for a huge IT company. It was the culture. The people. The work. What we do has meaning for the larger purpose, and that draws people.

Thanks for being here. Do you recommend activating your employees through a software platform by simply encouraging them to post in their own channels, and if a software, what do you use?

I don’t know if it’s because we like making our lives harder, but I’m anti-software. There’s this “Pavlov’s dogs” thing about a “click to share” software. I want people’s organic opinions and organic content. It’s too easy to just click to share – that doesn’t help my team tell the world about authentic employee opinions on working at Cisco. I really don’t like any of the software options, at least, I haven’t found one yet.

Very cool social presence you’re directing for Cisco. How do you measure your post performance and engagement? Do you look at social media engagement analytics at all? If so, with what tools?

Thank you for calling us “cool.”We look at engagement RATE as a measure of that (how many people saw it verses engaged with it). To me, if you have a million followers, saying you got 1000 likes on something as an engagement measure isn’t impressive. A 1% engagement rate is what that is. Our metrics tool is Delmondo, which was recently acquired by Conviva. But we always use the in-platform metrics as a check and balance.

Do you have advice for how to get a small <100 team to start creating/sharing/engaging on social? Do you recommend incentives? Any tools you use? Looking for a process to get the ball rolling outside of manually berating people.

Small or large, doesn’t matter. Ambassadors want to know WHY. What’s in it for THEM? These are their social channels, why would they share “work” stuff there. What’s your reason for them? We find that when people know how much impact they can have on a company that they legitimately love, they are more incentivized. But when we started this four years ago, we had a contest. #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork is what we called it, and we offered prizes and comms around it. Employees use those hashtags year-round now, because we’ve also told them it’s OKAY to share. We want them to!

What tools do you use to measure success? What’s your key metric?

Answered the tools question above, but we don’t have a KEY metric. Metrics is as much about telling your story as content is. Who are you telling the story to? Execs want something different, soundbytes if you will, than your manager wants to know. Engagement alone, CTR alone, that is less effective than saying something like, “This Instagram post not only was our top engager for the month, but it drove a 10% increase in Careers traffic month over month AND some of the employee comments were supportive of this effort,” tells a full story. That’s how we do it.

When it comes to creating effective employee voices, do you find it easier to hire people who already are excited and are familiar with how they ought to hold themselves in the public eye, or do you wow them with great employee treatment and benefits and teach them how to be brand advocates (or any other things)?

The best thing about all our employees is that none of them think they have a story to tell until we reach out and ask them to tell it. You’ve got to walk the walk. You can’t PR your way to an employee brand. The life they live at the company comes out one way or another. So, we empower employees to be ambassadors, but we have to have the legit experience behind it or we’ll get a pie in the face, brand-speaking.

To spitball off of the previous question. What are your or your team’s favorite tools for planning, scheduling, and measuring content?

There’s no spitballing allowed! Kidding. We use Sprinklr for scheduling, except for Instagram, we use Later. Measuring – Delmondo-now-Conviva and the in-platform metrics. Planning is the tricky one. We are a global team, so honestly, we find Google Spreadsheets to be the best way right now to work together, in addition to Cisco tools like Webex Teams.

What’s your ideal structure for a social team?

Love your question. I was just recently speaking with the marvelous Bev Jackson who leads social for MGM entertainment (love her), and we were saying that we should team up on a conference talk about organizing your social team. It’s like a thesis topic. I don’t know there’s a right answer. For me, you have to be a writer first. If you can’t be a storyteller, there’s no fit for you on a social team led by me. Some teams separate metrics — I think that takes the day-to-day person out of the weeds and keeps them from making good decisions. But I could go on forever.

Hey Carmen, do you survey employees?

Cisco surveys employees in many ways. Internal communications does it. My team does it through the Great Place to Work application each year. So yes, lots of ways.

How are you poaching top talent from other companies? What are the motivators you and your team use?

Well, got to be honest, sometimes, other companies make it too easy. Discord at Facebook. I’ve heard horror stories at Apple. Amazon in the press about their culture. But still people don’t think of Cisco as a place to use their software talents. So, we keep putting our software folks front and center. And we walk the walk. We just launched a network that thinks like the human brain! Plus, I’ve had employees at other companies come up to me at events and tell me they didn’t pick Cisco before, but now they see the culture, and “can you interview me on the down low?” Yes, yes we can. HA!

Do you come across employees who don’t like the “brandification” of work culture and seem annoyed with your efforts?

That is an EXCELLENT question, and I’m going to answer it honestly. Yes, sometimes. For example, we get responses to Instagram posts telling us to “stop calling employees Cisconians – it’s a marketing term.” To which we answer – the employee who sent us the post used the term. We don’t “market” anything, we amplify what people are already saying. There are a few Grinches, but we usually bring them to the dark side in the end.

I’m a software engineer, and former employee waaaaay back in 2006. Great place to work then and sure you’ve made great strides. You guys need a PR campaign directed at software folks.

Former Cisco employee – we hire you back, you know.Cisco has one of the highest “bounce back” rates of people coming back in the industry. Sometimes it’s good to get experience elsewhere and come back to a company. “You guys need a PR campaign directed at software folks.” – You’re RIGHT! And we’re starting to focus on that. We just had an event in Seattle to hire software engineers where we invited them to come hang out with our Webex engineers and cuddle with baby goats. (Yes, you read that right.) My question back to you – what, as a Talent Brand – could I tell you that would make you say “I want to come back!” or “I will tell my friends to check out jobs at Cisco!”

How do you motivate employees to participate?

We tell them why we’re asking them to participate, how it drives the bottom line, how awesome they are, we have contests, but normally they’re just excited to see their content show up on WeAreCisco’s social channels – that’s a big incentive for them (lucky for me).

I’m a student from Honduras, what career advice would you have for someone in market research and advertising?

Hello to Honduras! Answer – learn to code, be an engineer, you’ll always have a job. JOKING (sort of). Best advice is follow the brands and the people that you think are doing it “right” and learn from them, then make it your own. Kind of like being an artist inspired by another.

How far out are you scheduling your posts, and what does your backlog of content look like? Are you just choosing from a pool of employee submissions or are you actively seeking out culture pieces and asking employees to participate?

Okay, I’m going to brag on my team. Blogs are scheduled 2X a week out for 2-3 months (and we have “tentative scheduled” for 6-7 months) Social content we have enough to schedule out 3 months, but we try to not do that so we can stay relevant and respond to trends. 95% of our content is sourced from social but when we meet an employee with a story or hear about one, we’ll reach out too!

Following up on the earlier question about annoyed employees: there’s some evidence (in academia) saying that really smart people don’t like to be forced to be part of a “tribe” and they’re more productive/happy when left with their individualistic self… If this is the reason about them being the Grinches, do you think taking them to the dark side is beneficial to the company?

I’ll have to check out that academia! Hmmm. Maybe? Our “mantra” for our Talent Brand is, “Be You, With Us. #WeAreCisco.” Purple hair? Don’t care. Tattoos? Show off your ink. Our “tribe” comes together naturally, it’s our culture. My team just amplifies it. If you want to be a Grinch – the Whos down in Whoville will still bring you roast beast. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. But we get pretty close, and we’re good with that.

It’s over? Nooooooo! Say it ain’t so! Y’all can connect on LinkedIn (just do it with a personalized message so I’ll know who you are, I get spammed a lot there. Or also on Twitter/Insta @cshirkeycollins. Loved doing this. Thanks for asking. And thanks for all the questions y’all!

That concludes today’s #ama with Carmen Collins. Carmen — thank you so much for all your insight. We appreciate you stopping by and sharing with all of us!

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