Interviewer’s Note: Dr. Laura Hills was a wonderful person to speak with! When I read her profile and noticed her work on coaching professionals, I new she’d be a wealth of information. However, when I requested an interview, she originally wasn’t sure she’d be well-suited for it, describing herself as a “babe in the woods” when it came to social media. I respectfully differ with Dr. Hills- she was quite detailed with her strategy and approach to Twitter, and the thoughts behind her actions will be of great use to anybody else who wants to successfully use Twitter as a professional tool.
Hi Dr Hills! Welcome to the Pluggio Blog. How do you describe your work? What do you do?
I’m a career enhancer. I help career professionals accelerate their careers, become more productive and effective, and find greater fulfillment and reward in their work. I do this through educational programs, learning products (print and video), and coaching (one-on-one and in groups).
Where did the name “Blue Pencil Institute” come from?
Back when I started my career, I was a writer and editor and on occasion, I used a blue pencil in my work. We used a light blue pencil in those pre-electronic publishing days to show corrections to written copy. The color blue was used \ because it didn’t show in some lithographic and photographic processes. I would “blue pencil” galleys (strips) of typeset text and layouts for my articles and books to indicate to the printer which corrections, deletions, and improvements I wanted to make.
At Blue Pencil Institute, I teach career professionals how to “blue pencil” their careers, and magically, I do this behind the scenes and invisibly.
Now, let me explain why I named my company Blue Pencil Institute as a carefully-considered business strategy. First of all, it’s a distinctive name, yet easy to pronounce and understand. People like stories, so the name gives me a chance to tell mine. It makes sense figuratively. The institute provides programs, products, and coaching to help career professionals improve themselves. But like the blue pencil of my past, it does so behind the scenes and invisibly. If you look at color psychology, the color blue is the most popular color and also is the color most associated with inspiration and truth, two of my core values.
That’s very interesting to tie it into color associations, also archetypal, I suppose?
I also believe that the pencil, as one of the simplest and least complicated communication tools, stands as a symbol of the personalized human touch that Blue Pencil Institute provides to each of the career professionals it serves. A pencil is not high tech but does suggest high touch. Plus, I give away imprinted blue pencils like candy. Naming a company Blue Pencil Institute is a no-brainer for having an affordable yet very effective promotional giveaway up your sleeve.
You’ve put quite a lot of thought into this- perhaps more than anybody else I’ve interviewed!
There’s one more detail: you’ll notice that I named my company an institute. I did that because I define myself first and foremost as an educator. I hold a doctorate in higher education with an emphasis on adult learning and leadership. I am a former college professor. I hold multiple teaching certifications. I have studied pedagogy in depth and I have been an educator in one form or another for my entire career. Everything I do is about teaching and learning.
You’ve been working in the field of professional coaching/advising for a long time- 30 years, correct? How did the internet change things, and how has social media changed things?
I started my career with a typewriter, a phone, and snail mail. I remember being really excited when I first used WordsStar (an early word processing program), using clumsy two- and three-stroke commands that I had to memorize. I marveled at being able to overnight a floppy disk to a newsletter or journal editor in another city who was waiting for my latest article. But absolutely nothing – nothing — can compare with the way that the Internet changed things.
The Internet enables me to communicate with people and share texts and images with them immediately and everywhere, putting communication out there at lightning speed. I can do research for my writing so fast and easily and I can find answers to my questions almost as quickly as they pop into my head. The Internet gives me a way to create materials and share them myself, with one click, and without having to go through a publisher or a printer or the postal service. It has liberated me, given me endless creative resources, and a means with which to engage with others meaningfully. I can’t imagine life without it now.
And what about social media? How has that made an impact?
Social media has taken things even further by providing us with a global living room. We can go there any time we please to meet people of like mind and interests and to engage in spirited and productive conversation with them. I love it because it has given me a new platform on which to share my ideas and learn from others. Writing can be isolating work. Social media has given me a way to feel connected with my audience every day, not just when I’m doing face-to-face training or coaching. And, it has given me the chance to meet colleagues all over the world. I have developed many wonderful professional relationships through social media with people I can bounce ideas off of, learn from, and get support from.
Are there any of your accomplishments with social marketing that you are particularly proud of?
Yes. Twitter has become my passion. I find that the limitation of 140 characters has stimulated my creativity in new ways.
I enjoy that too- it’s easy to write a lot, but a challenge to communicate your message briefly.
I love the challenge of encapsulating my complex, big ideas in such a small space. I gain tremendous satisfaction out of writing my pithy, focused tweets that capture precisely what I want to say and that have the potential to be helpful to others.
I save every good tweet I come up with and am proud to say that since I started tweeting in March of 2011 that I have collected well over 1,000 of them. These will be useful to me not only for retweeting but for other purposes. One of my favorite tweets became the epigraph of my upcoming e-book, Climbing Out of a Rut. It is, “Having a job to do can be pretty boring. Having a career to grow is much more interesting.”
I love that! I definitely agree with that sentiment. So this is becoming a book?
Yes, I believe that with some sorting and editing that I may be able to turn a collection of my tweets into a new product, an e-book I may call The Quotable Hills, or something similar. So, I am creating high-quality, worthwhile content on Twitter, and that makes me very proud.
More than 2,000 people are now following you. I know you said you’re a “babe in the social media woods” when I originally asked to interview you, but wow!
I am also very proud of my followers. They are smart, accomplished, and successful people. More than 50 of them have complimented me on the quality and usefulness of my tweets – unsolicited testimonials, if you will. That has been hugely helpful to me. Their feedback encourages me to work even harder on my tweets and to give more and more to them. You don’t get that kind of immediate feedback from your readers when you’re working on an article or book.
What kinds of people/businesses are they?
I’m followed by lots of different people and businesses but many of them are in fields related to mine. For example, I have followers in the fields of career and business development, leadership and executive development, coaching and training of various kinds, human resources development, resume writing, business etiquette, social media, professional organizing, and personal growth and development. A great many of them write wonderful blogs, articles, and books.
How did you build your following?
I took my first steps on Twitter by following the authors I admired. I started with the big guns – Marcus Buckingham, Seth Godin, Jim Kouzes, Ken Blanchard, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and the like. Then, I saw who else was following them and among these, who had profiles that were similar to mine. Then, I followed those people. I also looked at who had listed the people I admired and followed those whose profiles appealed to me. That helped me build my following in the very beginning.
A lot of people have stated that it’s not the amount of followers you’ve got that is important, but it’s the quality. From what you say, I take it you agree- not only with the following, but also with the kind of Tweets you create?
I believe that the single most important thing I did to build my following was to give them really good, solid content. Much of what you see on Twitter is of limited use. Some of it is personal communication between two people or personal news about people’s whereabouts or their favorite football team or what they are doing that day. Many people tweet famous quotes. Good quotes may be inspiring, perhaps, but they are not original. Some tweets require more work from the follower, for example, reading a blog post or article or visiting a website. That can be worthwhile but it takes time. A lot of what you see on Twitter is advertising. With most of my tweets, I am trying to do something different.
A person’s attention is one of his or her most precious resources, and it is finite. I take my followers’ attention very seriously. I know they’re busy people like me and I don’t want to waste their time. Therefore, I try to make my tweets valuable. I am trying to position myself on Twitter as a thought leader – a person regarded as a source of original and good information. That is why the vast majority of my tweets are self-contained and complete ideas. For the most part, they do not sell, they do not ask my followers to go anywhere else, and they are not about me. I offer strong content tweets each day on a variety of topics in my field of expertise with the hope that maybe one or more of them will inspire action, spark an idea, stimulate a conversation, motivate action, or otherwise help my followers. I’m constantly on the lookout for good tweet content – whenever I read, talk with a colleague, or write an article or book. I take my responsibility to my followers very seriously.
How will you choose who you will follow?
I follow back followers who have content that may be useful to me. I actively seek new people to follow who are in fields related to mine, who are active on Twitter, and/or who offer worthwhile content.
What do you look for in a follower?
I look for followers who are seeking to grow professionally and/or personally and who are genuinely interested in my content. I especially appreciate followers who are willing to engage in discussion and who are generous about sharing my tweets with their followers. I am extremely interested in followers who have the potential to collaborate with me.
I have been fortunate to have had great support from some of my followers. For example, a couple of them have written testimonials for my upcoming e-book. I had a most interesting Skype discussion recently with one of my followers in the UK who works in a field related to mine. We are exploring the possibility of co-authoring a book. I’ve had phone conversations and email exchanges with several other followers who have given me some really good ideas and feedback.
What strategies did you use for social?
I enjoy actively engaging with my Twitter followers and when I do, I invite them to join my LinkedIn network. Almost every one of them has accepted my invitation. This strategy has enabled me to expand my LinkedIn network significantly. I also include my Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook information at the bottom of every email I send and I promote them at my face-to-face training sessions. And, my five most recent tweets appear automatically on my website homepage.
How about any offline marketing methods?
I am the editor of EWI Connect, the monthly newsletter of Executive Women International’s DC Chapter. I have a career development column in each issue that showcases 10 of my tweets. The column explains that the ideas each month are my tweets and provides the reader with my Twitter handle. That strategy has brought me further recognition and some new followers.
What strategies have proved most effective for you?
I engaged a consultant to create a customized Twitter background for me that conveys and reinforces my brand. I’ve gotten some great feedback about it. I highly recommend doing that, because it’s worth the investment; it makes a huge difference in the way you will be perceived. I also invested in a professional head shot – actually two (one for my profile, one for my Twitter background).
I do retweet what others say but it always comes from me. In other words, I attribute the quote to them but I comment on it in some way. That way my name and photo are what you see in my Twitter stream. I think that’s important. I am always mindful that I am trying to position myself as a thought leader. Even when I present others’ good ideas, which I do regularly, I want my followers to remember that it is me who is doing this. And, I want to help my followers understand why I have chosen to share the material with them. My comment is therefore very important.
I’m a big fan of Follow Fridays. I’ve found some great new people to follow at the advice of people I know. I also offer my followers the Twitter handles of people who I believe are worth following. Those mentioned seem genuinely grateful and they often retweet my #FF tweets that name them. I’ve seen my follower number jump every Friday when I do this. I also take the time to thank individually each person who puts me on a list. I think that is a great honor.
What didn’t work for you?
When I began tweeting, I was taken with the idea of following people who said they automatically follow you back, and I followed some of them. I was enchanted by the idea of having big follower numbers. But pretty quickly I came to see that the quality of my followers is much more important than the number. So, I stopped doing that.
I also used to thank every person who retweeted me. That was a good idea in the beginning when the retweets were few. But I’m being retweeted more often now. I am sincerely grateful for every retweet but feel that a stream of thank you’s will not be of interest or helpful to the bulk of my followers. So, I’ve stopped the litany of thank-you tweets.
If you could go back to when you first began using social media, what is one thing you would have done differently?
I would have designed my professional Twitter background and started using it from Day 1. You have seconds to make an impression on anyone who views your full profile. You want to make a strong and careful impression – one that conveys your brand and attracts them to you right away.
What does Twitter do for you that nothing else can do?
It gives me a place to network 24/7. It gives me a way to connect with people all over the world. It gives me a way to build my network when I have little scraps of time here and there. And, it limits me to 140 characters, a challenge that has made me more creative.
What lessons have you learned about Twitter and online marketing?
Twitter and online marketing have a great deal in common with other types of marketing. It’s about the quality, giving people value, making genuine connections, and fostering relationships. What I love about online marketing is that I can do it myself with nothing but my ingenuity and drive. I don’t need a bucket of money or a huge staff to make things happen online.
Twitter, for me, is like a trip to the beach. My family goes to Virginia Beach every summer. There, you can see a multi-millionaire and a pauper sitting side by side at the beach and have a hard time telling who is who. In fact, at the beach, the person with the better body is probably the one you’ll admire most. It’s the same on Twitter. The person with the better Twitter body (the best ideas and the best way of expressing them) is probably the one you’ll admire most. It’s the ultimate equalizer.
Follow Dr. Hills on Twitter here.
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