Becky Johns is one heck of a communicator.
So smitten was I with her writing, and the passion she exudes from what she creates, that I dropped her a line a few days ago to see if she would be interested in participating in my ongoing “Five and One” series.
Thankfully, she was more than willing to let me pick her brain.
Brad: Many bloggers say that a blog has to have a specific purpose in mind to be successful, but it seems like you are able to toe the line between personal and professional quite well. What is your take on the value of writing a blog that mixes both?
Becky: Blogs tend to be more successful if they’re written with consistency in terms of what readers get out of it. In many cases that’s consistency of subject matter but in my blog’s case most of the consistency comes from the point of view. I write about about I’m inspired by, what I think is interesting, things that confuse me or issues relevant to the industry I work in. I’m a young communications and PR professional working in Michigan, I’m a freelance photographer on the side, I love social media, I love interesting events and a nice mixture of all that comes through in my writing. It keeps it interesting, helps me think through ideas, hopefully inspires others or helps them look at an issue differently and provides an environment where I can write with freedom and work on developing my voice. My life is one big blur between “professional” and “personal” so I guess it’s just natural to write that way.
Your Influencers Series is pretty awesome, and it contains a veritable “Who’s Who” of stars in the social media space. Why did you start this series? And what have you learned about social media from talking with people like Chris Brogan and Christopher Barger?
The Influencers Series is one of my favorite ongoing projects. It started because Chris Brogan and I found an hour to grab a drink while we were both at a conference, and he let me run my video camera while we talked. I’ve looked up to him for a while and have learned a lot from what he’s written. I wanted to do a different kind of interview than what you normally see with social media thought leaders so I just asked them about something they are passionate about. It’s cool to see the kinds of things people love that aren’t normally associated with them professionally and it’s even cooler to see how those passions and interests inform what they do for a living. I knew it would be a good way to connect with people I’m influenced by and many of them happen to be prominent members of the social space. A lot of people ask how I’ve been able to connect with some of the “stars” and it’s really simple. I read their content, I talk with them and when the time is right I make the ask to do an interview and snap a few portraits. They’re awesome people and have all been more than happy to connect with me.
In terms of what I’ve learned from them, well, they teach me things all the time with what they tweet, write, record, etc. They’re influencers in the first place because they’re putting valuable and interesting content out into the world, and they’re all just incredibly intelligent people. I learn a lot by hearing how things like baseball, comic books and Sherlock Holmes connect with social media or marketing or communications. I learn how to be a better content creator by putting together videos, photos and words into the posts about them. And ultimately, they’re friends and mentors I can talk to. Chris Brogan has been happy to answer questions for me. Chris Barger and I grab a drink once in a while and talk about PR, Detroit or whatever else we’re thinking about that day. I think I owe Scott Monty a lunch one of these days and each time I see him I always feel smarter by the time we’re done talking. I can call Charlie Wollborg to talk through ideas and he always gets me to stretch my brain a little further. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to surround myself with people smarter than me and the learning happens naturally. It really is all about having real relationships with people through social media and the Influencers Series is one way of doing that. Meet cool people, get to take photos and get great blog content…works for me!
You are obviously passionate about photography and I love how you weave that passion into your blog, especially the “Friends in a Frame” project. What was the impetus for that idea?
I do love photography and do a little freelance work in addition to my full-time gig and plethora of other projects. Friends in a Frame started as a simple portrait project with a few close friends and has turned into sort of the signature of my photography. People love it because the shots are natural and show personality. So, its taken on a bit of a life of its own and I’m just continuing with it. Having a project that made me become more disciplined about shooting regularly made me a better portrait photographer. And creating something people like and want to be part of played a huge part in having freelance opportunities come my way.
It lead to my first speaking opportunity at the #140Conf in October where I invited the crowd to see the world the way I do, through a lens. There are tons of beautiful things and moments in the world and I wish more people noticed them the way I get to. I try to write about photography sometimes and in each post, I share my photography. It’s a nice way to share my art and sometimes I have to get pretty creative to find or create a relevant image to what I’m writing about. My favorite photography subject is people, so I write about people a lot so I can have another excuse to take portraits of them.
In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of being a young professional in the communications industry?
I think the most challenging thing young communications pros face is the expectation that we know everything about the digital world. Yes, it’s true that many of us are very comfortable online, can navigate it without much fear or confusion and are anxious to try new tools and networks. But, understanding how to use the tools is one thing and understanding how to use them for business is quite another. I can feel the intrinsic value of social networking but I need to also be able to prove it can generate revenue, save money or meet some other goal or metric. Digital communications is an essential part of any job in this industry so reading as much as possible, testing out tools ourselves and keeping track of the nuances in the way people communicate and spread information is critically important. We’ve got even more to prove sometimes while battling against a lot of really negative stereotypes about our generation. That, of course, isn’t limited to communications professionals, but I think it’s an issue that’s been pretty unfairly painting young professionals in a negative light.
Maybe it’s just because I’m from here, but I get the impression that there is an abundance of hard-working and creative people in Detroit, like yourself. Why do you think that is?
Well, technically I’m about an hour down the road in Lansing, but I spend a lot of time in Detroit because I love the community. Some of my best friends are there and you don’t have to twist my arm very hard to visit. Detroit is full of smart, motivated, creative, entrepreneurial people who feel strongly enough about the community to stay there and try to make it better. There’s an energy that draws people in and I think it’s undeniable that there are people making positive moves. Michigan is America’s high five. That’s not a coincidence.
Finally, the “and one” portion of the interview: I read an old blog post where you talked about receiving a seat upgrade from the fan club at a recent Dave Matthews Band concert. As a fellow hardcore fan, how life-altering was that experience?
In a word, it was incredible. I’ve been to a lot of shows, but the front row is a totally different experience. Maybe I had some good karma stashed up that day or something, but it’s definitely the type of experience that turns a customer into a fan and a fan into an evangelist. Just thrilled to have been so lucky.
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Huge thanks go out to Becky for participating in this interview. If you want to continue to read what she’s putting out there, I strongly encourage you to read her blog and follow her on Twitter.
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