Finding What’s Most Important: An Interview with Beth Harte

Beth Harte photoIt’s a common discussion in the Solo PR community: how much does online popularity matter when it comes to business success? And are these online relationships really friendships?

When one of the industry’s top bloggers (and my good friend), Beth Harte, chose to sunset her blog The Harte of Marketing this summer, I was interested in hearing more about her reasons behind this decision.

A marketing and PR professional and adjunct professor, Beth recently landed her dream job after a months-long job search that included some difficult lessons. We’re lucky she’s agreed to share these thoughts and experiences with us here in this mini-interview!

1. Some people suggested that if you took steps to “dumb down” your resume, you might do better in your job search. Of course, they were wrong! What lessons do you think the rest of us can learn from your persistence?

Yes, it’s true! I received many suggestions to “dumb down” my resume by removing my experience, education, speaking, and social media assets (my blog, Twitter, etc.). The reasoning behind the advice was that being “too experienced” and “too much of a thought leader” could be scaring less experienced hiring marketing and PR professionals. While I understand that our current economy is making a lot of folks nervous, I never understood why a smart company would want to hire a “dumbed down” employee. But more importantly, why would I want to work for a company that thinks like that. I resisted the advice and kept using a version of my resume that highlighted both my experience as well as the results I had delivered. Sticking to my guns helped me to land in a position that met, no exceeded!, everything I was looking for in a new job. My colleagues are not only extremely smart and talented, they understand today’s customer and how our digital age has changed business.  If I had “dumbed down” my resume, I think I would still be unemployed today.

2. It’s easy for anyone in business to get caught up in one-upmanship, and it can be especially hard for independent consultants — who earn a living based on reputation — to know where to draw the line. What did you learn about the usefulness of outdoing the next guy?

Well, you sure know how to get me on my soapbox! The one thing I should have mentioned above is that my “social standing” or “personal brand” did absolutely nothing to get me a job. NOTHING. What did? A recommendation of someone who I worked with over ten years ago! Reputation can’t be formed online…because we can be anyone we want to be. People have an image of “who we are,” but it’s often not very accurate because they have never worked shoulder-to-shoulder with us. There is a propensity in social media to think we know someone purely based on what they write or share in a blog post, on Twitter, on Facebook or in a forum. Sure, someone can form a perception of who you are… “The gal that shares great information and advice.” Or, “That guy has a witty repertoire.” But does that really reflect what you are like to work with or if you have integrity in business dealings? No, of course not. It’s important to keep in might what is reality. Just because someone has a large following, a high Klout score or are listed on something like AdAge doesn’t necessarily mean they actually understand business or know how to deliver strategies that drive business or change sentiment.

A solo PR pro would be better off spending more time making sure they understand their clients and deliver impeccable service. That is, being “other-centric” versus “self-centric.” Get back to to “old school” methods of networking and developing a first-hand reputation.

3. You’ve noted that when times are tough, you find out who your real friends are. In hindsight, do you think there’s any way to know this before the tough times hit? Any tips for knowing who is trustworthy?

I think if someone’s ego gets wrapped up in being socially popular, they tend to think everyone is their “friend.” It’s hard to know who really cares enough to help you when the road gets rocky and who has their own agenda. When I reached out to my network to find a job, I was often completely ignored or I received the “I’ll help you if you help me” response. (And, you guess it, they never returned the favor!) Run away from those people! I think the one way to determine who is truly interested in working together is to ask certain people–when you need it least–about partnering, sharing networks, collaborating, etc. Select an activity that will give you a sense of their knowledge, experience and work ethics. If they resist or ignore you, you know it’s time to move on to finding folks who truly understand the point of having a solid network and partnerships.

4. Do you think the culture of social media has impacted our professional networks? How?

Based on my personal experience and what I hear from others, social media used to develop professional networks usually leads to very weak ties. Prior to social media, professional networks were stronger because they consisted of people that actually knew or worked together in some capacity. There was face time and on-going communication via networking events or e-mail. Now, because you can tap into anyone, anywhere in less than 30 seconds there is a false sense of “friendship.” Sure, someone might know many people, but when faced with the question “Can you recommend?” or “Do you know?”  or “Can you help?” the limitations of one’s network usually surface. In fact, the other day I was asked for some agency recommendations… I had a hard time coming up with more than one that I actually knew and could recommend their work.

5. How and what did you decide is most important?

Most people don’t know this, but the last three years of my life were pretty much hell. Blogging and speaking to try and drum up a job or freelance business did nothing for me except take time away from the things that should have been most important — my family and friends. It also created debt. When a conference doesn’t pay someone to speak, who do you think picks up the tab (keep that in mind next time you pay to attend a conference and the speaker is self-promoting –they most likely aren’t getting paid and feel they don’t have a choice). I learned the hard way that people will always take what they can get for free (I should have known better, right?).

It’s amazing that when I stopped being involved with the crazy, time-sucking  social media world how everything ordered itself! Today, my priorities in life (in order) are God, family, friends and work and I have never been happier. Not to mention that I have a lot more time for reading, which is one of my favorite things to do. There’s a whole lot of goodness in life/work balance.

Beth is the Director of Marketing for Advent Global Solutions, Inc. and oversees marketing  strategy, marketing communications, and public relations for the customer-centric reseller and integrator of SAP, IBM and Oracle software.

  • Mack Collier

    Kellye thanks so much for letting our friend Beth tell her story here.  It’s sobering, but you know what, it’s reality.  This is the one thing that so many people love about Beth, she tells it like it is.  And I know exactly what she means about social media creating thousand of very loose ties instead of a few close ones.  I attended Blog World last week, and I made a point to reach out to a few fellow consultants to get a better idea of what type of work they do and what type of clients they do so I could give better referrals.  Which I thought was a smart idea, but at the same time, I wondered why it took me knowing these people for X number of years via social media before we chatted about this.  I really think Beth is right in the value of creating a few strong personal ties with people instead of many loose ones.  

    Thanks to you both for a great interview 😉 

  • Excellent interview and wisdom. If you even remotely agree “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true, we really need to ask ourselves how many online people we really know, and how important are thousands of names on a screen to our careers, our families, our friends and our happiness. The answer is different for each of us, but Beth’s comments and insights are on target as far as I am concerned.

  • I hear ya Beth on #2…you have absolutely no idea who someone is until you actually work with them.  I’ve discovered this the hard way.  People often project on social media who they want you to think they are…the true them is very different.  But you can never know for certain until you work with them, or until someone you know does.  My advice, if you decide you want to collaborate with someone you’ve met through social media, and even if you consider them a “friend”…check references! 

    That said, I have also met some wonderful people through social media who are in real life exactly as they are online or even better.

  • Thanks for your input, Mack! I think it’s good to have both strong, close ties and a network of broader, looser acquaintances, but it’s important to keep in mind the difference. You can also take online relationships to the next level (I’m happy to have done that with both you and Beth!).

  • I think you’ve framed the issue perfectly, Fred. It’s easy to get diverted, but I like if we start by thinking of what we want to accomplish (not just with clients, but in life).

  • Great advice, Traci! I think many of us (since social media is still so new) have learned this lesson the hard way, but I’m sure you’ve helped many — checking references and work history (including samples) is key. People can be very smart in long-form blog posts, etc., but that’s no indication of whether they can meet a deadline!

    As you state, I personally think that more than 90% of the people you meet online are completely genuine. Not just saying this, but Beth Harte is one person I always point to — she’s the same Beth in any setting.

  • Revealing interview, nicely done.  Clearly social media is due for a maturation phase as the value of  accumulating followers, retweets, fans and Klout points diminishes, to be replaced by true, enriching relationships that extend beyond the pixels. 

  • Beth

    Good morning! 

    Kellye, thank you for the opportunity to share my
    experience with all of your readers. The one thing that they most likely don’t
    know is that I was laid off THREE times in TWO years. So, it’s not like my comments
    are based on a one-time occurrence. I had many years of lessons and insights into
    how people really behave on- and off-line. 

     

    Mack, Fred, Traci, thanks for the comments
    and support! Interestingly, I met Mack and Fred ‘online’ many moons ago and
    then we connected offline, too. I had the opportunity to really get to know
    them. Traci was an ‘offline’ friend first and now we banter on Twitter, which I
    am sure most people wouldn’t get our back and forth sarcasm because it’s
    usually based on phone, lunch and dinner conversations that we’ve had. I know
    that I can count on all three of them and they on me. But it’s rare that I can
    count ten people that I have the same relationship with.

     

    Joel, amen! I think as more people start to
    have the experiences that I did, they’ll revert back to good old-fashioned and
    face-to-face relationship building. The question is… Have some companies
    recognized this all along? Will some companies cut their social media efforts
    in order to get back to face time? How will both of these affect social media
    professionals? So many questions to dive into…

  • Yep, that’s me below… Having a Disqus issue. 

  • Well said, Joel!

  • Thanks, Beth, for sharing your story. I think you hit the nail on the head with two of your comments:

    1) that people are better off spending more time making sure they understand their clients and deliver impeccable service than worrying about their Klout scores. 

    2) run away from people who want (or expect, or demand) a quid pro quo for being helpful. 

    I’m so glad that you’ve finally happily on your feet doing work you love. 

  • God first! I’m glad someone said it. This was a great interview. Beth touched on a lot of things that I needed to hear.

  • Kellye and Beth thank you so much for bringing this story to the SoloPR blog. Beth, I don’t know you in real life but through our online interactions you have become someone I’d like to know offline too. Your character shines through and that is hallmark of someone who lives a life of integrity. I hope that people will read your story and truly grasp the essential need to separate the hype from the reality. An expansive online network can create a false sense of confidence and a failure to focus in on the things that truly make us valuable. I am so happy that you made it through your time in the desert and now have the job and life that you want. 

  • Beth,

    My jaw kept dropping as I read every sentence of your Q&A responses.  I was both astonished and saddened by your revelations that years of engagement and network building resulted in relationships that were tenuous at best, self-serving at worst.  I guess for some people “pay it forward” really means “pay it forward, but pay me first.”  Your interview begs a follow-up: is your experience common in the higher elevations of social media?  I suppose we may be asking too much if we expect social media to change the human dynamic.

  • I want to start by saying I really appreciated (rather than “enjoyed”) this very honest interview between Kellye Crane and Beth Harte . I wish I could say I was more surprised by Beth’s answers, but I’ve been a bit disillusioned personally about the majority of online “friendships and trust” for awhile now (which is part of the focus of my guest post on @marketingmel ‘s blog that Kellye kindly links to) .

    It’s not that social media is the only culprit regarding revealing who is and isn’t your true friends when it comes to a job search. Other momentous things can also reveal the indifference or the inability to reach out. For example, an incurable illness, the death of a partner or family member, loss of job or a divorce are some things I can think of (some of which I’ve experienced, others people close to me have).

    Beth, I’m glad you’ve found a job that you are really enjoying and that is giving you professional and personal satisfaction. And even if the social media “lessons” were hurtful on a personal level, I’m sure they did serve as real-time teaching moments regarding translating the personal experience into the employment one, i.e., in being an effective, pragmatic social media adviser at Advent Global Solutions, Inc.

    May your job honeymoon continue, for many, many years. And may you continue to stay in touch with your true buddies, like Kellye.

  • Kate Robins

    “…when faced with the question “Can you recommend?” or “Do you know?”  or
    “Can you help?” the limitations of one’s network usually surface.” Thank you, Beth, for blowing the foam off the brew. The hours and and miles we log on I-95 don’t put food on the table, confer any special rank or respect and time we invest in social networking doesn’t either. However, I can say that being on the receiving end of your generous wisdom, wit, and experience for years, I’ve made out really well and thank you most sincerely for your investment. Reap mounds of good things in kind! My heartiest congratulations to you on your new job.

  • Kate Robins

    “…when faced with the question “Can you recommend?” or “Do you know?”  or
    “Can you help?” the limitations of one’s network usually surface.” Thank you, Beth, for blowing the foam off the brew. The hours and and miles we log on I-95 don’t put food on the table, confer any special rank or respect and time we invest in social networking doesn’t either. However, I can say that being on the receiving end of your generous wisdom, wit, and experience for years, I’ve made out really well and thank you most sincerely for your investment. Reap mounds of good things in kind! My heartiest congratulations to you on your new job.

  • Kate Robins

    “…when faced with the question “Can you recommend?” or “Do you know?”  or
    “Can you help?” the limitations of one’s network usually surface.” Thank you, Beth, for blowing the foam off the brew. The hours and and miles we log on I-95 don’t put food on the table, confer any special rank or respect and time we invest in social networking doesn’t either. However, I can say that being on the receiving end of your generous wisdom, wit, and experience for years, I’ve made out really well and thank you most sincerely for your investment. Reap mounds of good things in kind! My heartiest congratulations to you on your new job.