Paula Berg of Linhart PR is going to take the stage at Social Fresh Tampa as the keynote speaker. Her background at Southwest Airlines and now with Linhart is going to provide a great personal experience into the role of social media in the corporate world.
I caught up with Paula a few days ago and she was gracious enough to share the following interview with me.
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as Digital Media Leader at Linhart PR.
Paula Berg: In the late 90’s, while living in Austin, TX, I was dating someone who lived in another state, and we were spending so much money on airline tickets that we used to joke that one of us needed to go work for an airline. So I did. The boyfriend only lasted another year or so, but I spent nearly 10 years with Southwest Airlines in a variety of communication roles.
Then, in 2006, the responsibility of Southwest Airlines‘ social media efforts fell into my lap. I knew nothing about social media at the time – I didn’t read blogs, Twitter didn’t even exist, and I playfully mocked that same ex-boyfriend who was then on MySpace. But, with my new assignment, I had no choice but to make it part of my life. So I did the only reasonable thing. I locked myself in my office every night with a bottle of wine and tried to figure it out, and I was immediately hooked. Everyday provided a new lesson and a new challenge. And, my experiences forced me to completely rethink everything I thought I knew about corporate communications. More than blogging, Tweeting, or Facebooking, my role, as I saw it, was to slash through red tape and revolutionize the business of communication; to tear down outdated infrastructure to meet the needs of the changing environment.
When I began, it was just me and my buddy Brian Lusk managing on a blog in addition to our full time jobs. Over the course of four years, we built a seven person emerging media team with a simply but lofty mission: Complete integration of social media into every internal and external communication effort in a way that made sense for our Company and met Customer expectations. Social media became an integral part of everything from customer relations and employee communication to crisis management and revenue generation.
Then, in 2010, I made the very difficult decision to leave my favorite airline to return to Colorado, the state that I always knew I wanted to call home. Today, I am the Digital Media Leader at Linhart PR, and national PR firm based in Denver, where I focus on social media strategy, infrastructure, integration and crisis management.
Breaking Away Social
Mark Regan: With a background in media relations how do you approach the social web differently than marketing or technology types?
Paula Berg: I think it was my time in the Southwest Airlines Customer Relations Department a decade ago that shaped my approach to social media. The experience armed me with the knowledge, language and tools to communicate directly with customers on a personal level and truly address their concerns. While our social media efforts at Southwest Airlines were grown out of the PR department, I think we did our best work once we were able to break out on our own and think about social media without the filter of traditional PR and Marketing. Of course, PR and Marketing were still essential components of our efforts, but our autonomy allowed us to get in the trenches with our Customers and focus on what they wanted; to operate on our own schedule; and to move with the speed and agility required for social media success.
Mark Regan: With the constant arrival of emerging techniques, products and companies, how do you decide which ones are worth testing out for your clients?
Paula Berg: It’s easy to feel pressured to keep up with every new tool and gizmo that becomes available, but with the emergence of a few dominant players, it seems a bit easier to focus these days. When new tools emerge, I play around with them myself, see how they are useful to me, how my friends and early adopters are using them, and what potential they might have for my clients.
Mark Regan: I’m guessing you predominantly work with large clients, but what nuggets would you give to smaller businesses on their use of social media and how to apply their limited dollars to online marketing?
Paula Berg: I encourage people not to focus solely on the numbers. Collecting friends and followers is fine, but it’s important to understand the art and science of being found and realize that even small interactions can yield big results.
Paula Berg: Um…I love them. As a single gal in a new town this past year, you have no idea how much they helped my social life – both the ability to find people and be found as well as learning about places that my friends and neighbors frequent. For businesses, the best thing to do is use the tools, see how customers are using them, and find creative ways to deliver mutual benefit.
Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?
Paula Berg: I’m enjoying my iPad, I’m still a big four-square user, and I love a good app. But my favorite thing about social media is still the ability to access information, connect with people, and discover new things.
Mark Regan: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?
Paula Berg: I don’t have much time. I’d love to have a few drinks with all of the Social Fresh peeps and maybe a nice meal if there’s time.
Mark Regan: Thanks Paula! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more about you and connect with you?
Paula Berg: Thanks so much, Mark. Folks can find me on Twitter at @paulaberg, Facebook, or via email at pberg at linhartpr dot com. And, I write about social media for the Linhart PR Blog as well as the Huffington Post.