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When I think about who influences me at work, I think about a lot of the people I have worked with here during my time at Rep Cap and Managing Editor, particularly our amazing, funny, eloquent, Einstein-level-genius hosts Mary Ellen Slayter and Elena Valentine. They have influenced me more than —
I’m just kidding. Yes, they’ve both been big influences on me, and so have numerous other people. But as I was getting this episode ready for release, I spent some time thinking about who has influenced me since I’ve been a grown-ass man in the workforce.
I thought about one person in particular: a director on a reality show I worked on. And it wasn’t because he set an amazing example with his artistic vision or work ethic. Actually, it was just the opposite.
I worked the night shift on two seasons of a reality show, helping the crew out when the cast got back to their shared house after spending the day doing whatever competitions the producers had dreamed up for them. The night shift was slower, and it would involve a lot of waiting around. The director and members of the crew directing the shoot were stationed in a control room, kind of like Ed Harris and his team in “The Truman Show” — in fact, basically exactly like this, but without Jim Carrey.
We had rotating directors, but this one, in particular, was awful. Rumor had it he was double-dipping, directing a different reality show during the day and ours at night. Supposedly he was sleeping in his car. Now, was he? I don’t know. But he was a grouch to be around. He mocked the contestants, dismissed the show constantly, and sucked the energy out of every room he was in. I would dread the simple act of getting his dinner order, just because he was such a terrible person to be around. And even though I was trying to get him a free meal, he never seemed to be in the mood to give me his order.
However, he was also in charge. And I learned a lot simply by observing him. I got a master class in how not to act on a set, an office, or as a grownup. He should probably talk to the people behind the MasterClass app — he’d be a great fit.
Now, did I think any of us were smizing our way to the top on this show? No. But I know the difference between someone having a bad day and having a bad vibe.
So if you’re going to be influencing people at work, remember this: Make sure you’re doing it with good vibes. Because you don’t want to be remembered for the bad ones.
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What Does It Mean to Influence?
Laurie Ruettimann is the host of the Punk Rock HR podcast. She is also a speaker and the author of the forthcoming book "Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career." In other words, she’s what you call an influencer at work. And an influencer on work.
And while many people turn to Laurie for insights into HR and the future of work, she points out that she’s had influencers in her own life. “I have this weird theory of influence that we are influenced by people who fill our deficiencies,” Laurie says. Perhaps are people who are wealthy. Or people who seem to have an authenticity about them. Either way, we are looking to model actions or behaviors in others.
It’s a responsibility Laurie takes seriously. But she also feels responsible to do something else: Push the conversation forward. Sometimes, that might mean you’re a bit of a lonely voice. Laurie was an early evangelist for Twitter, and she recalled giving a talk at an HR conference where she discussed using the platform. The response was not positive. “Trust is so subjective,” she says. Laurie had not earned the audience’s trust yet, but she was right. But when you’re influencing, following your convictions is part of the game. “I just had to believe that laying the seeds early was important,” she explains.
“Sometimes you just have to have the courage of your convictions and go first.”
Make a Decision
Mike Wood is the industry relations manager at Workhuman, where he helps cultivate Workhuman’s relationships with influencers in the HR tech space.
But what makes someone an influencer at work? For Mike — as well as Laurie — it isn’t just saying you’re an influencer or expert. “If you walk around saying you’re the expert at something, you’re probably not the expert,” Mike says.
Instead, Mike says that influencers are often people who take action. He points to history, which is full of people who’ve taken action, rightly or wrongly. And if you want to influence people in your workplace, then taking quick, decisive actions is a proven way to build respect. “Even if it’s wrong, make a decision. And once you find out it’s wrong, just pivot,” he says.
“The real influencers that I know are the people that have an opinion that say, ‘Hey, we should be doing X, Y, and Z.’”
People Featured in This Episode
- Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus
- The Influencer Code: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming an Online Success by Amanda Russell
SPONSOR READ: This season of Margins from Managing Editor is brought to you by Showcase Workshop, which helps your team deliver outstanding sales presentations wherever you go. Marketers, you’ll be able to see how your content performs in real time, so you can deliver more of what works. Learn more at showcaseworkshop.com/Margins.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: From Managing Editor Magazine, this is Margins. If you’ve got“content” in your job description, we made this podcast for you. And this season of Margins, we’re exploring the concept of influence. Who has it, who wants it, and how we wield it at work and in our communities. I’m your host, Mary Ellen Slayter.
ELENA VALENTINE: And I’m your co-host, Elena Valentine.
The Big Idea
ELENA VALENTINE: So the topic for this episode is “Influence at Work,” and we wanted to do this a little bit differently. So rather than just standard interviews, we did a liveround table with some of our favorite folks, who live, eat, sleep and breathe influence at work. Mike Wood and Laurie Ruettimann. So, Mary Ellen, can you talk to me a little bit about why you selected Mike and Laurie for this conversation? What perspective does Mike bring to this conversation?
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So when we were planning out this episode and decided to structure it a little bit differently as a roundtable, I wanted to bring Mike Wood in into this, because I think that he’s done a couple of things that I admire. One — the work that he does with Workhuman, formerly known as Globoforce, has actually had a huge impact on the way that I think about work and recognition and like what it means to create a healthy work culture. I think that the work that Workhuman has done has been groundbreaking and highly influential. And Mike was quite instrumental in creating that, which means that there’s a couple of thing. One, Mike has definitely had a lot of influence over my thinking, both as a manager and a leader, and also as a marketer. And that’s kind of an unusual combination. I mean, I know I kind of sit in both of those worlds, but it’s rare that someone influences me in both ways. And Mike is one of those people.
ELENA VALENTINE: And especially as someone who also helps to kind of run a bit of the influencer program for Workhuman.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Yeah. It’s like to be an influencer of influencers, right? What a strange job, right? I mean, his job is to influence how people think about the future of work. But he has also, in order to do that, he’s got to do it through these other influencers, which is a whole other level of skill. You know, when it comes to influence at work, he’s not just trying to talk people into his idea and his one office, he’s got to do it all around the world and through other people. And then the other person that we invited into the discussion is Laurie Ruettimann. And I wanted to bring Laurie in for a couple of reasons. Laurie’s perspective on HR is from the worker’s perspective, right? A lot of my most interesting conversations about the future of work and about what it means to be influential at work — you know, Laurie has been at the center of that. She’s someone who’s had a lot of influence on my thinking there, too. And I also find it really interesting for Laurie. She’s a writer, she’s a natural writer and a natural storyteller. And I have always found it interesting, the way that she takes stories and uses that to wield influence. So as an influencer herself, right? Like with a capital “I.” So she’s both doing it on this micro level, you know, one-on-one and sort of spreading her ideas, but also just like Mike, she kind of influences the other influencers too.
ELENA VALENTINE: And so what do you think makes Mike and Laurie a good combination together for this episode?
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So I wanted to get them together because I think that...you know, Mike is a marketer, right? He is a social media manager or marketer influencer. He’s definitely solidly on the marketing side, but touching on HR. And Laurie is a former HR person, who is now an author and an advocate for workers, right? And so she comes at it from a little different perspective. They both are influencers in their own right. They both got their own ideas about what it means to to wield influence at work. And I wanted to see what happened when we threw those in them in the mix, you know, live with you and me.
Roundtable Discussion with Laurie Ruettimann and Mike Wood
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Let’s talk about influence at work. And Laurie, I’m going to start with you. When I say “influence at work,” how would you define that? What comes to mind for you?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Well, back in the day when we used to all go to work and sit in proximity with one another, I think influence meant, “Who do you pay attention to? Who’s the leader of the pack? Who has the big ideas that may scare you a little bit, but you still follow along with because you trust that person and you know that individual?” I think now that we are all sitting remotely, influence could mean who’s the loudest. It could mean who’s on the Internet all day long. I mean we really don’t know what influence means in this post-COVID environment.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: I’m going to dig in a little bit here because you are an influencer — like with a capital “I” — in HR, and you haven’t always done that influence like in person. So how have you influenced people? Do you consider yourself an influencer? Do you own that title?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Well, anybody who owns the title of “influencer” is insufferable. So I hope not. It’s a terrible thing to consider yourself, but I think I’m early to a lot of ideas. I think I’m loud. So in a lot of ways I’m that obnoxious person that you can’t help but pay attention to. And with the role of influencer comes, I think the obligation to know that some people aren’t going to like the message that I give, but to give it anyway — because I believe in myself, I’m educated, I have a point of view, my experience and through my history. So I’m not necessarily afraid of being an influencer. I just wouldn’t call myself that. And I certainly know I’m insufferable. But you know, there are a couple of attributes about me that are okay.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: And so I also have with me, I have Mike Wood. Mike, you are a herder and collector of influencers. Talk to me about that. What is that like as a job?
ELENA VALENTINE: The shepherd. The influencer shepherd.
MIKE WOOD: Well, I like it because I get to meet a lot of different people who are the people that have raised their hands in our community to say, “Here’s a one way to help others.” So I would put myself as an influencer just because I know these people. I have opinions on things like everybody else. I don’t have an HR background besides being on the product side. But I do know that there are people out there that have specific expertise, and I could help get you those people.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: You know, it’s so fascinating, Mike, that you would identify yourself as an influencer. You’re comfortable saying that, and I’m not, even though I’ve been like actively doing this for 15 flipping years. So I think one of the things that I may start to do differently is accept it when someone says I’m an influencer — like not try to explain it away or say anything in a self-deprecating manner and just try to own it, but also in the back of my mind still not take myself so seriously. But if you are an influencer, what does that make me and countless other women? I mean, we’re all doing the same work in many ways. We’re trying to evangelize good ideas. So I don’t know, maybe I’ll think about the title differently.
MIKE WOOD: You and I talked about this probably about a year ago, and you recommended someone’s book about boasting.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Oh, the brag book. Peggy Klaus. Yeah.
MIKE WOOD: So that’s been a huge problem for me in terms of my career is that I have this natural ability not to toot my own horn. I was always brought up to not brag and don’t run around telling everybody all the good things that you’re doing. But I feel like the people that do get ahead — and that’s the reality — are the people that are telling everybody all the good things that they’re doing nonstop. And it’s a tough balance because you don’t want to be that person that’s saying “I’m an influencer” at the beginning of every sentence that they’re talking to.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Or ever. Mike, never say that.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Wait Mike, you said that that book called, I think it’s Brag or Boast by Peggy Klaus, I can’t remember. I really helped you. And yet you work for a reward and recognition software platform company. You’re right in the middle of the conversation around how to get people excited about their work, how to acknowledge other people for good work. And here you are saying that you’re struggling with it yourself.
MIKE WOOD: Well I think it’s imposter syndrome. If you walk around saying you’re the expert at something, you’re probably not the expert at something. But if you hear it from other people, then that’s a lot easier to take. I think, um, at the end of the day, we all have those, those thoughts in the back of our minds that are saying, “I don’t know what I’m talking about. Who am I to be the one who’s going to step forward and put an opinion out there?” But I find that the people at at work — and I’ve been trying to work on this, I’m a big history buff, and I’ve been trying to read about different leaders in history and how they came out of nowhere to elevate. And it’s the people that that make a decision. There’s a bunch of marketing leaders that I’ve been through in my career that spin around an idea up in space, and they never make a decision. Even if it’s even if it’s wrong, make a decision. Andonce you find out it’s wrong, just pivot. We all make mistakes but there is so much that’s going on in terms of like just kind of hanging around idea land and now actually making a decision. So the real influencers that I know are the people that have an opinion that say, “Hey, we should be doing X, Y, and Z.” And Laurie, you come out and say that, every couple of months. You really push the button and say, “Hey, we should be doing X, Y, and Z.” But that’s great. That’s how you get to be an influencer and that’s how you get people to follow you.
ELENA VALENTINE: And what’s really interesting, if I could piggyback on that, when we talk about influence at work — you know, Mike, to your point, you say, “Hey, for influencers it felt uncomfortable initially because it was, ‘Hey, this is a me, me, me. As an influencer. I’m going to share with you all of these amazing things I’m doing.’” But what I would say what’s interesting, if I think about Workhuman, if I think about certainly how I know Laurie would see herself is that, as an influencer, it’s not just sharing the amazing stuff I’m doing. So much of this is about making sure you are rallying a community of people and celebrating them, right? So if I think about good influencers at work, it’s not because they are sharing the great things that they’re doing, it’s because they are recognizing others and sharing out their voices, sharing out their ideas to elevate them. And so if I think about influence in that way, then very much Laurie is an influencer, as well as quite frankly, everyone who might be leveraging recognition and rewards programs like Workhuman, who are doing the same thing. It’s an honor of other people, and we are using our stature, of influence, which is a confluence of trust and attention, to put the light on someone else. That to me is I f eel what an influencer at work should do. And why would they should be highlighted.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Okay. I want to dig into this. You said “trust plus attention.” Talk to me about that.
ELENA VALENTINE So, well, it was something that Laurie had mentioned, right? An influencer is someone who can get someone’s attention, but inevitably they get that person’s attention because they’ve developed a relationship of trust with that person. They trust what that person is saying. And if we think about, you know, other colleagues in the space who have I think developed or have thought a lot about what “influencer” means, influence and attention are kind of the biggest ingredients. So Amanda Russell, who is the author of “The Influencer Code”, basically combines these two things. And so one thing that really stuck out to me that she said is, “Attention plus trust equals influence. Attention minus trust equals noise.” And that’s a lot of what you were talking about, Laurie, initially, which is, you know, there’s a lot of folks out there in the ether who are saying a lot of things and are, you know, trying to garner attention that way. But if you don’t have the trust of your community and of your following, it literally is just that. It’s noise.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: You know, trust is so subjective though, because years ago when I was new at this game, I walked into an HR conference and stood on stage at the behest of the organizers and tried to teach an audience of individuals how to get on Twitter. And I was nearly laughed off stage — “Twitter’s not relevant, Twitter’s not important.” So you know, this thing about trust is so interesting because they didn’t trust me, they didn’t trust the platform and yet I was right. And I had to trust going up on stage as a speaker that I was essentially doing God’s work, right? I was like an early canary in the coal mine. That’s not the right metaphor, although maybe it is. It could be accurate around social media, but I definitely felt like I was doing the right work. This was an audience that needed to hear me, but it wasn’t quite the right time. And I guess I just had to believe that laying those seeds early was important. And then for myself, trust that down the road, other instructors, other teachers would come along after me and reinforce those messages. So, you know, sometimes being an influencer relies on the Goodwill of your community, but sometimes you just have to have the courage of your conviction and go first.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So let me ask you this, Laurie, how do you know when your ideas are any good? Right? So I mean, yeah, you got up there and you’re like, “Okay, I’m in front of HR. I’m going to tell you all to get on Twitter.” How do you decide if something is worth using your social capital to put out there and to see?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: You know, I wish I had like a red, yellow, green test to offer everybody. But there’s no simple test. I think if you believe something in your actions are changed, that’s a good indicator that you should go out there and talk about what you’re doing. If you suddenly wake up with a perspective that has so moved you to change your philosophies, your ideas, your habits, that’s what I share. So whether it’s social media, the, adaptation of social media, or whether it’s getting rid of social media, right? I’ve always been out there talking about what has moved me to do things differently. And now we’re in this conversation about global behaviors around a pandemic. And I have opinions and ideas based on when you should go to work and when you should stay home. And they may differ from my colleagues in human resources, but I know my behaviors are changed. My attitudes are changed. And so I think that’s a strong enough barometer for going out there and talking about it at the very least.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: What about you Mike? When do you think something is worth trying to push and spread and share?
MIKE WOOD: So I’ve always tried to be on the line of, you know, what type of influencer do you want to be? Do you want to be the someone who is the Instagram influencer that’s constantly taking photos of themselves in the cafe or traveling the world? Or do you want to actually help? So I try to put things out there that, that will help somebody. It might be a unique take on something. But don’t push buttons just to push buttons because then it’s going to blow up in your face. But I think the more you help people, the more you’ll build that trust. And building the trust gives you the influence.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So I’m going to ask another question, I guess, of each of you. So, Elena, who influences you? I know of some of this is subconscious, right? And some of it’s conscious, but who do you actively look to you that you allow to influence you in your work?
ELENA VALENTINE: Laurie and Mary Ellen are one.
ELENA VALENTINE: I mean I was just texting Laurie this morning about one of her videos and how it helps me. So, to that point. in what Mike said and in Lau rie said prior, there’s two things to this. Part of it is the intentionality. What’s the framing behind why you’re doing it? Is it because you want to be the next Instagram superstar, which is very self serving, or is it to help? And so I think that there’s two paths. Clearly, I think we’re all in agreement when we think about the influence at work. It is with a spirit of helping and of being in service to others, but that also takes time, right? I think that there’s a difference between Laurie going on that stage several years ago with a new newish platform and the relationship being built over time with that community, versus potentially the support she has now, not to call out Lori, but just as an example, in terms of how that level of influence and trust does also take a certain amount of time. And it is about going first and being that early adopter, being seen as cr azy, knowing that that’s going to be okay because you so much believe that in the future this will be the status quo. Just like six years ago, everyone thought I was crazy to start a business like Skill Scout and manufacturers looked at me crazy, talking about job videos and manufacturing and if that would really work. It took three years for me to stop knocking on doors for manufacturing associations to be reaching out to us. Three years.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: I want to talk to you about your work, since you brought your work up here. So just to remind everybody, Elena’s company creates videos that tells the stories of of our work and of our jobs. You do this for employer branding reasons, you do it because it’s just cool to learn about what people do in their jobs. But that’s a form of influence, right? Like the way that you capture the videos and these stories? How do we use stories at work to wield influence, through video or otherwise?
ELENA VALENTINE: Yeah. I mean, I’m alw ays reminded by this quote that the shortest distance between two people is a story. That’s what our companies are made of. And that’s what we’re trying to do when we’re talking about leveraging influence. What are the kinds of connections that we’re making with people to kind of sway them, you know, be it in making a particular decision, be it to join that company, be it to make that next promotion? And it has to do with a level of relatability to that. So for me, when I think of some great influencers that I pay attention to, it’s in part because they’re sharing with me a level of vulnerability about themselves and their story that I can inherently connect to, trust, and feel safe. I always say that even with my friends, for us to really be friends, I need a little d irt on you and you need a little dirt on me.
ELENA VALENTINE: But what that means really is not, you know, I’m going to be shit wild and crazy, you know, skeletons in my closet.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: That’s why I stole your face products, so I would have that.
ELENA VALENTINE: But in a sense it ’s being able to share a much more vulnerable part about yourself. And at work it isn’t sharing the challenges, right? So much of why we go for the underdogs is because they have this harrowing story that all of us can relate to. They’ve been through a journey. They’ve been through a challenge. And because of that we feel confident. We feel safe to take a dive very similar to them. So yes, I think stories very much have a power to do that. But it’s because if I think about the stories that really do work, it’s stories where someone has conquered or is conquering a challenge. And it shows that we are all human and that none of us are perfect. I mean, why is Cardi B so popular? Because she is so damn ou trageous. But in part it’s because she’s sharing herself with no makeup. She’s sharing all of these crazy things that she’s had to navigate. She by no means rejects her history or her background. She embraces it. She says, “This is me.” And that’s why she has the influence that she does. And I very much feel the same way about influencers in our workplace.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I have this weird theory of influence that we are influenced by people who fill our deficiencies. Now we don’t always have a good idea of what our deficiencies are because of our egos or emotional trauma in this world. But in my twenties I was chasing and influenced by people who were wealthy, which is terrible, you know? But I didn’t have any money. I was paying back my student loans. I was trying to get my feet established at work. And then in my thirties I chased people and was influenced by connection and community. That’s what I was really missing. And now in my forties, I find that I’m really influenced by people with authority and presence. And generally they’re taller than I am — take that for what you will. But I’m looking at my deficiencies going, “I need more of something.” And I think that’s not just me. I think that’s everybody. Cardi B fulfills this desire for all of us to be authentic and yet successful. You know, whatever generation you are, you have that person that you look up to. And I always wonder, “What’s the gap? What am I really chasing?” And in that is influence. And so when I speak to these HR audiences around the world, I know that for many of them, I’m fulfilling the fantasy of going out on your own, starting a company, having an opinion, having executive authority, right? And I take that as a responsibility to then show up and prove to them that you can do this — that this is right. And that if I’m up on stage talking about the future of work in the world of work, in tech, wearing a leather jacket or just wearing whatever the hell I want to wear, you know, or no jacket or no makeup or whatever, if I can do it, they can do it too. So that’s like my inherent thing when I’m up there. So yeah, I think influence is about filling that gap of deficiency.
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ELENA VALENTINE: Can I ask a f ollowup question for all of you? Influencer fatigue — is that a real thing. Or tell me about the pressure, if at all?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Well, I have to tell you something. Mary Ellen asked earlier where do I find my own source of influence? And I have to definitely look outside of my community because when I look inside my community, sometimes I see my ideas or things that I’ve said or things that I’ve done parroted and mimicked back at me. And I love that, right? It means that I’m making some progress, I’m having an influence. But it becomes this weird narcissistic look in a mirror, and I’m looking for new ideas, bold ideas, bigger ideas. And that doesn’t often come from the community I’m immediately in. So again, I have to look externally and that, that takes time, right? It’s hard to identify people out there who fill my deficiencies, but I think I’ve done it in a couple of different areas — but the fatigue is real.
MIKE WOOD: So I will state from a business standpoint that everybody thinks influencer marketing and they’re thinking, “Okay, what are you doing with Instagram and whatnot? But if you’re business-to-business, it’s a lot more nuanced than that. You’re not going to be able to find almost immediate ROI in terms of how has this relationship paid off until something actually happens. It can take a year, it could take two years where you’ve built up that trust with somebody, and they’re able to refer a sale or an opportunity for partnerships. And that’s kind of where my role has grown through Workhuman is I’ve met this community, and I’ve talked to them about the things that we want to do. And they’ve been able to help us make that happen. Now there are whole industries out there with tools and stuff that that will measure impressions. So how many people saw a tweet, how many people clicked on it — but at the end of the day, do you just want a big number? Because if you just want a big number, you can have someone that is cutting and pasting a tweet five times a day to get you those numbers. I came from a PR background, and I used to see on reports that they would report a press release pickups in terms of like actual readerships that you reached from like Yahoo Finance, which, you know, it’s like a million people, but they don’t realize that’s like an automatic thing. It’s not a real hit. So you’ve got to find...there still is that metric out that you need to find about what is your return on on relationship. So —
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: You know, years ago people would contact me and say, “Well, what’s your media kit? What’s your rate? How many web impressions do you have?” Nobody asks me those questions anymore, because if they’re coming to me, they’ve already established that they want to work with me and that I have a voice. And so that may be a very privileged position or a position that I’ve earned over the past decade doing this work. But the question around how many Twitter followers do you have actually helps me understand that I don’t want to work with that person that is not a brand or a company that would be good for me to affiliate with. So the conversation has matured for me on my business. But if I were just starting out today, I think new content producers as well as new PR executives or PR professionals often default to those bare-bones numbers because they just don’t have a language or a fluency around the way that influence works. And so in that way, we’re probably never going to get rid of the old standard media kit with the amount of impressions and all of that kind of goodness. But I think a more mature conversation is happening, and it’s a successful conversation, at least on my end.
MIKE WOOD: Well, it’s tough too because you gotta be able to convince the higher-ups in marketing that your influencer outreach is worth the money that you’re putting into it. And a lot of them want to say, “Okay, you spent, you know, five grand here. What did you get out of it?” And the only thing you have to show is, “Okay, I reached X amount of people...” — but until someone down the line is able to show more of a kind of a relationship marketing, that’s when things will change. If I’m doing like a sponsored blog post, I will look at how many readers someone has and what kind of activity. But a lot of the things I do in terms of of metrics, I create my own benchmarks. So I say, “Okay, you know, if we do something with like HR Bartender, for example I’m expecting to get, you know, this amount of hits from that, and will it lead to a sale?” Hopefully, but it’ll at least lead to awareness.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I think one of the questions too for influencers is how much do I want to play this game, and am I a true influencer when I do play the game and accept money and accept sponsorship, right? Because I feel like when I’m working on behalf of a client, first of all, I have to be complimentary to the client, but I also have to be pretty loyal within that category. And not talk about or work with any other clients and compete at least for a couple of months. And I may or may not have a vested interest in talking about things or saying something contradictory. So it just boxes me in. And maybe the couple thousand bucks that I get from working with them is great at the moment, but it generally doesn’t pay off long term. And so part of my role as an influencer, especially over the past couple of years, has been saying no to money, saying no to junkets, saying no to events. I mean I’m either paid as a content and marketing professional, or I’m a pundit and there’s really no in between. And sometimes I think this influencer status gets a little murky.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So this is what I find. This is where I think like Mark Stelzner and IA, their business model in HR tech specifically is so remarkable because they’ve got the relationships with the vendors they’re advising the clients, but they’ve never let the water get muddy about who they serve. And it is their buyer. It is that HR professional that hires them, and they are completely platform-agnostic. They will go on, and they will talk to the vendors, and I think that that has protected their reputation in a way. Did they pass up some money here and there? I mean the traditional model is usually these partnerships, and they get paid for them. But I think that in the long run that that will continue to be the most powerful thing about their brand. Like you trust them. They get your attention, and then you can trust them.
MIKE WOOD: Yup. I have tried to pay, just in terms of like, I’ve tried to cover his travel to Workhuman, and he hasn’t ever accepted it. I’m like, “It’s just travel, you know? I just want to make sure that you can come to this event, and you can get what you want out of it without having to lift a finger of your own.” And he won’t take it.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: No, that man is squeaky clean.
MIKE WOOD: But I did send a piece of cake up to his room because it was his birthday. So I don’t know if that’s accepting gifts.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I’m sure that’s going to compromise Mark Stelzner. Absolutely.
MIKE WOOD: It is a tough line. There are some influencers that I work with that will be like, straight out of the FTC: “Send me the language. I can’t endorse whatever.” And I’m like, “That’s fine. If you don’t want to endorse it, I’d rather you didn’t, because it’s going to come off bad.” And I’ve had people who have said, “You know, I have an opportunity to go to a competitor’s event.” Great. That’s fine by me. It’s okay. I’m glad that you told me, but I’m not trying to hold up someone’s business. Now if you are on saying, “I like this recognition product and your recognition product” — OK. You’re OK to like both. But what I do like is to say, OK, why do you like that other competitors’? What can we do to win you over?” And so this influencer group that I have with Workhuman is some of our biggest product adopters and our focus group.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Okay. So I’m gonna, I wanna just take about point this out. Like we talk about who you pay attention to and who you trust. And I think about it in the context of work, right? So thinking about it back to the people who make the decisions about what products to buy and then you’re deciding who to look up to and who not to look up to you, I think it becomes really important to be aware of what the interests are of the people that are influencing you. So if I’m looking up to someone like — and I’m just going to say this, cause I know she won’t mind — Robin Schooling. Who is America’s HR lady, and her opinion carries a lot of weight, right? She doesn’t endorse people that she doesn’t... you know, I know that. Right? But if you hear people that you admire saying use this product at work or you use this software tool or come work on this project with me, like I think you have to keep in mind like where that person might have interest, right? Whether they’ve gotten paid or if they’re jockeying for a promotion of their own and trying to get you out of the way. I mean, I just think this gets really complex when you’re looking at the web of people’s own self-interest inside our organizations. Like how do you know if you’re following the right person?
MIKE WOOD: So it’s all, like, over time. So you may have the opportunity to say, to make a recommendation on a product like once, maybe twice. But if you’re constantly making these, then you’re just the paid shirt. You know, you’re just someone that I know is constantly just going to...whoever is putting money in their pocket, they’re going to recommend. So someone like Robin, I trust Robin because she’s real. I trust Laurie because I’ve talked to Laurie. I’ve talked to Lori about my vulnerabilities, and she’s going to give me the real talk. It’s “Real Talk with Laurie Ruettiman.”
ELENA VALENTINE: No more “Punk Rock HR.”
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: “Real Talk with Laurie Ruettiman.” We’ve rebranded you, Laurie, in the middle of this conversation.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I don’t mind it. Mike, I love your point though, around frequency and around the way people speak. And some of the people who influenced me the most have never uttered about a product, at least not on stage. But then they’ve said, “Oh, this is what I’ve used,” in just casual conversation or even in a blog post. Or something simple like, “This is what I use for email management” or “This is what I use to be more productive.” And they talk about their lives and in that they’re making these weird implicit recommendations, but they’re not standing up on a stage and planting a flag and saying, I believe in QuickBooks and I believe in WebEx and blah, blah, blah. You know, they’re —
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: No one believes in WebEx.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I’m trying to pick out a product that I don’t appreciate myself.
MIKE WOOD: They don’t make those flags.
ELENA VALENTINE: But to that point, when we talk about influence, I feel like some of the best influencers that we know are constant learners, right? It’s never going to be QuickBooks unless QuickBooks also evolves over time, right?
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: FreshBooks made them. FreshBooks was actually the influencer that made QuickBooks get its mind right.
ELENA VALENTINE: But I think that’s the point, it’s those influencers who know that, be it for a product or service or whomever. It’s not going to be all things to all people in all situations. And when they try to, you know, do a squarepeg- round-hole for something, then you know that’s fake. You lose the trust, you lose the attention. And so I would think that an influencer would be someone who has a swath of tools, products, approaches that they leverage that have changed over time, that are very context-dependent because they’re constant learners, right? There’s just going to be new insights that they’re going to be coming up with daily because they are voracious readers and learners. Like I think about Hung Lee, you know? Perfect example: Recruiting Brainfood. Because that’s kind of exactly what he does. It’s never going to be about this product for all things for all people. There’s just constantly new situations in the world and new trends that are happening. And just that kind of constant...just discussion and reflection about when these tools might be best leveraged for. So I see him as a p erfect example of someone who really leveraged his influence in such a positive way for the recruiting community.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: That point about learning is such a good one because everybody, I know, everybody I admire, everybody I learned from, who fills the gaps within my own competencies are from other industries or within my industry. But they’re proficient in other spaces. They’ve got some expertise in marketing or sales or even the world of art or literature, you know, and I try to do the same. And I didn’t even quite realize this about myself Elena, but I’m reading stuff from the Paris Review, and then I’m reading some science journals and listening to different podcasts about...you know, my husband likes a science podcast, and so I get stuff from there, right? And all of it kind of informs my worldview that I bring back to the world of work, the world of human resources, the world of people and then recontextualize and share. And so if I didn’t do that, if I didn’t push myself into these other buckets, I wouldn’t be very good in the bucket in which I live, I guess.
ELENA VALENTINE: And to that point, to lean into the learning means that you know you’re not perfect, and you know you’re not the expert for all things at all times.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: And how many times have you heard me say, “I don’t know. I don’t have a clue.” Like in my life? That’s basically an opening line of my blog post — like, “I don’t really know. I’ve been thinking about this. I’m not sure. What do you think?” I think owning my status as a learner and just being curious is kind of what has helped me in this influence game. I’m just out there testing ideas, practicing a little bit. Everybody pile on and tell me if you think it’s crappy. And they usually do.
ELENA VALENTINE: Which is one thing with influence — it’s the crowdsourcing of ideas. It’s the highlighting of other people whose that have some expertise in ways that you don’t, that you are now highlighting as a result.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: But I would say nobody buys software based on individual influence. When people make significant and important software purchasing decisions, they still go to these bodies of knowledge, like a Gartner, like a Forrester, like Josh Bersin and whatever company he has started lately. There are still these esteemed bodies almost like universities, with their own blind spots and with their own issues. But they are still the deciding factor when it comes to software acquisition. At least that’s what I think.
MIKE WOOD: And it’s solicited advice and not unsolicited advice. So it’s like I used Gartner, like a client of ours, and I’ve used them in terms of when we were creating an app for Workhuman Live. When we first did that, I said, “Okay, what, what’s out there in the space? I don’t know.” And they’re able to give me five different vendors and say here are the plusses and minuses of them. And then I’ll come to my own decision based on that. So I think as a group, if you have this echo chamber of HR voices, try to get a diverse swath and ask them, you know, what their thoughts and then come up with your own opinion.
ELENA VALENTINE: Can I ask a qu estion?
MIKE WOOD: Sure.
ELENA VALENTINE: When people don’t agree with you and you get the heat — and Iheard this resoundingly clear, that part of being an influencer is leaning into ideas that, you know, are not going to be popular to all. What’s that like?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Um.
MIKE: Laurie, have you been attacked on Twitter?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Well, the idea that I’m a woman on the Internet offends people. So let’s start right there, okay?
MIKE WOOD: You shared with me a lot of the comments of the creeps. You get a lot of creeps.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I always thought it would age out of it. I have not. Not yet at least.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: No, no. You’re still good-looking, Laurie. And you’re still on the Internet.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: Alright, so what does it feel like when people attack you? You know, early on I would say it made me really sad. And it made me question why I left a full time job with PTO and benefits, only to have somebody tell me I was stupid and uneducated and didn’t deserve the opinion that I had. Like, it really hurt and it made me wonder: Is this for me? But then I think about those poor people and why they’re so angry. And I remember the reasons why I left the world of work because work is terrible for so many individuals. And I’m doing good work by going out, talking to people with big ideas, talking to software companies. And if I can’t take the heat, then I should get out of the way for someone else who can do it. So I’ve had to depersonalize a lot of this, but, it’s taken some therapy. And it takes coaching from a lot of friends. And I’m not joking, it really has made me develop a callous, where I didn’t have one at the beginning. But I think I’m a better person for it, a better writer for it, a better thinker for it. And I make better decisions about where I put my time and energy, not just in this world of influence, but I think my whole life.
MIKE WOOD: You have to realize where people are coming from. If they are the trolls that are out there that are just constantly negative about everything or if they’re trying to use your opinion as a soapbox to put whatever they their agenda is out there. You gotta realize that you just got to tune it out.
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: You know, I realized that sometimes that what sounds terrible to me is actually somebody’s really good opinion, just poorly articulated on the Internet. I mean, the Internet is so limiting in terms of how you can communicate an idea anyway. It’s stripped of any sort of personalization. And so I’ve really had to learn how to cast aside my assumptions about what I’m reading and try to get a little bit closer to the truth. And often when someone tells me I’m wrong, they’re kind of right. It’s not unheard of for me to just say something totally incorrect. But I’ve had to do some work trying to understand what an individual is communicating to me in 200 characters versus the normal way of communicating, which is face-to-face, eye-to-eye in the same room.
Closing and Housekeeping
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: So that’s it for this episode of Margins from Managing Editor. Find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen in. Subscribe now so you don’t miss a single episode.
ELENA VALENTINE: And if you like what you hear, share us with your friends — and rate us on your favorite podcast platform.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: If you want to hear more from the Managing Editor team, then there’s an easy way to to do that.. We send an email every Friday morning. You can join the club at managingeditor.com/subscribe.
SPONSOR READ: Thanks to Showcase Workshop, the exclusive sponsor of this season of Margins. With Showcase Workshop, all of your marketing and sales collateral is in one place, ready to present to prospects on your device or by email. Learn more at showcaseworkshop.com/Margins.
ELENA VALENTINE: And a special thanks to everyone who had an influence on this episode: our guests Mike Wood and Laurie Reuttiman, Producer Rex New and audio editor Marty Madness McPadden.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: We’ll see ya’ll next time.
MARY ELLEN SLAYTER: Sorry, I was going to say Mike, just so we can kind of stop. Is there, are you sure you want to have that in the podcast?
LAURIE RUETTIMANN: I don’t think you do.
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