Amber Naslund - RockstarI first heard about Amber on Facebook, go figure. She was, at the time, at a relatively new position in those days… VP of Social Strategy at Radian6 (which is now part of SalesForce).

Amber is now president of SideraWorks, a social business advisory firm she co-founded to help companies create adaptive cultures and transform their organizations. She is also the co-author of the best-selling social business book, The NOW Revolution.

She delivers dozens of keynote speeches on corporate culture, social business and communication at industry conferences and private events every year. I recommend checking her out if you have the chance.

I friended Amber and immediately became a fan. Reading her book, The NOW Revolution, was a bit of a revelation for me. I knew that social media had vast marketing potential…

But, her book, co-written with Convince and Convert’s Jay Baer, went much deeper into the ways social can and will integrate into all the ways we do business.

I could go on, but let’s hear from Amber…

Question One – Overcoming Your Social Media Fears

In your book, The NOW Revolution, you talk about social media not as a threat but an opportunity. I know many businesses who are worried about sharing too much or giving away their secrets. How might a business get past these fears to make social media a viable marketing and communications channel for them?

There are really two camps in business: those that are embracing social and the accompanying opportunities and challenges and moving to meet them, and those that are focused most on the risks involved.

I think for the latter, really risk-averse companies, the way to overcome that is to sit down and really think through the “What If…?” questions. Risk aversion is often a cultural issue, not a process-based one.

We actually developed a process for scenario modeling around social because of exactly these kinds of fears. We sit down with our clients and ask all the conceivable questions, from what happens if a company secret gets out publicly to what happens if an employee “goes rogue” on social media. We also ask the positive questions, like what happens if our company gets some unexpected positive press and suddenly our demand triples.

It doesn’t sound very complicated, I know, but the process of simply getting those fears out on the table, mapping solutions or approaches for them and discussing them out loud can really put those fears in perspective.

Question Two – Learning from Social Media Mistakes

The potential for any member of a team to be its best and most effective mouthpiece is like never before. Of course, as Peter Parker knows, with great power comes great responsibility. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen when it comes to this? How can we learn from these?

I struggle with these kinds of questions because I don’t really like to point out shortcomings of businesses.

Most often, the “huge” mistakes I’ve seen have been very human errors of judgment or circumstance. I’ve seen a few customer service people reach the end of their rope and go off on a customer, I’ve seen employees get fired and take the company to task on the branded social accounts, we’ve all seen a politician or a celebrity make themselves look really bad.

It doesn’t really do much good to me to bash a company or a person repeatedly for making a mistake. All it takes is a quick search online to find social media screwups, because everyone loves to jump all over them and write about them endlessly.

But as for learning from them, I think it’s absolutely critical to focus on the problem — creating strong organizational culture and cultivating really savvy online communication skills in individuals. Social media isn’t the disease, it’s the symptom.

If we focus on the underlying skills — good judgment, common sense, crisis management, diffusing and addressing conflict — our team members can thrive whether it’s Facebook or the social platform of ten years from now.

Question Three – Understanding Community

I think the word “community” gets bandied about way too much without any real understanding of what it means. You help clients with community initiatives. How do you explain to them what this means and why it’s important?

To me, community is a simple concept: a network of ties between individual people based on common goals and interests.

What’s hard is *creating* that, or rather, creating the environment in which community can happen and grow naturally.

I think the problem with most “community strategy” is it’s based on the idea of designing or engineering the community itself. That’s not how it works. You can’t really “create” community so much as you can create the circumstances in which it will thrive.

In other words, I tell organizations to create a purpose. A movement. A rallying point that people can identify with and support.

It could be love for a product. Or a lifestyle choice. Or a professional skill or goal. Most often it’s some kind of combination of these things.

Companies have to be the catalysts, the enablers. Not the directors. That’s a hard thing for organizations to get comfortable with when they want everything to have a hard line from execution to outcome.

But community is often one, long experience and experiment.

It changes and evolves as your company does. You have to get comfortable with a little bit of entropy if you’re going to find success with a community. That’s one of the massive cultural shifts of the social web, getting comfortable as businesses with things that are more qualitative than quantitative.

Question Four – Why Amber Naslund Owes Me a Cookie

You co-founded SideraWorks with Matt Ridings as a social business consulting firm. A line I love from your company’s About Us page (no, seriously) is “we’re developing the businesses that will thrive in a more open, connected world.” Why is openness so important in today’s business world?

Wow, you read our About Us page? I should send you a cookie.

For so many of the reasons we’ve talked about above. But let me put it even more simply.

The idea of “being transparent” isn’t really something a company chooses. It’s something that happens to us now. You mentioned that our employees and teams have big, far-reaching voices now. And that’s the truth.

So do our customers. Or people who know about us but have never bought anything from us. Our partners. Our former partners. The entire ecosystem of humans that make up our business mesh.

Which means that we can hang out and wait until the curtains are thrown wide on our business, on something little or huge. Or we can prepare for the fact that that’s likely to happen thanks to the fast-moving nature of the web, and start thinking about it now.

Being “open” has nothing really to do with having a killer crisis communications plan in place. That’s a panacea.

Instead, we want to help companies strengthen their culture, reimagine their processes, and develop resilient communities of employees and customers. That way, when someone inevitably looks really closely at what we’re doing, they’ll see an organization — inside and out — that they will be proud of.

Question Five – A Passion for Social Business

You left Radian6 (now SalesForce) to start SideraWorks. Hats off first of all! But more importantly, why are you so passionate about social business?

It’s funny, I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately.

I’m passionate about it because it represents a shift in mindset, one that’s really the first of its kind in our generation. It’s a full-scale step in the direction of knowledge and collaboration trumping process and predictability.

I rather wish we’d never tacked the “social” word on social business because it’s so easily mixed up and confused with social *media* or social marketing.

But social business, at least as we see it, is more about creating an organization that can adapt to *whatever* the future holds. Today that’s social and social communication. Tomorrow, it will be something different.

I want companies to be nimble. To invest in their cultures. To embrace the idea that the only constant is change, and to thrive on that instead of survive in spite of it.

I think we can reconnect with the true, core purpose of our organizations and create a better, more collaborative future for business and work. Might be pretty optimistic, but hey. I like to think big.

Bonus Question

I think you actually have more pets than I do (I have 2 dogs and 4 cats). You’ve even chronicled your latest pet adventure with #hoperescue. With that said, what do you love the most about being a pet owner/champion?

I have three dogs, 2 cats, and 2 rats. 🙂

I don’t really think it’s a home unless there’s fur everywhere. It’s how I grew up.

As I’ve gotten more involved in rescue and advocacy for pit bull breeds, I’ve come to love the feeling of changing someone’s perception of shelter dogs in general, and especially my beloved pitties.

And there’s something magical about seeing the love and trust in the eyes of an animal where it might have gotten a little lost before. It’s an incredible test of patience and perseverance, and it’s immensely gratifying.

Amber Naslund - Animal Rescue - Hope

Plus, that pile of fur kids sure keeps the bed warm in the winter.

Jon-Mikel Bailey - Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.