I don’t remember the first time I met Laura Kaslow (give me a break, I’m getting old and losing brain cells over here!). But, what I do remember is being impressed. And, she’s done nothing but confirm that initial suspicion since that first meeting (even if I can’t remember it!). She’s a life-long learner (see–pursuing advanced degree). She’s an active networker (I saw her once at a local coffee shop meeting with a mentor she arranged all on her own). And, she’s got a great reputation as a valued counselor over at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Let’s meet Laura!
Rumor has it you have a new role at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Do tell.
Sure do. I’ve transitioned from a more traditional senior PR specialist role to a senior PR specialist for digital and social engagement. In this role, I’m really focusing on building our digital PR capabilities. So basically, I’m building on the work I’ve been leading in social media for the company over the last four years, but now shifting my focus to solely be digital, including taking on the role of editor of Blue Cross’ new corporate blog (www.blog.bluecrossmn.com). It’s a more digital content marketing focused role, which is part of the work that I really love. It also allows me to focus a lot more of my time on our social media capabilities, which has been just a portion of my role in the past. There’s a lot of potential for us to grow in these areas so I’m really excited to begin implementing some of the many ideas I’ve had that I just haven’t had the bandwidth to take on in my previous role.
You’ve been at BCBS now for four-plus years–how has social evolved at Blue Cross and what do you see as THE key opportunity for your organization in the years ahead?
Health care organizations in general have so much opportunity with social. It’s all growing and changing so fast, but the biggest driver for us (and I’d argue for anyone doing health care, or at least health insurance) is focusing more on the consumer. Historically, health insurance companies (like many areas of health care) are very B2B focused. We talk about our members, but we don’t talk about them as the consumers of our products, we tend to think more about the employer groups as the consumer. That’s all shifting on a macro level in health care and that trickles down to social.
Now, with social media, we’re talking directly to our members— and health care consumers more broadly. We have to be human with our social media followers. Sometimes that means taking care of their customer service needs. (That’s a lot of it and the obvious part.) But, more broadly, we have to think about how can we engage and inform our members on social channels. This can mean providing great health information from our experts, helping people understand health insurance terminology (it’s so confusing, even when you work in it), and I think most importantly being directly a part of a conversation with the people who have an opinion about or question for your brand.
I think in any area of social, you have to remember that this a public forum for a person-to-person conversation. If you’re not talking to someone like they are your friend or neighbor, you’re probably doing it wrong. But, you have to balance this with the “world watching” part of it. And yes, you can still do this while holding to approved corporate talking points… We have to do that all the time. Really, it’s that balance that I argue is why people need to put on their public relations hat when doing community management over social media.
Over the years, you’ve morphed from a focus on public relations to one on social media and digital. What drew you to social/digital and how do you see your career evolving from here?
In some ways, it just happened naturally. Social media and digital have been of growing importance in communications and marketing jobs in general. I spent six years prior to Blue Cross in higher education. Higher education (unlike health care) was a quick adopter to social media for recruiting students and managing student life purposes. I also did a lot of work with our development team on social, which was a whole other animal because we were talking to elderly donors, not millennial students.
So, as I said, some of it was based on where the work was, but I really fell in love with it and kept pursuing it and growing with it. This was especially true when I made the shift to corporate health care. When I started at Blue Cross, the company was not particularly active on social media. So, I took a deep look at the strategy for each channel, especially before launching the corporate Facebook page. I wanted make sure each channel was a good fit for the company and the content we put out was a good fit for the audience. I love that balance because it’s constantly ebbing and flowing.
As to how I see my career evolving, I want to continue to lead this work going forward by helping really focusing on how to use social media as a strategic outlet to build corporate reputation and brand loyalty. There’s endless opportunity in the digital world and I think that willingness to take on new challenges is so important. What we’re doing today, won’t be relevant in the near future, but something else will be and if I want to do this work in the long-term I better be paying attention to what’s coming. That’s what’s so exciting about this—the known unknown.
Speaking of career advancement, you’re in the midst of completing your MBA at the University of St. Thomas. Why did you decide to pursue your MBA? And, since you’re now working more in the world of digital marketing, how do you think it will impact your career trajectory in the years ahead?
I always knew I wanted an advanced degree, even as I was an undergrad. It was a matter of timing for me. I actually started out as an MBC (Master of Business Communications) student at St. Thomas and ultimately, based on personal preference and program changes, shifted to an MBA with a graduate certificate in corporate communications. I’m also focusing on taking electives courses that will help me in leadership development.
So, with that, I think the greatest opportunity for career trajectory for me is the leadership and strategic business skills I’ve built through a variety of classes, both core classes and elective courses. I look at challenges differently and lead in my work differently because I’m getting this degree. I’m learning to be both more creative and more analytical—and those skills can overlap (left brain, right brain).
However, frankly, what I am getting from school isn’t what’s making me be a smarter digital marketer. (That’s not to say there isn’t a course or two in digital marketing that may be valuable—there are… it’s just not what I’m doing.) For me, I get smarter in digital marketing by doing the work and reading content from other smart marketers; i.e. being involved in Shonali Burke’s Social PR Virtuosos group (highly recommend!), being a PRSA member, attending MIMA events, and digital marketing/social media focused conferences, etc.
My advice is that if you want to be a smart digital marketer, focus on the content readily available—and do the work and learn from what your own campaigns, channel analytics, etc. If you want to be a smart and strategic business leader in any area—including digital marketing/PR, an MBA is worth every hour and dollar to build those skills.
What’s one big trend you expect to see in the social media world in 2017?
I’m not much of a trend predictor, but one area I find really interesting as a PR person is the post-election backlash of the fake news stories. I think that there will continue to be more focus on this. (Facebook has already taken steps to help people mark questionable stories, update their algorithms and such.) Social media continues to make “everyday people” into “reporters” (or perhaps more accurately messengers of news). I think that one thing we’re seeing already is what impact that has. Social media companies have become defacto news bureaus, and the real world impact of this is starting to get more attention.
While, I don’t know if that is a big trend, I think it’s something people will be paying attention to for a couple reasons. People begin to demand more credibility and easier fact checking. I’m just as lazy as anyone in my social media perusing and probably won’t always put an effort into debunking fake news, but I do want to have a warning flag if a source is questionable. I’ll be curious to see how algorithms start so shift and guards are put into place to help people discern credibility of real news verses fake news.
You’ve been a part of PRSA for years–in fact, you’ve been an active committee member for the last several years. Your work has earned Classics Awards. Clearly, you are a big PRSA supporter. My question is this: How will organizations like PRSA remain relevant in an environment where their previous strengths (networking, programming) are being commoditized and marginalized?
Such an important question. Yes, I’m a huge supporter and am proud of the work I’ve done and grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met through PRSA. But, you’re absolutely right that times are changing and professional organizations need to change along with a changing world.
I’ve gotten a ton out of networking through PRSA, but that’s because I really worked at it as an active committee member. This was especially important to me because I was in a bit of a niche role in a graduate school career prior to hopping over to health care and those connections (including you!) really helped me in myriad ways (including interviewing differently, knowing people who have a connection to a company, industry I’m interested in, etc.)
Honestly, I think, like you point out, that the programming component is going to be tough because there’s just so much good content out there these days. But, it is also a core part of any trade organization. So, I think really it is really important that organization like PRSA find their niche to show their value. No one (arguably) should understand public relations better than PRSA. So, the programming for that organization should be on social media and reputation management, or using content marketing to create a news bureau for your organization. That’s what PR people need from PRSA.
However, strong programming alone is not enough to really maintain relevance and membership numbers. I think looking at what the next wave of potential members need will be important and good programming will help that. What may be a bigger gap for these organizations (at least from what I hear anecdotally) is how to maintain interest among more senior practitioners. I’m pretty savvy with social PR because I’ve been at this for a little while now, so how can I use my membership to develop my career in an area where I have core skills? That’s a big challenge any professional trade organization has to look at these days—balancing the basics to give value to those newer to the profession with the deeper strategy/leadership needs of those who are in more senior roles. I don’t have a perfect answer as to how to do this, but I think it’s really important.
It’s the New Year. Everyone is looking for a new show to binge watch. I know you’ve been watching Gilmore Girls. Any other favorites to recommend to those who might be looking for something new to watch?
Oh gosh. Gilmore Girls. Yes, I’ve been slowly going back to Stars Hollow. (What’s up with Rory, btw???) So, for those who just binged and need a Gilmore-like fix, I strongly recommend Hart of Dixie. (Wade will be your new Luke. Promise.)
As far as other favorites… I’ll go with a few standbys that I feel like anyone can binge and enjoy… The Office, Big Bang Theory (not on Netflix, but you can record episodes on demand or go to the ye ole library and borrow discs); I always recommend Six Feet Under, LOST and Parenthood. For newer shows, I’d say Stranger Things (for those Netflix people), The Good Place and This is Us. Oh and for those sci-fi nerds, if you’re not watching Doctor Who yet… well… just do.