Welcome to Inside Career...where our feature today is on Romona Foster, Social Media Trainer & Consultant
Romona Foster is a social media trainer and consultant, who trains groups and individuals on how to use LinkedIn, how to market on Facebook, all about Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Constant Contact, and Microsoft Office. She has conducted workshops for several organizations including "Discover the Power of Twitter Tweet-A-Thon Style" for Social Media Week 2013, Washington, DC and “Leveraging the Power of LinkedIn: Personal Branding for Sales Professionals” for the National Sales Network DC-Baltimore chapter. Romona has also served as a guest panelist for the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), Inc. Washington DC Chapter's 2012 Pre-Conference Career Expo: "Using Social Media Networking to Advance Your Career" and "Branding: What Sets You Apart From Other Job Seekers?". Ms. Foster is a Constant Contact Authorized Local Expert, certified Social Media Marketing Presenter, Email Marketing Trainer, and an accredited Constant Contact Solution Provider; and a recipient of the Constant Contact 2012 ALL STAR Award.
BILAL: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to venture into social media training?
ROMONA: Well…my background is actually in meeting planning. While taking some classes for event management, the school’s requirement was that you participate in a full-time internship and 160 practicum hours. I actually left my job in 2007, to do a full-time internship. I finished the full-time internship and practicum hours in 2008, when the economy was changing. While doing the internship, I was creating websites and doing administrative tasks for people. Finding full-time employment became a challenge and the admin work came about not by choice but out of necessity. I continued to do the admin work and gradually people started asking if I would help them with Facebook and LinkedIn. I did not even have a picture on my LinkedIn account until around 2010. I was very resistant to social media at first, but people started asking me to help them with theirs, and that is when I began taking a deeper look into social media for myself. This was the beginning of my managing other people’s social media accounts.
BILAL: From your perspective define “social media” and how it affects our lives and culture today?
ROMONA: Social media as I always tell my students: is a platform where we have the ability to become social with people (in life) that we may never have the opportunity to meet. You are able to interact with people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries even those who speak different languages. Just recently, I was chatting with a group on LinkedIn, who were talking about receiving a connection request from someone whom you don’t know: what do you do? Do you except it? Do you reject it? Or do you look further into it? Quite a few people mentioned that they are receiving connection requests from people in other languages. So the question becomes do you pursue that? Do you try and connect with those people or not? It is all about being social to me. Socializing among different cultures and people is great. I just love it. It is beautiful. I have met so many people through social media (like yourself) whom I have actually had the opportunity to meet in person.
BILAL: What about those who feel uncomfortable and don’t understand the benefits of social media:
ROMONA: The key to participating in this world of social media is not to over think it – just dive in. Here is an example. I was reading an article about the CEO of Tesla Motors, who actually reached out to an exec at Boeing, who was having a problem with one of their aircraft. The Tesla CEO had a solution. He sent a tweet to Boeing and now they have a potential business relationship.
BILAL: Social media is not just about the “randomness” we experience and or participate with on a daily basis. Elaborate on how this media platform affords one to make a living?
ROMONA: First, I had to figure out how one could make a living doing this. I actually started out creating and managing social media profiles for others. The problem I had with doing this was getting the clients to come up with content consistently or actually wanted to be a part of the process. It’s almost like they see the value in it, but they wanted no part of it. This took away a lot of my time for completing other projects relevant to my personal development. By the end of 2011, I had to decide just where I was going with this process. With so many inquiries and requests coming in, I advertised and marketed a training class for LinkedIn. Five very eager people paid for that first class without knowing much about me. That helped me to see the earning potential in training people in the use of social media. It actually clicked that this could turn into something. By late 2012, I decided to change my approach and started training and consulting. I was tired of not getting paid consistently by clients. In 2013, I started partnering with different people, groups and organizations like Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com/primary?pn=admintechconsulting). Becoming a Constant Contact Authorized Local Expert allows me to go out and conduct email marketing training to small businesses and nonprofits as well. The Hill Center (Capitol Hill) (http://hillcenterdc.org/home/programs/partners/1043) is a partner. I have also partnered with The VETS Group (http://vetsgroup.org/) located in downtown DC, which is a complete training center for veterans and small business owners. This is how I began making a living out of it.
BILAL: How has social media interaction influenced change in our reality lifestyle based culture (entertainment, news, sports and fashion)?
ROMONA: One example is that now people don’t have to wait until the television program is over to comment on what’s happening. They can interact in real-time and have an immediate impact on the viewing, ratings or just how our culture supports and responds to things. They are sitting in front of the television or computer tweeting and posting their comments to Twitter, Facebook and the programs’ websites. I have the sound on my computer at all times so that I can listen out for the beep when people comment on Facebook. I can tell when there is game on. Everyone is commenting or tweeting about what Lebron James did or could have done. Social media has built-in notifications on various applications that keep you up to speed on every comment and replies to your posts. I conducted a Twitter class and had this one participant who was a huge skeptic…honestly, I wondered why she had come to the class. It seemed she had already made up her mind about social media. She wanted nothing to do with it. She said things like, “I think it is ridiculous. I mean, what is Twitter anyway? People are on there telling what they had for lunch,” etc. She was going on and on. When it came time for me to teach about hashtags, I asked the class if there was any news they had seen or heard about that they wanted to look up. This lady immediately spoke up and said there was a television interview that she missed because she had to work. She gave me the name of the show and I searched for the hashtag. When I found it, I had everyone put it into the Twitter search engine. Everyone was amazed, and she was so excited to see almost minute by minute what happened during the interview. She said, “Now I get it!” I see her on Twitter pretty often – after being the biggest skeptic of social media – and from time to time she @mentions me. It’s pretty funny.
BILAL: What is a hashtag and how effective is it within social media?
ROMONA: The hashtags purpose is to categorize things for you. The hashtag itself is a “keyword” preceded by the # sign. That hashtag categorizes a topic which people can then put into Twitter’s search engine to see what is being said about that specific topic.
BILAL: How have you helped or experienced social media enriching those in business?
ROMONA: The biggest way I can help people is to share my own stories with them. For example with the LinkedIn classes, people inquire about how they can generate business. They say, “I am on LinkedIn but nothing happens.” or ”I have been trying to get business but can’t get anything.” Usually the problem is that they are on there, but they are not engaging with anyone. I then share my own success stories of how business is being generated. I have gotten clients from it and now participate on an organization’s board because of LinkedIn. I have gotten clients from Twitter. People show up for class whom I have only known through Facebook or Twitter. I show clients how to create a marketing strategy online for themselves based on their type of business and help them decide which social media platforms work best for them. I can tell them about different strategies, but I have to share the ones that have worked for me. I tell them that continual engagement with their connections and group members is crucial. You can’t post once and disappear, or generate interest one week and don’t come back for several weeks. Engagement is the key in relation to their business strategy.
BILAL: What has been your approach or best practices in offering training to those (individuals/businesses) wanting to improve their social media skills?
ROMONA: My main focus is small businesses. It is important to help them with branding – be it personal or business. Case in point, there was someone who I met in DC who felt there was no need to use social media. I “Googled” his name and discovered others with his same name – two of which had criminal records. It becomes apparent that name-likeness becomes an issue when establishing a personal or business presence online with social media. I have used my own name in classes for example to show clients how much information can be found. There was a time that I could not find anything on myself for at least ten pages deep. Now I am found on the first three pages of a Google search. Branding as I mentioned earlier is so very important. I encourage clients to own their domain name with their first and last name, and even placing keywords in their social media profiles that will help boost them up in the search engine rankings. (http://www.examiner.com/article/3-reasons-why-your-personal-brand-matters-1)
BILAL: Is too much information “too much?”
ROMONA: It doesn’t have to be a lot. The goal is to get your name out there. No one should go and put their whole life story on their profile. I have www.romonafoster.com and what is there in no more than what is found on my LinkedIn profile. I have obtained the domain name because of wanting ownership of my name and will possibly make use of it at some point in the future. I recommend that everyone do the same with their own social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) by obtaining the URL with their first and last name. (http://www.examiner.com/article/how-to-grab-your-social-handles-before-someone-else-does-part-1) It is better to do it now before someone else does – regardless if you plan to use it or not. I say this because who knows what others can do under your name. It is best to protect it as much as possible.
BILAL: What happens when people choose not to engage in social media or respect the value of its presence?
ROMONA: I believe people who choose not to engage will be left behind. With everything in society moving so fast, I cannot image what will happen, if people do not participate. You will be unable to do certain things unless you have a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn account. For instance if you want to comment on a news article or a particular post, you are now required to sign in to your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account. It is rare that you are asked to sign in using an email account now. Also, it is now extremely important in emergency situations. I actually found out about both the Boston bombing and the Oklahoma City tornadoes through Twitter and the Internet. This is where I find most of the big news items because am not big on watching television.
BILAL: What do you think is on the horizon for the use of social media as it continues to impact the way we live and interact?
ROMONA: Actually, I don’t know, but I know it will be huge. I can only imagine that it will be great whatever it is. I can’t even visualize what is coming next. As I am teaching classes, it is common to see things changing so rapidly with social media. Many times when I am instructing, there will be new enhancements within the platforms, in which I discover in the midst of delivery. During a “LinkedIn Boot Camp,” which was conducted over a two day period with the second day scheduled for two weeks later, the LinkedIn platform had completely changed within those two weeks. The students and I had to learn the new features together. I have often conducted trainings where half of the class participants have the new features of a platform – while the new features had not been rolled out to the other half of the class yet. So, basically you just have to keep up with the progression of each platform.
BILAL: How did writing for Examiner.com come about?
ROMONA: I write all of the times and have written a lot of articles down on paper, but never did anything with them. I even started my own blog, but I’ve been a bit slow in publishing my posts. I felt it would be easier to post the articles that I have written on someone else’s site and it has actually worked, because now I am accountable to someone. I am in the process of getting more of my articles typed up and ready to be published (http://www.examiner.com/social-media-in-washington-dc/romona-foster).
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