For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about someday living in New York. For even longer, I dreamed about someday working in the fashion industry. But after spending my teenage years reading every magazine I could get my hands on, taking fashion classes in the city and mapping out my entire career in the industry, when it finally came time to make my long-awaited college decision, I completely chickened out.
Instead of moving to New York City to attend college for fashion, I decided to play it safe and attend the University of Rhode Island so I could have a "normal college experience." Long story short, it turns out I'm not a "normal experience" kind of person.
While my friends at school were busy taking naps and hanging out on the campus quad, I desperately yearned to be part of the fashion world. Since there wasn't much of a "fashion world" in Rhode Island, I threw myself into the closest thing possible: Twitter (Instagram was not a thing yet) and began following every fashion account I could possibly find. I connected with other fashion-obsessed Twitter users to talk about the collections at New York Fashion Week and to live-tweet Project Runway and The Rachel Zoe Project with. I connected with people who actually worked in the industry and-wait for it-actually replied to my tweets. One of those people was the mysterious DKNY PR Girl: an anonymous, ultra-cool girl who lived in New York and tweeted behind-the-scenes tidbits about her fashion job.
I quickly became obsessed with following DKNY PR Girl and lived vicariously through her glamorous life. And the best part about following her on Twitter? She actually talked to me! We tweeted about fashion trends, perfumes and random things like Gossip Girl-it made me feel like a part of her world and more importantly, part of the "real" fashion world. After talking more and more to DKNY PR Girl, I met other people in her "Twitter circle" and began tweeting them regularly, as well-I didn't know it but at 18 years old in the middle of nowhere, Rhode Island, I was doing a little thing called networking.
It was then that I realized I could either stay at my university for the next four years and live through the people I admired on Twitter or I could take a risk and move to New York. I chose the latter and after my freshman year, transferred to a fashion and business school, LIM College, right smack in the middle of Manhattan-all thanks to my tweeting habits.
My first goal when I got to New York City? Figure out a way to get an internship at DKNY, of course. And you know what? I did. It was around that time when the anonymous DKNY PR Girl was revealed as Aliza Licht, Senior Vice President of Public Relations at Donna Karan. After we worked on a fun Twitter project together for the 2012 Olympics, I used our already-established social media relationship and newly exchanged email addresses to let Licht know that I was applying for an internship in her department at DKNY. Long story short, that highly-anticipated internship-which I never would have gone after had it not been for Twitter-led to many more internships in the industry and eventually to my first fashion job here at Harper's BAZAAR. And that is the power of social media.
I decided to bring things full circle and talk to Licht about being daring on social media. Not the posting a nude selfie kind of daring, but the building your personal brand, networking and taking your career to the next level kind of daring. While my Twitter-inspired move to New York may have been a risk, it's Licht who redefined not only her own career, but also the role of PR and social media managers as a whole. Since departing from Donna Karan, Licht went on to publish her first book, Leave Your Mark, a guide to landing your dream job and using social media to excel.
I sat down with Licht to talk about how to use social media to your career advantage, the do's and don'ts of online networking, and even the oft confusing unknown that is LinkedIn.
Harper's BAZAAR: First, let's bring it back to your social media start: DKNY PR Girl. At the time Twitter was so new and virtually no other brands used it the way you did. How did you come up with the idea to launch a Twitter account from the brand's point of view?
Aliza Licht: It was really a company decision to embark on social media in general. When we were sitting around in a marketing meeting thinking, 'what does social mean for us and how would we do that?' it seemed that the marketing side of our department was very clear on what Facebook would look like but for Twitter, it was sort of like the Wild West, nobody really knew. Other brands were not on Twitter at the time in the fashion space at all. I was, pure and simple, inspired by Gossip Girl because I wanted it to be something that spoke to the brand and I really didn't want it to be about the person who was speaking, especially because as a publicist back then we were very controlled as far as giving soundbites about the brand-there was a hierarchy to how that happened. I figured if the account was anonymous and if it was a character, no one would harass us or care who was actually the voice, which lasted for about two days. Predominantly because the more people responded and the more they recognized that it was the same voice over and over again, the more intrigued they became with who the voice was.
HB: What did using Twitter in that capacity teach you about standing out on social media?
AL: I think the whole idea of curation, I loved curating how I saw the brand, which was from a very unique point of view. I saw it from the vantage point of public relations which was fashion shows, celebrity dressing and meetings with editors. The idea of showing product through the lens of PR, to me, was the best filter on Instagram you can think of. It's like, 'what's the best version, the best light to show your brand?' I'm a wordsmith, I love words and I loved how in the beginning, when you think back to Twitter back in 2009, media was not embedded, it was elective. You could play a lot with mystery and intrigue and the clickbait of what your words were. Obviously that's changed now unfortunately, but there was something fun about the gaming of the posts and understanding 'if I say this, will they open it?'
Then really just being extremely motivated by the engagement. I didn't pay attention to the numbers. The numbers were increasing as we went along but it's not like I had a budget to pay for promoted Tweets and back then you didn't need it. The engagement motivated me to be on it 24/7. I think what I did back then would be very hard to do now in the sense that I think you'd have to split that job over a lot of people and have weekend people and night people. It was just me 24/7, obviously I like to talk a lot.
HB: I think that professional women today have such an advantage to use social media to get ahead in their career. What's the right way for people to network online?
AL: It's funny because I use social predominantly as a reinforcement of my relationships. Meaning, I will use it to give voice to somebody else or compliment something that they've done in achievement or share something that's important to them or just reply. I find it as an effective way to keep up with people when you have no real reason to email them otherwise. I will actually go through my contact list and think about, who haven't I spoken to in a really long time? I will go through their posts because I feel like your name showing up in people's feeds or just liking their posts, small little gestures go a long way, just a reminder that you exist.
HB: And what about pitching yourself on social media?
AL: I'm in a lot of groups on Facebook and one is a group of PR people and media. Someone wrote a post about how they do not want to be pitched on Facebook, I totally agree with that and I would never pitch someone on Facebook or Twitter or anything-that's sort of crossing the line. I'll respond to pitches in the sense that if someone, for example, another editor contacted me via Facebook messenger and asked me for a quote. I'm like, "You have my email, why aren't you just emailing me?" That's your space to play and relax and you don't necessarily want to be pitched there.
HB: If you don't know someone but you know that you want to start talking or networking with them, is there a way that you can reach out via social media without crossing the line or being weird?
AL: I think the best thing to do is to start engaging with their posts.
HB: Just in a natural, off-the-cuff way...
AL: Exactly. People did that with me all the time. They would just start talking or asking questions and you start to become a bit familiar with the person, if you pay attention to your feed of course. Then I think from there you can take it to the next level. That goes back to something that I say all the time which is you need to build your network before you need it. You need to nurture those relationships before you actually need to use them.
HB: Personal branding is obviously so different now than it was five years ago, do you think that everybody needs to separate their professional brand from their personal brand on social media?
AL: I don't think you can, I think if your accounts are public it is one in the same. Even if they're private sometimes you forget who you allow into that world. You do have to think about what you're posting and oftentimes people don't. I think, especially on Twitter, it's so fleeting and you're like, "No one's going to notice, it's a quick thought, it doesn't matter." It so matters, everything matters. Snapchat matters, people have gotten fired for their snaps thinking that no one's going to see that in the last three seconds. It's true and it all goes back to what your personal brand stands for and an employer looks at your social media as Exhibit B.
"You need to think of it as, 'if this tweet was a full page ad in the New York Times, would I still write that?'"
HB: What do you think is the best platform for people to use to get ahead in their career?
AL: For fashion, I still think Instagram is a favorite. I know everyone's obsessed with Snapchat right now, I'm personally not, but I still also maintain that Twitter is a huge networking tool. I do so much networking on Twitter. Especially as someone in communications, every journalist is on Twitter, obsessively on Twitter. I think you kind of use a potpourri of all of them but for fashion, Instagram is still number one.
HB: What do you think is the most common mistake people make when they're using social media?
AL: I think people forget that other people are seeing and reading what you post. A lot of times it does feel like a venting mechanism, right? I always say you need to think of it as, 'if this tweet was a full page ad in the New York Times, would you still write that?' A lot of times you wouldn't. For example, I live-tweeted the Emmy's red carpet and I didn't know at the time but Fashion Police has a new thing where they pull tweets to run during their show recap-on national television! So they ran one of my tweets but I'm lucky because I'm conditioned to think about what I'm saying. Even though that was snarky and it was definitely derogatory toward that dress, I knew what I was saying and I was comfortable with whatever happened with that tweet. Did I know it was going to end up on Fashion Police? No, but I was fine with it. Years ago I might not have given it as much thought but as you get more seasoned, you realize the repercussions of your words.
HB: We're talking about how women can being daring on social media but I think there's such a thin line between being daring online and then jeopardizing your career/personal brand. What do you think is crossing the line?
AL: First of all, I think there are a lot of topics you can weigh in on where you know if you you really go out on a limb with a very strong opinion-whether it's politics, religion, whatever topic-you're going to get a lot of engagement, you're going to get a lot of people looking at your profile. But it goes back to that all press is not good press rule of thumb, which I believe all press is not good press. I know a lot of influential women who like to go to every fight they're invited to-they like to always make sure they get their statement in. When you represent a company you have to remember, and especially if it's in your bio, you have to remember that regardless if you say that your tweets are your own or your posts are your own, you're still representing that company. If you're going to be very antagonistic in social and really be a loud mouth, you have to consider that your company may or may not appreciate that. I know someone who got into quite a predicament based on some of her old tweets from years ago where they got resurfaced again. That's another thing, as you progress in your career and you become more senior, it's always good to go through every platform and do a spring cleaning before people start looking for what you used to say.
"As you progress in your career and become more senior, it's always good to go through every platform and do a spring cleaning before people start looking for what you used to say."
HB:Let's talk about the platform that's actually meant for professional networking but sometimes feels like a black hole: LinkedIn. How should people use it?
AL: There are years that went by when I didn't even pay attention to LinkedIn. Then all of a sudden I woke up one day a couple of years ago and I'm like, "I'm going to fill that out." Filling it out as if it's your personal website or the digital version of your resume is really beneficial. I find that people connect faster than they do check in on it, I feel like people make connections and then never look again in a lot of ways. If you message someone via Linkedin you probably won't hear back because they're not checking in. I do think the degrees of separation between you and another person is a great way to figure out if you do need to get to someone how you can navigate that process.
HB: Do you think on Linkedin you should request people you don't know?
AL: I don't. If I want to connect with someone that I don't know, I will try to see who we have in common and have that person introduce us. I know that if you contact someone and you just say that you're friends you can request anyone. I have to say I wish they would change that.
HB: For me, it just feels like a black hole that nobody really knows how they should be using.
AL: I think there's also a lot of-going back to your original question about personal branding-a lot of pieces to this puzzle make up the personal brand. You have obviously your social, you have Linkedin, you have maybe a personal website which I do think is 101 these days to just have for your scope of work. It's so easy to make a website on SquareSpace for free, by yourself, I did it. There's a lot of search that happens and any opportunity you can use to keep on reinforcing your message, reinforcing what you do, who you are, from a search engine optimization perspective, it behooves you to take advantage of all those free sites.
HB: What is something that a professional woman should never do on social media?
AL: Air your dirty laundry-there is such a thing as too much information. If you're having a breakdown or something, you don't need to tell the entire world about it. If you post on social with the mentality of, 'my boss is seeing this,' it's just a great barometer to check and filter what you say before. There are a lot of people who have no parameters when they write and that affects your professional reputation. I'm not saying that you should have 24/7 perfection, I used to tweet about failing all the time but there's one thing to be said for failing and something to be said for failing at something that's your core competency. For example, if you're in finance and you messed up something math-related, do not share that! Keep it to yourself!
"If you post on social with the mentality of, 'my boss is seeing this,' it's just a great barometer to check and filter what you say before you post."
HB: What is one risk that you would take online or you would recommend someone take to get ahead in their career?
AL: It's to everyone's benefit when they put things that they want to happen out in the universe. I think a lot of times we have goals and hopes and dreams that we keep to ourselves because we haven't done anything to achieve them or we're scared like, 'if it doesn't happen then I've spoken about it, it looks so stupid if it didn't happen.' Putting stuff out there and actually saying, "I'm putting this out into the universe, this is what I want to do" is a great way to get your network to help you achieve that goal. Even though someone may see that and not have an immediate action point for you, it just sits in your brain and maybe like a week or two later you might be like, "Oh my god I should introduce this person to that person." I love throwing stuff out into the universe. I do it a lot actually.
HB: That's smart. You never know who is looking for a job or who knows somebody else.
AL: Yeah and you know what? There's no shame in chronicling your journey toward something online and bringing people along your journey. I think that's one of the reasons why DKNY PR girl was so successful, because there was an authenticity to going on that journey and it wasn't always perfect but at the same time, you felt like you were a part of something.