Social Media Spotlight: Shannon Paul

Last week we kicked off a new series called Blogger Social Media Spotlight here on Shamable and we spoke with über Mom blogger Heather Spohr. This week we’re turning the focus in-house and have the lovely and talented Shannon Paul, who recently moved back to Detroit from Seattle to lead social media at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (disclosure: I used to work at the Blues).

Shannon Paul from "Very Official Blog"

Shannon, we’re really excited to have the chance to have you here on Shamable. We’ve known each other for a few years now, but for those just discovering  you: Your blog, Very Official Blog, wasn’t your first but after launching it  just 2 years ago it seems like it blew up overnight and became a favorite resource for in-house marketers and agencies. Can you tell us the back story on Very Official?

I came into PR a little later in life than most people so I think I had a very different perspective. A lot of the things many people in the industry accept as normal I always questioned. Blogging gave me a way to work out my own thoughts around a lot of issues in a really constructive way. Of course I can say this in hindsight. At the time, I was really eager to start applying some of my own theories and ideas to sort of bridge the gap between what I was doing at work all day, what I was reading in others’ blogs about social media and my own online experience. I was one of the first people in my high school to have Internet access… we had Prodigy, so that should say something right there about how long ago that was. I guess I never questioned the Internet as a social place and I’ve never been very shy about talking to people online. My blog is the start of when those two seemingly divergent subjects in my life really seemed to start coming together in a meaningful way.

Chris Brogan is the person who really convinced me to start blogging. I didn’t feel like I knew enough, but did it anyway. I’ve never pretended to be an expert at anything, but have asked a lot of questions along the way and I try to take the approach of sharing what I learn with others. I’m still discovering new things every day, when I get the ideas to the point where I can teach others something, I think that’s the point where I really get something — I mean really get it — backwards and forwards.

My domain name was also a bit of a joke. I have a pretty self-depricating sense of humor that I’ve been learning to temper a bit in my professional life. I never thought anyone would ever read this blog, but decided to call it Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog because in my mind it was exactly the opposite of any official communication. It was all of this serious, opinionated talk wrapped up in a name that included a bit of a nudge and a wink — an inside joke of sorts to people who know me or could figure me out pretty quickly. Now I really like the “Very Official” moniker. Eventually I’ll probably have a lot more fun with that… I’ve got ideas. Besides, was already taken by a site selling Russian Tea Cookies. No kidding.

I’m not going to say you’re a trend setter, but did you notice all of the “Official” and “Real” Twitter accounts that popped up after your blog? I think someone’s owed some royalties for that idea. So, back to Very Official: How have you kept it fresh and looking back, has it changed over time?

I guess it’s always changing — if anything there have been periods where I was a bit restless and tried on different styles and approaches. I think my idea of the voice and subject matter for that site is a lot crisper than it was in the early days. I don’t write for everyone. I don’t do a lot of cheerleading or saying any particular tool or network is dead. I try to find useful bits and share them. Because I’m so entrenched in the social media for business stuff I don’t always realize what other people don’t know. When I stumble on any one of those subjects, I try to think of the best way to frame the information for sharing and discussion.

Great points. For those who don’t know, you’re originally from the D, left for Seattle and came back. Is there a difference between midwest social/PR and west coast?

The communities are a lot different. Especially the tech and social media communities between the two cities — in Seattle specifically there seems to be a lot more confidence around social media. Companies touting a social media presence are ubiquitous throughout the city — your corner bakery is likely on Twitter talking to people about the cupcake flavor of the day, etc. There are also many more professionals and personalities who are known on a national scale, or work in social media with big brands — Chris Pirillo, Vanessa Fox, Brad Nelson (Starbucks social media). The I Can Haz Cheeseburger team is out there, SEOmoz, Betsy Aoki from Bing, Matthew Inman aka The Oatmeal… I could go on, but you get the point.

In Detroit, I think it’s still people who feel like they’re trying to be heard — trying to be heard at work and in their communities. I think a lot of them are very successful at carving out a level of expertise and laying the groundwork for big things to happen. The Seattle community has so many great people there, because there is this foundation of support — people willing to support you and your work. Detroit is still working on bringing people together to build that foundation. In the evolution of these communities, Detroit is just in a different state of development, but people like Brandon Chesnutt, Adrian Pittman, Dave Murray, Hubert Sawyers, Nikki Stephens… and lots more, are working to bring that community piece to Detroit. Now that I’m back, I hope they’ll let me share my Seattle experience — I would really like to help them grow to the next level.

You recently joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to head up social media. What sort of challenges are you anticipating working in the regulated, super-fun environment known as Health Care?

This isn’t my first time at the regulation rodeo 🙂 My last job was in financial services so I had a completely different set of regulations to work with. I must love challenges! I think regulation just adds another layer of discipline that is required for implementing social media inside a company. There is a cross-functional element that comes into play with this function since you need to take the great ideas people in marketing and communications develop and integrate them with any existing web presence, or at least decide where everything’s going to be hosted, etc. Thinking about landing pages, sign-up processes, opt-in processes all require a lot of heavy lifting on the technical side. In social media people (myself included) are so used to the technology piece being “easy” that we overlook the details that absolutely need to be taken care of in a corporate, or business, environment.

Well, there are some great folks at the Blues that I was fortunate to work with and I know you’ll be a huge hit and success. You used to work for the Detroit Red Wings and really put them on the map using social media. Do you still follow any teams in terms of their social media use?

I haven’t been keeping too close an eye on things individual teams are doing these days. I’m excited to see more sports players participating in social media in places like Twitter. The NHL as a whole is still doing some really interesting things with respect to social media, as is the World Cup right now.

What blogs do you read?

I read SO many blogs on a daily basis. My absolute favorite right now is Roger Ebert’s blog. He talks a lot about film, but he’s going through a pretty tragic phase in his life right now where he had to have the majority of his jaw removed so he can’t eat or talk anymore. Maybe that’s part of the reason he’s downright prolific… he’s always been one of my favorite writers. Yes, I know he’s a film critic but the man can turn a phrase. He’s also a lot of fun on Twitter. For awhile he was going through all of his old food photos and posting some of the most outrageous he could find in his collection. Here’s an example: Yes, that’s haggis 🙂

For social media and PR blogs, I always read Tac Anderson‘s stuff as well as Lisa Barone‘s. Shel Holtz is also doing some really interesting work related to championing employee access to social networks. Valeria Maltoni, Amber Naslund, Olivier Blanchard, Jay Baer, Jason Falls, Stuart Foster, David Armano, Bill Sledzik, Lauren Fernandez, Rohit Bhargava, Jeremiah Owyang — plus several I’m forgetting right now! Oh, and of course Jeremy Pepper… when he actually writes something. I hate lists because I always forget people.

I also really like SEO and internet marketing focused blogs like Revenews, SEOmoz as well as people like Michael Gray and Lee Odden.

I’m also a big fan of The Oatmeal and Flowing Data for different reasons, but they’re both very visual.

Death not an option: Facebook or Twitter?

Eh, I like Twitter more, but I use them each a bit differently. Twitter is just easier for me to use on a day-to-day basis. Facebook is where I can check up on people in my family though.

Shannon, thank you so much for the insight and for joining us on Blogger Social Media Spotlight!

You can (and should!) follow Shannon on Twitter at @shannonpaul and of course on Very Official

Know someone you’d like to have featured on Shamable? Drop us a line at editor at shamable dot com!

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