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How to Become an HR Influencer

Writing blogs and producing podcasts can boost your career. But it’s hard work.

HR influencer

When blogger Suzanne Lucas learned that a national bakery chain was illegally requiring job applicants to work a trial shift for free, she turned it into a teachable moment.

“Hiring is frustrating, and hiring for overnight work is definitely more challenging than hiring for daytime shifts, but you still can’t require five hours of free labor,” she wrote in a column posted to her Evil HR Lady website last fall.

The article also went out to her 30,000 Facebook followers, the 9,700 subscribers to the Evil HR Lady newsletter, and millions of readers of Inc. magazine.

Technically, Lucas still runs an HR advisory firm out of her home in Basel, Switzerland—a business she started in 2009 when she left a corporate HR job outside of Philadelphia to join her husband overseas. But these days, consulting is mostly a sideline for her.

The popularity of the HR-centric commentary she began writing for fun and posting to Evil HR Lady in 2006 has led to steady, paid gigs writing about HR for several widely read media outlets, including CBS News and Inc. These assignments, in turn, led to a slew of lucrative public speaking opportunities worldwide that now generate the lion’s share of Lucas’ income.

“I really loved working in corporate,” she says. “But I started down this other path, and it’s been a great path. Being able to support my family while I write and give advice is really awesome.”

Lucas may be one of the first HR pros to master online communications and become an influencer in the field. But an increasing number of HR professionals are now pursuing a similar path, recognizing that sharing expertise with peers can both nurture a passion and boost their careers.

“I’m always looking for new ways to connect with an audience,” says Aiko Bethea, who runs RARE Coaching and Consulting, an executive development firm in Atlanta.

Her goal as an influencer, she says, is to give business leaders the tools to develop diversity, equity and inclusion strategies that will make their organizations more effective.

Named a top anti-racism educator by Forbes magazine and HR tech company Culture Amp, Bethea has written articles on workplace equity for prestigious publications such as Harvard Business Review.

But she also relies on more accessible platforms such as LinkedIn, where she has more than 41,000 followers, to share ideas and get feedback.

The fact that LinkedIn offers multiple ways to communicate, including newsletters, video and podcasting, is an added plus, Bethea says. For example, Street Lights, a weekly newsletter she launched last year on LinkedIn to address diversity and leadership challenges, quickly attracted more than 15,000 subscribers.

Working for a Cause

Jeanne Achille, CEO of The ­Devon Group, a Red Bank, N.J.-based public relations and communications firm, tapped into her background in human resources and payroll systems to promote opportunities for women in technology.

“The advancement of women in business is at the core of my passion,” Achille says. She began blogging about HR tech more than 20 years ago and now co-hosts The Work, a weekly podcast about workplace challenges.

But Achille burnished her reputation as an HR tech influencer by organizing major events such as the HR Tech Virtual Conference and the Women in HR Tech Summit.

Rocki Howard, a diversity advocate and former recruiter in Jacksonville, Fla., says she hopes that at least some of the 13,000 followers she amassed as a public speaker, podcaster and recruiter will turn into customers for her new Diversiology.IO, a subscription-based platform to help businesses build more engaged and inclusive workplace cultures.

“Adding value to and nurturing relationships with your audience can directly impact the success you see in your business endeavors,” she says, “whether you’re an entrepreneur or work for a company.”

Do Your Research

Those who have made the leap to influencing suggest ways to avoid potential pitfalls:

Beware of hidden costs. The large, well-known social media platforms provide a no- or low-cost avenue for getting your foot in the door as an influencer. But building a social media following has costs that can easily be overlooked.

“You have to be willing to invest both your time and money,” says Howard, who frequently spends 20 to 30 hours to produce a single half-hour podcast.

And there are costs to making your product look and sound professional. Achille says she hires a sound engineer to produce her weekly podcast. The hourly rate for such services typically ranges from $50 to $200.

Minimize your financial exposure. Having an online media presence comes with legal risks that might not be covered by traditional business liability insurance.

Experts recommend that aspiring influencers talk with an insurance agent or attorney to see whether they need to purchase social media insurance or another product to shield against accusations of slander, libel or copyright violations that can catch an influencer off guard.

Talk to your boss. If you have an employer, check its social media policy before you begin posting, particularly if you will be using your own name.

Many influencers acknowledge that the avenue they’ve chosen may not be for everyone.

Writing blogs or producing podcasts can raise your visibility. But like any other job, it takes time—and a lot of hard work.


The First Steps

Finding a niche and developing a following is time-consuming. For HR professionals intrigued by the possibility of becoming an influencer, here are some tips from the pros.

Identify your strengths. The first step is identifying the subject matter on which you wish to focus, says Jeanne Achille, CEO of The Devon Group, a public relations and communications firm based in Red Bank, N.J. “Ask yourself what you’re good at,” she advises. “It might be recruitment or enrollment. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

Choose appropriate platforms. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram have simplified the process for messaging and developing a following. But old-school ways of reaching an audience, including speaking at conferences and submitting articles to respected publications, also can be key to getting your message out, says Aiko Bethea, who runs RARE Coaching and Consulting, an Atlanta-based executive development firm.

Interact with your audience. The days when readers were willing to absorb information passively are long over. Encourage your audience to comment on your posts and start a dialogue. “Comment on other people’s posts, but do it insightfully,” advises influencer Suzanne Lucas of the website Evil HR Lady. “Your comments have to add to the conversation.”

Be consistent. Once you decide on a topic and a point of view, stick with it. And commit to providing relevant content regularly and when expected, says Rocki Howard, a diversity advocate and former recruiter in Jacksonville, Fla.

Be accurate. Nothing undermines your credibility quicker than sloppy mistakes. Don’t be shy about asking another expert to check your work for accuracy, advises Lucas, who says she leans heavily on her network of lawyers when writing about legal issues.

Separate messaging from advertising. Sharing expert advice online is a great way to show you’re at the top of your game. But pitching a specific product or service—particularly one in which you have a financial stake—will erode your audience’s trust. Bethea says she’s careful to avoid pitching her leadership training services in her articles and posts. But she acknowledges that having a wide audience is likely a boon for her business. —R.Z.


Rita Zeidner is a freelance writer in Falls Church, Va.


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