I’ve been asked what it takes to be a successful evangelist and realizing that what makes one successful at it, is often like holding sand in your hands- no matter how tightly you hold your fists, it’s difficult to contain the grains.
The term evangelist is one that either receives very positive or very negative responses. I’m not a fan of the term, but no matter if you use this term or call them advocates, representative, influencer- it doesn’t matter, they are essential to the business, product or technology that they become the voice for.
Those that I view as successful evangelists in the communities that I am part of?
- Kent Graziano– the data warrior of Snowflake
- Jeff Smith– Oracle’s SQL Developer
- Grant Fritchey– Redgate’s Scary DBA and MVP
- Laura Ramsey– Oracle, OTN Community Manager
- Rie Irish– Pass WIT and SQL Server MVP
- Steve Feuerstein– Oracle’s PL/SQL Advocate
There are a number of folks I’m sure I missed I also admire as I interact and observe their contributions, but these are a few that come to mind when I think of fellow evangelists.
What makes an evangelist successful? It may not be what you think.
1. It’s Not Just About the Company
Most companies think they hire an evangelist to promote and market the company and yet, when all you do it push out company info, company marketing- People STOP listening to you. What you say, do and are interested in should drive people to want to know more about you, including the company you work for and what that company does.
All of these folks talk about interests outside of work. They post about their lives, their interests and contribute to their communities. This is what it means to be really authentic and setting an example. People want to be more like them because they see the value they add to the world than just talking points.
2. They’re Authentic
Authenticity is something most find very elusive. If you’re just copying what another does, there’s nothing authentic about that. There’s nothing wrong finding a tip or tidbit that someone else is doing and adopting it, but it has to WORK for you. I was just part of a conversation yesterday, where Jeff and I were discussing that he doesn’t use Buffer, (social media scheduling tool) where I live by it. It doesn’t work for Jeff and there’s nothing wrong with that. We are individuals and what makes us powerful evangelists is that we figured out what works for each of us.
3. In the Know
As a technical evangelist, you can’t just read the docs and think you’re going to be received well. Theory is not practice and I’ve had a couple disagreements with managers explaining why I needed to work with the product. I’ve had to battle for hardware to build out what I’ve been expected to talk on and only once I didn’t fight for it and I paid for it drastically. I won’t write on a topic unless I can test it out on my own. Being in the trenches provides you a point of view no document can provide.
Documentation is secondary to experience.
4. Your View is Outward
This is a difficult one for most companies when they’re trying to create evangelists from internal employees. Those that may be deeply involved at the company level may interact well with others, but won’t redirect to an external view. I’ve had people ask me why my husband isn’t doing as much as I am in the community. Due to his position, he must be more internally and customer facing. My job is very separate from my fellow employees. I must always be focused outward and interact at least 95% of my time with the community. You’ll notice all of the folks listed are continually interacting with people outside of their company and are considered very “approachable.”
We volunteer our time in the community- user groups, board of directors, events and partnering with companies. We socialize, as we know our network is essential to the companies we represent.
5. We Promote
I wish I did more public promotion like I see some of these other folks. I’m like my parents- I stand up for others and support them on initiatives and goals. I do a lot of mentoring, but less when I’m blogging. My mother was never about empty compliments and I did take after her on this. I’m just not very good at remembering to compliment people on social media and feel I lack in this area, but I continually watch others do this for folks in the community and this is so important.
We ensure to work with those that may need introductions in our network, support in the community and reach out to offer our help. In the public view, this is quite transparent, so when others pay this forward or return the favor, it can appear that people just bend over backwards for us, but we often have been their for the folks in question in the past, with no expectations and people remembered this.
We do promote our company, but for the right reasons. The company has done something good for the community, has something special going on, but rarely do we push out anything marketing, as it just doesn’t come across very well from us. It’s not authentic.
- Refrain from internet arguments, social media confrontations
I’m not saying to be a pushover. I literally have friends muted and even blocked. There’s nothing wrong with NOT being connected to individuals that have very different beliefs or social media behavior. You shouldn’t take it personally– this is professional and you should treat it as such.
You may find, (especially for women and people of color) that certain individuals will challenge you on ridiculous topics and battle you on little details. This is just the standard over-scrutinizing that we go through and if it’s not too bad, I tell people to just ignore it and not respond. If it escalates, don’t hesitate to mute or block the person. You’re not there to entertain them and by removing your contributions from their feed- “out of sight, out of mind”, offering peace to both of you… 🙂
- Use automation tools and send out content that INTERESTS YOU.
Contribute what you want and limit to a certain percentage of what your company wants and be authentic. Find your own niche and space and don’t send out “noise.”
There are a ton of tools out there. Test out buffer, hootsuite, Klout or SumAll to make social media contributions easier. If you don’t have a blog, create one and show what you’re working on and don’t worry about the topic. You’ll be surprised that if you just write on challenges you’re facing, how you’ve solved a problem you’ve come across and write on a topic that you couldn’t find a solution to online, people will find value in your contributions.
- Interact and be receptive of others
Have fun with social media and have real conversations. People do appreciate honesty with respect. Answer comments and questions on your blog. Respond to questions on forums for your product and promote other people’s events and contributions.
When people approach you at an event or send you a direct message, try to engage with them and thank them for having the guts to come up and speak with you. It’s not easy for most people to approach someone they don’t know.
- Volunteer and Contribute
We used to be part of our community and as our world has changed with technology, the term community has changed. These communities wouldn’t exist without the contributions of people. Volunteer to help with user groups, events and forums. Don’t just volunteer to be on a board of directors and not do anything. It’s not something to just put on your CV and think you’re contributing. There is incredible power in the simple act of doing, so DO. Provide value and ask how you can help. Kent has been a board member, a volunteer and even a president of user groups. Jeff has run content selections and run events even though he’s limited in what he’s allowed to do as an Oracle employee and Rie promotes information about every woman speaker at SQL Saturday events along with all she does to run the Atlanta SQL Saturday, (largest one in the US!) I won’t even try to name all the different contributions that Grant is part of, including the new attendees event at Pass Summit, (Microsoft’s version of Oracle Open World for my Oracle peeps!)
For those companies that are thinking- “I hired an evangelist, so I want them to be all about me and all invested in the company.” If they do, you’ll never have the successful evangelist that will be embraced by the community, able to promote your product/company in a powerful, grassroots way and if their eyes are always looking inside, they will miss everything going on outside and as we all know, technology moves fast. Look away and you’ll miss it.