Being the Mentor – Ditch Digital Guru or Manager Titles

Last week, I needed a vacation from the vacation (to Germany to visit close friends and England to attend the MuseumNext conference). My Inbox was a disaster and the meetings mounted up because people were preparing to be out of the office this week because of the American holiday, Fourth of July. The crazy whirlwind that is my full-time job, being a parent, and a museum fanatic/lurker, prevented me from writing a post summarizing my recent MuseumNext conference take-aways. The additional time did give me some breathing room to (procrastinate) think through what I would post and why. One theme resonated throughout the MuseumNext conference: Everyone wanted to be or have a digital guru and no one seemed to want one person to be the digital commanding force. Let me explain.

The conference kicked off with a bang as Koven Smith delivered some hard truths about “becoming authentically digital.” Though the conference audience may have been museum professionals, Koven’s recommendation to accelerate taking digital out of job titles to get get more people thinking about and taking an active role in digital work and integration, applies to any industry at the moment. This was my favorite line from the keynote:

“In the same way that DDD used to mean “automatic awesome” for audiophiles, “digital” for museums means sweet motherlodes of engagement and young people. We’re finally getting digital. Let’s roll out that blog, and wait for carloads of teenagers to arrive on our doorsteps. That’s the way this works, right?”

I will not duplicate Koven’s post and try to define digital. It is all semantics and how the definition does or does not align with your organization’s culture. I have struggled for years determining if ‘social media,’ ‘community management,’ and now ‘digital’ belong in my job title. To get through the front door, you feel like you should be using those descriptors, and then, when you are past the guard, the title description becomes a straight jacket. I have said many times publicly, that my goal is to work myself out of a job. The role of community manager belongs to every member of the organization, just as ‘digital’ is (as Koven describes) “a methodology that could be adopted by anyone inside  the organization.” In a follow-up session at MuseumNext, Tijana Tasich, Digital Production Lead at Tate, echoed many of Koven’s recommendations about eliminating the need for a separate digital department, and suggested we recruit digital leaders to act as guides of how the organization can apply digital experience and authority.

Let’s go one step further and recommend the grooming or hiring of digital mentors. There is also a lot of baggage that is attached to the word, ‘mentor,’ so allow me to define mentor as one of the archetypes of Joseph Campbell’s, Hero’s Journey, described by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey as:

“In the anatomy of the human psyche, Mentors represent the Self, the god within us, the aspect of personality that is connected with all things…Mentor figures, whether encountered in dreams, fairy takes, myths, or screenplays, stand for the hero’s highest aspirations…Mentors are often former heroes who have survived life’s early trials and are now passing on the gift of knowledge and wisdom.”

In the journey to ‘becoming authentically digital,’ the hero is the collective organization. The function of the mentor is to teach or train the hero for upcoming challenges and bestows an important gift to the hero to be earned and used at the appropriate time during the journey.  Just as there are many types of heroes, there are many types of mentors, willingly or unwillingly, teaching in spite of their own tragically flawed selves. Both the hero and the mentor are called to serve and neither can ignore the call to adventure.

“Although the Hero’s Journey often finds the Mentor appearing in Act One, the placement of a mentor in a story is a practical consideration. A character may be needed at any point who knows the ropes, has the map to the unknown country, or can give the hero key information at the right time. Mentors may show up early in a story, or wait in the wings until needed at the critical moment in Act Two or Act Three.” Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

We must prepare ourselves and our organizations to be able to become and / or receive these guides. To become authentic, we have to understand ourselves, worts and all. Taking ‘digital’ out of a job title will not accelerate the needed thinking to embody a digital methodology. Museums…organizations…are in need of digital mentors who can provide motivation, inspiration, guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Now, when you frame the job description in this way, many of the self-proclaimed digital gurus, directors, and managers become irrelevant.

New Thinking Space: Your Digital Tattoo

I vividly remember publishing my first blog post on Communicators Anonymous in 2005. The excitement of entering into a conversation with people I greatly respected helped me overcome the fear of the unknown. The blog was my platform to explore new learning opportunities. Sometimes the lesson was about how to better handle criticism and not just the lessons learned experimenting with the shiny tools. I outgrew this space and created the Root Report blog in 2008 when my career took a new direction and I was hired at Radian6. The blog became my professional outlet to expand beyond tactical discussions and begin hacking away at strategy and corporate culture transformation issues.

Blogging has not come easy the past two years. The Root Report was dying on the vine and along with it, taking my confidence. No content calendar or post-conference high could help me get Root Report back on track. The space was not a comfortable place to address the unknown as I had on Communicators Anonymous. I had written myself into a corner. The pressure to rise above the white noise was not coming from anyone, but myself. I knew I needed to take a step back and think about who I was, what was important, and give myself permission to keep questioning and learning.

Welcome to my new blog and thinking space, Your Digital Tattoo. The Communicators Anonymous and Root Report blogs no longer exist, but the content remains on this site and as part of my overall digital breadcrumb trail. These posts, alongside my blog comments, Spotify playlists, Goodreads lists, and Twitter and Facebook status updates, are my digital tattoo. My thoughts and theories have evolved and in some cases, matured. The digital exhaust has not always been pretty, but when the activity is aggregated, the image is a clear depiction of Lauren Vargas.

Community Management + Digital Strategy + Urban Planning + Museums + Writing + Reading

This space is once again my safe learning haven and laboratory.

Social Media Needs More Good Sportsmanship

This post is a bit overdue. Despite the fact I am a die-hard OU Sooners fan, I broke rank to cheer (first and only time) for Texas in the National Championship Game. Why would I cheer for my team’s #1 rival? Supporting the overall cause and footprint of the Big 12, of course.

I digress…

Several people watched this game. I know who you are…I was watching those tweets. It was a nail biting game and, unfortunately, a bitter end for Texas, especially for Colt McCoy who watched his last game in a Texas uniform from the sideline. This game reminded me of how our OU Sooner team began this season with our star quarterback out of the first game due to injury and dreams for a great season dashed. Despite the hand he was dealt, McCoy handled the loss with such dignity.

In a post-game interview, McCoy said this:

I love this game. I have a passion for this game. I have done everything I can to contribute to my team. And we made it this far and it is unfortunate I didn’t get to play. I would have given everything I had to be out there with my team, but…Congratulations, Alabama. I love the way our team fought. Gary Gilbert stepped in and played as good as he could play. He did a tremendous job. I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life. An I know, if nothing else, I am standing on the rock.

McCoy could have shaken his fist and yelled and screamed while blaming one person or another for his misfortune. Yet, he did not.

The majority of us have a passion for this space, the communities we engage and the content we create. There is no question of this. Yet, so many want to lash out and label the level of passion or knowledge each of us possess. Any misstep is an opportunity for blood. Rather than viewing these experiences as lessons we could all learn from, the judgment hammer comes down hard. Often this hammer is slammed from behind the safety of a computer screen and keyboard.

I challenge all of us to reserve such impulse and anonymous judgment. We are all students of this space and of life. We are learning to be better professionals and overall…better people. We aren’t slugging it out like those on the football field, but I know some days I end up as black and blue as those guys that are protected by pads and tossing the pigskin.

How can social media monitoring assist your class study?

Normally, I like to keep my professional voice somewhat separate from my voice here on this blog, but I cannot resist promoting the latest effort by Radian6 (my employer) to help educators and students get hands-on learning with a social media monitoring tool. This morning, Radian6 announced a Higher Ed Trial Program where faculty members (on behalf of an undergraduate class) and graduate students may apply for use of the Radian6 platform for four weeks at no cost.

This is a great opportunity for those educators teaching a campaigns or research class in the Spring 2010 semester. Check out the details on the Radian6 PowerShift blog. Deadline to apply for Session 1 is 28 December.

Birthday Wishes: A Year in Review

53186209_300e54f4e7 This weekend, I spent some time offline contemplating the direction of my personal and professional lives. Have you seen the movie, Julie and Julia? I was sucked into the flick this weekend and it got me thinking about what my driving force would be for the next year. Like Julie (before her cooking experience), I feel a bit lost and the looming depression of my last year in my twenties is a bit overwhelming. I am seeking purpose and direction.

When I began this blog almost four years ago, there were not many public relations professionals in the social media space. The conversation was limited to a close knit group of individuals. Today, the conversation has grown by leaps and bounds and public relations professionals/communicators online are a dime a dozen. In the beginning, I had a purpose and discipline outlined for blogging. I was fleshing out my masters thesis and developing a twelve step program for communicators, as well as, documenting my APR experience. When I completed my thesis, I continued to write about public relations issues and what it meant to be a communicator in the digital age. Now that there are so many of my peers in the space, I am questioning what value I am adding to the overall discussion.

In my previous position as a community manager in the federal government, it was easy to find separation about the topics I wrote about on my personal blog versus the company voice. Now, in my role as community manager for Radian6, I have found such separation is much more difficult because I am addressing many of the same social media issues and communication principles in the Radian6 content that I was addressing on this blog. I do not want to end my time on this blog because I enjoy the discipline and outlet personal blogging has offered. Where does that lead me?

Like Julie, I am cooking up a plan for 2010 to keep me motivated, my mind sharp and my writing disciplined. I am inspired by my dear friend, Geoff Livingston, who has branched out and found his motivation in tackling the social good arena. I am seeking such inspiration where I can leverage and expand my talents while learning from new experiences. So, I am asking you, my readers and friends, what would you like me to sink my teeth into in the coming year?

(Photo courtesy frazzipants.)

“Go Red For Women” Campaign: Powerful Ideas and Integrated Communications at Heart

This Silver Anvil winner captured my heart and was the perfect session to end my PRSA 2009 International Conference experience! Jennifer Pfahler, executive vice president at Edelman, shared how the agency and the American Heart Association pumped up the “Go Red For Women” campaign to increase awareness of heart disease among women.

How did this dynamic team pull on women’s heart strings and get them educated about this silent killer? This communications strategy had to be ownable and repeatable with a national scope able to be activated on a local level.


  • Generate awareness of heart disease as #1 killer 
  • Register check-ups on
  • Raise $180-200 million for research by 2010


  • Limited budget
  • Lofty objectives 
  • Multiple stakeholders 
  • Minimal staff 
  • Close scrutiny

Emotional appeal and rationale were the keys that opened up hearts and women’s minds. With the slogan of “Untold story of the heart,” women who had never had a platform to share their stories of challenge and heartbreak were given a voice.

This 360 degree communications plan included:

  • National Rallying Cry – A casting call brought in 900 women vying for six spots on the AHA center stage to share their stories and participate in marketing elements. 
  • National Platform – The location in combination with a plethora of social media outposts gave a platform for all women to share their experiences, strength and hope.
  • Grassroots Effort – A strong content strategy included media elements such as the Sperlings Heart Friendly Cities ranking where local AHA efforts could use as news hooks.
  • Fundraising Element

The communications team plus the AHA women spokespersons felt as if they were part of something much bigger than their individual selves…and they were!

The campaign resulted in:

  • 14 billion media impressions. 
  • 96% of women took action after registering on 
  • 1.4 million women logged in their check-ups on
  • 65% of women are now aware of heart disease as the #1 killer.

Bigger and better things are in store for this year’s campaign. I can’t wait to see more creative and integrated marketing strategies from them. As for me, I think I will log in to and choose to live and love for more years to come.

(Cross-posted on the PRSA ComPRehension Blog. Thank you to PRSA for inviting me to the conference to blog.)