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Social Pros 29 – Lauren Vargas, Aetna

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This is Episode 29 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Lauren Vargas of Aetna. Read on for insights from Lauren plus Eric Boggs‘s Social Media Stat of the Week (This week: 62% of adults use social media for fear of missing out.) Listen Now Click the play button to listen […]

social prosThis is Episode 29 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Lauren Vargas of Aetna. Read on for insights from Lauren plus Eric Boggs‘s Social Media Stat of the Week (This week: 62% of adults use social media for fear of missing out.)
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Huge thanks to data-driven social media management software company Argyle Social for their presenting sponsorship, as well as Infusionsoft, Janrain, and Jim Kukral at DigitalBookLaunch. We use Argyle Social for our social engagement; we use Infusionsoft for our email; Janrain is our crackerjack social integration company, and Jim is our guest host for the podcast (and a smart guy).

Social Pros Transcript For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription

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Jay: We are back with Episode 29 of Social Pros where we talk to real people doing real work in social media. I am Jay Baer joined as always by my esteem-able co-host, the CEO of data driven social media management company Argyle Social, Mr. Eric Boggs. Eric, how are you my friend?
Eric: I’m just great, Jay. Thank you again for the warm introduction.
Jay: How about that Olympics?
Eric: Yeah. How about it? When I was a kid the Olympic medal count was pretty much the standing of global power and economic might in my world view. Good to see the US still on top from that perspective.
Jay: It was a little dicey there for a while. I thought we were going to slip under the waves and not finish. We had a good last weekend I guess.
Eric: I was joking with my wife that 11 year old Eric Boggs would have freaked out to see China above the United States.
Jay: I can tell you 11 year old Ethan Baer freaked out, and he has the power of Sports Center 24 hours a day which you did not have when you were 11. He was glued to all matter of Olympics for a couple weeks.
Eric: It was really fun. I thought the English flavor was definitely present throughout, from the opening and closing ceremonies to all the great stuff that NBC did around town, sort of highlighting London and the surrounding area.
Jay: Capped off of course, by the Spice Girls’ reunion which was probably the single Olympic memory I will take with me.
Eric: My wife said, “God, I wish they would get together and record more fake music.”
Jay: It was certainly an interesting line up on the closing ceremonies. It was the worst ever iPod playlist, sort of randomly.
Eric: I popped in and out of the room as I was going on. How did we get from where we were to where we are now?
Jay: My favorite part was the ghost of John Lennon opening for George Michael which was certainly disrespectful in every possible way.
Eric: The ghost of John Lennon will probably be haunting George Michael now as a result.
Jay: That’s it. I should take this quick interlude to also thank the rest of the sponsors on Social Pros, not just Argyle Social but also our friends at Infusionsoft which we use for all of our email and CRM needs. Janrain out of Portland, social sign in and integrated social media database geniuses and our buddy, Jim Kukral of, who helps authors publish ebooks. He’s actually going to be hosting the show with Eric on the 27th of August, as I will be on an airplane. Or maybe at Fenway Park actually. One of those two. Going out for a little conference and try to catch a ball game.
Eric: Awesome!

Lauren Vargas, Aetna @vargasl
Lauren Vargas, Aetna @vargasl

Jay: Today we have a fantastic guest, Lauren Vargas, who is the social media head of Aetna, joining us on the show. Lauren is one sharp cookie; she used to do social media/community management for Radian6 among others, and is also noteworthy because she has something like 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses, which is pretty awesome. We’ll ask her just how many she has in just a moment.

Jay’s Thought of the Week

Here’s my social media thought of the week. There was an interesting post I saw published today from Brian Solis. The headline is, “What’s your best advice to social media managers? Answer: Stop talking about social media”.
He goes on to say that we need to stop using the words “social media” because it is frivolous and executives don’t think about tools, they think about results and that putting everything in the form and format of social and social media does the industry overall a disservice. I actually heard David Meerman Scott echo similar sentiments a few months ago, and he told me in his consulting practice he never uses the words “social media”. He refuses to actually utter the phrase because it actually doesn’t help with executive attention. As a company that sells software that helps people do this I ask you Eric Boggs, how do you feel about that?
Eric: I agree 100%. If you read what a lot of smart people write online and what they think about the next 18 to 36 months of this business, it is integration. It is that social media needs to just become marketing and just needs to get woven into business practice, and needs to become marketing and support through a specific channel. The work that people like Matt Ridings and Amber Naslund are doing with Sidera Works. They are at the forefront of that philosophy of “it’s business.” It’s done through these new networks and through this new lens but it is still just business and the same fundamentals that have always applied still tend to apply for the most part.
Jay: I think that’s true and I think it’s admiral to suggest that eventually social business will be just the way business is done. I don’t believe that to be true because I think most businesses are not inherently social and don’t inherently care about employees or customers, enough to make that embedded in their true DNA. But we still talk about SEO, not traffic acquisition. So there are still a lot of other places where we talk about the tool or the means, instead of just focusing on the end. I take the point but I don’t know how realistic it is. I would think for a company like yours, where you’re trying to think about, “If somebody goes to Google and is looking for software what do we want them to type in to find us?” What kind of leadership should we create? What kind of webinars, what kind of podcasts should we participate in? What do you call yourself? In fact, I introduced you at the beginning of the show as “data driven social media management software”. I imagine that taxonomy of what you are and what you are not is a really important business decision for you and a lot of your peers.
Eric: It is. For early stage and start up companies there’s an analogy of alignment. Where you can go to a whiteboard and write up ten strategic categories. Targeting small businesses, targeting enterprises, very passive support versus very active customer support. You can be on either end of those spectrum, but the things always have to align. When you take that framework and apply it to business and apply it to marketing, for example. There’s SEO, there’s email, there’s search advertising and there is network and banner advertising. Now there’s social. All of those things have to align and I think that is maybe the source of a lot of this. Social is often not aligned. Even with some of our guests it’s a question I tend to ask. Katie Richman last week said, “One of the next things I’m going to be really focusing on is aligning social with all this really cool stuff that we’re doing.” I feel like the folks in our business are beginning to look at the world through that kind of framework of, “Facebook and Twitter and all this community stuff I’m doing is really cool, but if I can align this with all the other stuff, even these channels that have way more resources behind them, it can really amplify what I’m doing and maybe make it way more valuable and way more impactful.”
Jay: We’ll ask our guest today about it because I know she’s doing a lot of that same kind of work, within the walls of Aetna.
Eric: Yeah.
Jay: Do you have, Mr. Eric Boggs, a social media stat of the week?

Eric’s Social Media Stat of the Week: 62% of Adults Use Social Media For Fear of Missing Out

Eric: I do. I do. This stat of the week is courtesy of Mr. Jay Baer. I would like to remind listeners to please submit your social media stats of the week, because I don’t like looking for them. I like it when people find them for me.
Jay: It’s a radical honesty, here on the Social Pros Podcast, from Mr. Eric Boggs.
infographicEric: Transparency is a core value at Argyle, and by virtue of our relationship with Jay and Social Pros it is hereby a core value on this podcast. This is actually a good one. I probably could have found stats on my own and it would not have been nearly as good as this one. According to a study by Harris Interactive and MyLife, “The State of Social Media”, 62% of adults who are currently a member of one or more social networking sites say they keep an eye on their social networks because they don’t want to miss something.
So it’s our dear friend FOMO, driving user behavior. The best part of the study was that 40% of the participants would rather undertake one of the following, than give up their social networking profile. So 40% of the people would rather wait in line at the DMV, do their taxes, run a marathon, get a root canal, spend the night in jail, clean the drains in the shower of the local gym. They would rather do those things than give up their social networking profile.
Jay: Which of those would you do, for giving up your own social profile?
Eric: I don’t know. Permanently or for the day?
Jay: I think the question was give up their social networks permanently. I believe that’s the way the question was phrased.
Eric: I don’t know. Geez.
Jay: The root canal. You might have to have a root canal at some point anyway so that’s a no-brainier I have spent a night in jail, not recently.
Eric: What radical transparency, on Social Pros.
Jay: But as a graduating high school senior. The day before my buddies and I left for college we drove around our town, Lake Havasu City, Arizona and stole all kind of street signs to put in our dorm rooms. Lots of interesting streets, London Bridge Avenue, Lake Havasu Avenue, Corona Boulevard was a highlight. We were driving around in my little mini truck and had 25 street signs sticking out of the back. We drove past a Circle K, and there was a police officer there getting donuts or whatever and he saw us go by with 25 street signs sticking out and that was an easy bust for him. So we spent the night in jail. I was only 17 so I got to be in the amateur tank and my buddies were in the pro tank with the one-armed guy. You can imagine what happens in a jail cell with a one-armed guy. Fortunately, one of the guys who was with us, his dad was the Chief of Police so we were sprung with a stern warning, but had to put all the street signs back.
Eric: One, you deserve to spend the night in jail if you stole 25 street signs. Two, I cannot top that so I think we should probably move on. If I had to give Twitter up permanently I would probably sit in traffic for four hours listening to polka music. Spending a night in jail? Is there a one-armed man there or not?
Jay: Extenuating circumstances.
Eric: Some other things might weigh in on that decision. Is this San Quentin or is this the local drunk tank?
Jay: Lake Havasu Municipal Jail is not exactly The Wire.
Eric: It’s like Mayberry, right? It’s like Sheriff Taylor’s Jail.
Jay: Exactly. With that awkward transition we’re going to bring on the show Lauren Vargas, head of social media and all things community at Aetna.

Special Guest: Lauren Vargas, Aetna

Lauren: I don’t know if I can top that.
Jay: How many nights have you spent in jail, Lauren?
Lauren: Here’s the thing. I’ve never been caught. So, never.
Jay: I like it.
Eric: Well said.
Jay: The other big question is how many pairs of glasses do you actually own, Mrs. Vargus?
Lauren: I have added two to my collection in the last month so I’m up to 13. Lucky number 13.
Jay: Thirteen pairs of glasses. That’s a lot. That’s more underpants than Eric Boggs has.
Eric: That’s probably accurate, actually. It’s in the ballpark.
Jay: Nice. Lauren, your background is in public relations originally. You were the PIO for the Oklahoma State Employees’ Retirement system, at one point early in your career. I was actually the PIO for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. So I will regale you with stories of that. Gave prison tours. Good times. Then of course you went on to do a lot of community management/social media management type work before joining Aetna. Do you think that a PR background is the optimal background for people doing the kind of work you’re doing?
Lauren: A year ago, two years ago I might have said yes. Now…
Jay: Now you’ve discovered it’s a massive liability.
Lauren: It is actually. I’ve built three community teams, and I’ve hired and fired quite a few. I really don’t know if there’s this magic skill set, or saying that having a PR background is something in your favor. I think it’s your mindset, actually. It’s having the skills and the attitude needed in order to adapt in a very quick way. I don’t think being a people person or having a certain degree will make you any better at community management. It’s a blend. It’s magic.

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Eric: It’s magical. We see a lot of resumes from kids right out of college that trot out the old chestnut, “I was born and raised on Facebook. I grew up with Facebook.” That probably doesn’t qualify either.
Lauren: No. I don’t think you have the life experiences to deal with the tough situations, the tough conversations that are going to happen. To be honest, you don’t have those battle scars to be able to let it roll off your back or be able to say, “I need to throw a grenade and be strategic about where I’m going to throw it.” You have to be able to discern between those conversations. You have to learn some lessons the hard way, and that just comes with time.
Jay: Not to mention the fact when everybody who doesn’t live in Appalachia, who was born within a seven year period, has also grown up on Facebook. That’s not really not a differentiating employment factor. Basically that means, “I’m of this age.” Well, great. Then you’re definitely hired. That really doesn’t make any sense to me. I think Lauren you raise an interesting point though about the business acumen especially in a company like Aetna which is a very large enterprise organization, has some disproportionate issues with regard to social participation being a highly regulated industry. You have to know as much about business as you do about community and social. Do you not?
Lauren: Definitely. These aren’t just political conversations. They’re personal conversations. They are dealing with money and health, and the business itself and all the different products and services and the policy. It’s a large amount of conversations that you have to sift through on a daily basis. You have to know exactly when to field a question, when not to, and you really have to understand the regulations, and the background or the industry, and the communities that you’re serving. There are quite a diverse amount of conversations out there around this particular topic.
Jay: You certainly went from one environment to the stark contrast of another environment, right? You went from Radian6, which was not a tiny company but certainly a younger company and a fast moving, social at its core environment to Aetna which I think some would say is not any of those things. Not young, not small, not fast moving and not social at its core. What has that transition been like for you personally? I suspect that it takes, as you just alluded to, far more meetings to get things accomplished. What are some of the other key differences?
Lauren: I actually felt like I was going home, because I did start out my career working as a PIO for state government and then I spent eight years as part of the DoD, and that was a very regulated environment.
Jay: Also a very nimble organization, Department of Defense Very quick moving. Turns on a dime.
Eric: Known for its agile methodology.
Lauren: I felt at home in the Aetna environment. Yes. It was certainly different from Radian6, where we were able to make a decision and move with it. Whereas in Aetna, you know how you were addressing before about whether people should be addressing social media or whether we should take social media out and just make it completely business oriented. I’ve never been able to just look at social media because I’ve had to get the buy in of so many different departments from the very start. Even when we started doing text messaging and things like that, it wasn’t just about communications and it wasn’t just about text messaging and it wasn’t just about social media or community. I had to get sales involved, I had to get PR involved, I had to Q&A involved. I had to get all these different departments and understand what does community health mean.
What does the conversation mean? What are the different steps in the life cycle of those conversations and the transactions and the interactions that are happening with the company and the communities? I feel I haven’t had to make that big of a leap, as far as from Radian6 to Aetna. I felt like I could take all of these lessons learned that I’ve had in a startup environment, that I’ve had in a quick, nimble organization and how can I make them scalable now in an organization that is trying to change its very essence, its nature. It has to come with incremental change. It just can’t happen all at once. How do you steer that Titanic? What lessons did I learn eight years ago that I can apply now?
Jay: Absolutely. I think the key lesson there is that social isn’t the goal, right? The goal is not to be good at social media. The goal is to be good at business because of social media. Doing stuff is just a means to an end. I think in a culture like that it forces you to think that way. In cultures that aren’t set up like that you can choose to think that way, and certainly you have always done so. In fact, one of the quotes that I attribute to you that is fantastic, I want you to elaborate on this is if you would. Is that “not every mention requires a response, but it does require an action”. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Lauren: As we talk about these various conversations out there, people can get really overwhelmed with all those conversations. As you’re getting the buy-in throughout the company, you have to start prioritizing what’s a relevant mention? What’s a relevant conversation? You can’t bite off more than you can chew but at the same time you can’t just completely ignore what you can’t answer, what you can’t respond to. As we’re sifting through these conversations, using Aetna as a real time example, we’ve had to focus on our customer service social outreach.
That’s where we felt we were having the most conversation that we needed to attack right away, that we needed to respond to. But we’re still looking at all of the mentions of Aetna and its products and services. We are tagging all of these various different mentions, categorizing them, understanding who they would need to route to, fielding them to the right department. That way we are setting the framework, the foundational elements, for solid internal communications, that understands community health at its core. That begins by understanding what those conversations are. Who is building those conversations? Then being able to take and glean insights, not just stats.
Eric: Take it a step further, Lauren. Can you give us an example of gleaning insight, or how you’ve aggregated this and turned it into action, for Aetna or for Radian6 or another organization?
bigstock-collection-of-different-conver-25077563Lauren: At Aetna we are looking at all the various different social health behaviors and looking not at just what drives the Aetna mentions, but understanding what gets them to the point, before they even mention Aetna, before they even mention any other competitor out there. What are they saying? Why are they saying it? How are they motivated to become part of the healthcare conversation? Is it symptom related? Is it health and wellness related? What’s the positive reinforcement? How do people participate in those conversations before it’s the “Aetna sucks” or “we’re really frustrated” type conversations.
We want to be a trusted partner in those communities at the very start. So we’re looking at all of this data that’s coming through, all of these conversations and we’re workflowing them and feeding them back to the organization. What do we do with these conversations? What does this mean?
How does this mesh up against other primary research we’ve done? Other third party research that’s coming in? How do we take this and blend it with the traditional marketing and communications feedback; and what sales and transactions we have, starting to take all this information and put it together like a puzzle, and figure out what’s actually being said and interpret that information.
Eric: Cool.
Jay: Aetna of course has a lot of divisions and tentacles and coverage. What does the community team look like there? Are you still building it out? What does the team structure look like?
Lauren: Very much in its infancy. At Radian6 we had 12 people on our community team. Twelve. At Aetna we have maybe three or four full-time resources, plus five additional customer service agents and other people spread throughout the organization that have community manager authorized capabilities. We understand that we can’t build up a community team similar to what we did at Radian6. We’ve got to be able to take these positions that already exist in the company, and infuse those responsibilities. Understand who’s on the front lines right now and where can we adapt those skills? Where do we need to build up our training and education programs internally? Where do we need to reinforce different parts of our internal communications process in order to make sure we’ve identified the right people? Right now it’s very limited.
In February of this year we released our official Twitter corporate presence. We still don’t have a Facebook presence as far as having a corporate presence. That’s something that we’re prioritizing and trying to understand right now; but we figured three quarters of our conversation was happening on Twitter and it was customer service related. So we worked very closely with our customer service department, identifying people that had the skills, the abilities to reach out in real time and work those situations. By doing that we had to understand exactly how we could communicate, because the healthcare industry has a lot of additional regulations. So you can’t just go out there when somebody says something about your company. If you identify them as a member, that’s against regulation.
Jay: Yeah. It’s a whole different layer of training that has to be done of your existing resources. I think you glossed over it but it’s an important point that if you’re in a situation in a company where you’re not active in social today or not wholly active, the best place to start is wherever conversations are occurring about you today. I think we’re to the point now in social where a lot of companies are in this “let’s build awesome stuff, Field-of-Dreams” mindset. Like, we’re going to build an amazing whatever. Maybe you are and maybe you’re not but the first thing you ought to do is participate wherever there is existing chatter about you. I know that sounds self-evident to listeners of Social Pros but I will tell you firsthand that it’s not self evident to everybody.
Lauren: No, it certainly isn’t. We spent the last 18 months building up our foundational elements. Really focusing on the policy, on the process, on the training and education piece. Because we know that’s the only way you can have a social presence, or to start to build that social core of your company in scale.
Jay: You talked about the ongoing training. One of the things I’ve heard you talk about is the living, breathing playbook for the organization. So that there is literally a playbook that says, “Here’s how we handle things,” but that’s constantly updated and refreshed. I know a lot of companies want to do that or think they should do that but literally having a document or training resources that are constantly updated and refreshed can be a real challenge. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Lauren: Sure. We update our playbooks quarterly. We have a playbook. What we’ve done is because our playbooks need to be reviewed by legal compliance privacy because of the industry we live and breathe in.
Jay: You’re working on the 2015 playbook now? That’s how that works?
bigstock-Vector-Football-Play-8606392Lauren: Exactly. We’ve built our playbooks, so that about 75% of the playbook is the structure of the playbooks, and the rest build our brand, our voice across all social platforms. It is channel agnostic. This way we can help increase the scale of those people that have been identified as community managers, to be able to get the information, the training that they need o get out there and do what they do best. A quarter of the playbook is tailored specifically to the area of the organization that has a social presence.
Whether it’s student health or our customer service or our corporate brand or our merging business; all of them have their own unique playbooks. That look at exactly where they’re having the conversations, what is appropriate for them, but most of that playbook remains the same across the company. The training and the education curriculum that we’re building, is all about adding that context to that specific role and responsibility so it’s not just this massive training and education program. We’ve got six specific training paths that specifically address the right type of awareness, and the ability to move forward in a scalable fashion, a fashion where we’re building that social center, that social media, social business center of excellence
Jay: Awesome. You’ve got your work cut out for you, no question about that. Having six separate training paths is pretty amazing. Can’t wait to see where you take all the stuff at Aetna. We enjoy watching your progress with them. Do you have a Social Pros shout out for us before we wrap up the show?

Social Pros Shoutout

Lauren: I sure do. Somebody that I’ve known for years and who inspires me to think about community and social outside of the box, Vanessa Rhinesmith of TechSoup. She’s worked with non-profits, she’s a brilliant community manager, and really knows how to take all these conversations that are happening and map them to the business goals.
Jay: Fantastic. That’s a great one. We’ll make sure that we link her up in the transcript of the podcast. Lauren, thank you very much for bringing yourself and one of your 13 pairs to the Social Pros show. We will take just a second to thank our sponsors again. Jim Kukral from The good people at Infusionsoft. Our friends at Janrain; and of course, Mr. Eric Boggs and his guys at Argyle Social. Eric, that will do it for episode 29. Who do we have next week on the show?
Eric: Coming up for episode number 30, Eric Schwartzman.
Jay: Fantastic. Eric Schwartman is going to talk a little bit about social media training, actually. He’s got some really interesting curricula developed for social media tactical training. We’re going to talk to him about that and the components he includes. I don’t think he’s got as many specific paths as Lauren does but he’s not talking about one company either, more in general. We’ll talk about his curriculum and the current state of social media training and education and how it looks out there on the interwebs.
Eric: It’ll be a good show.
Jay: It will. Eric is really good. He’s got an excellent podcast of his own so we can talk a little bit about that stuff as well. That will do it, right here, episode 29 for Social Pros. Thanks as always to our loyal listeners. Thanks very much to Lauren Vargas from Aetna. I’m Jay Baer. He is Eric Boggs. We’ll talk to you next week. Thanks.

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