Consultant, Thought Leader, Influencer? The main thing is that it’s fun
Maike Küper is Senior Consultant at Detecon International, and trying to imagine social media without her is almost impossible. Her topics: New Work, innovation, and everything digital and agile. Her favorite playing field: Twitter. This is where, a few years ago, she found her own way to communicate, network, and stay up to speed with what is happening. And: to share. She talks to Ingrid Blessing about her life in digital and analog space and the importance of balancing the two.
Maike, you have become an established figure on Twitter. 5,502 followers on Twitter, 8,599 tweets (as of 6 September 2019), an average of two per day, above-average response, and interaction that many people can only dream of achieving. How would you describe your role today? Thought leader, influencer, ambassador for something or someone?
To be honest, I find it hard to come to grips with all these terms. I think it’s pretty embarrassing for people call themselves thought leaders. Of course, I am happy when others call me that or when, for example, I appear on a micro-influencer list. I admit I think that’s cool. However, I have never set for myself a goal of reaching so and so many followers or of influencing anyone in the way we understand the term influencer today. I would most closely describe myself as a networker, and the greatest thrill for me is to hear that I have inspired someone or prompted them to think more deeply about something.
What has changed in your life since you entered digital space?
It all started with Twitter. I had had the account for several years, and I was also fascinated by what was going on there. But it still tended to pass me by. Then I attended one of these “social fit training sessions” at Detecon, and suddenly it became tangible. I was given practical tips on how to begin creating a digital brand, how to find and expand a community, shape a profile, etc. – and suddenly the news channel turned into a platform for exchanging ideas with like-minded people.
What has changed since then? I have a completely different visibility internally and especially externally; I am highly appreciated for the work I do on my topics, I am in demand as a speaker or invited to attend events. And often by people who have absolutely nothing to do with my work per se.
How much time do you spend in the social media every day?
(Laughs) Probably too much. So more than an hour a day. But always in small increments. The interaction is very important to me. It bores me just to share articles from the Harvard Business Review and write a few words about them. That doesn’t generate true interaction. I enjoy sharing observations from my everyday work or thoughts that pop into my mind and that I would like to discuss. And I ask questions that won’t let go of me. It was only over time that I gradually realized what the goal for me is. Namely, that I learn something, that I see things from other perspectives, that I receive and give inspiration and input from the crowd in the outside world rather than among colleagues. In this respect, it tends to be more relaxed and a part of my everyday life. Most of the time, I get what I need faster here than anywhere else and within a very short time. And I can give a lot right back.
Success in digital space: that’s all well and good. How do you manage to transfer it into the analog world? Do you even have a specific goal in mind?
Like I said, there’s very little strategy involved for me. I don’t have a target of acquiring three new clients a year through the social media. I enjoy it, I like to meet new people. I don’t push my consulting services because I find it extremely annoying when other participants do that – I am already user-centered in the sense of “Post for your followers, not for yourself.” But as it turns out, I have actually acquired several client projects from these activities.
Further tangible benefits in the analog world: I have been invited to events which would otherwise never have been open to me, and I became part of a fantastic working out loud circle that emerged from them. I have come into contact with people with whom I most likely wouldn’t have been able to strike up a conversation so naturally otherwise because of the hierarchical barriers between us. I have met people with whom I had simple, uncomplicated contact by phone, people recognize me at events and just walk up to me and say, “Hello, you’re Maike, aren’t you!” This is fun, and giving and taking become easier and easier once your network has reached a certain size and quality.
You call yourself a “Senior Consultant + Speaker for Innovation, New Work, Design Thinking” on LinkedIn. Others call themselves “expert for something or other at Daimler or Siemens or Telekom.” How much Maike Küper and how much Detecon are in your personal brand?
I owe my access to personal branding and digital media at this level of intensity to Detecon. Without this push in the form of training, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was also able to orient myself very well to some of my colleagues, their filter bubbles, and their activities on the net. But I quickly emancipated myself from these influences. I don’t want to be a mouthpiece for my employer. Social media communication is “human-to-human communication,” and simply sharing corporate content does not make me an authentic person. It is much more exciting, credible and – I believe – likeable when I speak from my personal perspective and in doing so transport my everyday work at Detecon or with anyone else. Indirectly, my company becomes much more of a tangible experience in this way. I don’t disclaim my employer, of course. On the contrary, the information appears in all my profiles and is a part of my identity. But my followers don’t follow me because I’m a Detecon consultant, but because I’m Maike.
You can legitimately be called a rebel: you are honest, you ask uncomfortable questions, you simply post what moves you. Have none of your colleagues or superiors ever raised their eyebrows?
No. I was undoubtedly a little more careful at first than I am today. But since I have a boss who lives by the motto, “It’s better to do something and get slapped on the wrist than always just to ask,” I was encouraged right from the beginning to test my boundaries.
However, I am also very sensitive when it comes to the protection of personal data and would never, for example, post photos of children or give clients’ names. I post relevant experiences with clients four weeks later, for instance, so that the situation I’m referring to is not obvious. But since I have always been sincerely urged to express my opinion, I do exactly that. Maybe that's one of the secrets of my success.
Speaking of opinions: In the past, press releases were coordinated and polished as they moved through innumerable loops; today, everyone communicates with everyone.What role do you see for the interaction of central corporate communications with decentralized brand or topic ambassadors like yourself in the future?
I believe that corporate communications today still has too high an opinion of itself as the gateway to the outside world. I think this is dangerous because it wastes so much potential and because it is not even feasible any longer in terms of resources. Everyone is aware that communications departments are not expanding; indeed, they are much more likely to be pared down. That's why – as it has been put so beautifully – it’s much more “antifragile” if you distribute this work among a lot of people. And let’s be honest: Who, if they are interested in a company, goes to the website and reads press releases that have been filtered seven thousand times? They don’t tell you anything you don’t hear from everyone else, their content is totally and completely unassailable, and not the least bit authentic. That’s why I find them so much less credible than the statements disseminated by the company's employees on their personal channels.
If your employer granted you three wishes, what would you ask for? What would strengthen support for your communicative activities?
Hm, I think that depends on the type of person. My actions are highly independent today. What is important is enabling, i.e., taking away people's fears in formulating their ideas, expressing themselves and just getting started.
As I said, Detecon’s offers of these training programs during which you learn, for example, what channels there are, which of them suit you, what is allowed and what is not, and so on, were a great help to me. I was personally able to learn a lot about analytics, performance indicators, search engine optimization. A few suggestions can be very helpful here.
Doesn’t the daily checking of your accounts, always staying on the ball, the constant reading of repetitive micro-messages sometimes really get on your nerves? How do you avoid becoming a stressed-out news junkie?
I have made it a habit to do a kind of spring cleaning every 3 to 4 months. I am relatively radical when it comes to unfollowing and muting people. I kick people who post too much advertising and propaganda blah-blah out of my network. This is how I manage to keep the content in my timelines interesting. Sometimes I wish it didn’t take up quite so much of my time and I could automate some of my actions. But then it wouldn’t be as much fun, either, because for me it's all about interaction. I think I’m a long way from being a news junkie. By the way, I hardly read any conventional news anymore; I get everything from Twitter – it’s much faster and tailored to my interests more than traditional media. When I find topics especially interesting, I search for related deep dives independently of the channel.
What tips can you give to people who want to successfully build their digital brand? Which mistakes can be avoided? What would you do differently today?
At the beginning, you should find some successful role models you can use for orientation so that you are not completely “lost.” For me personally, it was good not to think too much and not to set goals; instead, I played around until I had found my own personal way of communicating.
I also think it is very important to find the path into the analog world. We're talking about networking here, not “social media blathering.” The moment I know a person personally, even if just from a short phone call or a meeting at an event, they are much more likely to write to me or entrust me with a job than before.
Otherwise, I think it's important to find the channel that suits you and not to be afraid to focus. Instagram, for example, doesn't work for me at all, so I left it. My business is “word business,” not “picture business.” A friend of mine is a designer, and Twitter is less valuable for him.
We are coming to the final question, which each of our #COM rebels has answered so far: What two apps are indispensable for you in everyday life?
Besides Twitter, I would certainly have to say Netflix, because I travel a lot, and Threema, which I use to communicate with my closest friends.
Maike, in a few weeks, you will be setting off on a new direction in your career, and you will be making a new employer very happy with your expertise and your visibility on the internet. We wish you all the best for the future and will stay loyal to you on Twitter and all the rest (but not only there). Thank you for this interview!
In the age of digital change, corporate communication is no longer what it used to be, either: familiar ways of disseminating information are becoming less important, smooth corporate news can no longer get through, and the 'everyone with everyone dialogue via social media and communities is causing traditional communication teams to lose control over the dissemination of the message. On the other hand, chatbots and artificial intelligence provide completely new access to the needs of customers, employees and applicants, but they also bring about fundamental technical and cultural changes. Long live #FutureCOM.
Beautiful new world of unlimited possibilities?
What does it look like now, the (digitized) corporate communication of the future? How, where and by whom will the exchange of information take place? And how do we shape the interaction between man and machine?
We are looking for answers...
... and talk to the #COMRebels, the courageous, young, wild, digital and experimental representatives of a species whose work plays a key role in transforming your business into a successful player in the digital age