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Social Workers Can Create a Buzz About Their Profession

By Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW

Business entrepreneurs are sometimes thought to be the only ones who create buzz around their professions, or engage in marketing efforts, but social workers also have the strengths and skills to be savvy marketers. You can harness your training to carry out traditional marketing activities such as branding, selling, and social media networking that can have a powerful impact on your work. And you might already by taking those first steps into marketing and not even realize it. 

Be Your Own Spin Doctor: Personal Branding
You may have heard about the importance of personal branding and asked yourself, "What is this?" Your brand is who you are and what you do and encompasses all of your unique tangible and intangible qualities. Everyone has a personal brand whether they realize it or not, and it's important to be proactive in shaping what people think when they see or hear your name. It might seem uncomfortable for you, as a social worker dedicated to serving others, to promote yourself, but it's necessary to network and find new opportunities in today's career environment.
To develop your brand, here are a few steps to get you started.  

Identify your attributes, such as your strengths, challenges, passions, and values, and record these thoughts in a simple document. There are many books and articles on this topic; for example, Personal Branding For Dummies is full of tips that can help you structure your approach. This is a get-to-know-yourself exercise and an evaluation of your world from your own perspective. As a social worker, you often consider how people interact within their environment, so ask yourself; what are the elements that influence you the most? How do you react to events and news around you? What are your best qualities and skills that impact your community and colleagues?

The good news is, you're already trained to do this type of high-level assessment. Turning your evaluation skills inward is valuable and will help you strategically think about how to present yourself. Also, to make this work much easier, just be honest and true to yourself. Once you summarize your attributes, have a colleague or mentor give you feedback. This will determine if you're on target or missing a special skill or trait you should be highlighting about your brand.  

Once you identify these crucial elements, it's time to craft narratives for communicating your brand. Two common tools developed are the elevator pitch and personal statements. Your elevator pitch is often presented verbally (in the time it takes for an elevator ride) and gives someone a quick introduction about who you are and your skills and experience. Your pitch invites questions and engages conversation. A personal statement is brief, maybe no longer than 10 words, and incorporates your previously identified attributes. Both types of narratives can be incorporated on your LinkedIn profile, résumé, cover letters, and websites, and should best highlight your career goals and personal aspirations.  

When you're ready to roll out your brand, there are myriad ways to do this. Social media tools, like Twitter and LinkedIn, are crucial and a good way to share content and showcase your expertise that's connected to values and causes you're passionate about. Pictures and videos provide better engagement, too, so use them if you're comfortable. Consider launching a personal website that's brief and encompasses a blog, biography, résumé, and links to your social media profiles. Do try to present and write articles around your expertise to gain exposure for your skills.

Social Workers as Natural Marketers
If you own a private practice and placed an advertisement, wrote an article for your local paper, or attended a community event to promote a program you manage, you're marketing. Social workers can rely on the clinical skills honed in graduate school and our knowledge and passion for social justice to craft press releases and stories that sway public opinion or secure funds. Keep in mind activities in both the social work and marketing professions both aim to change behavior and create movements.

Strategies utilized by corporations that promote social responsibility programs or cause-related organizations focused on issues such as cancer awareness, marriage equality, and suicide prevention have benefited both from creative marketing strategies, as well as sound program planning.

As more corporations are giving back to communities, it's also viewed as a useful strategy for maintaining healthy bottom lines. Target has hired social workers in their stores and committed to supporting causes. Even if you believe it's merely a ploy to engage customers and inspire good feelings about shopping at Target, it's still leveraging the social work value of "doing good" to engage their community. This cause-related marketing has a unique place in our profession, and often is led by social workers.

Cause-focused organizations have created savvy marketing campaigns, too. One example is the Human Rights Campaign, along with many other advocacy groups focused on LGBT issues. These groups successfully fight against discrimination of LGBT Americans and created a world where marriage is now legal for same-sex couples. Advocates in the LGBT movement marketed and communicated to the general public the importance of their mission, and told compelling stories and humanized those they advocate for. Legal work, reaching the hearts and minds of people, and a good public relations strategy forever changed the laws. While the times and people's attitudes change, many of the great movements of our century had a marketing component.   

To demonstrate the relationship between marketing and social work, here are concepts commonly used in these professions and a description about how they are related or similar.  

Strengths Perspective = Brand Equity
In marketing and social work, identifying the strongest qualities in a person, product, or organization are the building blocks of success. The strengths perspective, which is the professional lens and focus of social workers when developing interventions, isn't entirely different from a company seeking to build the brand equity of its products to inspire positive attitudes among their customers.

Assessment = Marketing Plan
Every action, either for a client or project, needs a strong plan and accurate assessment of the environment before implementing activities. In the social work profession, a solid assessment is the gold standard and details family and/or medical history, key events, and stressors, and helps determine an effective intervention plan. The assessment is similar to a marketing plan that outlines objectives, strategy, an analysis of current markets, and of the opportunities available to sell services and products.

Advocacy = Promotional Campaign
Advocacy, the hallmark activity of our profession, is the act of helping people who can't speak up on their own behalf and creates action for social causes. For effective advocacy, delivering a good story to the right audience and using research to support an effort is key. This work can be likened to a promotional campaign that combines public relations and advertising and also tells a story, highlights a brand's value and personality, and is guided by clear goals. If you can recall the greatest advocacy triumphs, communicating consistently and effectively on behalf of a cause or person was critical to the mission's success.

Person-In-Environment = Target Market Identification
Our view of a client's interactions within their own social environment, better known as the person-in-environment perspective, is similar to target market segmentation that requires you to be knowledgeable about the demographics, lifestyle, and geographic location of your audience to successfully offer a product or service. In both perspectives, you need to understand the characteristics of both your audience and their environment; this will better enable you to influence people and change and predict their behavior.

Empathy = Relationship Marketing
Connecting with people is an important part of our lives and work. Showing empathy means seeking to understand and appreciate someone's emotions and builds rapport, which is the foundation of a social worker's approach. Relationship marketing creates long-term and trusting relationships with customers; this is the best environment for promoting a service. No matter your profession, in order to make a difference you must connect with people in the right way.

Since social work and marketing skill sets can come naturally, this gives you the power to create a more positive perception of the work you do and enhance the success of your causes.  Additionally, changing how people perceive the social work profession can both improve our reputation and strengthen our missions.

— Kristin Battista-Frazee, MSW, is a marketing consultant and freelance writer based in McLean, Virginia.