Allison Leanos '09 on the Power of Social Media
***This article originally published in 2012. Allison is now National Communications Manager at Step Up.***
Allison Leanos ’06, ’09 MBA has nearly seen it all in the online and digital marketing world. Her first taste of the online space was her experience co-leading the development and growth of an e-commerce department for Italian leather handbag company, Linea Pelle Inc. She then spearheaded social media efforts for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, where she empowered volunteers to embrace social media tools to mobilize their local volunteer base and collaborated with marketing directors on Capitol Hill in advocacy efforts. Her work in social media campaigns landed the organization as a top finalist at the 2011 Classy Awards for Most Innovative Use of Social Media by a Charity. In the two and a half years she was with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, she grew its Facebook page from 5,000 fans to over 45,000 fans.
In June, Leanos began work as a social media specialist for Children's Hospital Los Angeles. (She admits she has a soft spot for nonprofits.) She’s currently focused on developing a long-term strategy to make social activity more interactive and deepen the hospital’s online footprint. And if that wasn’t keeping her busy enough, she also blogs regularly and is founder and editor of the Girl’s Guide to Social Media, a blog designed to help the average person better understand the changes in social media, leverage its tools and benefits, and keep online privacy secure. Here’s what Leanos had to say about the power of social media and how LMU’s MBA Program set her up for success.
What sparked your initial interest in social media and online marketing?
It sort of happened organically. My first job was at Linea Pelle within their e-commerce department. The department was only two months old when I joined so I was fortunate to get in at the ground level and build it from there. At the time, brands were just starting to recognize that social media is an effective, low cost marketing vehicle. I recognized the opportunity and added social media to my job function. It was certainly a learn-by-doing experience. People were starting to spend more time on social media and engage on a different level. I love social media because relationships are built virtually. It’s been interesting to watch it evolve; there have been so many changes within the last five years.
Why did you decide to pursue your MBA?
I knew I wanted to get my MBA when I was an undergrad marketing major at LMU. I really enjoyed studying business and always had a thirst for knowledge. I wanted to learn more about the business landscape and how businesses operate at a deeper level. I chose to attend LMU again for my MBA because of its small classes and focus on the education of the whole person. It was definitely worth the investment.
What are some of your most memorable classes?
There are a handful of classes that really stand out. I took a negotiations class that taught me how to look at the bigger picture, how to deal with different personalities, how to pitch an idea and how to compromise so both parties have added value. Though I was a little frightened to take that class at first, the lessons I learned have been effective in my everyday life since then. Negotiating has helped me when pitching ideas and working with colleagues – even when renting an apartment or buying a car! My leadership class was also a highlight. All the exercises we did in class really taught me how to treat people and how to turn a difficult situation into an opportunity. I left that class reflecting on the type of leader I aim to be in my personal and professional life.
What’s one of the biggest trends in social media right now?
There are a couple of trends that stand out; most notably, the integration of entertainment and social media. For example, when I watch TV or see an ad for a movie, I notice the inclusion of a hash tag. To me that call to action is, “Open Twitter and start taking about this!” Another trend I’m seeing is how brands are thinking of ways to leverage Pinterest. There are a variety of Pinterest contests popping up inviting people to express their creativity. When users participate in a contest, they’re essentially sharing their pins, which means more reach for that brand. Additionally, I notice magazines and retail brands use it to compartmentalize designs and stories. I see brands on a daily basis starting to test the waters with Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. I’m seeing a lot of cross promoting on campaigns.
What do you like most about working in the social media industry?
What I love about social media is it only takes a small action to produce big change. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. When I worked at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I started noticing relationships forming online. People were making connections because they had something in common. It’s inspiring to watch these relationships develop and friendships deepen. Social media can be so effective in deepening a cause or nurturing a relationship. I love leveraging social media tools to add value to constituents, customers, clients and the brand or organization.
What’s most challenging?
The most challenging part of social media is that it never closes and there are a number of needs and wants from community members. It can be challenging to manage expectations and come up with a strategy that satisfies everyone – all while staying true to the online voice and adding value for the end goal.
Why did you decide to start Girls Guide to Social Media?
When I was at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I trained volunteers on how to embrace social media. Most of the volunteers were women. I would get calls from women frightened about changes in social media, privacy issues, updates, etc. I felt like there was a need to create an online space for people to go and learn about social media. I wanted to make it my personal goal to help the average person become more aware of social media and share best practices.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love running and practicing yoga. With a number of half marathons under my belt, I’m aiming to compete in my first full marathon next year. Running helped me during my MBA when I was working full time. It was a really demanding time with deadlines for work and school. Running kept me balanced and prevented me from having a meltdown. I also love hanging out with my friends. They were so understanding and supportive when I disappeared for two years while getting my MBA.
How valuable has an MBA been to your professional growth?
Extremely valuable. Before my MBA, I felt like I understood business, but not on a deep enough level. My classes in leadership, negotiation and marketing taught me so much and really helped me develop my talents. Even my supply-chain management course taught me to look at bigger picture situations. Now when I interview for positions – or in any work setting really – I feel like I have more to offer from the knowledge and skills I gained in the program.