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Interview with Jennifer Hartmann – Mastering UGC & Community Building – Episode #47

“No one on social follows a brand to be advertised to.”

As Director of Public Relations and Enterprise Social Media, Jen is responsible for protecting and improving John Deere’s reputation by leading an enterprise social media and public relations strategy for the company. Jen has over 25 years of experience in public relations, communications, and marketing with 12 of those years at John Deere.

In this episode of the podcast, we talked about John Deere’s 100+ year old content marketing history, why UGC is important to incorporate into a marketing strategy, defining a community and how UGC helps with community building, how she manages JD’s social media profiles in 54 countries, her advice to entry-level marketers who want to move up in an organization, and much more!


Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:00  

Recording I can never get used to how loud her voices Alright, so I’m gonna do a countdown. We are now recording and 54321 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. We are now recording episode 47 of the podcast, believe it or not. And today’s guest is very special. Her name is Jennifer Hartman. And she works at John Deere. Hi, Jennifer, how are you?


Jennifer Hartmann  0:27  

Kenny, I’m wonderful. Thank you.


Kenny Soto  0:29  

All right. So what I’d like to do in order to start every episode is give the audience more context on the guests background. So my first question for you is how did you get into marketing?


Jennifer Hartmann  0:45  

You know, I was heading into a career actually, to be an English teacher, I always had a knack for writing and thought I wanted to be a reporter or journalists, I tinkered a bit in college with broadcast journalism. And then through the required coursework in journalism, I landed in PR, ended up getting an internship at Edelman public relations in Chicago, and have been in marketing communications or PR in one form or another ever since.


Kenny Soto  1:18  

Now, John Deere has a very long history. I’ve been doing some research, and if I’m not mistaken, they were founded in 1895. And after 1837 1837 Wow. So it’s yeah, we’re 184 year old company even older than expected. So 184 years of operations, right. And if I’m not mistaken, as well, John Deere started publishing a magazine for former is called the furrow, which is now a digital publication, correct?


Jennifer Hartmann  1:54  

That is correct.


Kenny Soto  1:55  

Perfect. So


Jennifer Hartmann  1:57  

 Yeah, that that publication has been called, you know, the original content marketing piece.


Kenny Soto  2:03  

Yeah. So I wanted to ask you, how does your team keep a pulse on what your audience cares about and successfully for more than 100 years? How have you been able to essentially keep a system that seems to be working?


Jennifer Hartmann  2:20  

I would say that fundamentally, and I don’t mean this to be cliched, but, you know, Deere is built around our customers and the products that are, you know, used for very critical purposes when you consider farming and construction and otherwise. So we have a lot of boots on the ground in terms of our customer base, making sure they’re well supported, making sure they have the products and services and support they need to farm more productively or efficiently, more profitably. 


So in terms of marketing and public relations, in the role I’m in, I, you know, I inherit a lot of information on our customer base simply from, you know, the divisions and the the product marketing teams that exist across the company. From an enterprise and corporate standpoint, we have leveraged relationships with organizations like morning console, which keep a daily pulse on our brand favourability and brand health metrics. 


So whether it’s at the customer level with our marketing teams, or at the corporate level with organizations like morning console. And I would add on top of that, you know, there’s a lot of debate online sometimes about whether there’s value in organic social. And I would say one of the benefits of organic, social social is that real time feedback you get across various channels and audiences, in terms of what topics they’re discussing, the kind of issues that are important to them, or the content that relevant, relevant, you know, is most relevant to them in terms of what we serve up across those social channels.


Kenny Soto  4:07  

I’m glad you mentioned organic social, because it leads perfectly into my next question, why is user generated content or UGC? Important in incorporating into a marketing strategy?


Jennifer Hartmann  4:23  

Well, I do often recognize that working for a brand like John Deere, which has such a fervent fan base and I you know, I don’t know even after 12 years that dear if I’ll ever get over just how passionate our brand fans are. And then when you consider how our equipment is used, the beautiful, natural setting, that so much of our equipment is being operated in And then the pictures and content that results from that. 


Farmers in particular are very proud of the farms, they operate and maintain. They’re very proud of their equipment. And so that user generated content is just a natural byproduct of that pride. We have had since we started our social program, I think it’s going on 10 years now. We’ve had a very robust process to make it easy for our fan base and customer base to share that content with us and to grant permissions. 


And our team has expanded that globally so that regardless of where you are in the world, you’ve got regional representation of what that that experience with our brand looks and feels like across different geographies, cultures, etc. So UGC has been if you’ve looked at any of our social pages, particularly on Instagram, has been a huge part of our content marketing. And then I don’t know if you’ve seen some of what I’ve tweeted before about our tick tock presence. 


We don’t currently have a single video posted from the brand channel on Tik Tok. And yet the hashtag, John Deere has been viewed over three and a half billion times. videos have been viewed with that hashtag three and a half billion times. So right now we’re watching that channel closely learning a lot from the the content that’s being shared across the channel. And and really trying to determine if we need to even enter that space, because I think user generated content is so authentic and real and close to that customer experience, that I’m not sure we really need to mess with that too much.


Kenny Soto  6:52  

Taking a step back. My next question is in two parts. The first part is should all businesses focus on creating a UGC UGC pipeline. And the second part is, when is a business ready to enter the world of user generated content?


Jennifer Hartmann  7:14  

I think for user generated content, and again, it’s you know, it’s a little bit hard for me to step away from a brand like deer that has such a treasure trove of content submitted by users or shared by users. I think, first and foremost, people like to see their content being shared by brands or organizations that they care about or follow. I think there’s a community building aspect to that. 


So I think to start, it comes with sharing or retweeting or engaging with that content to celebrate how your audience is engaging with your content or sharing in your brand, or product. So that’s where I would start is celebrating those users and recognizing them by elevating their content across your channel. We’ve recently on Twitter started to retweet content versus just asking, you know, offline to use that content on our own channels. Because I think there’s some community building opportunities with UGC, you get the opportunity to, you know, directly share the the users, their users page or handle and the content they’re sharing, actually in the channel. 


So that’s where I would start is more from a community building standpoint. And then I think, you know, for some brands or products that perhaps don’t have an elevated brand presence yet, I think there’s some incentivizing that can happen. There’s there’s contests that can be leveraged to encourage and promote sharing of, of relevant content around your brand.


Kenny Soto  9:03  

Besides UGC, are there any other marketing tactics or channels that you feel are helping John dears brand grow in 2021?


Jennifer Hartmann  9:18  

I think what’s helping our social media presence grow, is we recently adopted a more channel specific approach to community building. So previously, when I was the Social Media Manager, I was overseeing all the channels and setting the strategy and direction and trying to get my arms around how each of the audiences on those channels engaged with content, what they were looking for, and really what their expectations or purpose for following us might be. 


Now we have a team of community managers who have each taken a channel to be that subject matter experts. So what we’re doing now is trying to be sure that we’re individually even fully integrated into those channels, understanding how those channels strengthen community, whether that’s engaging in real time with our audiences and two way conversation, whether it’s sharing content, like I just mentioned, taking things offline with surprise and delight activations, where, where we can respond to special celebrations in people’s lives, sending them you know, John Deere branded merch, for their birthdays, or anniversaries, or weddings, etc. 


So that’s what I would say is really helping grow our presence. It’s, you know, organic social is not about just posting, sales materials, brochure copy, product marketing, I think that belongs in paid targeted advertising. It’s my belief that organic social should be about building community. And for many brands or organizations, they need to take a step back and determine where is the greatest opportunity to build that community. 


I think sometimes, particularly with smaller businesses, or companies or brands, we make the mistake of perhaps trying to cover too many channels all at once, instead of really focusing and investing our efforts in the channel, an audience that has the greatest return on that investment of time and resources. content needs to be created specific to that channel. And, and there needs to be an ability to respond in real time. So that community building to me is where organic social really needs to be. 


Kenny Soto  11:56  

Could you quickly define, in your own words, what is a community?


Jennifer Hartmann  12:04  

Sure, I think a community is where you have built a rapport, and a sense of belonging. People, no one on social follows a brand to be advertised to. So it’s critical for a brand social presence, to identify how they can help their followers feel part of something. 


And for Instagram, for instance, our purpose really there is to celebrate brand fandom, to amplify fan content that you that user generated content, to celebrate special occasions or anniversaries to post content that we know our followers will have an emotional connection to. And then, you know, conversely, on Twitter, it’s more about that two way engagement. It’s the fun bantering, it’s the responding in real time. 


And, and I know for smaller organizations and with social media teams that are our, you know, resource strapped. The challenge with having a really robust community on social is that it can’t just be Monday through Friday, nine to five, that community is around the clock. Because it’s so important to engage in real time, particularly on Twitter. And that’s why I advise you to find that channel. Maybe perhaps not just where you can invest your resources, but where you have the bandwidth to manage. And I would argue that Twitter demands a bit more time than perhaps some of those other channels do.


Kenny Soto  13:54  

Does your team in any way incorporate marketing automation tools to help with community engagement and community building? So,


Jennifer Hartmann  14:07  

you know, certainly I think any number of the social media software tools can help with that. You know, we we have been a company and brand as large as ours, we’ve got social media in 54 countries. You know, we have a really robust process and program to monitor engage in real time. We have 24/7 customer support. And so of course, we’re looking at those automated tools, I think for grittier teams with with, you know, fewer resources. 


There’s a lot of apps that help support scheduling and monitoring and notifications for app mentions, for instance, or any tagged social content. So I just encourage Every one to find the tool that not only can they afford, but that can help them, you know, stay plugged in, in with the least friction possible. It’s one of the biggest challenges that we have at a company or brand, the size of John Deere is that real time engagement on nights and weekends and so natively that tends to be the approach we take. 


But that I think comes with some risk as well. We really try to encourage reviews of any content, having you know, two levels of approval oftentimes helps ensure that you don’t inadvertently step into a situation that might cause some issues for your brand or reputation. So keep it simple. And find that tool that will allow you to quickly and effectively respond. I am not one for chat bots, or the automated responses to certain questions or inquiries I haven’t seen or experience if anyone listening, knows of a tool that they find feels genuine and authentic, I’d love to hear about it. But for me, it’s really about human to human interaction.


Kenny Soto  16:12  

I’d love to get your thoughts on crisis management, how does your team manage a crisis in the event that they do get themselves into a sticky situation.


Jennifer Hartmann  16:25  

So one of the things I recommend often is a daily huddle. And for us, we have a morning, a stand up meeting every single day, Monday through Friday, we’ve made it a priority, I think it’s very easy for all of us to say we don’t have time. And I think if there’s not value in that conversation, perhaps it’s even easier to say you don’t have time. But I recommend having a daily stayed up, stand up with relevant stakeholders. 


So for us, it’s our PR and social team. And what we do is just a daily analysis of what’s happening in the world. What issues social issues, industry issues, audience conversation should we be mindful of or aware of, so that we’re not posting content. And one of the examples I give is, you know, we don’t want to post any content featuring our construction equipment that says something about so earth shattering if there’s been a major earthquake somewhere in the world, right? So we’re very mindful of what’s happening in those conversations that might be trending on Twitter, for instance, we need to take into into account before any content plans we might have for the day.


 So first and foremost, is trying to prevent those situations from happening. And I already mentioned that the levels of approval we try to ensure is at the core of our programs so that we have two eyes on any content that might be posted or responses that might be published. And then I would say from a crisis response standpoint. In today’s world, I think we all need to embrace a lot more pain tolerance. All of us have seen how brands have mistakenly created an issue or mistake, right even trend overnight. 


But within a blink of an eye, it’s gone. And so I think it’s on all of us to be sure that we are not limiting ourselves or risk adverse out of fear for one of those mistakes, but instead help educate internal stakeholders that those mistakes may happen. And if they do, they are not the end of the world. So that’s number two. And then third, that pain tolerance extends across the board on social when it comes to trolls, when it comes to haters. It’s It’s It’s learning to not respond instinctually or emotionally. 


But to sometimes allow that to play out as painful as I think that is for many of us that care about the brand we’re representing. We always say we don’t want to give oxygen to the conversation. If deer responds or deer acts defensive. Sometimes that can fight fanned the flames more than we’d like. So, for us it’s really about a patient thoughtful and and cautious, but courageous approach.


Kenny Soto  19:40  

What advice would you give to an entry level marketer who wants to move up in an organization over a long period of time?


Jennifer Hartmann  19:52  

I started my career in nonprofits and one of the recommendations I give young people today A is that if you’re still in college or looking at entry level roles, and I know sometimes agencies can give you the same kind of experience. But I think nonprofits even if it’s to volunteer your services for a nonprofit, nonprofits give you the opportunity to test your skills and, and strengthen your skills in a broad cross section of marketing, PR and digital communication skills. 


So whether that’s, you know, search engine optimization, digital marketing, social media management, crisis response, nonprofits really do provide that opportunity to serve a real, purposeful value to an organization that might not otherwise have those skill sets. So that’s one recommendation I make. The second thing I often try to remind people and my Twitter feed is often it feels like this is a central theme of my Twitter feed is that is, none of us have it figured out. 


No matter how much people above you, around you, on social media feed seem to be an expert, or have a rich history or experience on their resume. We are all learning as we go. And because of the pace of change in our industry, and how quickly that digital landscape is evolving, how quickly social media tools, introduce new features, audiences, shift to new channels. We are all entry level in some way. And I would encourage young people to recognize they have a very valuable voice in this evolution in how your generation is embracing technology and digital tools. 


And to be confident and courageous and how often you share your voice. Imposter Syndrome impacts all of us, regardless of where we are in our career. And I would encourage you to bury that impostor syndrome as much as possible, and add your point of view, to the conversation and to the change that’s happening. Because I think that voice is part of inclusivity. It’s part of ensuring that there’s a diverse and inclusive representation across the board and our industry.


Kenny Soto  22:41  

That’s reassuring that you gave that answer because I personally started my marketing career by volunteering one year of my time during college to a nonprofit. And that’s how I learned all of my digital marketing skills.


Jennifer Hartmann  22:52  

That’s wonderful. You know, what I love to about nonprofits, and you probably experienced this is that you’re you are the expert in the room?


Kenny Soto  22:59  



Jennifer Hartmann  23:01  

Yep. And then they they turn to you. So there’s a real leadership opportunity there as well, because they’re looking to you to set that strategy to make the recommendations. And by the way, no one in a nonprofit has time to worry about it. So I feel like there’s a lot of autonomy there as well.


Kenny Soto  23:18  

It may be one of those underutilized, I guess, professional channels, if you will, that continues to be underutilized because it’s not as fancy or shiny as all of these coveted tech roles that startups


Jennifer Hartmann  23:34  

and what’s so cool too, is you get to do something that matters. Particularly if you volunteer for an organization that means something to you personally. And so there you serve it to get a feel to for work that is purposeful, so that you can really determine where you need to go next and and to make sure that the work you’re doing actually feels like it’s adding value in some way. Right.


Kenny Soto  24:01  

Two more questions, Jennifer. My next question is, what are some poor skills that can be hard skills or soft skills that you have leveraged throughout your entire career to date?


Jennifer Hartmann  24:17  

First and foremost, writing. Second, I don’t think there’s enough attention paid in college and in early career development, around financial and business acumen. So if there’s any recommendation I would make to your audience. It’s to very early on, make sure you understand the business world even if you need to take a class, an online course. 


You know, finance for non financial managers, investment practices, board governance, accounting. I think that’s been perhaps a gap I’ve had I’ve learned as I’ve gone but I I think that’s really instrumental in our roles more than ever, digital communicators, public relations press professionals are looking to provide come the business. And I think understanding some of those core business principles is integral to any of our success. 


And then third, I would say the art of diplomacy, influencing without authority. Unfortunately, many of us in in communications or marketing roles don’t always have a maybe the lead role in an organization. And so oftentimes, we need to be able to influence others, without perhaps that job title or the hierarchy, hierarchy that perhaps comes with other positions or roles, especially early on. 


So really understanding how to navigate political dynamics, elevating ideas, making sure those ideas come to fruition, and expanding understanding across an organization on the critical role, PR, communications and marketing plays in any business strategy. So those would be my three recommendations or thoughts.


Kenny Soto  26:22  

Before I ask my last question, I definitely want to add one personal insight in elevating an idea, one thing that I’ve learned that has helped me tremendously, is taking a yes and approach. So whenever you have an idea, see if there’s a way to have everyone else in your team, incorporate their ideas into that idea. 


So it’s not just you championing your own original thought, but it ends up getting you immediate buy in when you present your idea as a rough draft, if you will, and say, Hey, this is the concept or tactic that I would like to try. But before we deploy it, I would love to know how you would approach deploying this tactic or what you would add to this tactic to ensure its success. That approach has helped me tremendously. And that’s just something that I want to add on to your answer.


Jennifer Hartmann  27:18  

I love that Kenny, you’re spot on.


Kenny Soto  27:21  

Now, my last question is a hypothetical one because time machines don’t exist. But if a time machine did exist, and you can go back in time, 10 years from today, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?


Jennifer Hartmann 27:41  

That’s a great question. Because Wow, the speed of my career, the last 10 years has been insane. So I don’t know that I would change anything. I’m a firm believer that good, bad or ugly. The missteps in your career, the rejections you get. And by the way, I tell everyone the story that before I became the Social Media Manager, I had applied for two roles in our branding communications organization, and I did not get those roles. 


Jennifer Hartmann  28:22  

So it took a lot of courage for me to apply for that third role as the Social Media Manager, having previously been rejected twice. But now, I think God, I didn’t get those roles. The My career has worked out precisely as it should have. I’m not sure I would be in the lead role I’m in now had I gotten those other two positions. 


And so my counsel would be to view every setback as a potential win. And I don’t mean doing it the day of the setback, or even a week later when it’s still singing, stinging. But I think it’s beneficial for all of us from a career standpoint, to consider how setbacks or rejections or mistakes can actually strengthen. Our resolve and our commitment and our ability to overcome adversity are all tremendous attributes for anyone seeking a leadership role or a promotion or a a quicker pace to that career development and that career progression. 


So I think to specifically answer your question, I would I would tell myself in those days or weeks after not getting those roles, to pick my head up a bit sooner I’m because it all worked out exactly as it was supposed to.


Kenny Soto  30:06  

This has been an amazing interview. Thank you so much, Jennifer. If anyone wanted to connect with you or find you online, where should they go?


Jennifer Hartmann 30:16  

They can find me on Twitter My Twitter handle is at Jen Allison j e n a l y S L N.


Kenny Soto  30:24  

Amazing. Thank you for your time today and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. And as always, I hope you have a great week. Bye.

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