Texas Tech University

Q&A: Alex Buckalew

  • Name: Alex Buckalew
  • Age: 26
  • Hometown: Mesquite, Texas
  • Position: Community Manager
  • Company: MRY

Buckalew graduated from the College of Media & Communication in 2010 with two degrees. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Electronic Media & Communication and English, with a concentration in Creative Writing.

During her undergraduate years, she served as the secretary of Pi Delta Alpha, the official college co-ed fraternity.

In addition to her involvement inside the college, Alex completed an internship with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and was a photography assistant for Texas Tech University.

Describe how you use social media in your career thus far.

Brands were just dipping their toes into the social media Kool-Aid when I was in my final years of college, and I am not scared to admit I took full advantage of traditional employers and their naiveté of this new way to reach consumers. In one of my first internships at the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, I volunteered to help run their Facebook page. I will fully admit I had no idea what I was doing, but because I was one of the youngest people in the office, I used that opportunity to read blogs, articles, any advice from outside sources who were currently marketing on the platform to run 'tests' to see what worked and didn't for the Symphony. That's the first time I remember understanding social media was a force, and not because of the power of what you were promoting, but because of the people who were grasping your content and distributing it through their voice to their networks.

After that, I quickly (thank goodness) acquired a job with an educational non-profit where I worked in a two-person marketing team that led the charge on almost any event, publication or educational reform document that the organization's name touched. I, again, was the youngest in the office and was handed the keys to all things social media. I learned the importance of not just a brands voice through our live-tweets of conference speeches, and keeping our community up-to-date on not only the organization's news, but also what was most important to our audience.

Finally, the time came for a change and I knew I wanted to move to New York City. That's where I learned my most valuable lesson of social media to date: you are a brand. To get the job I have currently, I would voice my knowledge on social media by participating in twitter chats that were dedicated to the field I wanted to be in, write blogs for my personal website on my opinions on new trends, and took the time to clean up all of my social channels. While it's important to have an opinion on whatever field of study you'd like to be a part of, it's just as important to understand that not everyone will appreciate your photos, comments or ideas. My rule of thumb: if I can't explain it to my grandmother, who in her defense is very liberal, it should stay in my head and not my social media channels. And trust me, Snapchat photos don't disappear.

How do you use social media in your current position?

Social media is quite literally my job. Brands hire me to run their social media platforms. I've managed everything from Facebook pages to Instagram accounts. When someone tweets, posts, comments or likes a brand, I'm one of the many, many people who read it and respond, if appropriate.

A few other tasks put on my plate: I deal with reps for each of the social media platforms – currently Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr – for any "insider" news on platform changes, issues with algorithms, or general ideation for campaign launches. I write content and help with design/imagery for my brands that will be used for ads on social media sites, as well as our organic content. I also help find social influencers – YouTube, Twitter, Blog, etc., celebrities – to help propel campaigns.

What tools do you use to track social media coverage for your clients?

I've worked with very large clients who use the tool Sprinkler. It is a fairly good tool that allows us to monitor our client's Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Instagram accounts. It also allows us to follow conversations around certain hashtags, keywords, links, mentions, etc. for each platform.

For analytics we have our own dedicated analytics department, so my knowledge of specific tools they use is limited to Webtrends and Crimson Hexigon. Also, Sprinklr has a very robust reporting dashboard, so I've pulled that information from time to time for specific client requests.

There are other clients in the office who use Spredfast to monitor their social media sites, and a few smaller budget clients who primarily use free tools like Hootsuite

What is the most important thing students need to know about social media before they graduate?

Like I said earlier, you are a brand. You should ALWAYS think of yourself as a brand even if you don't think you are going specifically into social media. That said - everything you put online, from a Facebook post to a blog post, is a representation of yourself. It's always important to have a voice, and understand that voice, but working on my side of social media, I've seen far too many people lose out on an opportunity because they think it's appropriate to post a distasteful photo or rude comment.

Trust me, we know you went to college and had fun. Everyone in the “real world” had fun in college, but no one in the real world has time to justify to their boss why they hired someone who is posting distasteful photos from last night's party or tweeting curse words or hurtful comments. You may think it is funny or makes you look popular, but no one who has a real say in your future career does. Until you are a professional comedian, keep a watchful eye on how you are representing yourself. I personally know plenty of people who don't work in social who are sending me emails of potential hires and what didn't get them the job - a.k.a.: something on their social feeds.

What is a normal day at work like for you?

The tool that I use to monitor my client's social media channels comes with a mobile component, so around 9 a.m. I check all of my client's feeds as well as any keyword searches, hashtags associated with my client (both spelled correctly and not), trending topics for the day, etc. I then gather the tagged posts/tweets that people have sent out into the interwebs and write custom responses from the brand acknowledging an issue with the product they may be having, a general comment about the brand that I represent, or to simply aid the positive conversation that people are having about the brand. I then send these responses directly to my client, check email, and that day's meeting times. Then I'm off to the office.

Once there, I spend about an hour or more digging through trending topics, articles, news reports, and yes, even celebrity happenings – in the world of social media, you must keep in touch with what your community cares about… it's not always what you care about.

I have about three to five meetings a day with various teams, including paid media (social media advertising/boosting clients' posts), creative to go over any new copy additions (sometimes based on the trending events, celebs, etc., that I dug up earlier), my general department to brainstorm various problems and resolutions, client calls to discuss upcoming events, content pieces, etc., and finally, writing blogs for my agency as a whole.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Social isn't something I set out to do, and not something I specifically want to do for the rest of my life. BUT with that said, it's an amazing way to understand various fields. Almost every industry has a presence on social media, so it's a wonderful learning tool. Yes, when you work in it, you're not always working on the most glorious brands. But having a professional understanding of social media definitely helps when trying to gain insider or ground level information on topics that do interest you.

I also love the people I work with, as most people who work in social media are younger and more open-minded to change. It's exciting to be in an environment of "Yes." Social media is constantly changing, so it's not in anyone's interest to turn down a new idea.

How did the College of Media & Communications prepare you for the professional world?

Specifically in college, I took an ad writing class along with a class that studied the "why" of advertising. Both of these together had a MAJOR impact on how I approach advertising, especially in this day and age. They taught me how to have a voice while getting to the point of your ad quickly. I also learned why certain colors, words and sounds work to draw in people's interest. There are a ton of people I work with who have degrees or minors in psychology, and it's something I would definitely advise any die-hard advertiser to at least take a course or two in. Everyone's goal is to make money, but it's an advertiser's job to understand how.

Another very important way the college helped me was through networking. From my first job to my pilgrimage to New York, I reached out to fellow college alumni, and as long as I put in the work, 99 percent of them were happy to help me in any way that they could. It was almost overwhelming how many of them offered their advice and good vibes to help me get where I am today.

What skills would you recommend students have in order to obtain a job or internship in your line of work?

  • Write! Have something that proves you are able to write. Whether that be a blog, ad book, lively twitter feed… No matter what part of this industry you think you want to take part in, you will be writing A LOT. Every person on my team has to write, and you'd be amazed how much work (and writing) goes into a 140-character tweet.
  • Personal skills. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people (including myself) have taken acting classes. Whether on agency side or client side, you will have to represent your brand to a lot of people, both on- and off-line, and no client or boss is going to sign your pay check if you can't present yourself in the most positive and fluid light. Having the acting experience of changing into a character will also help you with understanding different brand voices. Often you work many different accounts, none of which sound the same. Acting can definitely help give you the understanding you need to tackle a new client persona.
  • Networking skills.I hate to say this, because I fear it downgrades the need for true talent and passion. But at the end of the day, it's who you know. Have the knowledge, talent and know-how to get youreslf in front of those who can help you, and then don't be afraid to speak up and do the work.

What advice would you share with current students about finding their first job out of college?

Best thing I could tell ANYONE trying to get ANY job is never be too big to get coffee. I work with people who fly in on helicopters on Monday mornings from their weekend in the Hamptons, and I can promise you the moment we all step foot in my office, we are there to get the job done. That means everyone is doing work they don't want to do. While it's not my entire job, I do 'busy' or 'grunt' work all the time. But I also get to work with big clients, meet some crazy awesome people, and gain the respect of those around me. Someone has to do it, and you never know who's watching.

Alex Buckalew

Alex Buckalew