Valeria Maltoni is a professional marketer with 20 years of real-world corporate experience, 10 of which online, across a broad array of mid-to-large sized companies. Hands-on work at a Fortune 500 technology company, a technology start-up, in health care, chemical manufacturing, risk management consulting, and the non-profit sector have provided her with a wealth of experience and insights. Now Valeria applies that knowledge to helping businesses understand how customers and communities have changed marketing, public relations, and communications - and how to build value in this new environment. She specializes in marketing communications, customer dialogue, and brand management. Valeria has come to define modern business as a long and open conversation. Conversation Agent is recognized among the world's top online marketing blogs.
Thank you for giving us a bit of your time, Valeria; no small thing, considering how in-demand you are these days! Please give us a brief background: Where were you born and raised, what were the pivotal events in your life so far, what brought you to marketing as a career?
I was made in Italy and grew up in Modena. The city is famous to the world for its balsamic vinegar, Ferrari cars, and Luciano Pavarotti. It's a place I love to visit every year, especially since my whole family is still there. When I was six, I told my parents that I'd become a translator in the US. And that's what I did.
Before earning my doctoral university degree in linguistics, I worked as a translator for 6+ years -- 1,200 hours of simultaneous interpreting work alone, and 200 hours of dubbing -- while also doing publicity for a non profit center and going back and forth to finish University. It was fun, juggling it all. Operations, PR
, marketing were all integrated with it. When I got into business from non profit, they wanted me for my marketing and communications experience. So there you have it. That was too long ago to mention
Can you give us a quick summary of what you mean in your bio when you say, "Valeria has come to define modern business as a long and open conversation"?
As we're finding out with the economic slump, many industries and companies are interdependent -- we're all connected, individuals and organizations. Unless you're willing to be in conversation and participating in alliances, partnerships, knowledge flows, interactions with customers and suppliers, etc. you're missing out.
This is continuous, at all levels. It's both an opportunity and a challenge. When do you open up, when do you gather your facts? It's increasingly faster, yet there are valid reasons to slow down as well. We live in interesting times.
What do you mean when you say that 'talk can change our lives'?
With the rise of social media, everyone publishing, everyone with the ability to create, and mash up, we have even more of a need to communicate with each other, to make clarity, to break through the clutter. To build trust, we need to go back to the future, make our word our contract with each other. That happens only when we choose dialogue over reaction. Conversation is a wonderful tool to go from positions to meeting of the minds, or a new place.
Though a longtime marketing professional, you have completely embraced the new media of social marketing. What is the ultimate importance of these new approaches – for business and for societies in general?
We're social before we're anything else. We're born that way
Think about a baby. They're so dependent on others to learn their way around. Then children, experimenting with life, going from contact to friend without filters and judgment, with curiosity. Then we grow up, and bang, the walls come down. We learn and are incapable of unlearning so we can innovate again, and connect with others.
Businesses are reflections of the cultures that define them. Culture is the important part, the part we need to go back and re-evaluate and in many cases repair. People are humans, they're not "resources," cogs in industrial wheels. People are relearning to be self-reliant and about the value of trust. This is important for what's next.
Our membership at Virtual Assistant Forums is composed mostly of solopreneurs. Does community-building relate to the business concerns of tiny operations as well as larger companies? If so, how?
Everyone moves around so much these days, which is where VAs are helpful, right? And we're social animals, we watch what others do, then tend to follow suit. Often we make up for lack of physical community with virtual ones. That's because community is important to people -- to us. We don't exist in a vacuum. And yes, this is especially important for solopreneurs. Organic and community of practice means support, networking, knowledge flows, and so much more.
What are the fundamental steps you recommend taking when starting to build a community? What tactics have you used that have made your communities successful?
Use search to find out if it already exists, first. Participate in communities and online networks where the people you're trying to attract hang out. Be interested, curious, and interesting. Building community is hard work. You need top notch content, designated facilitators who will be moderating, connecting people, then a community manager to keep things going. And community has dips. Like with blogging, starting is fairly simple, keeping it up, and growing readership takes work.
This question would warrant a lengthy post by itself!
What is the difference, if any, between a community and a network?
A community has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. In human terms, a community has shared resources, needs, risks, preferences, intent, and beliefs that affect the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. A network is an interconnected group or system. So it shares connections and may not share intent and all the other things that make community.
Think for example about Facebook -- within the social network, there are many communities.
Blogherald.com describes you as a person with "...New World attitude and Italian style," going on to say you have a "...unique talent for synthesizing marketing, public relations, and communications." What roots or experiences especially influenced the development of this reputation?
Being social and in conversation is part of being Italian. I grew up in a house with 5,000 books, was trained in classical studies and the art of being human -- sociology, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy all delve into that. Marketing, PR
and communications all revolve around understanding people, their individual and group behaviors and addressing them. Hopefully for a desired outcome.
You're a speaker, writer, coach, academic, member of several boards, and a thought leader, all while maintaining your day job! How do you juggle all your responsibilities? What is your advice regarding time management in this ever-faster world?
Learn to be self-driven and motivated and to distinguish important from urgent. I just posted about time management
. John Lennon said that life is what happens to you while you're busy planning. While that's a great attitude, you still need to master planning to serve what's important.
Recently, you said "… social media is bringing back the need to have one key entity -- person or agency -- leading coordinated efforts." How can virtual assistants position themselves well for gaining some of the business generated by this need? Have you personally worked with any VAs, or do you plan to do so in the future?
I don't use a VA right now, many times I wished I had one, so stay tuned on that! To me this is the role a Conversation Agent would fill. Interestingly enough, it's a role I found myself filling consistently throughout my career. You need to have the ability to understand the business you support, I mean really know how it makes money, what it's about, who are the customers, where are they, what do they say, then see the connections and interdependencies, bridge different cultures, and drive action to achieve common goals. While you manage to stay cool and on track. Not a simple feat.
Look to account managers in agencies. They do some of this. What are their skills? What do you know and have in experience that is above and beyond that?
You hold a weekly chat on Twitter under the hashtag, #kaizenblog. It is centered on the use of the Japanese philosophy of kaizen in social media. Please elaborate a little for us. What is kaizen, and how does it relate to SMM?
As humans we're masterpieces, yet we're work in progress. Being human means we're social. Continuous, daily work on the process that makes us who we are, learning from observation and aligning with what we discover from our exploration of community and others, online and offline, will produce improvements in us and our outlook.
You have a wonderful recent post about being yourself, with some excellent advice for all adults. You advise living in the moment, but may we ask you to look ahead and tell us: where do you envision yourself in five years or so? What are you especially looking forward to?
Although I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, I now think that's the direction in which I'm headed. Or perhaps become a partner in a small firm, where what I do and know really makes a difference to clients. There's a book in everyone, so there's one in me as well -- or two. I love the energy I get from groups of passionate practitioners, and I love to share what I know, so I look to increase my participation in conferences and workshops.
Right now, I'm rolling up my sleeves to build the bridge that will get me there. It's hard work, and I love it.
Interview graciously conducted by: Mary H. Ruth of Virtual Writing and Communications: Specializing in writing, editing, and social media marketing, Mary has been a virtual assistant, and member of VAF, since 2007. Please visit her blog, Virtual Assistance and You, a journal for VAs and their clients.