Mary: I just love this human being so much! Her name is Cher Jones, a social media trainer and a personal branding coach who has the love of technology wired into not just her personality but her DNA. She has over 18 years of PR marketing and broadcasting experience and has been actively using social media since 1999. We’re in the same vintage here, Cher. She is one of Canada’s top online personal branding experts. As a corporate trainer, she helps companies remain relevant and
competitive with social media training that means business. She’s regularly invited to speak at conferences, academic institutions, and industry events. She is a legend, period. Give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for Ms. Cher Jones.
You are, for me, one of the most heart-centered humans I virtually know. Although I feel like I know you, it’s weird, but it’s all good and amazing. You give so much goodness, which really shows as far as I’m concerned, who you are at your core. There’s a real defining line of the types of people who show up on social media. There are the ones who come from their core and others who are in it for the transaction. You’re the queen of LinkedIn LIVES.
Literally, when I think of LinkedIn Lives, I think of Cher Jones immediately. I mean, talk about creating a brand signature for yourself. This is amazing, but I want to start with your story. You are Canadian. I have a very soft spot for Canada, by the way, because my extended family lives in Toronto. So I’ve got a connection with Canada. I want to honor this interview first and foremost and unpack the Cher Jones story. So let’s start by you sharing with us when you were young what you wanted to become. What was the Cher vision, as a little girl, and has that shown up in your adult life?
Cher: It’s definitely shown up, but not the way that I thought it would. It started probably when I was in the sixth grade, when I started signing my tests “best wishes” so when I became famous, my teachers would have something to tell Barbara Walters on 2020. They would have a piece of Cher memorabilia, and they would have stories to talk about. It’s always something I wanted it to be. I actually kind of career-pathed into broadcasting, and I wanted to be like Barbara Walters. I wanted to be on 2020, but then I realized I didn’t love hard news and investigative journalism. That wasn’t my thing, but I loved television. It was interesting because I always feel that people who take those
career tests all want to be a teacher or a journalist or an actor. It’s all the same thing. And I wanted all of those. So somehow, some way, what I do now, I’m able to use the same skills, not quite the same titles, but I get to do that.
Mary: What would you say then is your actual genius side? What can you do with ease and grace that others cannot?
Cher: I would say my zone is just listening to people and helping them reposition, like helping them grab the right words to describe what they do and how they serve. I love being able to help people articulate it in a way that they would say it, but leveled up, and helping them do that and realize that it sounds exactly like them, but yet they could never have written it.
Mary: Isn’t that amazing that it is actually a gift, finding the right words, being able to articulate what you do, who you serve, and what you bring to the table? It sounds really easy, doesn’t it? But it’s actually really quite hard. There’s a real science behind it, isn’t there? And that’s why when people talk about personal branding, Cher, it drives me insane because it’s about all the touchy, feely stuff that is actually quite intense behind the scenes. Would you agree with that?
Cher: Oh, 100%. And I look at my experience, from a communications discipline. I started my career and I went to school for journalism. Then I worked in sports broadcasting, and then I moved into marketing and copywriting and then I moved into PR and corporate communications. All of those are different disciplines that take communications from a different angle, from a different audience, from a different purpose and objective. It’s being able to leverage all those pieces, but it didn’t happen overnight; I’ve been doing this for a long time.
My first talk about personal branding was way back in 2013, I believe, and it was called 99 Problems, But My Brand Ain’t One. That was the first time I ever talked about personal branding, and it took years to get to the point where I am now, where I can just listen. I can already pull out your key messaging, but it takes time. Now, it is my zone of genius, but it was baked in for a long period of time.
Mary: Cher, there’s a real stigma associated with personal branding. It’s very clichéd, and quite interesting. When you’re on social media and you’re hearing people step outside of their disciplines and then start talking about personal branding as though it’s their social media facade. To me, that’s one minor aspect of it, but for most people that’s the aspect, right? What is it for you?
Cher: When I look at it, and because I specialize in that digital side of the personal brand, I think there are so many facets to personal branding. There are many angles to it from the way you show up in the room, the way you speak, the way you dress, and, of course, what you put online. And it’s not just about your brand colors and everything like that; it’s all rooted in an objective of knowing what you want. But for me, it’s about showing up digitally the same way you would in person, having it be seamless and authentic, recognizing and owning what makes you awesome, and stepping into that online that gives you confidence.
Now we get introduced online way before we meet face to face. So having especially in our space where, you know, LinkedIn is kind of our jam and that’s where we hang and that’s where we play. There’s no other site like it that allows you to talk about yourself professionally, but own what makes you awesome. I think for me, my driver is recognizing that we’re all gifted. Like for me, I’m a Christian. And as I look at how God has gifted me to be able to help people, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, but everybody’s gifted with something. When you can use your gifts at work and when you can find them because we have multiple gifts, and when you can position that so that you can get more opportunities to use your gift, all of a sudden, if you’re happy at work, it translates everywhere. Why? Because we spend so much time there and to own the gifts that we were given and strategically use them to get more opportunities to serve through them. That’s what drives me. I know it’s all like airy fairy, but it’s really at the end of the day, when I look at why I do what I do, I know it’s because I love to see people when they’re having what I call a Dorothy moment: “It was in you all along, Dorothy; I just helped you pull it out.”
Mary: I love that. That’s a quote in the magazine. You said something very important. There are the offline version and the online version, which really must be aligned, congruent, and consistent. In between all of that, one thing stands out: I don’t know if it does for you, but for me it’s values. I don’t think people understand what the core meaning is of knowing their core values. You know, people say out loud what their values are like the generic ones – love and kindness – but to me, it’s very surface. For me, values are something that you really think about, contemplate, consider, and process. For me, it’s saying, “My value is truth; therefore, it has to show up in every single thing that I do, in the online version and in the offline version.” How do values fit into your ecosystem?
Cher: I think for me, it’s really about like your “yes.” Be your “yes.” Your “no,” be your “no.” So what you put out there has to reflect the yes and the no. The sense of value is important to me because like, I won’t stop until I know I’ve delivered value for that person. For me, I can just feel whether I delivered value in that sense. It’s like my service delivery: Everything that I do is a part of me. And, sometimes that can play into perfectionism and all that stuff, which is something I battle severely. When I think about my value, it’s like a drive to excellence, so that person can really feel awesome about themselves and what they put out there. And that I know that the work that we’ve done together works, and I believe in it.
So I have yet to put a single value to that in the sense of giving it, narrowing it down to one word. But when my name’s on something, it matters. And I don’t choose to work with everybody who calls me, because if I don’t feel I can deliver value, meaning if I don’t think they’re going to get the results they should, I’m not going to work with them. I know that sounds awful, but if I can’t deliver, I’m not going to be the person to do that.
I’m driven by an alignment of energy in the sense that when I’m talking to somebody and I can feel what’s possible for them, I need to feel that I’m the right person to work with them. I have to have a vision that if we do this, they can accomplish this, and I can feel it in my soul and I know that they can get there. I think that’s a driver for me. And that’s where over the years of doing this, being in this space and one iteration or another, I’m at the point where I don’t work with everybody either. Because if I don’t feel like I can deliver a game-changing life experience, and I know it sounds so dramatic, but that’s what I believe I do with the clients I choose to work with, I’m not the right person to help them.
Mary: I heard Nick Nelson and Ronnell Richards talking about Gen Xers, and I resonated with that dialogue because I look at Gen Xers, especially on social media who are doing really, really well.
They’re standing out, owning their brand position, their specialization, staying in their lane, and they’re focused and grounded. Cher, there’s a really vast difference between the people in that Gen X age group who have 15, 20, 25 years’ experience in their area of specialization, and there’s a sense of groundedness. There’s a real sense of commitment and tenacity. These are the keywords that I can describe. You know, people like you, Nick Nelson, and Ronnell Richards.
I really see a common denominator and that is mutual respect. There’s no interest in vanity metrics. It’s really about supporting one another and advocating for one another. I see a lot of that in our age group, but I don’t see that in a lot of the younger guys who chase the vanity metrics. Ten years from now, the millennials are going to be close to their 50s. What will happen is that they will still be where they are today because they haven’t actually realized not just their potential, but that being successful actually takes a lot of hard work, years and years of hard work. This is not an overnight thing; it’s 20 years in the making. So when people see you on LinkedIn Live, that’s not luck! That’s somebody who has combined 20 years of expertise, commitment, professionalism, finesse, common sense, and deep value into a 30-minute segment that is professional at its core. I think a lot of people don’t get that. What would you say about it?
Cher: I look at that and I think about the person I was; I’m 46 now. So I think about 10 years ago when I was 36 and just the level of confidence I have now, because it’s years of experience, right? We also come from a very unique generation where we saw the accessible computer being born, like the PC. Literally, we had our hands on the first PC, a personal computer, as opposed to the big server rooms that could have the power of a calculator now. But we had that, and we saw that evolution. We had big square box TVs, and now we have flatscreen TVs. I don’t think we take technology or the experience for granted, but I also think that we literally straddled the digital divide.
So we have the wisdom we’re in this really unique position where we are in the center, where we can grab from the wisdom of ages and also be able to navigate and be nimble enough with what’s happening so quickly. I think our generation has a responsibility to pass the wisdom down. I think our challenge is just, things are happening so quickly and we straddle; we’re trying to still keep up so that we don’t get left behind like the Boomers. Right. And not to say that all Boomers got left behind us. I’m very tech savvy, whatever Boomers, but we are in that space now where we are, who we looked up to.
I think it’s a blessing of time and experience. I know when I started my business, I couldn’t niche as much as I wanted to. If you haven’t done it long enough to know what you need to say yes or no to, you can’t niche. Niching is an evolution over time. So I think it’s the same thing with our knowledge and everything else that we apply to our life, that all these things take time and experience saying yes enough, so we can figure out our no.
Mary: So how did you start your business? I mean, so many people want to get rich or use famous quick schemes that a lot of people are buying into. It’s a big, big problem and over time, we’re going to see a lot of people going backward instead of forward. So, I mean, when did you start your business? Why did you start your business?
Cher: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family of lots of entrepreneurs. Both my parents were entrepreneurs. They owned hair salons. I told my parents I would never be an entrepreneur because my parents would always tell me, you don’t get holidays together. They couldn’t do this because they ran the salons. And sometimes my parents would take separate vacations because they couldn’t do this. And you know, they don’t own their nights. They’re not their own; they don’t get benefits like regular companies. And so I was like, I’ll never be an entrepreneur. That’s why I went into journalism because I love TV and all that stuff. And then fast-forward, I had my second son in 2003 and I was doing on-air stuff. I was doing some producing for television. Then I was also, you know, having a corporate job. So I’ve always straddled this corporate and then TV life. And then all of a sudden I was like, I don’t want to go back to corporate. This was a time of the million-dollar copywriter work from home, right? This was like those books. You remember those books. I know you do because we’re from that generation. They talked about websites being the brand new thing. I’m like, I’m going to be a million-dollar copywriter, but I never was a million-dollar copywriter. But I learned some of the craft along the way. And that was my first business that failed. I tried to start a business when I had a baby to not go back to the job that I was in. My regular corporate job paid really well, but I just didn’t want to go back. But I did go back into corporate life while still doing some TV stuff and got formal marketing jobs and stuff, and then went into PR and communications. While I was at my final job with the city of Toronto from 2009 to 2013, Obama had just won the election in 2008. So social media was being a thing. I was already on MySpace and then Facebook and all that stuff. As a senior communicator, I noticed that most people at the city with the communications title didn’t understand social media yet and they were starting to make policies. I said to my manager “I need to get into that room.”
In today’s language, that means I need a seat at the table. I need to be in that room. I need to be a part of these conversations. He got me in and all the different divisions were like, we need to start figuring out how to use social media. And by the time I left the city of Toronto, if you said my name, you said social media in the same sentence. So it was like my first foray into branding before it was a thing. Then also while I was there, my internal clients started asking me if I could speak to youth about using social media and LinkedIn and stuff like that. This is when LinkedIn was a baby. And I was like, okay, sure. Because, they always wanted to do the wag, the finger, don’t do this. Don’t do that. You’ll ruin your life. And I was like, no: Why don’t we show them how to use it so they can get what they want. And that sort of brought me on the pathway. Then my internal clients started referring me to external organizations to speak and whatnot. I ended up with two freelance gigs that would pay me six months’ worth of salary. So I didn’t have it when I left my good government job, but I had six months’ worth of salary and jumped out in 2013.
Mary: I want to just quickly just divert a little bit, and I want to talk about LinkedIn Live. A lot of people love your LinkedIn Lives. When I see your LinkedIn Live, I always watch it. I love the way you show up and the way that you have planned your LinkedIn Lives on a specific subject matter. They’re informative and educational in some ways, even transformational. You have not only captured attention, but also a tribe of people who wait for those LinkedIn Lives, which is unbelievable. So let’s talk about the way that you have embraced it. What is it about LinkedIn Live that you think is fantastic? And number two, what have you done that others haven’t done?
Cher: The reason I embraced LinkedIn Live is it pulls on my television experience. I used to be a pre- and a postgame show producer for the Toronto Raptors, our basketball team here. So I’m used to working live, but I’ve always been behind the scenes for that. I was able to immediately elevate my production value in doing that. And this wasn’t actually my first live rodeo. Way back, I don’t know if you remember Google Hangouts on air. I used to have a live show with my cousin called the “Lori and Cher” show, and we would just have guests on. She worked in television too. So we both segmented the show, which was important to us, and that’s what you see in the elements of my show. I’m not just talking about one thing.
I have segments, and they’re consistent segments and they all are value-driven. So I have the teaching aspect, which is the main punch of the show, and that’s for about usually 16-17 minutes. Then I go through a scroll stopper of the week because for me, it serves me and that’s probably one of the drivers. I love studying what people are doing, because if I’m not studying what people are doing, how can I add value to my clients when I say, “Hey, have you ever tried this?” So even when we were looking at your post, in the last episode, it’s really about looking at it and saying, “This is brilliant. Look how well it was executed and now here and here are the points of execution to consider, and how you can apply it in whatever industry you’re in.”Then just seeing that excellence, because I’m always picking the good stuff, and to showcase that. There’s always going to people who are intimidated by competition, but I’m not because we believe in personal branding. So the person who’s supposed to work with you, Mary, is supposed to work with you. The person who wants to work with me is going to work with me. The person wants to work with Andy is going to work with Andy. You know what I mean? So it’s just one of those things.
Mary: Can you share with us what you think would be three tips that you can give, specifically in relation to creating a successful LinkedIn Live?
Cher: My biggest tip, which has allowed me to repeat and use it over and over, is come up with a templated structure. Come up with how you’re going to format your show, because each week it’ll make it much easier for you. Like the amount of prep, time after time, will diminish quite significantly because you know your show, you know what to look out for in the week as you’re prepping for it. And for me, a lot of the prep happens about four hours before the show. Having that templated structure, which in the broadcast industry is called a rundown, allows for that. So really going through that template and structure and having it ready so even little things like if you have an intro about something or if you know what you’re referencing, if you have any graphics coming up, you have it all there.
You know what you’re following and eventually, it doesn’t even have to be populated as much because you get the fit, the vibe, and flow of your show. Something else that I would say is really important is do not forget your co-hosts. Your co-hosts are the people who watch you and who are actively there live with you, although more people will see it on the replay. When you create that interactive experience, you’ll find that more people show up live when they can, but it becomes this interactive conversation. We cannot treat it like TV because it is not TV; it’s interactive, so you need to be mindful of your audience
including the replay viewer, and choose those points where you’re going to give the audience a chance to say something. Finally, understanding that it’s not real-time with your delivery. It might be a minute and a half behind, two minutes behind. So you have to play with that delay.
Mary: I’m going to ask you one last question, which is completely left field. I think I’ve asked you this question before, but I’m going to ask you again. If there is one person that you would love to meet who is no longer living, who would it be and what would you ask or what would you want to know?
Cher: The first person that comes to my mind is Princess Diana and the reason why is I saw this meme just a day or two days ago. And it was the black dress she wore when she found out that Prince Charles cheated on her. I was just like, what was going through your mind when you were just like “F” you. I’m hot and I’m going to love myself and I’m going to deal with this rejection and move forward. She was just like, I’m going to walk out there. She was probably hurting, but still that energy, that strength when the world is watching and you handled it with such grace and confidence, what did that feel like on the inside?