Book Talk: An Evening with Aliza Licht

by Erica Moody

DKNY PR Girl shares career advice and social media strategies.

Story and Photos by Erica Tropp

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Aliza Licht flanked by her college roommates Mindy London and Robyn Rahbar

Aliza Licht has been featured on the cover of The New York Times as one of America’s next top mentors. She was identified as number 30 in The New York Daily News’ list of the 50 most powerful women in the city and as one of the six women who rule the fashion world in Time’s Style & Design. Fashionista.com has listed her as one of the 50 most influential people in the New York fashion industry. And with all of her accolades and experience, Licht graced the University of Maryland with her presence to express her advice on how to get ahead in their careers using social media.

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Aliza Licht speaks at UMD

Licht is a PR- and social media- guru, fashionista and lover of red lipstick. She was the face behind the recently abandoned Twitter account, DKNY PR Girl, which paved the way for companies on the platform. Her book, “Leave Your Mark,” hit stores over the summer and describes how to “land your dream job, kill it in your career and rock social media.”

A UMD alum herself, Licht gave a presentation to students in a chemistry lecture hall where she had once learned. She was a member of the class of 1996 and majored in neurobiology and physiology, her intent to someday become a plastic surgeon.

The evening included a one-hour presentation from Licht with a reception to follow, and an opportunity to have her novel signed.

The first set of guidelines Licht stressed to her listeners was the importance of following gut feelings and keeping in mind that a good outcome can come from any experience. Toward the end of college, she came to the conclusion that, although she really loved her coursework, she wasn’t so crazy about the practical application of being a doctor. She decided that she was not going to ignore her doubts, even through family pressure, and essentially threw her degree out the window, turning to fashion as her next prospect even though she knew nothing about the industry.

Licht got an internship at “Washingtonian Magazine,” where she first learned about magazine editorial. After completing this job, she asked her supervisor for a last piece of advice, and he pointed her in the direction of two New York-based publishing companies she had never heard of, Condé Nast and Hearst. “That little nugget [of information] from an internship in advertising sales that I wasn’t even that excited about ended up putting me on a path that had pure direction,“ she asserted.

“You never know what you can learn and from whom,” she advised. “You can get something out of anything if you have your eyes and ears open.”

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Aliza Licht signs her book

After spending a few years in magazines in New York City, switching over to PR and landing a position at DKNY, Licht made her mark. This was the point where Licht began to collect her expertise in Twitter and social media etiquette for businesses. It was 2009 and DKNY PR Girl was born. DKNY was one of the first fashion brands on Twitter, so she had to go on and figure out the right ways to approach it without any set examples. On the account, Licht used her personal opinions and life and posted those things as it related to her job and the company. Two years later, the account had 350,000 followers. Licht spent six years on the account and tweeted from it 71,000 times.

The story of her work on DKNY PR Girl lead her to a second set of tips to follow when looking for jobs and using social media connections to get ahead in work. She recounted a second story about a blogger named Jenna from Austin, Texas. Jenna sold artificial turf for a living, but her dream was to work in fashion.

It just so happened that Jenna tweeted something to DKNY PR Girl one day that caught Licht’s eye, so Licht decided to follow the account. This one tweet spiraled into a friendly social media relationship between the two women, culminating in Licht assisting Jenna in finding a job in the New York’s fashion industry, and eventually as the celebrity dresser for DKNY. The moral of the story, according to Licht, is that proper self-branding and creating the right connections on social media can make a person’s career dreams come true.

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Copies of “Leave Your Mark” at the book signing

She also mentioned that Jenna’s location was an important factor to consider when searching for jobs across the country. “If I put up a little post that said I was hiring an assistant, I’d have miles of people lining up on 7th Avenue,” she said. “So why am I going to hire you from Austin, Texas?”

Licht asserted that it’s not good enough just to say you’ll move if you get the job. “I don’t want to hear about your travel plans. I don’t want to know what you’re going to do if I hire you. I want to know that you are available from minute one of looking at that resume.”

Licht presented a short slideshow with additional tidbits about social media etiquette and the ways to effectively use these platforms, mostly coming from her novel. “You will be amazed at what you can do sitting right here, on campus, with your future,” she asserted.

Interestingly, many of the tips Licht described about social media politeness are similar to the social norms that people tend to follow in their everyday lives.

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President of the Governors Board of the Alumni Association at UMD Wanda Alexander presents plaque to Aliza Licht

She advised that the first thing to do is establish a personal brand. In other words, she wants users to figure out their core values and pick out a filter for their account based on things the user is interested in. Together, they create a brand DNA for the account, and each time the user posts, he/she needs to consider whether that post fits within the brand DNA of the site. If it doesn’t, it belongs somewhere else. Having a filter gives the account an identity that readers can recognize and look forward to.

To generate engagement, she asserted, users have to be likeable. “Put out good content and people will follow you,” she said. She added that social media is about attraction, not promotion, and that pleading for followers or friends doesn’t help anyone seem friendly.

An anti-elitist mentality is important, especially in the fashion industry where so many people are so privileged. According to Licht, people find that attitude obnoxious and that users should consider their audience before bragging about their private jets.

Licht stressed the need to build a community in the effort to use social media successfully. She declared that people like to state their opinions, thus one of her tricks to generate engagement is asking questions.

She had a problem, however, when she realized that she was asleep when half of the world was awake, making it difficult to generate engagement from these areas. She resolved this problem by bringing people together through common topics. She might say something about how hot it is outside in New York, and that this means it’s a frizzy hair day, sticking to her brand DNA at DKNY. By doing this, she might get hundreds of responses from hundreds of different countries, all of these people stating what the weather was like in their parts of the world.

Licht asserted that one of the more important ways to gain attention on social media is by making sure you are adding value to a person’s feed and providing them with a service. A user could consistently be funny, informative or even just provide a weather forecast each morning, but the underlying message is that “repetition is reputation,” according to Licht.

She urged users not to take advantage of their communities. If you need help, such as having a link promoted, do a good deed for someone else that day too. Providing help makes you a more powerful networker.

Social media is like the biggest cocktail party ever, she said. You are able to just jump into strangers’ conversations about things you promote, and doing so broadens your community. And although this would be a strange thing to do in real life, it isn’t on social media; it’s a tool.

Building a network before you need it is an important thing to keep in mind. Users can align themselves with powerful allies and keep in touch with these people by being supportive of their social media pages. When sending an email or calling someone, you have to have a reason, Licht asserted. On social media, keeping in touch is easier, with just a simple like, favorite or share.

For more in-depth guidance on how to land your dream job and use social media in your favor, pick up “Leave Your Mark,” available at bookstores and on Amazon.com.

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