Sharif Renno

Sharif Renno, Assistant Director, Internet Marketing at Northwestern Mutual

In 2011, Sharif Renno went from Store Manager to Social Media Manager for U.S. Cellular.

The first thing you need to do to adjust to a new industry in social media is to be a good observer.

He had been working in retail for the company for seven years, and started doing some innovative things in social that caught corporate's eye. It started when Sharif decided to help boost sales at his store by building thought leadership and providing customer service on Twitter.

“And eventually, as people came across friends and family with phone or cell service issues, they would start referring them to me, saying things like, ‘He can help you, and he won't try to sell you anything.' That resourcefulness created a lot of referral business,” says Sharif.

During Sharif's last year as a U.S. Cellular Store Manager, 20 percent of his store's sales came from appointments that were set via Twitter.

“My store manager office essentially turned into a local social command center for Twitter,” he says.

Employees used Sharif's Twitter handle to proactively search for issues and look for ways to insert themselves to help. That got the attention of Sherri Maxson, former member and Director of Digital Marketing and Social Media for U.S. Cellular at the time. She invited Sharif to meet with her and other executives at U.S. Cellular’s corporate office.

“All of this was totally rogue and under the radar, so I was expecting a completely different conversation,” explains Sharif. “I thought they would tell me I needed to shut it down. Instead, they offered me a new role and wanted me to start various new social media programs for U.S. Cellular.”

From there, Sharif became the Head of Social Media and later joined Sherri as she moved on to lead social business at Grainger. There, they helped build yet another best in class enterprise social media program.

Sharif's worked in social in BtoB, BtoC, and financial services for three different Fortune 500 companies.

Once you have a good understanding of your ideal customers and how to navigate internally, you're poised to have a successful career in corporate social media.

“The first thing you need to do to adjust to a new industry in social media is to be a good observer. You have to get a good sense of your customers and understand who you're trying to talk to. At the end of the day, it's all about building relationships regardless of the industry.”

He says the other half of being a good observer is understanding your company's internal culture. You have to know who your business partners are and how to build those strategic relationships. At Northwestern Mutual, he took advantage of the company's lunch culture to get to know the decision-makers and stakeholders he's working with. For his first three months with the company, every day he had lunch with key people who could explain how the business works from their perspective.

If you don't have a strong lunch culture like this, Sharif recommends asking your leader and your leader's leader how you can meet people, what meetings you can attend, and where you can be a fly on the wall.

“Don't go in to add anything to the meeting, but go in to learn from others and the decisions being made,” Sharif explains. “Once you have a good understanding of your ideal customers and how to navigate internally, you're poised to have a successful career in corporate social media.”

At Northwestern Mutual, Sharif helps their financial services representatives become trusted thought leaders.

He says that unlike his time at Grainger and U.S. Cellular where web traffic and conversion drove much of the social strategy, Northwestern Mutual is focused more on education — getting people to think about their financial futures and what financial security takes. His job is to get the right tools, process, and best practices in place so that Northwestern Mutual’s financial services representatives can have the best chance at building online client relationships and growing their businesses via social media channels.

Sharif also leads social marketing for Northwestern Mutual's lead generation efforts and is an advisor to the company's corporate social channels. He partners with the PR and communications teams providing support and ideas for corporate social media channels. He has a passion for measurement, and analytics and is working to put sound reporting and data practices in place for the enterprise when it comes to all things social.

Like most social leaders in financial services, Sharif says moving quickly can be a challenge.

“We're a fairly conservative, Fortune 100 company that's traditional and risk averse. And in the social and digital space, we need to move quickly,” he says.

“In a highly regulated industry, coming out with new capabilities for different layers is complex. You have to make sure there's the right training, checks and balances, and compliance in place.”

Follow Sharif on Twitter and ask about his experience volunteering his social and digital media skills to Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County. Sharif has been a member of since 2011.