Josh Klemons, Reverbal Communications
IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Josh Klemons, digital storyteller and strategist, Reverbal Communications.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?
The best part of my job is the people I get to work with week in and week out. I consult, train, and collaborate with great people from businesses and organizations, big and small.
One day I’m working with a band to promote their upcoming music festival, the next I’m working with a publicly traded company or a very large nonprofit on ways to take their digital program to the next level. One day I’m live-tweeting an event with DisruptHR, the next I’m working on a special election with a statewide political organization. My job is never boring!
The most challenging part of my work is finding the time to do it all. I work with clients, serve on boards, speak at conferences, and still have to find time to work on my latest blog post or social media checklist. Fortunately, I’m a good multitasker and I LOVE what I do, so I don’t mind the long hours or the running around.
Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?
I’m inspired by, and constantly learning from, so many people.
Ashley Powell (the Boss Mom) sets an amazing example — she’s always looking for ways to connect people and make things happen.
Jon Loomer is a Facebook advertising expert and content marketer extraordinaire. I’ve learned as much from Jon about how to approach online education as I have about his actual subject matter. Along with the help of Madison’s own Andrew Foxwell, he stays ahead of every change on a platform that is constantly changing. He doesn’t just share what he knows but walks his audience through his learning process. I find his approach extremely refreshing.
Many of the people I admire are journalists, especially those who understand that social media isn’t just a tool for self-promotion, but a new and unique approach to understanding and connecting with the world. Here are some of my favorites: Dave Weigel, Andrew Kaczynski, Matthew Gertz, Parker Malloy, Daniel Dale, and Jessie Opoien.
I’ve also learned loads about writing from Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Todd Snider.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
Hard to choose! Here’s a couple from 2017 I’m particularly proud of:
Madison Women’s March was amazing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the size of the crowd compared to the size of our city. I did some research and ended up writing a blog post about Madison’s turnout. The post went viral (shout-out to Candy Phelps of Bizzy Bizzy for designing the very sharable graphic that accompanied it) — it was shared on Facebook thousands of times and was featured in a Cap Times story.
Along with Alderman Maurice “Mo” Cheeks, I co-organized Leading Locally, a pop-up unconference, following the 2016 election. Our first event brought together almost 200 people to discuss how we can all make a difference in our community.
I was part of the team that launched the first annual Makeshift Festival, celebrating art, food, and public parks. Our inaugural event hosted top Midwestern public artists and restaurants, raising money for Madison’s parks. Four thousand people attended.
Looking back a bit further, I still reflect often on my time serving as digital director on a Rhode Island gubernatorial campaign. I learned so many valuable things about politics, organizing, and digital strategy that I still put to use every day.
Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
When I was 21 years old, I was studying toward a degree in advertising from the University of Georgia.
It was the early 2000s and I was already curious and passionate about the internet as a tool for digital organizing. This was before the term “social media” was a household name. Facebook didn’t exist.
Although they weren’t built for it, I was searching for ways to use MySpace (and Friendster before it) as an organizing tool. I was seeking fans for my band, trying to promote events, and striving to bring people together around shared interests. I saw the organizing power of the internet, but who knew in 2001 that was a marketable skill?
If I could write my 21-year-old-self an email, I’d say stay focused on the power of the internet to bring people together.
After many detours, I eventually found my way into digital strategy and organizing. The Facebook Ads platform is leaps and bounds beyond what I could have ever imagined when I was running my Friendster organizing experiments in my early 20s.
I’d also tell my younger self to buy lots of Bitcoin, I guess.
What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?
I have lived all over the country, but when I found Madison I knew I had found a place I wanted to call home!
It’s the perfect combination of big city and small town. There is always something interesting happening — there is a vibrancy and a passion to this town that rivals cities far larger, but it’s friendly and extremely livable.
This city teems with entrepreneurship; as an active member of Social Media Breakfast, 100state, the Freelancer’s Union, Grow Madison, and many other such organizations, I am surrounded by it constantly. This entrepreneurship keeps me endlessly inspired, learning, and always on my toes.
While I regularly meet people pushing boundaries, disrupting industries, and looking for new solutions to old problems, this town also overflows with a spirit of giving and altruism. When I first heard that Dane County had more nonprofits per capita than any other county in the country, I wasn’t surprised. Seems about right.
Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?
Along with my passion for digital storytelling, I'm also a lifelong musician. I’m primarily a guitar and bass player (upright and electric) as well as a singer/songwriter, but I also pick around on the mandolin and the banjo. I have gigged around town (and beyond) with numerous bands, playing progressive bluegrass, old time, funk, Hank Williams-era country, Americana, and a whole lot more for crowds big and small.
I also have a Master of Arts in international peace and conflict resolution and I’m a trained and experienced dialogue facilitator, helping communities and groups come together to have difficult conversations in safe spaces. I have done work as a facilitator with 20,000 Dialogues, the Jewish Dialogue Group, the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society, the Dialogue Development Group at American University, and others. I even helped to create Madison’s first ever citywide intra-Jewish dialogue on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Another random fact: I regularly listen to podcasts at 2x speed.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Some of my friends and family would accuse me of spending too much time with my head in a smartphone, but it’s not my fault — I just love Twitter! I’m not sure it’s a guilty pleasure because a) I use it every day, and b) my use of it is pretty public (by design I guess). I love seeing brands bring themselves to life a few hundred characters at a time. I love that I can fact check a correspondent from the Daily Show, and then get challenged by someone halfway around the globe. I love following events I can’t attend, and watching journalists offer context to statements during presidential debates. Twitter, if you can ignore the trolls, is the world coming together to have a conversation.
One more thing: I think I could watch The West Wing (at least the first four seasons) on an endless loop without ever getting bored.
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