How can communicators build strong relationships? Michael Kaye, Associate Director of Global Communications at OkCupid, discusses the value of introducing yourself with your pronouns and how to empower your most authentic and confident self. Michael also highlights how OkCupid has led the charge for expanded inclusion for LGBTQ+ daters, and how other companies have followed suit. Michael includes advice to viewers on how to utilize all of their platforms to boost and connect with their networks.
>> More episodes here
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MICHAEL KAYE
DOUG: I’m super excited to be talking to one of the world’s leading experts on relationships, and he’s also got the knowledge of communications. So, Michael, let’s start. Why is it so important for communicators to be able to build good relationships?
MICHAEL: When you think about our industry as communicators, as public relations professionals, relationships are really core to everything that we’re doing. If you’re on the agency side, it’s really important to build strong relationships with your clients, with your senior leadership. And whether you’re on the agency side or in-house, it’s really important to have strong relationships with your target reporters and consumers.
DOUG: Great we’ll probably move towards tips on helping people improve their social lives to the end of this, but keeping it to communications, are there things that you’ve learned from how OkCupid helps to bring people together that can really apply to building communications and relationships within your work life?
MICHAEL: Yeah, absolutely. First, the type of relationships that we are building here at OkCupid are so intimate and personal, and I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years from my role here, and what we’re seeing from daters, what we’re seeing from relationships today. And it’s really all about being in an environment or a situation where you’re able to show up as your true self. We are recording this podcast during Pride Month, so as someone who spent over two decades in the closet, I make sure that I bring authenticity and transparency to every new relationship of mine today, whether that’s a new agency team that I’m working with, or a new reporter that I’m talking to or if I’m reading an OkCupid success story. And I found that these relationships tend to last longer and are a lot more meaningful when they have a stronger foundation than a relationship that’s surface level.
DOUG: So, what have you learned? Let’s say you’re a manager, a leader of an organization, you’re trying to bring your true self, you’re encouraging people to do that, but some of the people aren’t comfortable with that, and that’s just reality. How do you try and sort of ease that tension and get people to open up? Is there anything you’ve learned from the OkCupid side of things that could apply and even make it easier for employees to feel they’re understood?
MICHAEL: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s all about starting a conversation. I am way more open today than I was when I first started my career in terms of my sexual identity and the way I bring that into the workplace with my colleagues or really anybody is by starting a conversation with sharing my pronouns. That gets my straight colleagues or straight agency partners comfortable with the use of pronouns or talking about queer stories that I am watching on TV or reading about online. So, it’s all about slowly bringing these topics into your ongoing conversations, and I found that it makes people a lot more comfortable and allows you to even be a lot more relatable.
DOUG: You obviously have a huge role within the organization. You’ve established yourself as a leader. Any advice along these lines for someone who is just starting out who may be less comfortable sharing who they are and have less certainty about that?
MICHAEL: Absolutely. I would say remind yourself and tell yourself that you belong. You belong in the workplace. You belong in that meeting, on that team, in that conversation, and consistently drill that into your own mind. I still suffer from imposter syndrome, and there are times when I’m part of a panel or I’m in an event and I have a speaking role. And I look around the room and I look at the other people who are part of the conversation we’re having, and I wonder why I’m there. So, I always remind myself, you know, you got into this room for a reason. You got to sit at that table for a reason, and you deserve to be here. And if you have the privilege to get a seat at that table, it’s your job to make your voice heard.
DOUG: Yeah, and I hope that now that you’re participating in a PR’s Top Pros Talk episode, this finally gives you the stamp of approval to have the full confidence that you belong anywhere. When we talk about inclusivity, OkCupid has really been at the forefront of this and taking a real look at how the world works, how relationships work. Can you maybe share some of that history?
MICHAEL: Yeah, absolutely. We like to say we’re exclusively inclusive because we’ve been committed to creating a platform that acknowledges, respects, and welcomes every single person or relationship. For those who are not familiar, we were the first leading dating app to expand gender and orientation options for our users. We were the first to introduce a pronouns feature for our LGBTQ+ daters, which we actually recently opened up to all our users in an effort to normalize the use of pronouns. And we’ve consistently updated our app to better serve our queer users, and that’s really worked for us. Last year, we saw an increase in new users identifying as bisexual, as non-binary, as pansexual. So, people of all identities are considering OkCupid as a platform where they can come, and feel accepted, and safe while they are looking for love.
DOUG: So, you’ve done this OkCupid, but what are some ways brands can make an impact outside of their traditional category?
MICHAEL: We’ve never really shied away from breaking boundaries. We’re not afraid of controversy. And our senior leadership team and really everyone at the company feels that if you were the first brand to be doing something, you’re probably doing something right. In 2018, OkCupid became the first leading dating app to create a dedicated space on profiles for LGBTQ+ users to add in their pronouns. For us, we knew it was important to have a space and a way for users to share their authentic selves on our platform. On other dating apps, you have to manually add your pronouns to your bio, unlike ours, where it’s a permanent feature, and I consider that a step that really influenced an entire industry. Years later, in 2021, we started to see Instagram, and LinkedIn, and Lift, and Slack, all announcing that their users could share their pronouns on their profile across all these platforms. So, now we’re in a world where we can show up as our true selves on most or many of the apps that we’re using daily. So, at OkCupid we’re really proud to be the first to take a step towards creating a platform that allows full equality for all our users, especially if it means other companies like LinkedIn with over 800 million users are going to follow suit. And I know it’s a challenge for communicators who have to have these conversations with their leadership teams to prove why this work is so important. So, I also want to add that if you, any listener today, are concerned about LGBTQ+ equality, especially during a time when anti-transgender legislation is sweeping the nation and an attack on abortion rights can also soon impact gender-affirming care or marriage equality, please reach out to me directly. You can find me on LinkedIn. I am more than willing to help you craft an argument on why your company or employer should be taking a stand before it’s too late because brands and all of us in corporate America really can’t be waiting to speak out when we’re in code red situation, right?
DOUG: Yeah. And that’s really generous of you. One area you have a lot of expertise is working with colleagues around the globe. I know that’s an area where most people are looking to expand some of their connections globally. What can you maybe share what advice you have for them based on your own experience?
MICHAEL: Yeah, well, luckily we’ve always had an extremely digitally driven culture here. We pre-pandemic have relied heavily on Slack and Zoom for communicating with our global network, and those are platforms that help me easily collaborate with colleagues in Berlin, Tel Aviv, Istanbul. So, I definitely recommend using those apps or similar platforms. When it comes to expanding your connections digitally, I always recommend LinkedIn. It’s the best platform to find a job, but it’s also an incredible tool for networking. During the pandemic, I actually reached out to my counterparts at different companies, from Edelman, to Facebook, to GLADD, and Instagram, and started to begin building relationships. By simply connecting with them and sharing a personal message. Now, I have a brilliant network of communicators across the nation and the world that I can bounce ideas off of. So, the very tools you’re using today in the workplace can benefit you by helping you build strong connections and relationships with your own colleagues, but also people outside your own company as well.
DOUG: Yeah, and I guess they’re all merging together. I don’t know if LinkedIn will become an effective dating app and OkCupid may help you find your next job, but definitely your advice to the people watching has been super helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.
MICHAEL: Thank you so much for having me. And this is definitely a career peak for me.