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How to Manage a Social Media Crisis

Social Media True Grit: How Story Can Save #Takata

How to Manage a Social Media Crisis

Story power helps meet tough challenges

A whole lot is going wrong right now for the folks at the Takata airbag company in Japan, and my heart goes out to their PR team. While the crisis swirls around them crushing their brand reputation – and the company stock by 23%- their social team, if they have one, appears to be paralyzed, most likely by legal and compliance issues.

The hashtag #Takata is filled with negative news and retweets, especially of the story of a woman in Florida who was killed by shrapnel that was emitted by her Takata-made airbag. In the meantime the response on Twitter and elsewhere from the company has been near silence.

I’m going to assume that the Takata team is precluded from joining the conversation right now by legal constraints, so I won’t bash them on the slowness of their response, even though speed is absolutely critical in these situations. Instead, let’s look at how Takata might turn this around going forward once their hands are untied – using smart social media and storytelling. If Takata were our client today, here’s what I’d tell them.

1. Start with an apology

This one should be easy, because Japanese companies have a stellar history of heartfelt public apologies, at least once it is clear they are at fault. This time should be no exception. An excuse-free apology in personable, human language from the CEO on the company blog is job one.

2. Don’t pretend it’s all in the past

While it’s true that the production mistakes that caused this crisis date back over a decade, the consequences and the ensuing news stories are all very current. Takata has to treat this like a problem they have to deal with right now, not something they can just dismiss as a past mistake.

This means creating a specific marketing campaign that is laser-focused on rebuilding the brand trust that has been so negatively affected by this story. The campaign should include every trick in the book — video, images, text, blogs, etc. — and Takata should be prepared to spend some serious budget on getting their message out. Most importantly, every element in the campaign should deploy messaging specifically designed to rebuild confidence and communicate the company’s core mission – saving lives.

Think about it. Takata is an airbag company. Safety is what they DO. The key is to communicate that passion and remind everyone that their whole reason for being is life saving work.

3. Explain the facts, but do it with a story

When people die, no one cares about your data. So when you are ready to go public use powerful stories to evoke the data instead. For example, it’s clear that airbags save way more lives than this error has caused. A 2009 study by the NHTSA showed that over 20,000 lives had been saved by airbags in the United States alone, compared with the four that have been reported lost due to this crisis. That’s a lot of saved lives and every single one of them is an opportunity for Takata to tell the story of the overwhelming good their airbags do.

So go out and interview people who have been in car accidents. Speak to their families, children, parents, co-workers – and tell the story of what one saved life can do. Don’t ignore the tragedy, but balance the scales in the consumers’ mind with stories that are as powerful as the ones that are fueling this crisis right now.

The point is this: The beginning of this story is written, but with the right training, tools and mindset, Takata can still write the ending.

*Photo credit:

Put Some Tough Mudder #Badass in Your Brand

A week ago the Tough Mudder team brought their unique brand of muddy fun and obstacle course racing to the Seattle area. Founded in 2010, Tough Mudder Inc. has zoomed to $75 million in revenue in just 4 years with over 60 events held per year worldwide.

With growth like that, it’s worth taking a peek at what’s working to spread the Mudder Nation brand so fast.


Tough Mudder saves a fortune in marketing costs by giving participants a reason to spread their brand. By completing an event you earn bragging rights to a story in which YOU are cast as the hero.

I know what you’re thinking, “Sure, but that’s easy for them. Bragging rights are inherent to an endurance sports event.

Not true. How many triathlon brands or marathon brands can claim Tough Mudder levels of loyalty and love? How many can you even name? Maybe Boston or New York, and maybe the Ironnman in Hawaii. But that’s it. There are hundreds of companies running thousands of extremely demanding sports event all year long, and most toil in obscurity. In contrast, the Tough Mudder succeeds in turning participants into brand evangelists in a way these other events don’t.

So how do they do it? First, they reinforce their brand story – and cement loyalty to it – with language. Mudders aren’t “participants”, they are “Mudder Nation”. They don’t just get a T-shirt or that signature orange headband  – they earn citizenship into the toughest nation on earth. Beat THAT for bragging rights.

Note how using the word “nation” conveys all kinds of beneficial nuance to our understanding of the brand: loyalty, integrity, honor, fealty. This is the language of heroism and the language of belonging.

Look further and you’ll see more savvy language choices that drive brand inclusion and reinforce this heroic brand story. If you run a Mudder more than once (read: repeat customer) you become part of a “Legion”. But you can’t buy it, you have to EARN it:

This language actually treats being a repeat customer as a privilege. How’s that for smart marketing?

How can you emulate this bragging rights strategy even if you don’t electroshock your customers? Think about what your product or service does, and find ways to make it feel like a uniquely qualified or special community. A B2B SaaS tool seems pretty boring, but the folks at Hubspot pull this off quite nicely, calling anyone who works with them “Hubspotters”, and the agencies that contract with them “Partners”. Like the Tough Mudders, the Hubspot folks deploy a language of inclusion to make customers feel like they are part of a larger movement.


The Mudder team needs to attract their target audience away from traditional endurance events they already know and have budgeted for. A more conservative marketer might be afraid to alienate people with tough talk, but not the Mudders. They have the guts to position themselves against other endurance events like marathons – even though they know many of their target audience may have completed one.

In their fact sheet (see image below) Fact #2 is “Marathons are boring”.

Sure they could worry about whether this copy decision might cost them some marathon-loving prospects. But taking that risk ultimately reinforces their unique selling proposition (spontaneous fun over predictable tradition) and in the end entices plenty enough marathoners too. In taking a stand they make the purchase decision easier by giving the target audience an obvious reason to choose their event over the competition.

The lesson here is this: Be bold in your use of whatever sets you apart from your competitors to win more business over time.


All too many companies water down their brand when dealing with officialdom, while the Tough Mudders stick to their guns no matter who is on the other side of the table,  For example, the Cartoon Network recently sent out this press release and video of Attorney General Eric Holder to support their anti-bullying campaign.

The message isn’t wrong per se, but coming from the Cartoon Network it could be so much stronger. Just think how much better, more powerful, and brand appropriate it would have been had they used a cartoon to tell this story!

Now contrast the Cartoon Network’s weak message with this press release from the Tough Mudder folks:

The profanity isn’t for everyone, but it is a perfect fit for their brand.

Even sponsors are not spared. Look at this copy from the Tough Mudder website page on sponsorship.

They use the page to differentiate themselves by contrasting their brand punch with the safe image other well known brands like Joann Fabrics and Bed Bath and Beyond. The message: we have balls, and our sponsors do too.

How can you use this lesson for your own company? Stay on brand in all contexts. You will attract far more attention for being recognizably consistent than by trying to be all things to all people.


The Tough Mudder takes storytelling to the next level by infusing everything they do with a higher sense of purpose. The pre-race pep talk is about working together, about people struggling to overcome health crisis or battle injuries. The website encourages Mudders to raise money for Wounded Warriors, and service members are at each event cheering teams on and thanking everyone for their efforts. In stark contrast to marathons and triathlons, this race is not about how long it took or finishing first, it’s about finishing together.

Races are not timed, so everyone is free to help everyone else, whether on their own team or another – and they always do. In this way, the product and the message are in perfect harmony and as a result Mudders are free to create their own great stories.  Because as we all know, the strongest stories are ones in which humans show their best naturesputting aside the rush to the finish, and stopping to help others achieve their own greatness.

How can you create memorable stories like this for your own brand? Think about your ultimate purpose. Why does your company exist beyond just making money?  Use that noble purpose to find your own customer stories, and you will be well on your way to creating your own Mudder-like success.

All screenshots and images courtesy of ToughMudder Inc.



5 Marketing Words We Can Stop Using Right Now

man stopping arms

Stop the overuse madness

Words can be a lot like workout clothes, marvelous when you first start using them, but pretty stinky after years of overuse. After reading three emails in one day that contained the same tired hyperbole, I decided that we owe it to our readers to do better.

Now I confess to being as guilty as anyone of using at least some of these words in the past, but after years of valiant performance I believe these (and probably many others) are ready for a break. So the next time you catch yourself reaching for one of these words, how about taking a few extra minutes to come up with a fresher approach.

  1. Killer. I personally love this word, but it’s been used beyond exhaustion. Let’s give it a rest, shall we?
  2. Massive. You know what’s massive? The Pacific ocean. Or the amount of particulate matter floating in the galaxy. You know what’s not massive? The amount of credibility your product or service still gets when using this word in pitches.
  3. Super Pumped. Unless you’re selling fitness equipment or services, this phrase is done.
  4. Awesome. As an American, I am especially loathe to give up this word. After all, what’s more awesome than our god-given right as Americans to overuse the word awesome? But it’s time.
  5. Secret. Please note: if you just wrote about it in a blog post, it’s probably not a secret. So let’s call a spade a spade… and not a secret.

Got any overused marketing words you’re ready to be done with? I’d love to hear ’em!

Photo credit: Photo by Ambro.

Why You Should Take the Summer Off from Social Media

Social Media Summer Break

Enjoy your beach times

This week, I tried out out the new blog posting functionality on Linked In. It’s pretty neat! I’ll come back in a a few months and let you know the business results of regularly posting there, but in the meantime, here’s a recap of what I covered in that post:

I’ve noticed that plenty of smart business folks I meet are pretty stressed about social media, and with good reason. Some feel overwhelmed by the proliferation of options, others are panicked by the idea of keeping up with the latest developments, and still more feel compelled to use social media tools, even when they feel totally unnatural.

If this sounds familiar, I’m here to say one thing: Relax.

First, while there are more options than ever, that doesn’t mean you need to use each and every one for your business. For example, if you run a B2B business selling construction grade lumber to contractors, it’s perfectly legitimate for you to decide to ignore Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest almost completely. Not that you couldn’t come up with some interesting campaigns for those platforms, but why make yourself crazy, when there are so many more efficient options for you to reach your audience? Of course you’ll want to monitor those platforms for any conversation that goes on about your brand, so you can respond if needed, but that’s a far cry from needing to come up with fresh content, building a following or posting regularly.

Instead, just pick the few platforms that can really deliver for your business and focus on them. Depending on the size and type of your business, if your blog, email marketing and Linked In are shipshape, that may be more than enough. If you’re not sure what you need, it shouldn’t cost a ton in social media consulting to find out. I often suggest starting with a solid digital audit. It’s relatively quick, affordable and will help you figure out what you really need and what you don’t.

Second, remember that no one is actually keeping up with everything. That’s right, even within the ranks of the social media gurus, people tend to specialize. There are folks who focus on Facebook, others who focus on Linked In, others still on Google+. So if even the pros are giving themselves permission to do one or two things really well, so should you. The digital audit combined with a clear understanding of your business objectives will help you identify where to put your chips quickly and efficiently.

Finally, if you don’t actually enjoy social media, chances are pretty good you aren’t going to stick with it anyway. And since consistency is essential to success, don’t try to push a square peg into a round hole. There may already be someone in your organization who loves social media and who would be delighted to take this over for you. Or maybe you have a raving fan or customer who would do cartwheels at the idea of running social for you. The point is to find an efficient way to get the work done; not to transform yourself into someone you’re not.

Social media can be a very effective piece of your marketing mix, but it’s perfectly fine to do it in a way that fits your business priorities and time constraints. So if you’re feeling a little behind the 8 ball, here’s what I suggest: make a doable plan, stick to it, and measure the results. If you’re getting the business results you need, enjoy your well-earned summer weekends off and don’t worry about the rest.

4 Smart Management Lessons from the Epic Marina Quit Video

By now you may have already seen or heard of this epic video made by 25 year old Marina Shifrin quitting her job. In case you missed the memo, it already has over 5 million views on YouTube and is all over the internet. Here is Marina, showing us that she truly knows how to rake in the traffic:

So what’s the takeaway here for managers and people who actually love work?

1. Don’t make work a job
Clearly, Marina loves her work as a video producer. Indeed, she loves it so much, she actually turned quitting into a work project! So why’d she quit? Because her boss turned her work into a job by valuing quantity of output over quality. It’s a safe bet that Marina will land right on her feet at a company that loves the work as much as she does.

2. Even an epic fail can be turned around
When the video went viral, Marina’s boss, and company, Next Media Animation, didn’t threaten to sue her, nor did they turn themselves into the focal point of the story. Instead, they let the light shine where it belonged – on Marina. Thus, they were saved from a potential PR mess. Even better, Marina has been quoted in the Daily News explaining that her boss actually paid her full salary through the month of October. That’s not just classy, it’s smart damage control.

3. Be realistic
Marina is obviously a clever gal, but a viral video like this one is like lightning in a bottle. Her new employers will be smart to do everything they can to reduce the pressure on her to deliver a repeat performance out of the box. Great talent is nurtured, not browbeaten into excellence.

4. Emotion STILL sells
Why did this video go so viral, so fast? All viral hits have an element of luck, but Marina did the one thing you absolutely must do for the win. She told a universal story in a compelling way that taps the deep-rooted psychology of nearly ever office worker. Who hasn’t wanted to give their employer a giant middle finger at some point in their career?

Marina did that, video style.

Message on a Bottle: 6 Reminders for Marketers Inspired by a Bottle of Coke

On a recent visit to London with my family, we stopped in a deli for lunch before touring the Tower of London.  It was hot and crowded with tourists.  The line felt endless.  Along our slow journey to the counter, we passed the typical cooler filled with drinks.  Imagine my shock when I

Coke bottle with Catherine

That’s me!

spied a Coke bottle through the frosty glass that read “Share a Coke with Catherine.”  Catherine!?  That’s me!  Next to my bottle were dozens of bottles of Coke and Diet Coke with various different names.  “Share a Coke with Matthew.”  “Share a Coke with Amit.”  “Share a Coke with Jade.”  My 10- and 12-year old daughters spent the next five minutes picking up, touching and turning every bottle in the case to see if their names or their BFF’s names were there.

After the momentary delight of spotting my own name – and, of course, taking a photo of my special bottle – I marveled at the sheer brilliance of this marketing effort.  Over the next couple weeks traveling around Great Britain, the kids (and, yes, even I) became obsessed with hunting for names on bottles at every shop, newsstand and airport kiosk.  As a marketer, I realized that while I don’t have Coke’s big budgets or teams of agencies,  the “Share a Coke” effort reminded me of core marketing principals that we should all revisit and emulate.

6 reminders for marketers from the “Share a Coke” campaign:

1.  Let them “touch” the product, literally or figuratively
I haven’t picked up a Coke bottle in years.  Since discovering shelves of “Share a Coke” bottles, I estimate that I’ve touched at least 50 in the past 12 days.  I have at least 7-8 photos of various bottles on my phone.  Coke gave me a reason to care, a compelling reason to seek out and interact with their product.  Whether your product is physical or virtual, aimed at consumers or targeting businesses, give your potential customers a reason to explore, to interact and to care about your product or service.  The value of the resulting brand experience cannot be overestimated.

2.  Make it viral
Naturally, I posted my “Share a Coke with Catherine” photo on Facebook along with the caption, “Why wouldn’t you?”  Within a day or two, dozens of my friends had liked the photo, way more than the norm for my typical post.  Here I was sharing a picture of a product I don’t even use with hundreds of my friends around the world.  Coke turned me into their brand ambassador.  I endorsed their product without hesitation.  How can you make your product share-worthy?  How can you create ambassadors who positively endorse your brand?

3.  Get personal
The largest brand in the world spoke directly to me.  Coke always does things big.  This time they did something tiny.  And that small feat was no small feat.  Seeing my name on a bottle (spelled correctly, no less) was a gift from Coke to me. Obviously, I didn’t find the only “Catherine” bottle on the planet – in fact, I later found a Diet Coke version in the airport – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only Catherine to take a picture of the Coke bottle with my name on it.  Yet the experience was utterly personal.   I challenge you to give an unexpected gift directly to your consumer or at least make them feel that way.

4.  Remember good old-fashioned surprise and delight
It’s Marketing 101.  Find a way to stand out from the competition.  In a world filled with constant marketing messages, even Coke gets ignored.  Normally, I walk by Coca-Cola bottles without a second glance.  They found a way to get my attention.  One might call the “Share a Coke” campaign gamification of Coke shopping, a treasure hunt where the prize is made just for me. There’s something in your product story, your brand message, your company history or your user experience that will capture the imagination of your target even for just an instant.  Find it.

5.  Make the impossible possible
I wish I knew who dreamed up the concept to put individual names on Coke bottles.  I’d like to buy that person a beer…er, Coke.  Can you imagine the faces around the table when that idea was presented?  “Hey, let’s take millions of bottles and somehow personalize them.”  Impossible!  But someone saw the potential and made it reality.  Put your crazy ideas out there early and often.  Don’t dismiss seemingly far-our ideas you hear from others.  Get creative, get excited, communicate the potential and then go make it happen.

6.  Let emotions run wild
I saved the best for last.  Brands are all about tapping into emotion.  Coke wants to own happiness.  You see the consistent theme in their other advertising and marketing.  Their current tagline is “Open Happiness.”  Certainly, seeing my name on a bottle made me happy.  Taking a photo of a bottle with my friend’s daughter’s name and texting it to her made me happy.  Going on vacation with a friend and finding both our names plus

Coke bottle with Helen

This micro-interaction with the brand will make Helen’s day

a bottle that said “Share a Coke with Friends” made me happy.  Beyond those little happy moments, somehow it all made the world seem just a tad smaller.  Seeing all those names reminds you that you’re part of something bigger.  It reminded me of the old TV commercials where they sang “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company” while holding hands and swaying.  That little bottle worked pretty hard to get me to feel all that.  Do not…I repeat DO NOT…shy away from making an emotional connection with your consumers.  It might feel bold and it might make you uncomfortable.  If it does, it just might be exactly right.

I don’t know how the “Share a Coke” campaign is performing for Coke in the UK.  I read that when the campaign originally launched in Australia a couple summers ago sales went up 4%.  When you consider Coke’s volume, that’s nothing to sneeze at.  There’s a larger point to consider, though.  Yes, I bought some bottles I may not have otherwise due to the novelty and fun factor.  What’s more important is that Coke is top of mind for me in a way it hasn’t been in years, maybe even decades.  I can’t quantify exactly how many of my dollars will now go into Coke’s pockets, but I have a feeling they will.  Case in point — I had big plans for my “Share a Coke with Catherine” Coke and Diet Coke bottles.  I pictured them on my shelf at work, daily inspiration for me to be the best marketer I can be. Two little icons to remind me when the marketing landscape gets chaotic that I need only return to the fundamentals that make good marketing great.  And then…well, I got thirsty.  Well played, Coca-Cola, well played.

Facebook’s Custom Audience Tool: Don’t Make This Mistake With It

Some pretty lousy advice is circulating about how to use Facebook’s Custom Audience Tool, and I hope you won’t take it. Here’s why:

First, there is this silly post on The Social Media Examiner (which is generally a terrific blog). The post title makes it sound like you can use Facebook’s Custom Audience tool to better understand your existing email list. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, what the post mainly does is explain how to upload your company’s subscribed email list into Facebook, so you can send them Facebook ads. That’s right, the advice is to buy Facebook ads and target them at people who are ALREADY on your email list.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Still, I try to stay open to new ideas, so I asked a friend and colleague I respect what she thought, and she pointed me to this slightly older, and even sillier post on SEOMoz about the very same thing.

In it SEOMoz explains that uploading your list to Facebook will help you (this is their order of priority, not mine):

  1. Get more Facebook followers (OMG)
  2. Drive sales and conversions
  3. Get newsletter sign-ups

Let’s look at  point #1, getting more followers on Facebook. Why is this such a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea?

Social media is supposed to (among many other things) help you build your list. Not the other way around! Anyone who tells you to pay precious marketing money to convince your email list to follow you on Facebook is letting the tail wag the dog.

(Note: This is totally different from asking your existing customers – nicely and for free – to fan you on Facebook so you can stay in touch with them there, which is a very good idea. But remember, Facebook only shows a limited number of your messages to fans, while your emails go to your entire list. Every time.)

What about their #2, drive sign ups and sales? That sounds good, but why on earth would you pay for Facebook ads when you can market to these people via permission-based email for free?

SEOMoz gives the example of a Valentine’s promo that you would only target at people who are married or in relationships. Have they checked Facebook lately? Or ever? How many people actually add that data? And how many lie?

To add icing to this cake, some of the commenters on the post actually suggest that you may get better clicks from Facebook ads than from your emails written to your subscribed list. Whoa. If you’re even thinking about Facebook ads because you think they’ll beat your emails for open rates and click-throughs, it’s time to fire your email marketing team – stat.

The data is very clear that email marketing is STILL the best way to drive sign ups and sales. And that’s just fine. Social media has its place, and replacing email is simply not one of them.

As for newsletter sign-ups, that doesn’t even make sense. By definition, people on your list have signed up for email from you, and your newsletter is part of that.

I’ll give the folks at the Social Media Examiner credit for explaining a fourth use for the tool in their post: gaining demographic insights about your list. Okay, but it would be a lot easier simply to look at your Facebook analytics and see what demographics you’ve got there. Will this be identical to your list? No, but if your brand image is consistent across all platforms (as well it should be), then you’re well on your way – without the extra work.

This kind of advice shows a painful over-reliance on Facebook. Never forget that Mark Zuckerberg runs Facebook for his own shareholders, not yours. And given the rate at which Facebook changes the goalposts, you should be looking for ways to be less reliant on it, not more. Certainly not ways that involve paying Facebook to advertise to people already on your list.

Just goes to show you that even the experts can get it wrong. The best way to  avoid getting taken is to give every new tool you are offered a traditional marketer’s gut check. If you already have a way to do something for less money, you probably don’t need it.

The Oatmeal: Why the BuzzFeed Story About Matt Inman Got It Wrong

By now Jack Stuef’s inflammatory post on BuzzFeed attacking Matt Inman, the creator of the stupendously successful website, The Oatmeal, has made the full rounds. I wasn’t even going to dignify it with a response until I saw that Inman himself published a reply. So here’s why you should ignore the BuzzFeed piece and go right back to enjoying the Oatmeal:

1. It’s written in attack mode

You can always tell when someone is out to slash and burn when they use loaded language to take someone down. Here’s the very first paragraph in the Buzzfeed piece: (Note: all emphases are the author’s, not mine.)

Matthew Inman boasts that his site, The Oatmeal, has received over a billion page views since he launched it in 2009, making it one of most widely read comics in the world. But Inman bears little relation to his lumpy everyman profile on the site, and the disconnect between that cheerful profile and his actual identity — an edgy comic and unapologetic online operator — collided this week after a rape joke made its way into his typically safe comic.

Notice the terms “boastful” and “unapologetic online operator”? These are labels designed to instantly brand Matt as unlikeable. And that’s just in the first paragraph.

2. The logic isn’t sound

In the very first sentence, Jack Stuef accuses Inman of bragging about a having huge audience, and in the next sentence, he accuses him of pretending to be an everyman. Which is it Jack? Is Inman a boastful jerk or an everyman pretender? If you’re going to accuse him of both, you might want to at least separate the claims by a few sentences, so we won’t notice.

The logic in the section about Matt’s history with SEO and Reddit is tricky at best. According to Stuef, Redditors were pissed at Inman for his tactics, but in the end he concedes that

…Reddit, apparently unable to resist a webcomic from a sharp traffic guru aimed squarely at them, resumed serving as a major source of traffic.

What did he do, hypnotize them? No. He created irresistibly GOOD CONTENT. The poor suckers.

3. Stuef is flogging a dead horse

Everyone agrees that Inman’s rape joke was a mistake, and his defensiveness about it compounded the error. But who among us has not made a mistake, been called on it, and then backed ourselves into an even worse corner as a result?

In the end, Inman apologized. And when someone has as much good karma as Inman does buzzing about the internet, he more than deserves that we accept his apology and move on.  Maybe he’ll screw up again later and then it’ll be strike two. But for now, enough is enough.

4. It reeks of jealousy

No one doubts that Inman has been enormously successful. Stuef seems to be angered by this. He writes:

Inman’s transformation from a reviled search-engine-optimization expert and marketer to a beloved comic artist was less dramatic than it sounds. Inman has described The Oatmeal as a kind of continuation of his Internet marketing work. He’s still making cartoons and quizzes carefully configured to go viral, but instead of doing it for clients, he’s now lining his pockets directly.

Again, watch the language. Since when are SEO experts “reviled”? Last I checked, they are well-paid professionals, who are an integral part of any smart digital marketing campaign. And as for “lining his pockets”, how is this different from “getting paid”? It’s not.

As a copywriter, I gotta hand it to Stuef; he did a great job of leading you down the path of doubt in this piece. It’s a well-executed hatchet job if I ever saw one. Stuef has a real future in politics.

5. He never bothered to interview Inman

Any good journalist – at the very least – owed him a call and a chance to tell his side of the story.  The fact that he didn’t bother to get Inman’s input is an inexcusable journalistic oversight.

6. It’s picking on the admirable

Stuef appears to complain that Inman (who has some very successful comics about grammar) uses an editor to make sure his grammar is correct.

Why is this bad? If ONLY everyone on the internet who passed himself off as a writer bothered with an editor! Stuef also says,

Unlike that of most successful webcomic artists, Inman’s work was not originally a labor of love, a slow process of honing one’s voice, developing an original perspective and take on the art form, and eventually building an audience. It was always business, always a play to known sources of Web traffic, whether for clients or for himself.

Yes, unbelievably enough Stuef is upset that Inman had the nerve to try to make money for his clients and – gasp – for himself. Oh, the horror!

Then he goes on to say,

When given the opportunity to speak in front of business-minded audiences, however, the former SEO mastermind has been unable to hold himself back. Speaking before a tech conference audience at Gnomedex in Seattle in 2010, Inman delivered a 27-minute presentation explaining his process for creating a comic or quiz for his website. His comics, the slideshow says, are created according to a formula aimed at pandering to the broad tastes of the Internet and social media, based on six core principles:
– Find a common gripe
– Pick things everyone can relate to
– Create easily digestible content
– Create an infographic
– Talk about memes and current events
– Incite an emotion

Wow Jack, first Matt is a “mastermind”, but then a “panderer”? Which is it?

I actually attended the Gnomedex conference in 201o that Stuef cites, and Inman’s presentation was the best one of the day. (I bet you can already tell that by the bullet points from Inman’s presentation that Stuel so helpfully included in his excerpt. I left them in there so you can borrow them too, because they are all great tips.)

After Inman spoke, I got a chance to chat with him briefly (no he doesn’t remember me, and we’re not friends on Facebook, although that would be pretty cool). The “mastermind” turned out to be a totally genuine guy, who had absolutely no way of knowing that his interaction with me that day would one day be reflected in this post.

7. The logic isn’t sound, redux

Stuef accuses Inman of owning a “sprawling retail business” in the same paragraph in which he reveals that Inman employs family members. Yes, that’s right, family members. Last time I checked, Wal-Mart is a sprawling retail business, and a mom and pop is a shop where you employ your family members.

Oh, and by the way, anyone who gets along with, let alone EMPLOYS their family members, gets good guy kudos in my book.

8. It takes issue with Matt’s exercise routine

Wait, what? That’s right Stuef is actually annoyed that Inman is a marathon runner while his main character is drawn as a couch potato. What’s he supposed to do? Draw his cartoon with a six pack and smirk? I’m betting Inman uses all that time running to develop his ideas, honing them and whittling them down to their very best before he ever puts pen to paper. (Yeah, I know it’s a computer, but work with me here.) If only everyone online spent that much time thinking through their posts.

9. More picking on the admirable

Stuef concedes that Inman gives to charity, but sneers even at that effort, because Inman was publicly gleeful about beating back a ridiculous lawsuit earlier this year. At least Stuef had the decency to concede that the lawsuit against Inman was baseless.

That’s great use of another persuasive copywriting trick, by the way. Always concede something to the competition so as to bolster the reader’s trust in your argument. I told you Stuef had a future in politics.

10. It leaves out critical detail

And what of Inman’s spectacular fundraising effort on behalf of the Tesla Museum? About this, Stuef is mum. Apparently, he couldn’t think of anything bad to say about Inman’s rescue of Nikola Tesla’s memory for the non-techie public. So he just didn’t mention it at all.

So, let’s recap. The real reason Stuef is pissed is because Matt Inman is young, smart, funny, fit, (somewhat) rich, famous-ish, and exceedingly successful in his chosen field. Hmmm, come to think of it, if I wasn’t so busy lining my office walls with Inman’s hilarious comics, I’d probably hate him too.

Social Media Gold: 1 Daily Habit to Make Your Social Strategy Sparkle

computer on a buoy

Pitch in a little each day

Recently, I got an email from a friend with 20+ years of executive-level marketing experience at a large firm. He’s just learning about social media, and asked about Facebook.

Since we had done a very successful post on the Cozi page that day (it garnered over 300 comments and some critical customer insights), I immodestly encouraged him to check it out.

I received this reply:

I could not figure out how to get directly to the post, so I had to wade through a long list from the last 24 hours. Seems like much of what you (Carol) are doing online is providing technical support. Ever think of hiring an intern for $12/hour and training them to provide online technical assistance, so you can spend more of your time on strategic initiatives?

My reply to this is “no”, and here’s why:

1. Some of the best social insights come from customer service

Social media is about listening and talking to people. If you don’t have time to answer customer questions, you probably won’t be very good at social media. This is true on a company level, an executive level and a personal level. It’s also one reason (among many) that so few big companies are truly good at it.

You see, at big companies a few people get paid a lot to plan, and a lot of people get paid a little to execute. So, in a big company context, an hour spent in the customer service trenches by anyone making more than $12 hour feels like a waste of time, brainpower and money.

In truth though, allowing mid and senior level people to remain divorced from customer interaction is a huge minus for everyone. No report can capture the nuance of customer feeling. And failing to understand feelings is how you end up with disasters like the infamous Summer’s Eve Douche ad.

2. You can’t fight to improve what you can’t see.

The concept of continuous improvement was invented by an American named W. Edwards Deming, and social media has made it easier than ever for companies to  continually improve based on feedback. But only if you take the time to listen.

When YOU have to chase down the answer to whatever comes up that day, you start to see every chink in the company’s armor: product, customer service, engineering, logistics, communications. If there is a weakness somewhere, it will be revealed in the hunt for answers.

3. It’s not just about the numbers

Yes, it’s great to have an intern comb all the incoming complaints, questions and issues and put together a spreadsheet for you on which issues are coming up most. But relying purely on reports inevitably dilutes the passion behind the data. It’s a lot easier to say, “Well, that problem only affects a small portion of our users”, when YOU aren’t the one having to tell them there’s no solution to their problem.

Moreover, you get incredible insights into the customer profile from these interactions. (See point #1) Would a smart executive in charge of strategic planning or product development take the time to read transcripts or watch video clips of focus groups? Of course they would. Social media allows you to focus group your customers every day. But only if you show up.

4. The biggest value in customer interactions comes from empowering those who have them

Companies that hire low-level, low-wage kids for EVERY customer-facing task are throwing away huge amounts of value. Only someone with experience and some business depth can pull out the relevant insights, turn them into an action plan and then champion that plan to the executive team. It’s not reasonable to expect the intern who makes $12/hour to deliver this.  The job of the social media lead includes MAKING the time to talk to customers and ensuring that those insights make a positive impact throughout the business.

So the 30 minutes to an hour a day I spend reading and answering customer questions – whether on Facebook., Twitter or the blog — isn’t a waste of my time; it makes me better at my job. Better at understanding our customer, better at developing social strategies that fit their needs and better at building relationships with our most passionate brand advocates. Most importantly it makes me better at delivering usable insights to the Product, Marketing, Sales and Support groups.

Now, do I spend hours every day answering every question myself? Of course not. I let our superb help desk team do the heavy lifting that makes customer support such a unique and valued feature of the Cozi brand. But I don’t for a minute believe that I should be doing something more “strategic” than understanding the customer experience.

So set aside some time each day to really hang out with your customers. Because that is what social media is for. Not for feeling too important to answer a question. But for developing a real, human understanding with thousands if not millions of customers, and USING that relationship to make your company better at serving them.

Crock Pot Girls: 3 Lessons for Social Media Managers

The Crock Pot Girls have over a million fans on Facebook

A week ago I got an email from my boss asking if I had heard about the Crock Pot Girls Facebook page. I hadn’t, but I quickly learned 2 things:

  1. They had grown from zero to almost 750,000 fans in just the prior two weeks (today they have well over a million).
  2. There was almost no information on who the founders are or how they did it.

Suddenly, everyone in the marketing group, including my boss, was looking to me to explain what happened.

So, did I sweat and fret and struggle to come up with an explanation that would justify why, as the Social Media Director at Cozi, I hadn’t produced in two years what this page had done in just two weeks? Nope. Here’s why:

  1. Stories like this are the REASON we all have jobs in social media. Just like the David After Dentist YouTube video (now with a staggering 99 million+ views), or the People of Wal-Mart Blog, sometimes stuff just takes off. (Asha Dornfest’s wrote an excellent post highlighting the unpredictability factor in the success of her popular blog, Parenthacks.)
  2. The kind of lightning-in-a bottle represented by the Crock Pot Girls page makes for a useful story in many ways, but at the end of the day, these stories are few and far between for a good reason: Smart social media is a marathon, not a sprint, and the real value only accrues to your company over time.
  3. There has already been some speculation on how they did it, and whether it was driven by black hat techniques. Although the page looked decidedly unkosher when I first checked it out, and several of the people producing anecdotal evidence of foul play are people I trust, there is no doubt that the page now has many thousands of legitimate fans too.  So, do the origins matter to you as a social media manager? Probably not. (Better to let the consultants and agencies worry about that.) Because at the end of the day, your first goal is to build YOUR page and use it to serve your customers better.

The truth is it doesn’t really help you or your business to stress out about how the Crock Pot Girls got there.

See, I do not believe that social media is a zero sum game; If the Crock Pot Girls have a million+ fans, good for them. Their fan count does not in any way prevent you from continuing to benefit from the excellent Facebook page you’ve already built. One that you use to engage your customers, gather product feedback, develop a nuanced understanding of your audience, deliver great product support, and so much more.

And if your page is NOT doing all those things for your company, the last thing you want to do is spend your time worrying about someone ELSE’s fan count.

But wait! What if you have a crock pot or recipe fan page and website? Isn’t it a zero sum game then? Aren’t they stealing all your customers’ eyeballs?

I have good news for you: If they actually do a good job and make that Crock Pot Girls page super engaging, then they aren’t stealing your customers from you, they are AGGREGATING them for you. You now have the ideal place to park your limited marketing dollars in the form of a super tight and targeted campaign of Facebook ads – to be served exclusively to the fans of the Crock Pot Girls. After all, who is more likely to click “Like” on your crock pot recipe page than someone who already likes a page about crockpot cooking? And if their page sucks and fails? Then they aren’t hurting you are they?

So, go ahead and read about these fun viral hit stories; Heck use ’em in your presentations too. But then go right back to staying focused on what you were doing before your boss asked you about this: build a great page that works for YOUR business goals.

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