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A Return To (Actual) Social Media Humanity
Pick a brand. Any brand.
Now go to their Facebook page or Twitter feed and what do you see?
Maybe a car that’s rooting for a football team? Perhaps it’s a box of cereal that wants to know how your weekend was? Or it could be a stick of deodorant that’s curious to know what you thought of the Breaking Bad finale.
And it’s all fucking awkward.
Every last post.
Because we as marketers have somehow lost our way. We’ve somehow gotten comfortable with a set of social media “best practices” and “standards” that are as phony as they are foolish.
We’ve somehow bought into this silly idea that brands in social spaces, should act like people. That the key to success in social media is to “humanize” your brand, and it give it “a voice”.
And as a result, that’s what every ding-dong community manager and stuffed-shirt social media “expert” is doing.
They’re just clumsily attempting to animate brands like some fumble-thumbed puppeteers at the worst community theater puppet show you’ve ever seen.
Hence the awkwardness in a cup of coffee becoming sentient and asking you what you think of this weather, on Facebook.
Seriously. I barely want to talk to my human friends about the weather, let alone a faceless corporation.
But social media pros have been selling this bullshit approach for so long, that I think they’ve started to believe it themselves. Or maybe they legitimately don’t know any better. It’s hard to tell.
Either way, it’s time to stop the nonsense.
It’s time to stop writing tone guidelines, and internally coaching your community managers on how to make your ketchup or snow-tires or dog biscuits sound “approachable”, “quirky”, and “fun-loving”.
It’s time to stop hiding behind logos and stock photos, content calendars and platitudes.
It’s time to hire the right social media brand stewards, and then trust, empower, and elevate them to roles of front-facing prominence.
It’s time to stop saying “human” and start being human.
Because if you’re not prepared to put a face (an actual face) and name (an actual name) alongside your brand in social media, perhaps you shouldn’t be there at all.
The Simple Secret To Effective Community Management
For a good part of 2010, and for some part of 2011, I was in charge of the social media channels for Samuel Adams. And though I only spent a short time at the helm before moving onto Hill Holliday, I learned more about community management in this role than I had before or have since.
And I don’t mean “best practices” sort of stuff, like when the best time to post is, and what formats get more engagement. None of that actually matters as it turns out. That’s all brand-centric thinking. More on that in a minute.
What I learned, was that the key to running a successful brand community in any social space, was to be part of the community and never above it. Here’s what I mean…
Every person that works at Samuel Adams is a beer person. They fucking love beer genuinely. Regardless of what your job function is at the company, from Jim Koch himself, all the way through to the finance department and the interns, every person in that building shares one thing in common. And that’s their love for drinking, tasting, making and talking about beer.
So therefore, the approach to social for Samuel Adams was a simple one - connect with people over a shared love for beer, by being part of the community, not by lording over it or patronizing it.
Tactically, and on a day-to-day, post-by-post basis, I looked at it like this:
We ALL loved beer. It was the common thread between myself and all of the brand’s fans and followers. And in particular, we all loved Samuel Adams. But it just so happened, that when I got up and went to work in the morning, I’d walk by Jim in his office, tasting Boston Lager samples, or step over hoses being used by Bob Cannon as he washed the brewery floor. Or maybe I was part of a homebrew taste panel. Or perhaps I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at our most prized creation.
Whatever the particulars, I was Charlie and this was the Chocolate Factory. And my job was to help get your mind off of TPS reports and the humdrum of office life, by giving you access into my world.
The tone was meant to be “HOLY SHIT. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS MY JOB??!!”
And by taking this simple approach of sharing my genuine excitement and wonder at what I had access to every day, I was able to connect to fans on a level that wasn’t manufactured authenticity, but was actually authentic.
Since I’ve left Samuel Adams, I’ve had the occasion to work with lots of people, who in some way or another, are responsible for over-seeing or managing brand communities. And what I see more often than not, are content calendars, best-practices outlines, tone/voice guidelines, and other devices meant to operationalize authenticity and connection with the people in these communities.
We all talk about the importance of connecting with our communities on a human level. We all talk about being personal and having a voice. We all talk about doing the right thing. But then we go out there and literally do none of those things. We treat these channels like a sales-brochure, and we post rehearsed, tone-deaf, advertiser-centric junk, that everyone sees right through.
So my advice is to ignore best-practices, don’t make content calendars, and for god’s sake, please try and see the irony in formalizing documents on how to have a voice and be authentic.
Instead, hire smart people, and match those people by interest, to the brand communities they oversee. If you have a fashion brand, staff that community manager role with someone who genuinely loves fashion. Have an automotive brand? Get a car-nut in that community manager’s seat. Don’t waste your time looking for people with “community management experience”. Look for people who already have a voice and connection with the community, and the rest will be easy.
If you go this route, you won’t have to spend time teaching someone to have an authentic voice, because it’ll just be there naturally.
Today’s Social Media Tips
Two quick thoughts on social media for this Monday morning.
First, we need to stop checking boxes, and start thinking a bit more. Or maybe it’s that we need to start thinking a bit less. Not quite sure.
Either way, I see far too much social media “strategy” that goes like this, and it needs to stop.
- List out all of the “current” social media platforms that we an think of (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc).
- Try and find/make things to put into each bucket.
We need to cut that shit out.
Instead, start with an idea, a goal, or a desired outcome that you want your brand and messaging to have when someone encounters it. Now go out and make things that drive towards that outcome. You’ll figure out which channels/platforms to use, and which to ignore.
Second thought, is that we need to consider social media as being bottom-up as much as top-down. Maybe even more.
What I mean by that is this:
Top-down is explicitly driven by the brand and pushes the user to do something. Think contests and calls-to-action, that sort of thing. Brand tells user what to do, when to do it, and where to do it. If you rely on this method, there’s a good chance that you and your brand are inherently uninteresting.
Bottom-down is creating awesome products and experiences, that have talk-value naturally built in. Your brand becomes social because people want to talk about it, not because they’re part of some Pavlovian Facebook experiment. Strong, confident, secure brands and strategists love this approach and do it well.
Social Media Content Simplicity
Social media isn’t difficult, but we sure as hell act like it is. We have gurus and seminars, white-papers and conferences, best-practices and fails. There is an entire industry (of which I am part), that’s sprung up around totally overcomplicating the space, and then selling services that help you untangle the phony mess that we’ve all created.
This is particularly evident in the world of social media content, where we all try way too hard, and do a brilliant job of tangling ourselves in our own mouse-cords in the process. Rarely do marketing managers stop and think about how to simply provide value through content that is mutually useful to brand and user alike.
To illustrate my point, I am going to pick on two companies whose products I love, but whose social media presences I love to hate. By the way, I fully understand that by poking at others, I leave myself exposed to critique in the same way. I’m ok with that.
First, let’s start with Zipcar. I love Zipcar. Great idea, great service, great product. I’m a customer, and whenever I’m given the opportunity, I always recommend them highly to others. Zipcar’s tagline is “Wheels when you want them”, and to those unfamiliar, they are essentially an hourly car-rental service that leverages some simple and clever tech, to allow anyone to grab a car when they need one, without ever talking to a person.
Zipcar makes money each time that you use their service. Using their service (quite simply) means renting one of their cars. And since Zipcar is mostly an urban/metro service, most of those cars are rented out to city dwellers, who don’t own a car.
So therefore, all of the social media content (in my opinion) that Zipcar produces, should be designed to do one thing, and one thing only:
Make me (the customer) want to do things that require a car.
But that is not what Zipcar produces for content. On Facebook, they use the cringeworthy method of leveraging random “holidays” as springboards for awkward posts that desperately try to tie these events to the brand. And on Twitter, it seems to mostly be re-tweets of other people mentioning Zipcar. What?
This is simple, and they’re over-thinking it. If I’m a fan or a follower, I’m likely a Zipcar customer. And remember, you (Zipcar) make money, when I (customer) rent your cars. So why not use these social connection points to inspire me to do so more often? Post about awesome locations that are an hour outside of the city, partner with IKEA for co-discounts and shopping excursions, give users itineraries for great day/road trips. Just post content that makes me itch to do things that require a car.
Incidentally, Zipcar is hiring a “Senior Manager, Content & Social Strategy”, so if someone is so inclined, you can literally go fix this mess.
Opentable isn’t much different in their amazing ability to face-plant on such a simple opportunity. Once again, Opentable makes money by connecting people to a service (in this case restaurants). The more they can do this, the better the businesses involved presumably do. So once again, the content approach here should be dead simple:
Make me want to go to restaurants that are serviced by Opentable.
Is this what they do? Nope. Instead, they steal a play from Zipcar, and incessantly re-tweet people who say that they have used Opentable. Literally. I follow them on Twitter, and the vast majority of what they post, are simply re-tweets like this, of people saying that they like or use Opentable. It’s truly as bizarre as it is useless.
Also bizarre, they only have a Facebook app, and not a proper fan page. Not sure what that’s all about.
And how about Instagram? Seems like a wide-open opportunity to just play to the platform, posting great food porn and mentioning the restaurants, all of which (naturally) you’d be able to book on Opentable.
So, the advice here is largely the same as it was for Zipcar, but with restaurants instead of cars. Inspire me to visit the restaurants. Highlight amazing dishes, chefs, lists of top X restaurants in a city or category, all as a lead-in to making a reservation. Focus on making my mouth water and driving me to impulse book more dinners out using Opentable. Anything else should be seen as extraneous and thusly avoided.
As it happens, Opentable is also hiring a “Director of Engagement Marketing”. So this too is a there for the solving if anyone wants to have at it.
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, or pulling out two narrow examples that support my thesis here. But I truly believe that this sort of simplicity can be applied to most brands, in most social/content spaces. We too often start in the weeds, with content calendars, lists of phony holidays, and an unrealistic expectation of what the platforms can and should do for us.
We need to instead start at a higher level. A human level. A logical level. And start creating content and experiences that are simple, provide value, and properly map business needs to user needs in semi-interesting ways.
I’ve noticed two things recently about Twitter spam. First, I’ve seen a huge uptick in spam accounts “Favoriting” my tweets as a means to get my attention. Not sure if the idea here is that it’s less expected to be spammy (versus a random @ reply with a link), but it’s becoming more common.
Second, lots of Twitter spam accounts are starting to look like the above, and they’re hilarious. Clearly these are bots and/or non-native English speakers, and the mishmash of phrasing and wording in the bios, is great.
They’re obviously designed to mimic the most common territory for legit Twitter users (gaming, bacon, social media, music, entrepreneurship, etc), but the language is just off enough, where it has some comedic value.
Come Work With Me
I need to hire a Sr. Social Media Strategist for my team at Hill Holliday. The full job description is here. If you bother and take some time to read it, you’ll see that it says the expected things. Like how you need to be a self-starter, and good communicator and all that boilerplate stuff. It’s all true of course, but it just doesn’t do a very good job of articulating what it’s like to work on the team, doing the job every day. So I thought I’d write this bit up to add some more color to what this role is all about.
First, what I’m looking for.
I want someone smart. Clever smart. Someone that doesn’t just regurgitate headlines from Mashable, and speak in talking points and stats. You need to be quick thinking, and able to answer curveball questions from clients and co-workers with confidence and accuracy. You also need to be comfortable saying things like “I don’t know, but I think xyz, and here’s why”.
The point is, you should have opinions. We’re ultimately in the opinions business, so you should definitely have some. Just make sure they’re well informed opinions, and flexible opinions when it turns out that you’re actually wrong. Which will happen. You’ll be wrong a lot, so be cool with that too. It’s really ok.
Be a devour-er of information and a really good writer. These things usually go hand in hand. Meaning that someone who consumes a lot of information on a regular basis is also generally pretty good at articulating his or her thoughts when the time comes. You’d be amazed how much writing you’ll need to do, and how important it is that you’re able to express ideas clearly. You won’t always be there to present the slide or document that you created, so your ideas frequently need to speak for themselves.
Know a little bit about a lot of things. Be curious. When I made that Mashable remark earlier, it wasn’t because I think Mashable is shit. It’s because I see too many “social media strategists” consuming the same information, in the same echo-chamber, all day long. That sort of thing simply doesn’t make you better. Social media is easy. Thinking and applying thought towards a useful or meaningful end, is hard. In my opinion, the more broad your set of interests, the more you learn to think, and the stronger you get as a strategist. Social media or otherwise.
To riff a bit more on the above bit, I also look for someone with a really varied set of skills. I love utility players, and I consider myself to be one. Someone that’s dabbled in lots of different digital/marketing/strategy disciplines is really attractive to me. The world isn’t carved up into neat little siloes of expertise anymore, so anyone that can speak a little tech, a little creative, a little media, and a little analytics is going to go places in this industry. The more social-media-adjacent skills you have, the better.
The last three things I am looking for, are most important of all. Be passionate, hard working, and just a good person to be around.
Passionate – You’d think this goes without saying. It doesn’t. If you come work with us, you should love what you do, and it should show. We love what we do, and it shows. We want more people like that.
Hard-working – This isn’t a 9-5 gig. I’d love to avoid the “work hard and play hard LOL!” cliché here, but I can’t. It’s what we do. We pour ourselves into our work, but we also know when to let loose and have a good time. Often times those things really overlap. But the internet doesn’t close on nights and weekends, so know coming in, that this is an always-on sort of role.
A good person to be around – While we’re tossing clichés about with total abandon, let me just say that our team…hell, our whole agency, is a family. We’re going to spend A LOT of time together, so we need to get on well with one another. We don’t want any jerks. So if you’re a jerk (and it’s ok if you are, the world needs jerks), this gig isn’t for you.
Now, a bit about the team you’d work with.
I couldn’t have picked a better crew to work with (or maybe they picked me, I can’t remember). You’ve got Mike, Brad, Noah, Folu, Kelsey, Ryan, Mazy, Chris and Jess. I’d describe them all in more detail, but trust me, they’re great. Just look at their Twitter feeds to get a sense of what they’re all about.
One of the reasons that I know they’re great, is despite the fact that we all spend ~60 hours each week together at work, you’ll often find us hanging out together after work, and on weekends. By choice.
And by the way, that’s just the immediate team. There’s like 500 other people in the building too, and they’re all terrific.
And the client you’d work on.
You’d have a great client. They’re smart, tough, and ambitious. They have great resources to get things done, and they truly value us as strategic partners. I can get into more specifics in person.
Lastly, the work itself. Here’s what that’s like.
I sometimes joke with others that my job is to make slide decks, because…well…we make a lot of slide decks. Clever, eh? But while that’s true, the slide decks we make are generally just the tangible output of our thinking, which is what we get to spend most of our time doing (thinking about stuff). And I say “get to”, because I think that’s actually the best part of being a strategist. Our job is to think about things, form opinions on what we’ve thought about, and then turn those thoughts into some output that you can see, touch, and feel. An actionable strategy, a campaign, a piece of content, a tool, or some other creative thing.
Sometimes this thinking is a solitary exercise (researching, reading, etc), sometimes it’s a group discussion or casual chat with your co-workers, and other times it’s more of the on-the-spot variety in the context of a client meeting.
Speaking of meetings, there are plenty of those. It’s just a reality of any big organization with lots of moving parts – meetings are sometimes required to get things moving forward. But I promise, I personally do what I can to minimize the need for meetings, unless they are absolutely necessary.
As far as your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, this is where the job description actually delivers fairly well in terms of its accuracy. Broadly speaking, you’ll work closely with me (and the rest of the team) to create and execute strategies and campaigns that meet our client’s goals in the digital/social space. You’ll be responsible for briefing creative, tech and other teams within the agency, continually working to keep programs on strategy, and ensuring that the what we put forth, is aligned with the brand’s goals and KPIs. In short, it’s our job to create the inputs, and guide the outputs, so the results are strong.
You’ll also help to guide, manage and mentor the junior members of the team, and keep the rest of the agency departments smart, and thinking about how and where social media can be used to our advantage.
So now what? Well, if you’re interested in working with me, get in touch. Email is best, and even without me posting my work email address here, you should be able to figure it out. Hell, three dozen vendors seem to crack the code each day.
Don’t just send me a resume though. Tell me a bit about who you are, and what makes you the right person for the role.
Talk to you soon.
I think it might be time to stop putting hashtags in television commercials. Or maybe it’s just time to get a bit more honest about what their place is, or isn’t.
For starters, putting a hashtag on the end card of a tv spot is not a social media strategy. It’s a ham-fisted thing that marketers do, so they can somehow map tv spend to any associated social media conversation as a means to better quantify ad performance. At best, it’s an awkward swing at adding a tracking and measurement layer to the campaign, that everyone can see.
It’s sort of like if your end-card URL had ?src=AdCreative1&medium=television tacked onto the end of it, and you expected viewers to run to the web and type that exact string into their browser bar so you could better track how the spot was working.
The wonderful @fart (yes, I am quoting @fart to make a point), put it a bit more succinctly:
In my opinion, the big issue here is that a hashtag in a tv spot only provides value to the advertiser, and gives nothing back to the viewer. It’s really just our way of instructing users on how to tag their conversations, so we can more easily organize and count them. There’s nothing in it for the consumer at all.
Where things get really silly, is when we go off and talk about how “effective” a “strategy” that this is, getting all self-congratulatory about it. Somehow connecting the spread of hashtags in Superbowl spots, to brands “getting” social media. It’s a completely false premise.
To me, an uptick in hashtags on tv spots doesn’t in any way demonstrate that advertisers are now better getting social media, or that users are caring any more about brands than they did before. It just means that like all good marketers, we’ve found a neat trick to get people doing something, that we can all count.
And to be clear, I’m talking about advertisements, not television shows or content. In those instances, there can (and often is) actual community and conversation, the organization of which, does in fact provide real value to the user.
This is what Facebook has been reduced to. We’re now firmly in MySpace territory.
The Value Of A Facebook Fan
Was just having a conversation with Ilya about Facebook fans, and one of the thoughts that came up in the conversation was:
How would the way that brands perceive the value of a Facebook fan change, if we had no way to see how many fans other brands had?
The idea being that the current era of social media centers most heavily around the collection of fans and followers as a means to validate your brand’s standing in the [social media] world. And the ability to see what everyone else has, makes brands and marketers constantly insecure about their own audience sizes. And this visibility into everyone else’s data fuels competition that drives us all to irrationally chase bigger numbers.
Back in the day when all of our measurable stats were hidden from others (web traffic, click through rates, conversions, etc), we all focused solely on what mattered to our own businesses. We had no idea what the competition was getting, and that opacity freed us to focus on the metrics that dove our own bottom line.
The openness of the social media era has clouded our judgement and forced us to spend big not just to build our audiences, but to make sure we build our audiences bigger than the other guys.
many falsely modest statements on Twitter and Facebook try to fly under decorum’s radar by whispering to their readers, “You’re my fan, not my friend.
If I Do Humblebrag So Myself
Better actually needs to be better. Not better conversations. Better reality, from which come the values that consumers affirm (and which brands used to claim). A Facebook “like” or Twitter retweet don’t take the place of that substance; they’re simply the mechanisms for propagating it. A funny video on YouTube or Vimeo that doesn’t have an ounce of the “Reason To Buy” that an ad would have isn’t an improvement as much as a snack of empty marketing calories.
P&G’s Social Media Orthodoxy Could Sink Its Innovation Progress
Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, but overcoming indifference.
How To Fail
Social Media Customer Service - The Entitlement Age
Yesterday evening I posted out to Twitter, the following:
Social media has created an unrealistic sense of entitlement amongst customers, who are quick to use economic threats to get their way.
To go a bit beyond my 140 character allotment, what I mean here is this.
There is no denying that over the past several years, that social media has materially changed the dynamic between consumers and corporations. The net effect of this shift (in my opinion) has been an overwhelmingly positive thing. Consumers are now more adequately armed with the tools needed to fight back against companies that mistreat them or poorly service them, and this is a good thing.
But with this newfound power, comes some sense of responsibility that seems to have been lost on most of us.
Emboldened by this ability to wield our social networks as weapons, we have become bloodthirsty, and quick to shoot when we feel the slightest bit wronged.
Proper service, expected results, and a timely response are no longer enough. We want to be catered to. We DEMAND to be catered to. And if we are not personally satisfied, if our individual needs are not fully met, we are quick to use the stick and dole out social media punishment to those we feel have wronged us.
This punishment tends to come most often, in the form of economic threats. You changed the logo on my cereal box? I’m switching brands. You charged me a bank fee? I’m going to find a new bank. New design on my orange juice container? Never buying it again.
And though threats like these are generally representative of an extremely small minority, when well placed, they can send the most seasoned marketing professionals into a tailspin, and force them to become irrational.
I’ve seen it dozens of times with colleagues and I’ve been there myself. One pointed, nasty threat to stop doing business with a brand, dropped haphazardly onto a Facebook page, can upend months of thinking and millions of dollars worth of work. The second-guessing begins so easily on the back of a statistically insignificant number of negative comments.
I love this quote from Markus Frind, creator of dating site PlentyOfFish. When asked how he has resisted adding commonly requested features, such as chatrooms and video profiles, he responded
“I don’t listen to the users,” he says. “The people who suggest things are the vocal minority who have stupid ideas that only apply to their little niches.”
While this may read as harsh, it’s an admirable position, if not an extremely tough one to stick to as a corporate entity.
And while most big brands would never dare say what Markus has, I’m sure most of them would love to. Either way, I think it’s an interesting piece of commentary that reveals how adversarial the relationship between consumer and corporation has become in the social customer service space.
As brands, we need to understand that the evolution of social media has put is in a position where simply providing adequate service is no longer enough. Providing amazing service is now table-stakes.
As consumers, we need to remember that often times, each party simply knowing that the other is armed, will cause everyone to behave a bit better. And that the more we use our influence as a weapon, the weaker it will become over time.