20 May 2013, Ian Greenleigh
A quick note before you dig in to this excerpt. The Social Media Side Door is now available for pre-order. Click here to get it. That’s the note. I said it would be quick! Enjoy the excerpt!
Woe to those that underestimate the power of Big Social.
I’ve seen the expression “wake the beast” used a lot in reference to social media, but the expression never fit—you can’t “wake” something that never sleeps, or more accurately, has never slept.
Social media has been big, powerful, and constantly active for a long time. It’s a largely passive landscape, in which a tiny minority of users actively participates, while the vast majority of users “lurk.” But the concentrations of activity can spring up organically, as when something goes viral, or they can be predictable, like the spike in tweets on US Election Day and during the World Cup.
It’s much more difficult to manufacture such activity levels, and harder still to concentrate that activity and direct it into real progress against a shared goal. In their short history, social media “victories” have been more accident than alignment, more carpet bomb than precision strike.
One of these corporate apology excerpts is not like the others:
At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.
It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.
We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA. Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.
The first two apologies (Gap and Netflix, respectively) respond to the raw power of social media. Dissent gone viral, reaching a fever pitch. A familiar kind of outcry.
The third (GoDaddy) responds to something new. I call it Big Social.
Big Social is self-aware. It knows the extent of its access. It understands the influence it wields. It has learned how to carry itself with confidence, and how to direct fire with pinpoint precision.
It has a new set of expectations, and both corporations and political institutions are in its sights.
Political institutions, generally the enemies of access, are no longer able to ignore the role of social media in providing access to power and information. “I think we’ve seen really interesting early days here, but if we’re talking about networked democracy, you have to remember that it’s just in its infancy,” says Alex Howard, Washington correspondent with O’Reilly Radar.
Policy makers, particularly government officials and staffers, are overwhelmed by the incoming flood of messages as it is. That’s something that became quite apparent when email entered the picture in the nineties, and then the growth of other kinds of communications since then has only accelerated that. As some people have pointed out, notably Clay Johnson, what Congress actually needs is to grow bigger ears to be able to listen to all of that, and to know who in that huge amount of incoming requests, ideas, feedback, etc., are their constituents—the people that they are supposed to represent.
14 Mar 2013, Ian Greenleigh
The democratization of influence, and the falling costs of audience acquisition, can actually work in companies’ favor. Social media has created an army of citizen influencers—otherwise normal individuals that wield huge social footprints and outsized influence. They discuss and review films, music, products, and everything under the sun. They have earned the uncompensated attention of thousands of subscribers, fans, and followers who tune in by choice—not because they have no other choice. Advertisers have traditionally measured their ads’ effectiveness, in part, by how many sets of eyeballs they reached (for many companies, this is also the primary means by which they attempt to evaluate social media efforts). But eyeballs that are there because they want to be there—interested eyeballs—are much more valuable. Consumers don’t need any prodding to tell each other what they’re buying, using, and wanting to buy. Brands are a big part of how people view themselves, and how people want others to view them. All consumers, to some degree, see the brands they purchase as a reflection of who they are, but Millennials take this association to another level entirely. Edelman Digital found that Millennials are likelier to share brand preference online than any other personal identifier—including religion and race. This generation feels empowered, too. The same study reveals a strong sense of self-importance unique to the Millennials:
We also found that 76 percent of Millennials think they are highly depended on for their opinions.
Put this in your pipe and smoke it During one my more colorful phases, I took to smoking an old-fashioned tobacco pipe (maybe it made me feel more like a writer?). Problem was, packing a pipe that stays lit for more than a few minutes is more difficult than it looks to the novice. I could have driven the mile and a half back to the tobacconist and sheepishly asked him how to actually make use of the tobacco he sold me, but stubborn pride prevented me. Naturally, I took my query to the web. On YouTube I found hundreds of videos, giving me exactly what I was after. I sorted by popularity and went through the top three at my own pace (all were in the hundreds of thousands of views), positively over the moon that I was able to learn this way, instead of having to request the tutelage of the grizzled tobacconist in front of all the good ol’ boys that hung around the shop. The guys in the videos used different brands of tobacco, and they either talked about why they favored their brand, or the tin labels were clearly in the shot. After combining some of the finer points of all three pipe-packing methods, I visited the tobacconist again, and bought several of the brands featured in the videos that helped me most. These video stars weren’t compensated by the brands they featured, and it’s doubtful that they even received the products for free. They were just sharing what they knew, and what they liked, in a way that helped hundreds of thousands of people who were just starting to develop habits and brand loyalties that may stick for life. I still wonder, how many tins of tobacco were sold as a direct result of these homemade videos? And do these brands have any idea about the videos, and what they’ve done for their brands?
11 Feb 2013, Ian Greenleigh
Hi, readers. Before you dig into this excerpt, I wanted to let you know about a few things I’ve done recently. I wrote a guest post for Brian Solis called “The diffusion of brand, ownership, and experience.” It’s pretty high-level, but I think you’ll dig it. Also, I interviewed Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics, Grown Up Digital, and Wikinomics. Lastly, I was featured in a short video about consumers realizing the value of their own data, which I embedded at the end of this post, since it’s very much related. That’s all for now. Enjoy the excerpt!
Consumers have escaped the channels that marketers built for them. Before the internet and social media, if we wanted information about a product before purchasing it, or about a company before doing business with it (or working for it), our options were severely limited. If our friends and family had no experience with what we were considering, and journalists weren’t covering it, print, TV, in-store and radio ads filled in the rest. In other words, marketers accessed consumers while consumers accessed content. Businesses were able to minimize the extent to which off-brand and unflattering messages reached consumers. They owned or rented almost all of the real estate in the media landscape, and they perfected the art of wooing a captive consumer audience. The internet, social media, and smart mobile devices gave consumers new avenues of access to information.
Reality began to intrude on the space previously occupied by squeaky-clean marketing facades—consumers were talking to each other, finding alternatives to overpriced or ineffective products, pouring sunlight on business practices that were previously hidden. They began to trust the opinions of total strangers more than the words of advertisers. Some consumer cohorts, like the Millennials (Generation Y), began to trust total strangers more than their own friends and family.
Consumers today can choose where and how to access information and communicate. One’s immediate circle rarely holds all the answers, and for the first time ever, it’s easy to find answers outside of that circle. Not all of the information is accurate; much of the content shared and created lacks substance or is plainly offensive; many consumer complaints are unfounded. But as a whole, we see consumers exercising options that are themselves new—as if all around the world, we’re discovering new superpowers and we’re excitedly learning to use them.
People being born today are digital and social natives, but perhaps more importantly, they are the first fully-empowered generation of consumers. What will they do with their new superpowers, with their new-found access and influence? We’re just beginning to find out, and luckily for those of us who study this kind of thing and businesses that are looking for new avenues to growth, the results are constantly coming in, billions of data points at a time.
Charles Angoff said, “History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard.” The present and future are symphonies of data.
23 Jan 2013, Ian Greenleigh
In my job as a B2B marketer, access is the name of the game. It’s what everyone’s after, at first. Our job is to create great content that gets people to engage with us, or to create that “positive familiarity” that warms up the call from the salesperson. We’re going for that moment of recognition: “Oh yeah, I know you guys. You put out that video about the future of the Facebook-enabled toaster oven. Sure, let’s talk.” Or something like that. The same forces are at work with business-to-consumer companies, too, except it’s the familiarity is geared to influence the moment of a consumer’s decision, whether online or in the aisles. One of the best ways to gain access to prospects is to write about their industry and challenges, and to mention their companies in the content. It’s a strange thing to say, but companies have egos, too. This angle shouldn’t be used wantonly, or in every piece of content you put out, but it does work when the tactic is used in a way that doesn’t alienate the rest of your audience for the sake of that single prospect. It also works well with existing clients.
A few years ago, I attended a conference in Las Vegas. It was the first conference I attended while working for Bazaarvoice, and I was going, in part, to prove to my then boss that conferences could help generate great content that would have an impact on the business. Normally, we’d only send salespeople or product marketers with deep knowledge of the technical side of our products (not a content guy like me). In retrospect, I’m a little embarrassed about how little I knew about what Bazaarvoice actually did at that point, but for some reason I didn’t think I would be put on the spot about it. When I arrived, I saw that one of our clients was presenting. This was a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 company, and yet our relationship with them wasn’t very mature yet—that’s marketing-speak for they weren’t using many of our products, and we weren’t getting paid very much (relative to their market cap). Fortunately, the topic was interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to our blog’s readers as well. I sat anonymously in the audience and took notes. I didn’t know the presenters, and I didn’t have time to introduce myself before the next session.
Later that week, back in Austin, I posted a recap of that session to our blog. I had a few back-to-back meetings, and when I got back to my desk, I saw that Bazaarvoice had been mentioned a few hundred times on Twitter in the space of two hours (this doesn’t happen often). The tweets were from employees and divisions of the company whose session I wrote about. That alone may have been enough to secure me a ticket to the next conference of my choice in the eyes of my then boss. Then I checked the traffic to the post. Through the roof—more traffic that day than any I could recall seeing, ever. A new email notification popped up on my screen, from the salesperson assigned to the account. He had forwarded me a thread that was sent to me by his internal champion at the company. It showed the extent to which the post I had written had wound its way through some of the highest levels of this organization. People there were proud that their colleagues had done so well in their presentation, and it made the company look really progressive. The last message in the thread was a note from our internal champion to our salesperson, thanking us for the coverage, asking if they could set up a meeting soon to talk about expanding the relationship.
This event recap model worked wonders for us again, a few times. After a Facebook executive spoke at our annual conference, I wrote a post about the ideas within his talk. I never directly sent him the link, but within a few hours of publication, our site’s servers were on the brink. Facebook, which (humorously) has a Twitter account with over 5 Million followers, tweeted the piece and posted it to its own Facebook wall. It was one of the highest traffic days in Bazaarvoice history. Companies have egos, and that’s great news for marketers.
14 Nov 2012, Ian Greenleigh
The quickest way onto someone’s radar is through their ego, to reimagine that old phrase about the connection between heart and stomach. We like to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good about ourselves. Hollywood stars have their entourages, but those of us a bit closer to Earth start relationships with people that reinforce our self-image. There’s nothing inherently bad about having an ego and doing things in service of it (as I’ve written elsewhere, “the concept of ego really gets a bum rap”). Whenever we praise and compliment, bestow awards and recognition, quote, link to, retweet, or even merely follow someone, we are dealing with their ego, intentionally or otherwise. But appealing to another’s ego can be a perfectly tasteful and legitimate way of advancing our own interests. Consider the following two requests:
- “Could you meet me for an hour each week to discuss my career trajectory, give me expert advice when I need it, and serve as a reference when I’m looking for a new job?”
- “I’m really inspired by your success, and I’d love to follow in your footsteps. I’d be honored if you would act as my mentor and work with me to help me shine, too. It should take no more than an hour a week.”
Most people would be more likely to accept the second request, because it paints the same activities as an extension of their personal success, instead of a request for work with no pay, which is the way a cynic might describe it. This concept applies incredibly well to the world of social. It’s hard to believe at times, but the best way to start a relationship with someone that has hardly noticed you yet is to ask for something. The perfect access-granting request is for something that is low effort on their end, of significant value on your end, and…
- Makes them feel good about themselves
- Makes them look good to others
- Is public-facing (like a quote)
- Helps them, even in a small way, get more of what they’re after (like publicity)
Not all of these conditions need to be met to make the request successful. A lot of it depends on the context, the person’s familiarity with you and/or your work, and the person’s view of themselves. All of the conditions above offer something called “ego capital,” which is the element that makes something appeal to the ego. Almost anything can be made more powerful with the help of ego capital: marketing, sales, job searches, even relationships. There’s an important distinction between ego capital and flattery. One of the more common definitions of flattery is “insincere or excessive praise;” in other words something that is over the top by its very nature. (That’s the definition evident in the famous idiom, “flattery will get you nowhere.”) Ego capital may harness the same dynamics, but it can be used in a tasteful, genuine manner—unlike its flamboyant cousin, flattery. Flattery is ego capital gone wild.
1 Oct 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Undercover Boss is a British-born television show with derivative versions in the US, Australia, Norway, Germany and Canada. The premise is simple: Top corporate executives go “under cover” as low-level employees to “examine the inner workings of their companies.” Filled with front-lines revelations, tough lessons, and buckets of tears, the executives leave their adventures in the real world with a new understanding of the day-to-day realities of the people that keep their companies humming. There’s something special about the show, as evidenced by the US version’s Emmy nomination and the fact that it “ranks as the biggest new series premier since 1987,” according to CBS.
The experience is often very humbling. The C-suiters routinely appear inept at performing simple tasks, or clueless about things like how their products are actually made. But if we’re to take them at their word, it’s all worth it. Why?
There are financial awards for companies appearing on the show. Essentially, the companies profiled are getting free advertising during prime time to the tune of more than $12,000,000, as one estimate suggests. Another analysis shows that many of the companies see a stock performance bump after appearing on the show. But a lot of the “free advertising” is unflattering, and it seems unlikely that the share price spike is a safe enough bet for the TV appearance to be calculated for this potential benefit.
No, these big shots are looking for something else: an escape from the echo chamber. Like Shakespeare’s King Henry V, who donned a disguise to walk among the his soldiers and get the unvarnished truth about their readiness for the next day’s battle, many powerful people know that their “10,000 foot view” of reality is colored by career-minded “yes men,” corporate groupthink, and their distance from the front lines.
Those who make important decisions based on a severely distorted reality will ultimately fail, so shrewd leaders place enormous importance on their backchannels to the truth. This is reflected in the rise of internal social networks like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, which can facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration and that much-vaunted corporate “transparency.” These networks serve, in part, to break down rigid siloes and chains of command that can kill great ideas before they reach someone with the authority and resources to make them happen. On Chatter, for instance, a CEO can post a question to the organization, and receive answers from employees from across the entire company, at every level in the hierarchy. And yet, at many corporations, a direct email to the CEO concerning the same exact issue would be met with a layer of administrative scrutiny in the form of his or her executive assistant, where it may join a long queue of incoming messages, or die on the vine all together.
It’s worth noting, however, that employees don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the potential of these tools. According to a survey from Deloitte, “As it relates to management visibility, 38% of executives think social media allows for increased transparency while only 17% of employees agree.”
Taking a break from writing this chapter, I happened to check my Facebook feed. On it, a friend had reposted her friend’s request for referrals to a freelance writer. This friend of a friend was a senior marketing executive at a major American auto manufacturer. Several hopefuls posted their interest on the thread, and I added a referral to someone I had worked with. Why did this executive feel the need to post his request to Facebook, and not simply scan his company’s database of proven copywriters? I suspect he’d say that there’s a world of knowledge and talent outside of his Detroit high-rise headquarters.
4 Sep 2012, Ian Greenleigh
A lot has happened in my life since I started writing The Social Side Door. I married the love of my life. I visited the beautiful island nation of St. Maarten. I helped throw a successful conference, and buried myself in a million interesting projects at work.
And now I’m ridiculously happy to announce: I have a book deal. McGraw-Hill will be releasing The Social Side Door in Fall 2013. I’m excited to join the ranks of authors like Mack Collier, Guy Kawasaki, Ric Dragon, Mark Schaefer, and so many others I respect.
There are too many people to thank in this post, but I want to make sure to let my readers know that your support helped me get here. I’ll still be posting excerpts from the book, but probably not as frequently.
Because I’m in no position to dole out writing advice this early in my career, I’ll leave it to someone who inspires me:
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.
-Neil Gaiman, from a keynote address to The University of the Arts, May 17, 2012.
22 Aug 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Traditional endorsements are specific and direct; I ask for a quote from my best customers, or I pay a celebrity to pretend they like what I sell. Or when I’m looking for a job, I ask my former colleagues for references (this has been updated with the advent of LinkedIn recommendations, but it’s the same practice).
Endorsements can also be tacit and subtle, too. This is the kind of social proof that typically exists in the social Web, and it’s critical to opening up side doors. After all, an endorsement doesn’t have to be explicit.
Some of the social proof signals that people rely on for mental shortcuts—whether they admit it or not—include:
- Number of social connections (Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.)
- Mentions and links in social content (tweets, blog posts, comments, etc.)
- Evidence of high traffic to blog or website
- List and RSS subscribers
- Klout score
All of these things are signals that convey information. Someone having a high number of Twitter followers or blog subscribers means, on the face of it, a lot of people care to listen to them. Social proof is the mechanism that kicks in once we see this, the feeling that we should give them our attention as well. If we were to evaluate whether or not to pay attention to someone by sifting through every social signal they emit, our social circle would necessarily be tiny.
Although they do make impressions on people, raw numbers aren’t the best indicators of importance. Subscribers, links, friends and followers can all be gamed. So can the algorithms that suck in disparate information and spit out Klout scores. The strongest signal when it comes to social proof is influence by association. This happens when someone that is already an influencer publicly engages with you. Maybe they retweet something you posted, mention you on their blog, or “love” your Instagram photo. In doing so, they pass on influence to you. Their audience is now aware of you, and aware of the fact that someone that influences them is taking the time to engage with you. If you’re on the influencer’s radar, so the mental math goes, you should be on their audience’s radar, too.
3 Jul 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Do bloggers need to focus on SEO to be “findable” to members of the press?
I would say going after press is probably easier than being “findable”, though if you are already using it as a strategy for your blog you should make sure to think about the press side of things.
Your first CNN appearance happened because of a guest post you wrote. How can people identify the blogs that reporters read to position themselves for similar opportunities?
Usually larger blogs are more likely to have members of the press. I never realized that some of the journalists I knew were reading these blogs until I went back and started to read the comments. Becoming more visible in general, like being on bigger blogs, will bring more opportunities your way.
When you interviewed David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of 37signals, he shared it on Twitter and sent a lot of people to your site, many of whom turned into subscribers. How do you recommend approaching busy people like David for an interview?
Just ask. I’ve asked a lot of very important people, and the vast majority have said yes. I specifically say that I can shorten the interview and work with their schedule. I also make sure to let them know how much I love their work, because it’s much more than just an interview, I am a big fan of their work before I ask.
How can people use other social channels, like Twitter, to be more visible to the press?
You can start adding journalists to your feed. You can start to see what they talk about, and tweet about, and what they are looking for. That way if you do pitch to them you are more targeted. And you never know – one of them might see your site and love it.
So you’ve got interest from a reporter, and it looks like they’re going to include you in a story. What’s your most important next step?
If you have given them the story, you should ask when you can expect to see it. That’s when you also what to see if there might be a link. Then you wait. Don’t bug them, but after a reasonable amount of time (i.e., after it’s supposed to be out) you can email them. Many times I found out articles came out because I looked at my Google analytics and saw traffic from it.
18 Jun 2012, Ian Greenleigh
“Blog to job” is a career path that many now aim for, but few actually experience. Marcy Massura is a prolific blogger, community manager, author, and much more. She’s a living case study on how to create social side doors in your career, and her influence keeps growing. I asked her to talk about what it takes.
What were your goals when you first started blogging? Was finding great work one of them?
When I started 5 years ago, the concept of blogging as a career was just forming, and while I was mindful to build a site that was ‘brand friendly’ it was not my first intention. I started blogging because I wanted an audience. I am a humor writer, and a former performer- and the blog platform gave me an instant audience from day one. Like all artistic and creative endeavors you have to love it first, and profit from it later.
Since you began blogging, it has become a bit of a crowded field. How would you advise today’s beginning bloggers to stand out and get noticed?
Be exceptional. Too many bloggers are busy being average, copying others and working every angle possible to get brands and agencies to notice them. But the bloggers we agency people are interested in have well written content, good photo and video skills and have strong niche communities around specific topics and genres. Those bloggers are exceptional. Secondly…and I have said this for many years now- the ultimate key to blogging success is consistency. Be consistent in everything from your publishing schedule, your content quality and your tone. Being great every once in a while is interesting, but success is built on doing something consistently well.
You’re adamant that numbers like fans and followers don’t represent actual influence. What are some other ways to signal to people that you’re worth their attention?
Well for starters we all need to acknowledge that measuring ‘influence’ is as impossible as measuring charm. You cannot actually measure something so intangible. What we can do is look to indicators that people find the person important in their world- so that often means fans and follower numbers. But we go deeper and look at the quality of those interactions to really assess the potential influence a brand or social promoter might have…so comments, tweets and conversations matter more, and are likely to be the thing to tip the scale between to equally matched bloggers. Also, the metrics for a blog site alone are only part of the story…we analyze the overall digital footprint and take into consideration every one of the blogger’s platforms. So collectively, we look to a blogger’s ‘community’ and broadcast potential- and the quality of those communities before making any decisions.
Having great content that demonstrates one’s expertise is one thing, but getting people to read it is another. What’s the most important thing you did to build your social presence?
Be everywhere. Every platform, every conference, every conversation. Be everywhere you can be in the digital space to be noticed. And before you start sending people back to your blog- be certain you have quality content there to make them want to come back again.
Barriers to entry in social media are low, so advice and tips on blogging are everywhere. What’s the single most clichéd or cringe-worthy piece of blogging advice you encounter that just seems wrong to you?
Gosh there is so much bad advice out there! But I think the thing that makes me cringe the most is the advice I read recently telling bloggers to ‘stay on single topic’ on their sites, and it went on to say ‘if you want to talk about other topics –start another blog’. This is horrible advice! Your blog is more like a TV channel than a TV show. You can, and should have a diverse range of topics and categories. Remember the concept of blogging is that it is personality based journalism, so the connecting link- the common thread in ANY topic…IS YOU. The blogger. So you can, and should write about anything that you fancy- as long as it is written through the filter of your voice and opinion.
What’s the ideal mindset for approaching blogging as a means of earning access and influence?
Ideal mindset? Well……don’t have that mindset! If you ask a girl out on a date with the single goal and intention of marrying her- chances are you are not only going to reveal yourself as someone whose heart isn’t in it, but you will never get even close to closing that deal. Much is the same in world of blogging…you have to do it because you love it. You have to do it consistently and create excellent content because you love it. Only then might you get noticed. And you might not. Be okay with that.