Where Have You Gone, Ashton Kutcher?

I heard you left Twitter the other day because you sent out a Tweet you shouldn’t have about Joe Paterno and the whole Penn State fiasco. And you’re right – it was dumb of you to jump to conclusions with that Tweet imploring the University to keep him before you knew the full facts.

But you know what, Ashton? It’s OK. Really. You made a stupid Tweet but it’s no reason for you to leave Twitter altogether (or hand it off to someone else to manage your account).

See, Ashton, while I respect you for trying to be more responsible, it’s exactly why I’d like you to come back. Because while you were apologizing, Magic Johnson was on Twitter calling Joe Paterno a “hero.” Within 5 minutes, he got a backlash so bad that he was trying to Tweet what he really meant by that. Last I checked, Magic is still on Twitter.

I suppose everything that comes out of Kim Kardashian’s Twitter stream is a stroke of educated genius? Or Paris Hilton? Or Perez Hilton? Or Lindsey Lohan? They’re still hanging around the Twitterverse.

You’re a Midwesterner, Ashton, so I know you must watch quite a few Bears games when you’re not shooting your sitcom. So you must remember when a few dumb NFL players last year shot off Tweets questioning Jay Cutler’s manhood when he bowed out of a playoff game due to injury? I’m pretty sure none of them were physicians with knowledge of the injury entailed, none of them were in the game and none of them were Jay Cutler, so they couldn’t know what the pain actually felt like.

Nope. They Tweeted anyway from a cowardly place that was nowhere near Soldier Field. And some of them, unlike you, Ashton, didn’t even say they were sorry for it. Gee, maybe they should leave Twitter too.

Point being, Ashton, is this: Celebrities, athletes and us common folk have all said things in our life, whether online or offline that we all wish we could take back. It’s what makes us human. We apologize for our shortcomings when it happens and we try to move on. Like you did. Why? Because we know this:

Tweets are not press releases.

They should not be treated as such.

The very thing that makes us enjoy this relatively new universe of social media is that we can feel closer to people we would never/rarely otherwise get to interact with in the real world. Some are respected authorities in our industry, some are celebrities. And in exchange for entering that domain, we should be willing to cut each other a certain amount of slack just as we would in the offline world. Particularly when it’s accompanied by a quick acknowledgement of the mistake.

Of course, I can’t suggest everything in the world is fine to say and allows you to be off the hook. That’s silly. There are extreme and dangerous exceptions, especially among intentionally hateful people who would use social media as an amplifier for their views.

But Ashton, you slapped your own hand in a way that suggests everything under your Twitter handle from now on will be screened and filtered carefully before it goes out – I don’t think that’s the answer. I’m just not in favor of a social media strategy that involves high screening by committee. I think I’ll see the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot hug before I see a fast-moving social media committee.

There has to be a certain amount of trust involved once you’ve given designated people clear guidelines. And yes, maybe they’ll still veer slightly off course from time to time, but come on. If every last Tweet and post has to be reviewed by multiple parties before it goes out, you’re defeating the purpose of being involved in social media at all because it’s probably not going to be as real-time as it should be. And THAT’S when you should get out or avoid social media because you’re missing the whole point of commenting on what’s current and relevant to an audience that expects that.

It’s a Tweet. It’s not an Official Company Position. That’s why people say things like “These views do not reflect my company” in their bio if they really have to.

So come back, Ashton. You screwed up and said something bad. It’s OK. I forgive you. I’ll even watch an episode of Two And A Half Men if it’ll make you feel better.

Dan is speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber Nov. 3rd!

What are you doing on the morning of Thursday, November 3rd before 9:00am? If you’re free and near downtown Chicago, I think you’ll walk into work energized and with a fresh perspective on how what you build internally can do a world of good externally in terms of your customer relationships.

I’ll be speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce along with my colleague, management consultant Rob Jager, on:

Building The Brand Within:
How To Deliver Unexpected Surprises For Your Customers 

It’s a look at how content marketing can help you position your company as a thought leader in its industry, how to logistically put your people in a position to be better aligned with the company’s true mission, how to identify the best content providers within and what turning employees into brand ambassadors means for team loyalty and a healthier culture. If you’re a small business owner or department leader, I think you’ll get a lot out of our hour spent together.

7:45a.m.: Registration & Networking 
8:00a.m.: Presentation 
9:00a.m.: Q&A 

Location: Chicagoland Chamber, 200 E. Randolph, Suite 2200

Pre-registration for this FREE event is required on the Chicagoland Chamber’s website here:
http://www.chicagolandchamber.org/wdk_cc/events/eventDetails.jsp?cc_event_id=8afbc90d-a2de-473a-9ebc-8a026cd3e6b5

Why You Can’t Give Social Media To An Intern

“Could I just have some college kid do it?”

It’s a question I’ve heard before from small business owners when they consider the prospect of taking on social media. Before I answer that question, let’s do an experiment – and I genuinely don’t mean to sound like a smart-aleck when I say this, but rather to illustrate a point:

I’d like you to give up control of your company.

Not for a day or a week, but the next 3 months.

And I don’t want you to hand control to your VP or COO or CFO but a kid who is still in school who will be interning with you for 3 months.

He’s going to lead client meetings, speak with investors via conference call and interact directly with your prospective customers.

What, you have a problem with that? Sounds preposterous, you say? It makes you more than a little nervous and nauseous?

Of course it does.

And that’s essentially what you’re doing when you let a college kid handle social media for you. Because there are a few roles that put your brand on the front lines of interaction quite like social media. It’s the blessing and, for people who mishandle it, the curse. It’s oh-so-easy easy to take a glance at people who post on Facebook or Twitter and think, “How hard could it be?” The problem with that outlook is that it dwindles social media to an afterthought rather than an integral part of your brand strategy.

In fact, it doesn’t even consider strategy at all. It doesn’t consider the bigger reason and purpose for why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s saying, “This is what everybody seems to be on these days, so we should be doing it too.” Maybe you should. But not like this.

To be clear, I like interns and think they’re valuable. I’ve managed many and watched them have an impact on the industry I couldn’t be more proud of in writing and in design. They comprise some of the most rewarding relationships I have ever had in this business – and those people know who they are. Yet, when they come into the advertising and marketing world, even they would admit they have been given instruction in a closed environment that, try as it might, can rarely if ever simulate what it means to work in the real world in real time to represent a real company.

In other words, when they enter your environment, they’re a lot like Luke Skywalker the first time he faced Darth Vader without intense training. If you threw them out there and wished them luck from Day 1, you’d be lucky to emerge with just a flesh wound. As time goes on, you teach them the ways of what you’ve learned to impart hopefully some good things by the end of their training – things they never would have learned in the classroom. But that still doesn’t mean they’re ready to handle social media. Why?

The main challenge is that the person who handles social media has to get a great feel for your mission, your culture, your goals, your tone and manner, what can be said, what can’t be said and more. They have to understand the audience they’re interacting with and how that audience has to be respected. They need to be able to monitor and mine for insights that can be communicated to management (after all, I assume you care to know if what you’re doing is working, right?). They need to be a fountain of good content that resonates with the people you want to attract most.

Fulfilling those responsibilities is a very full plate for anyone. It’s next to impossible and downright unfair to someone who is just learning the basics of marketing. It’s not their fault, really. It’s just where they are in life. Of course, if a university isn’t teaching enough about new media, it’s certainly not helping.

It’s a place of experience and understanding that the “face” of social media of your company has to operate from that the intern doesn’t have. This person can come from within your company or can come from the outside world – yes, in all transparency, I do this for people who don’t have the time or internal resources or understanding right away to handle it. But the people who trust me to handle this great responsibility know that I am not a Junior who is in the middle of taking a Marketing class but someone who has a lot of experience in developing and managing the voice of a brand.

Is an outside consultant going to be more expensive than an intern? Yes. But all we’re talking about here is the perception of your brand to the outside world.

Is that really something you want to cut corners on?

With Emanuel’s crowdsourcing, do we need as many Aldermen?

Around the time Rahm Emanuel took office in Chicago, news began to permeate throughout the press that the new Mayor was considering trimming the number of City Council seats in half, from 50 Aldermen to 25 Aldermen. With a city facing a mammoth budget deficit of $635 million, Emanuel had mentioned along the campaign trail that many people had wondered aloud why Chicago needed 50 Aldermen when similarly large cities such as L.A., Houston and Philadelphia operate with far less.  Chopping the Council in half won’t solve all of the city’s financial problems. Yet a new online outlet set up by City Hall made me ask what might amount to a silly question to some, but so be it:

If an online forum set up by City Hall, Chicagobudget.org, enables Chicago’s citizens to voice their ideas right to the source where those ideas can be effectively heard, shared and responded to, why do we need as many Aldermen whose primary job it is to do that? 

In case you aren’t familiar, in late July, the Mayor launched a budget idea website called Chicagobudget.org that enables residents to engage with City Hall by providing suggestions on how the city can save money. The rest of the online community can see these ideas and vote them up or vote them down.

Not long after, many people whose ideas were submitted were shocked to pick up a phone and hear, “Hello, this is Mayor Emanuel,” with the Mayor eager to discuss their ideas in greater detail. Skeptics may call this all a show, but legit or not, let’s not pretend there isn’t a degree of showmanship in politics anyway. It fueled enthusiasm and credibility for the site that yes, the Mayor is reading and if your idea is worthwhile, he’ll be calling you.

While the site focuses primarily on financial ideas, I believe Emanuel has uncovered an excellent opportunity to expand the crowdsourcing application of the website to other areas of Chicago – crime, park development, housing, transportation, volunteering and more. This Summer, I wondered in another post why Chicago couldn’t become the country’s most connected city between City Hall and its constituents, at least in a social media sense. Emanuel’s effort here is a great step in that direction and provides a crowdsourcing model for other cities to follow. It’s so successful in my mind that it begs the hard but viable question about the city government outlets in Chicago that may not be as relevant to the people as they once were. A study late last year by the Better Government Association suggests that cutting the City Council in half would save a little over $7 million alone, before we even get to the positive impact on savings it would have for operations and election expenses. It doesn’t erase $635 million, but it’s a start.

At the moment, a law drafted in 1941 says Chicago must have 50 wards. But I think a few things have changed in this town since 1941. Including the latest ward boundaries and the advent of the Internet as a communication tool.

Who knows, perhaps going around the Council straight to the people is the Mayor’s endgame all along. I haven’t had a a conversation with him and it’s not like he would admit it anyway. But let’s face it. What you have here is a social media mechanism in which people can not only express themselves straight to City Hall but in front of the city in general for great exposure. Sure, maybe it’s still their style to ring up the Alderman or trot down to his or her office. But come on. Even if they get a response, the stage here for their ideas and questions is bigger. It’s a smart political move to open up the dialogue in this manner and it’s a smart social media move to bring the community that much closer. We don’t have to point to things we don’t like in this town and say, “Somebody should really do something about that.” You don’t like it? Here’s the site. Type away. Get it front of the people who can do something about it.

The phone’s ringing so I’d better take this. Might be the Mayor calling.

Sometimes it’s not worth fighting a gorilla.

This photo from someecards.com (yes, proofers, there’s a misspelling in it, but you get the idea) pretty much sums up the “uproar” every time Facebook makes a change to their structure, layout and functionality.

We don’t have to like every change Facebook makes but this is part of the deal we’ve made with ourselves by using a service that literally costs nothing and is larger than most countries in the world. Would you rather pay for the right to use Facebook? Probably not. Even if you did, I doubt this would mean you’d have the opportunity to have your voice heard above the hundreds of millions using it. You may pay someone to help you facilitate a presence on a social networking site like yours truly, but there’s still only so much that can be done – when the sites want to make a change, they’re going to make a change. And they’re probably not going to ask you for your opinion – even though they should more often in advance.

When you do pay for services like project management tools or web hosting, you should, of course, expect more. You should expect better customization to your needs and better customer service. But wasting your time getting angry over a free social network making minor changes? Just roll with it and look at the other side of the coin – be glad that a service like Facebook is making an attempt to evolve and make things better. If not, you can employ the same practice you would in watching television – change the channel by using something else. Not that I’d recommend that if that’s where your audience is primarily living, but just saying there are options if it upsets you that much.

But in the scope of the world’s true problems, Facebook making some minor tweeks is really not a big deal.

I’d just take a deep breath and be glad it’s Friday.

1st Gen E-mail Is Over – Does Your Marketing Reflect It?

“Wait – what do you mean? Are you saying e-mail is going away? No way does e-mail go away. Everyone uses e-mail.”

I figure that’s the response I’d get from a headline like the one above. But e-mail marketing in its 1st generation form should be history. E-mail in its next generation form is where we should be thinking and how we should be acting in our marketing efforts already. Right now.

Why? Spammers and Yammer.

1) Spammers are ruining e-mail as we know it for the good marketers who have valuable messages the recipient can benefit from. The filters of unsolicited mail will only get stronger so we have to make our messaging more simple to identify with, customized as well as equipped with subscription and link mechanisms so people can continue the relationship if they so choose.

2) People won’t need internal e-mail as much with services that enable them to communicate in real-time formats like Yammer. The speed of how we connect within the company is ramping up quickly. In this internal context, regular e-mail with its lag time and ability to clog in boxes looks like a dinosaur.

Knowing this, what do we do as marketers? First, we relax. Second, we adapt to this development by equipping our e-mails and e-newsletters with springboards. In other words, we stop doing e-mail that doesn’t give people anywhere to logically go from there. Otherwise what you’re sending out there is a lot like the direct mail issue I mentioned earlier. No links to more info? No landing page or blog? No place to channel the conversation further toward an appointment and hopefully a sale? No ways to become a Fan, Follower or Connection from there? No pictures they can share or video they can watch?

Then I don’t get it.

Closing a customer when the e-mail starts and ends with that message is hard to do. Even if you’re designing it as something to be read in 60 seconds or less, you’re doing so with the intent that the person subscribe to get more of those e-tidbits. Yet, strangely, some things get sent out without them.

We should incorporate RSS Feeds into our content, giving people the ability to subscribe to us or providing even the option to choose certain sections of content that’s relevant to their world. And while we have e-mail and people use it, we need e-mail subscription sign-ups. It means we have to be more visible than ever before when it comes to producing great blogs, great videos, great e-books, great social interactions that aren’t just about how we’re having 3 for 1 Bud Light Specials tonight.

If we’re going to do e-mail, let’s do e-mail that respects the person’s time by getting in and out of the person’s life in a reasonable period. If they want to spend more time than that with us, they’ll Like, Follow, Connect, Subscribe and Download. The first interaction should not be a company’s life story nor should next steps be just about only a phone call or e-mail. That’s done as far as I’m concerned.

If all this sounds like it’s only going to get harder for you as a marketer, well, you’re right. But I see this as a good thing. People still crave answers to their challenges as much as they ever did. We just have to get smarter and more sophisticated how we pave the road from them back to our solution. We can’t blast away at them with nothing but ads that have virtually no response mechanisms or only “old school” methods like dialing a phone number. We have to create online and offline channels that enable them to learn more about us and understand our offerings – on their terms.

TV adapted. Radio adapted. Newspapers and magazines tried to adapt but aren’t doing a bang-up job of it. Now it’s direct mail and e-mail’s turn at bat.

The way we market through the mail, both in direct and electronic form, needs to change. Or it won’t matter how many days the Postal Service trims from its schedule because we won’t be effective or appreciated in any of them.

How has your brand been adapting? Or have you not yet? 

Capturing The Elusive Online/Offline Balance

Over 700 posts have been written about the shocking suicide of social media expert Trey Pennington and I won’t attempt to compete with such beautiful tributes that have already been said by Jay Baer, Mark Schaefer and others (Pennington was a popular South Carolina-based expert on social media and spoke at a variety of conferences to great acclaim – tragically, he took his own life on Sunday in a church parking lot). I’ll just add this thought: As a result of Pennington’s influence, many are writing about the renewed need to reach out and form meaningful offline relationships with people in the business world. They are so absolutely 100% right. But I hope people won’t dismiss the relationships we have online as artificial and without meaning either. True, there will be people that we will connect to on Twitter or Facebook who we will never, ever meet in person. But the key is to strive for balance between the two worlds. It means little to compile 50,000 followers on Twitter without injecting personal interactions into the mix. By the same token, just networking alone has its limitations because it doesn’t make you what John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing describes as a “converged” business. You need a component of being a “wired” business or you will lose out to competitors who are. They will blog, they will post, they will upload videos and they will share. Assuming it all isn’t self-promotional puffery, this sharing of knowledge helps expand on a person’s credibility in ways a business card exchange never could. It means something to walk into a room and have someone recognize you by your blog. It means something to meet someone and have that person research you further and find your insights posted all over the online realm.

I think all of us are challenged in some way to find that online/offline balance. We may never get a perfect 50/50 balance, but it’s worth striving for. Make no mistake – if I have to choose, I’ll side with meeting someone in person and getting to know them over a beer or coffee. Every time. But I’d be cheating myself if the online side went undeveloped.

Of course, on both the offline and online levels, Trey Pennington was a terrific contributor who enriched many lives. He will be missed by people who never even had the opportunity to meet him – me being one of those people.

Besides the many people he impacted and the writings we’ll have to look back on from him, there’s one more positive Trey Pennington has left us. In the immediate aftermath, there is a high volume of discussion online about depression, which Pennington suffered from. I learned through client work earlier this year just how much woefully small federal funding there is on mental illness in the grand scheme of things. This isn’t a political issue but one that affects us all, directly or indirectly. It’s staggering how little there is of the human brain that we understand and need to. I hope part of Trey Pennington’s legacy is that online and offline, because of him we’ll make more of the effort to make mental health part of the ongoing discussion of investing in what matters.