Category: how NOT to WOM

It’s Not a Science

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

That was Bill Bernbach in 1947. 65 years later, this sentiment is more relevant than ever, especially in the social sphere. There are certain social media people that would like to tell you that it’s all a science. To get good interaction your content should be the right length, with the link in the right place, with the right hashtags and the right image. It’s a formula that you drag and drop pieces into. The problem is social media isn’t a science, it’s a community.

Now I don’t want to downplay the importance of good practices; we have them for a reason. But good practices are a guideline. When we become a slave to them we lose some of the humanity that is needed to manage a community of humans. For example, I got a private message on one of the Facebook pages I manage. It was nothing but a heart emoji. The “good practice” response would have been to say something like: Thank you so much for your comment, Harley! It means a lot to us that you’re enjoying our page. Let us know if you have any questions and we’d be happy to help you!

Instead I did this:

Was this specific conversation silly? Yes. Mostly irrelevant to the overall marketing effort of the brand? Yes. But did it make that person happy? I think so. These little moments of humanity are the difference between sounding genuine and sounding like a robot. And that is not irrelevant to the overall marketing effort of the brand.

It’s How You Say It: Tone Matters

Forgetting that the tone you use in your posts is as vitally important as what you’re saying = big social media mistake. This is especially true with company or corporate accounts. Tone can make a legitimate post completely turn off your followers. Let’s look at an example from an indoor playspace in Columbia, MD. They have strict rules about outside food to protect kids with allergies from being exposed to peanuts and other allergens. A few weeks ago there was an incident that involved a peanut sandwich and the business posted this status on their Facebook:

To the mom who left a 3 or 4 year old kid in the cafe by himself today for 10 minutes with a peanut butter sandwich… C’MON! You broke almost every rule we have – it’s why we don’t make exceptions for others! Neglecting a kid, outside food, & peanuts! We’re trying to keep all kids safe & happy – please help! It’s no fun confiscating food & then walking a child around crying because he can’t find mom & is hungry!

Questionable punctuation aside, this status is perfect example of inappropriate tone. To begin, this post is a perfect example of a break in “character.” We work with our clients to a create a unique tone so users feel as if they are interacting with the brand itself, not some online ambassador. In this case, it is obvious that someone is sitting behind a computer and giving their take on the subject. It feels childish, like a frustrated rant. Granted, the writer’s frustration seems warranted. The rules were broken and there was real concern for allergic children. It is also reminder of why they have the strict rules that they do. The tone however, makes it sound like the person behind the Facebook page is berating the mother and any other parents that have ever questioned their policies. Yeah, that’s how you build customer loyalty, shout at them!

If you look at the comments, they are surprisingly positive and in agreement with the writer. However, there are only about eight different people that responded. How many of the businesses 1000+ followers could have been offended and chosen not to respond? The person who pointed this post out to me was very turned off and instead of responding, shared it with others. That’s certainly not the kid of word of mouth anyone wants, especially in the “mommy” community where peer recommendation is such a huge influencer.

Let’s see how the post could have sounded if you changed the tone a bit:

We had an incident today where an unsupervised child was wandering around the cafe with a peanut butter sandwich. Sadly, it is incidents like these that result in our strict policies about outside food and child supervision. No one meant any harm, but if the child had come in contact with a child that was allergic to peanut butter, it could have led to a negative outcome. Please help us keep everyone safe by following our guidelines. Thanks!

See? It says the same thing without being a personal vent. It not only maintains a consistency on the page, it also reinforces the values of the company. The tone you use in your social media updates is the closest the internet gets to non-verbal cues. I can tell you how much I just loooooove your new walrus-skin purse, but if I roll my eyes when I say it you’re going to take my words differently than if I smiled sincerely. The tone of your updates will have the same affect when people see them go through their feed. In my experience, occurrences like these can cause even the happiest of customers to unfollow your online activity. You don’t want to risk losing your existing or potential consumers because you aren’t conscious enough of how you are saying things, do you?

Why Twitter isn’t for Everyone.

Funeral Home

We received this tweet from a funeral home earlier today. While we appreciate the gesture and commend them for their social media efforts, we feel this tweet is a little, um, misplaced? Kinda creepy.

Funeral Home

10 Things To Do When the Internet Goes Down At Work

Internet Goes Down, We All Lost Sanity

Internet Goes Down, We All Lost Sanity

This blog post should be self explanatory. Our internet went down. I wrote these ten suggestions for what to do when you find yourself in similar dire, web-less situations. I have participated in all of the following, and am currently moving from number 9 to number 10.

  1. Make a “to do” list.
  2. Read an actual news article, magazine, or book. Hold it with your hands. Remember what paper feels like.
  3. Have a brainstorm session with your co-workers. Actually talk to them instead of using IM, G-chat, FB chat, etc.
  4. Be creative: write, draw, sketch, doodle, dance, sing, listen to music, play a round of volleyball with a rolled up piece of paper. The list can go on and on.
  5. Organize your desk or work area. Remove years of sharpie marks with rubbing alcohol and get lightheaded in the process.
  6. Build a castle with play-dough, foam blocks, lincoln logs, or whatever else your ad agency might have laying around from all the whacky pitches over the years. Extra points if you can incorporate a moat.
  7. Refill your coffee cup (for the 8th time).
  8. Re-learn how to hold a pen or pencil using your actual hands. This may hurt.
  9. Write a blog post about what to do when the internet goes down. Get excited about being productive until you realize you can’t actually publish it.
  10. Cry and/or rock back and forth alone in a corner and/or drink from the handle of whiskey you know you have hidden in your desk drawer.


The Social Media Mistake: Forgetting Your Brand Strategy

Believe it or not, people besides us write things worth reading (just kidding). I came across a blog post the other day, and a great little snippet of it really stuck out.

The first question any company must ask itself is, what does our brand stand for? Unfortunately, that question rarely gets asked. Instead, the focus is on what social media can we get into? Too many companies get PR, social media or advertising campaign all wrong. They forget that the brand strategy should come first and the execution should follow. Doing it in reverse doesn’t work.

This quote got me thinking about the need for strategy when approaching word of mouth marketing. We’ve talked about this on our blog before, and it is something we truly believe in our good ol’ marketing bones. As WOM gets less trendy and more ubiquitous, it’s time for a refresher course. Every company now feels like they need some kind of WOM and social media, but simply diving in won’t suffice as a smart marketing move. You’ve got to ask yourself some questions first:

  • Who are we talking to?
  • What do we want to say?
  • Why are we saying it?
  • Where is the best place to spread our message?
  • What platforms should we be using?

Any agency worth their salt will bring these questions up when you work with them (if they don’t, get another one), but asking some of these questions yourself can be a huge eye opener (and time saver). Imagine you wanted to buy a car, but you did no research and just picked one. You might get in your new, shiny car only to discover it has no engine. In the same way, companies that dive into social media without planning on how it is going to fit into their overall brand strategy can find themselves confused and talking to no one. Word of Mouth can have endless benefits to a brand, but be careful about how you approach it. Put in the due diligence to figure out what you think it will do for you and be ready to explain your reasons to your agency. Then be ready to listen to them as they tell you what’s next because they know better than you how to execute. It’s what we’re good at, you know?

Cut the Crap – No More Lofty Social Media Terms

So we’ve been just as guilty as the next for using those lofty and abstract social media terms that drive everyone mad: transparency, engagement, content generation, conversation monitoring, blah blah blah. I think it is time we all shut up.

I don’t mean that we stop talking about social media or social influence marketing. I just think we need to re-evaluate the way we speak about it. We (as marketing professionals) need to move from the general to the specific and actionable. We need to move from “motivational speaker” to “business coach.”

Step back for a moment.

While we’ve got more and more people jumping at social media, we’ve also got some seriously bad lingo that follows. Let’s look away from jargon and look to stimulating specific, strategic social media dialogue. Saying that each client is different doesn’t cut it anymore. Let’s take these lofty ideas and break them down.

There are countless more ways to impact your audience: Need a flashmob? Don’t know how to pitch bloggers? Want to see how geo-location features can help your business? Need some social media resources? We try to give you resources to see how social media really works, and if you can’t do it yourself, well, that is what we are here for.

Setting Proper Expectations & Follow Your Plan

As an agency, its important to take a look at what is on our plate and strategize. Who is the client? What do they need? Are we working with a Business to Business (B2B) client? We can use social media tactics to locate key influencers in that company. Working with a Business to Consumer (B2C) client? We can locate their audience online by doing an in depth online audience scan and find their consumers, whether it be on blogs, forums, or Facebook, and leverage that community.

So can we please stop talking about lofty, abstract social media terms? Let’s cut to the chase and get working.

Social Media: Users vs. Professionals?

The other day I heard an interesting story from a friend. He was eating out at a restaurant, talking about Twitter and social media over dinner with a friend. A man comes up to them, and while handing my friend his card, he said “Couldn’t help but overhear. Email me. I’d like to talk about social media for my business”. Seems like a new business development dream, right?

Professional Social Media UsersWhile my friend excitedly shared this information with me, I couldn’t help but think “You aren’t in social media. You aren’t even in advertising. How are you going to help this man?”. I couldn’t help but be a little stressed out that a non-professional social media user was going to be taking the leap into professional social networking. Visions of this man’s potentially ruined online reputation flashed before my eyes.

But his experience begged the question: after the extent at which social media sites like Facebook and Twitter infiltrate the lives of the younger generations, what distinguishes a user from a professional? Is there even a difference?

The First Generation of Social Media Professionals

Since this social media stuff is kind of new, chances are that you can’t major in social media in college. Sure, there might be a class or two on the subject now, but I can guarantee that these are few and far between (at least for now). And I doubt all the “experts” out there learned social media strategy and implementation from a textbook or from a teacher. They likely learned it from early adoption of social networking sites, lots of experience, trial and error, social media conferences, and, let’s be honest, by reading a lot of Mashable. Maybe even by accident.

Don’t get me wrong, social users are great, and can understand the intricacies of web. They are tech saavy, influential, and smart. They are the reason that sites like Twitter and Facebook stay around and become so popular. But their dip in the pool of social media is more for personal reasons than anything else.

The Difference

Professionals, on the other hand, are a bit different. I’m sure that they all started out as a social user, at least to some extent. You’ve got to learn the ins and outs of the web before you can navigate effortlessly. But here is the rub: professionals use social media differently. We have actual training, from professionals and organizations that have been doing this stuff for years. Ya know, the ones who invented this kind of stuff. And now we are the ones doing the training.

We know that there is strategy involved behind every tweet, every Facebook update, and every blogger relationship. We do research and understand principles of advertising and marketing. We know how and when to see the bigger picture: that social media cannot cover all messaging or audiences (we are kind of obsessed with social media and traditional advertising integration). The professionals are the ones you are talking to when you tweet at Comcast about your cable connection. They run blogs for companies like Coca Cola. They create the Facebook page for Starbucks that you “like”. These aren’t college kids; these are marketing and advertising veterans with a keen eye on ROI.

So What Does All This Mean?

Not that social users can’t know these about social media, marketing, advertising, and ROI. Of course they can, with experience and time spent at a good ad agency. And while my friend has neither of these, he has continued contact with the man he met in the restaurant, and is looking to do social media consultation for him.  I continue to stop to ask myself if he knows what he is getting into. Is he going to be using the right tools to reach the right audience? Maybe he knows how to create a Facebook ad, but will the ad be compelling, and will it include a clear value proposition and call to action? Does he know how to find any audience on the web? Does he know how to wordsmith his emails, pitch bloggers, promote events, write blog posts, or analyze metrics? Does he have a knowledge of how to integrate social media with traditional media? Does he know how to effectively convey an ad message? Does he…ok you get the point.

While some can dabble, we’ve got the ability to research, plan, and implement, and we’ve been in the ad business for over 20 years. Feel free to question our abilities, because we’ve got the case studies to back up our expertise.

We’re With Stupid…

Okay, well not literally, but we have been captivated and intrigued by Diesel’s recent Be Stupid campaign. You’ve just got to check out the website.

There is some pretty strong stuff going on there. The website and campaign message are both unique and well-built, especially for Diesel’s existing (or intended) audience base. The creative is bold and in your face. And there is also a sweet contest and the chance to check out the clothes that represent the campaign.

Despite all the awesome stuff they have going on, we found their overall social media integration a bit odd (and you should know by now that we’re pretty passionate about integration). Diesel gives web site visitors the opportunity to check out their social networks, but their presence on these seems a bit out of tune with their message and campaign. Their Twitter page is geared toward music, not toward their Be Stupid campaign or general brand message. Their YouTube page, although featuring their Be Stupid video, hosts mostly music, too. Even their Facebook page carries a seemingly different air than their website message. We do, however, applaud their effort to allow consumers the chance to share the creative process via social networks.

And this is as good a time as any to continue praising integration, but this time, we’re taking it to the next step. Don’t just use the tools so you can claim to have a fully integrated campaign. Tailor them each specifically to your message, making each fit together like a piece of a puzzle, or else their existence will serve no purpose.

But overall, we applaud Diesel’s big idea. It is cutting edge, different, and definitely grabbed our attention. We just wish they could have carried it over to their social networks in a more efficient way. What do you think?

We Can See Right Through You

In social media (and pretty much any other type of business), transparency is pretty important. If you are a business that is trying to increase buzz or awareness of your products or services, being sneaky and shady definitely doesn’t help create a pretty picture. If you are open, it allows your consumers to give real feedback and engage in real conversations.

Take Tiger Woods as a real-life example. Yes, yes, we know that everyone everywhere is talking about him (hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em). When the scandal broke, Tiger remained hidden and unavailable. Had he responded immediately, even with a vague statement, media speculation would have not been as damaging or rampant. We do have to commend him though, because eventually he did release a statement. Most other celebs choose to just stay cooped up, waiting for the storm to blow over. Or they just go on an interview without ever actually talking to their fans. We may not respect Tiger Woods’ decisions, but at least he stepped up to the transparency plate.

On another, more social media oriented note, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s creator and golden boy) also recently practiced transparency. His recent letter, which first appeared on your Facebook home page and now on the Facebook blog, addressed changes that were being made on Facebook that would directly affect the users. He tells you exactly what you need to know: how these changes will be made, when, how, and why. And even though Facebook received some backlash for their changes in privacy settings, we commend Mr. Zuckerberg on his transparent letter in attempt to let everyone know what was up.

That being said, transparency helps. It just does. Having conversations on the web and engaging consumers is about having real, open discussions with people. You can’t have a meaningful conversation if you aren’t acting like a real person. Even more so, timing in your transparency goes a long way. The sooner, the better.

So take the time to make sure that you are being transparent. Reflect on the conversations you are having and make it a priority to be clear and fully open about who you are and what your purpose is.

Public Outbursts Make for An Interesting Week in WOM

I never pay too much attention to tennis, and I knew if anything noteworthy happened at the Video Music Awards, I’d hear about it for weeks following, so I missed both Serena William’s and Kanye West’s outbursts on National television. Thanks to my Twitter-addiction though, I knew about these celeb slip-ups within minutes of them happening.

At the US Open Tennis Semi-Finals, Serena Williams went a little overboard when confronting a line judge. Okay, she went WAY overboard, apparently saying “I swear to God I’m [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat, you hear that? I swear to God,” to the line judge.

Slapped with a $10,000 fine and tarnished reputation, the tennis star apologized today on her Web site.  Unfortunately for Serena, an apology  won’t undo the 869,160 views on YouTube and the influx of Twitter conversation about the attack.

Yesterday, one day after Serena’s tantrum, Kanye West made an even bigger scene at MTV’s Video Music Awards Show. Ripping the microphone from the hands of Taylor Swift, who just won an award for Best Female Video, Kanye told the crowd “I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” While there’s speculation that Kanye and MTV did this a publicity stunt, Beyoncé’s shocked reaction and Swift’s hurt face show that maybe, just maybe this is real, unscripted television.

I haven’t counted the publicity-stunt idea out. After all, year-after-year the VMAs have given us something that makes for good conversation and goes viral. Kanye’s outburst got people talking since it happened, and actually generated nearly 300,000 Kanye tweets in the hour following.  If negative attention is what he wanted, Kanye sure is getting it. On Twitter I’ve seen a plethora of tweets having expressing hatred toward Kanye and/or showing support of Taylor Swift.

There must be something in the air this month that makes for some high-profile blow-ups. Or maybe Rep. Joe Wilson payed Kanye and Serena to take the spotlight away from his “You Lie” outburst in the middle of President Obama’s address to Congress last week.

Not ALL of America’s celebrities, politicians and athletes are acting out-of-line this month and generating unpleasant word-of-mouth for themselves. Beyoncé did the right thing and gave Swift the attention she deserved while giving her time on stage to make an acceptance speech.

And after his through-the-legs hit that took him to the US Open finals, Roger Federer doesn’t need to make an outburst to generate some word-of-mouth for himself.

The lesson we can learn from Serena, Kanye, Rep. Wilson, Beyoncé and Federer is: Whether you’re doing something good or doing something bad, social media doesn’t leave much room for hiding. The same goes for business, whether it’s a good deed, great tennis move or drunken outburst,  it only takes one move to make you the next trending topic.