The shit fight is beginning- should you join in?

Social media is easy and it’s fun – but as social media’s popularity grows so does its impact.  Which is why it’s important to develop a social media strategy.

“When you don’t have a destination in mind, any road will get you there.”

As you use social media, you can expect at some point to see another social media primates start flinging shit at each other.  If you’re caught without a social media strategy – well, you won’t know whether to join in or run for cover.

I’ve found myself examining my social media strategy more often than not lately.  There have been plenty of opportunities to pick up the nearest pile and start flinging shit with the best of them.  Recently,  I happily joined in on both the Belkin Review Payola and the Cash4Gold social media firestorm.  Like most bloggers- when opportunity knocks I’m usually willing to answer!

If you don’t have a blog – then you should know that finding fresh content is a constant challenge for EVERY blogger.   A good old fashioned shit fight can provide WEEKS of content, not to mention currying inbound links and a bit of notoriety as added bonuses along the way.

Shit fights can be good for your blog – when used judiciously.

However, you not only have to decide which fights you’ll join but also where to draw the line.

Before either of these recent “social media disasters” appeared on the radar, another social media ruckus was brewing.  At the time, one of my fellow “social marketing primates” started throwing shit and I was faced with the decision of whether to join.

Since I wasn’t personally attacked, that meant I had a choice on whether or not to join.   When Jason Cohen found himself in the middle of a social media shit fight, he had no choice.  The shit was being flung DIRECTLY at him and he had no choice but to respond.  Fortunately, Jason’s a REALLY smart bear and defused the situation BRILLIANTLY!

When the shit is aimed you – you don’t have a choice.  However, when the shit isn’t flying directly your way, that’s when you’ve got a decision to make.

Do you join in or do you sit this one out?

I wasn’t named in the incident in question and now I have a choice to make.   When you’re faced with this choice, you can

  • ignore it.
  • report on it “objectively” and yet not include yourself directly in the line of fire.  You do this by NOT be naming names or disclosing URLS.  (See a great example of Darren Rowse doing this in Twitter is a Stage – Be Careful What You Say.  He doesn’t give link luv to his detractors.)
  • name names, list urls and make yourself a potential target.

Let it be known that there are times when joining in and naming names is EXACTLY what you should do.  That’s where your social media strategy comes into play.

It’s what Arlen Parsa did with regards to the Belkin Review Payola Scandal and  the choice Rob Cockerham made with the Cash4Gold blog post.  It’s a social media strategy that has paid off well for both of these bloggers.

However, on the other hand, I also advised my own client not to participate in a brewing shit storm as a part of HER developing social media strategy.

There is no “one size fits all” advice when it comes to social media strategy!

Unfortunately, when tempers flare in social media,  it leaves a lasting trail.  Unlike the footprints left in the sand at the beach – these footprints are cemented online forever.

Ask Ian Capstick of the Media Style blog.  He reports in his post Twitter Fight,  about an exchange which became heated on Twitter between reporter David George-Cosh  and  April Dunford, principle consultant with Rocket Launch media.  The portion of the “tiff” that happened “online” has left a trail of words set in stone.  At last count, the comments to the post numbered 85 and the trackbacks for the post were at 15 and counting.

One of those trackbacks is from the blog of Jennifer Leggio of ZD Net.   In A tale of two faux pas: When transparency meets bad behavior she writes:

My quick summary based on Capstick’s post: George-Cosh reached out to Dunford regarding a story he was working on and she took a day or so to get back to him. He was, according to Dunford’s Twitter stream, rude to her during the eventual call back, so she expressed frustration in a tweet. It was clear to George-Cosh, it seems, that she was talking about him since they’d just hung up the phone. Her defense was, and I paraphrase, “Dude, I didn’t say your name.” George-Cosh swore. A lot. She put on a show of trying to calm him. It ended… poorly.

Here’s the upside to this story – April is “social networking aware”.  She knew when the internet was talking about her and was able to post “her side” of the story.  She does so in a comment on Jennifer’s blog.

Another “bonus” is April’s online reputation was already well established when this occurred.  Because she was properly “inoculated” and her online reputation was already well established, this tussle is NOT the first that that comes up when you Google her name.

Unfortunately, David George-Cosh is not so lucky.  His Twitter feud with April comes in at #4 with the newspaper article Journalists are not above the rules of decorum when you search for his name on Google.

The National Post has apologized, but the damage is done. David’s name will be coloured by this event for a while. And the Post will be associated with it, too.

What’s your social media strategy?  How do you decide between “fight” or “flight” when it comes to social media?

Social Media – Information Moving in Real Time

What do the Cash4Gold Social Media Meltdown and the Belkin Social Media Payola Scandal have in common?  They both CLEARLY illustrate that when it comes to Social Media Marketing – what you don’t know CAN hurt you!

Monday Morning Quarterback- Social Media Edition

Social media is truly the natural result of information moving at the speed of thought.  Even a company with a superbly crafted social media strategy will find itself flying by the seat of it’s pants at times.

There are two paths you can take when managing your online reputation.  You can choose to manage your online reputation in a PROACTIVE manner, which is highly preferable to taking a REACTIVE approach to your online reputation management.

Ideally, you should begin managing your online reputation the moment you launch your business.  That would be the PROACTIVE approach to online reputation management.

Would you rather buy a smoke detector BEFORE you smell smoke – or after?  In the case of Cash4Gold and Belkin – there’s a 4 alarm fire raging and there’s the question of whether the fire can be contained.

When it comes to online reputation management, you can choose whether to be PROACTIVE or REACTIVE!

Because most of what’s been done has been done RE ACTIVELY thus far in the case of both companies mentioned above, any positive blog posts uncovered on either company’s behalf are going to be viewed with suspicion and the keyword auto-tweets are like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.

Long ago, when I was an Account Executive with a regional advertising agency, I had a client who came under a media attack.   My client was flipping out and  my wise mentor and boss, Joan Elias, shared these words of wisdom with me to share with my client:

“When you stir shit – it stinks.”

Shit happens – and when it does – sometimes it’s just best to let it lie.  Eventually, it will “dry out” and stop stinking – but only if you leave it alone!

There comes a time in every reputation management campaign to lie low and let the stink dissipate!

The time for Cash4Gold to begin proactively managing their online reputation was February 2008 – about 6 months after launching the website and before they began actively promoting the business. (see the Compete.com graph below)

(Notice – the graph above seems to “mirror” gasoline prices.  Maybe more advertising wasn’t the answer!)

I’m sure the predominate thinking around the Cash4Gold offices back in the first quarter of ’08 was: “Hey, we’re seeing a real window of opportunity here.  Gold prices are on the rise, gas is nearing $4 a gallon and those Hummer owners are going to want to be unloading their gold chains to support their SUV’s gasoline habit.”

Cash4Gold did some BRILLIANT marketing moves along the way.  One of the best was to make the call to action in their television ads for the viewer to visit their website for more information. This would have been the ideal time to begin “inoculating” their online reputation, not only by implementing basic internet marketing and SEO practices but also by setting up systems to  “track” the conversation online around important keywords.

Had there been such systems in place – the Cockeyed Citizen’s blog would have triggered a “hit” and Cash4Gold could have been there to respond.  (Just as Carbonite responded quickly to my online review of their service on this blog.)

As other blogs picked up the story, other “hits” would have registered and possibly alerted Cash4Gold that a SuperBowl ad buy may not be the smartest investment of capital.

One way to begin creating a positive online reputation would be to actively solicit positive feedback.  For example, when the checks were sent to reimburse customers for their gold, there could be a coupon enclosed which asked happy customers to go to the cash4goldreview.com  website.  “Be sure to let us know how we did there and claim your reward.”   When buyers arrive,  they can “rate” their transaction – eBay style.  When they’re done – there’s an online coupon which can be printed and redeemd during their NEXT Cash4Gold transaction.  A $10 “bonus” on their next transaction of $100 or more could have gone a LONG way to making friends and influencing people’s perception of the company.

Studies have shown when customers are encouraged to write postive reviews – they actually become more active “proponents” of the brand.  A little of this could have gone a LONG way in the case of Cash4Gold.

Let’s say that none of this helps.  Perhaps Cash4Gold deserves their ever deteriorating online reputation.   Let’s say that despite the best proactive efforts – a negative blog posts takes the #2 position on Google.  Now what?

If you EVER find yourself in this position, let me tell you what YOU SHOULD NOT DO!

DO NOT SEND AN EMAIL OFFERING TO BRIBE THE BLOG OWNER TO De-OPTIMIZE THE POST!!!!

Where would Matt Drudge be if he would have taken a Clinton aid up on such a bribe?  Heck, where would BLOGGING be if that had happened?

The Cash4Gold story is the blogosphere’s version of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket with a winning lottery ticket on the side.

I’m sure Rob’s thinking went along the lines of, “You’re paying six figures for a SuperBowl ad and less than a week beforehand, you’re offering me a measly $3k to make my #2 SERP disappear?”

His next thought HAD to be, “Pinch me – I must be dreaming.”

The bribe ranks right up there with the best of the Dateline: To Catch a Predator moments.  In the land of social media – that was the equivalent of showing up at a child’s home with balloons, candy and sensual massage oil.

“People and businesses alike just don’t get it. This is not a pen and pencil, snail mail, wait until the 5:00 news world. Information moves in real time. ” –  Valerie Johnson

What would you do if you were bribed like this?  Would you take the money?  Would you report the bribe on your blog?

The REAL reasons why you should be using “social media”

The REAL reason you should be blogging (instead of having a website that does almost nothing)….

The REAL reason you should be using Twitter….

The REAL reason you should be using [insert name of Social Media application you’ve recently read is the instant path to wealth a riches]…..

It’s not because you want to sell something to someone – though that may be a happy “by product” of your use of social media.

It’s not because you want to “network”  and meet important people- though that too may also prove to be yet another happy “by product” of your use of social media.

You most certainly shouldn’t be using social media because everyone else is doing it.

The REAL reason you need to be using  [insert social media application of choice] is to establish TRUST with other human beings.  An important part of establishing that trust is demonstrating the fact that you’re real.

If you’re blogging – your primary goal should be to connect with your readers and convince them that you’re real.  (Lance introduced me to Jamie’s blog where she gets real unplugged.  There’s no doubt that Jamie is “real”.)

If you’re “tweeting” – again, your goal should be to connect and convince people that you’re real.  An essential part of being real is being curious and engaging in two way conversations.

A natural “by-product” of being real  is that  you begin to build a relationship with other “real” human beings. That’s why it’s called “SOCIAL” media.

You should be using social media – not sell product – not to increase your profits- but to increase your CONNECTION to reality.

When you try to shortcut the process – when you forget why you’re there -when you add “marketing” to the “social”  and forget that marketing is just another way of saying “communication…. that’s when you start to run into problems.

Do Small Business Social Media Blunders = Small Business Marketing Blunders?

When you’re a small business owner, do social media blunders automatically translate into business marketing blunders.?

No matter what size business you run, business marketing blunders are what happens when we, as business owners, take our eyes of the road – and sometimes take our hands off the wheel.  (Ah – there it is again.  Another example of how marketing a business is like planning a trip. )  However, when you add social media into the marketing mix, the chances for missteps increases exponentially!

In the past, some of the most spectacular marketing blunders have happened when otherwise smart business owners agree to allow someone else  to take control of the marketing strategy. As a result, the business owner takes his or her hands off the wheel and leaves the driving up to a professional (or group of professionals).   Sometimes, that trust is horribly misplaced.  A case in point is the notable Motrin Viral Marketing Mess of 2008.  However, unfortunately this mess does not stand alone. There are a surprising collection of marketing blunders for 2008 – almost all are centered around companies with six figure monthly ad budgets being managed by marketing professionals who should have known better.

Collateral Damage has compiled a list of the top 10 marketing blunders of 2008 with the number 1 marketing blunder being declared a tie between John McCain and GM. (Personally, I don’t think John McCain’s marketing blunders can in any way compare with the scope and magnitude of GM’s mea culpa ad.  GM’s dedication to disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin gives it TOP marketing blunder billing in my book!)  Meanwhile the Otherside Group has their own nominations in 8 Noteable Marketing Blunders.  Their top pick – the Microsoft’s ads which attempted to be “fun”and “cool” “just like Apple”.  Unfortunately, when Microsoft tried on that persona, the result was anything other than “fun and cool”.

It’s easy to sit back and feel smug as you watch the big guys go out and stub their toes as they attempt to build “a brand” for thei business – but what about the small business social media blunders that are going on every day?  Do those count as small marketing blunders?

Marketing Pilgrim touches upon this topic in a comic reminder to avoid social media blunders.  The post features an illustration which shows three unemployed people who confess that they are “unemployable” because of things they put on their social media profiles.  However, it’s not just the “wage slaves” who are making epic missteps in the world of social media.  From Facebook to Myspace to YouTube – small business owners are making social media blunders daily.

When you’re a small business, I don’t think it’s possible to separate the sharing and communication that goes on in social media from the marketing of your small business.  The two are just opposite sides of the same coin in my book. However,  Beth Harte in her post Is social media the same as marketing? respectfully disagrees.

I agree that social media plays a different role in the business where “marketing” is a department and the advertising budget is a six figure proposition than it does in a small business.  In the small business though, marketing is not a department and often it’s not even a job title.  More often than not, marketing in the small business is that thing that you do when you’re not busy doing what it is you do to make the mortgage payment every month.  (Try saying THAT ten times fast!)

However, there’s another important difference between the social media blunders of the “big boys” and the social media blunders small business owners make.

In the case of a small business – a social media blunder doesn’t have any possibility of an upside.

See, when a small business owner makes a social media or marketing blunder, it rarely generates the ensuing media coverage which accompanies larger scale social media and marketing blunders.  When Microsoft or GM makes a  blunder – everyone from Seth Godin to the most obscure blogger jumps on the bandwagon to report the tragic, misguided effort.   The ensuing public dissection creates a lot of activity and attention which brings to mind the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad press!

All those mentions – all those links – all that discussion usually end up doing little to do long term damage to the reputation of a well established business.  (The effect on a start-up is significantly different by the way – case in point – Cuil.  Turns out when you’re a startup there IS such a thing as bad pubilicity.)   When you’ve got a long track history in the public eye – a “negative” mention here or there only heightens your visibility and therefore reputation over the long run.

Meanwhile,  when we small business owners make a social media or small business marketing blunders – there is no upside.  More often than not, a botched attempt at shameless self promotion in a graceless age won’t end in a thrashing at TechCrunch and the accompanying increased links, buzz and notoriety.  On the contrary, when a small business owner makes a social media or business marketing blunder, there is no press coverage and therefore no positive effect.  Instead, potential customers and clients just quietly unsubscribe from our RSS feeds, stop following us on Twitter or simply ignore our message in the future and move on with their lives.  While they may forget about us, their search for another provider of the products and services we so lovingly provide will continue.

What do you think?  Is it possible for social media communications to be distinct from small business marketing communications?

Also, does the size  of the business matter when making that distinction?

Social Media Warning: I am Rubber – You are Glue …

Remember that chant – back when you were a child. Someone would say something mean or hateful, and your response would be the sing-song, “I am rubber – you are glue! Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to YOU!”

Web 2.0 gives us a real opportunity to share our thoughts spontaneously. Whether it’s posting to your own blog, making comments on other blogs or sending bulletins via MySpace – sometimes we might share things we wish we hadn’t. If we’re lucky, the rest of the world will be so self absorbed that most people won’t notice when we expose more than we planned.

I recently got a notification about an article which is getting a lot of attention on one of the various social networking sites to which I belong.  The article was written by a member who is telling business owners to get control over their personal spending lest it ruin their business. I think I’ve gotten more insight to her spending habits than she may have been planning on providing.  I thought it was just common sense, but if you want to promote your services as a financial manager, don’t tell me how many checks you’ve bounced in the past few weeks!

Meanwhile, the article makes me laugh because I am currently working with a client who has EXACTLY the opposite problem. This client is processing her own credit card orders manually because she doesn’t want to PAY an assistant to do this menial task for her. As a result, it’s taking WEEKS for some orders to get processed – money that could be safely in her bank account – less a small fee for hiring an assistant to handle the order processing.

We’re in the process of automating this process for her, by the way so she doesn’t have to hire the assistant – however, she’s reluctant to make the investment needed to make this happen.  Her business is relatively new and she’s having trouble making the transition from “requisition forms” to “you’ve got to spend money to make money.”

I can TOTALLY relate to my client because I too have battled trying to achieve balance between the art of bootstrapping and being silly.

For example, I remember that I worried for MONTHS over the prospect of spending $35 per year to register my domain name (way back in 1998) and the subsequent hosting fee!  It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I had to SPEND money to MAKE money. I’ve learned that it’s just a part of the transition from “employee” to “business owner” and for some of us, it’s a tough hurdle to overcome.

Meanwhile, the world is full of therapists involved in horrible relationships who spend their days “fixing” other people’s relationships – doctors who smoke, drink and abuse drugs but reach out selflessly to heal their patients – accountants who can’t keep their own finances in order. The list goes on and on but a key player in this kind of behavior are the MMO bloggers who aren’t making any money.

While it’s true that “The cobblers’ own children rarely wear shoes,” if you want to convince others that you know your stuff – you’d better have some impressive samples.

As always, this is going to come BACK to blogging.  One of the reasons I ADORE blogs is that it’s hard to “fake” expertise over the course of 100 or more posts.  When these MMO pretenders post their monthly earnings and think $89 a month is a sign of their success – well, it’s yet another reasons I ADORE blogs!

If you’re not authentic – or if your SOLE purpose is trying to fleece the masses – then don’t launch a blog and DO NOT participate in social media marketing.    If you’re a pretender, your blog will expose you as one!

If on the other hand, your business is in the business of helping people solve their problems, achieve their goals or placate their desires – the step right up to blogging and Web 2.0.  While you won’t find OVERNIGHT success, you’ll find it’s a fun and fulfilling path to travel.

Your blog won’t be a 30 minute solution to your marketing dilemmas – it may not even earn $89 per month in direct income for you, but it will be great way to begin spreading the word about the solutions you offer!