Removing the Cat Turds from the Social Media Sandbox

socialmediasandboxDid you have a sandbox as a kid?  I did and it was place where I could play and be as creative and constructive as my heart desired.

It was GREAT fun to play in my sandbox until the fateful day when I realized that my play area had become a port-a-pot for the neighborhood cats.

I remember trying to clean up my sandbox so I could enjoy it again, but once the neighborhood cats found my little patch of sand in the backyard

-there was no going back.

Years later, when I had children of my own, imagine my delight to discover that some other entrepreneurial soul had come up with a solution – a sandbox WITH A COVER!  I bought the first one I saw for my kids.

The catch?

Once the kids were done playing, they had to put the cover back on the sandbox before they came inside.  Being kids – my kids specifically – the practice of placing the cover over the top of the sandbox stopped after – oh, say the third day.  It wasn’t long before I heard the wails as my children discovered – the hard way – the consequences of not covering their beloved sandbox.

The Social Media Sandbox

A blog is a tool in the social media sandbox… just like the pink pail in the image above.  Fill the pail with dry sand and when you turn the bucket over – the sand will pour out into a shapeless pile.

There’s not much fun in that.

However, when you add a little H2O to the sand-  suddenly the sand retains it shape! The addition of a little water creates a literally endless array of possibilities for creativity and construction!

When we first moved to Florida, I purchased an book on building sand sculptures.  It was fascinating, but I realized that I really didn’t want to work that hard when I went to the beach.  However, I learned that scooping wet sand into a bucket and overturning it isn’t the ONLY way to build a sand castle.

If you’ve wondered why your blog hasn’t been delivering the results you wanted to see from it – it’s because:

  1. You haven’t been adding water to the sand.
  2. You haven’t been adding the right amount of water to the sand.
  3. You not using your bucket correctly.

If you’ve ever gone to the beach and begun an ambitious sand castle project, you’ll notice that the further along you get in the construction of your sand castle – the more “interest” you’ll get from passers by.

Sit on the beach and dump dry sand out of your bucket for hours on end, and all you’ll get is a few pitying glances.

On the other hand, when you begin an ambitious sand castle building project – well, at first you won’t get much attention either.

However, as you build it and it become apparent that you’re building something big – people will start to notice.   People will start to gather – curious to watch the process.   You may find you actually get volunteers who want to help become a part of what you’re building.

Social Media Marketing is just like Building Sandcastles

  1. You have to start with the end in mind.  If you don’t have a strategy in place when you begin using social media, you can’t expect social media to yield results.
  2. At first, no one will notice – or care what you’re doing.  Most people can’t “see” it with their mind before they see it with their eyes.  It’s not until your sand castle starts to take shape that people begin to notice.
  3. Even when there are lots of people on the beach – very few of them are building sand castles.  Most people at the beach are lying in the sun.  More people are reading books than building sand castles.

Sandcastles and sandboxes are a great analogy for social media.

If you don’t have the right “strategy” (knowing what to do – a.k.a. adding water and knowing the end result – a.k.a. “a plan”) you’ll just find yourself scooping sand and pouring dry sand.  Playing like that in the sandbox loses its appeal quickly and when the cats arrive, well – it makes it easy to abandon the sandbox for good.

The key to creating a work of art sandcastle includes knowing WHAT you want to build.  Once you know what you want to build, then the techniques for achieving the desired results are actually quite simple.  The same it true for blogging – and every other tool in the social media marketing toolbox.

Social media can be a GREAT sandbox – one with unlimited opportunities for creativity and construction – the rub is you need to make certain you have a social media strategy in place so you can create beautiful sandcastles.  Even if you’re miles away from the closest beach – you can still add water and have fun creating your own sandcastles in your backyard – even if you’re miles from the closest beach.

Authenticity and Social Media Transparency

Social media is all about being AUTHENTIC and sometimes being authentic isn’t about being “peppy” or “optimistic”.  Being authentic is all about being REAL!

Who are you really?

In this age of increasing transparency – it’s a question which, if it hasn’t already – will soon be reaching out to either move you forward – or haunt you!

A few months ago, one of my client’s “dropped” me and I’m certain she was surprised by how cooperative I was in turning over files to her new agency.  To say the breakup was “mutual” would be an understatement.

The other day, I went to visit her new “carefree” site which is how she was “lured” away from my stable of clients.

I was amused because she had totally embraced the whole “blogs are website magic” and had obviously insisted that her new agency include a blog on her otherwise static website.  The problem – her blog is as “static” as the HTML pages on her site.  She ported over the three posts from her previous blog and now has a beautiful shell style website filled with the same empty words you can find on every other media consultant/trainer’s static website.

A crippling fear of authenticity and transparency

This client lived in constant fear as we were converting her previous HTML website into a blog.  She worried that her former clients and former employers would find her and – gasp – communicate via her blog with her prospective clients.  (Let me reiterate – this woman bills herself as a communication professional!!!)

While my client never actually spoke the words out loud, there was definitely a thread which ran through virtually every conversation which revealed that her greatest fear wasn’t death or taxes – but rather total and complete transparency.

In hindsight, I should NEVER convinced her to convert her static website to a blog.

Her new web site is really sad if you ask me.  Not only has it dropped over 8 million spots in Alexa’s index, but the new website embraces the “cookie cutter template” look with a passion.  The content contained within is nothing special either.  It is virtually identical to her competitors and former employers website content.

Then, it hit me.  The whole “pursuit of the cookie cutter” is just a symptom of the true disease – this client is desperately cloaking herself and who she really is.

Is there an antonym for authenticity?

What’s really sad is I watched this fear of transparency absolutely DESTROY another promising business she tried to launch shortly after we began working together.

After I created her consultancy’s web presence, she hired me to develop the website for her newly launched greeting card company.  The cards were titillating, captivating and cute all at the same time and I thought she was going to be a HUGE success.  Unfortunately, she was TERRIFIED that her “corporate” clients would discover that she was the CEO of the new company and creator of the cards.

That crippling fear colored everything she did with the card company.  A PR professional – she never EVER promoted her business herself.  She hired sales reps to hit the streets with a single bit of marketing or PR to break the ice.  As a result, her business died a slow and agonizing death.  It was truly painful to watch.

The cards really did reveal a side to her I didn’t know existed.  It made me like her even more – but she could never ever let go of the plastic “barbie doll” image she had constructed in her professional life.

Authenticity takes the fear factor out of transparency.

To contrast the crippling fear of transparency my former client suffered, I’d love to direct your attention over to Tom Volkar’s blog Delightful Work and his most recent post “How to get on the right track.

I wish I were better at “deconstruction” right now because I wish I could break down all the elements in this post which “work” and document them.

But then I realized that perhaps – if this is your first time to visit Tom’s blog – you may not be as blown away by the post as I am.  Maybe the reason I’m blown away by his post is I’ve been reading his blog for about six months now and the real “beauty” of this post is how it ties into previous posts.

Or maybe – just maybe – it’s because the post really resonated with me.  For example, Tom writes –

Successful business building is not an exact science.  Opportunities present themselves in unexpected ways.  Discoveries and realizations often occur in the pursuit of other objectives.

As a 12 year veteran of the self employment wars – I can fully embrace the truth in this statement!!!  The entire posts resonates with a ring of authenticity, passion but most importantly – EXPERIENCE.

There is no “hiding” going on over at the Delightful Work blog – as is evidenced by some of Tom’s other recent posts.  Tom blogs about being angry, pissed off and off kilter – yet that while that transparency and authenticity weren’t always “pretty” they were always more than “real” enough.

If you’re in need of  “some raw truth and fresh direction” you might want to stop over at Tom’s blog.  He dispenses plenty of both for free at his blog.

By embracing authenticity – Tom has nothing to fear in the 100% transparency zone which is social media.

Social media is communication on steroids.   It removes the conventional barriers to communication of time/space/distance.

Social Media is communication that moves at the speed of thought.

Is it any wonder that authenticity is a requirement in these oh so transparent days of social media?

Social Media is Simply Communication on Steroids

Having trouble explaining to your “non-blogging or non-techy” friends, family and co-workers what the fuss about “social media” is all about?  You’re not alone.

I remember reading a while back that 5 out of 6 people are classified as “casual” users of the internet.  Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re one of the 1 in 6 who are “in the know” about social media.

As a result, you’re probably seen as the “social media expert” in your circles.  When someone asks you about blogging or social media, you may be more than willing to share your passion for “blogging” and it’s role in social media.

If you’re having a face to face conversation – there may be some point where watch the listener’s eyes glaze over and their mind “check out” as you try to describe the intricacies and complexities that make up this ever changing thing we call “social media”.

This is a common problem – not only when it comes to describing social media but  when it comes to trying to describe exactly anything that isn’t currently “mainstream”.  Believe it or not, before it became “mainstream”,  there was a time when you had to explain why Google was better than Yahoo for search.

Several conversations offline recently have me trying to come up with a quick and easy explanation of what social media is and why it matters.

Social Media is Simply Communication on Steroids

Social media is simply communication – bigger, faster and stronger than ever before.

Trying to communicate the unusual and unique is not new to me because I am the proud owner of a Field Spaniel.  Unless you live in the UK, you probably don’t know what a Field Spaniel is.  In describing what a Field Spaniel is, I could share what it’s like to share your home with one of these quirky and “very vocal” dogs. I could regale you with an in depth explanation of how early breeders wanted to create a “better” spaniel.  I could also tell you how the breed was created in England in the early 20th Century by crossing Basset Hounds with Cocker Spaniels.

Chances are that you probably don’t care to know all that.  That’s why when people ask, I tell them that a Field Spaniel is a Cocker Spaniel on steroids. People know what a Cocker Spaniel is and they also know what steroids do to an athlete.  The result is a fairly accurate and strong word picture. This does a MUCH better job of conveying what a Field Spaniel looks like and doesn’t give the the listener a chance to “check out” during the explanation.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the word picture is as strong in the case of describing social media.   I think part of the reason it “falls down” is many business owners don’t recognize that the main “component” of marketing is communication.  Without that understanding – an essential element of the word picture is lost.

If social media is going to go mainstream, we need an quick, easy explanation of what social media is and why it matters.

The Blog Herald announced yesterday the new b5Media has been revealed. The 32 individual health and beauty blogs are being “re-packaged” as a single site known as Splendicity, taking the relatively unfamiliar concept of “a blog network” and creating an easy to understand “word picture” of a single site.

Instead of trying to explain to advertising agencies how the b5media network offers advertisers a specific demographic audience scattered across 32 different blogs… b5media can now say – “Splendicity offers this many eyeballs who are part of this target audience.”

It’s a quick, easy explanation of the b5Media product “formerly known as loose collection of 32 health and heauty blogs.” It’s a “rebranding” which allows you to easily tell someone who isn’t in the know what Splendicity  is and most importantly – why advertisers should care.

Ad agencies no longer have to explain to their clients the intricacies of a blog network.  Instead they can say, “Splendicity has the attention of the very people we want to reach with your marketing message and THAT is why we’re buying space there.”

What’s the simple, easy to explain word picture illustrating why social media is important?

While most of the Blog Herald readers nod knowingly as they read the post- there’s still a whole WORLD of people out there who still don’t know the difference between a blog and a website.  Many of these people are business owners willing to invest their hard earned money to place their marketing message in front of their target audience.

They just need to know WHY a blog is such a great place for that ad.

Social media is defining the direction of communication from national news to the latest viral video – but the average person don’t recognize the impact blogs and social media are having on our culture.

They won’t know until we come up with an easy to understand  word picture.  Once we have educated “the 5 out of 6 casual internet users” why social media is important – then the rest will be easy.

The magic sauce in social media is that it allows publishers to influence audiences more deeply.  Social media, in the right hands, is an important part of engaging your audience instead of talking at them.

Until we come up with a simple, powerful word picture which communicates this essential truth about social media- the rest of the world still won’t get what the fuss over “social media” is all about.

With this in mind, how do YOU explain this whole intricate and complex entity known as “social media” to your friends, family and colleagues?  What word pictures do you use to communicate the intricacies of social media to the 5 out of 6 casual internet users?

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?

Cash4Gold and the Ensuing Social Media Firestorm

The tale of Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy should have been a storybook tale extolling of the value of effective advertising.  The Cash4Gold story could have read, “Business buys SuperBowl ad.  Traffic to website increases 10 fold  and justifies obscene ad cost.”

Instead, the Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy is a cautionary tale  which should serve as a warning to any business of how social media will “get you” if you or your business model are less than authentic.

Barry Hurd over at 123 Social Media began telling this tale on February 2nd when he warned in his first post Cash4Gold Superbowl $2.7 Million Online Reputation Nightmare

Chief Marketing Officers beware: before spending a hefty sum of your 2009 budget on having two celebrities do a 30 second Superbowl ad… make sure you clean up your online reputation first!

(Note – read on – because Cash4Gold tried to do exactly that – only they tried to “buy” their way out of the social media muck they found!)  Three days later, Barry continues the story in Cash4Gold – 72 Hours Later, Dugg to Death where he reports:

As of this morning: if you go to Google and do a search for “Cash4Gold” or “Cash 4 Gold” you will find the second search result to be an article titled “10 Confessions Of A Cash4Gold Employee” on the Consumerist. The article talks in-depth about how the Cash4Gold company works behind the scenes (and it is not a glowing review.)

It’s 48 hours after his 2nd post, I did as Barry suggests.  I did a search on Google for the term for “Cash4Gold” (without the hyphens – as “regular” people would do) and found the situation for Cash4Gold’s online reputation is even worse than Barry reported.

When I did my search – I was greeted with a Google Ad for Cash4Gold which reads: “Deal with Refiner – Maximum Payout! Request a FREE Kit. 100% Guarantee.”  Cash4Gold is definitely AWARE of the firestorm and has decided to try yet another way to “buy” themselves out of their continually deteriorating online reputation.

The organic search reveals why they’re having to spend money to get the top listing for their own domain name: the first organic search result which is an article in the LA Times Beneath Cash4Gold’s shiny veneer, a dull reality.

Guess you can’t count on people to skip the news stories and go straight to the the 2nd organic listing for the business name which is the Cash4Gold website so when in doubt, throw more money at the problem and hope it goes away.

Meanwhile, the list of blogs which have picked up the Cash4Gold story continues to grow.  When I did my search – next listing following the Cash4Gold website was an entry over at the blog Cockeyed Citizen: Cash4Gold Will Offer One-Third of the Actual Value for your Gold.

Turns out, this blog post is NOT something new.  Turns out, this blog post has been up for a while and was the first in a two part series written by Rob Cockerham.   According to Rob’s 2nd post, Cash4Gold did go on a “search and destroy” mission to try to clean up their online reputation before the airing of the SuperBowl ad.   Guess it took writing checks to Ed McMahon and MC Hammer, in addition to writing a check for the famously overpriced SuperBowl airtime for the execs at Cash4Gold to do a quick check to see what 30 million SuperBowl viewers might find if/when they did a Google search for the company.

In the 2nd blog post Cash 4 Gold would like to melt down and recast their reputation, Rob not only shares the emails received from Cash4Gold, he also shares the price they were willing to pay him to remove the posts.  It’s really WELL worth the read.

However, the efforts to buy their way out of this by Cash4Gold execs was too little, too late.  Way back in October, a time when no one would have IMAGINED that the Cardinals would be playing in the big game, the blog the Consumerist had already picked up the story and run How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Cash4Gold. They then ran a follow up post just before the SuperBowl ad aired in Cash4Gold Offers Blogger $3,000 To Remove Negative Post.

The first comment on the 2nd Consumerist post was by Cheesebubble: “suddenly, i hate everything …and i’m gonna blog about it!”

That, my friends, is the way of the new web.

Tom Volkar was venting the other day about being authentic.  He was authentically pissed off and he wrote:

A well-known social media expert recently tweeted something like this. “Don’t share anything here that you wouldn’t put up on billboards all over town.” Even that pissed me off, because he seemed to be saying, “wear the mask – don’t be real – be careful.” Bullshit to that! I wouldn’t pay to express my anger on a billboard but I’ll not run from it either.

Tom doesn’t have to buy a billboard to vent his anger because he’s got a blog, just as Rob Cockerham doesn’t need a billboard to share his experience with Cash4Gold.

Oh- did I  mention that YOUR customers don’t need to buy ad space either to vent THEIR anger?  This is Web 2.0 and the power is quickly shifting to the people.

Got a business?  Got Social Media Strategy?

I would venture to guess that 20 years ago, the Cash4Gold story never would gotten this big.  The question now isn’t will it get big – it’s how big will it get?

One thing is for certain – this is DEFINITELY bad news if your business model is threatened by the growing transparency of the new web.

Any chance you’ll mail your gold to Cash4Gold after reading this?  (Me neither.)