Cross Post: Social Media Careers: In-House vs. an Agency

mstory123 | December 15, 2011 in jobs,social media | Comments (0)

Cross-post from the book Web site:

What You Need to Think About Before Making the Jump

Whether you are graduating from college or considering a career change, consider that, in order to be successful in both the short and long-term, you’ll need to make a lot of people happy:  both internal and external clients.  Let’s spend some time discussing how to make these internal and external clients happy – and keep them that way.

Tips for making internal clients happy


5 Hard Truths About Working in Social Media – by Antonia Harler

mstory123 | December 11, 2011 in jobs,social media | Comments (4)

I am posting this tomorrow on my other blog, Starting a Career in Social Media, but it’s good. So good that I am posting it here today.  So if you subscribe to both (which you should), get over it.

Today’s post comes from (with permission) from my friend, Antonia Harler, who is one of the up-and-coming rising stars in social media.  I interviewed Antonia for the book, but she was kind enough to let me share a great post of hers, “5 hard truths about working in social media.”  It’s like Antonia:  honest, smart and fun.

Here goes: 5 hard truths about working in social media

I knew I wanted to work in social media for quite a while before I actually started my job. I envisioned what a social media job would entail and quite liked what I came up with. A combination of creativity, people & strategy. And while, yes, a social media job does in fact combine all of these things the reality and my vision are worlds apart. (Yes, I do love my job nonetheless.)

When people find out how I went from jobless to employed, they usually ask me what they should do to find a job in social media. And while many of them have a lot of passion and natural talent, there are just as many who are a bit too dreamy and haven’t really thought about their choice. I was dreamy, but I did actually think my decision through. At the same time, however, I jumped into the unknown because no-one told me what the reality looks like, which is precisely why I’m going to tell you some tough truths about working in social media.

Social media by itself doesn’t work!

I don’t work for a social media firm. I work for a PR consultancy, which has expanded into the digital sector. But the traditional stuff is still all there. It didn’t disappear and social is an addition to everything that’s been going on for years. My background isn’t in PR so you can imagine that it’s not always easy. I want and need to learn how PR works. From scratch. And that’s just it. Social media is never JUST social media. You’ll have to learn many things that you may not necessarily be interested in to make it work for your company or clients.

The job will follow you home!

Social media is constant. And while you may know that, you really don’t until you work in social media. People don’t stop talking when you leave the office at 6. In fact, that’s usually when they start talking. You have to learn how to deal with time differences, constant monitoring and engaging. If you are anything like me you’ll have a tough time ignoring your beeping phone or the constant stream of Emails. You’ll keep thinking about strategies, updates, monitoring etc after you leave the office at night.

Social media equals a sh*t load of research!

Before you do anything remotely connected to social media, you’ll do a lot of reading. A lot of googling. A lot of combing through directories and statistics followed by a whole lot more reading. And once you are done with all the reading, you start to analyse what you just read which then, somewhere down the line, evolves into a strategy. Then eventually, you’ll put the strategy into practice which, again, is followed by a lot of research and analysis. Until you start over.

Working in social media isn’t just fun and games!

Social media is SOO much fun, you say? Well it is, until it isn’t. You have to think a lot. Especially about wording. The way you say things in your private life may not be right for your client/company. You’ll have to adapt your writing style. Your way of thinking. And *actually* do some work. It’s not just about playing around on Facebook all day. It’s rather the complete opposite.

You need to stay on the ball!

Social media evolves. Constantly. You can’t afford to miss out on these developments because they may be good for your client. How do you do that? Through reading. As you can see, there’s a pattern.

This post isn’t meant as a discouragement to anyone who wants to work in social media. It should rather help you evaluate your decision and make it easier to decide whether it’s right for you. There’s no shame in it being wrong for you. Not everyone is made for it. It’s always better to find out sooner rather than later. ;)

BTW, have you become a fan of SocialGlitz on Facebook yet?

Doing Corporate Blogs Right: Disney Parks Blog

mstory123 | November 20, 2011 in Intersection of online and offline,Online public relations,social media | Comments (3)

Disclaimer:  This past week, I was a guest at Disney and had the pleasure of speaking with many of their social media, marketing and communications professionals.  That visit is the nexus of this blog post.  I have not been compensated in any way to write this post.  So there.

Since it’s early days, there have been rules about blogging.  I grabbed a pretty concise history of blogging from Wikipedia:

The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running account of their personal lives. Most such writers called themselves diarists, journalists, or journalers. A few called themselves “escribitionists”… Justin Hall, who began eleven years of personal blogging in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College, is generally recognized as one of the earliest bloggers,as is Jerry Pournelle. Another early blog was Wearable Wireless Webcam, an online shared diary of a person’s personal life combining text, video, and pictures transmitted live from a wearable computer and EyeTap device to a web site in 1994.

So as I write this, “early” blogging was a scant seven years ago and has now grown into more an an estimated 450 million”live” blogs in English alone according to Hattrick Associates.  This does not include “zombie” or “sleeping” blogs on which you wrote a rant about your ex-girlfriend, forgot about it, never wrote again and forgot to tell the fine folks at Blogger.  Until you got back together, she found it and she broke up with you all over again.

While blogging began on a personal level, corporations started to figure out that this was, in fact, a viable communications channel.  Cheap, easy and fast.  And if the guys living in their mom’s basements could do it, we can do it too, right?

Kinda sorta, but not really.

Traditional corporate communications was and in many ways still is, based upon a top-down, one-to-many model.  Company A makes a pronouncement from the Top of the Mount, and people will gather and eat the communications crumbs tossed down.  While this worked in a press release model, it is a train wreck in the blogging model.

Blogging is about interaction between people.  It’s about honesty, transparency and above all, being social (duh, the term “social media”).  And above all else, it needs to be authentic. Blogs are written in first-person and are designed, in most cases, to begin a conversation among either the author and readers via comments, or if things really go well, among those who are reading and commenting.

Top-Down Communications Model meet Authenticity.  Some successes, some train wrecks.

Let’s start with who does it well:  Disney Parks Blog.  As I mentioned before, I had the chance to meet some of the smart people who write and run this who understand that a blog that is clearly inauthentic, marketing-speak or the zeros and ones equivalent of a QVC commercial at 3:00 in the morning is doomed to failure.  People who read will not only be turned off, they will likely call you out.  More on that later.

What I like about the Disney Parks blog is its authenticity. People are not ghost writing;  it’s people writing.  They are not trying to shove the latest shiny object down your e-throat, they are communicating, with passion that comes through, excitement about things that Disney-philes (and there are LOTS of them) want to read.  Here’s more of what I like:

  1. The blog does not attempt to misrepresent what it is or fool you.  It’s fine to sell stuff on a blog, but be honest about it.  If you are writing about flat feet and are Dr. Scholls, people will figure out who you are and what you sell.  Duh.  But don’t give me three steaming paragraphs of marketing bwana disguised as conversation and then point me to your latest product.
  2. It is first-person.  The people who write on the blog have pictures, job titles and links to their prior blog posts.  They are real people, not robo-bloggers.
  3. Its doesn’t overwhelm you with with sales - it offers information that readers want.  Here’s an entry from November 18 of this year – in its entirety: “Guests visiting Tomorrowland in the 1950s and 1960s would encounter a unique original Disneyland character that symbolized Americans’ interest in space exploration. In this rare photo from the summer of 1960, the Tomorrowland ‘Spaceman’ is apparently joined by ‘Spacewoman.’”  Yep.  That’s IT.  And that one paragraph drew 20 comments.  So clearly someone is listening and interacting.
  4. It feeds the Disney Fan Boy Beast.  All the way back in 2009, I wrote a post entitled “I Love Disney. Ok.  There, I Said It.”  I wrote about Disney Cruise Lines and how the really got the use of the Web to provide information as well as generate interest.  And there are many, many Disney Fan Web sites out there with thousands of aficionados who make Apple Macolytes look like disinterested teenagers.  So rather than attempting to create a need, they are filling an existing thirst for information.  Big difference.  I don’t see a place where Maytag dishwasher people convene to exchange the latest settings for the rinse cycle.I don’t consider myself an A-List blogger by any means, but I have been pitched to write about crap that I don’t care about or I have seen gross misuse of social media.   But I am not going to “Like” the Facebook page of a kitchen appliance in my home – because all if want it to do is wash my dishes right.  Way back in 2009, Michael Arrington wrote in Tech Crunch:  ”It’s nice to know that if I’m a facebook loser my virtual mom will call up the other kids and ask if they’ll come play with me. Because that sure worked in the real world when I was 10.”
  5. It is clear that the purpose of the blog is to inform. Rinse, lather, repeat.  The people who get it know that the real purpose of a corporate blog is to inform you.  Not sell you.  Not carpet-bomb you will corporate double-speak.  It’s like the equivalent of a TV network (by mere mention of the slogan I will get at least three flames) “We Report.  You Decide.”  As I read the Disney blog, I see it as informing me of stuff that I want to read and want to know – I am the parent of two young children.  They aren’t selling me discounted park passes or encourging me to “tell a friend” about how to buy vintage Minnie Mouse merchandise.

I would go on here, but I think you get the point.   The train tracks of corporate blogging are littered with the corpses of self-inflicted wrecks.  Sony, Wal*Mart and McDonalds.  Mazda.

Disney Parks blog gets it right.  No blog gets everything right one hundred percent of the time (I still don’t understand the “Go Network” and how it is still alive), but this is a darn good blog when you run it past the authenticity check.

And Wal*Mart, McDonalds and Sony?  I hope you are listening.


Image sources:  Disney Parks blog and AE Ashley Ellis.

Social Media Survival: What to Do When You Are Running Into Managerial or Client Brick Wall

mstory123 | November 1, 2011 in Intersection of online and offline,Measurement,Offline public relations,Online public relations | Comments (3)

My take on the kerfuffle with National Rental Car and Chapstick and theory that the blame lay with management resulted in some good, interesting feedback.  Thanks, guys. I postulated that likely, with MAJOR consumer brands, the fault lies in bad decisions made by higher-ups that overrule or ignore the advice of the internal social media evangelist(s).   I can’t imagine that a major brand would pick someone out of his mom’s basement or elevate someone who is completely compliant or clueless about listening and building social media-based dialogue with stakeholders.  I could be wrong, though, because you can’t fix stupid.

So with that out of the way, like many of us who have worked in social media before it was called social media, what do you do when you run into roadblocks and brick walls- mindsets on the part of clients, or harder, internal bosses that either ignore the good advice you have given them, are afraid of it, ignore it, or simply veto it?brick_wall

There are zero easy answers and perhaps the clearest answer depends upon how much you are invested in your job, your brand or its place in your corporate or client’s communication program.  In short, how hard do you fight, and how?  Having found myself in this situation many, many times, I’ve come up with some suggestions that may help you from going insane when you know you are right but simply can’t get decision-makers to listen.

I covered part of this is a much snarkier post I wrote in November 2008 entitled “How to Sell Social Media to Your Dumbass Boss.”  Some of the precepts I laid out I still believe are true, but having gone from client work to in-house, my views have evolved somewhat.  Here’s my advice when you hit the social media reluctance brick wall:

  1. Like any good social media program, your first task is to listen.  Before you tip your hand too much in the direction you want to go, give a “soft sounding” to the person who can either be an ally or an obstacle. Determine what her objections are likely to be and think carefully about how to refute them.  But like a good lawyer, when you are building your case, think carefully about the evidence presented and how you will react to this.  And this is only internal listening.  To the extent that you can, listen to those who are important to your clients or your organization, and find out what they are interested in and from where they get their information.
  2. When and where possible (and this is perhaps the most important point of all), get a commitment/dedication to social media as part-and-parcel to your organization’s efforts from the most senior person you can.  Think about it:  legal will want to own it, IT may well want to own it if you are building in-house tools, your communications shop will want to own it, and higher-ups will want to parachute in at the last minute and offer meaningless advice (and I have gotten this one day prior to a site launch) “Black just isn’t really a business color. Change it.”   All of this means that there will be some refereeing that needs to take place and the more senior level commitment you have, the better chances you have to move in the right direction.  Frankly put:  if you are going to get into a pissing match with people who want to own the social media function, have a big person who has your back.
  3. Be a teacher first and an evangelist second.  My experience has been that the more senior people are in an organization (and I mean internal and external clients), the more removed they are from truly understanding how you can augment, extend and improve your organization’s communications efforts through a good social media program.  This is not true in all cases, but (insert eye-roll here), “my daughter has the Facebook” is actually a teaching moment.  This is an opportunity to point out that personal and business social media accounts have different objectives, purposes and desired outcomes.  This may not always work, but if you find a generational gap, you have the opportunity to have what we used to euphemistically call a “teaching moment.”  Not all teaching sticks, however.Also, when you are teaching, remember to use benefit-oriented statements and language that people will understand.  When you introduce or explain Twitter, an explanation of “a micro-blogging platform with a 140 character limit” will ultimately result in a glazed over look, especially if you are dealing with a knowledge or generation gap.  Something that may lead to more success would be a statement like “Twitter is a place online where people can follow us and hear what we have to say.  And we can link back to our Web site, drawing more traffic.  Plus, it’s free.”
  4. Know thine enemy.  You know it’s coming.  You have seen it.  Like a monster who hides in the closet or under your bed, higher-ups who either are afraid to try or expand on or begin with social media, don’t understand it or are just plain obstructionist, you are going to get the “What’s the ROI on this?”  Suppress your instinct for the eye roll and try explaining that some things can be measured while others cannot.  ”Return on investment” is in and of itself a vague term.  What is a return?  A sale?  An impression?  A plate of pasta? Once that is out of the way, one of the hardest conversations to have and get across is that not everything can be measured. Listening, creating feedback, engaging in dialogue may or may not be measurable. This is tricky.  If you are pressed,  and especially working in-house, I use the (ducking here) metric of cost per contact.  I take the total expenditures of something that I measure divided by the number of measureable interactions.  This is a slippery slope because a Web site visit does not mean engagement – you know it and I know it- but if someone wants a statistic, give them a bone to chew on.  And gently suggest that in something like marketing, it’s also very difficult to make a direct connection between building awareness and relationships – and making a connection to sales.  When I was teaching, I hammered home the point that the difference between public relations and marketing is that marketing is about generating revenue.  Both are about building awareness, but marketing, like social media, is hard to tie to a statistic.
  5. Begin with baby steps.  If you don’t already have a big-time social media program, start small.  Try a Twitter account (easily measureable for those who crave statistics).  Nothing succeeds like success, so find a platform that works for you that is discreet and upon which you can build success.
  6. If competitors and doing it right, point this out as well.  Competitors mean competition, and if your competition is building a online profile that demonstrates success, this is a good argument too.
  7. iquitemyjobFinally (and I could go on and on on this topic), know when to say “when.” Sometimes, you are simply not going to make headway.  This is something that I hear from my friends all of the time who have tried the above tactics and more and are left with an empty arsenal and a gun in their mouths.   You have a couple of choices.  You can bear it and try other ways (other internal clients or other agency clients to focus on), or you can go nuts.  And if you are going nuts from frustration, go home and look yourself in the mirror and ask if it’s worth it.  I get that it’s still a bad economy and that changing jobs is risky, but there are enough studies to show that stress causes illness.  Is it really worth it?  Ask yourself this very difficult question and consider getting the hell out of Dodge and on to somewhere will you have the resources and support you need to be successful.

Like Porky Pig said, “that’s all, folks.”  Please feel free to add more of your suggestions in the comments.


Social Media Can’t Put Lipstick (or Chapstick) on a Pig

mstory123 | October 31, 2011 in Online public relations | Comments (9)

Just last week, I wrote a post in AGBeat in which I called out National Car Rental for deleting posts from their Facebook page.  More disturbing than the fact that the posts were deleted was their Facebook policy, which states that they reserve the right to remove content that “…disparages, slanders, criticizes, or maligns National.”  In essence, angry people were posting comments and people were deleting them. This is not just bad social media policy, it is bad communications and business policy to blatantly avoid dialogue with potentially unhappy customers/campers.  And it is a sign either or organizational dysfunction, disempowered social media staff or both.

And right on cue last week, the brand Chapstick got involved in what Advertising Week called both a “social media death spiral” as well as “war against their fans.”  Ouch.

Ad Week has a very good summary:

ChapStick posts weird image on Facebook of a woman, backside in the air, looking for her ChapStick behind a couch. Blogger is disgusted, blogs about it. Blogger tries to reply on Facebook too. ChapStick deletes her comments. Others object to the image. ChapStick deletes their comments. ChapStick’s ads with the line “Be heard at” start to look foolish. Peoplekeep commenting. ChapStick keeps deleting. People get angry. ChapStick gets worried. The image isn’t even that big of a deal—it’s ChapStick’s reaction to the criticism that galls. “What asses,” people say of ChapStick (get it?). People start commenting about why they can’t see their old comments. ChapStick can’t keep up with all the deleting. Comments are getting through, and they’re nasty. (People who aren’t even fans of the brand can comment nowadays, of course.) ChapStick for some weird reason doesn’t just delete the image, apologize, or even acknowledge the issue, beyond its infuriating deleting of comments. ChapStick apparently thinks the whole thing will just go away if it can silence enough of its “fans.” Why is ChapStick so stupid? It’s not a total mess, though.

Same channel, same self-inflicted wound.  A major brand asks people to “like” them, follow them, interact with them, adore them and then when things turn ugly (or just plain weird), the conversation goes out the window and the dialogue is censored.  (“Be my friend!  Except when I don’t want you criticizing me.”) And yes, both companies got busted, lost credibility with fans and were taken to the social media woodshed.

The real problem

These examples are not solely social media problems.  They are not solely communications and public relations problems.  They are organizational problems gone public. Any brand that wishes to be successful or even taken seriously should have a social media head/evangelist who is empowered to make good decisions using social media channels – and smart enough to do it.  But more importantly, this individual needs to be empowered to veto stupid behavior when it is suggested by people who don’t understand social media – like censoring comments and then stonewalling.  I am operating under the assumption that both National and Chapstick have competent heads of social media who were shouted down, outvoted or vetoed with this idiotic behavior.  Censoring where you have invited dialogue and you will get busted.

So operating under the assumption that the social media people or agencies are competent, both of these situations suggest that there are larger organizational problems within the brands.  You don’t put someone in charge of directing a bunch of engineers who is a librarian.  Nor do you counteract the (again, supposedly) good advice from your social media evangelist –  who knows what will happen.

My final point is best illustrated by a story that I love to tell.  When I was in the agency world, our firm was retained by a gentleman who was the head of a company who apparently had a crack cocaine problem. He was arrested a couple of times, but the most recent (when we were hired) was because he was caught (literally) with his pants down in his car with a prostitute and a crack pipe between them. I drew the short straw and flew into the city to meet with him.  In our first meeting, he railed about how the local newspapers were out to get him, how his good name was being defamed and said that he needed an agency to help him solve his “Google problem.”  Potential business partners were Googling the name of his company – that carried his name – and finding articles about his arrests and other embarrassing episodes.

In one of those “I wish that I had kept my mouth shut but had fun not doing so,” when Mr. Client was finished blaming the media, bloggers, his competitors and Google for his troubles, he asked me for my advice on how to solve his search engine optimization problems.  Most people would have salivated at the billable hours required to get his booking photo off the first page of Google.

Client:  ”So are you going to help me solve my Google problem?”

Me: “Mr. XYZ, I can’t help you solve your Google problem until someone helps you solve your drug problem.”

Despite my smart-ass remark, the comment seemed to cut through the clutter in this man’s mind.  We got hired.  He never paid us, but that should be in the “duh” category.

National Car Rental and Chapstick do not have “Facebook problems,” or “social media death spirals.”  They likely have organizational structures where the social media people who really know what to do are not empowered an in charge.  THAT is likely the real problem.