The simple (but not easy) secret to successful Corporate Online Communications

[Originally posted on NewCommBiz]

A lot of us spend a lot of time writing strategy documents detailing the best practices for engaging with customers via social networks.

A lot of us write the same things over and over.  We do a good job of showing off our digital chops, and encouraging people to be ‘authentic, valuable, transparent’ (three now-meaningless buzzwords).  However, we also go off and talk amongst ourselves about how the world does not need another “Become a Fan of Company XYZ on Facebook!” or “Read the Company XYZ blog about all the great things Company XYZ is up to!”

On many levels, we know that there are a minuscule number of brands that have developed enough of a deep emotionally resonant connection with their consumers to have them raise their hand and say “I’m a Fan!”, and yet often we will recommend a brand-centric Facebook page or blog.  Even when these properties are created, the engagement tends to be low enough as to be unsustainable (we’re all fans of pages with 10,000 members and zero interaction).

So, what to do? How do we adjust to create real value?  Well, it may seem counter-intuitive to clients, but in order to build a truly successful community, you will need to drop the corporate ego just a big and follow this piece of advice:

Don’t talk about your company, talk about things that people that are attracted to your company would be interested in.

This is a tough sell.  Companies are used to talking about themselves.  They have gotten very good at talking about themselves.  They have convinced themselves that the way to get someone to buy something is to tell them how great it is, or how famous person XYZ uses the product, or whathaveyou.  This may (debatably) be effective in mass advertising, but its exactly the wrong way to get someone to want to spend any time interacting.

You know what ‘bring value’ means? It means stay away from promoting.  It means don’t talk about yourself.  That brings value to you, not to me.

If you’re a cream cheese company, don’t talk about how awesome your cream cheese is, or how much Woody Allen loves his smear.  Give me some recommendations about the best local bagels.  Talk about resources for lactose intolerance. Ask me what my favorite carrot cake recipe is.  These are all things that I’m probably going to be interested in, if I’m attracted to your company.

These concepts are simple, but not easy.  They go against years of training. They don’t make sense for a lot of people.  It seems frivolous, fluffy, not important. Is this why we are so averse to making this recommendation? How can we get people there without getting blank stares? Is there a way in, here?

This is the direction I’d love to see the conversation going.

Away from “How can we leverage social media to get people to be interested in us”.

Toward “How can we leverage social media to be satisfy our people.”

The world does not need another “Become a Fan of Company XYZ on Facebook!”.  There are a minuscule number of brands that have developed enough of a deep emotionally resonant connection with their consumers to have them raise their hand and say “I’m a Fan!”

Jeremy Meyers is an Engagement Strategist at Waggener Edstrom and blogs at

A Followup: Don’t just Recognize the Suck. Suck less.

[Originally posted on NewCommBiz]

Yesterday I wrote a post about Recognizing the Suck.  After some reflection, I think that post is incomplete.  To wit:

It’s not enough to recognize the suck.  You must suck less.

Social tools are one part of an overall circle of influence, not a replacement for anything.  That said, they’re also the cheapest, easiest way to figure out what people think sucks about your company.

That said, it’s not enough to just listen, acknowledge or even apologize. You must suck less.  Awhile ago, on my own blog, I wrote a post about how media companies need to STFU and GBTW.  This resonates now more than ever.

Social Media is a tool to identify the suck. If you’re not willing to use this data take a hard look at what sucks about your company, and address what your customers are identifying as their needs, prepare for a long hard slog toward obsolescence.

Now, I’ve worked for a few big companies, so I understand that it’s faster to turn around a speedboat than an ocean liner. This is not an excuse for not doing anything, or ‘letting things work themselves out’.

Take one step.  Take it seriously.  This is not business camp.  This is not ‘oh how cute, these little people think they know what’s best for our big company with our fancy legacy and our letterhead’.

We decide whether you have a job or not.  We decide whether to use our voices to say “Just got a pair of Etymotic headphones and I really love them.”  or “Just got a pair of Philips headphones and they didn’t work, right out of the box.”  And you know what? People listen to us, because our intent is pure.  Our friends trust us more than you. The people we connect with online trust us more than you.

This is the real secret.  It’s what Meg said, what I’m thinking I may not have captured in the last post.

“If you make a crappy product and treat your customers badly, all the “connecting” and ‘conversation’ in the world won’t save you”

Suck less.

You can do it.

We want you to do it.

Just do it.

A hidden value of Social Conversations: Recognize the Suck

[Originally posted on NewCommBiz]

This isn’t a post about how, as @MegFowler puts it “If you make a crappy product and treat your customers badly, all the “connecting” and ‘conversation’ in the world won’t save you”. We have lots of posts about how Social Media raises the expectations of customer service, and those whose non-digital customer service is sub-par will run into bigger problems.

This also isn’t a post about how Social tools magnify both the opportunities and the flaws inherent within a company’s structure.


This is a post about Recognizing the Suck.

The most valuable feedback a company gets, be it through twitter, Facebook, customer service hotlines, op-ed pieces, ANYTHING is this: Your product sucks.

“But Jeremy!” I hear some of you already starting to scoff “Our products are great. Just look at these revenue charts for FY ’09 vs FY ’08!”

You’re wrong. People buy stuff that sucks all the time. Anyone who has paid for a hot dog on the streets of New York can attest to that. Quality and Sales have very little (if anything) to do with each other. If they were always linked, the New York Philharmonic would be giving a tribute to the music of Justin Bieber.

There are many reasons totally unrelated to quality that lead a person to make a purchase. Here are but a few.

  1. Lack of options – If you are the only act in town, or my only choice (see: Health Insurance).  Chances are, I resent having to give you my money
  2. Price – This is a big one.  If you’re the cheapest of my options, and I don’t really care that much, you may get my money.  This is an important point, because while you may get my money, what you don’t get is my loyalty.  Next time, the other brand of frozen pizza may be on sale, and there goes your spiffy charts.
  3. TrendSlap Bracelets. Nuff said.

“But Jeremy!” I hear some of you saying, a smug smile on your faces “What do we care why people give us their money. We have shareholders to think of. Have you seen our charts?”

Here’s the reason you care: People are talking about the Suck. And everyone can see it.  And people who are on the fence about whether or not to buy your product are reading it, and being influenced.  Don’t believe me? do a Google (or a Twitter) search for “mybrandname +sucks”. See what people are saying.

In the 20 minutes I’ve been writing this post, there have been 1800 new twitter postings containing the word ‘sucks’. Make of this what you will.

Here’s where we get into reactivity.  Maybe your first thought is ‘how do we take these sites down’.  Maybe it’s more like “Who cares?”  Well, at least some percentage of the 2+ billion people online do.  For sure people looking into making purchase decisions do.

Lest you think I’m all doom and gloom, I’m about to get to what this post IS about.


Learn to Recognize the Suck.

Take a step back, breathe.  This is a learning opportunity.  This is free. This is a way to optimize your products to maximize ROI.

You don’t have to build out an entire community dedicated to suggesting product improvements, as Starbucks did.  Just listen.  This is customer insight you used to have to pay millions for.

Its not the customers who have a sucking problem. We do just fine. We’re just the ones pointing it out. We’re trying to help.  We want you to listen and hear us and fix it.  If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t complain.

Do you have the humility, the savvy, the smarts to take it seriously?  Will you act on easy fixes, will you build upon your customer foundation, will you listen in order to create a better experience for your customers in order to build loyalty in order to build advocates in order to have them market on your behalf in order to keep those precious charts headed in the right direction?

Or will you let the suck win?

That’d be a shame, considering how easy it would be to, you know… not suck.

[Now read part 2 of this blog, about sucking less.]

T+D Post: Communication Channel Whack-A-Mole Doesn’t Make You Cool

[This is an excerpt of a post I wrote for Waggener Edstrom’s “Thinkers and Doers” blog.  The full post is here.]

A little glimpse into WaggEd life: Often, some of the best posts on Thinkers and Doers arise from email threads from our Studio D email alias, which includes our team located across the globe, each of us with different engagement, involvement levels and perspectives in the latest and greatest tools for online communications. We often share articles that we think may be of interest to the team through this, and have had some compelling debate, the best of which end up here.

Social Media LandscapeThis week, Pete Voss sent around an article by Rax Lakhani provocatively entitled“EXPOSED: UK PR Agencies fail to understand Foursquare”.  In the article, Rax states that PR firms who “claim to understand new trends in consumer behaviour still fear the platforms that they are only too quick to sell on to a client, wrapped up in strategic jargon and disingenuous enthusiasm”.  His evidence for this claim is that many PR firms do not have their offices available as venues to check into on Foursquare (a location-based social network where you can check in to restaurants and such, and connect with friends), and therefore they aren’t practicing what they preach.

Having read the article, and being a pretty prolific Foursquare user (not as much as some others in the office, but still), I really don’t think that…[Read the full post and comment at Thinkers + Doers]

Conversation is not Community – @MitchJoel’s Six Pixels blog

[Occasionally when commenting on other people’s blogs, I manage to go on enough that the resulting comment is blog-length itself. If I think it may be valuable to you all, I will re-post it here with a link to the official post. For a pretty comprehensive collection of comments I leave on other blogs, have a look at my profile on the ridiculously useful BackTypecom]

Originally posted on TwistImage: Conversation is Not Community

The thing I’m starting to notice, by having conversations with smart people like you and others and looking around, is that a lot of the things that we think are strategy and tactics are actually results.

“Building a community” can be part of a pitch, but I’m not sure if there’s actually anything you can execute specifically in order to get that result. Conversation is one part of it, having a remarkable offering is another part, but is Community something that is on the controllable side of the equals sign? I’m not sure.

Time and time again, communities form in places completely separate from any connection to any related company. Music-related messageboards crop up all the time, but messageboards on label sites languish. I don’t think we as marketers get to decide where a community lives, or even whether one happens or not. We can create as much conversational surface area as we like, but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether anyone says anything about it.

I think something we CAN do, however, is make sure as many nooks and crannies are exposed as possible, whether we’re talking about consumer goods, non-profit, political figures, celebrities. Give people something to sink their teeth into, and don’t focus so much on the ‘where’.

After all, that’s what search engines are for.

So yes, marketing IS going to get harder and harder. But is that such a bad thing? Seth says All Marketers are Liars. Seems like we’ve made more surface area for the truth, so that less Marketing needs to happen. And I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.