Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

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A reader gets Facebook’s attention with a LinkedIn ad

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing your ideas put to use by other people.  Five-star book reviews are great, but they don’t give me quite the same thrill as seeing something like this: Jonathon Colman

Kevin is clearly using LinkedIn’s killer workplace targeting feature to deliver “reverse help wanted” ads to Facebook employees, and it’s working! Jonathon Colman is exactly the type of person Kevin should want to get in front of, too—he’s known as a thought leader both within Facebook and in the larger content strategy community.  I don’t know how many other people saw Kevin’s ad, but the fact that someone like Jonathon saw fit to share it to his 10,600 Twitter followers is evidence that the ad is benefitting from the social media’s most impressive dynamic, the network effect.

Thanks to Amanda Orson for catching Jonathon’s tweet and bringing it to my attention.

In a related update, it appears that Facebook has changed the rules of custom audiences so as to prohibit 1:1 ad targeting. Custom audiences must now be above a certain, undisclosed, size threshold to run. It was fun while it lasted.

If you’ve read the book, please consider leaving an honest review on Amazon.

How one musician is opening social media side doors

 Luke Michielsen This is a guest post from reader Luke Michielsen, a singer / songwriter and artist rep for Stonebridge Guitars. Follow him on Twitter, visit his website, and watch his music video at the bottom of this post (email subscribers click here).

I’m an independent singer-songwriter and I’ve been using social media to share my music since 2006.  It’s funny to think I started doing this in the heyday of Myspace.  Oh how things have changed.  Recently, I came across The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence by Ian Greenleigh (from here onwards I refer to it by the official hashtag, #tsmsd) and immediately liked the writing style.  I was also impressed with the amount of research that went into it.

Like many musicians, I’ve been trying to maximize the effectiveness of my social media use lately.  Trying to stay current is tough with new platforms for musicians coming out all the time.  #tsmsd has definitely inspired me to try some new things, and has pointed out that changing platforms are actually a good thing, because they open new side doors before the music industry gatekeepers make things difficult (“Gatekeepers” is a term Ian uses for people or systems that block access to influential people).

The main tip I took from #tsmsd was to get creative in how you try to reach influencers in the music industry.  One of my current goals is to play at summer folk festivals.  There are a lot of gatekeepers to bypass to gain access to this circle of the industry.  Most festivals require artists to submit their applications through Sonicbids, Reverb Nation or Music Clout and many require live showcases at music conferences like Folk Alliance in Kansas City.

Applying to festivals through conventional means often seems impersonal and it’s challenging to get any convincing done if you are lesser known (like me).  Unless you or your agent (very few of us have one) knows the artistic director, you’re just another one in a thousand musicians lining up at the front door to get on the bill.

Why not take some of the tips in #tsmsd and apply them to this scenario?  It’s my plan to spend more time finding connections and starting relationships with artistic directors.  I’m finding out which ones have blogs and Twitter accounts.  It’s preliminary research to see if there might be a side door for me at one of these festivals.  It’s not easy work, but neither is making good music, so I’m used to it.

When I do get the attention of an artistic director I have to be careful not too ask too much, and instead offer something of value to them.  Offering value to an artistic director is sure to be challenging and each case will need to be treated uniquely.  I’ll think of what I would need help with if I was in their shoes.

Ian hails the merits of blogging numerous times in #tsmsd so my plan is to improve my skills at this older, but trustworthy, social platform.  I’m starting a new blog, called Socially Savvy Musicians, where I plan to interview artistic directors, or have them guest blog about what they look for in an applicants social media profile.  Maybe that director will direct musicians to my blog to answer queries more quickly.  Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Will making some relationships with artistic directors open some side doors to festivals for me?  Who knows what’s going to happen?  What I do know is that the suggestions in #tsmsd are backed up by research that makes me feel confident that I’m on the right track.


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3 more social media side doors for jobseekers

My friend David Armano posted this screenshot from the new social app Jelly. It pretty much speaks for itself, no? In a way, both parties are using social media side doors (the employer and the candidate).

After dropping out of med school, Clark Walker is working as a barber. Mashable reports that the 26 year-old New Yorker used Instagram to post pictures of his cuts and network with other barbers. After following a high-end barbershop on Instagram, and building his own following, he saw an opportunity when the shop’s latest photo caption read, “Now Hiring.”

‘I commented on the photo and said I'd be moving to New York soon and was interested in working there,’ he says. ‘They responded right away and told me to get in touch with them once I was in the city.’

In the meantime, Walker directed them to his Instagram feed to take a look at his work from the past year. The person running the shop's feed tagged the Fellow Barber manager in on the thread, who soon began ‘liking’ Walker's photos from Ray's.

The rest is history.

This next one is interesting because Dawn Siff, the jobseeker in question didn’t actually land her job through a social media side door after generating a lot of buzz about how she was using Vine to show off her work history and achievements.

When I first talked to Grant Turck, the guy that inspired my Facebook ad gambit with his own, he was in a similar situation. He was getting coverage from high profile blogs in his industry (PR), but it wasn’t landing him the gig.

Even though these social media side doors didn’t lead to the big prize, both Grant and Dawn saw value beyond that single measure of success. And they also saw the benefits across multiple social sites. Grant noted that his LinkedIn network grew by 50%, and Dawn has mixed feelings about Vine, but found more success on Twitter, Quora, and LinkedIn.


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Announcing my new job

Olapic If you’re a reader of my blog who doesn’t know me personally and has no particular interest in my career, kindly forgive the following All About Me™ post. The insights you subscribed for are percolating, and you’ll have them soon. Until then, I invite you to browse the archives  or read some of the recent guest posts and interviews I’ve done (here, here, and here).  

My search for that perfect next career step is over. I’ll be building and leading Olapic’s marketing team as Director of Marketing, based out of New York. We have an incredible story to tell. Here’s how it starts:

Olapic is the missing link between customer photos, videos and the results brands care about. We make commerce visual.

My book begins with a memory that could not be more vivid as I type this:

I’ll never forget walking out of that mall, proud of myself for nailing the job interview at a cell phone kiosk. What’s more embarrassing than not getting that job—I didn’t even get a callback, and it stung—is the fact that I was so close to settling for it.

That was early 2010, just shy of four years ago. Only four years! If you could feel what I’m feeling now…you’d understand that no string of words can even nick the surface of it all. So this post will be short.

Likewise, the names of the people that helped me during this long, humbling job search are too numerous to mention, but I have to give special recognition to the following remarkably kind people:

Brant Barton, Brett Hurt, Lisa Pearson, Amy Hayes, Jeremiah Owyang, Andy Sernovitz, Stephen Tarleton, and Robert Gilbreath.

And to my new family at Olapic: Thanks for writing me into your story.


Powerful people don’t need social media—so why do they use it?

"Dieu et mon droit" refers to the "divine" right of kings, and was "adopted as the royal motto of England by Kind Henry V in the 15th century." Info from Wikipedia / Flickr CC credit: chuckyeager

O now, who will behold

The royal captain of this ruin'd band

Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,

Let him cry 'Praise and glory on his head!'

For forth he goes and visits all his host.

Bids them good morrow with a modest smile

And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.


In this excerpt from Shakespeare's Henry V, King Henry disguises himself as a commoner to walk among his soldiers on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt. He does so to learn the unvarnished truth about their morale and preparedness, knowing that if he were to tour the camp as king, the information he’d receive would be quite different.

Access is always accompanied by risk. When powerful people make themselves more accessible via social media, they risk losing privacy, focus, efficiency, and even likability.

So why do they do it?

As it turns out, there are three main reasons powerful people weather the risks of accessibility.

1.    Escaping the echo chamber

The truth is valuable, but it often doesn’t reach the corner office. Information is filtered through several layers of career-minded subordinates and corporate groupthink. And passing through these layers takes time, degrading the usefulness of the information. As I write in my book:

The higher someone’s status, the more other people say what they think the person wants to hear. When reality finally pierces the wall of optimism and flattery, it’s often too late—this powerful individual has simply made too many decisions based on false premises to right the ship.

Information from social media acts as a counterweight to the polished and presentable information powerful people receive from their teams.

2.    The “direct line”

Social media gives powerful people direct, instantaneous access to the masses. No airtime or ad space to buy. No press conference to arrange. This makes PR staffers and in-house lawyers cringe, but the allure of a direct line is too strong for many elites to ignore. This access can be used to promote products, events, and causes (Richard Branson is a great example of the latter), shape public opinion and perception, and defend when attacked. Take, for example, this tweet from Rupert Murdoch, which addressed the News Corp phone hacking scandal and received 30 retweets:

Many of Murdoch’s tweets could be easily dismissed as nothing more than rants. But what I find remarkable about them—rants or not—is just how little they are scripted. Here you have one of the most famous billionaires in the world talking directly to whoever will listen, without the “prior restraint” of minders and copyeditors.

3.    Humanization

“Should I use my personal account or company account to engage with influencers and the press?” It’s a question that comes up a lot when I speak to groups about using social media. My answer is always, “People like talking to people.” Despite the Supreme Court’s affirmation of “corporate personhood,” the idea of brands acting like humans is a bit absurd, especially when you think of all the rotten things humans do. And businesses don’t have feelings or worries or hopes.

But that’s not to say there’s no value to making brands more approachable, sincere, and quick to respond—these are all positive human traits that brands can use to their benefit. It’s not a matter of mimicking humans, but of letting the humans behind the brand shine through.

Company leaders can have a big impact on internal and external perception of a brand and its leaders. For example, the 2013 BrandFog CEO Social Media Survey found that, among employees “83.9% believe that CEO social media engagement is an effective tool to increase brand loyalty.” The same survey also revealed that 68.7% of employees “definitely” or “somewhat” agree that  “C-Suite social media engagement make[s] a brand seem more honest and trustworthy.”

A powerful mindset

Powerful people have already made it. They don’t need to use social media. Both of these are true statements. So is this one: Mark Cuban could retire today and still be fantastically wealthy for the rest of his life. One more for you: Katy Perry could drop off Twitter and still sell out concerts around the world.

My point is simple. Powerful people do things to grow what they already have. It’s this “extra step” mindset that got them there in the first place, and social media is quickly becoming the extra step of choice for the world’s most successful people.


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What's next in the evolution of social media?

Convergence. Flickr CC photo credit: paloetic What will be the next step in the evolution of social media? What is the number one "unique social media marketing tip [I] would give to an intermediate social media marketer?"

These questions were submitted by the 4th and 5th winners of my signed book giveaway! I'm still accepting entries, and all you have to do is ask me an interesting question for a chance to win. OK, on with the show.

Amira Fahoum asks:

As social media continues to evolve and change how we interact with each other--both personally and commercially--what will be the next step in the evolution?

I call it “universal convergence.” Channels, devices, data—these elements of communication are all being woven together. Think single streams, seamless experiences. What we formerly called “In Real Life” (IRL)—the physical world—is increasingly inextricable from the digital world. IRL is now digital, social, and physical rolled into one.

And in a similar way, identities are converging. I’ve worked for people I’ve never met beyond digital channels. I have deep friendships with people I met first on Twitter, and some of those relationships spilled over into face-to-face conversations over barbecue, professional collaborations, etc . I’ve even mourned the deaths of a handful of people whom I only knew through social media, and it felt no less real. At a certain point, we’ll replace phrases like “my Twitter friend” with simply “friend.”

Commercially, we’re seeing a convergence of brands and people. In other words, we’ll be buying from brands because we value the people behind the brands, and a lot of that determination will be based on our encounters with those people on social media. We’re also seeing an intolerance of any disparities between a brand’s social persona and every other part of the brand presence. That’s because the social presence will be decentralized, and not holed up in corporate HQ. If I tweet a hardware question to a hardware store, I want people with hardware knowledge to answer it—not marketing people like me. So, I’m looking forward to systems that put that power (and responsibility) in the hands of select front-line employees.

Whitney Denney asks:

What is the number one unique social media marketing tip you would give to an intermediate social media marketer? Don't tell me something I can find 20 articles on in Google. I need something fresh and motivating!

Oy vey, so demanding, Whitney! OK, I’m game.

Stop trying to make your brand likable. Most people don’t want relationships with most brands, and loyalty is now sustained only by utility. Useful sells. Likable merely amuses. Most money in social media by companies is spent on being likable, while usefulness is neglected.

Reverse the order! Focus on delivering relentless utility through your brand’s social presence to win the wallet.

That’s it for the second batch of book giveaway winners! Remember, you can still enter to win your own signed copy. But if you just can’t wait and you’re into sure things, buy a copy today! If you've read the book, please leave an honest review on Amazon. 




How can smaller companies keep up in social media?

"David et la tête de Goliath," by Guido Remi (1575 - 1642). Flickr CC photo credit  Renaud Camus.  How can smaller companies keep up in social media? How will influencer engagement change? Are infographics here to stay?

These three questions were submitted by the first three winners of my signed book giveaway! Entries are still open, so submit your question today. Now, let's get some answers on the board.

Ryan Swindall asks:

I work for a smallish company that's constantly trying to keep up and look larger on social.  How would you recommend that we keep up with bigger and better funded companies on social media when we can't (or won't) go for another round of funding?

Lots of big companies have really stupid social strategies. That’s your advantage. For example, take a look at the average Fortune 500 corporate blog and tell me if they’ve really got it down! Likely not.

Social media is great for smaller companies because engagement can’t really be bought. The barriers to entry are low, so you can even the playing field by focusing on things that don’t require a lot of personnel and funds. If your big competitor hires ten writers to crank out so-so content, create a content array that relies more on curating great external content to deliver a greater amount of value.

There are a thousand ways to become a resource—it’s not all about creating word count. Don’t go head-to-head on things you’ll never be able to truly emulate (like headcount), and find better ways to make your company useful.

Joel Widmer asks:

What will a successful influencer outreach campaign look like in the next 5 years? How will influencer engagement change?

I’m going to focus on the second part of Joel’s question. There’s a story in my book about a party I attended at a tech conference where supposed influencers were given the sponsor’s latest model mobile phone. I was one of those “influencers,” and they made it really clear I was on some kind of list and I should feel super special about it. I wasn’t ungrateful, but I was perplexed. First of all, I’ve never blogged about consumer electronics, and I’m not one to really tweet about the space either. On top of that, even if they were going for highly influential people in general, I’m certainly not one of them (as compared to some of the people at the party who didn’t get free phones, including a few friends of mine). No, I was on that list for one of three reasons:

1)   Someone at the PR agency handling the party recognized my name from something completely unrelated to consumer electronics.

2)   The data they used to ascertain attendee influence was the wrong data to use in the context.

3)   The data they used to ascertain attendee influence was simply inaccurate.

In the next five years, we’re going to see less of that. Influencer identification is getting more accurate, granular, and contextual. People using these tools are getting better at it. And—this is the thing that sometimes drives innovation more than anything else—the budget owners for these programs aren’t going to tolerate so much speculative money wasting. They’re going to ask for results and proof and optimization plans. The money won’t be coming from the experimental budget in five years, so everything it’s spent on will need to perform. If there’s one corner of the social media space that needs that kind of scrutiny, influencer ID and engagement is definitely it.

Derek asks:

Are infographics just a fad or are they here to stay?

I take it from Derek's question that he isn't impressed with the bulk of infographics out there, and he thinks people are getting away with producing low-quality work because the medium happens to be hot. Or maybe I’m totally projecting my opinions onto his question, because that’s totally how I feel.

It’s hard to find an analogous medium that might guide a prediction here, but take something like online presentations (i.e. slide decks). Slides are flooding the web because slideshare makes it easy to share and embed them. But does better technology—essentially, a better container—lead to better content overall? Judging by the mountain of yuck on slideshare, I think not. And will the rate at which that mountain of yuck grows slow down anytime soon? I don’t think so, because, like a landfill, there aren’t really any penalties for contributing to it.

So you have a similar thing going on with infographics. Technology is driving the costs of production and distribution down. The medium is trendy, as you point out. Everyone wants in on that game, and now everyone can get in on it.

But there’s yet another force moving infographics and slide decks along roughly the same trajectory: impressions-based journalism. As long as ad revenue supports online media, and as long as what outlets charge for that ad space is based in whole or in part on impressions / pageviews, they’ll embrace formats that allow them to quickly churn out page after page of content. Every time you see a slideshow where an article should really be, it’s not because the journalists and editors felt that was truly the best way to convey information to readers; it’s because it’s easy to throw those up with little effort and they can count every slide advance as a separate pageview in order to charge advertisers more. You don’t have the latter issue with infographics, but you certainly have the appeal of easy pageviews and reduced costs associated with original content creation.

As long as someone can embed an infographic on a page, bookend it with a few intro and conclusion sentences, and call it an article, they medium will be extremely popular.

OK, now everyone thinks I hate infographics. Nope. The truth is, well-done data visualization is really incredible. People like David McCandless and shops like JESS3 and Column 5 put out extremely good work. When you have actual data to convey, and that data is interesting, infographics are the bee’s knees! I think infographics will get more interactive as HTML5 and other technologies are widely used. They’ll look more like the data journalism you see over at the Texas Tribune and The Economist.

That's it for the first batch of book giveaway winners! Remember, you can still enter to win your own signed copy. But if you just can't wait and you're into sure things, buy a copy today!


Huzzah! Mega Q&A

Flickr CC photo credit: PitsLamp Photography Ever wonder how you can stop being such a social media mooch? Or why gatekeepers still have their jobs? Do you know what my weird Twitter handle @be3d stands for? I've got answers.

I've been doing a lot of Q&As about the book, and today I'm going to share three of the questions that got me thinking (and my answers). Before you dive in, I have a request for those of you who have read the book (and those of you reading it right now): Please consider leaving an honest Amazon review right here. Each review really helps the book's visibility. Now, on with the show...

From Successful Blog:

How can people find and open their own side doors in social media?

Realize that side doors often open gradually. For example, every time you leave a comment on a CEO’s blog, or tweet a piece of intelligent feedback to an influencer, you’re opening that side door up an inch or two more.

Think about the goals of the person whom you’re trying to reach, and reflect on how you can help them get there faster. You can do things like introduce them to other influential people via Twitter, interview them on your blog about a project they’re promoting, or help them find information they’re after.

Relationships are still the basis for almost all of the value created in social media. Social media makes it really easy to answer the question, “what has this person done for me lately?” As such, you’ll hear “yes” far more often when you’ve provided value before an ask, or in conjunction with it.

From BusinessNewsDaily (also published on Mashable):

Who are the gatekeepers?

Anyone or anything that regulates access to people or power is a gatekeeper. Human gatekeepers come in all forms, but are commonly executive assistants, recruiters and HR professionals, publicists and agents, and anyone else tasked with reducing access to someone else. I made sure to point out in my book that gatekeepers aren't trying to ruin your day. They have an important job to do, and it's probably pretty thankless. But ultimately we need gatekeepers, or else important things won't get done. When I first got into the corporate world, someone told me that the second most powerful person in any given company doesn't have a fancy title or a corner office. It's the CEO's executive assistant, so make sure to be kind to him or her. That's still true, and social media can help you get to know — and sometimes win over — the gatekeepers.

Your Twitter handle is @be3d. What does it mean to be "three-dimensional" in the world of social media?

People sometimes feel they need to play a part when using social media, and I totally understand the impulse. I also agree it makes sense to tailor your use of a network to its particular "culture," like engaging more professionally on LinkedIn because it's "the business network." But I think these lines are extremely fluid and flexible. Ultimately, people like doing business with and hiring people they genuinely like. And if your social media presence doesn't convey a true sense of who you are, you're really just cheating yourself out of meaningful relationships. So "three-dimensional" means the complete package, not a cardboard cutout of who you want others to think you are.

From Vocus Blog:

Why not an email followed up by a phone call?

If that’s working for you, there’s no reason to stop. But it’s easier to stand out where you have the least competition, and where reporters aren’t as used to getting pitched.

Credibility and name recognition are transferable. I think phone calls and emails are great for long-form and later-stage communication, but every time you bring value to a journalist through social channels, the chances increase that he or she will open that email or take that follow up call.

That’s what being three-dimensional is all about. Starting out, this person is completely unaware of you—a blank canvas where his or her mental image of you should be. Then you engage via one medium, and this person forms a kind of mental outline of who you are, but it’s still easy to ignore. Every additional engagement, especially those that happen on new channels, fills in detail to that sketch.

Keep it up, and this person will have a 3-D model of you in his or her head. You’re not just that person that tweeted at them once; you’re that person that gave them the interesting angle on the story over Twitter, then sent additional information over email, and invited you to connect on LinkedIn a week later. Every additional dimension makes you harder to ignore.

Have any questions of your own? Ask them in the comments, and I'll answer.

Reach ANY billionaire, celebrity (or average Joe) on Facebook with individualized ads: How-to guide


In the space of a few days, Mark Zuckerberg has seen my ad 7 times. Marissa Meyer, Yahoo's CEO has seen another ad of mine 39 times. This has cost me nothing. Zero dollars, zero cents.

That's an excerpt from my new book, The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence. When I learned the technique I'm about to share with you (via Mike Merrill and Dennis Yu), I really didn't believe it. But I tried it anyway, and proved that it works in several different tests (as detailed in Chapter 10). Just in case you haven't quite fathomed the potential of this extremely well-kept secret trick, it's the ability to reach anyone with an eye-catching, hyper-personalized Facebook ad with 100% accuracy. If someone is on Facebook, you can reach that person. Private profile? You can reach that person.

Instead of just walking you through how to do it, I'm going to show you how to reach me. Ready? (Set up your FB ads account if you haven't, then come right back).

1. Find my profile.

I actually have two. Long story. Use either one.

2. Grab my UID.

A UID is a Facebook user id. Even if a profile is private, you can use a simple trick to get the UID--and it's not hacking. Just take the URL my profile, remove "http://www." and replace it with "graph." You'll be taken here. It should look like this:


3. Create a Custom Audience

Open up an Excel doc and paste my UID into cell A-1. Save it as a CSV file. Go back to your Facebook Ads Manager. Open up Power Editor. Click "Create Audience." Upload the CSV you saved, filling in whatever you want for the "Audience Name" and "Description" fields. Make sure you choose "UIDs" under Type. It should look something like this:


4. Create the ad. 

Using Google image search, find an image of me and save it to your computer. Head back to the ads manager. Click "Create an Ad." Enter the URL to your LinkedIn profile or Twitter profile. Use whatever you want for the headline and body text. If you want the ad to show up in my feed and not just on the sidebar, connect it to your Facebook page. Don't worry, your other fans won't see it since I'm the only one in your target audience. Here's an example I used for my webinar with Vocus:


5. Choose me.

The only thing you’re going to touch in the targeting options is under "custom audiences."  Just check the selection that matches the name of the audience you created. Ignore the yellow warning message about impressions; it doesn't apply to what we're doing.

6. Bid. 
Name your campaign whatever you want. Run your campaign continuously. To make sure I see it, optimize for Impressions. Enter a big dollar amount in your daily budget; at least $20. Make sure your lifetime budget is at least 3 times that amount. Don't worry that it will actually cost you $20, since that's the price per 1,000 impressions and I'll probably only see it once or twice. Click "Place Order" !

7. Wait for my signal. 
If all goes according to plan and I see your ad, I'll send you a tweet or LinkedIn invite.

Buy The Social Media Side Door here!

Infographic: How to laser-target journalists with Facebook ads to earn coverage

No, I don't think of journos as dartboards, but this image was too perfect to not use. CC photo credit: Flickr user raindog Reporters and other media pros are typically easy to reach, but much harder to influence. Their livelihoods depend on being accessible to people with tips, angles, and stories, so many of them even publish their email addresses and phone numbers in their Twitter bios, etc.

But! Repeat after me: reach does not equal influence. Here, in case you're a visual learner like me:

reach does not equal influence

To journalists, the cost of accessibility is being constantly deluged with garbage like bad PR pitches, weird attention seekers, and anyone else trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. So, journalists develop selective attention. They become experts in quickly sorting signal from noise, trash from treasure. They also pay more attention to names they recognize. Chances are, unless you're already a known quantity among reporters, they don't recognize yours. Mine either! No matter how great our tips, angles, and stories are, we're starting with a disadvantage. So, we need to stand out.

Let me pause here to emphasize that there is no substitution for longterm relationship building. That should always be the priority, and it will yield way more quality coverage than things like Facebook ads. But Facebook ads are one interesting tool in the outreach kit, and especially useful when you have a fresh, informed angle on a hot story the media already cares about. I worked with my publisher on the infographic you see below to promote my just-released book, The Social Media Side Door: How to Bypass the Gatekeepers to Gain Greater Access and Influence. It covers a lot more than Facebook ads, but that's the thing people keep asking me about, so I figured it would make a great lede for this post. If you share it on Twitter or Facebook, please use the hashtag #tsmsd. Also, I'm doing a webinar with Vocus on October 16th on this very subject, and I'd love to see you there!

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You Are a Source

Four hard truths of exceptional marketing

Four Hard Truths of Exceptional Marketing There’s money to be made in convincing people that exceptional marketing comes easy, but it doesn’t. I’ve been thinking about marketing’s “hard truths”—those essential but sobering realities that tend to reveal themselves through failure. Maybe the only way to learn these marketing truths is to experience what happens when you contradict their wisdom. Or maybe you’ll read this in time to avoid some particularly thorny terrain (that’s what I prefer to believe). Here we go:

Thought leadership is in the eye of the beholder. It’s always earned, and never bought.

Your audience decides your fate. You can’t produce thought leadership—it’s not a type of marketing. It’s an earned state, and a temporary one at that. You are a thought leader when your audience considers you a thought leader, and not one minute before. You can buy a lot of things that thought leaders tend to have—a six-digit Twitter following and a place on the best sellers list, for example. But these are typically the results of being a thought leader, not the things that get you there.

I was once paired with someone at a small speaking event whose name I wasn’t familiar with. Odd, I thought, because this person had over 100,000 Twitter followers, claimed to be a marketing expert, and also lived in Austin. How had our paths not crossed? After our Q&A session, I asked some friends of mine here in Austin—actual marketing thought leaders—if they knew him. None of them did. After a few minutes perusing his followers, it was clear most of them were fake. Gaming the social proof might have fooled event organizers, but the audience clearly wasn’t impressed with his portion of the session.  They decided he wasn’t a thought leader, so he wasn’t.

Utility is never ignored. Make yourself (and your marketing) useful.

People don’t shut you out when it’s clear that you’re helping them. Most marketing points to some help that the audience will get in the future…if they do X, Y, and Z they don’t really want to do. But the best marketing is itself useful. Every page on your site, every tweet, every email you send to prospects—every one of these is a chance to provide something useful.

And guess what? If you give away something useful, people will want to share it. They want to be useful, too. They’ll also come back for more. Jay Baer wrote a whole book about the concept of utility in marketing, and it looks really…useful!

Buzzwords, jargon and superlatives fool no one.

What’s the difference between the “ground truth” and the “truth”?

Would you rather be “enabled,” or simply “helped”?

Why do customer service reps always put that “do” in between “I” and “apologize,” like “I do apologize for that, Mr. Greenleigh.”

When was the last time you read a company boilerplate and believed they really are “the leading” company in whatever space they play in?

Marketing is like a yearbook where seniors write their own superlatives.

No one buys any of this nonsense. Buzzwords and superlatives can make us feel smart, relevant, part of the tribe, and in control, but they alienate just about everyone else.

Write and speak like the people you want to reach and influence. Even if they use buzzwords, resist the temptation (using buzzwords doesn’t mean one responds to buzzwords).

Show, don’t tell. Marketing should deliver—not promise—value.

“Show, don’t tell” is an old writer’s saying. It means don’t rely on exposition to carry your story forward. Rather, have the story telegraphed through things your characters do (or don’t do), say, their appearance, etc.

Marketers love to tell you about value. They focus a lot on offering things, but not enough on providing them. Here’s a concrete example. One of the transformations I led at Bazaarvoice was taking the blog from promotional to useful. When I arrived, we were still talking about how great our data was, about how much we knew about consumers—and here’s a blog post to promote a webinar where we’ll tell you some of what we know. That kind of thing. I wondered why we shouldn’t just share some of what we know on the blog, and use that content to generate leads. No one objected; it just wasn’t the model my colleagues were used to. Once we got the hang of it, and saw all the right indicators going up and to the right, it seemed so ridiculous that we had focused on offers at the expense of delivery. Take a look at your company blog right now and be honest with yourself: which are you focusing on?

Question: What other hard truths of exceptional marketing would you add to this list? 

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Why Facebook hashtags aren't working--for users or brands

#meh I celebrated the addition of Facebook hashtags, and even picked a fight or two with naysayers in some of the reactionary threads you see whenever Facebook does anything new. But Facebook hashtags just aren’t working.

To illustrate, let's compare hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. Say a big story breaks having to do with Syria. Hop over to Twitter.com, and there’s a good chance it will be already featured in the Trends box. Or, just enter #syria into the search box , and you’ll get something like this:

Twitter #syria hashtag search #1 

Want all tweets in a purely chronological order? Just click All, and you get something like this:

Twitter hashtag #syria search #2

Here’s what happens on Facebook when you search for (or click on) a hashtag.

Facebook hashtag #syria

Famous names, popular posts, some posts from regular people with seemingly no logic as to why their content is featured. Not in chronological order. No ability to change anything to do with what or how content is displayed.

No wonder “hashtags aren’t driving additional engagement” for brands, even though 20% of branded posts include them.

Hashtags are one of the ways that Facebook is trying to strike more of a balance between the social graph and the interest graph. That makes sense, because we’re not only interested in what people we know are doing, what they think, etc. We want to follow things and people that interest us personally—regardless of whether our friends care about the same things and people. This is one reason that Twitter has been successful. It capitalized on the interest graph early on, and incorporated ways to connect people to what interests them, not just who they already know. Hashtags were one of the masterstrokes that made Twitter “the interest network.” When news breaks about Syria, like in the example above, do you really want to rely on people you knew in high school (Facebook) to relay it to you?  Facebook saw an opportunity to move into this territory, and started rolling out features like the ability to follow celebrities without actually knowing them (although you’re only getting their public posts). Hashtags were another move in this direction.

But they stripped hashtags of perhaps the most important factor in their popularity: real-time. Without displaying content in chronological order, without including more “unpopular” content from regular people, Facebook made hashtags into a static popularity contest.

One of the other big issues is privacy. Because most Facebook users post content privately (to their friends), you will only see hashtagged content from public posts and your existing Facebook friends. Twitter, however, is asymmetrical—you can see someone’s updates even if they don’t follow you back (unless they’re in the 11.84% of users that have protected accounts).

Facebook was late to the game with hashtags. They’re not used to being the underdog, and in at least this one way, they are. But to change that, they’ll need to quickly improve the experience, make it real-time and customizable, and educate users.

What do you think of Facebook hashtags? Is there any hope?  Share your POV in the comments below.

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Does this linkbait make my content look good?

Here’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer, courtesy of Quora:

Do headlines matter as much as they used to?

The poster clarifies: “I ask this because it seems people are becoming content aggregates, blindly sharing the content of their trusted brands. What do you think?”

My mind immediately went to the concept of signal versus noise and the increasing difficulty of separating the former from the latter. Hillary Read summed it up:

I would say they matter a lot more than they used to. You have roughly 10 words to hook people, period. Attentions spans and patience have dwindled, and your headline has to stand out in a LOT of volume/chaos to get noticed. No good headline, no readers.

I was about to leave the question alone because Hillary and others had already posted an answer I agreed with. Then I switched tabs to TweetDeck and saw a YouTube video floating down the page within a column, followed a few seconds later by a beautiful photo from another user. Content is reaching us whether or not we engage with it. So I penned my answer:

Yes and no. The only thing that prevents me from offering a solid "yes" is the increasing prevalence of "previewable" content. Take the way videos and images are being natively featured within Twitter and Facebook, for example. If these platforms forced users to click on links to view all media, headlines would be exponentially more important. But users don't rely on the headlines alone, because they don't have to. They get "content clues" like who has liked or shared something, the description, a representative image (if it's a video), and other information. Or, as is the case with Twitter and many images, they see even more than a preview of the image, they see the full image in their stream. The other element of this is a kind of diminishing opportunity cost. If I need to leave the page or experience I'm currently enjoying to consume content that I might have interest in (based on a headline or tweet w/ link), I might decide it's not worth disrupting the experience I'm enjoying. But now that more and more media is viewable within experiences, I don't feel I'm risking anything (except time) by playing it or reading it.

Jesse posted a great follow-up question, excerpted here:

I believe the "content clues" you've mentioned have a growing weight in this "headline equation." If a friend, person, or brand we highly value shares something and the headline is (literally) "A thing" - I feel like we're still going to share it. Factoring in the content clues, we see "A thing" by [person or brand we like] and it has social proof (people sharing and commenting), why would we not click it?

…I was wondering, as you've mentioned the growing development of preview-able content, do you think a headline (such as "A thing") will perform better since we can only rely on the surrounding clues (author and social proof)? Do you think we have more of an urge to click on something click this to put our uncertainty to ease?

Here’s me again:

That's a good question. I think information overload dampens the urge we have to resolve mysteries. I also think hyperbolic "linkbait" / "clickbait" headlines are conditioning audiences to not expect payoffs once they click through. The cliffhanger headline format has been abused to the extent that its effectiveness is at risk. Bottom line is--and I think this is ultimately a good thing for readers and content creators--you have to deliver the goods, up your game, and constantly respond to marketplace needs.

Wikipedia defines linkbait as “any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” Lately, the term is also used in reference to bold headlines or posts that drive clicks, visits, and shares.

But I generally use the phrase pejoratively, as in “I can’t believe that linkbait headline tricked me into clicking on this trash.” You know the feeling, right? You expect something from a headline and the content falls far short of what was promised. This kind of linkbait borrows its tactics from tabloids, scare journalism, and other forms of sensationalism. Pick your poison:


Lazily formulaic!




Grossly exaggerated!

Here’s an incredibly stupid (but all too typical) example:

The worst linkbait of all time

The article doesn’t deliver the goods. Half-Life 3 has not been confirmed. Period. But wait!

Here’s what users see if they click “View Summary” right under the tweet:

The worst linkbait of all time, expanded

That’s right: additional content clues, a meatier preview, and a look at the real headline, which, unlike the tweet itself, does not blatantly lie to users.

This is the direction social media is heading: experiencing content in uninterrupted experiences. Twitter’s summary feature is not just a preview of the content it references, but of the direction our media consumption is heading.

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Utility, inner thoughts, creating online conversation, and more

The final cover! Click for the full version. The best ideas in content marketing are connected by a simple imperative:  be helpful, or be ignored. Utility is hard to drown out. I touch on this imperative in my book in the section “How to make yourself indispensible with social media.”

It’s odd how difficult it can be to follow one’s own advice sometimes. It would be so easy to fill this blog with barely disguised appeals to buy the book. But that approach only serves my interests, and for you to subscribe, stay subscribed—and hopefully, buy the book—I need to serve your interests.

I’ve posted many useful sections of the book online already, so I’m thinking of other ways to serve the interests of my readers. Today I’m going to try one idea I picked up from David Armano, who turns Quora answers into blog posts. I think the approach is brilliant, frankly. By answering questions within my area of expertise on Quora, I’m building credibility on that platform. Then, by posting those answers to my blog, I’m exposing that helpfulness to a wider audience and repurposing the content for another use—one that’s ultimately closer to my goal of building up a readership interested in buying books. And hopefully, the answers are useful to you. If they are, please upvote them on Quora.

Want more personalized social media or content marketing guidance from me? Register for Quora if you haven’t already. Post a question, then use the Ask to Answer feature to request an answer from me. I’ll post some of the questions and answers here. Alternatively, just email me your question. So, here goes nothing.

Question: “What does the average work day look like for a Social Media Marketer?”

My answer:

There are so many variables, but here are some of the major elements:

  • Content creation (copywriting, image sourcing)
  • Planning (strategies, scheduling, content sourcing from internal and external groups)
  • Responding (addressing customer service issues, praise, other mentions)
  • Outreach (working with influencers, prospects, existing customers)
  • Reporting (monitoring your progress, justifying your efforts)
  • Optimization (using data to do things better)

Question: “Do you use twitter to express your inner thoughts? And why?”

My answer:

Yes, within reason. Actually, my handle (be3d) is shorthand for my Twitter philosophy, "be three-dimensional." I think individuals like to meet and interact with other individuals on Twitter--they prefer the genuine article, the quirks, the entire package. There is a warmth to a genuine Twitter presence that invites conversation, and expressing one's "inner thoughts," provided that they aren't vulgar or roundly objectionable, is a winning strategy.

Question: “How do you get your users engaged in an online conversation?”

My answer:

The first step is to make the conversation about your users, not about you. This is simple, but it's probably the number one thing companies get wrong. What connects your users/fans/prospects is so much bigger than your brand. What do they love, and love to talk about? The second step is to connect them to each other. If you can go beyond starting and chiming into conversations, but play the role of a true connector and facilitator, conversations will naturally start between people that share interests, goals, proximity, etc.

Question: “Do you think it's easier to engage with influencers using a personal social account or a company/brand specific account?”

Personal. In my experience, people like interacting with people. They don't like ambiguity in communications. They value being able to address, say a response, to an individual, not a corporate entity. They prefer to help people, not the companies they work for. There's also an important element of accountability: a claim or offer can be traced back to an individual.

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Social media bubbles

Flickr CC photo credit: user placbo [This is an advance excerpt from The Social Media Side Door, now available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N]

Social media is a landscape that can only be navigated through relationships.

The fact that our access to people and information is now instant and global (or universal, taking into account Curiosity’s Foursquare check-in on Mars and tweets from the International Space Station) is a testament to the power of relationships.

News of the Arab Spring reached most people by way of the ripple effect across overlapping social circles: I follow Tyler, but I don’t follow Tariq. Tyler retweets Tariq, and now Tariq has entered my social circle. If I want to follow him and engage with him, I can make his place within that circle more permanent.

Even news organizations on Twitter are now in the habit of retweeting first-person sources, rather than providing their own content—this is a convenient way of getting to stories quickly while placing the responsibility for veracity on the original sources. Those original sources enter your stream, and thus your social circle, only because someone you choose to follow has chosen to relay them to you as part of her audience.

Ever see a bubble split into two bubbles? It’s like that in reverse. That's the real "social media bubble."

Spending time with speakers on the social media conference circuit, one often sees a big difference between their social media and in-person interactions. Though this is an effect that is present in our society in general today, it’s especially apparent in this circle. The most digitally outgoing people can seem reserved at mixers; folks who are “all business” online will often show an edgier side at group dinners. This isn’t disingenuous; it’s a reflection of a new reality in which social media helps us to grow into the people we want to be. People who get tongue-tied or sheepish but want to change themselves for the better can start with their social media selves, where it’s much easier to begin. It makes you wonder what skills are transferring from the digital realm to other areas of life. Does tweeting to thousands of followers every day make a person more comfortable speaking to a crowd of a few hundred strangers? Do a person’s interactions in social media make that person’s everyday encounters a little easier?

In my life the answer has been yes, and I know I’m not alone. Social media, then, is aspirational. It can help you become a better version of yourself.

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When Big Social came to town

Big Social Woe to those that underestimate the power of Big Social.

I’ve seen the expression “wake the beast” used a lot in reference to social media, but the expression never fit—you can’t “wake” something that never sleeps, or more accurately, has never slept.

Social media has been big, powerful, and constantly active for a long time. It’s a largely passive landscape, in which a tiny minority of users actively participates, while the vast majority of users “lurk.” But the concentrations of activity can spring up organically, as when something goes viral, or they can be predictable, like the spike in tweets on US Election Day and during the World Cup.

It’s much more difficult to manufacture such activity levels, and harder still to concentrate that activity and direct it into real progress against a shared goal. In their short history, social media “victories” have been more accident than alignment, more carpet bomb than precision strike.

One of these corporate apology excerpts is not like the others:


At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.


It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.


We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA. Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.

The first two apologies (Gap and Netflix, respectively) respond to the raw power of social media. Dissent gone viral, reaching a fever pitch. A familiar kind of outcry.

The third (GoDaddy) responds to something new. I call it Big Social.

Big Social is self-aware. It knows the extent of its access. It understands the influence it wields. It has learned how to carry itself with confidence, and how to direct fire with pinpoint precision.

It has a new set of expectations, and both corporations and political institutions are in its sights.

Political institutions, generally the enemies of access, are no longer able to ignore the role of social media in providing access to power and information. “I think we’ve seen really interesting early days here, but if we’re talking about networked democracy, you have to remember that it’s just in its infancy,” says Alex Howard, Washington correspondent with O’Reilly Radar.

Policy makers, particularly government officials and staffers, are overwhelmed by the incoming flood of messages as it is. That’s something that became quite apparent when email entered the picture in the nineties, and then the growth of other kinds of communications since then has only accelerated that. As some people have pointed out, notably Clay Johnson, what Congress actually needs is to grow bigger ears to be able to listen to all of that, and to know who in that huge amount of incoming requests, ideas, feedback, etc., are their constituents—the people that they are supposed to represent.

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America’s next top influencer

The measurement standard that just won't die. Flickr CC credit: adoephoto The democratization of influence, and the falling costs of audience acquisition, can actually work in companies’ favor. Social media has created an army of citizen influencers—otherwise normal individuals that wield huge social footprints and outsized influence. They discuss and review films, music, products, and everything under the sun. They have earned the uncompensated attention of thousands of subscribers, fans, and followers who tune in by choice—not because they have no other choice. Advertisers have traditionally measured their ads’ effectiveness, in part, by how many sets of eyeballs they reached (for many companies, this is also the primary means by which they attempt to evaluate social media efforts). But eyeballs that are there because they want to be there—interested eyeballs—are much more valuable. Consumers don’t need any prodding to tell each other what they’re buying, using, and wanting to buy. Brands are a big part of how people view themselves, and how people want others to view them. All consumers, to some degree, see the brands they purchase as a reflection of who they are, but Millennials take this association to another level entirely. Edelman Digital found that Millennials are likelier to share brand preference online than any other personal identifier—including religion and race. This generation feels empowered, too. The same study reveals a strong sense of self-importance unique to the Millennials:

We also found that 76 percent of Millennials think they are highly depended on for their opinions.

Put this in your pipe and smoke it

During one my more colorful phases, I took to smoking an old-fashioned tobacco pipe (maybe it made me feel more like a writer?). Problem was, packing a pipe that stays lit for more than a few minutes is more difficult than it looks to the novice. I could have driven the mile and a half back to the tobacconist and sheepishly asked him how to actually make use of the tobacco he sold me, but stubborn pride prevented me. Naturally, I took my query to the web. On YouTube I found hundreds of videos, giving me exactly what I was after. I sorted by popularity and went through the top three at my own pace (all were in the hundreds of thousands of views), positively over the moon that I was able to learn this way, instead of having to request the tutelage of the grizzled tobacconist in front of all the good ol’ boys that hung around the shop. The guys in the videos used different brands of tobacco, and they either talked about why they favored their brand, or the tin labels were clearly in the shot. After combining some of the finer points of all three pipe-packing methods, I visited the tobacconist again, and bought several of the brands featured in the videos that helped me most. These video stars weren’t compensated by the brands they featured, and it’s doubtful that they even received the products for free. They were just sharing what they knew, and what they liked, in a way that helped hundreds of thousands of people who were just starting to develop habits and brand loyalties that may stick for life. I still wonder, how many tins of tobacco were sold as a direct result of these homemade videos? And do these brands have any idea about the videos, and what they’ve done for their brands?

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Companies have egos, too.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/facebook/status/58314826061058048"] [box title="Note"] This is an advance excerpt from The Social Media Side Door, my book about the ways social media has rewritten the rules of access and influence. Subscribe to receive more excerpts, tips, and side door strategies.[/box]

In my job as a B2B marketer, access is the name of the game. It’s what everyone’s after, at first. Our job is to create great content that gets people to engage with us, or to create that “positive familiarity” that warms up the call from the salesperson. We’re going for that moment of recognition: “Oh yeah, I know you guys. You put out that video about the future of the Facebook-enabled toaster oven. Sure, let’s talk.” Or something like that. The same forces are at work with business-to-consumer companies, too, except it’s the familiarity is geared to influence the moment of a consumer’s decision, whether online or in the aisles. One of the best ways to gain access to prospects is to write about their industry and challenges, and to mention their companies in the content.  It’s a strange thing to say, but companies have egos, too. This angle shouldn’t be used wantonly, or in every piece of content you put out, but it does work when the tactic is used in a way that doesn’t alienate the rest of your audience for the sake of that single prospect. It also works well with existing clients.

A few years ago, I attended a conference in Las Vegas. It was the first conference I attended while working for Bazaarvoice, and I was going, in part, to prove to my then boss that conferences could help generate great content that would have an impact on the business. Normally, we’d only send salespeople or product marketers with deep knowledge of the technical side of our products (not a content guy like me).  In retrospect, I’m a little embarrassed about how little I knew about what Bazaarvoice actually did at that point, but for some reason I didn’t think I would be put on the spot about it. When I arrived, I saw that one of our clients was presenting. This was a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 company, and yet our relationship with them wasn’t very mature yet—that’s marketing-speak for they weren’t using many of our products, and we weren’t getting paid very much (relative to their market cap).  Fortunately, the topic was interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to our blog’s readers as well. I sat anonymously in the audience and took notes. I didn’t know the presenters, and I didn’t have time to introduce myself before the next session.

Later that week, back in Austin, I posted a recap of that session to our blog. I had a few back-to-back meetings, and when I got back to my desk, I saw that Bazaarvoice had been mentioned a few hundred times on Twitter in the space of two hours (this doesn’t happen often). The tweets were from employees and divisions of the company whose session I wrote about. That alone may have been enough to secure me a ticket to the next conference of my choice in the eyes of my then boss. Then I checked the traffic to the post. Through the roof—more traffic that day than any I could recall seeing, ever. A new email notification popped up on my screen, from the salesperson assigned to the account. He had forwarded me a thread that was sent to me by his internal champion at the company. It showed the extent to which the post I had written had wound its way through some of the highest levels of this organization. People there were proud that their colleagues had done so well in their presentation, and it made the company look really progressive. The last message in the thread was a note from our internal champion to our salesperson, thanking us for the coverage, asking if they could set up a meeting soon to talk about expanding the relationship.

This event recap model worked wonders for us again, a few times. After a Facebook executive spoke at our annual conference, I wrote a post about the ideas within his talk. I never directly sent him the link, but within a few hours of publication, our site's servers were on the brink. Facebook, which (humorously) has a Twitter account with over 5 Million followers, tweeted the piece and posted it to its own Facebook wall. It was one of the highest traffic days in Bazaarvoice history. Companies have egos, and that’s great news for marketers.

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How to appeal to the ego to get someone's attention

Appeal to the ego The quickest way onto someone’s radar is through their ego, to reimagine that old phrase about the connection between heart and stomach. We like to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good about ourselves. Hollywood stars have their entourages, but those of us a bit closer to Earth start relationships with people that reinforce our self-image. There’s nothing inherently bad about having an ego and doing things in service of it (as I've written elsewhere, “the concept of ego really gets a bum rap”). Whenever we praise and compliment, bestow awards and recognition, quote, link to, retweet, or even merely follow someone, we are dealing with their ego, intentionally or otherwise. But appealing to another’s ego can be a perfectly tasteful and legitimate way of advancing our own interests. Consider the following two requests:

  1. “Could you meet me for an hour each week to discuss my career trajectory, give me expert advice when I need it, and serve as a reference when I’m looking for a new job?”
  2. “I’m really inspired by your success, and I’d love to follow in your footsteps. I’d be honored if you would act as my mentor and work with me to help me shine, too. It should take no more than an hour a week.”

Most people would be more likely to accept the second request, because it paints the same activities as an extension of their personal success, instead of a request for work with no pay, which is the way a cynic might describe it. This concept applies incredibly well to the world of social. It’s hard to believe at times, but the best way to start a relationship with someone that has hardly noticed you yet is to ask for something. The perfect access-granting request is for something that is low effort on their end, of significant value on your end, and…

  • Makes them feel good about themselves
  • Makes them look good to others
  • Is public-facing (like a quote)
  • Helps them, even in a small way, get more of what they’re after (like publicity)

Not all of these conditions need to be met to make the request successful. A lot of it depends on the context, the person’s familiarity with you and/or your work, and the person’s view of themselves. All of the conditions above offer something called “ego capital,” which is the element that makes something appeal to the ego. Almost anything can be made more powerful with the help of ego capital: marketing, sales, job searches, even relationships. There’s an important distinction between ego capital and flattery. One of the more common definitions of flattery is “insincere or excessive praise;” in other words something that is over the top by its very nature. (That’s the definition evident in the famous idiom, “flattery will get you nowhere.”) Ego capital may harness the same dynamics, but it can be used in a tasteful, genuine manner—unlike its flamboyant cousin, flattery. Flattery is ego capital gone wild.

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The social media backchannel

The social media backchannel [box title="Note"] This is an advance excerpt from The Social Media Side Door, my book about the ways social media has rewritten the rules of access and influence. Subscribe to receive more excerpts, tips, and side door strategies.[/box]

Undercover Boss is a British-born television show with derivative versions in the US, Australia, Norway, Germany and Canada. The premise is simple: Top corporate executives go “under cover” as low-level employees to “examine the inner workings of their companies.” Filled with front-lines revelations, tough lessons, and buckets of tears, the executives leave their adventures in the real world with a new understanding of the day-to-day realities of the people that keep their companies humming. There’s something special about the show, as evidenced by the US version’s Emmy nomination and the fact that it “ranks as the biggest new series premier since 1987,” according to CBS.

The experience is often very humbling. The C-suiters routinely appear inept at performing simple tasks, or clueless about things like how their products are actually made. But if we’re to take them at their word, it’s all worth it. Why?

There are financial awards for companies appearing on the show. Essentially, the companies profiled are getting free advertising during prime time to the tune of more than $12,000,000, as one estimate suggests. Another analysis shows that many of the companies see a stock performance bump after appearing on the show. But a lot of the “free advertising” is unflattering, and it seems unlikely that the share price spike is a safe enough bet for the TV appearance to be calculated for this potential benefit.

No, these big shots are looking for something else: an escape from the echo chamber. Like Shakespeare’s King Henry V, who donned a disguise to walk among the his soldiers and get the unvarnished truth about their readiness for the next day’s battle, many powerful people know that their “10,000 foot view” of reality is colored by career-minded “yes men,” corporate groupthink, and their distance from the front lines.

Those who make important decisions based on a severely distorted reality will ultimately fail, so shrewd leaders place enormous importance on their backchannels to the truth. This is reflected in the rise of internal social networks like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, which can facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration and that much-vaunted corporate “transparency.”  These networks serve, in part, to break down rigid siloes and chains of command that can kill great ideas before they reach someone with the authority and resources to make them happen. On Chatter, for instance, a CEO can post a question to the organization, and receive answers from employees from across the entire company, at every level in the hierarchy. And yet, at many corporations, a direct email to the CEO concerning the same exact issue would be met with a layer of administrative scrutiny in the form of his or her executive assistant, where it may join a long queue of incoming messages, or die on the vine all together.

It’s worth noting, however, that employees don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the potential of these tools. According to a survey from Deloitte, “As it relates to management visibility, 38% of executives think social media allows for increased transparency while only 17% of employees agree.”

Taking a break from writing this chapter, I happened to check my Facebook feed. On it, a friend had reposted her friend’s request for referrals to a freelance writer. This friend of a friend was a senior marketing executive at a major American auto manufacturer. Several hopefuls posted their interest on the thread, and I added a referral to someone I had worked with. Why did this executive feel the need to post his request to Facebook, and not simply scan his company’s database of proven copywriters? I suspect he’d say that there’s a world of knowledge and talent outside of his Detroit high-rise headquarters.

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© 2016 Ian Greenleigh