Five Things Miley Cyrus’ Tongue Can Teach Us About Business

My friend Casey jokingly challenged me to write this post:

Casey Valiant's Miley Cyrus Tweet

After Miley’s R-rated performance at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), including gratuitous tongue wagging and grinding on singer Robin Thicke, social media was ablaze with shocked reactions and stunned disbelief at what they had seen.

Of course, I’m never one to turn down a good “What _______’s tongue can teach” blog post, so I accepted the challenge.

There are a few business lessons, especially related to crisis communication, we can all learn from Miley Cyrus’ tongue.

Sort of.

1) Transparency and visibility are not always highly valued.

Photo quote about Miley Cyrus - Transparency and authenticity are the two big watchwords the social media hippies like to spout. But there’s such a thing as too much transparency. No one wants to know how sausage is made, and no one wants to see your Gene Simmons-esque tongue flapping in the breeze.

There is such a thing as too much transparency. Don’t air the company’s dirty laundry just because you think you should. Which leads us to. . .

2) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We hear about the PR stunts and the corporate jackassery all too often in the business pages, and we read with the appropriate amount of shock and horror. And that should clue you in that PR stunts backfire, and jackassery, well, is not looked kindly upon by most people.

This means that while some things may be legal, that doesn’t mean they’re right — looking at YOU, Wall Street!

3) When your actions get in the way of your message, rethink your plan.

My oldest daughter used to love Hannah Montana, and I will grudgingly admit that she has a modicum of talent (“he mumbled curmudgeonly”). Which, I assume, is why she was invited to the VMAs in the first place. But I couldn’t even tell you whether she sang that night, or what song she did sing. And I’m willing to bet that in 10 years, no one will remember the song, but they’ll remember her performance.

Do I really need to draw this particular analogy out for you? Don’t do stupid stuff.

4) If you’re going to screw up, you’d better have a plan for recovery.

In a recent interview, Miley cited Madonna and Britney Spears as positive role models other singers who have made, um, questionable decisions about performances, and she pointed out that people forgot all about it.

Eventually.

Of course, you have to have a lot of star power to pull off a “screw you, I don’t care” recovery plan successfully. For the rest of us, you need to work on containment and recovery. You need to work on overcoming the issue. Don’t hide from it, don’t deny it, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The road to business failure is paved with bad PR advice.

Just cop to the problem, admit it, apologize, and move on. Assuming your problem isn’t legal or going to see you in court/jail, just shrug it off and promise to do better.

5) When that’s not even the worst thing people are discussing, you’ve got bigger problems.

All the photos I’ve seen of Miley are of her tongue sticking way out of her head. Not all of them are of her grinding on Beetlejuice, but they are all of her and her tongue. And yet that’s not what people are talking about. When every photo is of your tongue, and yet that’s not even the elephant in the room — though, given its size, it does give the elephant’s trunk a run for its money — then you have a problem.

Don’t lose your small problems in your bigger problems. If you’re going through a crisis with your company, you still have to focus on the smaller problems at the same time: deliveries, customer service, sales, etc. You don’t shut down. You don’t assume that your customers will give you a pass. You take care of business and deal with the crisis at the same time.

Five Things To Stop Putting In Your Press Releases

Press releases are one of those not-dead-yet tools that lazy PR professionals still insist on sending out to hundreds and thousands of journalists and bloggers. I still get press releases for movie releases taking place in L.A., inviting me to attend the red carpet rollout of some indie movie. Clearly they’re not culling their lists.

When I did crisis communication, we got a real sense of pride if one of our releases was published verbatim, or nearly so, by our state newspapers. That’s how we knew the real journalists were taking us seriously. That, and our success rate (it was an outstanding day if you could bat .500 on story placement). To do it, we needed solid, tight news stories, not a marketing puff piece.

Many releases I see are just abysmal. I don’t know if the agencies are teaching young flaks the wrong way, or if they’re teaching it in college, but there are some serious errors that are keeping your stories from getting published at all. Here are five things you need to stop putting in your press releases.

1. Marketing copy, especially in the opening paragraph

“ABC Coffee Stirrers, the leader in the coffee stirring industry since 1978 and the developer of the Turbo-Whoosh titanium stirrer, is pleased to announce the acquisition of Global Stirrings, a Canadian coffee stirrer manufacturer.”

Do you see all that dreck? All that extra crap about ABC’s history? That’s amateur hour. That stuff goes at the end of the press release in the <H2>About ABC Coffee Stirrers</H2> section. You know, the part nobody reads. It’s going to get cut out anyway, because journalists like real openings, not a copy-and-paste of your About Us page. When you write that, you sound like a flak, not a journalist, and the editor may pitch the release out of spite and loathing.

2. Adverbs, adjectives, and competitive language

“ABC Coffee Stirrers have proved to be 33% more effective at mixing a coffee drinker’s cream and sugar into their beloved morning java. And customers have eagerly demonstrated their strong preference for the Turbo-Whoosh by increasing sales by a staggering 12% every year for the last five years!”

Newspapers and TV stations are supposed to present the news in an unbiased, objective manner. That means they don’t get to express their opinion. They don’t get to say whether something is good or bad. They typically don’t talk about products, unless those products killed someone.

That means they’re not going to talk about how much better your product is than anyone else’s. They’re not going to publish the “news” written by your product manager. And they’re not going to talk about increased sales, customer preference, or improved performance.

You may get that kind of coverage in trade and industry journals, but you still need to avoid the adverbs and adjectives. If your press release sounds like a freshman English Comp essay, pitch it and start over.

3. Copyright and Trademark symbols

The company lawyer may have told you to put them in the release, but the ®, ©, and ™ symbols don’t belong in press releases for two simple reasons:

  1. They could interfere with SEO. While we can’t be sure how Google treats these, why risk it? Maybe they ignore those symbols, but maybe they treat it like a regular word. No one is going to search for ABC™ Coffee Stirrers®, so don’t make that a search term.
  2. Those don’t appear in news stories. The editors are going to delete them anyway, so don’t make extra work for them or you.

Unless the company lawyer also has a background as a journalist, ignore anything they tell you about writing press releases.

3. “We’re very excited” quotes

“We’re very excited about the merger between our companies.”

“We’re very excited about our laptop upgrades.

You can’t be equally excited about both things. Saying “we’re very excited” about every damn thing that happens is either lazy writing, or your CEO is off her meds. Find another way to express interest or enthusiasm. Better yet, don’t even bring it up at all. We all know you didn’t interview the CEO for this, and if you did, she probably didn’t say this at all.

Talk about the benefits of the news item. Is the merger going to add jobs? That’s your lead quote. Is it going to improve profitability by $10 million? Then that is. No one cares who’s excited; that’s not news. The jobs and profitability are exciting. Only include things that drive the story.

4. Business jargon quotes

“This new relationship will help us streamline mission-critical functionalities as a way to regenerate impactful niches.”

No one talks that way in real life. If they do, make sure they aren’t having a stroke.

But even if they do, preserve their reputation and avoid marketing words altogether. Make them sound like a real human being since, not a marketing textbook.

(Note: It’s easy to confuse marketers with real human beings, but do your best. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and translate their marketing gobbledygook into real words.)

If you don’t have good quotes, the journalist will either email you or call you for a follow-up quote that uses real words. Save them the time and give them a quote that sounds realistic and not one made up by the Dack.com Bullshit Generator (which is what I used to write that sentence above).

A press release is supposed to sound like a real news story written by a real journalist. Most PR flaks don’t know what that looks like, so they keep putting out the same garbage week after week. Then they complain that their stories aren’t being published and that their clients aren’t getting any traction. Start writing real journalistic stories and send out only newsworthy items. You’ll see your success rate — and self-respect — increase.

Where Should Social Media Live? Marketing, That’s Where

Amber Naslund recently commented on a post of mine, and said:

As social business becomes more the MO instead of just “doing social media”, we still don’t have an answer for where it lives, and it needs somewhere. I don’t think it’s going to be enough for it just to be dispersed independently in various departments. We have C-suite roles that are holistic and support the entire business. HR and IT do that to an extent, too, because they’re practices that have to carry across and touch all disciplines. I think social business needs to be that way too.

But as it matures – and maybe even after it’s well established as best practice – it needs some kind of alignment in order to thrive. I’ve yet to make up my mind whether that means there’s an executive that’s responsible for ‘social business’ itself or something else, but the reality is that we need someone to be accountable for the purposes, vision, and results of social business initiatives (and things like innovation, organizational design, culture development ) as their purview, not just an aspect of their job description.

This has been an ongoing question, and one that is not easily answered.

Except that I think it’s the Marketing department.

If you look at Marketing as the communication channel between customers and the company, and not just the department that makes brochures, pictures, and websites, it makes sense. Marketing communicates through web, print, broadcast, and even direct communication. How those messages reach their audience depends on the mediums (media) where they’re found.

There are those who would argue that it should belong in PR, because they have to communicate with journalists and industry bloggers who are all using social media. Some will argue that it should be in customer service, because it has become an established customer service communication channel. (I would argue that customer service should be folded into marketing, since they focus on customer retention, but that’s a different blog post.)

But if anything, the responsibility for social media needs to be kept in marketing for the communication aspect, and the other departments need to be allowed to use it as part of their own responsibilities. If anyone is going to decide what the social media strategy will be, that should come from marketing, but in cooperation with PR, Customer Service, and any other departments using it.

As I said in a recent blog post, Social Media Stars Killed Social Media, we’re reaching the point where social media is just going to be another form of communication, like email and the phone, and we’re not going to have dedicated social media professionals.

So when that day comes that social media professionals just turn into regular old professionals, they need to land in the marketing department.

Is the Forbes Top 50 Social Media List Flawed?

If you made the Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencers list, you’re generally regarded as being pretty hot stuff. The Top 50 have a lot of influence, are extremely knowledgeable, and are connected to tens of thousands of people in their various networks.

If you didn’t make the list, you can tell yourself you were #51, or just try harder next year.

This year’s list was compiled by Haydn Shaughnessy using a “Pull Report” from PeekAnalytics.com.

There are also some basic criteria for involvement – experts must be creating their own content, and it has to be about social media. See more on the criteria here.

On the scoring, Peek Analytics gives people a score called Pull. If an individual has a Pull of 10x, that means that the audience the individual can reach is at least ten times greater than what the average social media user can reach.

Sounds pretty straightforward: if you’re a rockstar, you’ll be on the list.

Except it’s missing several notable names.

Jason Falls, Jay Baer, Chris Baggott

Seriously, these guys didn’t make the list? Jason Falls (l), Jay Baer, Chris Baggott (standing)

According to Judith Gotwald on Social Media Today (25 Social Media Influencers Forbes Ignored (And Why)), the Forbes list has snubbed a lot of pretty influential people, including several who were on last year’s list: Jay Baer, Jason Falls, Gini Dietrich, Charlene Li, Brian Solis, C.C. Chapman (Forbes did include his Content Rules co-author, Ann Handley), and even Mitch Joel.

Of course, Forbes does include some of the names you would expect: Mari Smith, Chris Brogan (but not his Trust Agents co-author Julien Smith), Liz Strauss, Jeff Bullas, Scott Stratten, and Dan Schawbel (disclosure: I write for Dan’s Personal Branding blog).

So what’s up? What happened to the names you would normally expect to see? Did Shaughnessy forget them? Did the non-Forbes people drop off on their Pull? Was PeekAnalytics having a bad day?

Admittedly, many names on both lists are names you expect to see year after year on a Top 50 or Top 100 list, but many of these missing names are glaring in their omission.

I’d like to see some better explanations for the list, and who did and didn’t make it, and why/how. I’d love to hear some of that “inside baseball” talk to explain how he went about determining who to measure, and who not to. How did he come up with the names to check? Is Pull based entirely on followers and reach, or is more like Klout, which could give a person with a very small following a high score because they the followers interact frequently? Or did Shaughnessy want to give some new people a shot at being on the Forbes Top 50? That’s admirable if it’s true, but then the list isn’t accurate or reflective.

It’s not that I’m suspicious of Forbes’ list, or will reject it out of hand, like it’s some partisan wing-nut website. It’s just that the exclusion of several noted social media experts is, well, eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

At the very least, Forbes’ list will be seen as problematic, which can be fixed with some basic explanations. At the worst, it’s a flawed list that is seriously lacking in its execution. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Bring Social Media Tourism 2013 to Indianapolis (#SoMeT13US)

This is a little embarrassing. Indianapolis is currently ranked 8th in the Elite Eight in the Social Media Tourism 2013 conference competition.

SoMeT is a creation of Think! Social Media, a digital agency in the tourism marketing world. This is the fourth year of SoMeT, and they are selecting the host city based on a March Madness style bracket system. And Indianapolis has a real chance of winning this, but not if we keep playing the way we did!

To get into the Elite Eight, we barely squeaked into the competition, finishing in 8th with 657 votes. Seventh place Grand Rapids, MI had 735 votes.

Seriously? Grand Rapids?! I don’t even think there are 735 people in Grand Rapids, are there?

Okay, a quick check on Google shows there are roughly 190,000 people in Grand Rapids. But that’s less than one-fourth the size of Indianapolis, and we got out muscled. That’s like IU getting beat by Davidson College at, well, anything.

Here’s how the final votes went down:
1. Huntsville, AL – 2,361
2. Missoula, MT – 1,606
3. Milwaukee, WI – 1,328
4. Cleveland, OH – 1,231
5. St. Pete/Clearwater, FL – 882
6. Branson, MO – 799
7. Grand Rapids, MI – 735
8. Indianapolis, IN – 657

Social Media Tourism Bracket

Seriously? We got 8th?! I swear, if I had a folding chair, I’d hurl it.

Because of our 8th place finish, we face off against #1 seed, Huntsville, AL (183,00 people?! COME ON!) on Thursday, March 21 from 10 am to 10 pm. Whichever city gets the most votes within that 12 hour period goes on to the Final Four. The winners of that bracket face off against each other, and the final winner will play host to SoMeT13 in November.

As the biggest city in the competition, we should not be in last place with the voting. We should be hammering the competition by sheer size alone. We need our people to carry the city. We need you to step up, make the plays, and get the job done.

On Thursday, March 21, please pay attention to your Facebook and Twitter feeds. And when you get the call to vote, we need you to click the link, click the photo, and help bring this country’s tourism professionals home to Indianapolis.

We’re Indianapolis, dammit! Let’s show them how this game is played.

The Elite Eight Tournament Times are as follows:

  • Monday, March 18 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #3 Milwaukee, WI v #6 Branson, MO
  • Tuesday, March 19 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #4 Cleveland, OH v #5 St. Pete/Clearwater, FL
  • Wednesday, March 20 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #2 Missoula, MT v #7 Grand Rapids, MI
  • Thursday, March 21 – 10:00am to 10:00pm Eastern Time – #1 Huntsville, AL #8 Indianapolis, IN

CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR INDIANAPOLIS!

What We Can Learn About Social Media Marketing from The Onion

It was a rather shocking tweet. Someone who was in charge of The Onion’s Twitter account basically called 9-year-old actress and Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis the C-word.

It was so reprehensibly awful and terrible that Twitter just beat the holy bejeezus out of The Onion for it. Within an hour, they deleted the tweet. (This was remarkable in itself, given the fact that these guys never back down or apologize for anything.)

A LOT of angry discussions on whether The Onion should have apologized or not. The angrier ones seem to be on the

A LOT of angry discussions on whether The Onion should have apologized or not.

This morning, even as the Internet was storming Castle Onion with pitchforks and torches, their CEO, Steve Hannah, even went so far as to post an apology to their Facebook page.

Dear Readers,

On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.

The tweet was taken down within an hour of publication. We have instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again.

In addition, we are taking immediate steps to discipline those individuals responsible.

Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry.

Sincerely,
Steve Hannah
CEO
The Onion

From a social media marketing standpoint, this gives rise to a bigger question: when do you blame an entire company for the acts of a single person? When does one person’s views reflect the entire company? And should they ever?

Let’s face it, what this unnamed person did was reprehensible. You just don’t call little girls that word. (Actually, you don’t call any women that word, but there’s a very wide line between being a sexist a-hole and the worst person in the world, and the unnamed person managed to keep one foot planted on either side of it.)

Now The Onion is bearing the brunt of that one person’s poor judgment.

In a lot of cases, people will forgive a company for the missteps of a single person. If you have a bad waitstaff experience at your favorite restaurant, you don’t boycott the entire restaurant. If you received a damaged package from your favorite online bookstore, you don’t stop ordering books. Yet, there are thousands of people who have un-liked and un-followed The Onion on all their social properties, because of a single tweet by a single person.

But this isn’t entirely unexpected. During the presidential election, when someone from a candidate’s past 30 years earlier does something mildly offensive, the other side will scream that this proves that candidate is the anti-Christ or a fascist. When the CEO of a corporation says or does something awful, consumers scream that this kind of attitude pervades the halls of that company.

There’s an awful lot of screaming going on, and people are understandably and justifiably outraged. What this unnamed person did was awful, but the entire organization didn’t sit down at a table and vote on what to tweet.

Are people overreacting or are we justified in screaming at The Onion? Did one bad apple spoil the entire bunch, or should we look at their entire body of work, and forgive them in the end?

This Shouldn’t Stop Companies From Using Social Media

The problem is that whenever anything like this happens — at least the problem for social media professionals like me, Jay Baer, and Doug Karr — is that potential clients look at this and say, “See, we can’t trust our employees not to do something stupid and boneheaded like this.”

It makes our job harder, because they’re worried that their punk intern just out of college is going to start tweeting about his drunken antics at his cousin’s wedding. Or she’s going to launch into some profanity-laced tirade about how her basketball team couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat.

So we have to remind these clients of a few things:

  1. If you have employees like this, you have a hiring problem, and that’s your fault, not social media’s. Those people would act like this even if Twitter had never been invented.
  2. You need to hire people with several years of experience and common sense to run your social media campaigns (these two traits are sometimes mutually exclusive in some people).
  3. You already trust employees to count and handle your money, take trips to faraway places, and even answer the phone without you hovering over them. You need to trust employees on social media this same way.
  4. You need to have a clear-cut social media policy about things you cannot say, words you cannot use, and ideas you cannot convey. At least then people will know why you fired them for violating numbers 1, 2, and 3.

For companies thinking about social media marketing, you need to think about these things:

Will people do stupid things? Yes. It’s in our nature.

Did you hire those people? Yes, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Did you hire them to do those stupid things? No. Otherwise, that would make you as stupid as them.

Will people blame you for it anyway? Yes. Because we all want someone to be outraged at.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do something, like use social media? No. Because people do stupid stuff with all kinds of technology, but that doesn’t mean we don’t 1) use computers, 2) use fax machines, 3) use phones, 4) use cars, and 5) hire people.

We still do all those other things, we just make sure they’re used properly.

That’s how it needs to go with social media. More than half the country is using it. More than half the country is expecting you to be on it. And despite the bone-headedness of some people, it’s still a good and decent place to reach an audience.

People make mistakes. Big, goofy, bone-headed, dumbass mistakes. That’s all just part of the rich tapestry of the business world, and everyone does it. Some are just worse and more crass than others.

The question is, will you stick your head in the sand because of what someone else did, or will you embrace the latest technology and learn from other peoples’ mistakes?

Ten Commandments of Hiring Freelancers

1. You may not pay less than a living wage. What’s the living wage? Figure out what a professional supporting a family of four in your part of the country needs to make per year. Divide that number by 1,000. That’s the freelancer’s hourly rate. If that number is your budget for the entire project, don’t call them until you can afford them.

Moses and the Ten Commandments

2. Always set — and have — clear expectations. Make sure you know up front what the freelancer is going to do and not do. If you’re hiring a website designer, make sure you know who’s going to provide the written content. If you’re hiring a printer, make sure you know who’s proofreading everything first.

3. You may not ask a freelancer to do project work on spec to see if you like it, and then pay her if you accept it. You wouldn’t do it with your dentist, a plumber, or a mechanic. You hire them based on their past work and their vision. You work with them to make sure they give you what they want. But you pay them for it.

4. You may not refuse to pay a freelancer just because you decide not to use their work. If you decide to go in a different direction, or abandon the project, tough. He did the work, you have to pay him. You wouldn’t do that to an employee whose project you canceled. (Exception: If their work just downright sucks, you can cancel payment, but you cannot salvage their work and use it anyway.)

5. Pay for “feature creep.” If you hire a company to write copy for a marketing brochure, and you want them to lay it out too, be prepared to pay for that. If you’re getting a new logo created, and you decide you want your business cards to have a new look, that’s going to cost extra.

7. You may not compare the work they do to your nephew’s and expect the same fee scale. Don’t say, “but my nephew who just graduated from college can do the same thing for $500.” If he really can, hire your damn nephew. The fact that you’re having this conversation with a professional means you don’t actually think your nephew can do the work. Otherwise, you’d have called him. You’re talking to a professional because you want pro level work, so be prepared to pay pro level prices. Don’t expect a pro to compete with your inexperienced family members.

7. Trust your freelancers’ understanding of their technology. If you’re hiring an SEO specialist, don’t make him follow the SEO rules you learned in 2005. If you’re hiring a web designer, and they say “no Flash,” don’t make them use Flash. In most cases, your freelancers know more about the technology they’re working with than you do (e.g. There is no “clean up button” like you see on Law & Order). If you’re asking for something they say can’t be done, it can’t be done.

8. You may not dismiss what freelancers do as a commodity. Freelancers have devoted years of their life to honing their skill so they excel at it. Writers do nothing but write, designers do nothing but design. They don’t go to weekly staff meetings and committee meetings, and they don’t file TPS reports. If you think this is something that any schlub can do, hire your nephew. You leave your home’s plumbing and electrical work to trained professionals, rather than hiring your nephew, right? Treat your outsourced work with the same seriousness.

9. Always pay on time. You wouldn’t delay paying your employees or withhold their paycheck because you’re worried about cash flow. Don’t delay payment for your freelancers. You — hopefully — pay all of your other bills on time, pay freelancers on time. Believe me, freelancers give drop-everything service to their best clients. Clients who think payment is optional get when-I-have-time service.

10. Always approve the final product. Make sure you read and okay everything. Test it out. Make sure it works. Freelancers will always send you the final product, but that doesn’t mean it’s done. You have to pay careful attention to all the details, because you know more about the subject than anyone else.

Photo credit: Functoruser (Flickr, Creative Commons)