The Right and Wrong Way to Promote Your Personal Brand

One of the rules of personal branding is to help other people. If someone asks for help, you give it. You don’t keep score, expect a return favor, or hold it over their head.

And you certainly never, EVER scream at the other person or make them feel like a schmuck for looking up to you or hoping you’ll take five minutes to help them.

But Cleveland communication pro, Kelly Blazek, broke that rule when she sent several furious emails to young professionals who asked for a connection and subscription to an email job board she offered 7,300 other Clevelanders.

Diana Mekota received one after asking to be included on Blazek’s email list, and to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you — a total stranger who has nothing to offer me. Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky.

Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ [NAME] because it’s the truth.

Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That’s denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait – there isn’t one.

Kelly Blazek letter to MenkotaShe wrote at least two other hateful emails to people who she believed were not good enough for her network.

Blazek’s responses are wrong on so many levels, and she says she knows that now (after she got blasted on social media, and her emails became an international story). She wrote an apology, and I’m inclined to believe it, but I think she’s damaged her reputation pretty soundly. There’s even a move to have her stripped of her 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Award of Business Communicators.

How Good Networking Is Actually Done

When you reach a certain position, whether as a professional, speaker, author, or any other visible role in your community or industry, you have to acknowledge that you got there with the help of a lot of other people. You asked people for help, and they gave it. Or better yet, you didn’t ask, but received it anyway.

People who reach these stages are often excellent networkers. They love sharing and helping others achieve their goals. Good networkers do it without thinking, bad networkers either don’t do it at all, or do it with many strings attached.

Good networkers operate from a few foundational principles.

  • Your network should never be closed. While there are problems with having it be too big, there’s a lot more to be said against making it exclusive. You’re not a celebrity, and your friends aren’t movie stars and rock stars. There may be connections you protect from casual introductions, but that doesn’t mean you completely shut everyone out.
  • Blazek blasted Mekota as being “a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.” Good networkers believe everyone has something to offer. But to say a person has no value? That’s one of the worst things you could tell someone. Each of us has something to offer the world, and sometimes our job is to help others realize what their gift is.
  • “Nothing to offer me.” Good networkers never expect the other person to have something to offer them, because networking is not an “I’ll do for you only if you do for me” relationship. If you expect a quid pro quo exchange, people will soon grow tired of you. Keeping track of favors makes you stingy, and no one will want to help you at all.
  • And while you should never be rude, you definitely shouldn’t leave evidence of your rudeness. Not only does it make you less of a person — remember, we’re supposed to be our best selves — but your rudeness will be shared for everyone to see. In just a few short minutes, Blazek undid 10 years of hard work, all because she thought she was too good to help, and that they were beneath her.

Blazek has since closed down her Twitter account, LinkedIn account, and her WordPress blog. But in her wake, another Twitter account, @OtherNeoJobBank (“Oh wait, there is one”) has stepped up and is sharing job openings around the Cleveland area.

Mister Rogers Knows Networking

In the words of my hero, Mister Rogers, “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”

The people who taught me about networking all modeled this idea. They said yes, even when it meant extra work for them. So I do the same for others; I do what I can to teach them to do it for the people who will come to them one day, asking them for the same help.

Networking is never about paying back. It’s about helping others achieve their goals, and teaching them how that’s done. Because one day, when they’re established and have reached the next level of their career, someone will ask for their help.

The lessons they teach and the help they give, will be a reflection on me, which is a reflection of those who taught me, and those who taught them. I hope they understand the long line of giving they come from, and continue to carry it on.

Will You Survive The Content Shock?

We’re about to be deluged with a flood of content of Noah-esque proportions that could get so bad, we may have to actually pay people just to read our work.

At least that’s what Mark Schaefer is saying.

He says we’re about to enter a period of content shock, which is going to render content marketing unsustainable as a marketing channel.

Lightning

Of course the volume of free content is exploding at a ridiculous rate. Depending on what study you read, the amount of available web-based content (the supply) is doubling every 9 to 24 months. Unimaginable, really.

However, our ability to consume that content (the demand) is finite. There are only so many hours in a day and even if we consume content while we eat, work and drive, there is a theoretical and inviolable limit to consumption, which we are now approaching.

This intersection of finite content consumption and rising content availability will create a tremor I call The Content Shock. In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat, we would predict that individuals, companies, and brands would have to “pay” consumers more and more just to get them to see the same amount of content.

I won’t lie. This scares me a bit. Basically, small content marketers who produce good work are going to be buried by Sturgeon’s Law.

(Scifi author Theodore Sturgeon once said “95% of everything is crap.” Actually, he said “crud,” but I like “crap” better.)

Still, in an age of the Walmartization of everything, there are experts and artisans who have survived the onslaught of cheap plastic crap cheapening their work.

If you want to survive the content shock, here are a couple things you need to remember.

You have to write better than everyone else

As much as it pains me to say it, you have to “write good content.” (Even though I still say it’s a stupid strategy.) But it can’t just be “good,” it has to be awesome.

Because most of the content that’s being put out by content marketers around the world is at best, just awful.

The Internet is already one example of Sturgeon’s Law, and we’ve managed to survive that so far. All this means is that there’s going to be more crap, and we just have to figure out a way to stay in the 5%, or even 1%.

The written word has been commoditized over the last few decades. Excellent writing was cheapened by pretty good writing, as publishing got cheaper. Pretty good writing was diluted by good writing, as people started blogging. And good writing is now being weakened by mediocre writing, as more businesses jump on the content train, and marketers will accept content from anyone and everyone who has a basic grasp of the English language.

If you want to outperform the flood, you need to be better than the mediocre crap that’s being passed off as “content.” You need to be better than the hacks and flacks who are calling themselves writers, just because they can construct a grammatical sentence.

You have to start “social media marketing” again

Plenty of social media veterans have stopped talking about “social media marketing” in favor of the new flavor of the day as being — inbound marketing, digital marketing, mobile marketing, blah blah blah — but businesses are only just now recognizing “social media marketing” is a thing.

But the content flood means that building relationships and being seen as an influencer is going to become important, even as it becomes more difficult. If nothing else, people will read your work because they trust you and know that you give them valuable insights.

If people buy from people they like, they’re certainly going to read stuff from people they like.

Lately I’ve been seeing a number of people inflating their Twitter and LinkedIn followings as a way to fake influence. They’re chasing numbers and growing their counts, but they’re not actually doing anything important or valuable.

That’s not influential, that’s just stupid.

I will never follow anyone with 20,000 followers and only 1,000 tweets. I can’t believe those 1,000 tweets are so awesome that 20,000 people shrieked “I have to be a part of this!

High followers + low tweets = you cheated. It doesn’t mean influence.

There’s no secret to being influential. You need to start building it three, four, five years ago. If you didn’t, don’t scam your way to the top. Slog it out like the real influencers.

The content shock may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t survive it. It means you have to work harder, write better, and be more trustworthy than everyone else. It means adding followers one and two at a time, by building genuine relationships with them.

Let all the hacks and fakers flail away at an ever growing mountain of utter crap. Stick with your own little patch and grow it by by bit. It may not be huge, but it will certainly be more effective and appreciated than those who muddled their way through and never actually contributed anything.

Photo credit: Luke Zeme Photography (Flickr, Creative Commons)

My Social Media and Content Marketing Predictions for 2014

It’s the annual end-of-year-what’s-happening-next-year prediction time, something I have proved to be very bad at ever since 1997, when I got pissed at the Indianapolis Colts for cutting quarterback Jim Harbaugh and bringing in some hick rookie from Tennessee to take over a playoff contending team.

Peyton Manning

This guy. It was this guy.

But I’m going to keep trying, because as my fantasy football record shows, there are people who are even worse at making predictions and they still get to keep their high-paying TV jobs. Apparently a 3-for-10 success rate is good enough in baseball and sports predictions, so if those idiots can make it, I’m certainly not giving up.

Here are my three social media and content marketing predictions for 2014.

1. Facebook’s and Twitter’s replacements will be born in 2014

I’m not saying Facebook and Twitter are going to die, but I think people are getting sick enough of their shenanigans that the networks that come after the two giants will be born in 2014. We just won’t realize what they are until a couple years later, when there’s a frog-in-slowly-boiling-water migration to the two newcomers. Keep your eyes peeled for Twitter alternatives next year and claim your favorite username while you still have time.

Part of me still hopes App.net could be Twitter’s successor — I even put $50 into their Kickstarter campaign in 2012 — but I haven’t used it enough to know how well it’s doing.

2. SEO professionals are going to continue to suffer

Google is never as happy as when they’re messing with search engine optimization professionals. The last three years of SEO changes have seen the end of many strategies that the cheaters and spammers employed to trick Google. The latest nail in the SEO’s coffin iteration of Google’s algorithm, Hummingbird, not only made high quality content a requirement, they also stopped reporting keywords, making it harder for SEOs to know why people came to their site in the first place.

These changes are going to continue until the only thing an SEO professional is good for is reading the analytics reports (and there are software packages that can make pretty dashboards with the click of a button). 2014 isn’t going to let up on them either. Look for another major shift in Google’s algorithm, and the continued closing of SEO companies that refuse to make the switch from code chaser to writer/video producer/audio engineer.

SERPFruit screenshot

This is a screenshot of SERPFruit’s analytics dashboard. Just connect it to your Google Analytics and get simple charts for your organic traffic.

3. Content marketing will become the new trend

Remember when everyone was clamoring for social media? Ah, those were the heady days. When a 26 year old could get hired as the VP of social media at a fast food chain, and when interns and recent college grads were handed the keys to the most public-facing communication channel a company had. Media had not been that much of a Wild West frontier since the very early days of radio when anyone with a transmitter could call themselves a radio station.

Now that everyone has calmed down about social media, and it’s becoming just another marketing channel, it looks like content marketing is becoming the Next Big Thing. There are companies, websites, and entire conferences dedicated to content marketing, and we’re starting to see predictions like three Fortune 500 companies will hire chief content officers. That does seem a little specific — what’s next, chief video officers? Chief analytics officers? Remember, a Chief ____ Officer is one of the most senior executives in a company. A Content Marketing Director seems more likely — but it does illustrate how important companies will realize content is to their marketing efforts.

It also means there’s potential work for all the professional journalists who have been losing their jobs at the newspapers and magazines. My only hope is that the same people who were hiring the college kids to run their social media marketing will actually take the time to find the best writers, and not assume that everyone who was born with a computer on their lap knows how to write.

Look to see an increase of content marketing production hires, as well as an increase of content marketing spending by CMOs, not only to the detriment of traditional marketing, but maybe even social media and (hopefully) SEO as well.

Okay, maybe “predictions” is a strong word, but based on the trends of 2013, I can only assume that numbers 2 and 3 are going to continue in the new year. Pay close attention to history, kids, because that’s where you’re going to learn your most valuable lessons.

By my count, I’m 6 for 10 in my social media predictions over the past three years, which is twice as good as the football pundits who rumble about their picks every Sunday morning. I’m hoping this year’s predictions can boost my total, thus helping me forget my Peyton Manning flub 16 years ago.

Home Depot Learns Important Lesson on Social Media Outsourcing

Home Depot learned a painful lesson on outsourcing this past Saturday, after an employee of a social media agency tweeted a racist comment with a photo from ESPN’s College Game Day of some Clemson bucket drummers.

The tweet was deleted almost immediately, but not before @ImFromRaleigh managed to grab a screenshot of it.

Home Depot (@HomeDepot) was not amused either. To their credit, they sprang into action, deleted the tweet, and followed up with the message that the (unnamed) agency was immediately fired, as was the employee who posted the tweet

They also apologized over and over to everyone who tweeted how upset they were with the tweet. It may have been a copy and paste job, but I’m impressed by the fact that they did it.

But here’s the bigger lesson that everyone needs to learn: Social media, like every other service, process, and occupation in the world is filled with stupid people. Stupid people who say stupid things.

This is why it’s important to screen for character, and not just experience. This is where price becomes less important than quality. This is where the lowest priced agency is not the best choice.

Too many horror stories like this abound, where big companies hire agencies to manage their social media. And the agencies hire people who apparently can’t tell the difference between their own accounts and their corporate accounts. Or who are prone to say things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise idiotic. Or, if they didn’t actually mean it that way, didn’t wait five crucial seconds to see whether a comment could be taken that way. They didn’t just ask themselves, “should I send this, or will someone be offended?”

This kind of thing is going to happen again and again. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised by it. We shouldn’t even say this is a problem with outsourcing, because it happens to companies with full-time employees too.

But companies need to start looking at some of the intangible qualities an employee or agency. Are they careful and do they think ahead, or do they shoot from the hip? Are they low-key or are they prone to impulsive outbursts?

In my own business, I see people choosing price first and quality second (if at all). When you’re choosing a social media agency, you can’t just go with the cheapest one. Because the cheapest one is going to hire the least experienced, least expensive employees.

And you will truly get what you pay for.

There Is No ‘Future Of Content Marketing’

There is no Next Big Thing in content marketing.

I was asked about that at a talk this week. “What’s the future of content marketing?”

I told them, “Nothing is going to change. There will be no dramatic developments, or exciting new technology that will change what content marketing actually is.

Erik Deckers' Smith-Corona Typewriter

Even on this thing, I can still create content. The only thing that’s changed is that my laptop is not as noisy.

“Content marketing is just marketing. It’s persuading people with words, images, and sounds.

“What major changes can you make with that?”

Oh sure, I’ll grant you that developing a written language was pretty major, because we could finally write our oral traditions and stories down on papyrus, like the Sumerian version of Epic of Gilgamesh in 2000 BC, making it one of the first examples of early literature. But even marketing goes back nearly that far, when Egyptians used to put sales messages on papyrus.

Then in 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, and we could produce books more quickly and cheaply, instead of carving pages out of blocks or wood, or copying them by hand. Advertising was done with town criers and posters containing images and not words, since citizens couldn’t read.

In 1978, at age 14, V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai invented email, and in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, launching the world’s first web server on a NeXT Computer, a company founded by Steve Jobs. With that, we could share words, and later, images and sounds, with the entire world, and then spam the bejeezus out of it.

The next big switch was the advent of smart mobile phones, but even that’s not a major change. It’s the Internet on your phone. It’s Tim Berners-Lee’s invention miniaturized.

We’ve created websites, blogs, Tumblr, and Twitter. Flickr, Picasa, and Instagram. YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, and Vine. Streaming audio, Internet radio, and podcasts. We get it all on our desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. We create amazing new layouts, like Starbucks’ Instagram feed, the I Hear Of Sherlock Everywhere Flipboard magazine, or the Tuneage tumblog.

It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t create anything new. With all new technological developments and all the different ways to use these tools, there is one constant: we’re sharing good writing, interesting images, and pleasant sounds.

You can change the tools, you can invent new tools, you can come up with new technology. You can invent a 6-word microblog. You can create a 3-second video app. You can build a website that’s filled with nothing but selfies and kitty pictures. (It’s called Facebook.)

But even 10, 20, or 100 years later, people will still want and share good writing, interesting images, and pleasant sounds.

The Owned Media Doctrine coverThere will be no major change in the content marketing world, because the need for good content has not changed in 4,000 years. The good writers always rise to the top, the good artists are always seen (even if it is decades after they died).

The only thing that will change about content marketing is the name. Someone will come up with some new name, and that will be it. In fact, that’s already happened; now we’re calling it Owned Media (affiliate link).

I don’t care what happens to the web. We could get it on our glasses. We could have it beamed directly to our brains. We could shut it off tomorrow. We will still need people to create the stuff that goes into the machine so we can read it, watch it, and listen to it.

So if you’re wondering what you should do to jump on the next wave of content marketing, forget it. Don’t try to capture the next wave. Focus instead on being a good writer, photographer, videographer, or sound producer. That will outlive every technological change for the next 4,000 years.

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.

Lawyers Need to Cooperate with Marketing, or Get Out of the Way

It’s the customer every brand dreams of: the superfan who spends their own time, money, and energy evangelizing a product to all their friends and family.

Sara Rosso is a Nutella superfan. So much so that she created World Nutella Day back in 2007, and it has taken place on February 5th every year.

A photo of a guy who has managed to wedge his head up his assThen she received a cease-and-desist letter from Ferrero’s (Nutella’s parent company) lawyers, demanding that she no longer use the Nutella name in her I-LOVE-NUTELLA-THIIIIIIIIIIIS-MUCH efforts.

According to an article on Social Media Today, Rosso got media coverage of the event on NBC, CNN, and ABC, plus a social media audience of 47,000 fans and followers.

And yet, some lawyers who had no idea about the awesomeness she was spreading (pun totally intended) as well as no freaking clue about how free marketing evangelism worked, shut her down.

So Rosso took her case to the people, and posted the cease-and-desist letter to her blog, and almost immediately — I hope after the marketing department shouted “WHAT THE F*** DID YOU JUST DO?!” at the legal department — contacted her to rectify the situation.

When it was all said and done, Ferrero issued this press release, which Rosso posted on her website:

“World Nutella Day: a positive conclusion

Positive direct contact between Ferrero and Sara Rosso, owner of the non-official Nutella fan page World Nutella Day, has brought an end to the case.

Ferrero would like to express to Sara Rosso its sincere gratitude for her passion for Nutella, gratitude which is extended to all fans of the World Nutella Day.

The case arose from a routine brand defense procedure that was activated as a result of some misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page.

Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding together the appropriate solutions, it immediately stopped the previous action.

Ferrero considers itself fortunate to have such devoted and loyal fans of its Nutella spread, like Sara Rosso.

Problem solved! World Nutella Day has been saved!

Except it should never have been a problem in the first place. Without going into all the “everyone in a company should communicate” drivel, which you and I know will never happen, Legal should have at least been smart enough to check with Marketing and said, “Hey, have you guys ever heard of World Nutella Day? Is this a thing?”

And Marketing would have said, “No, but it’s pretty cool. Why do you ask?”

Legal: “Because we want to shut it down. Someone is using the Nutella name other than us.”

Marketing: “Don’t be stupid. Clearly this is someone who is helping us further the cause of Nutella, which helps us make more money, which is how we can afford to support your non-revenue generating asses.”

While I understand the need for brand protection and support, there needs to be a mechanism in place where the marketing folks can have some input on the cease-and-desist letters and tell the lawyers, “wait, don’t send that one.”

Then stories like this would never have to be written, and Nutella and Ferrero wouldn’t end up with egg on their face.