Why I Left Social Media Marketing

I used to be somebody. I was kind of a big deal. Well, almost a big deal. I would sometimes go to social media conferences and hear my name whispered as I walked by.

“Hey, that’s Erik Deckers.”

And unlike high school, it was never followed by “LET’S KICK HIS ASS!”

I did book signings. I spoke around the country. I even got paid for it. It was pretty cool.

I was one of the early digital and social media marketing pioneers. I started blogging in 1997. I started doing digital marketing in 1998. I joined Twitter in 2007. And I wrote some of the first books on personal branding and social media marketing.

I’ve been blessed that a lot of people have used my books to make big changes to their companies and to their lives. I’ve heard from people who followed just a few of the steps in Branding Yourself and landed an internship or even a new job. A woman who has since become a very good friend first got in touch with Kyle Lacy and me to say she had followed our LinkedIn chapter and gotten three job interviews in three weeks.

I’ve heard from others who used No Bullshit Social Media to convince their bosses to let them start doing social media marketing for their company, and now they’re heading up the company’s entire social media efforts.

But social media got crowded. It got filled up with newbies, fakes, and charlatans who thought they were social media marketers because they used Facebook, or bought thousands of Twitter followers.

The industry was overrun by rampaging hordes of ex-bartenders and college interns who didn’t have years of marketing experience. And I spent so much time trying to convince people of the importance of it that my client work was slipping.

So I stopped doing social media marketing, and focused on content marketing. It was a hard decision, but I could see social media was about to be completely ruined by marketers, who were taking it over like the killer ant scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

[Seriously. Launch any new social media tool, and the marketers swarm all over it like that Russian dude at the end. Don’t believe me? Google “Snapchat for marketers.”]

At the time, content marketing was still fairly new, because most of the practitioners were still professional writers, videographers, photographers, and podcasters. We hadn’t yet been taken over by scribblers who thought “literally” meant the opposite of literally.

I miss the good old days.
Google Results of Snapchat for Marketers
I worked to hone my skills as a writer. My partner, Paul, handled the social media marketing for our clients, and I read, studied, trained, and practiced to produce the best work we were capable of.

During this time, I co-authored a new book on content marketing, ghostwrote a book with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and even started ghostwriting the autobiography of a former U.S. Congressman.

For the last three years, I’ve kept my head down, and focused on my craft. I’ve studied several favorite authors. I’m revisiting my speechwriting roots, and learning how slam poetry can influence my work. I even spent three months as the Writer-In-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House here in Orlando, beating out nearly 300 people from around the world for the coveted spot.

It’s paying off. I’ve written several short stories, made it halfway through my novel, participated in several literary readings around Central Florida, spoken at a number of writing conferences, and contributed to different literary publications and events.

My efforts have also helped my clients. The content marketing work we do is bringing them more traffic and leads, and we do it by offering some of the best business writing available. We’re writing stuff people like to read, and getting people to share it online. Rather than churn out as much mediocre content as we can, we focus on high-quality writing.

I won’t lie though. I’ve missed being in front of an audience. I’ve missed meeting new people in new cities. So I’ve decided to shake the dust off my shoulders, rub the sand from my eyes, and re-enter the world of personal branding and public promotion.

Starting in August, I’ll write more frequently on this blog again, and booking more conference speaking slots, especially around my new home state, Florida. I hope to see you around.

12 Marketing Strategies Defined

If you’ve ever wondered what all the different types of marketing — content marketing, inbound marketing, push marketing — actually mean, wonder no more. Here is the basic definition of what each of these are, and what they do.

Salesology Cover

Marketing Style

Definition

Content Marketing

Marketing

Digital Marketing

Marketing

Direct Marketing

Marketing

Inbound Marketing

Marketing

Internet Marketing

Marketing

Mobile Marketing

Marketing

Online Marketing

Marketing

Outbound Marketing

Marketing

Push Marketing

Marketing

Relationship Marketing

Marketing

Social Media Marketing

Marketing

Word-Of-Mouth Marketing

Marketing

 

When you get down to it, marketing is marketing. We can put all kinds of fancy names on it, or do some mental gymnastics to make it seem like one type of marketing is so much different from another. But all marketing does the same thing: convince people to buy your product. They just have different names to achieve the same goal. (And if we’re being truly honest, they’re not that different from each other.)

If you want to hire a marketer, hire someone who knows marketing. There’s no one method better than another, there’s no one special strategy that will be a magic bullet to your particular need.

And when it comes to online/social media marketing, you’d better make damn sure your marketing agency has extensive marketing experience, and isn’t just well-versed in using the latest shiny new social media toys.

Photo credit: James Prochnik (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Spot (and Block) Twitter Follow Spammers

Twitter is becoming a cesspool of uselessness, churning with marketers who think it’s free advertising, and people who post motivational quotes that couldn’t persuade someone with OCD to wash his hands. And I won’t even mention the people who promise to get you 5,000 “followers” for $29. (They’re the “floaters.”)

Now we’re being hit with wave after wave of Follower Junkies who artificially inflate their numbers without providing anything of value.

Follower Junkies will yo-yo follow people to boost their follower count into the tens of thousands, bumping up against Twitter’s policy of only allowing users to follow 1,000 people per day, but never going over the line. So they stay under Twitter’s radar and continue to spread their infestation.

Beating the Twitter Follower Limit

When someone new joins Twitter, they’re only allowed to follow 2,000 people. This is the Twitter Follower Limit. You can’t follow more than 2,000 people until a certain number of people are following you back. (You also can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day). Once you reach a magical unspecified ratio, you can follow more people. (Some people speculate that the ratio is roughly 10% more than your follower count. Once you get 2,000 followers, you can follow 2,200 people. 2,200 followers, you can follow 2,420 people. This is speculation, but that’s the principle behind the magical ratio.)

So a yo-yo follower will follow 2,000 people, wait for them to follow back, unfollow them, and then follow a new batch of people. The more followers they get, the more people they can yo-yo follow, and on and on and on, until they’ve got more followers than God, but their tweets are about as complex and substantial as a high school prom.

Suspicious Twitter follower count

Fewer than 800 tweets but almost 4,000 followers? I don’t think so. Also, check the followING count — if you’re not a celebrity, it shouldn’t be that unbalanced. This is someone in the midst of a yo-yo drop.

How to Spot a Twitter Follow Spammer

You can spot a yo-yo follower because they have fewer than 3,000 tweets, but 10,000 or more followers. Or they are following a mere fraction of their followers, but they’re not celebrities. Their following numbers look like the Matterhorn.

Here’s an example: Spammer #1 is following 76,800+ people, and has 88,700+ followers. Are they interesting? Most of their Twitter stream seems to be a steady drip of one-way communication, with the #leadership hashtag on Every. Single. Tweet. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)

To check the Twitter shenanigans, I used TwitterCounter.com’s graphing capability. You can examine as much as 3 months’ worth of data with a free account. This is from April 4 through June 18.

May 27, 2014 - Following 88,162 people

May 27, 2014 – Following 88,162 people

 

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

This is someone who is — technically — following Twitter’s rules. The slow climb after May 29 is still within the “you can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day” rule, but they dumped nearly 12,500 people on May 27 and 28 so they could slime their numbers up some more.

This wouldn’t be so bad — hell, I just dropped 4,000 followers over several days by clearing out people who hadn’t tweeted in 30 days or more — except this person is on a yo-yo upswing, which is why their follower count keeps rising.

Here’s another example: Spammer #2 is following 7,986 people and has 12,800+ followers, but has only written 3,852 tweets. They’re all one liners that first-time comedians would be embarrassed to use, with absolutely no interactions or retweets. Just constant one liners. I’ve had better conversations with my television.

May 16, 2014 - Following 6,996 people.

May 16, 2014 – Following 6,996 people.

 

May 21, 5 days later - Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

May 21, 5 days later – Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

Again, this stayed within Twitter’s rule of “following no more than 1,000 people per day,” but you can see the effect it had on this person’s follower numbers. As they followed more people, their follower numbers rocketed too.

What about their output? How much are they tweeting? Spammer #2 is averaging 3 or 4 tweets a day, but peaked out at a big ol’ 5 for two days in the middle of May; Spammer #1 has “written” 57,700+ tweets, averaging 47 tweets per day of #AutomatedLeadershipQuote after #AutomatedLeadershipQuote.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they’re tweeting. I won’t even speak to whether their tweets are interesting or not (They’re not. So much Not Interesting in one place. I haven’t seen this much Not Interesting since high school algebra.) What matters is that while they’re following the letter of Twitter’s rule, they’re doing everything they can to work around it and look like they’re important and/or interesting.

Except they’re not. They’re frauds. They didn’t earn those numbers, they cheated. You can’t buy value, you can’t buy your reputation. But you can apparently click your way to a false sense of accomplishment.

The Solution? Drop the Spam Hammer

I vet every single person who follows me before I follow them back. I check out their Twitter profile, and if necessary, look at their Twitter feed. If someone has a too-high-to-be-real follower count, especially if their tweets number in the very low 4 figures (or fewer), I spam-block them. If they have a high follower count, but their tweets are inane, nothing but retweets, or a one-sided conversation with no responses to anyone, I spam-block them.

I do it without hesitation, without remorse, and without pity. And I giggle with schadenfreudic delight every time I do it. I even unblocked one guy just so I could hit the Report For Spam button again.

Twitter is not going to get any better. It’s going to become the AOL of short form communication one of these days. Already, networks like App.net are coming online, ready to fill in the gap after Rome Twitter collapses. But we can extend its lifespan and its usefulness by getting rid of these Follower Junkies who are cluttering up the network for the real users who want to actually benefit from it.

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.

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.

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?