Should Social Media Marketers Give Away the Good Stuff or Get Ripped Off?

I’ve gotten burned by being a little too optimistic and open at times, especially now that I’ve been in the social media marketing business. I share the good stuff with people, and while for the most part, it pays me back in the end, there have been a couple times where I got ripped off.

Not just taken advantage of. I’ve had revenue-generating ideas stolen because I shared them too early in a negotiation process.

When I first moved to Indianapolis, I was working with a friend, Darrin, at his marketing company, and we were pitching a possible new client. As part of our pitch, I suggested that the owner start a new off-shoot company to hire entry-level employees and train them in his methods. This would end up being a feeder company for experienced employees, rather than have to scramble around at hiring time. Sort of like a minor league baseball team feeding into a major league one.No Burglars sign

It was a pretty good idea, even if I do say so myself. And I was proud of the suggestion, because the owner also seemed to like the idea, and I thought it was going to help us get the marketing contract.

Unfortunately, he never hired us. He never gave us a reason. He just took our proposal, and never returned our call, and was always “busy” when we called him. (My business partner, Paul, calls this the “Indiana No.”)

Fast forward to four years later, when I see the business owner in the newspaper for the brilliant idea “he had” for starting a smaller company for entry-level employees who later moved up to his company. It ended up being very successful company for him too.

How much did Darrin and I get for our idea?


Not having learned our lesson that time, a few weeks later, we made another pitch to a local restaurant, including six ideas we wanted to execute for them, and one idea for a radio commercial. After submitting our official proposal, they said they weren’t interested, and kept the proposal.

A few months later when I went in to the restaurant, I saw that they were using five of our six ideas, and had used our radio commercial idea for a guest appearance on a local radio station.

How much did Darrin and I get for these ideas?


Painful Lessons Learned

The lesson my friend and I learned in all of this? Give away the good stuff, but don’t give away the secret sauce.

It’s a shame too, because I fully believe in the Chris Brogan model of give away the good stuff. I don’t want to give away a nickel’s worth of free stuff to sell $100 worth of ideas. I want to give away hundreds of dollars of ideas to sell thousands.

Pile of $100 billsOur point was to give away some interesting ideas in the hopes that we would get hired to actually do them and get paid for it.

Did we get hired? No. Should we have gotten the contract just because we rattled off a few good ideas? Probably not.

But it seems to me that when someone pitches you an idea, and you don’t hire that person, you also should not be allowed to steal their ideas, especially when you didn’t hire anyone else to do it either. At the very least, it’s unethical, and the people who do it are skeevy.

So I’m torn. What should I do in the future?

Should I selfishly hold on to my “secret sauce” and only share the information that anyone can find in a book? I do that now when people want to “pick my brain” in exchange for buying me lunch.

Or should I give away any idea that I come up with for a potential new client in the hopes of signing them?

On the one hand, demonstrating some of our ideas could help us win a contract. On the other hand, the people we work with are smart enough to execute an idea just based on a basic two sentence explanation. If we tell them they need milk, they’ll figure out where to find a cow.

If you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or salesperson, what do you do? Do you trust people and “share hundreds to earn thousands?” Or do you play things close to the vest and give those ideas away only when you’ve got a signed contract in hand? How would you play it?

Photo credit:

Sick of the Same Old Social Media Case Studies? Too Bad.

Are you tired of the same old social media case studies? The United Breaks Guitars, the Dell Hells, the @ComcastCares?

It’s a common complaint I hear from other social media marketers. We’re sick of people talking about these case studies all the time. We can recite them by heart, we’ve heard them so many times.

Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Social Media Luncheon 2011

Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Social Media Luncheon, November 2011

The social media mavens raise their voices to the rafters: “We’ve heard them over and over! Show me something new!”

Too bad. Do you know who hasn’t heard them?

Everyone else.

I remember when Jason Falls and I were writing No Bullshit Social Media, the question came up about whether we should include Dell Hell, United Breaks Guitars, and @ComcastCares.

“They’re old. Everyone has heard them,” was the objection.

“Our target readers haven’t heard them,” was the counter-argument. So we decided to leave them in.

A few months later, when I was speaking to a group in Sioux City, Iowa, I asked the 150 people in the room, “How many of you have heard of the United Breaks Guitars incident?” Out of the 150, fewer than 10 people raised their hands.

Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin

This is not the same dude.

We as social media marketers need to remember, not everyone uses social media. Not everyone follows it like we do. Not everyone has heard about the latest case study. Most people still confuse Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin.

While we may be tired of the same old case studies, sick to the teeth of list posts, and still roll our eyes (me included) at every “social media marketing secrets” post that tells us to use Twitter and completely fill out our LinkedIn profile, there’s a very important group of people who have never heard of this before.

Our potential clients.

Remember, while there may be over 383 million people around the world on Twitter, only 27% of them actively use Twitter. In the US, there are 107 million Twitter accounts — accounts, not active users — which is a little more than 1/3 of the country. Hypothetically, if only 27% are using Twitter actively, we’re looking at only 28.9 million people in the US using Twitter, or approximately 9.2% of the country.

In other words, nearly 90% of the country is not using Twitter. Not everyone uses YouTube. Only 40% of the US adult population has a smartphone. And only a small percentage of people are blogging. (Note: Twitter is NOT blogging.)

So while you may be sick to death of the same old case studies, the same old list posts, and the same old “social media secrets for beginners” articles, we’re still fighting an uphill battle. There are still plenty of people who still only think social media is for kids and is all about playing Farmville and Angry Birds. There are still people who don’t get “the Tweeter” and would never “want to hear about someone’s bathroom habits on FaceSpace.” There are still people who don’t understand that social media can be good for business, and that left unchecked, it can hammer your business like the fist of an angry god.

As long as there are clients who are still trying to understand why social media is important, it’s equally important that you be ready to share the stale, 7-year-old case studies with your clients. Bring out the new ones too, but don’t forget that if people feel like they share common knowledge (i.e. when two non-users get together and start talking about “that ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video”), it helps them feel smarter and more empowered to try it themselves. It may also scare the bejeezus out of them, and get them to start using it.

Arm your clients with the body of common knowledge. Go back to the same old case studies, keep using list posts (they always get the highest web traffic for me), and don’t assume everyone is carrying the latest mobile phone. It may feel remedial, but if you’re a social media professional, you need to fish where the fish are.

Three Social Media Marketing Secrets to Promoting Food

Being a B2C brand on Twitter can be hard, because the B2B world seems better suited for it.

A potential client in your niche has a question, you answer it. You identified that client because she used particular keywords, which you searched for. Or you identified her through her Twitter bio or LinkedIn profile, and found that she was in your industry. Since there are only thousands of people in that niche — and not millions, like in the B2C world — they’re easier to find, connect with, and keep up with.

But what if you’re managing the social media account for a major food brand?

The traditional reaction is to view this as another advertising channel. Maybe you think it’s an even better advertising channel, because it’s free.

However, advertising on Twitter is just like a commercial-only TV station — no one will want to watch, since no one is producing anything useful or interesting. So, telling people over and over that they can get your product “for 20% off this Friday only!” doesn’t do a thing for them. That’s not effective social media marketing. It’s shouting. No one likes being shouted at. People are either going to unfollow you, or worse, spam block you. (Get enough of those, and Twitter will suspend your account.)

Roast Duck from Great British Chefs on Flickr

Roast Duck

So what can you do? You could try posting recipe suggestions and links to recipes on your blog, but after a while that gets a little repetitive, and people will start to tune you out. You can also do a search for your food item, and retweet the people who are mentioning your product or item, but that’s not really a conversation. (Remember, social media marketing is about interacting with customers and building relationships, not about broadcasting.)

Here are three other social media marketing tactics to try:

1. Create Buyer Profiles, and Find People Who Fit Them

Maple Leaf Farms in Milford, Indiana is the largest duck producer in North America (and a former consulting client from a long time ago). And as a food producer, their market is, well, everyone. Everyone eats food, therefore, they should market to everyone, right?


Not everyone buys food, and not everyone eats meat. So right there we already have groups of people we can eliminate — vegans, children, and teenagers.

If I were running Maple Leaf’s account, I would start focusing on the following types of people, because they are the people most likely to buy duck:

  • Professional Chefs — This has always been a target market for Maple Leaf Farms.
  • Amateur Chefs and Foodies – They lo-o-o-o-o-ove unusual food. And as big as the world’s duck consumption is, it’s still considered a gourmet item by a lot of people in this country, so foodies will love this.
  • Moms, but especially stay-at-home moms — Duck is nutritious and healthy (most of the fat is in the skin, not the meat). And since women make most of the food buying decisions in this country, they’re the natural target to reach. I also specified stay-at-home moms, because many of them self-identify as such on Twitter, often with the #SAHM hashtag in the bio. While you’re at it, look for single dads. They’re a smaller market, but they also make all their buying decisions at home.
  • Organic Food Enthusiasts — There are no hormones in duck or poultry of any kind, so organic foodies may be a little more interested in duck for that reason.

In most cases, most of these people will have something about these interest, vocations/avocations in their Twitter bio. Go to and do a search for each of these groups via the keyword search tool, then follow those folks.

2. Create Lists of Profiles, Interact Directly with Those People

Twitter lets you create lists of people and you can drop people in any of those lists. Maple Leaf can create those lists, and then monitor them on TweetDeck or HootSuite. I still recommend TweetDeck, because those columns automatically update on my desktop, rather than having to refresh my screen whenever new tweets pop up.

Then, start talking to these people about the issues that they care about, especially — but not solely — if they relate to food. If you’re a parent, and they’re talking about parenting, talk with them. If they’re talking about marathon running, and you’re a marathoner, talk with them. If they have a question about where to go for dinner when they’re visiting a new city, and you’ve been there, make the recommendation. Build relationships with these people and get to know them. As they get to know you, they’ll be more willing to try the products you sell (without you ever pimping the products to them).

3. Reach out to influential bloggers

There are outstanding foodie bloggers, chef bloggers, mommy bloggers, dad bloggers, organic food bloggers who all have hundreds of thousands of readers among them. Give them a proper email pitch, not a mass email sent to hundreds of bloggers at once.

Ask the most influential of them to review your product, whether it’s through a free sample plus an extra coupon to give away to readers, or a free dinner at a local restaurant that serves duck, or whatever seems to be the most cost effective. Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that you treat the bloggers as individuals, and don’t mass email them. That will backfire, and get them talking about you, but not in the way you want them to.

These are the first steps I would take if I were in charge of the social media marketing program at a food manufacturer. Don’t try to be something to everyone; identify a few niches and appeal to them first. As you gain success, expand your reach to more people within the niches, as well as any other likely target markets.


My book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing (affiliate link), which I wrote with Jason Falls, is available at, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. It’s also available for Nook, Kindle, and other e-readers.

Photo credit: Great British Chefs (Flickr)

Three Ways New Fiction Writers Can Promote Their Work With Social Media

How can a writer promote their own work, especially if they are just releasing their first published work? Thanks to ebooks and ereaders, as well as print-on-demand and self-publication, any fledgling writer can publish their work and make it available to the general public.

But how can they get readers before they have even established their writing career? Here are three ways new writers can promote their newly published works to a wider audience than their moms.

1. Find readers on Twellow and Facebook.

Twellow is a Twitter directory that lets you search people’s Twitter bios. Look for anyone who would fit your target readership. If you write sci-fi, look to see if anyone has science fiction or sci-fi in their bio. Chances are they’re fellow writers, but you’ll find a lot of sci-fi fans too.

Check out the Facebook pages and groups too, and start friending and connecting with people in those groups. As you follow the other two steps, they’ll be the people you want to reach out to.

2. Pre-release the book in blog form.

As you’re writing your book, try publishing sections of it on a blog. Invite reader comment and ask them to give you feedback, ask questions, and make any suggestions. Make your changes from the blog and incorporate them into the final manuscript.

You’ll also get readers who start to follow along because they get drawn into the serial nature of the story. Plus, don’t worry about people not wanting buy the book because it’s on the web. There are plenty of people who have written books that were originally posted online first, and went on to great success. They’ll be willing to pick up your book too.

3. Create an audio version of your book.

Seth Harwood released the self-published Jack Wakes Up book as an audio podcast. He would read approximately 45 minutes of the book each week and upload it as a podcast. While that seemed to fly in the face of conventional publishing wisdom, the Jack Wakes Up ended up garnering enough attention that it was then picked up by Three Rivers Press and published.

It’s possible with some publishers that you can keep the audio rights to your book. If you’re self-publishing it, you own all versions, including audio and ebooks. So take advantage of that. Get a decent microphone (I prefer the Blue Snowball USB mic), and start reading it. Don’t launch until you get at least half the book recorded though. It builds in some extra time in case you run into a production delay.

Dear Executives, Social Media Does Not Render Your Employees Stupid

Social media does not make people stupid. It does not make them irresponsible, lazy, or unproductive. Social media will make you money, however, if you do it right.

I talk to a lot of business owners and executives who worry that if they start using social media to market their business, their employees’ productivity will plummet.

I’ve had meetings in the last two days with two different business owners. One has embraced Facebook and blogging fully, the other is worried that Facebook will hamper his employees’ ability to get work done.

The first employer urges his employees to do stuff on social media. Almost requires it. His Facebook page gets dozens of visits a day, which is awesome because they sell such a niche product, the customer base for the entire country can be measured in the thousands.

The other employer says — and rightly so — that they have so much administrative work to do around the office, he doesn’t want their Facebook efforts to distract them from getting their admin work done.

The first employer wants to know how he can do more social media marketing. The second employer wants to know the bare minimum he can get by with.

As Doug Karr says, asking what the minimum you can get by with on social media is like asking how slowly you can drive a race car.

Social Media Marketing is Not About Playing

Facebook lets me see kittehs

ZOMG! Facebook lets me play with kittehs!!

We as employers trust our employees. We trust them to answer the phones and be pleasant to everyone who calls in. We trust them to make travel to other states and make sales calls and presentations. We trust them to take payments from customers and put our money in the bank. We trust them to buy products from other companies. And we even trust them to use computers without standing over them, watching them type every email.

So what is it about social media that scares the bejeezus out of every employer and makes them think that the second they allow Facebook onto their computers, their entire workforce is going to turn into a bunch of 13-year-old girls jacked up on Red Bull and the most recent Justin Bieber sighting?

If you trust these people enough to do business in your name, collect and spend your money, and talk to your customers, then you need to trust them enough to continue to do these things while Facebook is unblocked on their computers.

If you don’t trust them, that’s your fault. If you don’t trust your employees to not screw around, you’re the problem, not Facebook. You hired the wrong people, and that’s a management issue.

Hire people who will get their work done, and make your expectations for social media usage clear from the outset. These are people who can help your company be more profitable, so why not take advantage of that?

Social Media Marketing is About Making Money

The whole reason for a business to be on social media is to make money. Period. It’s not to play Farmville on Facebook. It’s not to pin the latest novelty cake on Pinterest. It’s not to take photos of a rusted out piece of farm equipment on Instagram. It’s to find people who would be interested in buying your products or services.

Every business owner and manager is always looking for a way to make more money and be more profitable. The problem is, many of them are hampered by doing the things that don’t make them money. Doing payroll. Filing claims. Managing inventory. Filling and shipping product orders.

The problem is, payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping don’t make you money. Marketing makes you money. Finding new customers makes your money. If you’re a business owner, and you’re spending your valuable time doing payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping, instead of generating revenue, outsource them.

Hire a bookkeeping firm to manage payroll. Hire a virtual assistant to file your claims. Hire a $10 hour college student to count inventory and stick orders in boxes. The less of this non-revenue generating work you can do, the better.

Spend the newly found time pursuing new customers. Spend it on Facebook, Twitter, or writing your blog. It doesn’t take long to bring in a couple choice clients to recover the costs of having a part-time employee handle the grunt work that’s actually losing you money. Have them handle more of your non-revenue workload, and find a couple more. You can grow just by having someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

But it starts with letting go of the fear that your employees are going to be struck stupid the second you allow Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn on your company computers.

Photo credit: bjornlifoto (Flickr)

Social Media Marketing Lessons from a Broken Pilot G2 Pen

My pen died last week.

Normally, this is not big news. In fact, this may be the lamest thing I’ve ever written about, and that includes my “this is my first post” post on Blogger back in 2003.

Broken Pilot G2 .5 mm pen

It gave its life in service of my words.

But it’s a notable event, because I want to brag about my pen, and also talk about the power of strangers in the world of social media marketing.

Social media has turned the marketing world on its ear, because it has disrupted marketing altogether. It used to be that we needed professional marketers to tell us what was cool/great/awesome about a particular product. If the paid professionals told us, then it must be true. Or at least, if it wasn’t true, their shouting generally drowned out the one or two detractors who hated the product. In fact, if there was something we didn’t like about a particular product, we got our talking points from a competitors’ commercial, much like talking points in a political ad.

But several years ago, when we started using early social media, like AOL, and creating websites with comments, we started relying on each other to tell us what was cool/great/awesome about a particular product.

That’s how I became such a fan of my Pilot G2 pen. In 2004, I had just entered the world of Moleskine notebooks, way before they became douche-y, and realized I couldn’t use just any old pen in the same notebooks used by Hemingway, Picasso, and Bruce Chatwin. So I went to the Moleskinerie website, an online community for and by Moleskine fanatics, and looked for any recommendations for a good pen. As it turns out, a few months earlier, someone had posed that very question, and the fans weighed in. In fact, it was one of the most commented-on posts they had.

The commenters far and away raved about the Pilot G2 pen, the 0.5 mm size, so I bought one and immediately loved it. I loved it so much, I have used nothing but Pilot G2 0.5 mm pens for the last 7 years, even carrying the same exact pen for over four years (I cannibalized the cartridges from a box of G2s to replace the empty one, rather than just replacing the entire pen). That pen finally broke last summer, so I had to pull out a second one, which broke last week and leaked all over the place.

The cool thing about this is, for as often as I use this pen, to have only one break or go bad in nearly eight years, I’m very pleased. (I’m especially pleased I found it before it leaked into my shirt pocket.) That’s a pretty good testament to quality — to have one cartridge go bad in 8 years of using them? I’ve never even had a car that long without developing problems.

But the coolest thing? I bought this pen based on the advice of a bunch of people I had never met. I didn’t need the Levenger people telling me what was cool about the $237 Pelikan, or Faber-Castell’s four-color booklet on the long history of the Faber-Castell name. All it took was several random comments from a bunch of strangers who were passionate about a notebook and were choosy about their pens.

Traditional Marketers May Be Out of Work Soon

Marketers who haven’t yet embraced social media need to take note: you’re basically out of a job. Consumers are no longer being persuaded by your beautiful graphics and well-designed websites and brochures. We’re being informed by them, but we’re not being persuaded. Instead, we’re persuading each other.

Italian artist Luc on 24 hours of Le Mans - he sketched and wrote about the highlights of the auto race in his Moleskine notebook

We’re getting advice from each other on where to eat, what to watch, which computers to get for our kids, what cameras to buy, what cars to drive, and yes, even what pens to write with.

Marketers who want to take advantage of this should provide places for your customers to talk to each other. You should get your products and/or services into the hands of influencers. Moleskine went so far as to buy and leave it in place, so Moleskine users could share what they were doing with their notebooks, like Italian artist Luc, who uploaded several photos of his sketches and notes about the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race.

The smart marketers aren’t telling us what’s cool/great/awesome about their products. They’re providing places for the rest of us to tell each other. They’re sponsoring special niche networks on Ning and other platforms for their target audience. They’re getting their products into the hands of influencers. Or in the case of Fiskars and their Fiskateers (which we discuss in No Bullshit Social Media), they’re turning it into a niche community and a research and development channel. They’re basically letting us do all the work for them, and are getting out of the way.

Social media marketing is disrupting the way traditional marketing is done, and giving us all of the power. Now if I can just get someone to send me another pen, I’ll be happy.

Photo credit: Broken pen –
Moleskine Notebook – Luc on Not Not Tana

You Don’t Get Social Media ROI Yet? C’mon, Man!

I was feeling good about social media ROI, and how/whether people understand it. I figured, at least my people — marketers — get it. They understand how to measure social media, or at least the principles behind it.

Apparently not.

eMarketer dashed those hopes to the ground with their December 20, 2011 article When Will Social Media Measurement Mature?.

Marketers know that counting fans, “likes” and followers is not the best way to measure success in social media marketing. Yet these metrics are often the top benchmarks for performance. It’s not surprising, then, that marketers consider calculating return on investment to be the biggest challenge of using social media, and that a majority of them believe they cannot measure social media campaigns effectively.

How to Calculate Social Media ROI

Calculating the ROI of anything is easy. Subtract how much you spent from how much you made, and that’s your answer. If you spent $10,000 on a social media marketing campaign, and you made $50,000, your social media ROI is $40,000.

Simple, right?

$50,000 – $10,000 = $40,000.

So how do you know whether sales are coming from your social media efforts?

I’m not going to delve into the step-by-step process, but I’ll give you the tools and concepts you’re going to need to get started.

  1. Set up Google Analytics, and install the code on every page on your website. If you have a blog, it only needs to be part of the code. If it’s on a website with pre-built pages, it needs to be on every page.
  2. Set up a Bitly account. Bitly is a URL shortener that also lets you do some basic analytics on the number of people that have clicked your link.
  3. Create a Google Analytics tracking campaign for any and all major links you’re sending out. This is how you’re going to measure a particular blog post, tweet, Facebook status update, etc. If it’s just a basic link to the website, a campaign code is optional. But if it’s a blog post about a particular marketing campaign, set up the Google Analytics campaign.
  4. Put a hyperlinked call to action in your blog posts that take people directly to a sales page or order page. Make sure that the hyperlink is given a unique campaign code.

Here’s what will happen:

  • You’ll send out a link to a blog post via Twitter, Facebook, etc. Let’s say that 10,000 people see that link on your various accounts.
  • 1,000 people visit your page and read that blog post, all within a 6-hour span.
  • Of that 1,000 people, 100 people actually make a purchase with a total of $10,000 in sales.
  • Those 100 people also fill out their contact information, which gets placed into your CRM.

By looking at these numbers, you can determine a number of things.

  • 1,000 visitors out of 10,000 social media followers, fans, and friends means you have a 10% click-through rate.
  • 100 sales out of 1,000 visitors is a 10% close rate; out of a 10,000-person network, that’s a 1% close rate.
  • By looking at the entrance and exit paths of that particular 6-hour period, or particular day, you can see that a majority of people were moved enough by the blog post to go directly to the order page. Compare that to another blog post that only lead to 30 sales out of 1,000 visitors, and you know it wasn’t as effective in moving people to act.
  • You can then subtract the cost of that particular campaign from the amount of money you made to calculate the total ROI for the day/week/month.

Calculating social media ROI is not that difficult. It’s just a matter of having the right tools and knowing basic analytics and campaign creation. There are literally hundreds of articles and several books on each step I first described. It’s just a matter of reading, and then trying out what you’ve learned. With some trial and error, and constant measuring, you’ll soon learn what works and what you can stop doing.

Or you could just hire a social media professional to do it all for you.