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.

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.

Stop Using These Business Jargon Terms. You Sound Pretentious.

Some of the smartest people I know can be quite obtuse when it comes to language. Not because they use small words to express small ideas. No, rather they use really big, useless words to express small ideas.

“We create a frictionless user onboarding experience.”

Whenever you say “frictionless user onboarding,” a kitten dies.

GAAH! I just want to punch somebody in the neck when I see that. And I see it a lot.

(Update: Sean Molin pointed out that this particular gem was not created by 500px, but rather by Dan Leveille of Quora, who is not affiliated with 500 px.)

In fact, when I Googled the words “frictionless user onboarding process,” there were 112,000 results. In other words, 112,000 people thought this was a perfectly acceptable phrase to use.

As opposed to “Signing up is easy.”

Here are five other words you need to stop saying, because they make you sound like a pretentious snot.

  1. Leverage. It’s not a verb, it’s a noun. “Leverage” has become the 21st century’s “utilize,” with many of the same results: people hate it. Try an experiment the next time you want to say “leverage”: say “use” instead. “We are going to leverage use our customer database for a direct mail campaign.” Did it change the meaning? Of course not. So quit it.
  2. On a going forward basis. Seriously? The phrase “going forward” wasn’t bad enough? You had to go make it worse by adding three more words to it? Come on, man! The word you want is “later” or “from now on.” As in “we’ll start locking the door from now on.” Now, you’ve taken a two word turd of a phrase and added three more words, to mean exactly the same thing. But with more words.
  3. Brand. Yeah, yeah, I’m the personal branding guy. So why is this on the list? Because people are using it to mean “company.” They say “brand” instead of “company,” because apparently that’s what all the cool kids say. When did this happen? It used to be that “branding” referred to marketing collateral, logo, corporate colors, that kind of thing. It became, as Kyle Lacy and I mentioned in Branding Yourself “an emotional response people have to a company and logo, or a person and their reputation.” It should not be the company itself. It may be two more syllables, but go back to saying “company.” The other thing makes you sound vapid.
  4. Learner/Learnings. I was talking with a teacher one time, and she used the phrase “our learners.” “What are learners? I asked. She said “the students.” Then why don’t you call them students? I asked. “Because they’re learning and we’re educating. They’re learners and we’re educators.” Why can’t you call them students and teachers? “Well, it means the same thing.” If it means the same thing, then why can’t you just say the old thing? She didn’t have a good answer to that, and the conversation did not improve from there. Needless to say, I was not the first parent my daughter’s teacher wanted to talk to on Parent-Teacher night. And if I ever hear anyone use the word “learnings,” we are going to have a similar awkward conversation. It’s not “learnings,” it’s “lessons” or “material” or “information.” Learnings is not a noun.
  5. Frictionless. I already mentioned it, but I hate this word so much, I wanted to repeat it. (Hey, if any of this article hits home, you’re already used to people repeating things needlessly, so this won’t take up too much of your time.) Nothing is frictionless. Nothing, except the black Haggunenon ship from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And if you didn’t get that, then this joke wasn’t frictionless either. Say “easy,” “simple,” or “not that hard.”

The point of jargon is to make hard words easier to understand and say. But with the exception of substituting the three-syllable “company” with the single syllable “brand,” none of these jargony terms make life easier. If anything, they make it more difficult.

Although they give everyone else something to make fun of you for.

I think we’re supposed to call that “humorate” now.

Fastest Way to Stop Using Business Jargon? Stop Using Adjectives and Adverbs

You can always spot the new/bad writer — they’re the ones who fervently believe if they use dramatic, purple prose, with lots of flowery adjectives and fancy-schmancy words that end in -ly, the enthralled reader will be captivated by their breath-taking abilities.

No, it just makes me want to puke.

Similarly, you can tell the new/bad marketer, because they’re the ones who spew business jargon like a baby eating a cracker.

They also make me want to puke.

I found a slide deck on 15 marketing buzzwords (see below) we need to quit using now. I’m happy to say I don’t use 14 of them. (I still like to say “content marketing,” but now I feel guilty about it.)

But I also know that a lot of people create a lot of bullshit terms (check out the Dack.com bullshit generator here), and I realized what the problem was.

It’s adverbs and adjectives.

No, seriously!

Think about it. Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the greatest writers of our time, and it was a rare adjective that made its way into his prose. Same goes for adverbs. Why describe a verb, when you can just use a better verb?

And yet we do that with a lot of our marketing jargon as well.

  • Best-of-breed
  • Cutting edge
  • Value-added
  • Revolutionary
  • Scalable
  • Epic

And so on.

Sadly, this won’t eliminate all of the business jargon, but I’m hoping that just by limiting yourself to nouns and verbs — “I love this coffee” instead of “This is epic coffee!” — it may jar your brain enough to start speaking like a normal person again.

If you could even do this with your writing, you’ll find it’s much easier to read and understand.

(And yes, I realize “easier” is an adverb. But then again, I’m not Ernest Hemingway.)

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.

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.