Social media strategies businesses should learn from politicians

Guest blogger and political pundit Jenci Spradlin reveals why business should take a marketing lesson from the politicians:

Maybe it’s because I’m a political junkie and spend most of my time discussing politics on the social web, but I think the business world would do well to try to translate lessons from politics into strategy.

1)  Capture passion. What is politics really about any way?  Capturing the passion people have to tell their story and connecting with people who can possibly influence their lives.  Politics brings out the tribal feelings engendered by sharing something larger than yourself with like-minded individuals.

There are people who get passionate about a brand, but by far politics wins the passion prize, particularly with the stakes so high. Successful campaigns tap into that passion … whether in politics or business.

2) Use the right tools for the right message. Let’s think about how politicians use the social web and how it might relate to business, too.  I used to do a lot of political blogging, but I have practically abandoned it due to the more immediate nature of Twitter and Facebook. Blogging by a politician might be a good way to convey a detailed overview of some complex policy matter, but in terms of engagement with voters, it is like putting an op-ed in the newspaper versus going door to door talking directly to voters.  Probably the same with businesses?

3) Go meet the people. Another analogy is that politicians have to go where their constituents are. If they are on Twitter or Facebook, that is where they must go and be as comfortable engaging directly as they would in person. Politicians are still trying to figure out the right mix in terms of direct engagement versus broadcasting and not all of them do this well.   If you want to look at some people really doing this right, look at common-cause issues such as the Teaparty Movement.

4) Show genuine interest. There is no one issue that brings people to the political table, and businesses should think like that too.  Businesses would do well to not limit themselves or their brand to one specific area, but again, allow their “raving fans” to intertwine the brand within their lives, and allow real people working on behalf of the brand to engage directly as people, and not as a generic brand account. Even if the person isn’t identified by name, it is easy to tell when the company takes a larger interest in its customers beyond “buy what I am selling.”

5) The authenticity issue. And then there is that all-important authenticity issue. There are plenty of politicians who do embrace Twitter, and certainly there are those who have staff members do it on their behalf.   I find that the more local you get, the more likely you are to have the individual do their own posts. That might be something for businesses to consider to. The closer you get to the rubber meeting the road, the more real you better be!

6) Get personal. Here’s something that makes politicians seem authentic on the social web: Real life “stuff.”  People like to make fun of the “what-I-had-for-lunch” posts, but I find those to be an invaluable way to connect in a non-threatening way (assuming they post some meat with their meat!)  Some of the greatest connections I have made with people have started through the “what I’m eating” post. We all have to eat – whether you are a famous politician, a stay-at-home mom, or a CEO.

In the same manner, there are plenty of brands / businesses who are being told to jump into social media because “everyone is doing it.” It seems scary to them and something that should be handed off to an outside firm to manage. So they do and some PR intern is handed the job of posing as the brand/business online. This is just the same as the politician who abdicates their use of social media to a staffer. For me, whether it is a brand or a politician, I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with a ventriloquist’s dummy. The insanity is that they honestly think that we won’t know the difference; that we won’t see the arm of staffers stuck up under their collective shirts.

Heck, as long as it’s real, it would even be OK to tweet about meat. : )

Jenci Spradlin is a wonderful political blogger at  She can also be found on twitter at @jencitn


Six ideas to build social media momentum

My bike ride started me thinking about the importance of building social media momentum.

Here’s what I mean. My wife and I recently completed a lengthy mountain biking adventure.  At the end of the trail, there was a quaint yellow cottage offering sandwiches, ice cream and drinks. The yard in front of the establishment was brimming with bikes, so we figured it must be a popular place. It was so popular in fact that the wait was too long for a greasy hamburger and we rode away without ordering anything!

Hidden farther down the trail was another bistro. We almost passed by because there were not many bikes there. But we were hungry and decided to try it anyway. We were so glad we did!  We had a delicious gourmet sandwich served by a really funny waitress.

The moral of this story is that we were attracted to the first restaurant because it was validated by all the patrons it had. We nearly passed over second place — even though it had better “content” — because it seemed lonely.

I think this is an appropriate analogy for our presence on the social web, too, and I’m sure you already knew where I was going with this!  For example, blogs associated with lots of tweets and comments may get to a point where they’re popular just because they’re popular while worthy blogs may never get noticed unless they receive validation in the way of traffic.

So the question today is, if you have great content, how do you develop validation — social momentum — for it?

I would love to hear your ideas on this but let me start the conversation with six ideas of my own.

1) Seek folks who are naturally interested in your topic. I have a friend who just started a blog on manufacturing and industrial maintenance.  I suggested that he find related blogs on Technorati and interesting people to follow Twellow.  What?? You haven’t used Twellow? You can find Twitter users by hundreds of industry groupings here so it’s indispensable for finding fascinating people in your field!

2) Go off-road. Don’t just stick to the main roads. Potential readers of your blog can be found in many places …

  • Yahoo forums related to your professional topic
  • LinkedIn Groups
  • Industry online trade magazines
  • Twitter lists
  • Blogs authored by competitors and customers.

3)  Connect. After a period of time, my friend should be able to identify some of the thought leaders in his field. Follow them, comment on their blogs, and establish your own voice to attract those already passionate about your topics. Want to see a best practice? Adam Vincenzini of our {grow} community recently involved many of his blogging thought leaders — and their readers — in one of his posts.  Awesome job.

4) Grow your potential audience. Many of the social media “purists” will tell you numbers don’t matter.  That’s hooey.  This is nothing but mis-placed false humility and they know it.  Building business connections on the social web is a numbers game. Maybe 5% of your “friends and followers” will read your blog. Of those who read, a rule of thumb is that 2% will   comment.  So if your goal is to attract more readers and more commenters, it makes sense to have the biggest base possible, right?  Now I’m NOT talking about buying lists or doing crazy things JUST for numbers. No, no, no. There is no short-cut. You need to build your audience the old-fashioned way by paying attention to people, providing great content, and being authentically helpful.  But keep building. Isn’t that what momentum, is about?

5) Ask for help. At a point when you’ve built up a relationship with these thought leaders and passionate followers, ask them for advice on your blog … perhaps even ask them for help in promoting it through tweets. If you’re providing great content, why wouldn’t they help?

6) Park a few bikes outside. As you’re slowly but steadily strengthening these meaningful, relevant connections, don’t be shy about asking your friends, co-workers and family members to tweet and comment on your blog. Park a few bikes outside, if you know what I mean. And promote your blog with customers, suppliers and business partners. Everywhere you have an email address, feature your blog address too.

What are your ideas on this subject?  How do you build social media momentum when you’re starting from zero?

The bar for viral marketing keeps getting higher

Wanted to pass along another example of excellence in viral marketing.

This thrilling 3-minute epic is a Nike tribute to the excitement, glamor and high stakes of the upcoming World Cup competition.  It features celebrity cameos including Kobe Bryant and Homer Simpson (who has the only speaking role in the video!).

It has also received 10 million page views. In ONE week.  Wow.  The bar for quality and entertainment value just keeps getting higher and higher, doesn’t it?

And by the way, you probably recognize that raucous theme anthem but can you name the song and performer?  OK 70′s music fans, time to get your game on!

When parody becomes a corporate PR disaster

When does online parody cross a line?

By now you’ve probably become aware of the “fake” BP global public relations account on Twitter spewing humorous observations such as:

“We feel terrible about spilling oil in American waters, we’ll make sure the next spill happens where the terrorists live. #bpcares”

“Just wrapped up a meeting with the EPA. Terry kept farting out loud at all the right moments. Not sure how he does it, but it’s SO FUNNY!”

“Oh man, this whole time we’ve been trying to stop SEAWATER from gushing into our OIL. Stupid Terry was holding the diagram upside down.”

According to Ad Age, the account started last Wednesday afternoon with this tweet: “We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to Come.”

Fewer than 50 tweets later, the feed had nearly 13,000 followers — compared to the 5,000 or so at the “real” @BP_America — and as of today, the account had about 40,000 followers.  Its humorous blasts have been re-tweeted by everyone from filmmaker Michael Moore to singer Michelle Branch.

Toby Odone, a spokesman at BP, told Ad Age: “I’m not aware of whether BP has made any calls to have it taken down or addressed. People are entitled to their views on what we’re doing and we have to live with those. We are doing the best we can to deal with the current situation and to try to stop the oil from flowing and to then clean it up.”

While there have been plenty of fake Twitter accounts before, perhaps none has spread so rapidly or gained this kind of momentum. The timing is right, the content is superb, and people are eager to connect emotionally to anyone poking fun at the easy target.

Let’s take a look at some of the realities and implications of this development for our own businesses.

1) Is it legal?

According to Twitter’s guidelines, it is perfectly acceptable to set up accounts that parody real companies, celebrities, etc. as long as it is clear that it is a parody. Their rule states:

The bio should include a statement to distinguish it from the real identity, such as “This is a parody,” “This is a fan page,” “Parody Account,” “Fan Account” or “This is not affiliated with…”

The account should not, through private or public communication with other users, try to deceive or mislead others about your identity. For example, if operating a fan account, do not direct message other users implying you are the actual subject (i.e., person, band, sports team, etc.) of the fan account.

As of today, the fake account bio reads: “This page exists to get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!”

So no, it is not an account that meets Twitter’s standards. Further, it is causing a lot of confusion because many people are actually taking this as a serious BP account.

2) What should BP do?

BP has much bigger PR problems than a rogue Twitter account.  And making an issue of it and spoiling the fun would probably just heighten negativity against the company.

However, if I were working for BP right now <shudder> I would at least approach Twitter and ask it to enforce its own rules and declare clearly that this is a parody site.  Given the number of people who actually think this is a real account, there is a high probability that quotes from this parody site could start showing up as legitimate quotes from the company and stress the PR department further.

Really, BP’s only real option is to withstand the public fury and and eliminate the core problem — the root cause — at the source deep in the ocean and spreading across our shores. And that is going to take years.

3) What should YOU do?

The social web has imparted a whole new sense of meaning and urgency to PR planning, monitoring and response.  How have the rules changed? Or have they? What are your thoughts?

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