June 12, 2012

Don’t roll your eyes at social media influencers

Why insincerity doesn’t work in PR, sales, marketing & online media

Chris AbrahamI experience a lot of contempt for bloggers and social media influencers. From agencies and marketing firms as well as from self-professed social media experts and social media gurus. Bloggers and other social media online influencers may not know who Edward Bernays is or have the lingua franca of a trained communications professional, but they sure can spot the eye roll of condescension and contempt from a mile away, even through the terse messaging of a single pitch.

While the biggest brands with the biggest gifts and social cachet can get away with being douche bags and intolerable asses because the level of peer and personal prestige and importance more than compensate for bad manners, rudeness, and a condescending manner — the proverbial upturned nose and eye roll — this sort of behavior isn’t acceptable from anyone but the crown king and queen of their particular demographic.

For example, if you’re offering cars, purses, trips to bloggers to review, you can act as you like; if you’re offering coupons, you had better really try to understand that it is relationships, kindness, attention, and connections that is selling your pitch — and the blogger’s valuable-to-her time — instead of your patently insulting suggestion that “you and your readers would really benefit from this dollar-off coupon.”

If you think that bloggers are actually failed journalists, you may have contempt for your audience; if you consider the time spent to become a blogger would be better spent “working,” you may have contempt for your audience. If you believe that what bloggers do is “just prattle on,” you may have contempt for your audience; and if you actively play favorites and only engage with the crème de la crème of bloggers, you may have contempt for your audience.

Why it’s important to be generous for its own sake

This contempt is made plain by two variations of a quote attributed to Henry Louis Mencken: “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby” and “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

This blog post came to a head upon reading the time-honored and often-reviled book by Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People. At first blush, it is a deeply troubling and kiddie-pool-shallow indictment of all that is superficial and manipulative about sales, marketing, PR, and social networking.

If you gird your loins, however, and push through, I kick myself for not having studied it further. I will admit that I always get to where it really sounds like Dale is suggesting that we superior elite who are reading his book need to learn to manifest the same sort of compassion, patience, and calm — grace — that we generally reserve for children and the infirm.

And then I realized that that is indeed what Dale Carnegie is saying! But that we should not just reserve compassion, empathy, gentleness, love, patience, attention, and kindness to just children, we should lavish anyone and everyone in our lives with adoration, no matter if that person is one’s child, one’s wife, one’s business associate, or one’s prospect.

What he seems to be suggesting — and this is really revolutionary to see laid out through endless illustration and scenarios taken from history’s greatest and most successful men and women — is that being nice, generous, and friendly should be something one aspires to generally and not just as a ploy to make friends and influence people.

While this book may well have been popularly reflected as insincere, insincerity is what doesn’t work in PR, sales, marketing, and especially in earned media online with bloggers and other online influencers.

Some good advice that Dale Carnegie offers is “bait your hook for the fish you want to catch rather than for yourself.” (OK, if you’re rolling your eyes now and thinking, “pearls to swine” right now, get out of the business immediately and get into a profession that better tolerates insufferable snobs and douche nozzles.)

I have been saying this forever based on what I read years ago in a very popular book of the day called Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray: “You need to give the gift your partner wants instead of the gift you want to give.” Great advice for us men who are constantly giving vacuum cleaners to our significant others for Valentine’s Day instead of a romantic weekend at a bed and breakfast or whatever may well indicate love and appreciation to her or him.

People will put up with assholes if the reward outweighs the shame

And on the topic of appreciation, Dale Carnegie addresses this, too. And you need to be obsessed with it. Too often in earned media engagement, agencies and firms keep up appearances until a media mention is acquired and then see ya! The fire-and-forget method of acquiring social media mentions works if the brand is high prestige but appreciation goes a long way toward making up for not offering the blogger an Audi A8 to test drive for a month instead of just providing a limited-time-offer coupon for sessions at a regional day spa.

Dale does address this, and I will paraphrase: People will put up with assholes if the reward outweighs the shame. Your boss can be an asshole because he can fire you; the king can be an asshole because he can make you a knight; the judge can be an asshole because he can incarcerate you and instantly turn you into a felon.

The limits to what signifies paid or sponsored media and content

Earned media marketers are pretty vulnerable in this regard! We’re not paying anyone anything. Sometimes we’ll offer a review copy or product, but we’re professionally limited in terms of what signifies paid or sponsored media and content. We have to rely on our wits and of our general, natural, and effortless love, appreciation, and respect for social media, social influence, citizen journalism, and the power of blogging.

And while I think you either have that respect, maybe because you are, yourself, a blogger or social media content producer, I do believe you can fake it ’til you make it. (I have been blogging since 1999 and have been in social media since they were called bulletin board systems and required 1200 baud modems.) But you need to make it, you can’t just grin and bear it because you’re not having fun. If you don’t love love love chatting and interacting with the unwashed masses, the hoi polloi, the vox populi of online influencers — no matter how little influence — then you’re screwed and this whole blogger outreach thing will end up blowing up in your face and you will hurt your reputation, your agency, and the reputation of your client.

Primum non nocere.

Do you have contempt for your audience?

Oh, actually, now that I think about it, if you think fancy bloggers are the unwashed masses, the hoi polloi, the vox populi, you may have contempt for your audience.

And don’t forget, you’re doing noble work. Most bloggers are writing their blogs without any feedback, appreciation, or love. Most bloggers are writing in a vacuum and are generally a couple posts away from hanging it all up, no matter how much work they have already put in. There’s a constant desperation as to why one spends all this time writing, writing, writing into the infinite blogosphere. Getting a pitch from anyone, to say nothing of Kimberly-Clark, Mizuno, US Olympic Committee, or Habitat for Humanity is huge! To be tapped from on-high and asked, authentically, to help and to share, can be the kind of affirmation that fuels that blogger to redouble his or her efforts.

Most bloggers have never been pitched, tapped, or kissed and are pretty lonely

In my experience, most bloggers have never been pitched, tapped, or kissed and are pretty lonely. To read what folks say inside our marketing bubble, bloggers are being pitched to the point of blindness and deafness. Why is this true? Well, because the top-100 blogs are, surely, but that’s 0.000002% of all bloggers. So, that’s like saying that all entertainers are being stalked by paparazzi just because 100 top celebrities are constantly being dogged by TMZ, Us Weekly, OK!, and Star. It’s ludicrous. The top-1,000 influencers of social media, be it blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, MySpace, Instagram, Google+, etc., is no indicator of the norm in social media.

Why do agencies only target the top 25 influencers appropriate to their clients in any particular campaign? Partially because these agents are over-worked and over-committed and there’s generally only enough time and budget to get a short way down their media contact lists. But really it’s because everyone has general contempt for anyone who isn’t already super-hot. While this is a no-brainer for Ford as it chooses folks to give Ford Fiestas to — cars surely get the attention of the hottest online celebs — it is a disastrous strategy for everyone else. Unless you’re Scott Monty, Ford’s awesome social media rock star (he is that good), you’ll generally get shot down if you ask the assumed prom queen — and only her — to the prom. You’ll generally get rejected if you’re not at least valedictorian of your class if you only apply to Yale and only Yale for college.

While Dale does talk a lot about how people aspire to be important — and that is indeed true because when a brand reaches down “from on high” and taps a blogger — especially newbie and baby bloggers — this is more often than not an essential sign of legitimacy and status rather than being a terrible inconvenience or SPAM. If you’re willing to ask someone out to prom who you really like, get on with, have chemistry with, you’re more likely to have an amazing prom with memories to last. And, if your date’s never been kissed before, you’ll forever be his or her first and never forgotten.

Every blogger and tweeter remembers their first time: when they were first contacted by a publicist who asked them for help, be it a good or bad experience. Every blogger with any level of success has loads of “dating” stories they can tell you about their good, bad, and ugly experiences with us PR and marketing executives.

Finally, to close, remember the words of Philo of Alexandria (or Plato) in the words that are chiseled in stone wherever I manage: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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