Tag Archives: authenticity

you can’t outsource authenticity.

Recently I made a comment on Twitter about a talented singer-songwriter and, a few days later, received an @ reply from someone suggesting I get said artist’s latest single. Curious, I checked the account to see it bragging about its “digital marketing clients” including a pretty decent roster of performers.

Too bad the whole thing is all kinds of wrong.

A couple years ago, I mentioned singer/songwriter Pete Yorn in a tweet. You know who responded and started following me?

Pete Yorn.

Pete Freaking Yorn.

Pete The Freaking Man Himself Yorn.

Not someone repping “digital marketing clients.” The artist himself, who tweets as he tours the country, promotes himself well but also shows his human side. And while I had sort of drifted from watching his career, I’ve bought all three records he’s released since.

Why? Because, strange as it seems, I feel a connection with him. Not with the team that handles him as a “digital marketing client,” but Pete Freaking Yorn.

Because I don’t go to Twitter to get marketed to. I go there for conversations.

If you’re an artist — or a company or an organization — who is a “digital marketing client,” you’re missing the boat. Sure, you can have people help you learn about social media, assist with a drawing up a digital strategy, but only you can be you. Heck, I bought two albums from the band Vancougar after discovering their tweet about attending a roller derby bout. Authenticity is the currency of social media, and you can’t outsource authenticity.

Look, I’m nobody special, yet I’ve had all kinds of performers follow me (or follow me back) and engage me in conversation. That makes me want to stay connected. To their music. To their brand, to use the marketing term.

I think most agencies struggle in the world of social media because they can’t do authenticity as well as their clients. They can’t converse when they focus on pushing messages. They can find suckers to pay them to tweet … then they spew marketing taglines and no one responds.

Because we don’t talk to taglines.

We don’t talk to entities repping their “digital marketing clients.”

We talk to people. It’s personal. It’s conversational. It’s authentic.

It’s what every performer who wants a presence on social media should be doing … themselves! Personally. Conversationally. And authentically.

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girls in the grass?: just say ‘no’ to stock people photography.

Some say the photo trend of planking is being replaced by stocking — where people simulate a common stock photo and upload the images side by side. Like any good satire, StockingIsTheNewPlanking touches on a painful truth: Way too many people are way too dependent on stock photos of people in cliche poses.

Admittedly, the “girls under trees” shot seen on so many campus websites is a running gag in the higher education community. But at least those are real photos. Far worse are the ubiquitous clip-art manifestation that is “girls in grassy fields using laptops.” I’ve worked at a college with its fair share of grass for 10 years and have never seen a girl with a laptop sprawled amid the greenery. Go ahead, search Google Images under “woman laptop grass” and you’ll find enough shots in fields to cover the earth’s surface. Shoes appear to be optional.

Or consider the “jumping for joy” shot. Does anyone find this exhilarating? Or is it just cliche, if not ludicrous.

If you don’t have a photographer on staff, consider taking your own darn pictures. I know it’s not easy to get the perfect shot, or the right people in it, for some uses. If you work at a college, you’d be amazed how many good shots your students can take … and may have already taken (of authentic situations) and wouldn’t mind letting you use. But if you do a big promotional piece with grinning folks in a stock photo, and your competitors roll something out with the exact same image, how dumb does that look? Or, who knows, maybe you’ll find that big photo on the front of that slick brochure being parodied by some stocking folks.

It really all comes back to one of the biggest currencies of the web today: Authenticity. I’d prefer a real photo that may not be the most technically outstanding over a carefully manufactured — but stale, cliche and generic — stock photo every time.

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5 reasons businesses should be using social media.

I gave a presentation to a community leadership class last week and realized that (despite my arrogant assumption to the contrary) not all businesses and organizations are yet sold on the value of using social media. Whether it’s fear of the lack of control, tight resources or not believing they have the skills navigate Web 2.0, some businesses hesitate to take this step into what appears The Great Unknown.

Preparing for that presentation (as well as a rush job for class when a guest speaker had to cancel for a death in her family), I assembled 5 top advantages businesses and organizations can gain from social media presence. Turns out the reasons spell out the word MEDIA — pure happenstance, as I’m not nearly clever enough to create such a thing.

Multimedia storytelling: It’s so much easier to show with visuals than words, whether with video (the richest form of online content) or photos/slideshows. For example, would you rather read about our college having more than 100 student organizations or see a user-contributed Flickr slideshow with students in action? The bonus is you can embed slideshows on your own pages or share via social media.

Engagement: Your customers or clients, students or alumni are key to, and part of the narrative of, any business or organization. Interacting with them via Facebook or Twitter helps solidify their connections with you, and may help you better solve their problems. If a potential client posts on three Facebook pages looking for more info, and yours is the only one that responds, how much of a better chance do you have of earning their business? Or if you aren’t on Facebook, that discussion can’t even take place.

Direct communication: How traditional PR pushes out a story: We write a news release. We send it to editors who may throw it in the trash, put it into some kind of story purgatory or chop down to two sentences and make it a brief. Even if you get a good story, then consumers have to actually pick up a paper that day, turn to the page where it is and find time to read it. With social media, you bypass gatekeepers and uncertainty to get directly to your stakeholders. Also worth noting that our official Facebook page has decidedly more fans than our hometown daily newspaper has circulation.

Immediacy: Getting the word out, and placed in the media, can be a laborious process … albeit one that’s still worth doing. But if you create a Facebook event and invite all your fans to it, it’s immediate (and engaging and direct, as noted above). Or if something changes at the last minute, you can let attendees (or maybes) know immediately. There are other countless reasons businesses may want to get some kind of important message out instantly, and social media is delivers quickly.

Authenticity: Our businesses, our brands are not about buildings or sales figures. They’re about people. Authenticity — being who you are, telling the truth and embodying your values — is required for social media but also provides opportunities. Why not allow users to see behind the scenes at your operation in some way? Why not invite your most loyal customers to tell their stories? Why not make everyone feel like they are a genuine and important part of your story?

I’m not saying social media doesn’t come with perils, but then anything worth doing — just opening a business in the first place — comes with some type of risk. And I’m not saying delving into social media should completely replace existing marketing efforts, although they can greatly enrich, extend and complement existing marketing. Social media is more of an investment of time than of money, but it’s an investment that can reap great dividends.

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non-branding branding: starbucks in wolves’ clothing?

I read with great interest this Seattle Times article about Starbucks going hyperlocal by rebranding some of its shops without any Starbucks branding. The throwback 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea test store will offer nary a Starbucks logo and even serve wine and beer as some traditional neighborhood coffeehouses do.

It will launch as the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong, the Times’ Melissa Anderson writes, and if successful will replicate in other markets. Starbucks’ SVP of global design, Tim Pfeiffer, notes each store intends to have a community personality, to look and feel more like an organic part of a neighborhood than a chain store.

But while going neighborhood and hyperlocal are things I applaud, what does it say about Starbucks’ belief in its own branding that it rolls these out each under its own customized name almost as stealth shops? Are they admitting people equate the name Starbucks with chain stores that spread like kudzu and often choke out native coffeehouses? In Seattle and Vancouver, for example, Starbucks are so abundant that it’s clear they are looking for overall market share rather than same-store sales, the usual indicator of an individual establishment’s success.

Reaction among actual neighborhood coffeeshops ranged from bemusement to anger — the latter because Starbucks representatives would essentially squat in their stores and observe goings-on. Starbucks reps spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, ‘Observation,’ said Dan Ollis, who owns soon-to-be neighbor Victrola Coffee Roasters. So apparently the rebranding also involves culling the best ideas of the competition plus non-use of the Starbucks name with all the economy-of-scale advantages the company famously leverages?

Granted, existing businesses launch new units all the time, but usually because they see a niche or void in the market. I’m no fan of Wal-Mart, but when they rolled out Sam’s Clubs, it found a ready audience for shoppers’ clubs with bulk sales (and named it after founder Sam Walton). Sometimes it’s aspirational, like when FX Matt Brewery started its Saranac line of craft brews to appeal to those who wouldn’t deign swallow Utica Club. But Starbucks isn’t looking at serving a niche; it’s trying to overpower an existing one. It’s not trying to save the neighborhood coffeehouse as much as eliminate existing neighborhood coffeehouses.

If you work in higher education, imagine a scenario where Harvard sent representatives to observe your campus for a year, then built a college right next door and used its deep pockets and superior marketing budget to poach your best students. 15th Avenue and its brethren look like wolves in sheeps’ clothing meant to thin the herd, not add new customer experiences. The next time I’m in Seattle, I plan to make a beeline to Victrola Coffee Roasters to show my support. Assuming it survives that long.

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