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Everything I know about social media I learned in Powerlifting

5 August 2010 3 comments

I want to share a secret with you – many years, and about 65 pounds ago, I had been a devotee of something with a much greater pull than even social media and its allure.

That’s right, I had been a quasi-athlete (not a great one, but just one), well I was a rugby player – define that as you will. As part of being an athlete, I really got into powerlifting, it was a better way to get into shape – not as monotonous as running or cycling. (I wasn’t great at powerlifting either, just ask my workout partners 😉 )

I had flirted with the idea of being a strength coach, because I enjoyed working out and studying exercise physiology, but as my instructor used to say, he couldn’t advise that we complete four years of college in order to earn $25,000 a year as a strength coach.  So I ended up in PR, where a four-year degree earned me just a little more per year. 😉

And recently, while two torn up knees and a bum ankle are keeping me off of the rugby pitch, I’ve been getting back into powerlifting more and more.  So as I’ve jumped back into powerlifting I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between this sport and social media. I quickly grabbed the laptop and started jotting down as many notes as I could keep trapped in my mind. I’ve included a list of this baker’s dozen below.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!
    1. It’s not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, or hit that new record bench press, it’s how you hone your social media chops – and learn what works for you (whether it’s video, audio, blogging, etc.)
  2. Form is important.
    1. As everyone who hits the weights knows, you have to perform each exercise correctly. If you don’t learn how to do each exercise correctly then you run the risk of injuring yourself later.
    2. In social media, you have to look at this as focusing on the narrative you want to tell, the stories about your organization that are important.
  3. You won’t hit every lift, it’s OK.
    1. Whether you are working out or at a powerlifting meet, you’re not going to perform every lift perfectly, sometimes you will fail to get the weight back up – it was called “bottoming out” when I lifted – and that’s OK.
    2. In social media, every post isn’t going to be perfect, or totally make sense to your target audience, or tell the story you want it to tell. No worries, you’ll get it next time. And maybe you can learn something from what you might consider a “failing post” that you can use in a few weeks.
  4. Build your posts to an “event”
    1. In strength training, there’s a philosophy called “periodization” – where you prepare a workout schedule that fluctuates from light workouts to hard workouts and back to medium – which turns into the new “light workout.” As you progress along this program, you will gain more strength, step by step. Usually you plan your workouts back from a scheduled event (the start of a sports season or a powerlifting meet).
    2. Why not do the same thing for social media? Plan on having a meetup/tweetup, or another social event or giveaway several months down the line and start creating a schedule of posts, videos, etc that you want to use to build up to this event.
  5. Start easy at first – don’t overstress yourself.
    1. Until you feel comfortable with your “social media workout,” don’t push yourself to do too much – too quickly. In powerlifting and social media it can lead to burnout and abandonment of your new plan. Remember, follow your schedule, and don’t frontload it with too much work until you are prepared for it.
  6. Mix up your “workout”
    1. Doing the same kind of workout, or creating the same kind of content, over and over starts to get stale.
    2. In strength training, this leads to boredom and your workout gains start to stall.
    3. In social media, this can lead to boring posts, losing readership, and eventually you might give up on creating new content.
    4. Just mix things up, don’t always do the same kinds of posts, or create the same content in your social media plan – some days do a podcast, or a quick video, or take a little time off (see below)
  7. More is not always better
    1. In strength training, as in social media, your first inclination might be to jump in with both feet and overdo everything.
    2. If you need to take a little time off, do it. While social media, and powerlifting, are very cool and a lot of fun, it can start to wear on you. But don’t take too much time off, or you might not return again – it’s the difference between a quick break and quitting for good. In strength training it means you’re going to get out of shape again, in social media it means giving up on your content, when you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough piece.
    3. If you’re at a company, see if you can find a couple of people to stand in for you for a while to continue building your audience.
  8. Don’t neglect your “core training”
    1. In strength training, you have to develop your foundation, your core muscles (the abdominals, lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and legs) in order to get stronger.
    2. In business and social media communications training, you have to look at your organization’s core competencies and ask “what are our communications goals?”
    3. How are you going to achieve those goals? How will your narratives, the stories you share about your organization, help you reach your goals?
  9. Speaking of goals, set realistic goals.
    1. If you’re starting out in powerlifting, you’re probably not going to hit a 400 pound bench press overnight, or for quite a while. But you can add 20-30 pounds in a few months.
    2. If you’re creating social media content, blogging and videocasting, you’re not going to reach Bob Lutz, Geoff Livingston and Chris Brogan reader numbers overnight – and that’s OK. Keep your measurements realistic, if you impact a handful of people that’s still wonderful, in fact they might even get back to you and let you know about that impact.
  10. Everyone is unique – in strength training and content creation.
    1. Not everyone will feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, or audio podcasting. They might be better at connecting with people via social networking tools (which are different from social media).
    2. Go with what works for you – and include this in your social media “periodization plan”
  11. Have the right equipment for your needs.
    1. And know how to use it. In strength training, doing deadlifts wearing sandals might leave you injured – trust me I know.
    2. In social media, you need to have the proper equipment – it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but instead of getting a flip camera (which seems to be the rage among communicators) look at something that allows you to get decent audio (a much overlooked piece of the YouTube puzzle) as well as audio.
    3. Use this equipment in your practice sessions, knowing how to use your equipment ahead of time makes your life much easier, whether it’s in powerlifting or social media.
  12. Get a trainer
    1. When you start working out, it pays to invest a little bit of money in working with a personal trainer. They help start you down the path to a healthier life, or a stronger body. They give you the tools to move on, only needing to check in with them periodically when you need something new to add to your workout.
    2. It’s the same thing in social media. If you are new to this, you can start off by reading a few books and trying to get some “book learnin’” and try to piece this together. This isn’t a bad idea, but you can avoid some of the “bad form” you might learn from reading various tomes if you hire a social media communicator to help train you, to show you what might or might not work for you and then let you loose on the InterWebs to see how this works. Then you can bring them back from time to time to teach you something new or change your routine a little bit.
  13. Finally, and more importantly, at the end of the day you have to do this yourself.
    1. No one can work out for you. You can’t have someone from outside your body lift the weights for you. You have to sit down at the bench and start pressing the weights on your own.
    2. When you are creating content for your social media outlet, you can hire someone to come into your company and write for you, or you can have an employee do it on behalf of the company, but leaving this in the hands of an agency instead of learning how to do it yourself can be dangerous – because it leaves your communications goals vulnerable to an outside organization that only has your best interests at heart as long as the checks don’t bounce.
    3. You need to take the lessons learned from all of the above points, and what your social media trainer has taught you and either do it yourself or bring someone in to your organization who can “lift the weight” for your organization.

Another Take on “Blogger Relations”

Social media is more about social interaction and being online as another means of message distribution than it is about “blogger relations.”

The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that we in public relations should not be focused as much on blogger relations in our social media planning and usage, we should instead be focused on creating cool content and building relationships with other bloggers/podcasters/etc. It involves being engaged with people on a smaller level, much the same way as the mainstream outlets are fragmenting more and more. But interpersonal relationships are like that, you can’t be best buds with thousands of people.

It’s the argument of the “cool kids” vs. the “popular kids.” The “cool kids” are too busy creating content to worry about whether or not you are hanging out with the “popular kids.” If you have to choose, you should pick the road less traveled – the one of creating content to attract an audience of interested people who want to listen to what you have to say, and then developing your online connections.

Take Twitter (please! Just kidding) for instance.  You can have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, but is that anything more than just a status symbol? It’s especially telling for people like Ashton Kutcher, or other celebs on Twitter – those people with millions of followers, but are only connected to a couple of dozen themselves. In cases like this, these accounts are used as purely broadcast platforms for people who want to “see a part of the life” or “catch of a slice of AK.”

This is not a bad model, in and of itself, and it leverages the popularity of these celebrities quite well. But for average companies or people, it’s not really a model that works. Remember, people are interested in connecting with people, not with companies. It’s the uncommon company that can get away with having a fierce group who just want to be part of the brand (i.e. sports teams, Apple, etc)

In the meantime, it might be better for people to focus more on developing the content that will interest and attract people to their “brand” and produce enough content to keep them interested in returning. Believe it or not, the content might not be directly related to their work or product. If the people keep coming to check it out, your personal brand might achieve that “top of mind awareness,” or to put it another way, might stick in their mind.

When I spoke a little bit about this on the video linked below, I didn’t realize that the Godfather of Social Media, Chris Brogan had given a different take at his site.  This is just my humble two-cents.

Are We Focusing Too Much on Blogger Relations? from Benson on Vimeo.

Iron Chef – Social Media #3: “Who is your chef?” (Who represents your brand via social media?)

28 December 2009 6 comments

Why is a personal brand important for a company in social media? Because consumers don’t want to interact with a “company” or  “brand” they want to interact with the people behind a brand.  That’s why people won’t follow “Dell” because it’s a company, but they will follow Richard at Dell or Lionel at Dell because they give that company the personal interaction with their consumers.  As a result of that, people will want to become connected with your company or organization, look at the iCabal, the Apple fanatics who are incredibly tied in with the Mac brand, because they have probably been influenced by the Mac Evangelist crowd (and/or they are easily led by shiny things. 🙂 )

(Just kidding, relax y’all.)

Companies can’t interact with people. The people in your company can.

You have to make sure that the right people in your company are interacting with those people.  That’s one of the strengths of PR people working on your social media team, PR people are great at connecting with people – it’s our job, heck it’s in the job title “Public Relations.”  Who in your organization can you trust with the social interactions with your customers?

What are some of the ways people in your organization can get involved in social media? Here are a few of my ideas, what would you like to see your organization do to open up and engage more online?

  1. Set guidelines, not restrictions – you want to have guidelines that people blogging/tweeting/etc for your company need to follow (think of them as talking points for your evangelists, why do they rock?) But you don’t want to restrict what they can say too much.
  2. You don’t need to vet everything that’s said – your employees, check that, the employees who love your company (and these are the ones who should be representing you) should not have to run everything by the legal department.  You trust your customer service team in India to represent your company without running every statement through the mothership, you should trust your social media employees to do the same.
  3. Who in your company is already blogging? – Who’s already doing it?  Can you pay them to be part of the social media team at your company?  Why reinvent the wheel? Take these people on a long weekend retreat to Vegas, or the fun destination of your choice and intersperse some workshops on developing your social media team in between visits to the casino/park/hiking trail/etc.
  4. Are there any free agents out there? –Is there anyone in your organization, or someone that one of your employees might know, who is already active in social media and social networking? If so, you might want to consider offering them a job to produce your content. They have an audience already established, and you might be able to attract some of them to your new brand. And at the same time, if you are working on your own personal brand, you can learn quite a bit from your new free agent star.
  5. Who should represent the company? – Your new free agent? How about the guys you have on the team already?  What about the CEO?  Is he/she tech savvy and interested in this communications medium?  If not, it would be better for them to give up the reins here and let the people in the know take the lead, then report successes and concerns to the CEO.
  6. Experiment, experiment, experiment! There are a lot of kinds of social media out there, what works the best not only for your company, but for your team?  Remember, there are some pieces of social media that work best as entrees, and others as appetizers.  Maybe your video person loves working on video but has a voice that would only be improved by gargling with rusty razor blades.  Then he shouldn’t lead the podcasting.  Your podcast guru has that smooth radio voice but can’t hold a camera steady long enough for a picture, then you don’t need them leading up your Flickr stream.  Different people have different strengths, what tools are out there to augment them and how can you combine them?
  7. Training – Cross train your team, turn them into backpack journalists – able to develop news across all kinds of new media.

What other advice would you add for leaders interested in getting their people involved with their customers, competition, and colleagues?

“Bigger Boobs Through Social Media?”

18 December 2009 Leave a comment

If you are interested in social media, and learning how to get started or engage more in this burgeoning online media-sphere, then you have probably run across quite a few stories/blogpieces/ads pimping how “You Can Get 10,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days!” or “You Too Can Become a Facebook Gawd!!1!!” and other such nonsense.  To me these are nothing more than just the latest “How To Get Bigger Boobs Through Social Media”-esque BS lures to remove you from your money or time (both of which are important).

A lot of these try to latch onto our need to be recognized, to be acknowledged quickly for our brilliance – and claim to provide a quick, “gimme gimme gimme now” fix to achieving this. Like most things in life and business, working in social media is going to require a lot of patience, time, strategic planning and hard work.

One of the big ideas these “plans” leave out – especially important if you are a business owner or corporate type – is the need for some kind of merging of your strategy between social media and communications. Social media are great tools for building additional communications and increasing your community outreach/developing a community relations platform, but they will never really replace your communications/pr strategy.  They can help augment it, but your social media outlets are really one more avenue to communicate with people, and need their own strategy to . But you need to have a firm strategy in place before you really jump in and drown in all the noise out there.

(as an aside, there will be a Holiday present for those people interested in social media and strategy coming up before Dec. 25.)

At the end of the day you’re not going to land 10,000 followers in a month, nor are you going to achieve deitific bliss on Facebook or – Buddha forgive – MySpace. As with most things in life, you need to work at it and show patience. Engage with your target audiences, look at the strategy you have developed – what do you want to say to them? What goals are you hoping to achieve? Why are you writing or recording?

When Bloggers Attack – Swinging Back

15 December 2009 Leave a comment

I love working in social media – blogging, podcasting, video work, social networking and more.  All of them give you ample opportunity to interact with others. Sometime for good, and other times you’ll find you or your organization getting blasted by a blogger, content creator or just a plain old curmudgeon.

While many people in social media, a lot of whom are incredibly knowledgeable, and many communications officers feel that your organization should “rise above” any kind of crossing swords with people online who are attacking you, I wish to disagree. There is a line in the sand where you should be willing to kill any detractors with kindness (always remember to be understanding and offer the honey-laden olive branch as much as possible) but once that line is crossed you should be able to respond factually, forcefully and passionately.

Many social media peeps, especially when looking at business social media, will tell you to keep your statements and content as even-keel as possible. You never want to engage in mud throwing or flame wars. I agree with them on this, but where we might diverge a little bit is my opinion that when your organization is being attacked, possibly unfairly, by online peeps who are unwilling to look at facts, or try to skew facts to match a caricature they created to attack your organization.  Then these are the times when you will need to stand up, use the facts as your sword and shield, and call out your detractors.

This isn’t an open call to start flame wars and a rousing round of “nanny nanny boo boo.” Keep your responses slightly snarky (maybe a little more. Remember that you want to keep a little bit of a bite to them). They need to be classy, but sharp as a razor’s edge. You want to remind your opposition that if they want to misquote you, or tweak facts to match a false claim, that you are going to repeatedly respond by throwing high and inside.

Look at how various political campaigns ran their social media outlets during the 2008 and upcoming 2010 campaigns. They brought in bloggers who already had followers, but more importantly were passionate about their candidate’s stands (or, let’s be honest, became passionate about their positions once they started receiving a check) and were willing to stand up for them. In addition, Barack Obama’s campaign built online tools from scratch to help foster their community of supporters.

Balancing the Playing Field

If your organization is going to have “what it takes” to respond to online attacks this way, you need to have a CEO who has the spine to understand that for a short while, the attacks might intensify as your opposition tries to determine how far you will go before folding.  In order for this to work, you have to be willing to repeatedly defend your position with this idea of “classy passion.” Again, humor is one of your best weapons here.

Look at what the Obama White House is doing right now with FOX News, they are repeatedly responding to FOX News when they believe facts are in error.   For a while the peeps on FOX News were calling it the “War on Fox,” or some such thing.

There used to be a saying that you never go to war with people who buy ink by the barrel or tape by the yard.  Meaning it was never in your best interest to cross swords with people who run the media, because they can come after you day after day for any perceived slight.  That used to be true, but with the advances in social media, social networking (for audience building) and online communications you suddenly have the tools to create your own media outlet to respond, “balancing the playing field” more in your favor.

Being the old rugger I am, I’ll leave you with this analogy. While you want to play cleanly as much as possible, and give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ve found that one of the best ways to stop someone from throwing punches in the ruck is a good, old-fashioned cleat rake every so often.

The Future of PR Firms?

Just a quick thought or two before crashing for the night. (hopefully they make sense) For a while I’ve been pondering the future of public relations and advertising/marketing firms in this new media world. (Why wait until now to share this with y’all? What can I say, I’m shy.) While many people have been talking about the future of the mass media in this world, I don’t know how many people have pondered the other side of the coin. I was talking with Crosscut Communications‘ guru, Will Reichard, about this after the Social Media NM meetup last week and we bounced some ideas off of each other about the potential future for PR firms.  So up front I’d like to thank Will for letting me bend his ear and giving me some really good pointers.

In this New Media Age the majority of businesses need to not only be in business, but also be media outlets. While news outlets are shuttering, laying people off or switching to three days per week publishing schedules, businesses need to be able to present their own talking points/communication starters online, circumventing the mainstream media to a certain extent.

But what is the impact on PR firms? Those who are used to sending out press releases and newsletters, and creating plans based around getting more “earned media” from an ever shrinking news universe. Are they going to go out of business?

Of course not. There will still be a need for PR firms to work on getting “earned media” despite the shrinking newshole, but savvy PR firms will shift their focus. In my previous post I talked about PR professionals (working for organizations, I don’t think I made that clear) serving as diplomat-facilitator-community relations.  Communications firms should be on the cutting edge of new media, social networking and content creation. They should take over the role of teacher, leading their clients through the basics of new media/social media, and building social networks (whether on Facebook or Ning, or checking out what Pursuant is doing and trying to match that) and let their clients go on developing messages, creating content and developing outside evangelists.

This won’t lead to the clients dropping the firms, far from it. Clients will need these firms to develop online infrastructure and create/manage video pieces, podcasts and other new media projects for their clients. And there will be a big need for these services, as many companies, especially smaller companies, won’t have the facilities to make high quality video or audio podcasts, and won’t have the connections with regional or industry bloggers.

(Now’s probably a good time to point out that people working in PR firms should already be blogging and connecting with others in the industry their clients work in. Or at least monitoring the chatter.)

Just my two cents to mull over tonight as we drift off.  G’night y’all.

It’s Twitterific! A lesson from ESPN

17 June 2009 2 comments

Today I was driving back to work from lunch with some of the members of the new NMPRSA board and listening to ESPN radio. The host of the show was talking about athletes who are on Twitter, and the potential of these athletes to “leak” confidential team information. (firings, new players, etc.) SEC fans found out the dangers of Twitter earlier this year when Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin tweeted the name of a recruit who had might signed with a team – a violation of NCAA rules.

One of the points the host (whose name I can’t remember right now) talked about the problems he saw with athletes preempting team announcements about fired personnel, cut players (especially before the players found out) and the like – and asked how long it would be until players were accidentally – or staffers were purposefully – pulling a Kiffin and violating some kind of rules structure.

So I sent out a tweet mentioning the topic and got a couple of interesting responses back. First from Albuquerque PR firm owner Tom Garrity:

@desertronin , interesting tweet on ESPN and their percieved “danger”. Team owners should be embracing twitter, not fearing it.

And a follow up by blogger and online journalist Matt Reichbach:

@tg123 @desertronin but athletes should use common sense on what to tweet and what not to tweet. (e.g. things that haven’t been announced)

This reminded me of the recent cluster-tweets I’ve talked about before. Sometimes people don’t realize that Twitter is not just a communications tool between friends, but between you and (up to) hundreds of thousands of their closest “friends.” Any one of which can resend their tweet, or take one tweet out of context. (See above link)

Not to mention how many of them might be reporters, especially if you’re a celebrity. And then the story’ll take off. For fun, replace team with “your company” and athlete with “an employee.”

Now, stop hyperventilating at the thought, take a deep breath and go get a stiff Old Fashioned. Feel better? Great!

So what’s to be done?

Read more…