What I learned when I created an Instagram profile for my cats

Yes I’m now one of THOSE people. I have an Instagram for my three cats where I post their latest exploits and, yes, pretend at times to speak in their voice. Many think I’m crazy- and I’m really fine with that because this account has helped me remember how fun social media can be. My cat account is my outlet. It’s where my feed is full of other cute cats doing silly things like riding roombas, sticking their heads in bags and looking aloof. It’s also a place of interacting with a passionate community.

For example:

All three of my kitties are rescues and two of them were rescued off of the “kill list” from an NYC shelter by an amazing foster mom in Brooklyn. Both are black cats which decreased their chance of adoption and one was misidentified as vicious- most likely because she had survived the streets for 3 months and the shelter had no time to work with her to calm down. August 17th was National Black Cat Appreciation Day and it was awesome to see my feed fill up with Black Cat love. We shared stories and photos as well as raised awareness of the low black cat adoption rates. It was awesome to see the community come together in support of each other and our cats.

And guess what? On my cat Instagram there’s no mention of politics. You’d have no idea that this is a vicious election year. I have no idea how many Drumpf or Hillary supporters I may be interacting with because it doesn’t matter. My cat Instagram account is a sanctuary- a place where I can go to remind myself that there are still shared interests around which I can interact with others.

This isn’t escapism. It’s part of being human. We all have many identifying markers and it’s never been more important to embrace those. In terms of career many in my field preach that it’s futile to try to have a personal life and preach the glories of “hustling”. You are your work, all other is secondary. Most “thought leader” social media accounts reflect this.

But here’s the thing-we choose to make our accounts work and career-focused. We choose to blur that line through personal branding. We choose to submerge certain aspects of our personal identity. As I’ve written about in prior posts (here and here) this can be absolutely fitting. But we need to keep in mind that by choosing to build communities with a very specific work-centric identity, we risk loosing other aspects of ourselves.

I’m not talking about the whole “I’m totally transparent” thing because are you, really? Humans are weird. All of us have hobbies or pasts that are secret. So as much as you say “I’m transparent” on your feed, you’re not. You have an internal censor that thinks carefully through what you post and curates a balanced feed. Your offline self knows all about treading carefully through appropriate conversation topics (Thanksgiving anyone?)so don’t try to pretend that your online self is suddenly free to discuss anything you want.

That’s why it’s been so freeing for me to create an entirely niche account on Instagram where I’m only focused on one aspect of my identity- my love of cats. Many people take a break from social media to get back to their identity, if, like me, that’s not for you then I’d strongly suggest making a completely niche social media account. I’d also suggest that you check out Instagram to do so because it reach lends itself to the niche community- for examples-check out Urban GardeningFoodies or Fitness.

Bottomline: Social Media can be freeing and let you explore different aspects of yourself. So do it! Make your social media experience fun again. 

And  of course if you want to see the antics of three kitties named after Harry Potter characters come on over to @3kittiesinthecity 

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Featured blog image via xkcd.

What We Can Learn From the Failure of Blab

The social media community is reeling and in an uproar from the sudden closure of Blab. There’s considerable shock that the platform would be shut down within it’s die-hard community. My Facebook newsfeed has been full of the outrage. Yet take a step outside of our little world and it’s easy to see why Blab failed. Only the niche tech publications felt it worth covering.

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This is  REALLY IMPORTANT LESSON!

As I’ve said many times, it’s essential to keep the audience of a platform in mind before putting together a social strategy around it. Blab ended up being an echo-chamber for the same faces (only 10% of people who signed up returned according to the founder) and as such was unable to monetize. This is the same issue with many live-streaming options because many people simply don’t have the time during the workday to stop and tune-in.

Moreover, as Blab also noted, most live streaming content just isn’t that interesting to draw people in. This absolutely makes sense if you think about how people tend to consume live-media. It’s no surprise that the main success stories for livestream revolve around sports and entertainment events. It’s important to understand that these are not indicative of the success of livestreaming but rather of the specific times when livestreaming is a viable social strategy. 

In addition to content another issue with platforms like Blab is that they require an additional step in one’s routine. You can’t stumble upon a Blab on a platform that you’re used to accessing. You had to establish a different account and use a different app. There has to be a massively high incentive to do this for the average consumer which once again is why the content has to be very compelling. This is why out of all of the livestreaming options I’m betting on FacebookLive as the breakout option.

As social strategists it is essential to think about the way in which our target audience consumes content. As I’ve written elsewhere, experimentation is great but it’s not a social strategy and livestreaming is a great example. Where it succeeds is where there’s a diehard base eager to consume realtime additional content. But just because it works there doesn’t mean it will automatically translate to other areas.

Of course this is true for all platforms and why some have succeeded while others have failed.

The saga of Blab is a great learning experience for the social media marketing world. Let’s make sure to take it to heart.

Personal Branding Is Much More Than Self-Marketing

I hate the term personal branding. It’s one of those catchphrases that by now has been written about ad infinitum. Much of what’s out there tends to carry the same message- to the point that there’s even a wikipedia article on it. Personal branding is equated with the term “self-packaging” with the goal of marketing yourself along the lines of a company with the goal of furthering your career.

This definition is a major turn-off for many people- myself included. It’s rather ironic. Most of these articles begin with some form of argument about how you ignore your personal brand at your peril and yet the definition of a personal brand is incredibly narrow and appealing to only a certain subset of personality types.

But they do get one thing right: You do ignore personal branding at your own peril. The information is already out there and anyone who googles you will make a set of assumptions based on the information available. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t care about this- you absolutely do. Think about your personal brand as an extension of your offline personality. We all spend considerable time and money presenting ourselves in the most favorable light from fashion choice to speech pattern to what we reveal about ourselves in different situations. Personal branding doesn’t have to be about sales or trying to get ahead in your career. It can be as simple as making sure that your online footprint is consistent with your offline.

That being said, the quest to discover your personal brand can also be an opportunity to think through who you are as a person. In our fast-paced and career-centric world this often gets overlooked.

Here’s the exercise I use for my Social Media and the Brand Course:

During this course, I have my students work on a semester-long personal branding project. The goal is to hep them put together and implement an online extension of their offline personality and then experiment with how to engage with others around this personality. They choose a single platform that they can easily monitor through analytics- Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest.

I give them the following guidelines:

  • Be authentic: People can always spot someone trying to be something they’re not
  • Don’t overshare: Set boundaries just like you do with your offline circles.
  • Be mindful of your audience: Prospective employers & VCs will see this. Humanizing yourself is great. Being off-putting is not.
  • Have fun: It shouldn’t be a chore to post content

I then have them go through two group activities. To encourage conversation I switch up the groups between each exercise. We also come together as a class between each exercise to hear what each person came up with and offer feedback.

First activity: Talk about ideas for your personal brand. Who are you? What do you want others to know about you. Put this into 140 characters.

Second activity: What platform are you going to use for your project and why? What type of content can you share to introduce yourself to others and communicate your personal brand?

They then have a set of 4 milestones during the project:

  • Introductory paragraph: Taking what they discussed in class and coming up with an overview- the platform they’re going to use and why, the type of content they want to share, any additional ideas they have.
  • 1 Page Strategy Document: A more formalized document going over what success looks like for this project. This includes their goals and how they anticipate accomplishing them. (note: they are not graded on achieving these goals- rather the insights the draw from working towards them)
  • Weekly Check-in document: They turn-in 3 screenshots of content created the past week and 2 insights they can draw from how the content performed. This encourages further self-reflection.
  • Final Report: This is where they look at their initial strategy and draw insights from the overall project. I also ask them to think about the next steps for their brand. This can be anything from starting a blog, working on another platform, applying what they’ve learned to their start-up accounts, etc.

My goal for this project is to help my students establish connections between their offline and online personalities. I also want to empower them to get used to posting content on their accounts according to a set strategy to get that personality to come through. This is an opportunity for them to find online communities that they can tap into and engage with.

Personal Branding is important. As I’ve written elsewhere– it’s an insurance policy and one that’s come to my aid more than once. BUT it’s about far more than self-marketing or humble bragging. It’s figuring out who you are and translating that online to engage with others. After all, that’s how genuine relationships are actually built and those are the ones that will come to your aid as you work to advance in the future.

Here’s Why Your Mobile App Isn’t Taking Off

I’m writing this post because I’m tired of startups touting their apps as the next big thing and then being utterly shocked when they fail to takeoff. I’ll only say this once: It doesn’t matter how new and shiny your technology is and how excited it makes your VCs- the public has to decide that they want to use it for you to ACTUALLY get traction. So stop investing in big blow-out bashes and start investing in the basics of a social strategy and, in particular, community managers.

As we all know, the mobile application field is incredibly competitive and consumers do not mess around. The average consumer has 26 apps on their phone but mainly only uses 5. Also there’s zero tolerance for tech issues. In 2013, Compuware, found that 79 percent of users will discard an app if it fails to launch after 1 or 2 times. For an app start-up that can be absolutely disastrous. Sure your app may top the iTunes download list and get major publicity for that but if hardly anyone ever opens it after that that’s just a hollow number.

This happens over and over again. One recent example is Peach. It got massive buzz at CES 2016 with the typical “will this replace Twitter, Instagram, Facebook” headlines but within just a few days it was old news for the general populace. This is a great lesson-you can attract a few early adopter types but they tend to be very fickle and unless you harness them as influencers or knowledge sources they will likely be off to the next app to tout as the “next big thing”. Even if you do harness them you’ll still be left with a ghost town of a network which isn’t ultimately going to generate that coveted ad revenue you promised your VC’s you would be able to collect.

So what’s the secret? Clearly it’s not just in the build. There are a bunch of cool apps out there that just don’t get traction. For a non-app example think about Google+. It had users built in thanks to gmail accounts and people still didn’t utilize it. App adoption- social network or not- requires the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) to solidify into actual use.

To get people to repeatedly use an app you need to have some type of offline trigger. The best way to do this is to get an entire community to become hooked. Facebook nailed this by activating entire universities and Twitter did it as well (albeit much more accidentally).

Here’s one idea- I call this the water-cooler effect and it goes like this:

  1. App developers do a soft-launch for a few early adopter-type people who, critically, are part of offline networks. They need to be active on several social networks, have a physical office that they go to and, ideally, a circle of friends outside of work. (Social strategists are basically stalkers and this info is easy to get) This is also a time to get feedback on usability- pay attention to this as it is critical. Remember, users will only try to open an app 1-2 times. Make sure that these people are majorly pumped about the app AND have a reason to want others to use it as well.
  2. When the app is ready for prime time let the beta testers know and make it a big online event. Get them super excited- even perhaps think of a way to gamify growing their circle of friends on the app. Because here’s the key- THEY are your offline ambassadors and gateway to adoption and retention of app use. It just takes one very simple question asked casually: “Have you downloaded this app yet?”followed up by “Here let me show you how it works” It’s that simple. Imagine what that would do say in NYC. I’m not going to go through the math here but even if you only got 10% of the people to spread the word you would get exponential growth.
  3. Community Management is critical to keep the momentum going. There WILL be rollout issues and features that people really want to see. Your Community Management team needs to be always on for those first few weeks to answer every question promptly and keep excitement growing in using the app. Invite users to give feedback, work with the internal team to adopt some of the ideas. Maybe there are 3 easy feature ideas you could put together in a week- why not put them up for a vote to see which ones the users want. This developers community and keeps users coming back for more.

Do you see the theme? It’s Community that makes your app succeed. This is a lesson that has been proven time and time again so please stop ignoring it. This is where your money needs to go. It’s a people campaign. Putting your logos everywhere doesn’t translate to retention! It’s the community that brings in the value and that’s what will make people continue to use your app. That’s what will get you that coveted revenue and make you more than a few day blip on TechCrunch.

Why I’m a Social Strategist (and it has nothing to do with social media)

“So what do you do?” It’s a question that I’ve learned to dread outside of the marketing world.

How do you explain the role of social strategist to a cabbie who is trying to make polite conversation or to a great aunt who barely knows what Facebook does? “Oh, so you post stuff on Twitter?” is hardly the response you want to get particularly when, let’s be honest here, the “What do you do” question is the opportunity to do some humble bragging. My current go-to is “I advise brands on the type of stuff they should post on Facebook and Twitter. You know the Super Bowl? Yeah stuff like that.” And then I change the subject.

Okay so it’s not really important that a cabbie understands what I do. But it does get a bit frustrating when it comes to family and friends. And I know I’m not alone. Get a group of Community Managers and Social Strategists together and within a few minutes we start to commiserate. Because here’s the thing. We do way more than work on social media. Sure that’s what you tend to see but for most of us what draws us to this career runs far deeper.
And that’s what you want to share in response to the “So what do you do?” question.
Social strategists are equal parts dreamers and doers. We’re best utilized in roles that intersect at the center of marketing and creative design. Often we’re the bridge between the two. That’s because our jobs require a blend of the two. It’s all too easy to loose this when the main output you see is various analytic reports but look closer and you’ll find that every social strategist has a strong creative streak. That’s why the unexecuted or failed social strategy hurts so much. It’s like a commissioned painting that was never finished.
My passion for social strategy is rooted in the joy of building- particularly communities. I firmly believe that there is more that can unit us than divide us. I look for individuals who are interested in learning, doing, or contributing more and find ways to build communities to empower them because we can do more together than divided. “Wait,” you’re probably saying, “aren’t you a marketer? This sounds like some airy fairy idealistic crazy talk.”
The way that I see it, any opportunity to demonstrate the power of community and our commonalities is a win. Anything I build that focuses on facilitating conversations between individuals who might not otherwise interact further ignites my passion. That’s why I do what I do.
Take a minute to look back through this post. You’ll notice that with the exception of the first paragraph I haven’t mentioned social media once. That’s because being a social strategist is about far more than those platforms. And that’s why I get a strange twitch in my eye when I have to use those mediums to try to define what I do.
Now I do have an ulterior motive for writing this post and that’s a call to action to make use of the full potential of your friendly social strategist. Sure we can answer your social media questions, manage your accounts and write blog posts.
But if you take a step backwards and let us into your wider content strategy and vision we can do so much more.

My Social “Secret Sauce”

As a Social Strategist I do a lot of work with clients on building up their brands and executing various types of initiatives and relationship-building. But, as a lot of you know, I also spend a good bit of time building up my own “personal brand”. Now before I go any further let me make it clear that this post is not designed to be a “How to Build Your Personal Brand” post. If I was going to do one of those it would be super short: “Your online persona should be an authentic representation of your offline self.” *mic drop*

The way that I go about building my personal brand may not be how you should do it. A blog, for example, might not be the best fit for you. One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be authentic with others. My goal with this post is to talk about how I’ve gone about creating my own personal brand and, specifically, the tools and metrics I look at to figure out how to make sure I’m engaging rather than broadcasting.

Let’s start off with a story. A lot of social strategists don’t have a large following. That’s because we tend to be super focused on the brands that we work with which doesn’t leave much time to work on our own. In February of this year I had 1,500 followers and a Klout score of 63 (I’ll be mentioning Klout not because it’s the end all be all -I don’t think it has any bearing on Influencer metrics- BUT it is a marker for our industry so, in my opinion, for personal branding it does hold, well, clout). 

Over the past few months I’d been gently encouraged by my mentor and boss Bryan Kramer to spend time on my own brand. I was at Interconnect mid-February, listening to Brian Fanzo giving his first Ignite talk, when something just clicked and I decided that in the future I wanted to be up there. Overall there’s a total dearth of women within the social strategy space- we tend to be behind the scenes- and I want to change that.

Here’s where I feel like I can be helpful to some of you out there. When I’m co-hosting #H2HChat I tend to see the same question pop up from the audience “How can I become an Influencer?”. I’d like to gently say that that’s the wrong question to ask. It’s like being a leader. No one goes out and says “I’m a leader and now you will all follow me” at least unless they’re in a Totalitarian regime. You’re a leader when others begin to call you one. And you have to give them a reason to do so. The same thing goes for being an Influencer. People can tell if you’re faking it.

Back to my story. Between March 1 and July 1, my follower count grew to 11K and Klout score to 77 and I can honestly say that it all comes from being authentic, listening and engaging with my community. I’m constantly testing different types of posts and monitoring engagement. I also look at which communities tend to follow me back when I follow them.

Here are the 3 primary tools I use to accomplish this:

Buffer

I decided to invest in Buffer’s basic account because it’s a terrific way to 1. find interesting content; 2: easily monitor the types of content my community engages with; 3. repost that content. I use the “suggested content” sparingly but there are absolutely some pieces that I’ve discovered and that my community loves. I’m a big fan of their RSS feed feature. Among my feeds are Adweek, Mashable, FastCompany and, of course, Bryan Kramer’s blog. I try to make sure I’m mixing up my content and I always try to include an image. Occasionally I’ll change up images on a post if it doesn’t do as well as I thought it would to see if that helps. Recently I’ve been testing out some humorous images.

Twitter Analytics

A seriously underutilized tool. I wrote a whole blog post about it here so I won’t go on about it too much. In particular I look at the ratio of impressions to tweets for each day. I also scroll down the tweets and see rate of engagement. This gives me an indicator of what’s doing well and what isn’t. I also use Twitter’s analysis of my audience to decide the type of content to post. For example, my audience is as interested in Technology as in Marketing. Once I found this out I made sure to include some content about interesting inventions every now and again.

ManageFlitter

This is the other tool that I’ve invested in. It’s $12/month and a great way to find followers. Often these tools can get abused for mass follow/unfollowing but ManageFlitter let’s me tailor my searches to very specific audiences that I think will be interested in my content. My favorite feature is the Power Tool. When you’re trying to increase your following, which in the age of vanity metrics is something we do all think about, work on doing so in a targeted an authentic way. I’ve gone so far as to force unfollow any spam accounts that follow me because I want to make sure that my community is genuine.

And that’s it folks. Those three tools empower my social secret sauce. I’d love to say that I use more and I absolutely do at times but these are the ones that I use daily to check-in with my audience and make sure that what I’m sharing and how I’m communicating is of value to my community.

What do you use for your personal branding? Tweet me @suzimcc – I’d love to hear them 🙂

Our Shared Rainbow Moment

Only a few days in my life can compare to the feelings of pure joy and solidarity that I felt on June 26, 2015. It’s one of those markers that I believe is going to go down in history as collective memory- a “what were you doing when you heard” moment in time that we share with each other in years to come. Events such as those make us want to come together as humans- introverts and extraverts alike- to be with each other. Sharing those moments with others is a major part of the experience and we see spontaneous congregation in city centers to be with each other. Everyone wants to be a part of it.

On June 26th we saw the way that Facebook and Twitter in particular have become virtual city centers. Within minutes of the announcement profile photos across the social space were redone in various shades of rainbow. Tons of Brands joined in with, in my opinion, no real visible marketing strategy, rather they seemed to be motivated feeling that they should be a part of this momentous occasion. (A H2H moment!) And while Facebook didn’t change their logo they launched the “Celebrate Pride Tool” to create a rainbow filter of your profile picture. By the end of the day my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of rainbows. A visual testament to our unity at a momentous time in history.

What does this mean? Probably not much in the long run. A bitter election campaign is right around the corner. Our profiles and feeds will be full of various opinions and divisions. Statistically unfollowing and de friending WILL occur. But let’s remember this moment. The field of rainbows- each an individual decision to create. Each representing a moment when we made a very human decision- to stand up and be counted and unite our voices together in celebration of equality.

Yes I’m waxing eloquent and no I don’t care. Blame it on the rainbow.

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