How the MLB Wins at Hashtags

Yesterday was a pretty busy day if you’re a baseball fan on Twitter who doesn’t mind spamming your friends. If you’re not a baseball fan then you might very well be a bit confused that seemingly normal people are suddenly sharing tweets with strange gifs demanding you  #ElectElvis or #VoteMoose.

Saner people might ask- why is a Moose on the ballot and, more importantly, isn’t Elvis dead? More importantly, who is Rendon and why is a building in DC telling me that I should vote for him?

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Appropriately confused? Here’s what was going on. Every year ahead of the All Star Game, there’s a final fan choice vote off between 8 players- 4 for the National League and 4 for the American League. Starting in 2012 MLB includes votes by hashtag in the final hours of the vote:

 

As a Nationals fan I was of course part of the Vote Rendon insanity. And yes, my account was suspended more than once in my exuberance.

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How big of a deal was this? Enough that #VoteMoose, a Kansas City Royal, was trending nationally throughout the week. MLB helped the craze along by updating results daily in a nifty graphic and fans ate it up.

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What makes this digital love so interestingly is that fans traditionally have a strong love-hate relationship with MLB’s celebrity-filled and sponsorship-fueled All Star Game. It interrupts the normal season, can break winning streaks, cause season-ending injuries, screw up pitching rotations and, adding insult to injury, is blacked out for MLB.com subscribers living in the US. And yet, fans want more than anything to be able to have bragging rights that their top players are participating.

This type of love-hate relationship is always tricky to navigate and nigh-impossible to measure. Typically in a marketing scenario we have to fly blind and rely on word of mouth, hoping that the pros outweigh the cons.  Yet with the hashtag voting system MLB can actually point to numbers-backed figures showing fan engagement and enthusiasm. Think of the impact this makes when they’re selling sponsorships and trying to get big-name players to participate. They can shift the narrative around from it being all about them to being some that is fan-generated. That is marketing gold. That is also the power of hashtag strategy done well.

Well done MLB. 

My 50th Blog Post: What a Journey It’s Been!

I can’t believe this is my 50th blog post! It certainly doesn’t feel like I’ve written that much. In fact I actually thought that wordpress had it wrong- that maybe it was including my draft posts. But sure enough when I went back and counted, there are 49 published and this makes 50. I thought about various posts I could do to commemorate this milestone- perhaps something about how to build your own blog, what I’ve learned, etc. But I kept coming back to the desire to share the story of how this blog came to be and why it’s so significant that the 50th post happens to coincide with this week of all weeks. I’ve had a fairly unique path and it’s my hope that by sharing my story it will: 1. Empower others to take a chance on changing their path and 2. Help hiring managers and HR to recognize that non-traditional experience can be incredibly valuable to an organization. So here it is (and it’s a long post so buckle up…):

The Prequel: Living in the Library

I have a BA in International Affairs from GWU and a MA in Politics from NYU. My passion was studying post-communist transition and democratization. I’ve always wanted to understand what underpins motivations and why people have certain sets of  beliefs and subsequently take certain actions. In transitional societies most of the rules that people grew up with get thrown out the window. They are entering an entirely new system and form new communities. I worked to understand how and why these communities formed and why certain people moved towards nationalism while others moved towards more inclusive attitudes. I decided that a career in academia would be the most suited to pursuing this course of study. After a few false starts I was accepted into the Politics PhD program at the University of Virginia and moved to Charlottesville, VA.

Episode I: A Startling Discovering

I started my PhD in 2011 at UVA and couldn’t have been happier. Finally I was doing what I loved and my path seemed very clear. I would do 2 years of course work and then spend 3-4 years focused on my dissertation. Then came that fateful course: Spring 2011 I took a class on public opinion and participation. I became interested in several theories that looked at how the media and various “opinion-leaders” (as they’re called in political science) impact political beliefs. I began to see how social media, in particular Facebook, could have a very transformative impact on these studies. Specifically, the way that it could help us move from a broad brush-stroke depersonalized quantitative focus and towards a qualitative understanding of opinion formation that could be backed by analytics. Unfortunately at the department at UVA is quite invested in quantitative methods and I hit wall after wall when I tried to explain my theory. I might have gone so far as to drop it but then…

Episode II: 17 Days in June-What just happened?? 

On June 10, 2012 I received an email announcing the resignation of UVA’s President Theresa Sullivan with no real explanation. Sullivan was the first female president of a University that has had a strong history of intentional and unintentional sexism (some of which I was experiencing in the politics department) and had only served for 2 years at a University where Presidents averaged decades. She was quite popular and well respected by all. Subsequent emails directed faculty and students to just go with the decision and not ask any questions. I’m not one to take that lightly.

On June 13th I saw a petition going around demanding an explanation by the Board of Visitors for the resignation. I immediately signed and shared it. Then I began to read the passionate comments left by fellow signatories talking about how frustrated and betrayed they felt. I noticed a similar group under the single story the Washington Post had written about the sudden resignation. I realized that perhaps if these people had a forum to talk to each other we might be able to get the attention of other journalists to keep their attention on the story and get a real explanation. So I formed a Facebook Group- “Students, Friends and Family United for the Reinstated of President Sullivan”.

The full saga of what we accomplished can be found here. It was nuts. My group swelled to 17,000 members and served as a base of operations from which we held a rally at the University bringing out 2,000 attendees from all over the country. On July 26, 2012 President Sullivan was reinstated as President, a position which she still holds.

This landed me my first job as a social strategist- working for UVA. Apparently it was better to keep me inside than outside! But from a bigger standpoint, it made me see that those theories I had batted around in my political participation class had merit. Social media had the power to bring people together to created meaningful and lasting societal change. As such it was a challenge to much of what I was being taught.

Episode III: This isn’t going to work

During Fall 2012 I wrote several papers working to tie my theories to existing scholarship and demonstrating their validity. The last straw was when the professor who taught political behavior, who I knew I would need on my dissertation committee, looked over a paper I had written and said “just remove all mentions of the internet”. Winter 2012 I began to make my preparations to leave my program. I had put my heart and soul into getting into a politics PhD program and I was quitting. It’s the hardest yet best decision I ever made.

I started my blog in February 2013 to begin to work through some of my theories and also as an opportunity to begin to develop my voice. After lots of research I decided that the right position for me was that of “social strategist”. A position that would allow me to continue my research and analytics while also working to execute strategy. My blog was my outlet during that last semester. I sat in classes feeling everyone staring at me- the quitter. It didn’t help that my activities during the summer had made professors in my department wary and uncertain how to treat me. It was with a sign of relief that I got a position at Social Media Today and could officially leave after the Spring 2013 semester.

Episode IV: Do I really belong? 

My new position started June 2013 and it was a rough transition. I felt that I had to succeed to demonstrate to myself and others that I had made the right decision. This all came crashing down when, after 5 months, I was laid off. I turns out that the expansion of the company had occurred too soon and I was expendable. I was so humiliated. I put all of my former PhD cohort on a limited Facebook visibility. I didn’t know how I could face them.

But I kept blogging on my site. It was my outlet to explain to the world my strategies. I wrote a post called “Why a social strategist should be your next hire” that was basically a description of everything I could do for an organization. But I also felt lost. I didn’t have a degree in marketing and I felt that it showed all to often. I could understand and speak fluently in high level concepts but was befuddled by certain terms such as the “C-Suite” and “Integrated Marketing.” I felt totally out of place and while I still knew that leaving my PhD was the right choice it felt incredibly selfish particularly when I had to move back in with my in-laws and get financial help from my parents. What had I done?!

Episode V: It starts to come together… 

I was finally hired by a small agency called Purematter to work primarily on their new contracts with IBM. This was when I finally had the chance to build out real social strategy and implement new ideas. I worked on multiple influencer programs, constantly working to build better types of measurements and identification strategies. I built out tweet chats, and communities and all the while I kept blogging. My blog became my outlet. It’s where I wrote out strategies that couldn’t be fully implemented or, in a few cases, where I could be far more blunt than I could be in client conversations in terms of what would and wouldn’t work. But I still struggled. I felt that I had gotten lucky to find an agency willing to use my skills and I was uncertain whether that would happen again. There were still gaps in my vocabulary and knowledge.

Episode VI: The Next Adventure

At the end of May 2016 the agency decided to switch to a contractor model and I was out of a full-time job. I accepted their offer to finish up my programs with IBM and Cisco as a contractor while I looked for other positions. I put together my resume and crossed my fingers that it would make sense to someone. After all I only have 3 years actual full-time”experience” and I’ve now been laid off from both companies I’ve worked for. But I have extensive training in research methodologies and their applications which allows me to create new types of strategies.

My blog was all I had to demonstrate this and so that became a major outlet for me. My number of posts increased and I made sure that when I tweeted them out they all linked to the Pulse versions so that those reading them would also see that I was on the market. And low and behold the calls and emails came in.

But it was Oracle that caught my attention. The opportunity to work with them as Head of Social Strategy, North America under Tami Cannizzaro whose work in influencer programs had inspired me in some of my early strategy work. This was the opportunity I had been looking for since leaving my program. A chance to innovate and stick with it in a way that you just can’t at agencies. I said yes.

Epilogue: 

I start my new position at Oracle next week. See why I said that the timing of the 50th post was eerie?! One thing I left out was that I also started teaching Social Media and the Brand as an Adjunct Instructor at NYU this past summer. I’ve always loved teaching and it’s what I missed the most about my program. The opportunity to do so once again is so gratifying and rewarding.

I always knew that I made the right decision by leaving my program but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t full of self-doubt. It’s been a very rocky road but I’ve met amazing people along the way who have inspired and assisted me to get where I am today. I’m embarking on a new adventure at Oracle and it’s going to be a big change. There will be new challenges and potential pitfalls but that’s how life goes.

There’s a lot of talk about taking a chance and changing paths. But the one thing that many posts don’t include is just how hard a road it will be and how much you need to commit to moving it forward to make it work. I’m so glad I took that chance but it’s taken me 3 and a half years before I’ve felt comfortable writing a post like this. Follow your dreams but be prepared for many sleepless nights where they feel completely out of reach.

So that’s my story and those are my words of wisdom for whatever they’re worth. Many thanks to everyone who has been there for me along the way. Your support has helped empower me to keep going and believing in myself and my dreams. Here’s to 50 more posts!

Why Did Facebook & Twitter Succeed?

Facebook started in 2002, famously, in a dorm room. Twitter started in 2006 as a side project. As of 2015, Facebook has 1.5B Active Users and Twitter has 289M Active Users. Why did this happen? Why those networks? Why have they made it while so many others haven’t?

This was the rhetorical question I posed to my students a few weeks ago. We talk about “right place, right time” when it comes to the big two of social networks but there’s more to the story. It’s why Google+ as envisioned would have never become Facebook even if without the competition. It’s why we still don’t have a “Twitter killer” and why (as I’ll discuss in my follow-up post) Instagram is now the fastest growing social network.

What is a social network?

This may seem like a basic question but it’s important to start with this. A social network is NOT the platform. Rather it is the net of the connections and community that surrounds it. Success for a social network such as Facebook or Twitter stems from more than the need to attract users. They had to attract and/or build entire social networks to use and interact on their platforms.

The image is taken from a social network qualitative study done in the 1980s mapping out comparative strength of social network ties. Note the importance of kin and their inter-related nature. This was critical for Facebook.

The real value of Twitter and Facebook does not stem from the platform. It’s the people on the platform. Too often we get lost in the tech. Both Twitter and Facebook were started before the “app” hype. Both had clunky codes and Twitter even became known for the “fail whale” due to how often it appeared. The tech was essential but NOT sufficient- not even close.

Leading up to this course I asked my Facebook network the following question: “Why did you join Facebook/Twitter and why did you stay? Here’s a sample of what they said:

Note how well the reasons for joining Facebook maps onto the strong ties to the kin part of the social network image above. Also recall that Facebook started in the university community- a place designed to foster the rapid development of offline social networks. Twitter, by contrast, is a platform of purpose. It’s no coincidence that the “a-ha” moment sparking real Twitter adoption typically occurs around an event hashtag. This actually just occurred for two of my students through the #copa and #Eurocuphashtags. They had been struggling to get themselves into the platform and seeing the activity on those hashtags did the trick. This is a story I hear over and over.

Think about what your Twitter versus Facebook networks look like in terms of relationship source and depth. Need additional proof? Just think of what it means to unfollow versus unfriend.

So why does this matter? Sure it’s interesting from a geeky and intellectual perspective but as a marketer why should you care?

We need to understand the psychology of people acting within a social network and community in order to create strategies to get them to want to connect with our brand and share our branded content. This is why simply cross-posting content (as enticing as Hootsuite makes it) is a bad idea. That’s why your brand shouldn’t be on every platform. And, this is why, only a few social media apps can truly be called social networks (more about that in my next post).

Successful strategy is built based thinking through the psychology of the community. People will be attracted to and interact with your content depending on their reasons for being on that network. This impacts everything from content strategy to influencer marketing.

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.

Your Group Might Not Be a Community and Here’s Why

This is the first in a multi-part series I’m putting together around the concept of Community within social media.

Community is a term that gets thrown around constantly within the social media space. Typically I find that it’s used to express the basic value of an investment of resources in an online social network. When we think about it, community is at the heart of any social media strategy which is why terms such as “Influencer” and “Advocate” matter so much. The power of social media marketing lies ultimately in the ability to transmit large scale messages in ways that seem personal and authentic. The recipients of those messages are labeled one’s “community”. That’s why we call individuals who maintain our social channels “community” managers rather than social media managers.

Where did this come from? I think that as marketers began to realize the revolutionary power of social networks they grasped for a term to describe this new way of perceiving the customer base and “Community” seemed to fit. On the one hand, I believe that the introduction of this term was a boon to social strategy because it made certain that there was a continued recognition of the human-relationship element within our strategy. It has also allowed for the introduction of social science theories into the world of business and marketing (which is actually how I ended up in this space–but that’s a story for another time).

But on the other hand, there’s a highly problematic side to the widespread adoption of the term “Community”, particularly when it comes to the job title of community manager. Simply posting social media messages and responding to posts does not create a community. A community taken in that sense is superficial at best and artificial at worst. No one can actually “create” a community. The power of a community comes in the form of a social network. To harness the power of a community, it must already exist in some shape or form and this is why every social strategy must begin with extensive research and listening. There must be a reason for a community to exist and it cannot simply be because a brand decided to start tweeting.

Community is a concept as old as human society and refers to a segment of individuals possessing some type of unifying characteristic, such as proximity, norms, interests, or heritage. Communities endure and are seen as greater than the sum of their parts. If they are broken, it is a traumatic. Groups, by contrast, can be loose-knit and a function of a time and place.

Social media of course has loosened up some of these concepts and shifted our conception of what relationships look like. For example, I have yet to meet in person some of the individuals I consider close friends. But even though they some aspects have shifted, there are still sociological and psychological roots to the formation of a community. And if those roots don’t exist then no amount of managing will make them appear.

It’s essential to define what is and what is not a community because it ultimately effects what a social strategy can accomplish. A loose-knit group that shares common interest space with a brand can be powerful in its own right. In fact, I believe that many of the online “communities” out there built around brands should by all rights be called groups. Groups can make social posts go viral, engage in lively discussion, and follow a brand on multiple social channels. Communities, however, are where relationships are formed and trust is built. They are where the real potential of social networks lie and, as I’ll discuss in part 2, why few organizations have yet to harness it.

Stay tuned for my next post which will discuss how a community gets built out of a group.

A High Klout Score Doesn’t Mean You’re An Influencer

Incoming Social strategist rant: proceed at your own risk…. 

Influencer programs are in vogue right now. And I’m totally a fan. Social network analysis has always pointed to “nodes”- people who have disproportionate influence within a conversation and subsequent actions. This holds true as well in the social media age. In 2012, Pew published a report called “Why most Facebook users get more than they give” featuring the finding that a small number of Facebook users have a disproportionately large impact in terms of social interaction- from liking, to tagging photos, to poking (remember that?!) to friending. Pew calls these “power users” but in our 2015 terminology the tendency would be to call at least a good proportion of these users “Influencers”: People who drive engagement and have a disproportionate reach through their networks. Strategically, therefore, Influencer programs are a terrific way to reach out to your audience and build relationships.

Unfortunately the concept has been twisted beyond recognition thanks to Klout, Forbes, and other such “lists” the belief is that there are just generic “Influencers” who you can go to and abracadabra get the output you’re looking for. This is totally inane. EVEN celebrities don’t have total Influence. They appeal to different demographics, across different issues, and with differing levels of credibility.

Going back to the Pew example- the “power users” that they identified are “influencers” on Facebook within their own networks. And that’s as much as you can glean from this data. The Obama campaign took the analysis to another level by analyzing the type of content that users posted and their social networks to make use of power users who were advocates for the campaign who had independents and other “persuadable” voters within their networks. But still- these were individuals on Facebook. No doubt they had a different set for Twitter- there may be overlap but this should never be assumed.

Note all of the research and caveats that go into defining these “Influencers”. If you want to build a social strategy around Influencers you must answer the “who, what, where, and why” before you can even start to compute data.

  • Who: What type of Influencer are you looking for? A blogger, a social network contributor, a big name offline as well as online?
  • Where: What circle(s) are you looking to Influence and on what platform?
  • Why: What’s the end goal? Are you looking to make a sale? Do you want to Influence opinion?

This is the level of analysis that you need to go into to identify an Influencer who will actually serve as an asset for your end goal. Seriously. So please put aside the lists and the generic scores (seriously analytics companies just give it a rest!). Those may be great for landing speaking gigs and building your personal brand- BUT they are not a measure of actual Influence when it comes to putting together a serious campaign where you’re looking for actual results.

So PLEASE let’s put aside the generic overgeneralizing in favor of something that emphasizes the need for serious research. I’ve taken to utilizing the term “niche-influencer”- but anyone has a better idea I’m all ears

Tweet me at @suzimcc 🙂

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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