The Most Fun Class Ever

Babson 301

Last week I had the opportunity, for the second year in a row, to teach social media marketing to a group of former NFL players under a league program call The Trust, which helps former players set up and run their own businesses.

This is the most fun class I’ve ever taught, not just because of who these guys are but because of how they learn. The group of 12 was like a brotherhood. They laughed and trash-talked each other and had a great time. They also worked hard, stayed engaged and showed tremendous eagerness to learn. And they’re wicked smart. For example, Jamall Broussard (who played for the Bengals, Panthers and Dolphins) is a derivatives trader who’s been accepted into the MBA program at Oxford University next spring.

I got to spend some time with Jordan Babineaux, who played nine years for the Seahawks and Titans and who earned the nickname “Big Play Babs.” Nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Watch him stuff Tony Romo on the 1-yard-line  in the 2007 playoffs. He’s in the video production business now.

Jordan’s brother John (didn’t get a photo – damn) has a successful health club in Silicon Valley. Leonard Stephens (Seahawks and Redskins) also has an athletic development company focused mainly on kids. Jason Kyle (16-year career with the Browns, 49ers, Panthers and Saints, runs a successful gourmet coffee chain in Scottsdale (check out the Press Coffee Roasters Facebook page; it’s great). Tommy Barnhardt (punter for 14 years with the Redskins, Saints, Panthers and Bucaneers) sells low-cal, low-carb, naturally sweetened foods for diabetics like him.

Other players in the class:

Darryl Ingram (TE – Vikings, Browns, Packers) has a business that connects student athletes to college scholarships.

Freddy Keiaho (LB – Colts, Jaguars) is a partner in a company that builds fine pools.

Ron Mabra (DB – Falcons and Jets in the 1970s) is a food distributor in Atlanta.

Bernard Robertson (T – Bears) has a financial services business.

Todd Scott (DB – Vikings, Buccaneers and Chiefs and a Pro Bowler) runs a real estate services company with 50 properties under management.

Ken Bungarda (T – 49ers) developed trading software for commodities traders and is now building a hedge fund.

Leonard Stephens (TE – Redskins, Lions, Seahawks, Titans) has an athletic training business for schoolkids.

Justin Watson (RB – Rams) owns a fitness studio and wears a Super Bowl ring.

Bernard Robertson (left) and Jason Kyle

Bernard Robertson (left) and Jason Kyle

Jamall Broussard (front), Jordan Babineaux (rear) and some grinning idiot.

Jamall Broussard (front), Jordan Babineaux (rear) and some grinning idiot.

(left to right) Jordan Babineaux, Todd Scott, Ron Mabra, Leonard Stephens and Justin Watson

(rear, left to right) Jordan Babineaux, Todd Scott, Ron Mabra, Leonard Stephens and Justin Watson; (front, left to right) Jamall Broussard and Darryl Ingram

Tommy Barnhardt

Tommy Barnhardt told me social media nearly put him out of business by creating such a strong spike in demand for his Guiltless Desserts that his company almost couldn’t keep up with fulfillment.



McCarthy 2.0

Khizr KhanI watched Khiza Khan and his wife on TV tonight, again attempting to defend themselves against charges that no one in their position should have to confront – that they represent what is bad about Islam. The irony of watching these two people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice being subjected to accusations of disloyalty turns my stomach. As the post-convention Trump campaign unfolds, I can’t help thinking of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s and wonder if this is a distant mirror 60 years later.

Sen. McCarthy briefly managed to convince a large percentage of the American public in the mid-1950s that a communist menace dwelt in our midst. He did so without evidence, other than a secret list of names that he never divulged. His evasiveness didn’t stop Americans from believing him. In a Gallup poll in early 1954, McCarthy’s approval rating hit 50%.

McCarthy played on unjustified fears that were never supported by facts. In the age of social media, you’d think we’d insist on more verification of the truth, but that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from winning his party’s nomination. Where is the validation that Muslims are a threat to our society? Or evidence that Muslims are any more responsible for the 9/11 crimes than Christians were for the Oklahoma City bombings? Where’s the evidence that religion has anything to do with terror? Terrorists are often fanatics, but fanaticism is a disorder that associates itself with religion out of convenience, in the same way that people who kill their classmates blame social ostracism for their actions when the real reason is the demons inside their own brains.

McCarthy’s case unraveled quickly once reasonable heads prevailed. Let’s hope the same thing happens to the Trump campaign. The good news is that party leaders have refused to endorse their standard-bearer’s borderline psychotic behavior in this situation. The bad news is that they have refused to disavow him entirely. Apparently, party unity is more important than isolating a candidate whose paranoid ravings threaten the party itself. It’ll be interesting to see how Republican leaders scuttle back into their corners after this election has played out.

Marketing firm piggybacks on March Madness for fun social media “bracket”

Big sports events are a great opportunity to show off your products and services, particularly if you can apply them to the combatants on the field. Here’s a good example I that came over the transom from Blue Fountain Media, a design an online media firm.

The company decided to show off its social media savvy by analyzing the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts of each March Madness team to see how they did with social media engagement. They researched average engagement rates across each social platform. The result was a formula average engagement rates across each account, focusing only on “owned” accounts (not fan pages)

The results showed that engagement rates for social media accounts owned by brands and teams were very different. Not surprisingly, brands had lower overall engagement in 2015:

  • Facebook: 0.2%
  • Instagram: 2.261%
  • Twitter: 0.02%

These contrasted significantly to those accounts owned by college basketball teams:

  • Facebook: 0.9%
  • Instagram: 6.2%
  • Twitter: 0.3%

Here’s a nice infographic (click on it to enlarge).

March Madness social media anlysis

Five Often-Overlooked Reasons Senior Executives Should Use Social Media

connections-990699_1280“I don’t have time to build my LinkedIn profile. I already get more useless messages than I can handle anyway.”

“Why would I want to be on Twitter? It’s a lot of noise, and no one cares about what I’m reading.”

“I want to be a thought leader, but I don’t have time for blogging.”

Sound familiar? I hear these objections all the time when speaking to top executives about social media. Their concerns are motivated by a basic misunderstanding of how people use tools like LinkedIn and Twitter. There is special value to these platforms for executives that don’t necessarily apply to the rest of us.

To follow my reasoning, you have to understand the concept of “connection points.” These are details of our lives that create opportunities to establish connections with others. We constantly seek connection points in all our interactions because they create a foundation for trust. That’s why the first few minutes of any meeting, even one with people we know very well, invariably consists of small talk about stuff that has nothing to do with business. Finding common ground puts everyone more at ease.

The same applies to online interactions, and that’s why social networks can be so powerful for executives. Here are five little-known benefits to consider.

1. Finding connection points with customers and prospects – Executives typically spend a lot of time meeting with customers and business partners. It’s a fair bet that most of the people they’re meeting with do some research in advance. Because of LinkedIn’s exceptional search performance, a search on nearly any executive’s name is likely to turn up a LinkedIn profile within the top three results. That profile should be rich with connection points.

A good LinkedIn profile is a lot more than just a resume. The summary statement should talk about accomplishments, motivations, passions, and turnoffs. It should also include some personal details, such as favorite sports teams or hobbies. Schools, professional memberships and volunteer activities should also be filled out. These connection points are built-in conversation starters. You never know where a connection point is going to surface.

Customers, partners, and employees also follow executives who matter to them. By updating your profile with new responsibilities, achievements, and publications you keep these important constituents up to date on your progress.

2. Alerting the media – Why do CEOs like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk waste time on Twitter? They certainly don’t need the publicity. One reason is because they know that the journalists, analysts and others who influence audiences they care about are following them. That means they can reach large numbers of people who matter to them quickly and without the overhead and expense of press releases.

The same applies to corporate executives. As the people who are called upon to represent their businesses in public, they can use media like Twitter to communicate important business news and reinforce the image and culture of the companies they represent to the people who matter most to them. Without the red tape.

3. Cementing business relationships – When Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins tweets an attagirl to his company’s head of executive talent or thanks a customer for a great meeting, he’s doing more than just casting off casual praise. He’s reinforcing a relationship that matters to his business. Compliments are one of the most powerful ways we had to support others and thereby earn their trust. Executives have special leverage in this respect. By recognizing an associates qualities or achievements in public, we not only do them a favor but issue a warning to competitors and interlopers to back off. That’s one of the values of having a large Twitter following. When Bill Gates compliments on Twitter, he’s giving that organization a publicity boost.

4. Building thought leadership – Most organizations want their executives to exhibit thought leadership, but placing articles in management magazines is both time-consuming and unpredictable. Many executives create thought-leading content all the time in emails and posts on the company intranet. With a little wordsmithing, these can be turned into essays on platforms like LinkedIn Publishing, Medium, and Svbtle. LinkedIn is particularly valuable in this respect, because it has a built-in promotion medium through notifications. And because executives tend to be followed by other influencers, their LinkedIn posts can spread particularly fast.

5. Recruiting – In the same way that customers and prospects research the people they do business with, so do prospective employees. People want to work for people they like and admire, so creating a LinkedIn profile that showcases both your accomplishments and personality presence enhances your ability to reach people who are a good fit for your culture. Conversely, it can dissuade people who are the wrong candidates from wasting your time.

In short, a social media profile that reflects who you are rather than simply what you do creates a trust foundation that pays off in many ways. You just have to look below the surface.

This post originally appeared on Biznology.

Photo by nzchrissy2 via Pixabay


Here’s What 25 B2B Marketers Think Are the Key Trends in 2016

I was delighted when B2B Marketing Zone – a website and newsletter that I devour – asked me to be one of 25 contributors to its “B2B Marketing Trends for 2016” e-book.

I love this content concept, and it’s an idea more B2B marketers could adopt. Contact influencers in your market – or even your own customers or subject matter experts – and ask them for short paragraphs on a topic, then combine that content into an e-book.

Then do what Tom Pick and Tony Karrer of B2B Marketing Zone did – make it easy for people to compose posts like this one and share the book through their social networks. Your contributors will be flattered to be included and you will get to tap into their often substantial followings.

The authors identified three powerful trends driving B2B marketing right now:

–Changing buyer expectations fueled by the availability of rich information and ease of access and purchase;

–Pressure to demonstrate ROI as marketers learn to do more with less; and

–New tech tools and big data so that we can no longer say half our budget is wasted but we don’t know which half.

I picked a few quotes from the e-book that I really like. Download a free copy and find your own favorites.

Moran“2016 will be the year where B2B marketers finally realize that, while they can always make more content, their customers can’t make any more time.” – Mike Moran (l.)

“Every B2B site should produce cornerstone reference content that is comprehensive and authoritative; something that people link to and return to read again and again.” – Steve Rayson

“A buyer persona is not a zombie—but a profile based on your understanding of a real customer and their real needs.” – Ambal Balakrishnan

Williams“It’s time for B2B marketers to let go of their obsession with perfect production values and get on with just putting good content out there for customers and prospects.” – Elizabeth Williams (l.)

“Channels and tactics will come last, not first anymore, at last.” – J-P De Clerck

“Is 2016 the year of B2B brands finding a personality and sense of humor?” – Michael Brenner

Andrews“With marketing now responsible for helping to nurture and advance the buyer through 70% of the purchase cycle, there are monumental inefficiencies if the sales team is knocking on cold doors rather than closing sales-qualified, warm leads.” – Debra Andrews (l.)

“If you have 30 reps, each sharing just five pieces of content per week, that’s an opportunity to get your message out 7,200 times!” – Shannon Pham

“[Workforce brand ambassador programs are] a win/win. The company benefits from more authentic communication, and employees build personal brands.” – Cheryl Burgess

“The average click through rate is 0.1%, banners don’t work anymore and people are much more likely to trust peer to peer recommendations than traditional advertising.” – Joe Fields

Neufeld“No longer will marketers schedule an email campaign for Wednesday morning at 10 AM. Rather, marketers will configure an email campaign and technology will determine the best time and day to deliver the message.” – Brian Neufeld (l.)

“The 2015 Annuitas B2B Enterprise study found that only 7.5 % of respondents reported the skill set of marketing personnel was highly effective. Clearly, we need to do better.” – Erika Goldwater

“If your marketing is great but your product is bad, that, ultimately, means your marketing is bad, too.” – Carla Johnson

And my own contribution:

I believe B2B marketers have finally realized that merely throwing content into the ether is both expensive and wasteful. They’re adopting buyer personas, content targeting and matching content to stages of the buying cycle. I think content marketing will continue to be a huge growth area for B2B in the coming years but we’re going to get a lot smarter about how we invest our resources. Marketers are beginning to realize the buyers are people, not demographic segments, and they are appealing more to the motivations that influence human behavior.

Recommended Reading – 7/9/15

Ninja Guide to Content Creation: Top 10 Writing Tools – Content Marketing Institute

If you’ve ever experienced writers block, struggled to come up with a creative headline, fussed over keywords or just been out of ideas, then this post is well worth your time. Each of Robert Morris’ 10 tips points to a Web-based tool that will get you out of the starting blocks faster, improve your writing and boost your search engine visibility. We had never heard of most of these tools, and bet you haven’t either.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Comments That Open Doors with Popular Bloggers – Boost Blog Traffic

Commenting on popular blogs is a great way to catch the eye of influential people, but what makes for a great comment? Kevin Duncan must know a little about this topic because his post on Boost Blog Traffic drew 275 comments of its own! He offers commonsense advice, such as clearly identify who you are, reading a post thoroughly before commenting, keeping your comment short and moving the discussion forward. Sounds simple, but if it is, then why do so few people do it?

What 4.8 Million Tweets Say About the Best Time to Tweet – Buffer Social

People have been arguing about the best time to send tweets practically since the dawn of Twitter. The team at Buffer happens to have a lot of data on this, so they analyzed 4.8 million tweets sent by 10,000 profiles and shared the results. They found, on average:

  • Early morning tweets get the most clicks;
  • Evenings and late-night tweets get the most favorites and retweets
  • The most popular time to tweet and the best times to tweet for engagement differ across time zones, so it’s still important to experiment.
  • The best overall time to tweet is between noon and 1 PM.

SlideShare Secrets to Stack the Decks in Your Favor – Content Marketing Institute

SlideShare continues to be one of the best-kept secrets in B2B marketing. It’s a great way to increase the visibility of your thought-leading content by sharing slide decks that would otherwise be put on a virtual shelf. Jodi Harris runs down a set of practical tips that will make your presentations more visually appealing and useful to your audience. Those translate into bonus views and business.


15 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers – HubSpot Blog

HubSpot called up 15 professional content marketers and asked each one for his or her favorite content marketing habit. You’ll find it hard to disagree with any of them. Monitor conversations with customers, obsess over quality, research constantly, listen to complaints and always be curious are five useful habits they recommended. Read the post for 10 more.


Recent Posts: Expanding Social Authority and Enlivening Boring Predictions

This blog hasn’t been very active lately, but that’s because most of my contributions have appeared elsewhere. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve been musing about.

10 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 - Part 110 Tips for Expanding Your Social Authority in 2015 – Midsize Insider, Jan. 1, 2015

I go into detail on strategies to get more out of your existing social presences and where to experiment with new ones. It comes down to basic blocking and tackling, and making sharing part of your daily routine.

Organic Facebook Marketing Is Dead; Think Customer Service Instead – Midsize Insider, Dec. 22, 2014

Numerous studies have shown that organic posts by Facebook pages are reaching only a tiny fraction of the audience they used to. This may finally be a wake-up call to marketers to share Facebook responsibility with customer service and to use Facebook as a listening post and customer-retention vehicle.

Research Shows CISOs Gaining Influence Even as Challenges Mount – Midsize Insider, Dec. 15, 2014

IBM’s annual CISO survey shows that security executives are finally getting a seat at the leadership table.

20 Ways to Enliven Those Boring Year-End Predictions – LinkedIn, Dec. 16, 2014

Annual predictions are now a dime a dozen, and most are predictable, self-serving and monotonous. Instead of following the pack and issuing the same old lame set of predictions, change up your angle and approach to make them stand out. Here are 20 ideas organized into eight categories.

Rick Short, IndiumFIR B2B #20: Indium’s Awesome Engineers

In Episode 20 of the For Immediate Release B2B podcast, we speak to Rick Short, Director of Marketing Communications at Indium Corp. Indium has created a creative and successful inbound marketing campaign that connects engineers to customers to solve problems in exchange for contact information. It’s paying off so well that the company can afford to increase its focus on lead quality because it has more than enough leads in the hopper.

FIR B2B #19: Doubts about Social Media’s Lead Gen Potential

Two new surveys cast doubt on the value of social media as a lead generation vehicle. One found that the top three value propositions of social media relate to ongoing customer engagement rather than lead generation. A second found organic social media marketing and social media advertising, which have some of the lowest costs per lead, also produced the worst quality leads.

In our interview section, we speak to Don Lesem and David Wagman of IHS and Engineering360, which is one of a suite of vertical communities the B2B information provider is launching to increase customer engagement.

FIR B2B #18: John Fox on Why Marketers Need to Get Out of the Office

John Fox has led the launch or re-launch of 44 companies, resulting in double and triple-digit growth for every client served. He thinks all the talk of a radically new B2B buyer journey is overblown. The process hasn’t really changed all that much, he says in this interview, and he has provocative thoughts on what content really motivates buyers.

Skepticism on Gallup’s Gloomy Social Media Assessment

A new Gallup study appears to throw cold water on the whole concept of social media marketing, but I’d be careful about taking the findings at face value.

Gallup asked 18,000 consumers about the influence of social media on their buying decisions. Sixty-two percent said social media has no influence at all. Only 5% said it has a great deal of influence. That’s a pretty grim assessment, given that US companies spent $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, a number that’s expected to triple by 2018. You can download the entire 60-page report here.

The sound bite from this research is summed up in the title of the Gallup blog post: “Americans Say Social Media Have Little Sway on Purchases.” However, a closer read of the study raises questions about exactly what respondents were thinking when they answered the question.

Influence of Social Media on Purchasing Decisions - GallupGallup is a first-class research organization and its methodology was no doubt rock solid, but even Gallup admits that “question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error and bias.” The report doesn’t specify how the questions were phrased, but from the summary report we can infer that researchers used a rather narrow definition of social media.

More than Marketing

The summary specifically mentions the influence of “social media institutions such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter,” and also refers to “social media campaigns.” These indicate that researchers were thinking in terms of social networks, which are only a subset of social media. The reference to “campaigns” also indicates that they were thinking more about branded than peer communications. In fact, the social media section of the report focuses almost entirely on how brands communicate with customers. There is almost no mention of how customers use social media to communicate with each other.

This distinction is important, and here’s where the report presents a bit of a contradiction. The authors take pains to note that family, friends and experts are the most important influences on buying decisions and that people primarily use social networks to keep in touch with those closest to them. Yet they also say social networks don’t influence decisions very much.

Without knowing exactly how the questions were asked, I would speculate that the terms the researchers used have caused confusion in the minds of respondents. If you ask the average person to define “social media,” you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Most people probably think of Facebook or Twitter, but not of blogs, customer review sites, video and other tools that also come under the social media umbrella. I know of no research in this area, but five years ago Google took to the streets of Times Square to ask 50 passersby what a browser is. The amusing results showed that very few had any idea (see video below).

When I speak to audiences I often ask who has made a recent travel reservation or product decision in which customer reviews have played a role. Typically about 95% of the people in the room raise their hands. Ask any hotel manager about the importance of reviews to business success and you’ll get an earful. Social media has completely transformed that industry.

TripAdvisor currently lists more than 150 million travel reviews on its site and Yelp has 57 million reviews of local businesses. Someone is a paying attention to this stuff. These services may not meet everyone’s definition of social media, but the function they perform is the same.

Marketo Tells How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation

Marketo: How to Use Social Media for Lead GenerationI often cite marketing automation vendor Marketo as a shining example of a company that gives away great information as a way to promote its business. Marketo recently contacted several B2B social media marketing pros to get their tips on how to generate leads with social platforms.

They report encouraging results. For example, 58% of marketers who have used social media for more than three years say it has helped boost sales. The marketers quoted here (I’m one of them) offer advice on how to create unique content that stimulates engagement, which is the currency of social media marketing.

Check out “How to Use Social Media for Lead Generation.” It’s a quick read and I think you’ll find some useful takeaways.

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Stop Talking! I’m Trying to Listen!

Three years ago I routinely advised clients to spread their content around liberally through multiple channels as a way to reach the largest possible audience. I recommended setting up multiple Twitter accounts for different functions like customer service and marketing. And I advised linking generously to influential bloggers as a way of generating reciprocal links that build search visibility.

Today I would recommend none of those things. As social networks have grown, so has the amount of noise they generate. Spammers have corrupted the value of outbound links to much that some bloggers no longer even use them. The factors that once made social media so appealing – accessibility and openness – have become a liability.

What to Stop doing in Social Media_coverLast week David Spark launched an ebook that provides important updates on the social media practices that many of us have long taken for granted – but perhaps shouldn’t any more. Hazardous to Your Social Media Health (free with minimal registration) contains advice from Spark and 56 other veteran practitioners about 50 online behaviors that used to be cool but aren’t any more. One of my comments is included in the book, but that isn’t why I recommend it. I just think it serves a timely and valuable purpose.


An overarching theme of the ebook is to shut up. The din of auto-posts and pointless comments about nothing in particular is drowning out valuable messages and undermining social media’s value, say several of the contributors. Democratic media is great, but when everyone is shouting at once you can’t hear anything.

David Spark

“This giant land grab of users was actually valuable when we weren’t so overwhelmed by social messaging,” Spark writes. “Now the influx is so overwhelming that we’re reliant on filters to manage the noise.”

For example, Leo Laporte (@leolaporte), who has nearly a half million Twitter followers, says he doesn’t even read his home Twitter feed anymore because it’s so clogged with useless messages. He now relies upon filtering and aggregation services like Flipboard and Nuzzle to sort through the noise.

The victim of too much noise is meaningful conversation. The opportunity to talk with constituents was the reason many brands went online in the first place, but it’s getting harder and harder to converse with an audience that’s overwhelmed with information.

Beyond Social Media

So maybe it’s time for the media to evolve beyond collaboration. Giovanni Rodriguez (@giorodriguez), CEO of SocialxDesign, suggests that the next evolution of social media will “enable people to do more, not just talk more.”

He’s referring to the emerging so-called collaborative economy, which uses social constructs to create value. Services like AirBNB and Uber either enable us to do things we couldn’t do before or make it faster/cheaper/easier to accomplish tasks. The collaborative economy is an exciting development. A couple of years ago we thought it was cool to consult our social network for advice on where to book a hotel. Now the members of our network have become the hotel.

Spark and his collaborators are particularly harsh on practices that contribute to the noise level without adding value or that have selfish objectives like raising the sender’s profile at someone else’s expense. Sections like, “Stop Blogging About Everything” and “Stop Lifecasting” drive home this point. In “Stop Sharing Without Consumption,” he scolds Guy Kawasaki by name for openly advocating the practice of sharing headlines without actually reading the content. He also tweaks the practice of content curation if it’s done simply to build one’s social profile on the back of others’ work. Much as I love Kawasaki’s Twitter style, I agree completely with Spark’s criticisms.

I don’t agree everything in Hazardous to Your Social Media Health, of course, including Stowe Boyd’s advice to stop using RSS readers and Charlene Li’s admonitions against personal blogging. Some of the listed behaviors are also duplicative or appear to have been added to stretch the list to 50, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a useful, timely and practical how-to manual for the next stage of social media development. I guarantee that in five years much of it will be out of date, but it’s sure a useful document to read right now.