In this interview with Jason Falls, we talk about his business, a recent book he co-authored with Erik Deckers, No Bullshit Social Media, the All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, and why he’s been referred to as the biggest social media douche bag.
Jason Falls is the owner and co-author of Social Media Explorer, a leading platform for insights, opinion and learning around the world of social media marketing, online communications, conversational marketing, digital marketing, public relations, community building and branding. Jason is a leading educator, public speaker and thinker in the world of digital marketing and social media.
Sarah: The title of your book is well, rated PG-13? It seems you mean business! How did you decide on this title?
Jason: The “No Bullshit” approach has always sort of been my M.O. I’m from a very small town that conditioned me to always be skeptical of the big city folks and the lines they were handing me. I’m also a fairly simple thinker … not unintelligent, mind you, but I try to take complexities out of things because at the end of the day they just confuse me and everyone else. So when we’re talking about strategy, communications and social media, I try to distill out the nonsense and the unnecessary so people learning from me can understand it more clearly. When the idea of a book came about, there was no question what the title should be. I’m the “No B.S.” guy. It’s gotta be that!
Sarah: I appreciate that approach as many people tend to over complicate things in our industry, when in fact social media and Internet marketing are not widely understood subjects. When discussing reputation management, you give an example of a company that finds a problem and fixes it before a crisis, then they address the media about it. In a situation like that, what if they had never addressed the media and just pretended it never happened? I mean, no customers were harmed so what’s the point of bringing attention to it?
Jason: While there are certainly situations where not every little thing needs to be shared publicly, I think a situation like that shows that a company has something to hide. It’s a transparency issue. I’d rather know, as a customer, the company was out in front of it, prevented it from happening and then let me know they were on the ball than the alternative. It’s just one of those ethical situations that smells bad. If it stinks, then something is wrong. Don’t do it that way … in most cases.
But I think the overall point we tried to make in the book is that the best type of crisis communications happens before crises ever occur. By having a transparent and honest relationship with your stakeholders, cultivating relationships over time but also anticipating crisis situations and knowing what you’d would say just in case, then when one happens you’re prepared. There’s not a crisis communications professional in the world who would recommend not being prepared for a crisis. By building relationships over time when they’re not happening, you’re stakeholders are more bought in to their relationship with you when one does happen. They will react differently than they would to a big corporate thing that they don’t have a relationship with.
Sarah: Be proactive, not reactive! The recent passing of an American icon, Steve Jobs, filled people’s social media feeds instantly and continued onto blogs and online news sites in the following days. Not only were there personal condolences, but it also seemed some businesses saw it as an opportunity, for example an email with Steve Jobs in the subject hit people’s inboxes, although there was nothing about Jobs in the content of the email. What is a business’s responsibility to address current events such as this? If they don’t do something, are they insensitive? If they do, are they trying to capitalize on a tragedy?
Jason: Any attempt, even veiled, to profit (whether through money, traffic, attention, etc.) off of Steve Jobs’s or anyone else’s death, is shameful. I was sickened by the blogs and media sites that immediately came out with “Top 10 Steve Jobs Lessons” and “How To Think Like Steve Jobs” posts. In fact, my fellow authors on Social Media Explorer expressed interest in all of us (I have 12 writers) chiming in a tribute post telling people what Steve Jobs or his work meant to us or what we learned from him. I resisted because I didn’t want to pull in cheap traffic as a result of his death.
But what made it make sense for me was that we were genuinely paying tribute to the man and helping our audience understand his impact. It was respectful and not gratuitous. We weren’t trying to game a system or drive traffic or anything. Just paying our respects. He taught the world to “Think Different,” and in a way that’s the mantra of our editorial mission at Social Media Explorer. So I felt good on what we landed on.
Reacting to pop culture, current events and what-not is a perfectly fine and even smart way to capture your audience’s attention or even drive more eyeballs to what you do. But there’s a line of decorum you just shouldn’t cross and being gratuitous about the wave — posting several Jobs-related posts, etc. — kinda seems in poor taste to me.
Sarah: Excellent point and most people are becoming more aware of that line of decorum and can tell the difference between the two sides of it. Which is worse: having a social media presence but not engaging or responding to customers OR not having any social media presence at all?
Jason: Flip a coin. I’d probably go with having one but not engaging or responding to customers because it just underlines the point that you don’t give damn about them. At least if you don’t have a presence they can assume you’re just ignorant, not disrespectful.
Sarah: Fair enough! How has your book contributed to your success both as an individual and a business owner?
Jason: A lot of that has yet to be determined, but having a book published with your name on it opens doors that might not have been opened before. I was recently asked to conduct a seminar with several large, enterprise companies through a chamber of commerce. I would guess that without a published book, that might not have happened. That, and my mother-in-law actually thinks I do something that must be important now.
As a business owner, I think it’s just some cake icing on the credibility issue. Even though I have 15 years experience in marketing and public relations, led the interactive efforts at a national advertising agency and have consulted with Fortune 100 clients on down, I still have always been labeled a “blogger.” Now, I’m an “author.” Fair or not, there’s a difference in public perception of those terms.
Sarah: It is all about pleasing the mother-in-law! Happy wife/mother-in law, happy life! You give an example of Domino’s gathering feedback from it’s customers through forms on pizza boxes and advertising they are soliciting feedback openly. But, you go on to say even if the company doesn’t make those requested changes, customers will still appreciate being a part of the research and development. I challenge you! If customers are taking the time to give their feedback, I assume they’ll keep an out to see those changes happen. Might this approach backfire eventually?
Jason: Only in the rarest of circumstances. I think most consumers are smart enough to know that Domino’s (or any company) can’t please everyone. Feedback taken is at least giving them a voice. If the feedback isn’t implemented, unless the feedback is both common and given in an outcry level of intensity, most people will chalk it up to the company deciding on a more popular choice or option. Most consumers just want to be heard and that’s often enough.
But if a group of consumers collectively voices a concern and that concern is fairly common, the yes – the company had better be listening and acting. We also used the example of Target’s poorly constructed advertisement with their logo unfortunately placed under a prone woman with her legs spread. The company at first responded to bloggers with, “We only respond to real media,” or similar. When the overwhelming outcry held the company in check, they recounted and embraced a more holistic media relations policy. In a situation like that, not listening would have backfired.
Sarah: As Principle of Social Media Explorer, what difficult situations have you encountered with clients as far as social media adoption, willingness to share information and engage? Have you had any clients you have failed at convincing?
Jason: I have had three clients in the last three years that have gotten 3-6 months in to an engagement and decided to walk away because they either weren’t comfortable with my recommendations, weren’t confident with their ability to change their habits to accommodate those recommendations or they just thought social media was a magic bullet and would lead to millions in revenue overnight. We’re still at the early onset of many companies having any degree of comfort with social marketing. Education is the number one, two and three task of any agency, firm or consultant working with a company or brand, even years after all this market shift began to occur. While I do think most large companies are emerging from the sandbox and beginning to think about social media strategically rather than just as tactical experimentation, most clients I’ve dealt with are still lacking in education, confidence and understanding of the nature of social marketing versus traditional means. Have I had clients I’ve failed to convince? Sure. And there will be more. I’m learning more everyday about mitigating their fears and complaints, but they’re still going to be there.
Sarah: Yes, I certainly agree that education is key. Over the next few years, I think we will see social media marketing increasingly being offered as a course at universities and as that generation enters the workforce, social media will be more widely adopted in large companies. Would you mind sharing something personal about yourself? What is your favorite hobby? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Anything!
Jason: Before I started advising clients on social media a few years ago, my personal blog was a compilation of narrative fiction and non-fiction that would, at best, be Rated R. I have a strange sense of humor and write stories that bring that out sometimes. One day, I’ll pull together my fiction short stories together and publish them. But I’ll need to be financially secure then. Clients will read them and stay as far away from me as possible. Heh.
Sarah: Well I look forward to reading your stories when you do decide to publish them! In a video interview by Tom Martin, according to some of your peers, including David Meerman Scott, Jason Keath, Justin Levy, Ann Handley, CC Chapman, Amber Naslund, Brian Clark, and Lee Odden, the consensus was that you are the biggest social media douche bag. Why is that?
Jason: Because Tom Martin asked me that question first … back in February of 2011. He asked who I thought the biggest social media douchebag was. I paused for a moment, looked at the camera and said, “Me.” He thought it was so funny that he then went around and got others to say me on purpose as a joke. Then he used them all to drive some attention to his Talking With Tom series. I was in on the joke all along and thought it was playful fun. If anyone took it seriously, they need to relax and get a sense of humor.
Honestly, it’s also my way of flipping my nose at all the idiots who ramble on, complaining about social media gurus, experts and douche bags. The truth is that people who whine about them are just worried they’ll take their clients away. Focus on doing good work, remember that we all had to fake it until we make it at some point and that the only people who don’t complain about the douche bags are clients. They’re too smart to hire bad advisors. And if they do, they learn and move on. Why rattle on about it. Shut up and do good work. You don’t know how good or bad the ones you’re pointing a finger at are and whining about them looks bad on the rest of us. I’ve been introduced as an “expert” and a “guru” before … neither label I’d apply to myself. But when I am introduced as such, there’s always someone in the audience who remembers some one whining about the “gurus” and thinks I’m not credible. So just can it. It’s not productive. I’m a guru/expert/douche bag if it will bring some end to the relentless noise complaining about them.
Thanks so much, Jason! To hear more from Jason, follow him @JasonFalls.