Smart tips for building a trusted brand of truth on social media

Jumping into social media streams can be like inhaling a cloud of gnats up your nose. How do you screen social media content for value? And how do you create it?

I recently attended Seattle’s Interactive Conference #SIC2011 where the top social media gurus and brand managers gathered to highlight what’s working and what’s headed our way. I walked away feeling validated by one repeated theme – social media is not a marketing strategy, but a tool.

It’s clear that people tune social media out when they are besieged with useless content. People follow trusted brands of truth that cut through the noise.

The frenetic output of social media can never match our personal ability to consume it. So at the end of the day trusted brands of truth prevail.

I screen social media like a mother eavesdrops on a teen-girl slumber party. Amid the hailstorm of useless chatter, I’m listening for what I want to know and what I need to know: “I hate her, I love Muse, I’m failing biology and Matt is a brat.” The same rule applies to the marketplace. Who loves who? Who loves me? Who hates who? Who hates me? And why?

Consumers and brands operate with motives. Know your motive and know the motives of your target audience. Tools for communication may change, but rules for strategic communication remain. Here are tips from #SIC2011 that stuck with me:

  1. Social media is not a brand/marketing strategy. It’s a tactic.
  2. Embrace ALL third-party testimonials – the good and bad. Don’t  abhor, ignore or delete them.
  3. Adopt transparency to create credibility. People scan for trusted sources.
  4. Speak concisely and with relevance. Edit like an umpire.
  5. Know why you’re in it. Answer this question: What’s my home run?
  6. Respect social media tools. Hiring cheap labor to manage your social media communities is like asking frat boys to plan a wedding. (Inspired by Louis LoPresti @RedPantsMeme)
  7. Metrics for social media must be tied to a marketing strategy and goals – brand lift, allegiance, buy-in, transactions, market share, customer service and referrals – not just increased traffic.
  8. There are no substitutes for good products and content. Have something worthy to sell and say.
  9. Consumers and clients are your best brand ambassadors. Celebrate them.
  10. Shut up and listen. What are your social media streams telling you?

Branding law firms to inspire & empower people to change their world and own their future

I can honestly say, I have worked with some of the top trial lawyers in Washington and the country and never get tired of it.

The trial lawyers I work with are among the most passionate, smartest, hardest working and fiercest advocates for people on the planet. They empower their clients to change the world and make it better. They challenge their clients to define destiny as they want to know it.

Developing brands and marketing plans for this sector of humanity is a joy for me. And there’s one reason: Trial lawyers embrace marketing strategies that move their firms and client goals forward. And they do this for one simple reason: They routinely test their messages and objectives before judges and juries – the toughest focus groups and truth squads on the planet.

Trial lawyers are tested on their client truths every step of the way. It’s what makes them model marketing clients. They get the drill and own it.

Northwest Media Allies had the privilege to work with one of Washington’s top employment lawyers Vicky Vreeland.

Attorney Vicky Vreeland

Vicky launched her law firm and brand with a commitment to showcasing more than three decades of trail-blazing legal work, a stellar reputation and a unique aesthetic and style that only she could own.

The results of our collaborative marketing process showcase her commitment to integrity, results, courage and dedication to the clients she serves.

We invite you to take a look at the branding and website design we recently launched with NWMA partners TrueGood Creative (who provided web design and development) and  Kirsten Hopperstad (branding designer):

Vreeland Law inspires and empowers and is a model brand.

Know what the shot is

“You want to learn the first rule you’d know if you’d ever spent a day in your life? You never open your mouth ‘til you know what the shot is.” –  Ricky Roma, Glengarry Glen Ross

Only three questions matter in marketing – Do you love me? Do you hate me? Why?

Knowing why you’re loved or loathed is critical to identifying your position in the worlds of the marketplace and the media. I ask my clients to conduct an inventory of their brand assets and liabilities to develop a savvy marketing/communications plan.

The strategy is this: You have to know where you are if you want to know where to go.

If you want a long-term relationship with a targeted market share, you can’t dodge tough questions that rock your world. Ask people why they love you or hate you head on. Testimonials prove your worth and credibility. If you can’t find a single person to boast about what you do, you need a marketing intervention.

On the other hand, if you have more than 20 people stalking you with their love, ask them why they love you so much. Harness their passion with a direct request for a two-paragraph testimonial. Keep it short. Ask for a valentine, not a sonnet. Don’t be greedy.

Not knowing why you are loved is just as bad as not knowing why you are loathed. We dig deep for this kind of intelligence when it comes to our egos, dates, marriages and holiday dinners. It’s human nature to want to be validated. But we don’t always do it for our business or our politics.

Clients are typically happy to brag and tell you why they’re loved. Yet when you ask them to go out and grab testimonials to prove it, they  shrink like a chubby at Weight Watchers. Weigh in on reality to inform your goals, strategies, tactics and plans. Any brand manager will tell you that you are only as good as your testimonials and brand ambassadors.

Every candidate or company who looked at a poll or focus group knows this. It’s tough love. But there’s only one thing worse than bad feedback: flying blind. Al Pacino explains the foundation of all marketing in Glengarry Glen Ross: Never open your mouth ‘til you know what the shot is.

You are a message strategy pro, but you don’t know it

Diane Evans (left, Sue's mother) and Sue (right)

When you inform the waiter that you would like the Cobb salad with the ranch dressing on the side, minus the croutons, you are a message pro. You know what you want. And you know who needs to hear it.

Consider your mother. Mothers broadcast and signpost that a message is coming so you won’t miss it when it hits you.

Mothers are especially savvy because they are committed to achieving the result they want when they want it. These are some of my favorites:

  • “I’ll tell you one thing, the homework gets done or you’re not going.”
  • “Please don’t make me worry. Wear your seatbelt and be back by 10.”
  • “Let me tell you something: Don’t fight with your brother. He loves you.”


When we know what we want, we cut to the chase to achieve the outcome we want. Our messages are naturally short, snappy and sharp.

Effective message strategy identifies the target audience and the goal. This process ensures we choose the words that resonate. That’s why mothers have real power.

 Let’s breakdown a simple mom message for strategy.

“I’ll tell you one thing, the homework gets done or you’re not going.”

“I’ll tell you one thing” is the signpost of the message that alerts the target audience – the kid – that an important message is coming.

“The homework gets done” is the objective of the message.

“Or you’re not going” conveys the urgency and impact of the message.

In the fancy world of public relations, you would hire a consultant to focus group and test the effectiveness of this message. But moms don’t have to test their messages. These messages have been tested over generations of focus groups called grandparents. We inherit them and launch them because we know they work.

The next time your mother calls you, take the call and listen. She’s a message strategy pro who’s already on your side.

Persuasive writing means show me, don’t tell me.

Persuasive people tell stories about other people. They don’t lecture you. They let you decide for yourself.

Consider these openings.

  1. Sally was profoundly sad.
  2. Sally cried in her car for a half an hour before blowing her nose. She looked into her rearview mirror, using the same fast-food napkin she used on her nose, she wiped away the mascara encrusted into the corner of her eyes.

Which narrative has more power?

Persuasive writers engage with the subject on a human level so that readers see what that person is feeling. Rather than clobbering readers with opinions, they rely on observation.

When we share stories of real people, we gain impact and power over the issues we care about.

So how does this tactical writing work in the real world? We respond to pictures first. More than 95 percent of all communication is done visually first. Pictures have more power than words. When you write, paint pictures.

Let’s look at my dogs. My dog Brinx is a German Shepherd rescue from working lines. My dog Mut (pronounced “moot” – it’s German for “courage”) was purchased from a breeder. Originally, I intended to show him in obedience.

Both dogs are working dogs. Both have had extensive obedience training. Each dog differs in temperament and drive. Brinx is a working dog. Mut is a family dog. Rather than say it, I’m going to show you.

BrinxBrinx is a slim, brown-sable German Shepherd with a big head and fierce eyes. I decided to keep him at 18 months after housing him as foster dog because he was so brilliant to watch in action. He is athletic with high drive and loves to swim. If I chuck a rubber ball into the whitecaps of Cannon Beach, Brinx will bound into the ocean head first to retrieve the ball at least 50 times. We’ve counted his retrieves on the beach. He gets anxious at feeding time and wolfs down his food and requires a special dish to slow down his feeding. He paces the house if he has not had at least a one-hour walk. He follows me around the house and lays where I sit or stand. He jumps off my bed and goes to his dog bed when he hears my husband’s footsteps coming toward the bedroom. He respects his place in the pack inside the house. Outside the house, he fence-fights and barks at the neighbor dog. The hair on his back is raised when he does it. He whines when the cat runs down the hall because he knows he’s forbidden to chase her when she does it. It kills him to just have to watch. He quietly lays where you are and waits to be invited onto the bed or couch. He never assumes it’s his furniture. When you take Brinx for a walk, he will be in the lead, struggling to get there faster. I’ve been told by other people that Brinx is scary looking. People have stopped me on the street to ask me if he is a wolf or wolf-hybrid. People also often ask me if he’s a police dog. Brinx is not that interested in other people and more interested in playing hard with other dogs. I don’t go to dog parks because Brinx is too rough and dominant when he plays with other dogs. The other dogs don’t like Brinx. Brinx loves the pool in the backyard and plants his front feet in the pool after a long walk or a hot day. He would spend the day fetching rubber duckies out of the backyard pool if you asked him. He never turns down a chance to retrieve a stick, a ball, a bone or a toy. He’s always ready to go.

MutMut is a beefy, black-and-tan German Shepherd. I’ve had him since he was a puppy. He has thick hair and an undercoat like a bear and a big beautiful head with dark black eyes. People stop me on the street every day to tell me how beautiful Mut is. Mut always stops to return the favor, showering strangers with equal love and admiration: “No, you’re beautiful!” he says with his licks and eyes. Mut has followed my son around the house since my son was about five. My son is now 15 and Mut still guards him like a pork chop. If my son wades into the ocean, Mut follows to retrieve him and stands in the shallows where Paul plays. If anybody in the house dares to play the piano, Mut howls along. If you’re on the couch, so is Mut. You might have to kick him off the couch to get the space. If you throw Mut the ball he will retrieve it, but he will likely grab it and tumble over onto his back with his feet in the air in the clover. He’s happy just watching Brinx retrieve. Like Ferdinand the bull, he’s happier laying in a field than running in it. If you are sitting in a chair, Mut will bury his head in your lap with the full force of his body. Mut likes to sprawl in the middle of the kitchen when we’re cooking dinner. When you take Mut for a walk, he’s always right by your side. Mut cuddles like a kitten in bed with me when I’m watching TV. Mut looks for kids to lick on our walks in the park and relishes pats on his head from strangers. Mut is possessive of his toys. Especially his giant stuffed hedgehog. He brings it to bed with him each night like a small child.

Brinx is a loyal working dog. Mut is a loyal family dog. But the bigger question is this, have I persuaded you?

Facebook less. Book more face. Go have lunch!

Facebook less and book more face and your social media marketing will flourish

Connecting with people on a personal level is direct marketing at its basic and best. And it makes your work life happier and more productive. If you have 500 connections on Linked-In, but only have lunch with targeted peers and clients twice a month, put the smart phone down and find somebody to take to lunch.

Meeting with people in person is the most powerful and effective strategy in marketing and media relations. There’s simply no substitute for your face, your laughter and your personal anecdotes over lunch. Everybody loves a story and a human being behind the story. And everybody prefers to meet with people they already know because it’s less awkward. When you genuinely know the people you connect with on social media, it also reduces tension when you have to reach out to clients, peers and allies in tough times. And you discover ways to help each other.

So in order to diminish your awkward quotient, you must meet with more people more often. If you feel intimidated by the intimacy of a one-on-one lunch, invite somebody to go with you. Lunching in threes eases the performance pressure some people feel when presented with a face-to-face meeting. Know who you are and address it head on.

And if you’re concerned about running up a big lunch bill, then meet people for coffee or a walk. Lots of people, especially in the Northwest, love the idea of going for a mid-afternoon walk to break up their sedentary time in the office. You both create a shared experience while improving your health.

I make it my business to ensure my clients, peers and professional allies know me as a human being first. This builds trust and confidence in our relationship, especially when faced with a difficult situation that may put us at odds. Building this kind of trust can turn a crisis situation into a bold opportunity.

My No. 1 recommendation for building market share, referrals, allies and friendly media is to develop a direct outreach plan for the year. And this includes meeting with allies and adversaries if you want to dominate your professional universe. Ask yourself this question: How often do I have lunch or coffee with a client or professional peer each week? If you have lunch or coffee just once a day, five days week with one targeted client or peer, you are potentially generating 20 “referral ambassadors” a month. Clearly, with whom you choose to meet can dramatically increase that referral number if you are smart about it. Meeting with people who are savvy, high-traffic networkers is key. You should make clients and prospective clients your first priority. Adversaries and problem partners are second. Vendors and business partners are third.

People who know their friends and enemies simply get more things done for their clients. They see bridges, not walls. They build a strong social media network that brings real value to their business. And they book more face.