Social Media Strategy

Maybe You’re Just Not Ready for Social Media

My Mom is a legendary high school English teacher. I took three classes she taught, including one where we studied Oedipus Rex and the difference between seeing and perceiving, which has widespread business and social media implications.

Sometimes our brands write checks our operations simply can’t cash.

I was in New York last week to visit with agency clients. Stayed at a new (to me) hotel. I was instantly struck by its panache and wit. From the tongue-in-cheek signs explaining the chronically delayed elevator, to the super fantastic pillow menu in the room, it appeared to have done an excellent job at developing a clear brand “voice” that appeals strongly to lovers of irony and companies outside the mainstream.

But then I looked a little harder.

Parked haphazardly outside my room for 2.5 days was a procession of housekeeping carts in various states of disarray. Evidently, the staff just parked them right in the hallway, outside my room.

When they finished their duties each day, they left the carts in place, like a mobile hobo camp. The good news I suppose is that if you needed dozens of boxes of Kleenex, you could just help yourself.

Temperature 101

Neither heat nor air conditioning in my room worked. I called the front desk to inquire. To their credit, a maintenance and front desk representative appeared at my door almost instantly. However, their assertion that the unit in my room wasn’t actually supposed to work, and that I should just use the window for my temperature control needs seemed a bit half-hearted. Although I did appreciate the physical demonstration of precisely how to open a window. Always good to have a refresher course.

I never did see any shampoo during my stay. The first day I presumed it was an oversight. By the third day, I began pondering the operational prowess of this establishment. Musing turned to wonderment when I also experienced a lack of hot water, a missing doorman, a mishandled bag, and M&Ms in my room that may have been Reagan-era. Mmmm. Cold war candies.

(Note: A hotel PR representative reached out to me on Twitter when I checked in at the hotel via my Tumblr travelogue, and evidently contacted the General Manager about some of my difficulties – which I had relayed through direct message. The hotel GM left a nice apology message on my hotel voice mail. I don’t mention the hotel by name in this post because it’s not relevant to the point, and I don’t use my blog as a weapon.)

A Thousand Tiny Cuts Leave a Scar

I’m no diva, and not a single one of these issues were anything other than a minor inconvenience. But, that’s all it takes to change the perceptions of your customers. The great fallacy is that businesses must avoid the colossal screw up that draws an angry complaint. Instead, they need to avoid the tiny and much more common missteps that don’t cause people to grab torches and pitchforks, but do cause them to spend their dollars elsewhere.

Execution Trumps Ideas

Social media and business operations are about winning hearts and minds a few at a time based on your deeds, not your words. You earn repeat customers through your operational excellence, the same way you earn your audience in social media by being a helpful, honest broker that shines the light on others beside yourself.

And in our zeal to adopt sparkly social media programs that connect with our customers, and humanize our brands, and generate “likes” and “check-ins” and other metrics of dubious merit, are we missing the larger picture – which is that big victories are actually comprised of lots of tiny wins?

So before you spend one more second on your Facebook strategy or next YouTube idea, make sure your operations are buttoned up. Is your email program everything it can be? Are your on-hold times sufferable? Are your most popular products in-stock?

Because you can be the most responsive and human company in the world on Twitter, but if you can’t get the shampoo right it all rings pretty damn hollow, doesn’t it?

Facebook Comments


  1. Anonymous says

    Great post, Jay. I agree with you that it’s better to walk before you try and run. Not taking care of basics means that quirky signs aren’t so quirky in the cold.

    Can’t wait for the new book!

  2. says

    hmm thats interesting… from a SM company point of view.. i am wondering how would the marketeer handle all the complaints he/she might be getting… knowing that their client really doesn’t have their basic act in place..

  3. Anonymous says

    This is a wonderful marketing lesson Jay. Everything you, and everything you don’t do, communicates. This hotel would do well to even go back a step before execution and determine their brand promise. If their brand promise is “we suck” then they are already congruent! But if it is the edgy and tuned-in brand indicated by the elevator sign, they need to re-evaluate everything, starting with the customer experience. Thanks for passing this along!

  4. Anonymous says

    Oh man, sounds awful! It’s true though–it’s important to make sure the business plan, customer service, and all of those tiny little things are good to go before you start marketing using something like social media–or anything at all. You’ll lose a huge chunk of your potential market forever if you don’t.

  5. CK says

    Jay, you write very well, we can feel the pain and your summery sums it all up and reminds to look in mirror in out own business. Thanks for the great advice. “before we spend one more second on our Facebook strategy or next YouTube idea, make sure our operations are buttoned up.

  6. Ray says

    Definitely a keeper. This topic is so relevant and will continue to be so as more businesses jump on the social media bandwagon without understanding that by doing so they’re opening the curtains for all the world to see who they really are.
    In social media, WYSIWYG. Social media illuminates the best and the worst elements of a company.

  7. Dave says

    Thank you for reminding us about the real purpose of everything we do in business. I think that these “little things” are more often overlooked than any of us would like to believe. This is why those who will pay attention to the details of customer service and satisfaction will win out in the end.

  8. says

    We expect and anticipate experiences without friction. In this era of transparency, instant communication, consumers who control brand relationships and future progress, it is an understatement that the product is, indeed, the marketing. Whatever we communications jockeys may do to “shine the light” it will either illuminate the trouble or draw attention to something that is inherently wonderful.

  9. says

    I wrote a blog on this a couple of weeks ago. Social media is not a silver bullet and will not compensate for, cover up, or conquer lousy business. It will only amplify the message your business is already sending.

    Without proper business foundations, you can’t build a stable social framework. Foundation, framework, finish. Always in that order. Just like building a house, a business, or a policy.

  10. says

    You nailed it Jay. Indeed, it’s amazing how hard some companies will work on their image, while largely ignoring substance.
    There’s a certain well-known computer manufacturing company that has busted their social media butts to repair their image in the online community; alas their products are still totally unreliable. And everyone knows it.

  11. says

    Great post. Of course the flip is paralysis and inaction: those who can’t (won’t) lead their organization into new marketing channels because they haven’t yet finished polishing all their knobs. Like most things in life, there’s a balance – even if it just means paying closer attention to prioritizing.

  12. says

    Two of the most fundamental elements of social media participation are transparency and honesty. Also, social media is not just about mindless chatter and brand promotion; you’ve got to be actively listening to the wants, needs and demands of your audience. This hotel you wrote about seems to still be in the early stages of its social media activity. It quickly responded to your complaint through Twitter, demonstrating that they know the importance of damage control. However, it obviously failed to listen to the demands of its wider audience. Being provided with shampoo, fresh candy and working heating and air conditioning at a hotel are expected (perhaps this businesses is also in its infancy?). However, if the owners of this hotel were to truly listen through social media, they would be directly informed not only of the needs of their audience, but their wants, giving them a better opportunity to surpass their competition.

  13. says

    Great Post! I totally agree, and always say “Get your Ducks in a Row!” I wrote a blog sometime back about making sure your website can handle that spectacular social media campaign you rolled out. And, as you mentioned, make sure your product is stocked, email working….ducks in a row!

  14. says

    Point #1: Love how you ‘don’t use blog as a weapon’
    Point #2: My mom too was a high school English Teacher!
    Point #3: I had precisely the opposite experience when I stayed at the Hotel Deluxe in Portland when I was speaking at a Conference ( – This hotel delivered! They walk the walk!
    I was just having this conversation the other day about perception and how easy it is to generate a “perceived” level of success online and still know nothing about business or marketing or even being doing anything EXCEPT Social Media…in the end won’t get you anywhere. I think for small business the issue becomes not being paralyzed by all the overwhelming choices. The trick is to step back and keep it simple and focus our energies on facilitating engaging relationships and creating memorable experiences (although yours sounds like it was quite memorable! 😉
    ~my 2 cents

  15. says

    I always thought that social media can be great for companies or its worst enemy. Once you enter the social media world with your brand, it is like a snowball and it does not stop. People will talk about you, good or bad. So if your product is one of high quality, go for it! Social media will only bring positive results. But if your product or operation is deficient, you better stay away because word of mouth will only compound your problem.

  16. KrisSpurley says

    “Mmm. Cold war candies…” Love the lesson, sure, but the true genius is in little gems like this. You’re awesome.

  17. says

    Great post. It’s so true how small wins or losses can change our perception about a product/service. And because it’s not “one big thing” that turns us off, we may likely not tell the organization (at the risk of being perceived as a whiner), and they would never know why we don’t come back. I’m a big believer that the details do matter, especially if you have a lot of competition. But making sure you’ve got basics down pat, that you can deliver what your customers expect at the very least, is the most important. It’s the small wins that may make a first-time customer a repeat customer, or a current customer loyal. Alternatively, it’s what you call the “tiny cuts” that make your customer look for other options.

  18. says

    I love Execution Trumps Ideas… and I’m more of an Idea guy who has to remind myself that ideas are worth pennies without execution. Had a similar conversation with @CharlotteFD, the Charlotte Fire Department when they were telling me about Ustreaming live from the scene of a fire. They better make sure that they are bringing their A-Game to fighting fires if you are going to transmit it live across the internets. If they are sucking at fighting fires then the last thing they want to do is shine light on it by being ahead of the game in social media. But, I do believe that being heavily involved in social media forces you to make sure that your core business is better than ever because you fully understand the repercussions. So if the Firefighters know that they are going to be livestreamed, then they will be more prepared for those moments. Great Post – Rich Tucker

  19. Yael Davidowitz-Neu says

    Love this post! Marketing and customer engagement (social media included) are just one set of levers successful companies use as part of an overall focus on providing an optimal customer experience. Companies investing in marketing without concerning themselves with the customer’s overall experience with their product or service are essentially akin to a woman purchasing an expensive outfit for a party – but not bothering to shower beforehand. From a distance she looks great – but when she gets close, she smells so bad that her looks are pretty much irrelevant.

  20. says

    Focus on the core business first, ITA. Good is good, bad is bad. Reminds me of the Despair Marketing poster, It won’t matter how good your blog, how clever your ads, how creative your logo.. if your cupcakes don’t taste good, people ain’t gonna buy ’em. And as you say, you may never hear of it… they’ll just take their business to the bakery down the street. FWIW.

  21. Anonymous says

    Well said, Jay. “A thousand small cuts leaves a scar.” Most business execs I know look for major screw ups and fix the big pains. But they often overlook the many small foibles that destroy a long term relationship.

    The devil is in the details.

  22. fromOz says

    Too funny! I stayed at the sister hotel of the one you were at (Affinia Manhattan) a month ago when I visited NYC from Australia. I was very impressed by their web presence, and I’m sure they must have had stunt double rooms, because the reality of it all, and the execution of some of their claims, was incongruent with these online statements.

    It’s true – you can rave on about your fantastic pillow menus and special kits that are provided on your stay, but putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact it’s a pig.

  23. Anonymous says

    Love this! Great example of how authenticity in operations becomes even more critical to pay attention to when a business steps into the world of social media.

  24. says

    I always say product before promotion.

    It’s hard to examine the thousand little ‘touch-points’ we have each day with our customers, clients, partners, etc., but it’s crucial to nail that down before promoting our product, service, etc.

  25. says

    It goes to show that the little things are what companies are still missing these days. I had a recent run in where for days my phone calls and emails from a company were not answered at all over quite a big problem. After not hearing from anyone for over a week, I finally received a response. Then to make up for the time delay, I was offered a discount off my next order from the company. Frankly, I didn’t want the discount…I just wanted someone to respond to me to let me know that they were looking into the problem. No wonder why so many companies are going in the hole these days! Customers want interaction, they want to be treated respectfully and like they actually have a brain. If someone demonstrated to me how to open a window in a hotel…I would have started packing and ran for the door to be honest. That is quite insulting and I would not have been able to stick through it so well!

  26. Meg Wildrick says

    Great reminder re: the importance of authenticity vs. brand-speak. As a marketer, we’re always looking for memorable campaign ideas. As a consumer, I know those ideas are no good if exeuction doesn’t support them. I’d only quibble with one thing. Ideas without execution are hollow. But execution without ideas is forgettable. Magic only happens when the two work togehter

  27. says

    When was the last time you were able to walk into a brainstorming session or strategy meeting and actually win business with the concept “Do the little things well.” Sad to say, execution isn’t sexy. Ideas and “vision” are what sizzles.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical. I just know this from first-hand experience. When I worked agency-side, I can’t tell you how many times I would present a WOMM or Social Media concept that was focused on customer service, pro-consumer, people-centric ideas that were all about doing the little things well. Not a single one sold, no matter how passionate I argued or showed real financial benefit.

    Now that I’m on the client-side (disclosure: working for Fifth Third as the Social Media Strategist), I’m doing my darndest to push people-centric ideas. Fortunately, they are finding a receptive ear.

  28. says

    Jay, the last sentence of your post sums it up completely. When I worked at Sprint, we had a team of 5 folks in PR who listened/engaged online, specifically on Twitter. At first, people were just shocked (in a good way) that Sprint was listening. But when they realized our team in PR didn’t exactly have the resources to solve their problems, it switched to the bad shock.

    On the other hand, I will say we were able to use these initial experiences as evidence to peer departments like customer care that we needed to sync up our consumer touchpoints and be on the same page so as to best help the customer. So PR’s inability to solve consumer issues turned into enough urgency to make some needed operational changes. Thinking optimistically, maybe that’s where the hotel you stayed at is headed.

    Thanks for sharing the story. Btw, my sister recently graduated from IU. Still giving her crap cause she never got me basketball tickets :).

  29. Anonymous says

    Really liked reading this post. Laughing always burns ideas in for me. Your refresher course and cold war candies hit the spot.

    Early in my Twitter experience, I was so impressed that a hotel bar guided a Blog World attendee to a party held there.

    There is so much to learn about the many different customer listening tools. That’s the point. People are no longer impressed that you are on Twitter. Listen, and respond to what you hear. The devil is in the details.

    Thanks for the insights.


  30. says

    This a great example of regardless of social media prowess or not, is your business sound at all levels of operations and support? Believe the second one will kill your success every time. Your business is an ecosystem! All facets must be kept in balance for customer success. It seems like the more and more managers we put in place of our businesses the more and more ineffective our business becomes serving and helping the customers that keep us in business.

    That is why I am a huge advocate that everyone that gets hired into a company regardless of title is on the phone in a call center, walking the sales floor, answering compliant emails, answering and checking people in, etc. Whatever your businesses direct customer contact front line is, they will be on it for the first 2 months. They will hopefully learn the business, appreciate the customers, other organizations other than their own, and understand how to keep the balance throughout the operations and support in their soon to be role of their customers, investors and communities.

  31. Kristin says

    You may not name the hotel in your post but their name is right there in the elevator sign. I Googled it, and it looks like a pretty nice place. Be careful. It doesn’t seem fair to point out that you’re specifically NOT naming them, when in fact, you kinda did.

    I had a similar experience with a 4 star hotel not that long ago on my wedding night. It was extremely underwhelming. However, at least there was shampoo.

  32. letstalkandchat says

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