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Jewish Olympics

Here’s a crazy story from my experience today at LA Fitness. I won’t even go into the convoluted reason they had me cancel my membership and sign up again (annoying), but this led to meeting Sales Manager and Sales Guy (we’ll call them that the purpose of this post).

When I met Sales Manager a couple of days ago with my girlfriend, he informed me that I have a Jewish last name and then proceeded to bid me “Shalom.”

They couldn’t sign me up that day (again, annoying), so I returned today to meet with Sales Guy. As we’re sitting there, Sales Manager sits down next to me, and begins to unload more crazy.

Sales Manager: Hey, Sales Guy, did you know that Jeff is Jewish?
Sales Guy
: (Blank stare)
Jeff
: Um…. Okay.
Sales Manager
: That means we need to pick his brain on how to make money.
Sales Guy
: (Panic stare)
Jeff
: Ummmm… that’s a little offensive.
Sales Manager
: No, it’s okay. I’m Dominican. People call me Mexican all the time.
Jeff & Sales Guy
: (Confused and awkward silence).
Sales Manager
: I’m Christian. But, at my church we believe in Israel. (Pause) Are you militant?
Jeff
: Ummmmmm…. No, not really.

This small snippet of a larger exchange begs a couple of questions. First, are there Christians who don’t believe in Israel? Great! First Santa, then the Jewish OlympicsEaster Bunny, now this? Where do they believe Natalie Portman is really from?

But, the bigger question is: How does a business combat stories like this that will lead to negative word of mouth? (The obvious answer is prevention, but, hey, things happen).

Do I think Sales Manager meant to be offensive? No. (As Sales Guy explained when he took me aside and apologized, “That’s just how he is.”)

Will this prevent me from remaining a member? No. (But only because I play racquetball with friends there).

But, here’s the big thing: Will I tell this story EVERY TIME someone mentions LA Fitness in my presence? Absolutely! Will many of the people who hear it retell it to their friends? You bet.

So, here’s what LA Fitness should do to try to fix it.

First, publicly make it right.
This is 2010, when most of us have a story to tell, we tell it online where countless of our friends and their friends can read it (or watch it or listen to it). Hopefully, a large brand like LA Fitness monitors online mentions of their brand (via Google, Twitter search, or pay for a social media listening service like Radian6). Once aware of this blog post or Tweets about it, they should use those venues to comment, apologize (if that’s what they feel this merits), and find a way to make it right. (LA Fitness, please don’t do anything drastic like fire Sales Manager. The guy means well. You just haven’t trained him on how to behave in the workplace).

Next, give me a better story to tell.
This is huge. Like I said, I will tell this story every time I hear of LA Fitness.  Why not give me a better story to tell? Give me something else positive to say whenever I hear the name… or, at the very least, give me an ending for this story that will put a positive spin on it.

I guess I am militant after all. Not about Israel (whatever that means), but about word of mouth. Your employees are your brand. Like it or not, Sales Manager defined what LA Fitness means today. So, LA Fitness, it’s your move.

Sometimes I hear clients or colleagues refer to me as a “Social Media Expert.” While it’s very flattering, to be honest, I’ve never really been comfortable with the title. I am a marketer (with, hopefully, some level of expertise) who often uses social media as a tool to engage consumers in conversation. I’ve long maintained that if you really want a “Social Media Expert,” you should hire a teenager. (You’ll sacrifice the marketing end, of course, but most teenagers know more about social media than most professional marketers will ever know).

Over the holidays, I got to spend time with family, including my 14-year-old nephew Matt, a true “Social Media Expert.” Matt asked me some questions about Blabbermouth, and showed some real interest in what I do. He asked, in particular, about a YouTube video I had done for my business. I told him that if he wanted to make his own Blabbermouth video – and if he did a good job – I would feature it on my Web site. He did a good job with it, so…

Presenting a Matt Goodman Production, “What is a Blabbermouth”:

Matt is a veteran YouTube video maker. I feel pretty confident that once he starts sharing this video with his friends and online social networks, it will have the highest number of views of any video I have made. Thanks, Matt. Great job!

My first encounter with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) was in June of 2006 in San Francisco. I was working at an ad agency in Phoenix in the PR department, frustrated with the model of traditional marketing. Writing press releases and pitching journalists on stories they rightly had no interest in didn’t feel like relating to the public to me. I wanted to connect the public to my clients, and trying to convince a reporter for the LA Times that she should write a story about a tiny spa in Bullhead City, AZ just wasn’t cutting it.

Fortunately, the agency sent me to the WOMMA conference in San Francisco, and my life changed. Finding WOMMA was like finding professional religion to me; I was quickly converted and devoted to finding a way to practice word of mouth marketing. That conference, led by then CEO Andy Sernovitz, was full of enthusiasm and passion. It was a group people trying to build a marketing movement; it felt like the Obama campaign trying to win the Iowa caucus. The highlight of the conference was Jackie Huba’s compelling keynote address, where she opened our eyes to the power of enabling customers to become evangelists (that speech is still the best marketing presentation I have ever seen). Sernovitz and crew were creating more than an association; they were creating a discipline and wanted me on board along with anyone else with the passion and skill to move this thing forward.

Fast forward to last week in Vegas. I have my own word of mouth marketing business and some really great clients. I went to the conference looking to gain new, fresh insights on how to harness the power of word of mouth for my clients and my business. I returned poorer and frustrated, but with as much passion as ever for the discipline of word of mouth marketing; unfortunately, now I feel like my passion is not shared by the association that holds the discipline’s name.

When I registered and at the conference, WOMMA staff tried to convince me (with an albeit soft sell) to become a paying member. That’s not going to happen any time soon. Here’s why:

WOM is not all about social media. At the very beginning of this conference, social media was introduced as a “subset” of word of mouth marketing. What other subsets did they mention? None. This was not a word of mouth conference; it was a social media conference. I mean, the tagline of the conference was: “Beyond Social Media.”

WOMMA Summit Banner

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG believer in the power of social media. I use it for my business, my clients, and myself all the time. But, social media is a tactic that helps generate and amplify word of mouth. It is not the whole of the discipline. Read Sernovitz’s book. No, seriously, READ SERNOVITZ’S BOOK! It’s about people, ideas, and conversation. He writes about word of mouth marketing, and yes, social media is in there as a tool for enabling the conversations. WOMMA is now solely about social media, mostly Twitter. This conference didn’t teach me a thing I don’t get in my inbox everyday from a surplus of “social media experts.” Andy Sernovitz was nowhere to be found at the WOMMA conference; I don’t know him, and I don’t know why he wasn’t there, but I’m guessing his vision doesn’t exactly jibe with WOMMA’s so much anymore.

What’s the benefit to me exactly? Each time I’ve been approached to become a member, I ask what the benefit will be to my company. Other than being able to say I’m a member and get a discount on the conference (which doesn’t make up for the $1,000 membership fee for a small business), I’ve been unable to determine a benefit. In fact…

I shouldn’t have to compete with my own trade association. WOMMA was very excited to sell us on their new Learn It, Do It! series that is “offering Brands, Agencies, and Non-Profits on-site education about Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing” for the low, low price of $1250. Well, that’s one way a lot of word of mouth marketing consultants, like myself, make a living. Sometimes we’ll have to compete with each other for jobs, but we shouldn’t have to compete with WOMMA for work. I thought they were supposed to help us succeed, not take away opportunities from their members. If an actor has to compete with his agent for jobs, it’s times for the actor to fire the agent.

Costs too much for a very small business like mine. Like I said.

So, I’ve whined and griped (without even mentioning how amazing and right-on Emanuel Rosen was), but now I’ll tell you a bit of my vision for a better WOMMA. I’m not sure if WOMMA is interested and I’m not even sure that a better WOMMA for me is better for most its members, but for what it’s worth:

“Beyond Social Media”: Social media could – and should – be the biggest focus, but let’s look at the other subsets, and how to start offline conversations before we amplify them with social media. Let’s look at how to create the big ideas, the experiences, the products and services that get people talking, and then let’s give them a place to shout about it. And then, when we do talk about social media…

Look to the future. Jackie Huba talked about Shakira’s use of fan-generated video in 2006. In fact, it’s all in her last book. SERIOUSLY, READ BOTH OF HER BOOKS! Most of us know how to use YouTube and Twitter; we need to know what we’re going to use in the near future before it happens. I didn’t hear any content about Google Wave or Foursquare, much less whatever 3D-hologram-virtual-reality-social-community-marketplace is coming after them (hopefully including a jet pack).

A little humility, please. You don’t get credit for the popularity of social media. If I had seen Mark Zuckerberg or Biz Stone on the board or even a panel, it might’ve merited the amount of backslapping. We’re an industry about building relationships; being a little more approachable will go a long way. I will admit a lot of you have amazing hair, though.

On that note. I know you’re proud of the FTC thing, but now what’s next? Other “marketers” are abusing our channels in many ways. Most of my Twitter friends have let me know how to “make money online with Google.” Daily, hackers, spammers, and phishers are negating efforts of true relationship building. I have always respected how early WOMMA came out with its code of ethics. How can you help enforce more than just full disclosure on blogs?

Look, I’m not saying that other people or businesses shouldn’t join WOMMA. In fact, if you look at the Twitter stream from the conference (of which I was an active part) you’ll find that most commenters found value and show a lot more enthusiasm for the event. If you are a large brand with a big budget and a traditional marketing team that doesn’t already use social media, WOMMA may be exactly what you need. I’m saying that it isn’t what I need. And that sucks. I’d love to have the old WOMMA back to support and inspire me. I’d love to join 2006 WOMMA, but at least for now, that doesn’t seem like a possibility.

Did you see the article on NYTimes.com  How to Market Your Business With Facebook? Most of the clients I’ve consulted are on board with using Facebook as a marketing tool. But, like with all social media tools, they have one big fear… Will it last?

They were around when everyone was saying, “You have to get on MySpace.” Some of them bit, created a MySpace page, built a following, and then left it alone for a while. Now, if they hear MySpace mentioned at all, it’s: “Nobody’s on MySpace anymore!”

Some of you want to jump in to these social media tools, but you’re afraid of wasting your very limited time in something that’s going to go away pretty soon. Ask me if Twitter will be around in 5 years, my answer – maybe. Will MySpace? Not as a social media site.

Will Facebook be around for a long time? My answer? YES!

Of course, it’s my opinion, but here’s my thinking:

Remember switching from records to cassette tapes and then tapes to CDs? What about BetaMax tapes to VHS and VHS to DVD?

We’re always reluctant to changing media devices, because we already built up libraries. We think, “I already have all of these VHS tapes, I don’t want to start over with these newfangled DVDs!” But, we ended up making the change, because the DVDs worked better. If we could have upgraded the functionality of our VHS tapes, we wouldn’t have made the switch.

Same thing goes with Facebook. There are well over 300 million Facebook users. And, most of us have built up our networks of friends, colleagues, people we went to elementary school with, and more. We don’t want to have to find all of those people all over again when “the next big thing” comes out and tries to replace Facebook.

But, unlike VHS tapes or records, Facebook has the ability to upgrade itself constantly (which it does, and we are reluctant every time, until we get used to it). Say what you will about Zuckerberg and crew, but those guys are smart. They aren’t worried about competing with they “next big thing,” they are always working to make sure that Facebook continues to be “the next big thing.”

So, if you’re waiting to use Facebook as a communication tool because you’re not sure it will be around… I say stop waiting and climb on board. I’m confident it will be useful for you for a while (as long as you  remember it is not like traditional advertising, but a place to build relationships — but I digress. That’s a conversation for another time).

What do you think? How long will Facebook dominate social media? How do you think we will be using it differently in 5 years? 10 years?

Below is a video I made with my golf instructor, Robbie Camacho:

By the way, the Federal Trade Commision requires I tell you that Robbie is also a client. I am, however, under no obligation to tell you that Robbie is a great golf instructor, a pretty darn good golfer, and a really nice guy. If you are looking for some golf lessons in the Phoenix area, definitely give him a call (or, you can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

Lucky readers of my blog, Childsplay is offering you free tickets to its season premier, Honus and Me. The show opened last weekend to rave reviews and runs until October 11.

From the Arizona Republic:

Childsplay pitches a near-perfect game with this production, the first of its 2009-10 season, with winning performances from company regulars… Beautifully staged by director Dwayne Hartford and a talented design team, it’s easy to find the right sports metaphor for this show: home run.

Here’s what you have to do: The first 5 readers to e-mail me requesting tickets will receive up to 4 tickets to the performance of your choice. (Click here for show times.)

Israel Jiménez and Joe Kremer in Honus and Me

Here’s what I ask in return: Tell your friends! Tweet that you’re going (feel free to use the names @ChildsplayAZ and @BlabbermouthAZ in your tweets), post a link to the review on Facebook, blog about it, blab about it, tell other parents, baseball fans, theatre fans. Post a comment on this blog below that you are a recipient of the free tickets, and then post again after the show to let us know how much you enjoyed it.

This is a great show from a world-class theatre company, and you can bring your family for free. All I’m asking is… (PSST, PASS IT ON)!

Im a member of the Hanacore!

I'm a member of the "Hanacore!"

My favorite local sushi joint – Hana Japanese Eatery – understands that it has a league of loyal customers who rave about their food to friends, family, colleagues, and, probably, complete strangers. In the marketing world, we call those people evangelists. At Hana, they call them “Hardcore Hanacore”.

From Hana’s Blog:

Our fans are… special.  They wait for our tweets each day and then flock for the sushi. They start fan groups. When one of them spies us bringing in a full size bluefin tuna to butcher on the sushi counter, cell phones all over town light up until there’s a crowd here like a circus.

Like I said, special. So we’d like to acknowledge that kind of crazy by branding you a Hanacore.  Feel free to post this sucker to your blog or site- paint it on the side of your car, or hey- see what your tattoo artist can do with it.

We’ll be paying special attention to these suckers, and we’ll be watching our Hanacores. Who knows what surprises may come their way?

They have embraced social media as a tool to amplify their Word of Mouth, but they are doing it right (mostly). Hana begins – as all good Word of Mouth stories do – with an amazing product. Chef Koji-san selects only the best fish, and takes pride in what he serves. Plus, they take great care of their customers, often serving a complementary appetizer and a dish of pickled wasabi. I don’t want to turn this post into a restaurant review, but, the other night, Koji-san served me a perfect plate of tuna sashimi and some uni that was buttery and subtle. The star dish, however, came from the hot kitchen; when you go, if they have a special called “scallop edamame,” don’t miss it.

A great product and great customer service then turns to relationships. If you’ve heard me talk about social media before, you know that building relationships – on- and offline – is the key to successful Word of Mouth. Your loyalists gain a vested interest in your success when they have a relationship with you. Customers at Hana are treated like family, and, in turn, are even more driven to help the restaurant succeed.

They also embrace their customers’ evangelism by offering tools on their blog to help their customers share, like the “Hardcore Hanacore” logo and even linking to a customer created Facebook group. This is a wonderful way to reinforce the passion of their Hanacore. However, Facebook is the one area I’d like to see them improve. A group is not the best way to use the most effective communication tool on the web. They should start (or ask their loyal customer to start) a Facebook fan page. The fan page will push their posts out to fans’ news streams and also allow fans to tag them in a status post (creating a hyperlink to their fan page). It’s a great way to stay connected with customers, whereas a group page usually sits there unnoticed.

Hana’s Word of Mouth – both online and off – has been a success story for the restaurant and the neigborhood. I’m definitely a member of The Hanacore, and I urge all of you to rush to Hana to give it a try. The only downside of their Word of Mouth success is that I can’t get a seat there anytime I want anymore.

Continentals Ads boast the newest planes in the sky, but theyve been around long enough to gather some dust. This is a shot of the panel above my seat. Yuck.

Continental's Ads boast the newest planes in the sky, but they've been around long enough to gather some dust. This is a shot of the panel above my seat. Yuck.

When passengers on Captain Denny Flanagan’s United Airlines flights encounter an unexpected delay, they have an experience they are sure to tell all of their friends and families. But, these passengers aren’t talking about the delay, they’re raving about how Capt. Flanagan left the plane to find a McDonald’s in the terminal and returned with a bag of 200 hamburgers to pass out on the plane. Last week, when my Continental Airlines flight was diverted from Newark to Pittsburgh, we sat on the plane hungry for 9 hours total without being allowed to deplane. Now, I know Continental can’t control the weather, and I’m grateful they aren’t allowed to try to land the plane in a lightning storm, but they can learn from the experiences Capt. Flanagan provides his passengers that turn bad experiences into Word of Mouth opportunities.

The next leg of the trip saw another 4-hour delay, where I sat in the hot terminal with no seats, no free wi-fi, and nowhere to plug in my fading iPhone. Again, I don’t expect you to take off with no co-pilot or flight attendant (who were delayed out of Michigan), but throw us a bone here.

In bad times, invest a small amount of time and money in making your passengers happy. The return on your investment can be a fleet of shiny brand loyalists who will evangelize their experience to friends and families. Here are some ways an Airline can turn a bad experience into a bearable one and get people talking:

  • WWDD (What Would Denny Do?): Read the WSJ article on how Captain Flanagan treats his passengers. Create a corporate culture that inspires similar behavior. Make sure pilots know they can expense 200 cheeseburgers and empower them with the tools to treat passengers like valued customers.
  • Information: Look, the FAA is in charge here, most of us know that. But, let us know what’s going on. If we understand the situation, we can deal with it better. In Newark, there were very few seats in the terminal, and you had to find one even if it meant going to a different gate. Information at the gate was sparse, but if you weren’t there you got nothing. How can you keep us better informed?
  • Connectivity: In Newark, you had to pay for wireless internet service (some airports offer this free). If I were running Continental Airlines, I’d make an arrangement with Boingo (Newark’s wi-fi provider) to buy wi-fi passes in bulk. It’s a small investment for a large return… Time passes much faster when we are playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.
  • Buy Some Power Strips and Extension Cords: We hate being stuck in an airport because we feel cut off. Our phones and laptops help alleviate that feeling (see Connectivity above), but there are about 12 outlets in the whole terminal. If I were you, I’d buy a bunch of extension cords and power strips, providing more outlets and locations to plug in. It’s a low-tech solution, but, trust me, we’ll REALLY appreciate it.
  • Liquor? I Barely Know Her: Sorry, but free headphones for the remake of Escape from Witch Mountain only makes matters worse. Offer to buy us a drink. We won’t all accept it, but it’s the thought that counts. I’m not suggesting turning the airplane into a keg party. One drink – it will take the edge off for a few people, and the gesture will be appreciated.

I should mention that Continental isn’t the only offender. I mean, look at US Airways… When the best PR you’ve had in a decade is crashing a plane in the Hudson, you’re not doing it right. Even Captain Flanagan’s airline got in major social media trouble for breaking guitars:

Airlines, you’re in a tough situation. We hate to travel, and it’s only become more annoying in the last 8 years. We’re tired, we’re cranky, and we just want to get to where we’re going. But, creating a corporate culture that encourages your staff to make it just a little better will do wonders for your positive Word of Mouth. McDonald’s doesn’t even make a great burger, but if you buy us one, we’ll talk about how much we enjoyed it.

So, you have a great product, and people are ready and willing to tell their friends. Why not make it easier for them. Giving people who want to share easy access to tools that will help them share is a great way to encourage positive Word of Mouth. Widgets – when done right – provide a great tool for sharing an experience.

I’m going to New York in a week to go to my good friend Clayton’s wedding, and while I’m there I’m going to take in a Broadway show. The producers of Billy Elliot created this widget for me to share my experience:


Notice there’s a link to click to find out more information about the show. Now that you know I’m going, you might ask me about the experience after I’ve seen it. The widget sets up the opportunity for Word of Mouth both before and after the show. You’ll also find Billy Elliot on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ll let you know how I like the show.