The Art of Follower Recognition

Long gone are the days when brand auto responses were socially acceptable. And by socially, I mean on social media. We call them consumers, but at the end of the day, the people who flock to a brand’s social channels are part of an audience, a community, if you will. They choose to dedicate however many minutes — and in some cases hours — each day to following their beloved brands, for whatever reason, and can all too easily get lost in a number.

Like many people in a social strategy leadership role, I’ve spent much of my career working with clients and colleagues to demystify vanity metrics, teaching what success actually looks like — numbers that actual have strategic implications versus what’s just shiny but ultimately without long-term brand value. And the reality is, for so many brands, the community gets lost in the numbers.

As we push brands to embrace engagement as the lead performance indicator, we have to identify opportunities to recognize and reward the “every-follower” — the person who’s not necessarily an “influencer” (its own class of buzzword that requires clear definition), but has nonetheless made the conscious decision to follow and actively react to a brand’s social story.


  • Start Simple: People don’t hear the words “thank you” often enough. Not every brand action on social needs to be draped in pomp and circumstance. If your main goal is to showcase appreciation for your community, start by saying it with words.
  • Say it with a Surprise: Don’t be afraid to go that extra mile for a person (or people!) who has been an especially active and supportive member of your brand’s social community. Surprise them with something offline, like a handwritten thank you note and their favorite product from your portfolio, or even something brand-agnostic based on what you know from being a careful listener and community manager.
  • Build Sustainable Relationships: Nurturing your existing community is as important as growing it. Establish a regular community management routine that involves not just “listening,” but learning — about your audience, their interests, their motivators, and their values. Get to know the people who believe in the brand messages that you’ve worked so hard to craft. Their follow, like or retweet is their way of saying “we care,” and as a community manager, it’s your job to look for ways to keep that message reciprocal, and ongoing.




The Human Side of Zuck

Articles pop up all the time about the importance of social media for C-suite executives. It’s a great promotion tactic for thought leadership, helps humanize a brand, and at its core, it’s a great way to network.

Enter Mark Zuckerberg, the 32-year-old CEO and Co-Founder of Facebook. I have a combined fascination and appreciate for Zuckerberg; in many ways, he paved the way for my career in social media strategy with the launch of Facebook. What’s fascinating though is his personality; he’s a textbook developer whose success has thrust him into the limelight since Facebook’s launch in 2004.

I work with a lot of digital people — most of whom would join me in a collective eye roll at being labeled “creatives.” The faces of our web design and development team are pretty fabulous, and while they’re definitely social, their work is so screen-centric that I find myself chatting with them on gchat or via e-mail more than in person.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t strike me as much different — as a developer, but also as a CEO. He regularly updates his personal Facebook feed with major brand milestones, all of them so perfectly on-brand and message — ie: clearly vetted by someone on his comms team.

But here’s what special, and where he breaks free from the mold: he embraces the innovations that he’s invested in. From Oculus to Instagram, Zuckerberg has started to add a deeper layer of personality to his updates. Since adding dad to his resume, he’s even offered subscribers of his feed a glimpse into the life of his beautiful daughter Maxima.

Alongside Facebook’s investment in virtual reality, its not-so-new Live feature is perhaps one of the most important for the channel, and one that Zuckerberg has really embraced. My favorite broadcast was one that he aired before Sunday’s debate. Zuckerberg streamed live from his Palo Alto backyard, where he was drinking sparkling water and smoking meats. Commenters, myself included, began to dub the broadcast #GrillTalk, and I sincerely hope it takes off.

While Zuckerberg isn’t the only Facebook exec that I follow (I recommend following along with Boz and Ruchi Sanghvi, too!), I think he’s a game changer for C-suite execs who are open to letting the public in a little.



Talking About My Generation

While I’m sometimes guilty of using industry jargon (a practice which has inspired physical jargon bells in my office), I really cannot stand buzzwords.

Public relations may have deep roots, but as far as industries go, social media is a relatively new speciality area, and when it emerged, so too, did a smattering of descriptors for its target demographic.

Calling me a “millennial” — and worse yet, an “older millennial” — will summon the most cold-stone serious of stink-eye stares from my otherwise shayna punim.

The phrase millennial casts a wide net — it technically accounts for some 75 million people born between 1980 and 2000. Farhad Manjoo put it best when he said:

Although millennials are now the largest demographic group in the country (sorry, boomers), and though they are more racially diverse than any other generation in American history, they are often depicted on TV, in movies and music, and in the news (including The New York Times) as a collectively homogeneous cliché.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in corporate America, especially in the technology industry, which has long been obsessed with the dubious idea that young people are in the cultural vanguard.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m pretty fabulous, but I would never dub myself a cultural vanguard. Not even close.

I wince at the thought of being part of a generalized cultural clump that discounts the diversity of my generation. And, as Manjoo goes on to explain, “there’s a glaring problem with these and other efforts to go after the younger among us: Millennials aren’t real.”

I couldn’t agree more. My passionate disdain isn’t just in reaction to a perceived misnomer, but more so because of my larger beef (or tofu) with the closed-mindedness of generational marketing.

I lead a team of social strategists, and while the clue may be in their title, everything they (really “we”) do is rooted in strategy — a practice that’s very foundation is dependent on understanding the target audience.

Caging an entire segment within the confines of broad generational rhetoric is lazy, and it’s high-time to un-teach it. We live in an age where mapping out a sophisticated set of personas — or personality types that your content should speak to — is conveniently at our fingertips, just a few taps away. Alongside the rise of the social strategist has been the role of digital analyst, a function that every digital team should have. These are the people that offer credibility to what would otherwise be healthy hunches with strong strategic intent.

With the data available, it’s downright irresponsible to rely on generational marketing to guide any sort of smart thinking and most importantly: authentic, relatable stories.

I guess my problem is that I expect more — from myself, my industry and even consumers. I expect us to think of ourselves as deeper than “boomers” or “millennials.” I’ve been called a lot of things — and yet somehow, millennial irks me most. I’m a communicator, a wife, a dog-owner, a pescetarian, a Michigander and more; my age doesn’t define me, and yet because I’m young and grew up in tandem with the booming tech industry, I get stripped of what makes me standout.

Title Fatigue

I’m not a social media guru. I’m also not a ninja or Jedi. These not-so-creative liberties attached to my area of expertise are not cute. In fact, I find them patronizing and offensive.

My industry has been going through an identity crisis since its inception. There’s little consistency across agencies and clients on how to best describe the depth of each social channel, let alone how we title the people who manage them.

Social media will always be evolving — much like how the universe is expanding. My experience is rooted in the agency world, and in under a decade, my title has morphed from PR hierarchical nomenclature to newer, looser titles with overt ties to digital.

My current title reads something like, “Vice President, Social Strategy and Content Marketing,” and the clarification after the formal title was my attempt at claiming stake to the area of social media about which I’m most passionate. I see social strategy as level agnostic. Even as a Vice President, I wouldn’t scoff at being referred to more generally as a social media strategist to someone who doesn’t know or care about agency hierarchy (read: most people).

At my core, I identify as a writer, and over time, that identity has expanded. Aligning myself with the strategist moniker embraces and encompasses my passion for writing, while also compensating for my consumer curiosity, analytical drive, and overall thirst to communicate creatively.

I could easily whittle off a top-10 list of qualities that negate a person’s claims to social media czardom (a phrase that truly makes me wince whenever I see it), but I’d rather make the case that we shift how we think about job titles. Roles should be shaped by an agile vision of how a person or particular area can grow — no limits to inflate impact or truncate potential. Digital teams should be built to flourish in tandem with an always-changing industry.

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From Pinterest to Proposal

I work in social media, and so, it’s reasonable to assume that in addition to cataloguing my every move religiously on Foursquare and documenting my life through Facebook and Twitter, I plan my future with equal attention to detail on Pinterest.

My boards are appropriately segmented from recipes and home-goods, to beauty tips and generic lifehacks. And then, of course, there’s my wish list. This particular board has been so specially curated; I’ve dedicated several blocks of minutes — maybe even hours — to ensure that each pin reflects my taste, and things I’d actually use.

There’s a point to this prose, I swear.

You see, I got engaged on Saturday.

My boyfriend fiancee and I have been together for just about a year, and marriage had been a looming topic. We moved in together quickly, and so marriage felt like the logical next step.

That said, it seemed a proposal would only happen if Adam — said fiancee — had full creative control.

Had he met me? I’m controlling, type-A+, neurotic…the list goes on.

As the one year mark drew closer, I suspected he was up to something. Since when was he in a rush to do yard work in the suburbs on a Friday?

Hint: he was buying a ring.

What role does Pinterest play in the whole scheme of things, you ask? It all goes back to my wish list.

When my friend Janet got engaged, she mentioned to me And while Adam didn’t get my ring from, I spent countless lunch hours and late nights perusing their selection of loose diamonds and settings, dreaming up what my sparkler would look like.

I settled on a simple, pave setting with an emerald-cut center stone. And it was from that pin, that had been sitting there stale for months, that Adam drew inspiration to have my ring designed.

The ring, however, was only half of the proposal.

We had dinner at Piccola Venezia in Astoria. He started with a caesar salad, and I had the minestrone soup. For his main course, he had a veal parmesan-type dish, while I opted for fresh pappardelle in olive oil with roasted garlic and eggplant. (HELLO DELICIOUS!)

After dinner, there was this lull of time where I wondered if a proposal was on the horizon. And, at the cusp of my wonder, the waiter placed a dish in front of me. I remarked that we didn’t order dessert, and then I looked down to see that “Will you marry me?” was etched onto the plate in chocolate.

Cue hysterical tears.

In the midst of my emotional eruption, Adam kneeled on one knee, and asked me formally to marry him. The entire restaurant was our audience, and the moment I said yes, the entire room trumped my tears with applause, and the waiter announced proudly, “SHE SAID YES!”


I am so glad I gave up snooping, as now I enter into Thanksgiving with something even more special to be thankful for.

iThink: Web-based Television

My relationship with TV is a deep-rooted one. I remember being in the first grade — back when I shared a room with my older sister Anne — and my parents gifted us with a tiny — maybe 15-inches — television sans cable. It was a big deal, even without the ability to tune into Nick at Nite

As I grew older, I developed my taste in programming — mostly British or other such things beyond my years. I watched Seinfeld and Friends at ages where I couldn’t possibly comprehend the concepts of being on a break, or being master of one’s domain

In college, TV was the only thing I made time for on weeknights besides studying, friends, and jaunts to IM West. I had upgraded the device itself from a tiny tube-style unit to one of the flatscreen variety. 

Before I knew it, shows like Gilmore Girls and the Sopranos were over, and there was a lull in my screening schedule. 

I’m far from an early adopter of online video. I’m much more comfortable embracing text-based tools and platforms, as well as tools that embrace static visuals. That said, I love a good cute animal video, or other giggle-inducing viral varieties, and I turn to YouTube for all sorts of random things — from Jacques Pepin’s perfect omelet tutorial to a guide to making toum (garlic whip sauce). 

Using YouTube — or any site for that matter — for anything beyond easy amusement or questionably ethical streaming felt weird, but a friend of mine had suggested a video series featuring Michael Cera and Clark Duke that I had to check out. 

Clark and Michael was my first foray into programming produced specifically for the Internet, and while I can’t say that I went chasing after other similar series as a result of watching — and loving — Clark and Michael, I will say that it opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist in that respective space. 

In fact, when I realized that CBS produced and owned Clark and Michael, I figured it was only a matter of time before other media companies followed suit. 

Where I sit now, I spend most of my time on my computer, and only part of that is because of my job in social media. The truth is, my computer has actually replaced almost any desire I ever had to switch on my physical — for some reason I’m tempted to say hardcopy as if I’m referring to books — television. I say almost instead of totally with respect to the desire to turn on the TV because I still thrive off of the ego-bloating satisfaction of watching a show that’s currently in-season on its premiere date, to contribute to the ratings, etc. 

And in that sense, the way I interact with the TV and my programs of choice is still quite different. Instead of calling my mother to talk about what trickery Julian Fellowes has cooked up on Downton Abbey, I turn to Twitter or GetGlue to see what the buzz is in cyberspace. 

With YouTube now cultivating its own content across various channels, and Netflix producing its own series with stars like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, my faith in web-based TV grows significantly stronger. I’m especially partial to Netflix for its revival of Arrested Development. I find it interesting that these platforms have turned into providers of proprietary content, whereas the networks have used video streaming to support their existing, more traditional shows. 

What do you think about the future of television? We talk so heavily about printed media — books, magazines, etc. — but we seem to leave the performed media alone. We shouldn’t. What’s your opinion? 

Social Media: War of the ages?

I start and end my days by reading and watching the news. As I was leaving my office tonight, I hopped onto Google News and one particular story caught my eye: 11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media.

The only thing that makes me cringe more than being called “Alex,” is being referred to as “kid.” I’m often hesitant to share my age, because while it may reveal biological youth, I’ve been more successful than people several years my senior, so please, spare me any patronizing rhetoric.

I’ve worked in social media and digital PR for almost 5 years, 3 of which have been spent working for a major firm in New York. As an ambitious 20-something, I’ve made a point to carve out personal guidelines for social media etiquette that have overlapped into professional practice.

Despite some scattered gray hairs and bags under my eyes that I’d be charged for if traveling, please take my word that I’ve not yet hit 30, and yet I’ve been tasked with more than running several successful digital media campaigns or maintaining social profiles for clients, I ran an entire division devoted to new media for a book publicity firm.

To assume that someone at age 23 has not had formal training or experience is short-sighted.

I’ve been stewing since reading the article 3 hours ago, and would like to take a moment to respond to each of Hollis’ 11 points:

1. They’re Not Mature Enough – I’ve been called a lot of things at my age, but immature has never been one of them. Maturity is not at all reflective of age, nor is it reflective entirely of experience. I’d prefer to work with someone who was clearly on a path of self-exploration, than someone who was entirely content with life at present, because the explorer would likely bring that same open attitude into the workplace, and hopefully discover new skills and strategy in navigating the social space.

2. They May Be Focused on Their Own Social Activity – Paranoia is never healthy, and neither is micromanagement. I take two social media breaks throughout my day — one is usually at lunch, the other closer toward day’s end. At each break, I allow myself 10 minutes to peruse Twitter or Facebook for news to comment about and share across my personal platforms. In communication, you build a pedigree of relationships and know-how, none of which can be accomplished without staying informed and connected throughout the day. On top of which, an all-work, no-play environment is not conducive to productivity or workplace happiness.

3. They May Not Have the Same Etiquette –or Experience – My personal feed on Facebook should not be seen as an indicator of my ability to succeed on the job. Talk to me about who I know, who/what I read, what trends I’m following, which platforms I use. If you were to look closely at my Facebook, you’d see many more Instagram photos of my dinners than my social media two-cents. And that’s just one reason my feed is private.

Any good agency or brand should have a social media policy in place, and a strong on-boarding program for sharing that policy and its best practices with staff. In an agency setting, each client should have its own respective social playbook or list of best practices.

The development of these policies is the responsibility of the company, the employee should then be trusted to implement accordingly.

The standard etiquette of appropriate subject matter may be just as absent for a 23 year old as it is for a 50 year old.

4. You Can’t Control Their Friends – Most friends and family engaged to join a page or follow a feed don’t interact beyond the follow or “like.” My experience is anecdotal, of course, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t hold up. It’s more likely that my friends will be crass directly on my personal feed, which should not be reflective of my ability or behavior, especially if I don’t indulge the profane post in a response.

5. No Class Can Replace On-the-Job Training – Young people are consumers, and experience and observe many elements of marketing, customer service, PR, branding, and crisis management. Experiences are transferrable, and can help inform and grow a skill set.

6. They May Not Understand Your Business – Again, that’s the job of the employer. To set goals and procedures. A campaign shouldn’t even be considered before goals and true needs are explored. That all said, each job should be accompanied by a fair learning curve.

7. Communication Skills are Critical – Communication is indeed an art, but it’s unfair to assume that someone at age 23 is ill-equipped to form a sentence.

8. Humor is Tricky Business – Boundaries with respect to content, especially as it relates to humor, should be set up by the employer as part of a policy. With a strong editorial calendar in place, any questionable content can be flagged as a precaution.

9. Social Media Savvy Is Not the Same as Technical Savvy – Well, duh. This goes back to the need to establish goals. When goals are set, metrics are defined for measurement, tools are chosen for efficiency, and so tech savvy is born.

10. Social Media Management Can Become Crisis Management – Sure, there are some great examples of people screwing up on a company handle. This, among other things, is why it’s important to have a crisis plan in place for social media channels. No one is perfect, and that’s a fact that doesn’t change with age.

11. You Need to Keep the Keys – The one point I agree with. Be informed. Stay in the loop. Ask to learn about the trends your social staff is staying on top of. And really, if you don’t understand social media to begin with, perhaps you owe it to your company/brand to educate yourself — at least on some level — before hiring someone who will ultimately know more than you.