This past year, Instagram reached a tipping point. Everyone now knows about it, thanks to a $1 billion purchase by Facebook and a strong, engaged community of photographers worldwide. Brands such as mine jumped on the bandwagon…quickly creating accounts and evaluating their visual storytelling style in order to connect with this broad, engaged community, despite the CEO’s admission that there was no revenue model on the horizon.

This weekend, I saw a couple of posts on Instagram that looked like this:


And were accompanied by something along the lines of:

It looks like [insert brand name here] is buying up Instagram followers…not sure if this is legit, but I’ll do it anyway!

First off, this is not an unrealistic behavior. People on the internet don’t just like their freebies. THEY LOVE THEM. But, let’s do the math. Let’s say that the example on the left is true. Retailer H&M promises their first 20,000 followers on Instagram a $75 gift card, just for following them on Instagram. That means that H&M has decided that each Instagram follower is worth not $75, but more than that. Otherwise, there is no way that their fraud/loss team agrees to that deal.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that they write that off as “acquisition fees” and somehow get their analysts to agree this is a great idea. The next part of that equation is getting someone to agree to writing a $1.5 million check for all those gift cards. To some people, that’s small potatoes…their media budget doesn’t even get dented by that number. But for most, that’s not a small amount.

And let’s not forget…Instagram offers absolutely ZERO way to track engagement for brands. You can’t click a link from the app unless it is in your profile and you have absolutely NO IDEA how many impressions any individual image receives. All of these things are a no go for marketers.

I think Colin may have said it best:


This may seem a bit judgmental, but a little common sense goes a long way here. And just in case you were wondering, H&M already has a gorgeous Instagram account.

Now, there are some viable solutions to how to keep people from falling for stuff like this besides common sense. Unfortunately, those all fall on Instagram actually adding some pieces of functionality to their popular application with their small team under Facebook’s direction. I doubt these are new ideas, but I believe that if Instagram were to add them to their roadmap, they’d see even more popularity and (gasp!) possible profitability.

Verified Accounts

This is something that was HUGE for Twitter. That blue checkmark next to someone’s name, especially for celebrities, became the new American Express Black Card for a while.

Sponsored Posts and Accounts

This is something that I think brands would actually pay for. It works really well for Twitter and it’s working extremely well for Facebook (despite how annoying it is to brands).

Algorithmic Tweaks for Popular Posts

If you’ve ever looked at the “Popular” tab on Instagram, the majority of posts are nonsensical madness that somehow have several thousand likes. Usually they are from overseas and rarely are they photos that were originally taken inside of the app. Maybe I’m out of touch with what is interesting and engaging to the Instagram community, but some big improvements could be made for discovering new content.

So those are my quick thoughts on ways to improve Instagram. What are yours?

Why You SHOULD Sweat the Small Stuff

Richard Carlson, Ph.D. became a famous author and motivational speaker behind the strength of his book: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…And It’s All Small Stuff.

This phrase has to be one of the most overused pieces of advice that we share with one another. When it comes to worrying about tiny wrongs that people do to each other — in relationships, at work, etc. — it makes sense.

However, when you start to add up these small things, they tend to pile up into huge issues, especially when you consider there are 7 billion people in the world with “small stuff” bogging them down.

But what if we treated the small stuff like big stuff? Especially when it comes to the problems facing the world today. Issues that may seem small to us can have a massive impact when solved on a macro scale.

Take the example of Blake Mycoskie and TOMS Shoes. Several people don’t like what TOMS has come to represent or maybe they just don’t like their shoes, but Mycoskie saw a small (to us) need that he wanted to do something about — getting access to shes for people in need, particularly in third world countries.

The results can be astounding. Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water had a similar experience. He saw something small (OK, access to clean water isn’t exactly small…maybe specific is a better term) and he created a charity solely focused on solving this specific problem. Once again, we saw remarkable results

Back in May, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to use his amazing influence to solve another very specific problem: organ donation. And by enabling Facebook users to easily register as an organ donor within the confines of Facebook, he saw staggering results overnight. The state of California saw an over 5000% spike in their organ donor registry in less than one week.

This small-issue problem solving can be applied to business. I work in the retail industry and I know the massive effect that something as simple as a clean bathroom or new seats can impact a business.

Oftentimes, we hear our leaders talk about “solving big problems.” We look for the next “game changer.” The phrase “Go Big or Go Home” gets bandied about. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it is like trying to eat an elephant. Now the common answer to the joke is that you do it “one bite at a time.”

But what you’re left with is a belly stuffed full of elephant and it can take an awful long time to choke down those tusks.

Perhaps we should try to solve smaller problems first. Smaller problems are more digestible and not nearly as overwhelming (and they don’t make you fat like eating a full elephant does).

See, unfortunately, when all we do is focus on the big problems, the small problems can get worse. Have you ever been in a movie theater with someone who is texting or talking really loudly? In the scheme of things, it’s a small thing. But anyone who has experienced that knows that it can have such a detrimental effect to your movie-going that it has the potential to become a “big problem.”

I’m not saying we should ignore the big stuff entirely. I am saying, however, that small, specific problems like texting in a theater are much easier to solve than something bigger like: “less people are going to the movies.”

Take a moment to look at your life or your business or your relationships with others. Are there small specific problems that you can solve? I truly believe that if you would actually sweat the small stuff a little, you might actually start to find some solutions to the bigger problems.

So what is your small stuff?

Originally posted on the BrandSocialites Blog.

What I’m Reading Right Now

Work has quickly returned to the fairly normal breakneck pace. The box office has returned thanks to some surprising numbers from End of Watch, Hotel Transylvania and Taken 2. I’m trying to catch up on some reading, whether blogs books or otherwise and wanted to share some of what I’m reading right now.

First, since I live online, here’s what I’m reading there:

  • First on the list is the terrific new blog from the folks behind Uncrate — GALLIVANT, a travel guide for guys. The site is divided into five categories: Stay, Scarf, Sip, Shop and See. Exposing great hotels, restaurants, bars, stores and locations in cities around the world. Really obsessed with this site right now.
  • Fake TV Character Twitter accounts from Aaron Sorkin TV shows. Love Will McAvoy from HBO’s The Newsroom (who I wish was a real news anchor and debate moderator) and Fake West Wing President Josiah Bartlett. (Consequently, both accounts are actually written by the same guy.)
At work, I’m reading some short reads on new and current approaches to building websites.
  • Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski. A part of the brilliant A Book Apart series and a terrific follow-up to Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design that I just finished. These books are written by guys who have actually done it. As someone in the middle of a project like this, I’m intrigued by these new approaches.
And the books I’ve recently read or am currently reading for enjoyment:
  • Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I love Hornby. High Fidelity is one of my all-time favorite books. But for the last several years, while he’s collaborated with Ben Folds and written young adult fiction, he just kinda lost his way. Juliet is really a return to the style that made him famous.
  • Love Wins by Rob Bell. I’m a fan of most stuff that Rob Bell writes. His latest is pretty controversial. Looking forward to reading it. Hoping that it inspires me somewhat.

So what are you reading?

Very Cool, Cookie

As someone who works on the web and in social media, I’m always looking around at the industry, finding great ideas and best practices, particularly when they pertain to brands. I work for a brand. A pretty big one. And working for a brand, especially in social, requires a certain finesse. You have to encapsulate the voice of the brand and yet it needs to feel appropriate for the channel that you’re on.

As someone who works on the web and in social media, I’m always looking around at the industry, finding great ideas and best practices, particularly when they pertain to brands. I work for a brand. A pretty big one. And working for a brand, especially in social, requires a certain finesse. You have to encapsulate the voice of the brand and yet it needs to feel appropriate for the channel that you’re on.

One brand that is just way beyond everyone else in terms of engagement and knowing their audience and their brand is Oreo. Not only are these cookies beloved and universally known throughout the world, they have a passionate audience to the tune of over 27 million Likes on Facebook. Part of the reason that they’ve got such great engagement is their Daily Twist campaign like the one below that they shared on Pride Day:

Daily Twist - Oreo Pride

One of the great things about having something as identifiable as a black-and-white cookie is that it can be modified to be so many different things, including items that are movie-related:

Oreo Daily Twist - TDKR

I’m a big fan of Oreo and what they’re doing. Yesterday, they tweeted:


Now, my company has a “No Outside Food and Beverage” policy (as do most theatres, concert venues and sporting arenas). Oreo knows that because they even used the #slicksnacker hash tag to indicate that outside Oreos are contraband in a theatre. So I decided to have a little fun.


8 minutes.

8 minutes was all it took for us to craft a 3-word response. No legal departments. No approvals. Our social media team has such a great amount of trust from our leadership that we can speak off the cuff through our brand voice and know that we have their support. It helps when we’re clever, too.

Shortly after we sent the tweet out, I left the office for the afternoon for a Kansas City tech conference. Now, I’ve got AMC’s Twitter account connected to my phone. I kept up with the feed during the conference and watched as our terrific followers began retweeting and retweeting and retweeting. By the end of the night, the tweet reached over 200 retweets, which translates to a WHOLE LOT of reach in the world of Twitter. I was pretty proud of what I had done. I shared it on Facebook and went to bed thinking that was the end of it.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Sometime between the time I woke up this morning and the time I got to work, it exploded. It made the front page of AdWeek, thanks to this AdWeek blog post and my Twitter feed began getting inundated with congratulations and kudos. The number of retweets was over 500 and climbing rapidly and Oreo even responded.


Not a #humblebrag, but a point

I promise this post isn’t meant to be one giant #humblebrag. I have a point to all this. The truth is that an interaction like this is why I believe so fervently in the power of social media professionals within brands. With the proper structure and governance (and a buttload of trust from your superiors), stuff like this can happen.

Trust is important.

I cannot emphasize this enough. As the AdWeek story circulated around the office, I wanted to make one thing clear to my superiors: successes like this are not purely the result of being clever. Being given the latitude to react and respond is critical for a social media group within a brand. Trust matters. The trust that we have been given is an invaluable asset in instances like this. And I will continue to live up to that trust…why wouldn’t I? I am a representative of the brand (a brand that I am proud of), so why would I do anything that would harm the brand?

That ownership in what we do better equips myself and my colleagues to do amazing things. It helps if you have a brand whose voice is defined as “fun and engaging.”

Now what?

The story continued throughout the day. More and more retweets of our “NOT COOL, COOKIE” post (it’s now over 1,000) and too many congratulations from people around the office. Still, we saw one more opportunity to engage with Oreo’s response.

What we came back with was pretty fun, I think (big hat tip to my colleague and AMC’s Social Media Manager Justin who had the idea).


Yes. Those are Oreos on my eyes.

If there’s anything to learn from my story, it’s this: if you are a brand representative in social spaces, be sure that you understand your brand voice. Fight for an amount of autonomy where it makes sense so you can be agile and respond not just to customer service-related questions, but to the pop culture zeitgeist as well.

Why I Rarely Post Anymore

I think that might be because as the years passed, the Internet grew to be this behemoth that it is now and I began to question whether anything I was saying was original anymore. It probably wasn’t even way back in the day, but I was blissfully narrow-minded. Instead of writing just to write, I felt like anything I posted had to mean something and that became the biggest hurdle of them all.

I used to write on this blog a lot.

I wrote about stuff that I cared about: movies, music, design, Kansas City, politics, TV — pretty much anything that fancied me at the time.

I started this blog way back in 2004 as an outlet for my writing. It ended up being a place for me not only write, but also to connect with other great people in the KC blogging community. Many I have met and others I haven’t. Not because I didn’t want to, but because we never crossed paths.

Over the years, the frequency with which I posted faded. I got busier at work as my responsibilities changed and grew. I took on more stuff outside of work — church stuff, photography, professional development. And then I just kind of stopped posting altogether. Here and there, I’d put something up, but it never felt the same…like what I was saying had any substance.

I think that might be because as the years passed, the Internet grew to be this behemoth that it is now and I began to question whether anything I was saying was original anymore. It probably wasn’t even way back in the day, but I was blissfully narrow-minded. Instead of writing just to write, I felt like anything I posted had to mean something and that became the biggest hurdle of them all.

Putting a post together takes time. Or at least I think it does… Time is something that I rarely have. Before, I had time at work, time after work…I was flush with it. That’s just not the case anymore.

But then again, maybe I should just write for writing’s sake again and not worry about well-formed sentences or spelling or whatever. After all, that unedited, stream-of-consciousness journaling-like nature is what got me to 1000+ posts. There’s still this nagging feeling that my posts should mean something, but I don’t know why I’m so concerned about that considering I’ve put out more than 25,000 posts of 140 characters or less on Twitter and I would venture to guess less than 1% actually mean something.

I guess this feeling makes me think of An Invocation for Beginnings.

Lately I’ve been struggling a lot with motivation. A lot of different things are pulling for my attention and I don’t feel like I can spend enough time on any of them, so I spend very little time on all of them. And then I go into this shame spiral where I do the everything thing. And that’s just not very productive.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. Maybe I’m saying I’m going to post more and care less about it meaning something. Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe I just wanted to write again and I was able to carve out some time. I’m not promising anything will come of this.

I just wanted to get it out.