Above All, Do What You Love

A few weeks ago, I announced that I was leaving AMC. That was a hard decision and not one that I came to lightly. But I felt good about it because I was leaving on my own terms to do something that I loved and start/continue a photography business with my wife at Shane & Alli Photography.

There’s a tiny wrinkle.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always kept a very short list in my head of the companies that I really dreamed about working for; you know, the ones that you think the world of, the ones that you truly advocate for and that you envision working at for your career. My list is very short and anyone who knows me well knows that there is probably one company above all the others on my list:

Chipotle.

Steve Ells’ Denver-based company is one that I’ve thought extremely fondly of for many years. When I first set foot in the Corporate Woods location off of College Boulevard in Overland Park, I could tell it was a special place. Ever since then, my love for the company has only grown, both as a fan and professionally.

When I joined AMC in 2010, I managed to connect with some of the members of Chipotle’s social team. (OK, I may have stalked them sought them out.) At my first SXSW conference, I got to meet two guys in particular who have become close friends over the past few years — Joe and Rusty. If you have ever tweeted at @ChipotleTweets, I’m sure those names sound familiar.

We’ve stayed in touch over the past several years and we actually got to spend some time together when they were in town for the Chipotle Cultivate Festival here in Kansas City. In fact, I even moderated a panel with them, joined by Myra and Candice, for the Social Media Club of Kansas City. It was a pretty great moment for me. These were people that I have been able to develop friendships with over the years through social and I got to sit with them as they shared their expertise with a room full of social media and marketing professionals.

As I heard them talk, I got more and more inspired by the work that they do and the company that they work for. Chipotle’s approach to not only their food, but their people, is something that I was blown away by. The fact that they put on three free Cultivate Festivals every single year in order to better educate their customers about why they do things — that was a pretty neat realization.

Another thing I found out was that their team had an open position.

A position that I will start in September as a Community Engagement Strategist for Chipotle Mexican Grill.

FAQs

In order to cut off a few questions at the pass, I have created this handy-dandy little FAQ section:

So what are you going to be doing?
My main job will be responding day-to-day to loyal Chipotle customers (just like me) on Chipotle’s various social channels, mostly Facebook and Twitter. I’ll get to interact with Chipotle fans and people who have good and bad experiences (though those are pretty rare, I assume), and be one of the voices of customer care for the company. I had gotten pretty far away from this at AMC and I’m really excited to get in the trenches again.

But Chipotle is in Denver! Are you moving?
I am not moving. It’s true that Chipotle is based in Denver, but I will be working from the comfy IKEA chair in my office. One of the great things about the digital age is that I can do that and still feel connected to the team. Sure I’ll have to travel to Denver (where my boss, the aforementioned Joe, is based) and NYC (where the digital director is based), but the majority of my work will be done behind one of those fancy computer thingies.

Can I have a free burrito?
I haven’t even started yet and you already have your hand out? Jeez.

And the most important question:

So what does this mean for Shane & Alli Photography?

The answer is: very little changes. One of the great benefits that I listed above is that I’ll be working out of the home. That will still allow me enough flexibility to continue to grow our photography business. We plan to still open an in-home studio and we plan to continue taking photography jobs fast and furiously. (Seriously, if you’re looking for a photographer, give us a shout.)

Photography will always be our love. I love working with my wife and best friend. I love capturing the special moments of life for our clients, our families and our friends. Those images are special and important and I love that work.

This tiny wrinkle allows us a bit more breathing room to continue to grow our business in a more measured way. And it also gives me the opportunity to work for a company I love, doing something that I’m good at, working alongside people that I really like a lot. I wouldn’t be able to do this if not for the amazing support I get from Alli and our families. Our business is going to continue to grow and this gives us a bit of leeway to do a little bit more with it than before.

I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a renaissance man. I’m interested in a myriad of things. And I never said that anyone should limit themselves to just one passion in their life. I love a lot of things and some more than others. Obviously, I love my wife above all. I love our dogs, Buzz and Woody. I love photography and capturing the moments that life brings alongside my best friend and partner. I love music and movies and food and especially burritos. In this new world, I get to spend time on all the things I love.

After all, isn’t that how we should spend our lives?

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.

My favorite Super Bowl Ads

A lot of people watch the Super Bowl. Something to the tune of 400 billion in 250,000 countries or something like that. Some watch for the game (and a great game it was!), others watch for the halftime show (my wife was in that group tonight) and lots of people watch for the commercials.

In this world of DVR fast-forwarding, this is the one time of year that advertisers are pretty much guaranteed that a metric crap ton of eyeballs are going to be watching. A lot of money is spent on agencies and a lot of rich people get a lot richer (#OccupySuperBowl, anyone?).

I could care less who won the game…in fact, when Boston and New York play, I think most people root for both teams to lose, if that’s possible. I do watch the game, and this was definitely an exciting one. But as a marketer, I definitely pay very close attention to the ads.

This was my setup during the game: Twitter on the left, ad notes on the right.

My Twitter setup during the Super Bowl

After, I went back through and looked at my notes…tried to figure out which ones I liked best. Here were my favorites:

Hyundai – “All For One”

Now, I just bought a Hyundai Sonata last year. I love my car. I also loved what Hyundai did as the sponsor of the pre-game show. This nod to the Rocky theme was pretty great.

Best Buy – Phone Innovators

This ad from Best Buy was terrific. Phone-agnostic, but showing the type of amazing innovation that has come from the smartphone industry. And hats off to Instagram and Square…both amazing apps. And the Words with Friends nod was the perfect amount of funny.

Chevy – “2012”

Detroit came with a couple great ads and I thought Chevy had a great night. This one was the better of their two (the other being the extreme sports Chevy Sonic), especially the use of “Looks Like We Made It.”

Doritos – “Man’s Best Friend”

Doritos puts a lot of effort into their Super Bowl ads and they’ve really done a lot of user-generated stuff. This ad made me laugh. Plus, dogs > cats.

Chrysler – “Halftime in America”

This ad easily won the night for me. Not only do you have Clint Eastwood, one of the biggest American icons, but you have this message that could have very easily gotten super political and ended up being inspirational. Loved the timing (obviously, right at halftime but before Madonna). I didn’t think Chrysler could come up with an ad that would eclipse what they did last year with Eminem. Turns out I was wrong. Other people felt the same, including Chevy, who put out this very classy tweet:

To me, that was pretty cool. The ad highlight of the night to me.

Some other thoughts

  • The highly-publicized “Matthew Broderick’s Day Off” ad for Honda really missed the mark for me.
  • When it came to movie trailers, The Avengers won, in my opinion.
  • The Coca-Cola polar bears are over.
  • I really love Betty White, but she runs the risk of overexposure, in my opinion.
  • The Hulu Plus ads are terrible.
  • I saw a ton of hash tags in commercials. Some good. Some bad. Very few were on screen long enough to be noticed. Keep them on the whole time. #solongvampires
  • The VW ad was funny, but that Star Wars end to it was totally lame.
  • At the risk of being a “defensive fan boy,” I thought the Samsung Note ad was a good ad for an absolutely terrible product. Nice to see someone trying to take on Apple. Is a mini-tablet (or is that a giant phone?) with a stylus really the best product to attack with?
  • Go Daddy is the worst.
  • After a bunch of terrible halftime shows (all since the infamous “wardrobe malfunction”), Madonna set the bar for the next 10 years. All halftime shows should be measured against that.

What did you think?

Following, Followers, Friends

I’ve been doing this blogging/Twitter/online thing for a while now. Through the internet, I’ve met a metric crap-ton (a real form of measurement) of people. Some I have met in person, others I’ve only met through comments, @replies and reblogs.

As an online marketer, I feel that it is a part of my job to be a part of the series of tubes that we call the internet. Initially, it was a writing outlet for me back when my career didn’t require me to write nearly as much (it doesn’t require that much writing of me now either). Blogging was a nice way to express the multitude of opinions on random topics that I have and continue to have. Over the years, I’m finding less and less time to blog, which bugs me (but frankly, it bugs me more when some people get on me for not writing enough but NEVER post themselves).

I never saw myself as a specialized blogger. If you go back and read my archives, you’ll find some pretty out there stuff from music to candy to television to social media to politics (like how I supported Bush in ’04 and Obama in ’08). Look, I never claimed it would make sense. The bulk of my readership has always come from a great group of Kansas City bloggers, many of whom I’ve met at some point in the past 6 years. Even when I wasn’t blogging about Kansas City, people like Meesha and Lane and Shea and Joe and Marie and Celeste and Darren and Erin and so many others (even Tony) were the core of my readership outside of the people that I knew or my family members.

Twitter is a different animal entirely. Some people use Twitter to merely point to the other things they’ve written or done online. I use it for a multitude of reasons from annoying personal over-sharing to unfollow-worthy live-tweeting of the Oscars to connecting with colleagues and peers and for reaching out to brands I use.

One thing that I continually struggle with is this concept of followers, following and friends. Derek Powazek, a community management consultant and web guru whose opinion I respect very much, wrote a post called Twitter for Adults that explores this very struggle and has some great solutions on what to do if you want to participate in Twitter, but aren’t sure how. It’s a good place to start, but I’ve always wondered if there was a generally accepted rule of thumb when it comes to who you should follow, who should follow you and why.

After all, what is it that motivates our behaviors online? I know that when I first began blogging, it was for me. Joining Twitter was an exploration of the next new cool thing online.

You could even say I initially joined Twitter way back before it was the cool, hip thing to do. Way back in 2007. I remember being a little confused at first. I didn’t understand it. None of my friends were on it. What was I supposed to do with it?

So I quit. Cancelled my account. A stupid thing to do in hindsight, but whatever. I rejoined at the beginning of 2008 and 14,000+ tweets later, it’s one of my primary forms of communication. Ramsey was really onto something when he wrote: “If the people you follow suck, Twitter sucks.” Most of my best friends are now on Twitter. My wife and her sister use it to communicate mass messages to the members of their dance team. My parents even have Twitter accounts, but they don’t get it yet (that’s on me to explain, I guess). But the bottom line is: enough people now use the utility that it no longer sucks for me.

But that’s not what this is about.

What I want to talk about is the strange obligation that some people have to follow or be followed by people they may only be connected with on the periphery. I do my best to stay connected and up-to-date on all the tweets and Facebooking that happens, but I’ve found as I’ve taken on more and more responsibility that it can be difficult to manage. In the days when I was pushing toward a rather large project completion at work, I didn’t check in on Twitter at all. I may have even missed a day or ten of actually sending out a tweet. And for some reason I felt guilty. Why is that?

My Twitter account is my personal account. I may talk about work on it, but that’s because I love my job. I talk about things that interest me and I do my best to follow people with similar interests. Brand accounts are a different story. The following/follower relationship changes if you are representing an organization online. But that’s for another post…

So back to the question: who should you follow, who should follow you and why…let’s start with the easy one.

Who should follow you…

Ultimately, it is anyone’s prerogative to follow you on Twitter if you keep your account public. I tend to because I’m a fairly public person. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t blocked people in the past who annoyed me or harassed me. Like Bobby B said, “It’s my prerogative.” I can do what I wanna do… There are a lot of reasons that someone might follow you:

  1. They think you are super cool.
  2. Twitter told them to in the “Who to Follow” block. Which means that you probably follow many of the same people. This is a pretty safe bet.
  3. They run searches about what people talk about and follow people who talk about certain things. Often times, I get followed by random accounts and I can usually attribute it back to one random thing I said a week ago about a product or service.
  4. They follow everyone and will try to insist that you follow them back, only to unfollow you the minute you follow them. I’m going to suggest that if someone asks you to follow them for any reason and you can’t recognize them from their profile, you can safely ignore them.

Who you should follow…

Twitter if for 140-character communications, not for long conversations. That being said, you should always follow people who you are interested or invested in in some way. The people that I follow fall into 4 categories:

  1. Friends and family. I use Twitter to keep up on what they are up to and to talk about sports with my buddies.
  2. Co-workers, colleagues and peers. I probably use Twitter more for this group than anything. It’s where I share and receive amazing insight about the latest thing. It’s a great way to share a link, a picture or a quick thought on a topic and get instant feedback. In a lot of ways, it’s replaced Google Reader as my news reader of choice.
  3. Thought leaders in my industry and area of expertise. This is a tricky one because you often times have to sift through a lot of garbage to find useful, thoughtful people, particularly when it comes to the area of online marketing. Still, I’ve managed to find quite a few people that I trust.
  4. People who pique my interest or entertain me. This is a pretty wide category containing comedians, actors, random people I’ve met or folks who were recommended by others. This is a difficult area to manage because there are a lot of these folks out there, but I don’t often seek them out.

Why you should follow people…

This truly is a personal decision. If you are looking to Twitter for news and current events, it might be helpful to follow news outlets or perhaps even reporters. If you want to use Twitter for personal reasons only, that’s completely up to you. You might think about marking your account as private, even. Ultimately, I can’t tell you why you should follow people and I certainly don’t like when people try to tell me why I should follow people or who I should follow or try to guilt me into following them just because we’ve “known each other online”. Shoot, there are people I’ve met in person that I can’t stand to listen to. If I can’t stand you online, why should I follow you?

I’ve found myself at times trying to justify why I should or should not follow someone or whether I should unfollow them because I spend an inordinate amount of time being annoyed by their opinions or the things they continue to share. What is it about our human nature that keeps me from just unfollowing that person the minute they start to annoy me? Is it because I have an “online reputation” to uphold? Hardly. If anything, I want my online reputation to be this: the same in person as online. That’s why I don’t believe in the concept of a personal brand. My personal brand is me. It isn’t calculated or cared for…it’s just me. That may irk some people and close some doors for me, but so be it. I’m not about to start pretending that I’m someone I’m not in order to please some amorphous collection of avatars on the internet.

Hope it wasn’t too rambling of a post. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Why Gowalla is Better than Foursquare

I’ve long been a proponent of geo-location tool Gowalla. I prefer it considerably over one of its larger competitors, Foursquare and for good reason.

This holiday season, Gowalla is giving away gifts for check-ins. If you hover over any of the days on the linked page, you’ll find a preview of what they’ll be giving away, including 3 Macbook Airs, 250 pairs of Toms Shoes, 5 Southwest Airlines flight vouchers, 10 Amazon Kindles and much more.

Gowalla Gifts on the Go

Gowalla Presents: Gifts On the Go 2010

I’ve long been a proponent of geo-location tool Gowalla. I prefer it considerably over one of its larger competitors, Foursquare and for good reason.

This holiday season, Gowalla is giving away gifts for check-ins. If you hover over any of the days on the linked page, you’ll find a preview of what they’ll be giving away, including 3 Macbook Airs, 250 pairs of Toms Shoes, 5 Southwest Airlines flight vouchers, 10 Amazon Kindles and much more.

And then there’s version 3 of their app…

gowalla:

Gowalla is now the easiest and best way to keep up with your friends across services with a combined activity tab that merges the whereabouts of your Gowalla, Facebook and Foursquare friends. Additionally, Gowalla now supports checking in on both Facebook Places and Foursquare in addition to sharing with both Twitter and Tumblr.

You read that right. They are now supporting checkins for their biggest competitor through their application. It’s a genius move.

Combined with their attention to design detail and their partnerships with Disney and Cirque du Soleil, the folks from Austin are doing some amazing work. I tip my imaginary web cap to @jw, @sco and the whole crew.

I can’t wait to see what they do next.