June 04, 2013

Social Media Basics for Companies: Twitter Overview

More and more brands and small companies are trying to make their mark in social media. The social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ & Instagram have been a definite boon to small and midsize companies in the online media and social media arena. Good planning, quality content and a following of the 'so called rules,' will help when trying to get yourself noticed. But, many have jumped into the deep end with little or no knowledge of Twitter etiquette, and the dos and don'ts of how to do it the right way. Influencers in certain topics, such as myself for instance, in the areas of food and culinary, are usually glad to help IF you do it right.

From nationally, well known brands and companies, to celebrities and media moguls, in today's world of instant information, phrases such as twitter, tweeting, following and followers and the hash tag (#) have become everyday words, having inserted themselves into the world's lexicon.

While most of the world is on Twitter in a personal way, the business, media, food, entertainment and PR worlds have embraced it as a great way to promote their brand or message. It is to that segment of twitter user that I address this post and the continuing series: Social Media Basics for Companies.

My reasons for writing this are simple. Lately, I have noticed many Twitter users, be they large international companies, small to mid size businesses, or social media experts hired by these same companies attempting to use Twitter to get their message out. I have also noted that while they know the how of tweeting a 140 character message, few have actually grasped the power of tweeting when  done the right way.

Over the last 8 years, I have studied, read, observed and put into practice, many of the tried, true, and yes, new and innovative methods of social media communication, honing my skills so as to be a so called, 'social media expert.' These are skills and methods no 'BA in Journalism,' or 'BA in Marketing' will ever teach. New Media and Marketing is an ever evolving, changing landscape with new nuances, algorithms, analytics and delivery platforms being launched almost daily. You can only become a successful Social Media Marketing Manager, not by knowing the theory taught in the classroom, but by applying that theory daily. I am someone who has been in marketing in one capacity or another for over 20 years. My expertise in human nature and marketing behavior and the application of those same methods to the new digital and social marketing platforms now available, have propelled me to one of the most sought out twitter personalities in my niche: gourmet, food, culinary, food news and the TV food world, garnering me 13,000+ followers, many very influential and household names. The insights I will share with you today are just my 'common sense' observations, based upon one seemingly forgotten simple premise: The Psychology of the Sale and Selling

It seems that since the advent of twitter (and yes facebook as well, but we'll review that under separate cover) companies feel that once they have their twitter account, do it by themselves, or designate a Social Media Manager or PR firm as their social media account rep, as long as a few 140 character tweets go out that day about this or that sale, what the company is planning or doing, who's birthday in the office it is that day, they have entered the age of 'Social Media' and their Marketing Department is up with the times. Well folks that is just not so. Oh, you can say you are on Twitter, but you can't really say you are getting the most 'from' Twitter.

As an example; If you are a recognized household brand or company that is in millions of people's homes or maybe your brand or name is the lips of millions of people daily and you have a twitter account where you have only a few thousand followers or you follow as many of the public, as follows you...you are probably missing the mark somewhere.

Whether, it's having the wrong person who just does not understand the psychology of brand loyalty and how to interact with your customer base, or maybe your success means that you view your twitter campaign of nominal value, you are in no way utilizing your Twitter presence to its fullest potential.

...it is a chance to interact with your customer or fan base, energize them to your philosophy, hear their need from your company or you and directly interact with them so as to grow your brand loyalty.

Think back all you small business owners, marketing dept. heads and VPs, to when you first started marketing. Remember when you listened twice as much as you talked in order to find out what your potential customer needed, in order to help them find a solution to their problem and thereby 'close a sale?' Well I'm here to tell you nothing has changed just because the dialog takes place on twitter and if your 'social marketing rep' is telling you it IS different, you have the wrong person for the job. The platform and the delivery may have changed, along with the times and influencers that make people move, but the philosophy remains the same.

You gain reputation on Twitter, not by constant tweets of  "when we get to 5000 followers we're giving away a cup of coffee, or yogurt, or a tee shirt," or utilizing the latest gimmick. You gain your reputation by communicating WITH your followers, not AT them. They in turn, realize and understand that you have figured out that you being on Twitter is about them, not you, and they recommend you to their friends and acquaintances, not because of some silly contest, but because you, your rep, or your PR firm let's them know that they matter more than your next billboard tweet.

One of the worst ways to get noticed on twitter is to Spam. Especially by those that have huge followings and are considered the 'Twitter elite' (Twitterati) in their specific topic. Oh, this will get you attention for sure, but it will all be all negative and actually defeat your purpose and damage your rep. Most will ignore your spam, quietly blocking and reporting you. Some, will call you out on it. In public. To thousands of readers and followers. That can, in some cases, be the kiss of death. See "Influencers" section below for more on this.

Remember, be patient above all else. A positive and well followed twitter rep is not something you can gain overnight. You must develop relationships, show consistency, and above all, show some class. Spam will absolutely get you noticed immediately!! Your goal is to develop a great reputation and twitter following and if you are new to twitter, or have even gotten impatient trying to get noticed, with Spam, you can actually shoot yourself in the 'profile,' before you even start your campaign.

I've got a great product or message, why are people not rushing to follow me?
You can't make yourself more popular than you are...if you're putting out great content, but have a small following, be patient, folks will find you...twitter is a marathon not a sprint race. You can only be as popular as your life and content, or you gain a rep on Twitter like I have: being selfless and being about your follower, not you. If your content is solely about you, you will not gain followers. Post content that your followers will likely benefit from and retweet. People need a reason to follow you: posting pics of yourself at the store, at the gym, in your car, at the beach, eating, etc. may be interesting to you, your mom and your friends and some of your fans, but ultimately, it looks self serving and folks will get tired of your self promotion quickly. I have seen it happen time and again.

As an example of how to do it wrong:
You decide to support a charity. You tweet your involvement, with tweets like, "I'm doing this charity, or simply tweet about 'what YOU are doing, with regard to that charity,' never simply promoting the charity and allowing THEM to, 'thank you for your involvement."

Folks like me will see your promoting 'your charity work' and not the charity. We ARE that savvy and we ARE paying that close attention.

People want content, info, interesting facts that affect and add something to THEIR lives.
Be generous in promoting colleagues and those with whom you can share common interests and can help. The turnabout is fair play and folks like to see others thinking about more than just their own lives; many of my now famous followers and friends came from my promoting THEM, before they were household names, and some, not all, have repaid those actions with promotions of me... everyone wins.

The more you retweet good content, info, or retweet people, the more YOU will be retweeted, mentioned on Follow Friday etc., and that is how we get followers; people passing along our info onto THEIR timeline.

Ask yourself: what is it about me that makes folks WANT to follow me? 
  • Do I engage them?
  • Do I tweet about interesting things?
  • Do I seem interested in just myself, or do I embrace my profession or industry as a whole?
What can I do to improve my content?
I gained my twitter following for two reasons:
  • I write good content on my blog about my niche, food, or, social media, rarely writing about myself, always on the topic or the subject. When I do mention myself, it's usually a situation that most can relate to; IE my post about my Grandmother and Jacques Pepin and their influence on my career and life now.
  • I tweet more of other people's content than I do my own. I'm a famous retweeter and folks come to me because they know they can find good info, articles and links to THEIR favorite subject; food and food celebs, not the latest picture of me.
Write about the topic or industry you are involved in, become an expert people can turn to with questions. This is not to say that you should not tweet your message, or product, or appearance, or involvement in something. It just means 140 characters must be well thought out when talking about yourself, your company and its services and/or products.

Find the influencers on twitter, and make 'em your friends...
Sometimes the job.....is just knowing who to be friends with...great contacts provide great wisdom, info and sometime mentorship, and in return, you offer your wisdom to them. Full circle, win, win!
If you are seeking notoriety, or want to call certain individuals and personalities to your brand, first and foremost, follow the Twitter profile of the person or company you are trying to connect with. Seek out those with like interests and/or those who are known specialist in certain fields. Follow them. Read them. Comment and interact with them. Most 'experts' are more than happy to help you, answer questions, or suggest direction. Find out who's influential in your area of pursuit or interest and reach out.

Re-tweet their postings. Reply to certain posts or tweet and start a dialog. Most of us, especially those in 'the public eye,' keep a close watch on our mentions, re-tweets and activity. We do this for a variety of reasons, but for the most part, it is to see if the content we are posting and tweeting is being well received and to keep a pulse on what is important to our Twitter following. It also allows us to engage and respond to our readers and followers when they reply or re-tweet our content.
Simply ask for a follow from that individual so you can talk with them via DM. It's simple to ask a well known twitter profile if they think their followers may be interested in a news article or post or item that you want to get out there to a larger audience. This works very well with me for instance. Why? First it shows etiquette and respect. When done this way, it will more than likely result in a follow from me, or, at least allow me to entertain your request in private. If your content is good, timely and interesting, folks like me will probably re-tweet it for you. Now that you have our attention, if that trend continues (good tweets), we may include it in our regular tweet rotation and you will have more than achieved your goal.

Most of my Twitterati friends are on Twitter for that reason in the first place, they write blogs, they offer links, advice, simply, on their timeline. They are experts or top of the list people in their respective fields and at one time, I did not know them. I reached out and said hello. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Look, if they are an expert or professional, on twitter, they are there so folks WILL seek them out in their respective fields and you can pick things up just by following their timeline..
Comment, reply and weigh their advice and wisdom offered for yourself. If it fits, wear it. If not, keep looking. There are billions of folks out there to choose from. Stay with the top 50- 100 when you get search results for say, in my case 'gourmet.' Twitter vets these top folks in each field: food, vegetables, blankets, media, etc., and gives you their top picks. Scroll and find someone you like and make a connection.

The next installments in this ongoing series will be:

Know Your Audience  The more you know about your potential market, be it, a fan, customer, etc., the better you will become at crafting tweets that move them to action. We'll cover Demographics, Geographics and Psychographics.
Timing  You need to do some research and find out the peak time, your ''audience' is using social media. If you have followed all the rules, done your homework to produce smart, informative, funny or interesting tweets, only to have them never seen, then all your work is pointless.
Proper use of Mentions, #Hashags and Trends The conversation can be consistent and meaningful only if the hashtags used by your business are consistent. Just creating any phrase with a hash tag does not get the job done.

I hope these simple basics help to get you started and thinking correctly when it comes to Twitter. The next installments will help take your new understanding of what Twitter is and show you how to apply what you've learned and get specific.

Till next time,

March 26, 2013

Jacques Pépin & Carmella Catena, one you know, one I wish you could have...

L'Ecole w/ Jacques Pepin
Great and iconic people inspire us. Some are famous some are not. Yet, the impact they leave on our lives is indelible and forever. Such is the case with Chef Jacques Pépin. You see, me and many of the chefs you now know as household names, all have our culinary careers due to the inspiration received from chefs like Julia Child, Alaine Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and of course, current king and culinary emperor, Chef Jacques Pépin.

I had a quiet lunch with him at L'Ecole recently but before we sat down, we toured the ICC in New York City, where Pépin is a dean. I watched with amusement as we walked the halls, stopping in various classes being taught. This was a rare treat for me, a lay person in this world of mis en place and strict French culinary tradition, to watch the students, instructors and fellow deans react to just his presence in the room. He stopped to check the bread, seeming the most content I'd remember seeing him as he took a loaf, turned it over and tapped it, listening to the sound to check its doneness. Then, we popped in on a cake decorating class, wishing some well, catching up with others. This was his element.

Each time we would enter a classroom, the students, and yes even the chef/instructors, would light up as the Master Chef entered, explaining to him in this brief moment in time, how they had seen this or that he had done, or that the reason they were attending was because of the inspiration they received as their mom, or dad, or in my case, my Grandma, introduced them to the culinary world through him and his endeavors. A moment, they explained, that was shared with one of his 'many' moments, where the two worlds collided and theirs was changed forever. The awakening in them of this culinary dream, the setting of their course or impact it had their future, leading them to this adventure.

Such is the case with me. In meeting Chef Pépin, I realized that my current path had been set long ago by he and someone very dear and personal in my life. My grandmother, Carmella Catena. After a recent meeting and subsequent lunch with this legendary chef, I recently realized why I am now doing what I'm doing. Seems I grew up a foodie. My childhood years were centered around the table, a meal. The kitchen. Now, I had no idea I was a foodie until the word actually hit the lexicon of our everyday lives, but when it did, it described me perfectly.

As a child, my mom worked and I came home from school each day to my grandmother. We had a very special relationship. She was faithfully there each day, from the time I was six, until I was 14-15. Each day when I walked through that door it was her face I saw. Some of the most formative years of my life. It is only now I understand that when my grandmother watched me after school every day, I had actually been her sous chef. "Okay now add the egg, Louis, slowly," as she mixed the dough when we were making her 'knots.'

She was famous for those cookies....Grandma's Knots... I remember, I always begged her to let me lick the bowl of homemade icing after she would dip all the cookies. She always seemed to have just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Such a simple recipe too. Food coloring, confectioners sugars, orange juice and love. You can't forget the love or it just doesn't taste the same.

Each week, my family had a traditional meal together one night a week. Thursday. Macaroni night. My mom, my grams and my Aunt would take turns hosting the meal at there respective houses. Two weeks, then it would move to the next house. When it was at gram's or my mom's, gram would do the cooking of the sauce, or gravy as it's referred to in my house. In my family there was gravy. Three kinds: Marinara and Meat for the reds, and Brown. When we said 'gravy' most times we were referring to what you all call spaghetti sauce. That's just the way it was. It was here also that I was sous chef before I knew what a sous chef was.

She would add the ingredients to the bowl for meatballs, and tell me, "Get in there and mix it with your hands, they are the best tool in the kitchen" or, "Turn the meatballs gently," followed by, "and stop eating them before we get them into the gravy!" She would always laughingly scold me as we would sear the meatballs to par cook them before dropping them into the sauce. Now, folks, I love fried meatballs! She would let me turn them in the pan and I would sneak eat all the little ones and she would scold me, but not really mad. I later found out as an adult that she would make extra, counting on the fact that I was going to eat some while we were cooking. I also,  as an adult, realized I was taught the difference between searing and sauteing, how to braise, to make stock, to bake. I just didn't realize what was happening then. But she did and she had so much love. She taught me love was as important ingredient as than anything else you were putting into your dish. Maybe more so.

She was a quiet, affable woman, who was quick with a smile and never seemed to have a bad word to say about anyone. Just a gentle soul whom everyone loved. She was a hard working mother of 4 who worked most of her life in a sewing factory, with long hours and sacrifice. I also remember she had a helluva right arm. No, not throwing. Whacking me on the arm with a wooden spoon. I was, let's say.....feisty. At seven, I backed the car into the side of the house while moving it so I could play basketball with my friends. It's safe to say, she had her hands full and I deserved every whack I got. She broke a lot of wooden spoons on me.

Now that said, we spent a lot of time together and had an excellent and special relationship. I remember, as if yesterday, sitting in the living room after school each day, watching Jacques and Julia and the The Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr with her. Well, at least on the days I did not have baseball, or football practice. I was 7-8 yrs old. When I think about it now, it was my grandmother who truly turned me into a foodie. She was the one who introduced me to all those cooking shows.

I grew and as a young adult, I was into music, sales, finances, travel. I liked eating, but one would not have called me a gourmet by any stretch. When life's curves and unexpected twists sidelined my previous career choice, a great friend, Elaine, awoke in me the 'foodie' gene and I seemed to fall into this culinary lifestyle as if putting on an old comfortable sweater. I never gave it much thought, but after years of watching my mom and grandmother in the kitchen, I guess the culinary world and a love for the kitchen is ingrained in me.

I recently chatted with Chef Pépin at an event in Cleveland and during that conversation, it hit me. The reason the foodie sweater fit so well is because it had been crocheted by my grandmother years ago. We made plans to have lunch that day at the famed French Culinary Institute (now called The International Culinary Center). I was thrilled. You know folks, there is a reason he is now, as he put it, 'a rock star.' It is through him and, the influences and inspiration of Julia, Kerr and those early acclaimed chefs, that many of the chefs and food personalities you now know today, pursued their culinary careers.

He smiled at me and explained, "Years ago we were just cooks, trying to simply make good food, but today, I have to laugh. With the popularity of the foodnetwork, with all the great chefs, like Bobby and Mario and Michael, I am now 'touring.'" He smiled, "Back when I started the show, we didn't even know if anyone was watching," he continued, "now, with the food shows, we chefs are all the rage. I travel all over sometimes alone, sometimes with Claudine and I am having fun. And I have been put in the archives in Boston University, it's nice if a bit strange."

He had mentioned this twice now in our conversations, pointing out that many people were not aware that he has taught at Boston University for almost 31 years. I asked him what he meant by 'if a bit strange' and he expounded, "I was alone in my house, you know and they had asked me to put together these things, mementos, writings, tapes, things to go into a box to bring to the school and it was weird, I, thought, 'You know, I'm not dead yet,' and he laughed, adding, 'who knows I may need these things. To put your life in a box..."

The Jacques Pépin Collection spans an entire career in kitchens around the world, from his earliest Certificats d'Emploi as an apprentice in post World War II France, to teaching career at Boston University. The collection includes extensive manuscript drafts of Pépin articles, essays and books, including The Apprentice, and The Art of Cooking. Correspondence and photographs, both personal and professional, are plentiful and feature the likes of Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Laura Bush, The collection also includes vast holdings of Pépin's recipe books, printed materials featuring Pépin, interviews, datebooks, menus and artwork by Pépin, awards, and memorabilia.

Also included is a large number of personal and professional videos featuring Jacques Pépin's Kitchen: Cooking with Claudine, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Today's Gourmet with Jacques Pépin, and Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way. He winked at me, "But of course, it is a great honour, I am in with such people as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alistair Cooke, Dan Rather, many others and me, just a cook."

I found during my recent conversations with him, in Cleveland and New York, he is always humble, a bit self deprecating and even a bit mischievous in his thoughts and remarks about himself. For instance, when talking with me about he and his fellow deans at the ICC, famed in their own right, Chefs Alain Sailhac and André Soltner, he referred to himself and the two of them as "the dinosaurs, and 'the three stooges of culinary." Quite a description of three master chefs who are among the greatest French chefs alive on the planet today, with a combined total of two hundred years culinary expertise.

We talked about his thoughts on cookery today and the sudden explosion in the popularity of cooking shows. He explained "Well on one hand, it has really made the chefs the star with all the shows and competitions. Back then, when we started out, Julia and I, it was about just showing people how too cook. I'll tell you a secret not many people know," he smiled, "we had no script or recipes...we would just wing it! Sometimes those were the best shows. At the same time, the public's awareness of culinary and the influx of new students and chefs is a good thing, so overall I believe we are headed in the right direction."

I asked if he thought about slowing down, and he answered immediately, "Well, who knows how long this will last, you know. I love the live shows, the interaction. It is nice to know that there were people out there buying the books and watching the shows," he winked, "and it's an honour to greet them one on one." I have seen that effect; folks looking up on stage with a big grin, re-living some memory or moment when Chef Jacques made them cook better, or feel better, or hungry. I was there myself when asked to lunch with him.

For me folks, this was true foodie dream come true. As a child watching Chef Pépin with my Grams, and through all the years of watching his shows as an adult, following his career, to now, being 'in' the food entertainment business, the thought that one day I would be sitting with him sharing an intimate one on one lunch was childish fantasy, a dream to not even dare dream. But here I was. We talked pure food, sharing thoughts on life, his wife and daughter, life as a chef, teaching, Julia, my life, etc.. When this moment finally came, I chose to be in it, as opposed to attend it for the sake of publication. And, I was rewarded with a great moment in my life, bringing together the real reasons I do what I do; the pure passion for the food, and most importantly, the simple acts of cooking together and sharing a meal that can help create the human bonds that shape us. Food in the right hands and with the right motive and presentation can be a unifier. For me, I now know that not only my Grams, but through her, Chef Pépin, were very influential in the career path I have finally chosen, the passion I have for all things culinary and the person that I have become, both personally and professionally.

I thought about giving you an elaborate piece here, possible video, long interview, but then as the afternoon wore on and Jacques and I talked about things it dawned on me that while I should share the moment and it's impact on me with you, this one I would keep close to the vest. A little treasure that I could take out once in a while and feel all those good feelings and re-live all those great memories of cooking in the kitchen with Carmella. The love, the laughs, yes even the scolds and broken wooden spoons.

Thanks Grams, I miss you. And thanks Chef, for taking the time to remind me what's important. Told ya, iconic people will do that. They will make you lift your game, make you think and hopefully impact your life for the better. I really am a pretty lucky guy.

Bon Appetit