Social Media and the United Breaks Guitars Video – A Cautionary Tale for ALL marketers

With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, Dave Carroll’s  “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet social media phenomenon.  I first saw the video posted on Facebook by a friend.

For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they’re sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren’t all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people’s media.

The video I’m referring to is really amazing to see. Here’s the story behind it: United Airline’s baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).

The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For just 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.

As a marketer and consultant, I’ve seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies’ campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”

But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand dead with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.

You should be terrified, too. If you’re reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience  — I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?

I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.

To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.

Thanks to social media, Joe’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.

Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United’s policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.

5 Pointers for Out-of-Work Direct Marketers (or ones who just want to hedge their bets)

Note from Jim: Originally published in All About ROI Magazine (formerly Catalog Success) Filling my virtual shoes this week while I’m on vacation is Jerry Bernhart, president of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, and author of the Direct Marketing Employment Outlook Survey.

For those of you actively looking for employment, let me offer a few things you can do to help you get that extra edge. This may not all be new to you, but these key points are worth repeating.

1. Make sure your resume screams, “I can add value!” I still see way too many resumes that are long on titles and descriptions, but short on specific accomplishments and achievements. That always amazes me. Metrics are an integral part of the direct marketing process, yet many marketers’ resumes often neglect to include what really matters most — quantifiable results. If you don’t brag on your resume, no one else is going to do it for you.

Be very specific, quantify where possible and use some choice action verbs to describe what you achieved. Companies have already taken steps to slash costs, so think more about what you’ve done to contribute to revenue growth, such as acquiring and keeping new customers; new products; new market segments; how you’ve helped improve recency, frequency and monetary value; and so on. Don’t forget to make your resume keyword-friendly. Use terms that are specific to your job or career objectives, and use them often. Continue reading

Blogging, it’s a give to get thing

Blogging has been a super powerful tool for me as part of my overall networking strategy. I do plenty of in person networking (as a board member of FDMA). But I much prefer the new fangled way. So here, take these steps. And Shhh, don’t tell anybody about this, ok?

1. Link your blog to your Linkedin (LI) profile page (very easy to do with WordPress)

2. Join as many Linkedin groups as you can (50 is max). Try to join groups that compliment your skills. For instance: I am a direct marketing consultant. I belong to many direct marketing groups. But, graphic designers can also recommend my services, so i belong to a graphic design group. Get the picture?

3. Use the LI “news” feature in groups to add your blog posts as news.

4. Use the discussions to add value to groups you belong to and always add your blog’s url.

5. When I started my blog, I used the Q&A function of (LI) to ask people to check out my blog and tell me what they thing.

6. Also in LI Q&A, answer questions that you have a good feel for (and always add your blog URL.

7. Back to your LI profile page. you have 3 links you can add. I have my blog, my Twitter feed and my Magazine column with links. 8. Regarding blog content, I write and post articles that add value to my intended audience. (people who could use my direct marketing agency/consulting services). Don’t post garbage or fluff.

8A. Make sure your blog has RSS and it is in a prominent position on all pages. People will subscribe your your blog.

9. Tweet your articles when you post them. use the Status feature of LI to update people on your articles.

9A. Send your posts out to your facebook connections. And join facebook groups and push out there too.

10. I also am a member of Plaxo (good for pushing articles to your connections), Biznik (can post articles there too, but without links back to your blog which pisses me off to no end)

11. Lastly, and someone else can address this. Use feeds to get your blog out there like Technorati, Delicious, etc.

Wow, I gave away the farm here. Final thought. Blogging and promoting your blog is a “give-to-get” thing. The more you give away your expertise, the more you get back.

Four Questions to Continually Ask About Your Customers, Products and Brand

You don’t have to operate any stores to always “mind the store.” For us in the catalog/direct/multichannel world, that means finding time in our 24/7, 365-days-a-year world to step back and ask ourselves a few questions. It’s not an easy task to pull back from our everyday happenings, especially in this insane and fear driven economy, but it’s still mission critical to stop and ask:

1. Are we the company our customers want us to be? 

2. Are we the company our competition envies? 

3. Are we looking around every corner to see what’s coming next? 

4. And for that matter, how can we adapt to meet the needs of the next “trend” so we can effectively contribute to our customers’ wants and needs and therefore our own EBITDA?

5 Tips for Using LinkedIn as a Business Tool

In addition to being an exceptional tool for personal business networking, LinkedIn is also a great place to market your business. Here are five tips to help your business network grow through LinkedIn: 

1. Use the Q&A function. The Q&A function of LinkedIn is a powerful revenue-generating tool. Try using the advanced answers search to find questions specific to your company’s expertise. Don’t pitch your company’s products or services here, just give the best — or most altruistic — answer you can. The Q&A is definitely a give-to-get medium: Give freely and you’ll get back in spades. 

2. Become an expert. When a question is asked on LinkedIn, it remains open for answers for seven days. After the question closes, the asker can rate the best answer to that question. The best answerers for a given question are awarded expert status on LinkedIn. From that point on, whenever an expert answers a question, that expert gets an expert badge. People’s expert status follows them around wherever they go on the site. Since you’re representing your company, this creates expertise for it as well. 

3. Join groups. You can join as many as 50 LinkedIn groups. When you join, introduce yourself and your services. Much like Q&A, this is a give-to-get medium. 

4. Start a group. Starting a group is super easy — just a couple of clicks and you’re done. Start a group around your company’s core competencies. For example, if you’re a printer, set up a group for people to ask questions about printing. If you’re a search engine marketing company, set up a SEM for beginners group. 

5. Promote your blog. Many of you already have corporate blogs and have produced whitepapers and corporate presentations. Promote your blog in the news section of the groups you belong to. Promote whitepapers and presentations in the groups as well via the discussion function. This adds value and enhances your image. 

People always tell me they see me all over LinkedIn. I try to gain as much notoriety as possible within the LinkedIn Q&A and group functions. As a consultant, this has brought me new customers. It takes some attention and time, but when done right, it can be a wonderful source of leads and business

Jim Gilbert and the Florida Direct Marketing Association are pleased to announce…


January 15th FDMA Meeting Info

From: The Florida Direct Marketing Association | December 31, 2008

The FDMA is pleased to announce its January 15th event:

Business Networking in the 21st Century

Come join us for lunch January 15th for an informative session on how to build your personal brand using web 2.0 online techniques with Jim Gilbert, CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing. In a world where the average  tenure in a position is just over 2 years, it’s been said that building your personal rolodex is just as important to your career as excelling at your job. During this must-attend luncheon, you will learn how to use Linkedin and other networking sites to your fullest advantage.
Location: Westin Hotel Fort Lauderdale (I-95 & Cypress Creek exit)

Time: 11:30am – 1:30pm (Networking and Registration from 11:30am – 12:00 pm)

Members $37, Non-Members $47. Admission includes plated lunch.

For additional details clink on “Register” below to read what specific take-away strategies you will learn. 

Click here to register

Read more at The Florida Direct Marketing Association

Why you must always be networking – and Linkedin is the key (part 3)

So you want to be a power networker? In this economy, you need to cultivate as many positive connections as you can. 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve discussed the networking site LinkedIn and how it can be an enormous benefit in helping you expand your sphere of influence. 

This week, in the last of this series (for part 1, click here, and for part 2, click here), I detail how you can use your LinkedIn homepage to its fullest advantage; think of it as a résumé on steroids. 

First, let me start by saying that your homepage is infinitely searchable, both by LinkedIn’s internal search engine (which has recently been upgraded to “super” strength) and the major search engines. Make sure all of your relevant previous positions, titles and duties/job descriptions are visible on your homepage if searched. Your “summary” also should contain searchable keywords. Same goes for your “interests” and education. 

Next, add some Web site links to your homepage. You can link up to three outside Web sites. My homepage has links to my Web site and my personal blog. Don’t just accept the default titles for the headings, either. You can add specifics. For example, instead of using the default title, “my blog,” I’ve listed, “Gilbert Direct Marketing Blog,” an easy tweak from the “edit my profile” tab.

While on the subject of blogs, LinkedIn has added some great new features in the past few months. One gives you the ability to have a WordPress blog link directly to your homepage. Other new applications include:

  • the ability to add and share files within your network;
  • a tool to upload presentations to further promote your work (portfolio, whitepapers, etc.);
  • reading lists to recommend books to your network; and
  • the opportunity to let your network know your travel plans and meet up with people in the area at the same time via

I’m having a great deal of fun and success using the WordPress blog application. In less than a month, I’ve had 2,000 hits on my blog thanks to LinkedIn. The blog took me minutes to set up and about 30 seconds to add to my LinkedIn homepage. Of course, you need some content; mine is specific to direct marketing. 

From there, I started using the “questions” feature to ask for help promoting the blog. Many people visited the blog, left comments and offered great suggestions. I did the same thing in the groups I belong to. Now every time I add a new article, it automatically appears on LinkedIn. Also, when I publish a new article (about twice a week), I post a link to the “news” section for my groups. (FYI, my blog address is; don’t forget to leave a comment.)

Lastly, underneath the search bar on the top right of each page is a “search for references” link. This is a great tool to use to get background info on people you work with. Want to know the real scoop about someone you’re about to hire or the new boss that just hired you? Use that tool, and make some discreet inquiries.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line at

Make sure you check out my column next week, when I’ll provide coverage for Catalog Success of this week’s NCDM conference in Orlando, Fla.

Why you must always be networking – and Linkedin is the key (part 2)

If you aren’t in full networking mode in this economy, let this week’s column be a call to action for you.

(For more about why, see last week’s column.)

These days, I’m always networking. I’m on MySpace and Facebook, and have just started to play around with Twitter and other less known networking sites.  Even Plaxo has gotten into the social and business networking game.

But I find LinkedIn to be the best networking tool to use by far. Most LinkedIn users already know how to link to other people in and out of their networks. I wrote about the beginner stuff about a year ago.

That said, there are LinkedIn users and then there are LinkedIn players.

Let’s talk more about how to go from being merely listed on LinkedIn to being a networking “player,” which has helped me get job inquiries, plus writing and consulting gigs.

Follow these steps to help grow your career:

1. Update your profile often. Every time you update your profile, that info gets sent to your connections. Also, update your “status” often, as this gets transmitted as well. You always want to be visible to other people in your network. Updates keep you in front of them.

2. Ask questions. Use the question function of LinkedIn, because it’s a great tool to get your name in front of other LinkedIn users. Some quick tips: Always try to ask thoughtful and relevant questions. Ask questions that’ll generate a lot of response, and give plenty of background info for why you’re asking the questions. When people respond to your questions, always send thank-you e-mails to them.

And, if appropriate, you may want to send them connection requests. When your questions close, go back and use the site’s rating system to pick the best answers. When you “best” people, they earn expertise. That shows up on their profiles and adds credibility, too.

3. Answer questions. Same as above. You can earn expert status, and your answers help other LinkedIn users solve their problems. And don’t forget to add a URL to your answer to help support your position.

4. Join groups. LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups. Once you join a group, announce to it who you are; what you do; and provide a link to your profile, blog or Web site. You also can post and answer discussions within groups. Get involved, and watch your network and sphere of influence grow.

Stay tuned for part 3 next week, where I’ll provide some cool power-user tips. I’ll also reveal how to build a “super-profile.”

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at