Slow Cooker Sundays and Social Media Strategy

Every Sunday for the last three years, millions of people watch a man prepare a slow cooker meal while talking about the telecom industry.

It’s compelling. It’s sloppy. It’s brilliant.

Excuse Me, What?

John Legere is the CEO of T-Mobile, which is the third largest wireless carrier in the U.S. (behind Verizon and AT&T). He is a pretty interesting character. He would be pretty easy to spot in a crowd considering he always wears T-Mobile’s bright magenta.

He’s super active on social media and he interacts with people regularly, or at least someone does on his behalf (but I seriously think it’s probably him).

Every once in a while, a sponsored social media post from T-Mobile will appear in my Facebook feed, and every time I see it, I am impressed.

It isn’t a re-purposed TV ad made for social media. It isn’t an impressive discount on wireless service. It isn’t a celebrity pitching a new phone.

It’s a Facebook Live of T-Mobile CEO John Legere preparing a slow cooker meal in a kitchen while giving updates about T-Mobile, their competitors, and the telecom industry as a whole.

It is absolutely brilliant, and I smile every time I see it.

“But,” you may be wondering, “Why on earth does it make sense for the CEO of a major U.S. wireless carrier to spend his incredibly valuable time preparing a slow cooker meal on Facebook Live?”

That is a fair question. Let me explain why it is a brilliant strategy.

Rise Above the Noise

One of the biggest misunderstandings about marketing on social media is that it should basically be treated like a billboard or a radio advertisement.

A lot of people think social media is just another avenue through which to offer sales or discounts or some other kind of “deal” that will make people purchase a product or sign up for a service.

There is a bit of truth to that. Running paid or organic social media content offering some kind of deal or discount isn’t stupid or anything like that—it just probably isn’t the best and most effective use of social media for marketing purposes.

Why?

Why aren’t deals and steals and coupons the best use of social media?

Because it’s all just noise.

Social media is best used for marketing when companies or organizations or whomever use it to build a relationship with an audience and provide as much value as possible to the audience.

Social media is best used for marketing by creating community and building relationship. It is not best used for making a sale. Other avenues are better for that (like search or email).

John Legere’s Slow Cooker Sunday videos are brilliant because it’s advertising that rises above the noise.

Further, the video is clearly being recorded by someone holding a phone in their hand! The Facebook Live isn’t professionally done to look as clean as possible. That would make it feel more like an ad, and it would be more likely to become noise. By recording the Facebook Live with a shaky hand, Slow Cooker Sundays feels more like an authentic, impromptu, intimate piece of content instead of a polished TV ad. This all makes it more interesting.

The idea of a multi-millionaire CEO slow cooking sweet potato casserole on Sunday afternoon on Facebook Live is outlandish, and it is because it is outlandish that it gets my attention!

Once I watch some of these videos, T-Mobile can re-market to me on Facebook or other platforms because I watched the video. They can re-target me with more hard-sell promotional content.

“Now that he’s watched some of a Slow Cooker Sunday video, he’s more likely to consider T-Mobile,” is the logic, and it’s true! It’s unlikely that I switch off Verizon anytime soon because the deal we have is reasonable for our needs, but if ever did consider a switch, I would consider T-Mobile before I would consider AT&T, and it’s because I feel more affinity with them now that I’ve seen their CEO be goofy and have some fun.

Honestly, it just comes down to this:

The success of a social media strategy largely hinges on one metric: engagement.

Interesting content is more likely to generate engagement than uninteresting content.

A CEO prepping food for a crockpot is more interesting than a graphic with some discounts on it.

Therefore, a CEO manning a slow cooker is better social media content than a promo graphic.

Add in the fact that the guy recording Legere cook is holding the phone with his hand, and the video feels authentic, unpolished, and more intimate.

It really is brilliant. It’s brilliant because it’s different.

A Word on Social Media Strategy

One of the most common obstacles I come across when talking with people about social media strategy is this: marketers care about selling so much that they often forsake building community.

I’ve seen it all over the place. This isn’t a dig at LifeWay, trust me, but I am sure we are guilty of it too. It’s natural.

But, this is why I love social media: it isn’t supposed to feel like marketing.

I didn’t get a degree in marketing. I don’t care about conversion rates or sales numbers or anything like that. It all bores me. I know it is all important, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t get into the social media world because I like marketing.

I got into the social media world because I love people, and I love creating content that’s helpful and interesting to them.

Social media marketing is best done when the needs of the audience are considered more important than the needs of the company.

Social media is best done as a means of service, not as a means of selling.

Social media managers are really better considered “community managers.” They help facilitate community and discussion. They aren’t standing on a street corner with a bullhorn selling newspapers. They’re having people over for dinner and hosting discussion and perhaps providing some entertainment.

Social media managers need to represent their audiences in meetings within their company as much as they need to represent their company amidst their audience. Why? Because they’re listening to the wants and needs of their audience more than the executives are.

In order for a social media manager to best serve his company, he needs to think like an audience member and make the company prove why it should be paid any attention.

It is imperative that social media managers not get romantic about their company and subconsciously assume they will have their audience’s attention. Social media managers must fiercely evaluate the company’s social media content through the eyes of the target audience in order to make sure it is worth anyone’s attention.

The moment a company thinks its audience is coming to its social media platforms because they are wildly interested in the trinkets it is selling, it has lost. Attention cannot be assumed; it must be earned.

People don’t follow brands on social media because they want to be sold. People follow brands on social media because they want to build relationships with other people interested in the brand or with the actual people who make up the brand.

Sure, down the road the affinity and relationship that social media managers build will hopefully turn into better sales numbers for the company. But that isn’t the primary goal of the social media manager when he or she creates content every week.

T-Mobile understands this. Their CEO records video of himself cooking every Sunday because it helps build a relationship. It facilitates community and affinity. Not because those people are going to pause the video and go change their phone carrier.

Social media managers must not be terrorized by the tyranny of the urgent.

Social media strategy done right sees social media as a long game. It requires patience. It requires caring about an audience because of who they are, not just because of what they might buy from you.

Social media strategy done right requires compassion. It requires putting our audiences before our sales goals.

And I have a feeling that’s why so many people deploy bad social media strategies.

We’re more interested in what our audiences can do for us than what we can do for them.

We artificially inflate follower counts because we don’t care about building a tight-knit community as much as we care about building a hollow brand.

Bad social media strategy finds its roots in selfishness.

Good social media strategy is fueled by a focus on others.

A Report From the Valley of the Shadow of Burnout

The last year has been really difficult for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with my work life and not with my personal life.

A couple of months ago, my attitude and overall emotional health hit a sort of “rock bottom.” I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was, but I was more discouraged than I had ever been.

“Is it anxiety?” *Googles signs of anxiety* “Maybe…but not really.”

“Is it depression?” *Googles signs of depression* “Nope.”

“If it isn’t anxiety or depression,” I wondered, “What is going on? Why I do I feel frustrated and tired like I cannot make any progress in anything I do?”

“Ah!” A light bulb went off in my head. “I bet I’m experiencing burnout!”

“Is it burnout?” *Googles signs of burnout* “THAT’S IT!”

 

I couldn’t believe how happy I was to discover I was feeling burned out. It was the happiest I had been in weeks. The irony.

Eric Geiger, senior pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, CA wrote back in 2015 about signs of burnout. When I was evaluating my feelings a couple months back, I checked every single one of these boxes:

  1. Frustration with people
  2. Difficulty focusing
  3. Physical signs of stress
  4. Feeling exhausted

When I finally recognized that burnout was what I was facing, I had been experiencing all of these symptoms in varying degrees of intensity for months. While I am still in the throes of burnout and have not yet exited the valley, identifying burnout as the culprit of my feelings was emancipating.

Like I said, I am still in the midst of feeling super burnt out. I feel better now than I did a month or so ago, but the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and exhaustion still persist. However, some relief has come because of a few steps I’ve taken to find shelter in the valley of burnout. Below are a few ways I have fought and am currently fighting my burnout. I don’t know if they will all help you, but they have helped me.

I cling to the Scripture like never before.

Most of the time I have been a Christian, daily Bible reading has been difficult. Historically, if I get in God’s Word five times in a week it is a good week, and if I feel “refreshed” by it three of those five times, it feels “worth it.” Reading Scripture and praying each day has often felt burdensome to me in the past.

Since about this summer, though, when I started to really feel discouraged and spent, I have clung to my Bible reading like it is water in the desert. I have never felt like I need to read Scripture like I have the last six months or so.

Lately, reading Scripture in the morning has truly felt like inhaling as much oxygen as I can before I dive underwater for the day.

Being reminded of who God is and what he wants for me has been everything to me the last six months. It really puts the rest of my day into perspective and it reminds me that nothing that happens in a given day can make the truth of the Scripture untrue.

I had to take time off work.

Thankfully, Susie and I have had a vacation scheduled for the end of September since this summer because, if we hadn’t, I think I still would have found a way to take some time off. Spending last week in Southern California was refreshing. I’m typically not a big fan of the beach—sitting out in the sun for hours and sweating isn’t my idea of “relaxing”—but a few days of 75 degree temperatures with a good book on an empty beach was good.

One of the most important parts of the trip for me was abandoning my email for a week and reminding myself (and others) that life will go on if I cannot respond to emails for six days. It is good for us to be reminded often that our little worlds will continue to operate if we are absent from them.

I exercise almost every single day.

Last winter a Planet Fitness opened about a half mile away from my house and I usually go about five times a week. I also try to go for walks around my neighborhood regularly, especially if I can’t get to the gym on a particular day.

I start working about 6 AM most days and commuting at about 5 AM, so working out in the morning isn’t really practical for me. I prefer to work out around 3-4 PM if I can manage it as it is a nice transition from my typical work day to whatever ministry commitments I have in the evening.

Getting ready to go work out is a struggle every single time. It doesn’t really ever sound appealing. But it feels great to have worked out just about every time as well. It helps me reflect on the day and physically work out any built up frustration (of which there is plenty in my burnt out state) that I may have.

I voraciously protect and enjoy my Sabbath.

Susie and I try to keep Saturday as our Sabbath day. Obviously Monday through Friday don’t work as a Sabbath for us, and we have the high schoolers from our youth group over every Sunday for lunch after church, so Sunday usually isn’t very restful. We try to do as much housework, grocery shopping, and the like on Sundays or the weekdays, and we leave Saturday as open as we can, often hanging out with friends in the evening.

Christians have different ideas of what Sabbath should look like, but my Sabbath generally consists of spending plenty of time reading Scripture, praying, and enjoying the gifts God has given me. I try to eat a nice breakfast on Saturdays (like Cinnamon Toast Crunch), one I wouldn’t normally eat other days. I may make an extra cup of coffee. I read good books or play video games with friends. I just try to enjoy what the Lord has given me while praising him for what he’s given me at the same time.

I completely detach myself from my work on Saturday. Sometimes I mow the grass on Saturdays if I feel like it. Sometimes I’ll write a sermon for youth group. But most “chores” are usually left for Sunday if possible.

I remind myself that my value is not found in my work.

I try to do a good job at everything I do. Like most people, I often have unrealistic expectations for myself. I can be a critical person in general, and there is no one I criticize more than I criticize myself. I battle constant feelings of unworthiness, impostor syndrome, and the general feeling that I am not good enough to be where I am or doing what I am doing. It’s pretty torturous, honestly.

It is easy for me to try to find my value in my work—to be defined by my successes and my failures. This last year has been difficult not because I’ve failed, but because the success I’ve achieved has felt meaningless. Success hasn’t delivered value, and like with any idol, it has left me feeling empty.

So the last couple of months, through my time in the Scripture and in talking with friends, I have been reminded that my value, for good or for bad, is not found in my work. This has helped me fight my burnout a lot.

A Final Thought

Through all of this, what I have learned is that my burnout is not due to having too much work to do. Sure, I have plenty of work to do and sometimes it feels as though I will never be able to keep up with everything. But that isn’t what led to burnout. I think my burnout, and perhaps the burnout of many others, is not due to workload and overwork, but attitude and priorities.

The last year or so, I think I’ve cared too much about work. I’ve sought meaning and value in the wrong places, and my misplaced seeking has found exhaustion and frustration.

Don’t wallow in burnout. Fight it with truth and cling to God’s Word. Find your value in Christ’s finished work, not your unfinished work.

YouTube Has a Problem on Its Hands: Change My Mind

The last couple of weeks, a storm has been brewing on social media around the policies and content allowed on the largest social media platform in the world: YouTube. Let me explain.

Who Are the Players?

Before we get into the details about what all is going on, we should meet the characters. Really there are two people at the center of this story and one major company. We’ve already established that YouTube is the major company. But who are the people?

The two warring parties here are Carlos Maza and Steven Crowder.

Carlos Maza is a journalist for Vox Media. He is primarily responsible for “Strikethrough,” which is a video series under the Vox brand. The video series is hosted on Vox’s website as well as YouTube. Maza is gay and, from what I can tell, makes that a prominent part of his platform (it is included in his Twitter handle). Maza holds liberal political views and works for a liberal news outlet, Vox.

Steven Crowder is a conservative political and cultural commentator best known for this picture, which has been edited and memed thousands of times, including in the title of this blog post:

But beyond that memeable picture, Crowder is a new version of the conservative radio shock jock for the digital age. He’s Rush Limbaugh if he was 30 years younger and was on YouTube instead of the radio. He’s John Oliver but conservative..and usually much more offensive.

What’s Going On?

It all started, sort of, when Maza (@gaywonk on Twitter) tweeted this thread last Thursday (click it to see the full thread):

Maza is bothered, as he says, by the insulting commentary of Crowder.

Crowder is a conservative commentator. So naturally, many of his views are inherently offensive to a significant portion of people. But it’s more than just his opinions that are offensive. His delivery is incredibly offensive. He wouldn’t deny this. I’m not accusing him of anything he wouldn’t own.

Here’s a recent example of a typical podcast segment/video from Crowder:

I’ve been aware of Crowder for a while, but I’ve never really consumed any of his content until I started writing this blog post. I see why people like his content. He’s witty. He’s edgy. He has friends who egg him on a la Dan Patrick on his show. It is definitely “entertaining” in the most neutral sense of the word. I didn’t really enjoy any of the content, but I definitely see why people do.

Maza tweeted this compilation video of how Crowder has criticized him:

Without a doubt, Crowder’s treatment of Maza is reprehensible and offensive. It’s probably fair to even call it outright harassment. The question is: does Crowder’s behavior violate YouTube’s policies? Being offensive and rude is not against YouTube policies. If it was, some of the most famous comedians and commentators would have been banned long ago. The question is not whether or not Crowder’s actions are “wrong” or “mean”. The questions is whether or not his actions break YouTube’s policies.

What Did YouTube Say?

YouTube made a statement on Twitter in response to Maza’s Twitter thread saying that after a thorough review of the content on Crowder’s channel, they do not believe he is violating YouTube policies. Here is their statement:

YouTube has decided after a couple of days of review that Crowder should be demonetized but not banned from the platform. On one hand, I appreciate that YouTube isn’t just throwing down the ban hammer on Crowder because he’s mean. In my opinion, some social media platforms have been a bit too quick to suspend or ban users in the past for being jerks when they didn’t violate any stated policies for the platform.

However, in the case of Maza v. Crowder, I’m not sure I understand YouTube’s response. Here is a highlighted line from their policies on harassment and cyberbullying:

I mean it seems pretty clear to me that Crowder has content that “makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person.” Now, I don’t think Crowder has any videos whose sole and primary focus is Maza and making hurtful comments about him (I couldn’t find any). From what I can tell, most of Crowder’s rude remarks toward Maza are in the context of covering the content/topic Maza has covered in his videos. In providing commentary on an issue Maza has covered, he throws jabs in about Maza.

What I mean to say is that Crowder insults Maza in passing within the context of videos rather than creating videos whose primary topic is Maza and making fun of him. Obviously neither is good, but I wonder if YouTube finds passing insults permissible and more focused insults as breaking the above policy.

For now, YouTube has decided that what Crowder has done is permissible but not able to be monetized. As you can imagine, that has not gone over very well. Demonetizing Crowder won’t really do anything except galvanize his supporters. He likely makes a small percentage of his overall revenue through YouTube monetization as his content isn’t very lucrative for advertisers in the first place.

Why Does All of This Matter?

It matters because small fights like this have historically had massive implications on how social media platforms regulate content and execute their policies. People don’t like it when the policies of social media platforms allow jerks to thrive on being jerks.

YouTube, and other social media platforms, have the difficult job of deciding where it is that a line is crossed. For instance, Crowder was being criticized for calling Maza a “queer”. But Maza regularly refers to himself and his community as “queer” (it is the “Q” in “LGBTQ” after all). Certainly, Crowder was using the term in an insulting way. But is it YouTube’s job to prevent someone from insulting another person? Or is it YouTube’s job to make sure that it’s platform isn’t used for physical violence?

At the center of all of this conversation is a controversial subject: words and the extent of the damage they can cause.

YouTube unequivocally does not allow any content that suggests physical harm be done to individuals. However, in recent years, more and more emphasis has been put on the “harm” words cause people.

Many, particularly those on the political left, consider verbal attacks or insults as serious as physical attacks. This belief is particularly popular on college campuses which set up safe spaces for students to retreat when speakers come to campus and challenge their views. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff write of this phenomenon in The Coddling of the American Mind:

The belief that words or ideas can be “dangerous” or “harmful” is growing in popularity and social media is obviously a huge minefield of verbal insults. So, for some, logging on to social media at the risk of enduring a barrage of verbal abuse could be as risky as stepping onto a literal, physical battlefield.

Many want YouTube to treat verbal abuse and harassment with the same level of severity as threats of physical abuse or attacks. YouTube seems to have drawn a line in the sand, making it much more difficult to be banned for verbal attacks than for physical attacks. This is not popular.

I don’t really have an opinion on this. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to figure out where to draw the line. I don’t believe jerks should be banned from having a voice online, even though I think jerks are jerks. But where does one cross the line from being a jerk to being worthy of being silenced? Has Crowder crossed that line? It’s hard to say. With Alex Jones, who was banned from YouTube months ago, it seemed as though it was when his verbal abuses started to have offline effects that he was banned from the platform. He wasn’t banned for saying Sandy Hook was a hoax, but he was banned when some of his viewers started harassing the family of Sandy Hook victims in person and in ways beyond social media.

Perhaps with Crowder it’s the same. He’s verbally insulted Maza online, but no one has approached him in person as a result of Crowder’s words. Maybe that is what would put it over the edge? It’s hard to say. I don’t think even YouTube knows, honestly.

What Happens Next?

Maza has continued to hound YouTube about its faulty policies. He claims the platform doesn’t care about LGBT creators:

All the while, conservatives regularly complain that YouTube and other social media platforms have a bias in favor of liberal ideas and creators.

Crowder posted a video defending himself here:

But what is next for YouTube and speech on social media? That remains to be seen.

Earlier today YouTube started banning users and removing videos revolving around neo-Nazi and white supremacist content. Kevin Roose and Kate Conger wrote in the New York Times:

YouTube announced plans on Wednesday to remove thousands of videos and channels that advocate for neo-Nazism, white supremacy and other bigoted ideologies in an attempt to clean up extremism and hate speech on its popular service.

The new policy will ban “videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion,” the company said in a blog post. The prohibition will also cover videos denying that violent incidents, like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, took place.

YouTube did not name any specific channels or videos that would be banned.

“It’s our responsibility to protect that, and prevent our platform from being used to incite hatred, harassment, discrimination and violence,” the company said in the blog post.

Since that article was written this morning, some channels have already seen the effects:

Moving forward, it is going to be interesting to see how major social media platforms regulate content on their platforms.

The people who use these platforms come from innumerable backgrounds with varying kinds of morality. A room full of 100 social media users would generate dozens of opinions about where the “line” needs to be drawn in terms of what content is allowed and what content is not allowed.

Maza v. Crowder is important because it may act as a critical inflection point regarding these discussions. Can a conservative commentator use a social media platform to call a liberal commentator names based on his nationality and/or sexual identity? Is such action just mean or is it not allowed on the platform?

We are living in fascinating times. Our grandchildren will look back on this time in the age of the internet and marvel at how unregulated and “wild west” everything was.

For now, we watch some of the most powerful companies in the world grapple with their own morality and the morality of their users.