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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 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.
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):
So, I have pretty thick skin when it comes to online harassment, but something has been really bothering me.
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
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:
Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video "debunking" Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here's a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
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:
(2/4) Our teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the videos flagged to us, and while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies. We’ve included more info below to explain this decision:
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
(4/4) Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.
There are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating– we’ll be in touch with any further updates.
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
Update on our continued review–we have suspended this channel’s monetization. We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies. More here: https://t.co/VmOce5nbGy
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019
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:
Anyway, if you want to help, I guess you can go to this dude's videos and flag them? But @YouTube isn't going to do anything, because YouTube does not give a fuck about queer creators. It cares about "engagement," and homophobic/racist harassment is VERY "engaging."
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
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:
Looks like new YouTube rules have kicked off a new crackdown that goes beyond Steven Crowder. White nationalists James Allsup and "The Golden One" say they've also been demonetized, while Gavin McInnes says he's had a video deleted. pic.twitter.com/awbR3EF9M7
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) June 5, 2019
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.