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Be Awesome: How Social Media Can Help You Use Un-Marketing in Your Business

May 2011 - Scott Stratten has a straight-forward strategy for putting 'unmarketing' to work in your business: Be Awesome. With over 85,000 Twitter followers and a book that hit the bestseller list as it came off the presses, he leads by example. In this video interview we catch up with Scott to learn more about how small businesses can use social media and unmarketing in their companies.

Be Awesome: How Social Media Can Help You Use Un-Marketing in Your Business Transcript


Scott Stratten is an author, speaker and marketing expert who is really forging ahead successfully in social media and in particular twitter. We have asked Scott to join us today to tell us what he is about and his story and also to give us some insights into marketing at using social media. Scott, why don’t we get started by going right back to the beginning.

Q: Where you always such a big deal on Twitter?

A: No. I wasn’t always a big deal on a fairly relevant site. It wasn’t always that. I joined Twitter in April 2008 and when I joined Twitter my reaction was much like other people’s – “This is dumb, this is a waste of time. Why would I want to see what someone else had for lunch, why would I go there?”. I dabbled for eight months, I said what I had for lunch and I did all these little things – I wasn’t really trying. And that is what I learned from social media – you don’t get much out of it unless you put a lot into it. It is very time intensive but the results can be incredible. I call it social currency – which is you invest your time, your knowledge and your energy before you try and withdraw monetary currency from it. You’ve got to give first. It literally is like a networking event – if you went to a networking event, walked in the door and said “who wants to buy from me?” it is not going to work! It is the same thing with something like Twitter. January 1st, 2009 I said that I was going to live on Twitter for 30 days. Literally live on Twitter. I tweeted 7,000 times. I literally lived there and I went from 1,200 followers to 10,000. The key is not the number but they key is that there was engagement in conversation and 75% of those 7,000 tweets were replies. It was talking with people, not at them.

Q: Roughly how many followers do you have on Twitter now?

A: About 86,000 or so. It keeps on going and it gets to the point where you build it to a certain point and it just starts taking over itself. How I talk on Twitter back then is different than how I talk now. Now I am just keeping up with conversations – people mentioning the book. I will say one thing and get 50 replies. Back at the start it feels like for me and anybody else it feels like nobody is listening. You send out a tweet like “good morning” and nothing comes out. It takes a little time to get traction and you have to have faith it is going to work

Q: What caused you to decide to write the book? You have been marketing your business for 8 years now, when did you get started on the book?

A: I got a phone call back in the fall of 2009 and it was a publisher saying “why haven’t you written a book yet?” and I said “why haven’t you called me to write one yet?” and she said “Touché” and we moved on. A book is a logical step and a lot of people in business want to do it. Because I am a speaker and it is my main thing a book really is a great lead in for that. I just had so many ideas and so many rants. They came to me when I built a platform and that’s what people have to realize. If you want speaking gigs or a book deal or that awareness and recognition, you have to build it first. You build a stage. You build it slowly and gradually. I had a big mouth on twitter and a really well-read blog and they will come to you. And then you are at a whole different leverage point – when they come to you versus you knocking on doors. I refused to do that for a book – I knew I wanted to write one but I wasn’t going to beg to make another company money with the book. They came to me and it has worked out really well.

Q: The book is called “Un-Marketing”, and tell me what the book is about? As far as I know, it hit the best-sellers list pretty quickly.

A: It did, right out of the gate. The week it came out it hit the Globe and Mail and National Post best sellers list. It is for people who don’t like to market. It is the people who love being in their own business and doing their job but they hate the nasty part. The cold calling or when you place an ad and you never know if it is going to work. This is about authentic marketing. It is about word of mouth and community relationships. It is about looking at what your strengths are and making them even stronger. It is not about looking at your weaknesses and making them a little less terrible at them. It is looking at talking with people. Marketing is creating a community around you with great value and great content so when they have a need for your product  or service, they choose you right away.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about branding. I have had branding experts tell me if you don’t spend 15-20,000 dollars, you are probably cheating your business and that is kind of the old fashioned approach to marketing. But at the same time, your book has fabulous branding, so where do you stand on that?

A: There is a line for it. I think that brand is important. Just like marketing, we overvalue it sometimes and we make ourselves sound really important. People in my circle of social media make it sound so fancy when in reality, it is talking. And branding is image. Branding, we don’t create that, it is our audience’s perception. I use this thing a lot in the talk – I say “name me the mission statement of your favorite company” and no one can. It actually doesn’t matter. Your mission statement is your actions. Your branding is your actions. You can have the fanciest logo in the world but if you are a jerk in social media, the logo doesn’t matter. Branding, mission statements, communications all boil down to one thing – what are you putting out there, how are you engaging with people. If you have a logo that is 80% awesome but you are an amazing business owner, you will do better than someone who has a “perfect” logo but isn’t good with people. There is a weight to it. There’s professionalism, but let’s not get too far.

Q: What would you say to the small business owner who says “but I’m not that fancy and I don’t have a great way with words.” What can that person do?

A: Well, I think it really is looking at what your strengths are. There are different avenues you can use. If it is social media or something, it is simply typing. It is just text. Do you have a personality? If you have a personality and you don’t have a huge budget, twitter is perfect. It doesn’t cost anything, it costs time. When you are starting your business, you usually have more time than money sometimes, so that is a great way to go. It is a great avenue for social media. If you like to do audio or video that works – there are so many things. I don’t think if you hate doing something, you should try and get better at it. You are meant to do certain things – we have natural talent and natural skills. Sometimes, the best is to find someone else to help with that. If you are not good at writing, find someone who can help with that. You don’t have to spend 20,000 dollars to help write something, you can find somebody to help mesh that talent. One of the great ways to find great talent to help your business is through social media.

Q: One of the issues that is overwhelming for most small business owners is that it seems like everywhere you turn around, you have a self-proclaimed social media guru. It is not like an engineering diploma where you can see that they have reached a certain accreditation. How do you weave your way through that as a small business owner?

A: It is the new “snake oil”. It really is. We both go way back in the online days. Back in the mid to late 90s, everybody was a website designer. Everyone could open up “front page” or anything else and boom you are a website designer and you could charge obscene rates and not know what you are doing. Well that is what social media is now. You can test it – you can go to a site like and run somebody’s twitter name and it will show you how much real influence they have. You can go to a thing called, another scoring system, and it will show who can really use it. But at the end of the day, if you don’t have 20,000 people following you on Twitter, that doesn’t mean you can’t help me with Twitter. There is a difference. Consulting doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be putting in an action yourself, it is about who fits with you. Just be careful – people come out and say “you have got to do it this way.” There is no rule to how you go. There are best practices. I know how I made it work for me – just because I can tweet 7,000 in one month doesn’t mean you should be doing it. You could get on there and get no followers and tweet 10,000 times. It all depends on your personality. My personality is very spastic and very sarcastic and it works for twitter, but that doesn’t mean it works for someone else. That is why I didn’t want to put in the book how to do it the right way because there is no right way.

Q: There is also what I called the “dilution” effect, when one guy upgrades a paper clip to a house, that is going to work once but when the next guy tries to do it, nothing happens. How does that one idea take off compared to the 100 other great ideas that didn’t take off?

A: It comes down to the very scientific line of “people spread awesome”. They spread awesome stuff. A lot of those times that awesome is the first time.  So anything from the paper clip story which is great, to the million dollar website where he sold the pixels. How many copycats came after that and none of them worked? Being second is still second. Some of the novelty is never having seen it before. There are different ways of doing awesome. You don’t necessarily have to be the million dollar webpage, you just have to be growing within your comfort level. A lot of people in business are not going to have that million dollar IPO or sell it out for a hundred million dollars, we just want to make a living and provide and be fairly comfortable. You do not need to have to have a million people, a million followers, a million dollars. There are ways you can create the awesome for your own content – a blog post can be awesome, a video can be awesome. Maybe only 1,000 people read it but if you normally only get 50, that’s huge. When I say I made a video a while ago that had 40 million views, I hesitate to say that because it is lighting in the bottle. I don’t know, it just caught on. Why does the Friday song on YouTube have 110 million views, I don’t know but people spread it. Why does FarmVille and CityVille have 110 million people playing it when there are millions of other games. You don’t always kniow but you realize what works for me. When you try and create lighting in a bottle all it usually catches is nothing. All of the biggest successes out there are accidental. You can’t plan for it. Just focus on creating an awesome business and you will do okay.

Q: Don’t you think that that gives small businesses an advantage because it is really hard to maneuver against big branded, multinational corporations?

A: Well you can’t compete on the levels that they are competing. Even as a brick and mortar example, I did a lot of work with galleries in Canada and framing places where they are going up against Michaels and you can’t compete on price. I am saying “don’t compete on price” – you are competing on service and relationships, which they don’t have and they don’t want to have. They do mass turnover and you don’t. I had this one client in Toronto that said “I don’t know why people always come in asking about price”. Well maybe it is the seven neon signs that you have in your window that says “Sale”? We are doing it to ourselves; we are putting out the flyers that are saying sale. It is an art form, a passion and a talent so compete on that. The more somebody knows you and trusts you, the less price becomes an option. I guarantee it.

Q: What advice would you have in terms of a mix? Traditional marketing is still going to be important and a lot of research studies I have read have been by companies that have invested interest in promoting social media – guess what, if you spend at least 50% of your budget you will find that it works better!

A: I hate cold calling so someone sent me an article saying “you know what, some people respond to it when it comes to non-profit organizations” and it was written by a company that does cold calling for non-profits. For me, Unmarketing and social media is not a replacement for it, it is an addition. It is like online networking is not a replacement for offline networking. Nothing beats face to face, but it enhances it. You can talk before an event and after an event and some people talk while they are at an event on social media. I think you can combine things. Find out what works. Literally if doing a flyer drop in a neighborhood makes you money and it works, then who am I to say not to do it. But there are more things out there too, there are more conversations out there. There is a passive conversation going online which is the most honest one there is which you can tap into. I don’t think removing things makes sense, but find that mix for you. If you hate people, then social media is not a great place to hang out. If that is your talent and you have always told you are a people person, it is a great avenue over there and you can really expand it. I have the book because of social media, I’ve got the clients, I’ve got keynote gigs, I am booked until 2012 because of social media and what I had to say because it works for my skills but it doesn’t mean it will work for everybody.

Q: Would you say that it is fair to say that social media is all about the story? For a lot of small business owners, you have to give up some of your story to the community and that can be scary.

A: Regular conversations become scary. I think social media is about the story and the person, versus the brand. There is a difference. I just said this yesterday on Twitter, I like to talk to faces, not logos. If you have a problem, then pose with a logo on your shirt, or on with a logo behind your head or something. People like to talk to people. For me, I don’t talk to Disney Canada, I talk to Joanne and Angie at Disney Canada who are now friends of mine who have changed the view of Disney for me. If Disney can do it, if a big brand can have faces running their own twitter accounts, then I think we can do.

Q: Do you think that is a risk for some small businesses that they get someone who is an employee to take off and to build the brand and then if people leave, then it gets fired off by someone else?

A: There are a couple issues. If you don’t trust someone, it is not a social media issue, it is a hiring issue. They shouldn’t be working for you if you don’t trust them. And there is a very valid question about building an account and a person leaving. So what you want to do is build your brand under your brand following and if the person leaves, you can put someone else in there. Versus having to build another name, there is a difference. I chose the twitter name “Unmarketing” because I thought the name itself created curiosity. They might not know me, but what does that mean? Versus just Scott Stratten, there is a difference. When you are setting up your brand I would make it a company named account and then you can swap out who is running it if the person leaves. Just make sure you have contracts and you own your followers, and your Facebook fans. It is just like a client list. There is a legal side. My corporate background is human resources. There are a whole bunch of other ramifications when it comes to these things. There are a lot of case studies that have come out even in the past month of employees not being the best representation of their brand. Even if they have the disclaimer “Tweets are my own” or “Facebook is my own”, you are always marketing. You are always branding. At 1 in the morning, you are marketing. Whatever you say or whatever you text, even if you regret it, that’s your company.

Q: Do you think there is too much blur happening? How do you handle the private Scott Stratten versus the public? You’ve got a son…

A: There is a line. But you draw that line. I talk about my son all the time. The book is dedicated to “Un Junior”, that’s what he’s known as, because he is a huge part of my life. Some people don’t talk about their kids at all and that’s fine. But you draw the line. Sometimes it can go over the line – people think they know you a little more than they do and it can cross the line sometimes but that is human nature. It is not just because of social media. We are much more open and casual and that’s where we can get in troulble. Whether we are talking about religion or politics, it never turns out well. No one walks away from a debate saying “well that was fair” – it just never happens that way. And that’s your brand. Someone had an issue about a charity thing and they went off on a rant about it and I found it a little bit offensive and I said “well, this affects my view of that company” and she said “no, these are my thoughts” and I said “no, you’re that company”. You’ve got to be careful because everything you say and do will be held against you in the court of social media. Every time.

Q: Do you find that younger people are able to get into the flow of understanding the new rules of engagement?

A: I think they can get into the flow of using the platforms, I don’t know about if they’re good at the rules because they’ve grown up on it. People coming out of school now have been on Facebook for years. Which is an advantage for them in getting hired and they know it. But they know it on a personal level. They take pictures of themselves at party and they tag themselves and that’s what they do. Now there are different repercussions to it. There is a case last year of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader losing her job, her lifelong dream job, because a picture from a party the week before where they put marker all over somebody that passed out and there were some not good things written on it and she was just in the picture. She lost her dream. Understand that there is no line between personal and business. If it is open, you can see it. Facebook profiles are a lot more open then you would realize. If I am connected to you within three people, I can see a lot, so be careful.

Q: Have you read anything about the “I am not a gadget manifesto”? There is almost a move to be a part of the crowd and is this changing the way we dive into topics and navigate?

A: There is certainly a crowd mentality on there too. You will get this group running against a brand or a company or an issue, like the Go Daddy thing that just happened with Bob Parsons, the CEO who put up a video of him shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. He said it was a rogue elephant which was hurting the village and he put it up and bragged about it. The fallout from that – people moved their domains and everybody ganged up! It makes people brave but there is also a gang mentality to it and it can get a little bit brutal sometimes. But I love it, is an even playing field. The consumer now has a voice that can be louder than a press release from a company and I love that part and it’s dangerous but I think it’s fantastic.

Q: So we should be careful and looking at the consequences…

A: If you are at a restaurant and you get bad lasagna, instead of tweeting it, tell the waiter first. Give him a chance. Give him the benefit of the doubt that you would like for your business. If they don’t do anything or they are flippant to you, then let the “Geekalanch” go – unleash it! Put it on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll do it too! But give them a shot. It shouldn’t be your first course for reaction or resolve.

Q: Do you think that is what is happening that there is this attitude that we can shout at people, we can say rude things to people because there is this anonymity in hiding behind the screen?

A: We are passive in person and we are aggressive online. I truly believe that – that we don’t like conflict face to face. But we will rip you to shreds with a keyboard. I call them “keyboard commandos” – we are really tough behind that board. Look, if you won’t say it to someone’s face to their brand, I don’t know if you should say it. If you saw them in person, they would just fall down to the floor. But it is human nature, conflict is much easier to do online behind a wall and a keyboard and it is close communication. Even though twitter is a conversation, once you say it you can’t get cut off and you can’t get interrupted. It gets messy sometimes and that’s why I try to avoid it.

Q: And you’ve got a great t-shirt that you are not wearing today…

A: Yes it is a phrase from a Spanish Dictator from the 16th century which means “let them hate as long as they fear”. It sounds kind of vicious but what it means to me is let them hate you because they fear your success. They fear you are doing well and it is easier for them to try and pull you down then it is for you to life them up to your level. Don’t feed the trolls is what we used to say back in the day. Walk away, they’re not worth it, they are not worth your time. They live in their mom’s basement and all they want is emotion. They want your emotion and they want to revoke it. Don’t give it to them

Q: We did an article on biology buying and there was a coffee brand coming out in Europe and this small cluster was saying “this is terrible, your coffee is awful, you have to stop it” and they actually did sensory taste evaluation using biology and they found out the vast majority of prospective buyers liked the mild flavor and if they had listened, they would have gone the wrong way. They ended up outselling 3 to 1 the other competitors…

A: The loudest is not always the “rightest”, right? The loudest is always the one that gets heard and that isn’t right. That isn’t the way it should be.

Q: I really appreciate you taking the time – I wish we had more time. What would be your parting thoughts? Obviously, buy the book if you want to find out about Unmarketing and how to use it. What would be your parting thoughts to small business owners in particular?

A: I really think that if you believe business is built on relationships, then make building them your business. And what are you doing to build those up? And that’s why, to me, social media is one of the best avenues to go. 

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