Author: virginia.miracle

I am a passionate Word of Mouth Marketing practitioner. The juxtaposition of my experiences in WOMM vs. my time in the trenches of one of the country’s most voluminous direct marketers has given me firsthand understanding of the power of customer conversation and the relative inefficiency of shout and interruption marketing. Currently, I am the Director of Word of Mouth Marketing at Brains on Fire, a national Identity and Word of Mouth marketing company. There, I champion the client services group and intimately shepherded the Fiskateers crafting ambassador program for the first 18 months of its existence. Brains on Fire is a supremely creative and intuitive company. If you ever are in search of examples for how to make every customer touchpoint express your true personality, try calling the Brains on Fire front desk. I was first turned on to the power of conversational marketing through a role I was asked to tackle during my 4 years at Dell, Inc. in Round Rock Texas. I began my time there in Corporate Strategy and rolled through various roles in consumer marketing including word of mouth marketing manager (believed to be the first WOMM title at a F50 company) and leading the company’s online advertising to consumers and small businesses. Before that, I was a proud member of the late-90s phenomenon Trilogy Software and earned a BA in English language and literature from Princeton. I am a member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s Board of Directors. I am also a new mom, a mean Scrabble player, and a (formerly closeted) Bruce Hornsby superfan. I recently completed GH3 for Wii on Medium, but secretly doubt if I’m going to get good enough to go through it on Hard. I’m not sure how many more times I can listen to Metallica’s “One”, anyway.
Elaine Welteroth: Storytelling for Change

Elaine Welteroth: Storytelling for Change

I recently interviewed Elaine Welteroth, known for leading the evolution of Teen Vogue from beauty and celeb news hub to diverse clubhouse for the Gen Z woman, for the Spredfast Smart Social New York event. My mission was to quickly share her backstory so that I could then ask questions to elicit her advice, experience and stories of particular interest to our social media strategist audience. She was an amazing conversation partner – watching a lot of tape (& Instagram stories!) provided helpful breadcrumbs and she took care of the rest. Truthfully, I could have spoken with Elaine Welteroth for hours, but in this fast-paced world, it was imperative to distill some of the big takeaways from the Teen Vogue relevance revolution and her own social media influence:

Don’t Underestimate Your Audience – It is tempting to simplify your customers into the characteristics that draw them to do business with you alone. But digging into and understanding their full lives and interests when you aren’t around could be the key to deepening your relationship with them. The Teen Vogue revolution really began with understanding that Gen Z’s interests included fashion, celebrity gossip beauty AND politics and the world around them. Removing the either/or proposition gave the Teen Vogue reader more to explore and more reasons to keep coming back. The content was key, but the recognition of the whole person is what drove Teen Vogue to host their first ever summit in 2017 (check out the killer speaker lineup for 2018). Wanting to become a change maker and simultaneously wanting to find the perfect sheet mask is now normalized and empowered.

Own Your Authority – Welteroth stated that brands have authority. Authority needs to be taken seriously – it comes with responsibility to strive for social good and the risk that cultural missteps will spark strong reactions as abuse of authority. Her sound advice here was for brands to be willing to share their platform – and thus authority – with new storytellers. Not only does this show great confidence as a brand, it lends your brand’s authority to the voices that you’d like to represent the future state of the brand. Welteroth actually handed over her Instagram to an attendee at the March for our Lives as she was there as a journalist for ABC. The updates from the first-time marcher would later serve as the perfect complement to her coverage on Nightline.

Insights Aren’t Enough – Every marketer is searching for insights about their “target audience.” If you are lucky enough to actually unearth something meaningful in this search, allow yourself to enjoy the Eureka moment, but recognize that insights get you less than halfway to a meaningful connection with your audience.  THIS is where brands get taken to task over their handling of issues that are admittedly important to modern audiences covering everything from body shape to inclusiveness. The dangers of getting it wrong harken every stock photography cliche known to man including the classic “women laughing alone with salad“. Cliches happen when marketers intellectualize insights they don’t understand and don’t include representative voices at the table. Far from watering down their point of view to appeal to the broadest audience, Teen Vogue dramatically diversified their team including a male beauty director in order to diversify their content and perspectives. In so doing, they increased followership by 600%.

Host the Controversial Conversation – While Teen Vogue may have crossed into the non-Gen Z zeitgeist with the famous Trump Gaslighting piece, that was far from the most controversial topic they tackled. And even when the publication came under fire for cultural appropriation, as they did in a famous cover story about braids, Welteroth leveraged that into a much larger conversation about race, beauty and the fluidity between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Being willing to wade into that and other topics including religion has provided a safe home for the type of conversations not only make the brand relevant, but help drive understanding of topics that may seem foreign or taboo.

Be Bold & Prove It – How do you get a publication at a 107-year-old institution to embrace change? You don’t. Elaine managed to make the first changes at Teen Vogue relatively under the radar and show results that emboldened her and Conde Nast to want to go further. I don’t know if something this stark would have been possible had she been timid and asked for permission – even with the most compelling pitch. Results were the pitch that got Conde Nast into the position of cheering for change.

While the world of publishing may seem a world away to you, the challenge of connecting with an audience you don’t fully represent is one presented to every marketer at some point in their career. Welteroth’s stories convinced me that building deeper audience connections requires, above all, confidence: the confidence to bring representative voices to the table, to share your brand’s natural authority and to go beyond the insights found in the market research room. Do all three, and your brand will see the kind of results that will get you a major following.

Unleashing Passive Advocacy at SX’18

Unleashing Passive Advocacy at SX’18

SXSW came and went with a flurry of crazy activations (real life Westworld and Spielberg’s first trip to Austin for Ready Player One being the buzziest), celebrity speakers and meaningful visitors. The last part of this is what keeps me excited for this 10 day marathon every year. This year and unlikely winner in the mindshare clubhouse came from an activation done by the fine folks at Wisconsin Cheese. If you had asked me a few weeks ago whether or not the “World’s Longest Cheese Board” would appeal to a techie/influence crowd looking for breakthrough tech and (perpetually) Elon Musk, I would have given you a lukewarm response at best. Turns out, I had no idea how much people like cheese – they just needed a reason to express it.

Loving you isn’t enough. Advocates need conversational capital and a reason to share their stories.

It is worth noting that this fantastic execution was a production of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board in conjunction with Brains on Fire. The individuals involved are the ones who gave me the opportunity to work on the Fiskateers many moons ago and have been collaborators in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (now part of ANA) ever since. With the core idea of creating the World’s Longest Cheeseboard, they executed to inspire the most sharing:

  • They transformed a “normal” conference room in a Marriott into a visually compelling barn complete with silo and lit up “CHEESE” sign that begged for photography
  • They filled the board with more than 100 tasty cheeses divided into categories with intentionally accessible, non-snobby names like “Party in the Pasture” or “Curdlandia”
  • The record itself is conversational capital (70ft vs. previous record of 60ft)
  • Super cute swag for days including a tiny backpack of Wisconsin cheese to go, cool laptop stickers and the world’s best button reading #CheesyAF.

This activation performed remarkably well, commanding a line for entrance for almost the entire time it was up, sparking sharing on social and making a shocking number of SX wrapup pieces. So in a world of voice control, privacy concerns and VR/AR obsession, why did cheese rise above the clutter? It was real, it was homey, it was nice (without feeling overly produced), it had oh-s0-many AWESOME shots for social baked into the activation – all great.

Most importantly, it gave people a reason to share their largely passive love of cheese. I consume a heavy meat & cheese diet, but don’t really post about or even discuss it very much. There’s no way to digitally ID me. The fine folks in Wisconsin would have no idea that I was a thirsty sponge crying out for a little mixed melt education or a new #SXSWisconsin experience. It took the presence of a compelling stimulus to give me something to learn, experiences and a reason to share. I reveled in seeing how many of my friends are also cheese-driven beings – many of whom came out to see the cheese board! Perhaps the gratest (sic) gift was giving me something to think about afterwards. Check out this video from Pete Blackshaw if you’d like to hear more straight from Suzanne! Bon Appecheese….

A Community Of Practice: Growth at Light Speed

A Community Of Practice: Growth at Light Speed

My name is Virginia Miracle and I am a Customer Success practitioner (hi, Virginia). This is not what it says in my bio, but I think it just might be the truth.

Last week was a long, revelatory, and inspiring. I spent time in beautiful surroundings and part of two different Communities of Practice – the first was the Gainsight Chief Customer Officer Summit (hosted at the secretive Skywalker Ranch, hence Yoda) and the second was serving as a speaker at a customer’s internal social media summit. Despite the awesome work that Gainsight does on forwarding customer success as a practice, I am not sure that I would have self-identified on a reptilian level as part of the “Customer Success Community” prior to last week. I’ve spent basically all of my career as a marketer, I serve marketers and heck it wasn’t that long ago that I was honored to be part of TopRank Marketing’s 25 Women Who Rocked Digital Marketing in 2017. Walks like a duck…But then there’s this whole Customer Success gig I seem to have. The 6+ years of on the job lessons from building Spredfast’s Customer Success methodology and team appear to have armed me with both much to give and to learn. I found it very inspiring to engaging in debate and sharing with fellow CS leaders who served customers as diverse as procurement and pastors.

The second part of the week was at a customer’s internal social media event which brought together geographically disparate social teams for 2 days of training and best practice sharing. The way the logistics worked, I was able to attend all day and visibly see the crackle between the attendees in the same way I had felt that myself at Gainsight event. They all walked away feeling closer to colleagues and committed to sharing more on their best practices calls.

3 takeaways from a remarkable week in these 2 special communities:

Prescriptive Practice is not the enemy of Artistry – Embracing playbooks, automation, and other technology tools to deal with the repetitive or high frequency motions frees up your limited human resources to do the things that defy playbooks and repetitive motions. This is true for everything from social care inquiries to troubleshooting docs to thanking promoters. Being prescriptive creates room for grace and learning.

We Can Learn Faster Together – No one and I mean no one at the CCO summit had everything figured out. Given how quickly the space moves, that would be nearly impossible. But I have no doubt that the number of ideas, frameworks and new practitioner colleagues I walked away with will help me optimize solutions far faster than if I was in this alone. The same goes for the large customer team I was with at the end of the week. The comfort of all being in this together, still learning, and that being OK is powerful stuff.

Connecting in Real Life Sparks Meaningful Digital Sharing – Connections that were made in both of these forums that will no doubt be taken forward with gusto and bear meaningful acceleration.  And what better time to remember than 4 days before SX kicks off! Building and maintaining meaningful connections to our loose tie Frolleagues (<- see what I did there) is an investment in the braintrust that can grow our smarts ahead of the pace of market change. And is well worth the investment of the upcoming weekend…




3 Lessons from 3 Months of Prepping to interview Michelle Obama

3 Lessons from 3 Months of Prepping to interview Michelle Obama

2017’s professional highlight without a doubt was interviewing former FLOTUS Michelle Obama on stage for the Spredfast Summit in October. Before we go further, the answer to your first two questions are: “Yes, she’s as amazing and warm and brilliant as she seems” and “No, I was not freaking out, I was extremely honored.”

While I learned a lot from Mrs. Obama during the interview (some takeaways here and here), the process of preparing for the day itself was rich with lessons. These are heavily informing my 2018 personal goals and I’m sharing in case they might help others as well.

Review the Game Film – The Spredfast Marketing team who pulled off the coup of securing Mrs. Obama in the first place started me on a steady diet of looking at available previous interviews with Mrs. Obama to critique and second guess everything from editing to question flow. The major challenge is that much of what is available are other celebrities conducting the interviews. While everyone is interested in the FFLOTUS and Oprah comparing notes, I was well aware that the audience was there to hear from her, not me, so I needed to take a slightly different tack.

Preparation sets the table for Serendipity – I ritualistically prepare for keynote presentations by building muscle memory. The better I know the material, the more I can be present in the moment to connect with the audience and perform on the day. While I have done a number of onstage fireside chats previously, I have never actually acted out rehearsals or done technical practices – those I prepped by “warming up” the interview subject in prep calls which was not on the table here. Thus, we needed to rehearse with surrogates. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little (ok, VERY) silly at first. However, knowing that I could juggle interview cards and a handheld mic and had practiced the questions over and over meant that I had more mental bandwidth in a very adrenaline fueled moment to try to actually LISTEN and simply guide the course of the conversation. My favorite moment of that hour was riffing with Mrs. Obama about her comments about making sure to review tweets – a moment only made possible because I wasn’t obsessively trying to remember or get to the next question.

Leadership is Everywhere –  Mrs. Obama was amazing, but truthfully, I learned a something from everyone who stepped in to help me practice and polish – including WPEngine’s CEO Heather Brunner and my own husband who got dragged into the prep process in the final week. Turns out, I don’t turn to the man I walk through life with and ask him hard questions about leadership every day, but he’s pretty wise. While its amazing to be able to ask the former First Lady serious questions about how social media has changed the electorate, what it will take to get the next generation into politics, and how to tell a story through a team, we have leaders in our midst whose perspective is similarly valuable. We should be asking hard questions of everyone.

As I think forward to 2018, I am spending a lot of time reviewing the ups and downs of 2017 – not what happened, but how I reacted and chose to act, to speak, to prioritize, to spend my time and to behave. This year my goals center on being more thoughtful about how I spend my time. I wish to spend more time proactively investing in myself, my children and my community and far less of it in my comfort zone of reacting to incoming items. And I do want to spend more of my time with my remarkable friends, colleagues and my spouse discussing about things that will make a difference in the world or right here in Austin, TX.

Wendy’s & The Audacity of Personality (video)

Wendy’s & The Audacity of Personality (video)

Brandon Rhoten on stage at the Times Center in NYC (photo credit @msspinach)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to interview Wendy’s head of social/digital, advertising and media, Brandon Rhoten live in NYC at the 2017 WOMMA Summit. Brandon was pithy and forthcoming, sharing the story behind the Wendy’s brand personality and how their approach to audience engagement has led to runaway successes like fan/competitor “roasting” and “Nuggs for Carter”. Check out the live counter of Carter’s free nugget retweets vs. Ellen’s Oscar selfie retweets – he overtook Ellen about a week after this interview transpired.

Perhaps most valuably, Brandon shares techniques for watching what is starting to grow organically and how a brand can gently encourage that tinder to catch fire. Brandon also shares the way management built their tolerance for their “charming challenger” personality being able to take risks and tolerate mistakes.

Check out the video here or the Forbes article on the interview here.