Want More Attention for your Social Media Marketing? Send a Chef

by Shannon Paul on January 25, 2010

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Sideview of chef cooking in a kitchen

Last week I wrote about the importance of showing up for companies looking to market with social media. In this post I talked about a type of catch 22 many companies face as they enter this space:

“…social media and tech audiences aren’t interested in hearing sanitized positioning statements from an official spokesperson, and most companies have policies that prevent anyone BUT the official spokesperson from speaking on behalf of the company.”

Smart guy and PR pro Arik Hanson read that post and asked in the comments what I thought about the official spokesperson model for providing the public with information. He noted there are many strategic as well as legal reasons companies need to have a select few provide “official” statements on behalf of the company.

In my answer I explained that I think of the issue in terms of a restaurant owner/manager versus that of a chef.

If we can compare your business to the business of running a restaurant, I think we quickly understand there will be times when it makes sense for the owner or business manager to speak on behalf of the restaurant as a business and times when it would make more sense to enlist the chef.

For instance if someone in the public or the media wants insight into the local economy, the restaurant’s policies or other business procedure it makes sense to speak to the owner or business manager. If, however, the questions have to do with food preparation, meal planning and ingredient selection, the chef is the natural spokesperson — especially if there is any type of demonstration involved.

Real Transparency Means Sending Chefs

There is a big need for more companies engaged in social media to show up to social media and tech-related events. Innovation requires collaboration and the good will experienced by companies who send along the real people who do the work of social media win big. Think Dell, Zappo’s, Comcast, etc.

The reason we need chefs is so they can share how they’re able to accomplish what they’re able to accomplish. It also helps when they share their struggles. Sometimes the company chefs even learn from others at the conferences they attend in addition to extending the company’s reach. We chefs also speak a different language — we know when you’re not really one of us.

This may be news to some, but when it comes to speaking to traditional media outlets about social media, they’re also much more interested in speaking with the social media chefs rather than the traditional spokesperson for much the same reason. Next time you read a big feature on an industry’s usage of social media, most of the big quotes in the lead of the article will be from the people actually engaged in these channels – NOT the usual spokesperson.

The companies who answer the call of the journalist looking to do some in-depth reporting on social media with ONLY the usual spokesperson are lucky to see a soundbite appear on page three of the article. If you want to drive the story and make the cover, send a chef.

New Channels New Approaches

Social media isn’t just online – offline events are just as important in this space. Most marketers understand the importance of programming according to the channel. No one would think of simply putting an audio version of a television commercial on radio, nor would they think an online banner ad could be repositioned as-is in print, the medium and the audience are always considered. The same thing is true here.

The expectation of this new channel is that the chefs show up, not necessarily the owner/managers.

Or, if we do away with the restaurant analogy, we expect those directly involved in social media show up rather than official spokespeople. Although, the official spokespeople are welcome to tag along, they just won’t be the only one speaking :-) Think of social media events as an offline extension of the online social media channels — not something altogether separate.

Help Them “Get It”

I like sharing analogies like this because I think they help explain why we need to alter the traditional approaches to conversation. Don’t discount the power of story in your business case.

I think there are plenty of times it still makes sense to engage an official spokesperson – especially when there are legal requirements in play, but when it comes to explaining new requirements for new channels, most anyone can understand this.

Social media types also need to understand that there are simply certain lines of questioning and conversation that may remain off limits for public discussion. Maybe a good solution is defining a scope of conversation for offline events to ensure others in your organization that you’re not going to stray into areas that may get you or someone else in trouble. Does this make sense?

I also don’t think you necessarily need to attend every single event or conference, but if there are strategic benefits, make sure you’re sending the right person to engage the audience online as well as offline.

What do you think of the official spokesperson model in social media channels? Is it important that we talk shop in order to get others to invest in our mission or should the traditional approaches do the trick?

Photo Credit: jenny downing (r&r)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

January 25, 2010 Veronica Sopher 1

Hi Shannon! Great analogy! People want to hear and learn from the person who is doing the hands-on work. Two perfect examples right here in Seattle are Brad Nelson at Starbucks Coffee, and Elliott Pesut at Alaska Airlines. They often have the best and most compelling stories to share, because nothing speaks to the audience like experience.


January 25, 2010 Dave Van de Walle 2

I guess my fave analogy — that of the guy or gal fronting the retail store, like Gap — might have been trumped here. Nice post!

Seriously, you can take this even a step further: you’re not putting a muzzle on the waiter when he goes to talk to the customers. If you plan on using social media to get your MESSAGE across, it’s gotta be less about having one person do all the talking and more about general guidelines — try the veal, I prefer our house red, etc.

Hey, everyone’s a brand ambassador these days, right?


January 28, 2010 Shannon Paul 3

Dave – Love the concept of extending this metaphor to the waiter. That’s why a lot of us working in social media refer to the public facing part of the job as “in the trenches” or “on the front lines”. Good stuff :)


January 25, 2010 paulbalcerak 4

I love a good analogy and this one’s dynamite.

I think, as with anything, there are upsides and downsides to either approach:

An official spokesperson can be good, simply to maintain consistency (you don’t want five people answering one question five times, in five different ways) and to make use of the best you’ve got. I feel like the guys Veronica mentioned are great examples—they’re plugged into the company, but they’re also social media pros and they get how the medium works. They’re good ambassadors. It’s almost like “The Alaska Airlines Twitter Show with Elliot Pesut.”

Then again, a spokesperson can create way too much bureaucracy and take all the fun and usefulness out of social media. I had someone tell me recently that one of their employees got a humorous jab on the company Twitter account and was asking around about how to craft a Tweet in response. It’s 140 effing characters—what is there to craft?!?! Like I said, completely unnecessary and it makes them seem fussy and old (probably not what they’re going for).

So I guess for me, it all comes down to who’s running the Twitter/Facebook/etc. page.


January 28, 2010 Shannon Paul 5

Paul – Great points. However, I always feel compelled to remind people that programming content for posts on social networks is such a slim part of the job of bringing social media into a company. This is why having the people who do the work present the information. This is crucial and helpful to those who are trying to bring it to their organization.


January 26, 2010 Promotional Products 6

Shannon, love the post and the analogy. I was a bit confused because I thought it was going to involve Domino’s and their transparency campaign. But it turned out to be great any way. I love the last part about making people “get it”… This is huge.


January 28, 2010 Tom Martin 7


Great post — one thing I don’t think you included, but I’d love to hear your two cents on — whether it is the chef or the official spokesperson speaking in the SocMe channel (at a conf or online) — I think it is important that they not sound like an official spokesperson… maybe that is what you meant by “sanitized.”

But even going beyond that… I sometimes hear companies say the socme accounts (twitter/fb) should speak “as the company” vs “a person who handles the SocMe duties” at the company.

Your 02 on the topic?


January 28, 2010 Shannon Paul 8

Thanks, Tom – I’m sorry if I was unclear. I was using the metaphor of the chef to represent the person/people responsible for social media integration and the owner/manager to represent the official spokesperson.

I think people should speak as themselves anywhere they converse on the social web. I think it’s important to understand the company’s point of view, but bringing that point of view into conversation with your own voice is the key.

P.S. This isn’t just about a company’s social media “accounts” on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. This applies to outreach into blogs and other online places where conversation is alive and well — like forums and message boards. It’s important to not let those conversations go ignored just because they may not be as high profile as a Twitter-post from a “influencer”.


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