The best 9 lessons in social marketing mastery I learned from my Yiddishe Grandmother

There are others before me who gratefully acknowledge the marketing lessons their grandparents taught them, e.g.  Eric Fulwiler and I now happily contribute to this chorus of gratitude.

It was my Yiddishe Grandmother, long gone before social media ever hit, who when I think about it, was a “maven” (Subject Matter Expert) in the world of social media. I’ve seen her work the social “networking” dynamic at level that few people get to encounter and it’s probably why I am so bullish on social media’s potential to be the major platform that will drive marketing for the next decade.

To appreciate why she was such a powerful teacher requires a brief understanding of her life. My Grandmother, Margit Grosz was born at the beginning of the 20th century in Hungary – the daughter of a highly respected and mystical Hasidic rabbi. She married a young Rabbi and by the time World World II crashed in on her world, she had nine children. On December 3, 1944, she and eight of her youngest children marched into Bergen Belsen, (my father was the “oldest” at 15 and my youngest uncle a mere baby of about 8 months).

This story should have had a tragic end, but in fact she did the remarkable – she was able to save every single one of her children after having endured six months in the death camp. After the war, her influence broadened and she helped thousands as the “Rebbetzin”, literally meaning Rabbi’s wife but also conferring on her the honorary title of spiritual leader, of the shattered Hasidic survivors. As one her oldest grandchildren (out of 100ish), I often accompanied her on her expeditions (reluctantly I must admit) but  I had the chance to witness first hand how to create a thriving socially connected set of networks to the benefit of all. Her wisdom influences me today as I think about how to harness the power of social networking to achieve business results.

This list, inspired by her, I dedicate to her.

1. Keep it simple, direct and honest.

Perhaps the most powerful way to explain this point is explain how my Grandmother saved her children in Bergen Belsen. I will let my father’s account describe what happened next (written when he was in his in fifties):

The morning after our arrival, we were ordered to line up for “appel”, which was roll call. It commenced at 8:00 a.m.  One day, the snow was ankle deep and it was bitter cold. My youngest brother, Chaim, at only eight months was nursing. My mother tried her best to keep him warm and quiet in her arms. The other children were crying bitterly. The one-eyed officer suddenly approached my Mother and began to yell in her face; “What are they crying about? I have my job to do.”

My Mother answered simply; “Listen – can’t you hear the cries of my children?”

Then that one-eyed sergeant announced; “From now on, your children can remain in their bunks. I will come inside and count them in their beds every day.”

What is remarkable is that her simple, direct one line appeal, which seemed wholly inadequate, would have achieved such life savings results. This story cemented in my mind the power of direct engagement. Over the years, I saw again and again how her direct and simple approach achieved results beyond what would have been expected. I saw her get CEOs of major corporations to make major donations of money, goods and services and I saw politicians agree to her requests. Simplicity, directness and honesty is a powerful engine for influencing.

2. Keep engaging.

I never knew until my twenties that sometimes family fights resulted in a complete break down in communications. I had never witnessed it. In my world, if a family dispute escalated to the point of a complete rupture, she forced open the lines of communications. In her mind, keep engaging to keep people connected – no matter what.

That is true in social media too. One must keep the community engaged with people, management and technology. One must manage the interactions so that everyone can feel safe to participate.

3. Make sure everyone in the community benefits.

She had a remarkable ability to use the power of her diverse networks to the benefit of all. I saw how she fluidly moved from one network to another creating loose, cross network associations to achieve a task at hand. She got the CEO of Dupont to donate a huge shipment of contact paper twice a year to redecorate the heavily worn surfaces of the synagogues in the neighborhood (they could not afford new furniture). She then used the leftover it to redecorate and brighten desolate rooms in state run mental institutions for children. (Sidebar – It turned out years later, I learned that my husband’s uncle was a patient in one of the institutions she rehabilitated and who clearly remembered “The Rebbetzin”. What are the chances of that!!)

Translating this lesson to social network marketing means to learn to mix it up and create ways for different networks to cross pollinate so the there is exponential benefits to everyone.  For instance, create programs that pair x-genr’s looking to break into a new career with career veterans. Or create a program that pairs PC savvy kids from distant continents who share a similar passion. Well orchestrated, this is a potent power that can propel social networking programs.

4. Be generous with your time, talent and experience.

This lesson can be a challenge in today hyper connected, on call 24/7 business life. In the case of my Grandmother, if she was short of funds to buy gifts for kids over the holidays, she herself would crochet little dolls for them (and yes – she drafted us grandchildren to help her crochet her dolls). She devoted her time happily until the job was done.

In the context of social media marketing, this means showing social networking courtesy. If asked to donate your network to a good cause – do so. You can also create ways for members to be able to easily connect with each other by providing technology to enable video chat. Show communities how paying it forward always pays back in spades.

5. Assume the best in everyone.

I remember when I was little, my Grandmother was talking to a woman who had lost everyone in the war had become very bitter.  “How is it that you have no hate in your heart” in reference to a German neighbor. My Grandmother answered simply: “Eich hub niescht kan breraira”, “I have no choice”. In her mind, judgment or hate had no place in her world because she understood that it was a poison pill more harmful to her than anyone else. Instead, she assumed people to be of good character and intention and she operated accordingly.

This lesson holds true as we manage our social networks. We should assume that most people in communities are well meaning and well intentioned. Once we are guided by this principle, it puts a clear context for moderation business rules and community participation.

6. Be brave.

The most powerful way to bond community members is to be brave and share honestly with others. Being vulnerable demonstrates a strength that encourages others to gain courage. I learned this lesson when I observed her bravery time and again to venture outside her comfort zone to get what she needed for her community. Imagine the scene when my Grandmother, the Chasidic Rebbetzin who barely spoke English, went marching into the office of Dupont to ask for help. I admired her courage.

Bravery in the social media world requires guts and a willingness to put our company selves out there. A case in point is the recent Pepsi promotion where they used “crowdsourcing” to create their newest flavor. That kind of bravery encourages greatness in your community and in your marketing.

7. Create scalable intimacy.

There has been much research to suggest that our human brain can handle a community of, at most, about 150 people. A community larger than that and the cohesion begins to deteriorate. Similarly, it has been observed that, for instance, Twitter groups of a few hundred are intimate and interactive. Once you pass that threshold and cross into a group of thousands, interaction stops. My Grandmother understood this principle intuitively because she organized her social networks according to maternal line – not married couples. This was her uncharacteristic “data file system” which allowed her to manage multiple family groups of optimal size efficiently despite the vast expanses of family connections.

This lesson is probably one of the hardest for marketers to address because they need scale in order to achieve meaningful results, yet they must maintain the intimacy that social media allows. The trick, therefore, is to create tightly knit communities with synergistic interests that can bind but can scale too. An example, a book lover’s community where different genres can break off into micro communities. This might mean having hundreds of communities concurrently, but companies like Google, Dell and HP have developed programs to manage these diverse communities using lots of new technologies. At a smaller scale, there are self serve platform like SocialGo that help a company to manage groups efficiently.

8. Treat everyone with respect.

Seems obvious yet is surprisingly hard to execute in the social network world of today. The trick, as my Grandmother taught me is to refuse to categorize anyone according to stereotype segments. In her world she was blind to ethnicity, skin color, religious affiliation and or wealth. To her everyone was truly created equal and the simplicity of this approach created powerful allies for her. This principle applied to digital social networks would yield comparable results.

9. Think of others – not just yourself.

I leave this lesson for last because it was her hallmark and it was what made her beloved among the entire Hasidic community around the world. Translated to social media, it means that your goal for the network should be to create place for true connectivity and community – and not just for commerce purposes. It means introducing tools (e.g. video chat) and opportunities that enable connections and bonds that are can enrich all members.

If the orientation of the community is focused on the community — then there is a foundation for success. Focus outward before you focus inward.

There you have it – these 9 power lessons shape how I think about social networking today. I hope it inspires you too.

Judy Shapiro

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3 Responses

  1. I love this concept, but somehow it is not as easy as it sounds. Thanks.

  2. I particularly like #7 🙂

    Great post, and great blog.

    Mike Troiano
    http://scalableintimacy.com

  3. wow a very good article, and useful too. thanks.

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