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3 big (ongoing) issues the recent Cracker Barrel social media crisis highlights

In case you missed it, Cracker Barrel fell victim to the most recent “internet mob” last week and had its social media pages completely taken over by folks fighting for Annette Byrd (#BradsWife) to get her job back.

A little background: In Feb., Cracker Barrel fired Annette Byrd. On Feb. 27, Annette’s husband, Brad, started ranting about the firing on Facebook. On March 21, he posted a comment on Cracker Barrel’s Facebook page asking why his wife was fired. A couple days later, seemingly the entire internet was commenting on Cracker Barrel social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) about the incident, many using the hash tags #BradsWife and #JusticeForBradsWife. And man, some of the comments were damn funny.

But none of this was funny to the Cracker Barrel team. Unfortunately, they made one misstep after another–and that’s what led them to stories on People and the Washington Post. You see, these social media attacks tend to take on a life of their own–quickly. All it usually takes is one “influencer” to share or comment and BOOM–the internet is activated. Then, after 24-48 hours, the crisis becomes so large, the media start to pick up on it. Then, after those media stories run, the average, run-of-the-mill people start to notice. All that happened to Cracker Barrel last week in 48 hours.

It happens that fast, people.

I know a lot of you who read this blog know that. But, apparently there are many, many others out there who don’t. So, I feel it’s our responsibility to keep pushing these people who still don’t know how the internet works to do the right thing in these types of situations.

In this case, the Cracker Barrel case study highlighted three primary areas where I think many brands STILL need big-time help:

The ability to move fast between departments.

Now, I’m just speculating, but my guess is one of the reasons Cracker Barrel didn’t react more quickly via social was the disconnect between their social/marketing teams (who most likely manage the social pages) and HR. Because here’s the thing: HR’s typically not out there monitoring this stuff. And, the “master brand” folks aren’t necessarily looking for HR issues like someone getting fired on his husband’s birthday and giving no reason as to why. In this case, my guess is the social folks saw this coming, maybe they even alerted the HR team. But maybe the HR team didn’t react. Maybe they said “we can’t respond, so just leave it alone.” Maybe they said “don’t worry about that. It’ll go away in a day or so.” Or, maybe they didn’t. Point is, HR and marketing are often very disconnected departments within an org–especially when it comes to the speed of social media. At a bare minimum, you could make a start here by developing or nurturing stronger relationships with your HR colleagues (and educating then on the pitfalls and risks of social media). At a more advanced level, think about scenario planning for cases like these, and who should be in the room when you need to make a quick decision.

The ability to respond–even when you think you can’t

I’m actually flabbergasted Cracker Barrel hasn’t responded AT ALL to any of the #BradsWife comments on any of its social media pages. Yeah, I know they can’t address the elephant in the room (why #BradsWife was fired) specifically. But, that leaves A LOT of room for other things they could say (with legal approval, of course). Why not develop some high level messaging to address the issue from a top level? Even something as simple as this would have probably worked: “Thanks for your comment. We cannot discuss personnel issues publicly, as I’m sure many of you can understand.”

Ability to show patience–and ride it out

The response from the beginning from Cracker Barrel should have been to develop simple language to respond to some comments–and then, shut off all posts and advertising and ride this thing out for a few days. That’s a tough thing to sell up the chain of command, but it’s worth managing those expectations NOW, so when this does happen to your brand,  you’re ready. Because, let’s face it, these types of attacks only last a few days. The internet can attack FAST–but it can also recede just as quickly.

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4 reasons your brand’s YouTube videos continue to fall flat

You know what’s really interesting to me about YouTube? There are seemingly two worlds:

  • The world of influencers and “user”-generated content
  • The world of brand-generated content

The former is engaging, interesting, educational and LOL-worthy.

The latter is typically stiff, over-produced and typically includes countless marketing claims.

The former is content that people actually SUBSCRIBE to on YouTube. It’s the new “appointment television” for many millennials, Gen Z’ers and whatever we’re calling the 10-16 year-olds.

The latter is content that’s forced down people’s throats with paid amplification through pre-roll and advertisements. You know, the ones we all increasingly tune out when we’re on YouTube seeking information or entertainment.

So again–two worlds. Miles apart.

And it’s time the latter took note of the former and learned a thing or two. Because, I think it’s possible. I think brands could employ some of the attitudes, disciplines and approaches these influencers use to create content. I’d like to discuss four below–using quotes directly from the all-time YouTube himself, Casey Niestat in his most recent Samsung ads/videos:

Quote: “We don’t have big award shows or fancy budgets or fancy cameras. But what we do have is our phones.” and “We know it’s not the size of the production that matters, it’s what you make.”

Lesson brands can learn: You know what these two quotes says to me? Scrappiness. And I think it’s that attitude brands could embrace a bit more when it comes to videos on YouTube. It’s really not as much about the production value (although, yes, that is important to a degree), as it is the IDEA. This is where influencers thrive, and brands struggle. Start with the idea. Don’t throw up roadblocks on why you can’t do it. And shoot BIG! I mean, how quickly do you think Niestat’s idea to create a mega-drone to pull him around on a snowboard would be shot down by most companies? Instead, Samsung said hell yes, and created this:

Quote: “We don’t create because we have to–we create because we love to.”

Lesson brands can learn: Maybe a standard question we should all ask ourselves and our teams in meetings as we brainstorm ideas for new content is this: Are we producing this because we have to, or are we producing it because it’s a GREAT FREAKING IDEA?!?!?! I feel like that would be a pretty good filter. After all, we don’t HAVE to produce an ongoing glut of content these days (if you saw my recent prezo at Social Media Breakfast,  you’ll know why!). So, if it’s not a fantastic idea, maybe the answer is you don’t produce it.

Quote: “When we’re told we can’t, we all have the same answer: Watch me.”

Lesson brands can learn: To me, this quote seems similar to the reactions and feedback most of us have received in meetings over the last 5-7 years as we’ve pitched ideas to our managers, bosses and VPs around content that will work on the internet. Because, let’s be honest, there’s still a whole lot of people out there that still don’t understand how the internet works (believe it or not). So, when those people challenge you in that next meeting, don’t take it lying down. Challenge back! Stand up for your idea–because, most likely, it’s NOT crazy. In fact, I would venture to guess it’s probably miles better than anything anyone else has suggested in the last 5 years. Watch me.

Quote: “We’ve capture billions of moments from different angles for different reasons for billions of viewers.”

Lesson brands can learn: I’ve said this for years; it’s not about capturing the “perfect” moment. It’s about capturing lots of moments. That’s party of what makes this generation of YouTubers so unique (and to some, obnoxious) They’re not trying to capture one moment–they’re obsessed with capturing thousands of moments. Sometimes that 14th moment is the one that sparks something big. The other thing about this quote that intrigues me is the “different angles” comment. Niestat is clearly referring to the fact that YouTubers like him now capture millions of minutes of video footage via GoPros or phones duck-taped to their heads. Point is: It’s all about a unique perspective. That’s a good thing for brands to think about when producing video for YouTube–what’s YOUR unique perspective. How could you capture it? Just because you’re a brand, doesn’t mean you can’t use the MacGyver-like skills this YouTubers are using.

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Why is good social media training so hard to find?

Go ahead. Google the phrase “Social media training Minneapolis.”

What comes up?

A couple academic institutions attempting to pull it off.

A handful of agencies.

And an Eventbrite list.

In a nutshell, that describes my experience with social media training programs (or a lack thereof) in the Twin Cities.

Where are they? Why isn’t anyone doing this? Especially when there is a clear gap in the market?

Because, let’s be honest, there is a gap. When it comes to social media education, I see a clear gap in the following areas:

  • Strategy–despite the fact that almost everyone that works in the social media realm lists this competency on their resume.
  • Content development–see above.
  • Social media advertising–potentially the biggest need of them all right now. A fairly complicated process and set of tools with little to no support (outside of the platforms themselves).
  • Social analytics–another huge hole, especially when you have PR people filling it who, to a large extent, have been trained more to use the other side of their brain.
  • Social video–in other words, how to I plan, capture and edit video on and from my phone. Would probably include training on some kind of video editing program as well (i.e. GarageBand).
  • Podcasting–growing need here. Again, seems like an area and skill that VERY few people have, but I would think many would be interested in acquiring.

I know the professional organizations touch on these topics with their programming from time to time, and I think that’s great (in fact, there’s a couple really great ones coming up this summer/fall–just can’t talk about them yet!). But, I’m talking and thinking about something much deeper than a one-time event. I’m talking about real training programs designed to get very much in the weeds on the topics above. You can’t do that in an hour-long session, folks.

I’m thinking about something like Brainco. You’ve heard of Brainco, right? It’s a shorter, more condensed training program for creatives. It includes classes on copywriting, computer graphics and WordPress development. The idea seems to be to give students a well-rounded education in the creative field and prepare you for a job in advertising, design or brand work.

Exactly what we need for social media and/or digital.

So, maybe we should do it. Maybe we could do this together. Maybe I’m talking myself into this right now!

What would we need? In order:

  • A venue. Ideally somewhere downtown, in North Loop or South Minneapolis. Somewhere with small classrooms, but also a couple larger rooms or auditoriums to hold larger sessions/presentations.
  • Professors. Might be tougher than you think. For example, social advertising. I’m not sure I know a ton of people with deep experience in this area. But, collectively, we could identify the right people. We have such a vibrant digital community here in Minneapolis–I know those professors are out there somewhere!
  • Curriculum. Someone, or a team of someone’s, would need to drive our topics and subject matter. I think we could benefit by getting input from key digital leaders across our community. I think we could benefit by chatting with real professors at universities around town who are touching on this kind of stuff in the classroom (I’m looking at you, Betsy Andersen).
  • Money. We’d need funding to get it up and running. Maybe we employ a BrandLab model, which seems to be based on a combo-platter of corporate and individual donors. I mean, developing social/digital talent would definitely benefit corporations and agencies around town–why wouldn’t they support something like this?

I don’t know–what do you think? Could we do this? I’m thinking it might be worth a shot. The need is clearly there. The work would benefit us all.

I like where this could be going. Who’s with me? If you’re serious, send me a note at arik@arikhanson.com. I’m interested in exploring options.

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The biggest challenges facing today’s social media job seeker

I’m not a recruiter. I’m not a hiring manager. And, I’m not looking to hire anyone at ACH Communications (I have all the help I need at the moment!).

So, I want to start this post by making it clear that I’m not a recruiting specialist, nor do I hire people on a routine basis.

But, I do talk to a lot of people. And, I talk to a lot of people about the job market. So, I do have a somewhat informed opinion on the topic of recruiting–especially in the PR and social world.

And, from what I can tell, there are a number of clear challenges facing today’s hiring manager–and today’s social media candidates.

On the hiring manager side, the complaint I hear the most from friends and colleagues is a lack of clarity or depth in the resume or interview. For example, a candidate may say they have “strong experience with social media advertising tools”–but the hiring manager comes to find out the candidate has never used Power Editor.

Another example: The candidate might say “I helped drive and implement an integrated social media strategy for the company”–but the hiring manager comes to learn the candidate played just a very small role in that strategy development and that most of it was done by his manager.

From a hiring perspective, social positions are tough because sometimes the hiring manager isn’t the most fluent in social–therefore, they don’t know what they don’t know. Hiring managers may hire a candidate expecting they have a certain skill set they promised in the interview, only to find out the depth of that skill is surface deep at best.

On the candidate side, what I see most often when reviewing LinkedIn profiles is that junior to mid-level candidates don’t fully understand how to best position themselves to employers. They use generalities in their descriptions and stay pretty fluffy when talking about their work.

And, I think some folks tend to over-represent their work and skills. I see lots of “social media strategy development” in junior-level profiles. And while that might be true to an extent, I think it’s dangerous to label yourself as a strategy lead when you’re 25 years old (even if you did actually work on the strategy for your last company/client).

Finally, I don’t see a lot of results and numbers as I sift through LinkedIn profiles–which is absolutely BAFFLING to me since social is littered with opportunities to insert results and data. I mean, I wish I would have had the data I have now when I was building my resume 15-20 years ago. Yet, if you look through most LinkedIn social resumes, you won’t see a lot in terms of results or numbers. Strange.

So, what would I suggest? I thought you’d never ask:

For hiring managers:

  • If you’re not fluent in social, but you’re tasked with hiring social talent, ask someone else within the organization to review resumes and participate in the interviews with you. They should be able to spot the warning flags you might otherwise miss–and they’ll give you a fresh perspective as well (and if you don’t have someone–call me! I’d love to help!).
  • Ask for all the details. In interview situations, make sure you ask for specific details when discussing the candidate’s experience with content management systems, social advertising and community management. Get those details out now while you can–once they’ve started, it’s far too late.

For candidates:

  • Showcase your social results–not actions. I see far too many lists of actions when I look at social media resumes, and not nearly enough results. How did the program you helped lead drive awareness or engagements for the org? How much traffic did you drive to your site? I mean, you should have a ton of stats and data you can plug into your resume.
  • Resist the urge to over-promise. I know the whole “fake it til you make it” is a big thing. But, when it comes to interviews for social positions, I’d probably suggest avoiding that tactic. Here’s why: You say you can do something in the interview, you better damn well deliver on it once you’ve started. In fact, I believe in the opposite adage: Under-promise–over-deliver.
  • Don’t worry about the title game. Yes, titles are important in that they can lead to more money over the course of your career. I’m not necessarily going to argue that point. But, chasing titles can be exhausting–and problematic for your career growth. For example, a friend of a friend became a “Vice President” at a very early age–then was laid off. That friend was jobless for a very long time, and I have a feeling it was because he/she was looking for jobs at a similar level, even though the similar level he/she should have been looking for was account supervisor–not VP. He/she priced himself/herself right out of the market, all because he/she had a big job title at an early age.


photo credit: flazingo_photos Scrabble – Resume via photopin (license)

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PR Rock Stars: 3M’s Heather Cmiel

I can’t really remember the first time I met Heather Cmiel. Which is kinda odd. Because Heather isn’t the kind of person you forget. In fact, I would think most people remember the first time they met Heather quite well because she’s a big personality and a very warm person. The kind of person most people feel very comfortable talking to–even if they don’t know her all that well.

I do know I’ve known Heather for the better part of 10 years. I’ve watched her in action during some of her very best achievements (I would think founding Alphabet Bash would be right up there), and I’ve watched her handle some pretty difficult situations, too. And, while I don’t claim to be BFFs with Heather, from afar, she seemed to handle both pretty darn well. This year, Heather starts her stint as president of MN PRSA–a big leadership spot. I–along with many others I’m sure–am expecting big things. Let’s hear what she has to say.

You’re the current MN PRSA president–and it’s been a long-time coming. I remember working with you when I was on the board in the mid-2000s! Why have you chosen to invest so much of your time and energy with this organization over the last 10+ years?

I have been involved since the first day I joined in 2003 – 14 years ago (I am starting to realize I am old). PRSA has played a significant role in both my professional and personal life. Professionally the organization has helped me grow skill sets and build a reputation in this community. It has aided me in shifting careers, while providing me a sounding board to continue growth.

Personally, it’s the people. I have met so many amazing people through PRSA. People who have mentored me. Laughed with me. Cried with me. Supported me. Loved me. Challenged me. Helped me. Stood by me. Some of my closest friendships are because of my involvement in PRSA.

But why stay involved for such a long period of time? It’s simple. I am a big believer that we are all put on this earth to share our gifts and talents. PRSA has helped me grow into the professional I am today, and I want to give back to this community that has given so much to me. And for me that is manifesting itself into building a PRSA that is relevant in 2017.


You’ve always reminded me of our mutual friend, Gail Van Cleaf, who was president back when I joined the PRSA board years ago. Back then, Gail really shook things up during her presidency by introducing new programming options and really shifting the thinking within MN PRSA. I see you potentially doing the same thing. Any big new ideas we can expect from MN PRSA in the year ahead?

To be compared to Gail is insanely flattering for so many reasons – her leadership abilities, her guts, her killer fashion sense. I could go on and on and not just because she is my dearest friend, but because she simply kicks ass. You are right – Gail shook things up in so many ways. Gail was unafraid to try new things. She was the primary reason I was able to start the Alphabet Bash because she was unafraid. Unafraid to try things. Unafraid to take risks. Her trust in me when she was president has stuck with me all these years later.

So *warning* long answer ahead but I have a valid point  – I promise.

Walking into 2017, I had feedback from 71 people (you included – so thank you for helping me learn) from people within my network who were honest, real, raw and helpful.  They shared with me perspective on two questions – “what do you think about Minnesota PRSA?” and “how can we be relevant to you?” Feedback and answers from all of you validated many things I had been thinking and feeling.

In order to grow, at least in my opinion, you need to take an honest look at places you can improve. Minnesota PRSA has a great legacy but is struggling to be relevant. The world has changed. Demands and priorities are different and ever changing. I don’t believe we really compete against other organizations (since I think we all have something to offer) but rather we are competition against something far more precious – time.

Time with family. Time at work. Time at kids sporting events. Time traveling. Time with friends. No longer are people distinguishing work and professional development from personal responsibilities. Everything blends. Every place a person places their time is now weighed and considered. But if you build something people see value in – they make time. So that is where I am focused. How and what are we building? Here are few examples:

  • Classics has been revamped. We brought in new categories, removed some others and broke out some categories by size of the organization.
  • We are also revamping the way we do Classics. If you know me, you know I like a good party (Remember the Alphabet Bash?). We are changing the format to be more Oscar-esque (without the best picture screw-up) with a promise the food will be fabulous and the bars will be accessible. Not a finalist? Come for the networking and entertainment!
  • For the first time since I can remember, we have a locked programming calendar for the year. A calendar that is pulling in voices you haven’t heard from before. February’s food transparency panel featured Bertrand Weber from the Minneapolis Public School District and our May influencer marketing event will include the one of the driving forces behind Cats of Instagram, which has 7.7 million followers.
  • I also plan to launch a Facebook live series in March to explore the issues impacting communications professional – seems to be happening daily…

And I am game for opinions, comments, questions, thoughts – whether you are a member or not. Seriously. Email me! hjcmiel@gmail.com


With the political climate and the advent of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, it’s an interesting time to be in the PR field. How can PRSA help better support the “free flow of information and ideas” as that seems like it might be minimized during this administration’s run?

Oh where to even begin on this question. PRSA has a code of ethics. And while I want to believe that all communicators live by ethical principles, I think documented principles that can be referenced, shared and help guide decision making today is more important now than ever.

I think PRSA has two responsibilities (locally and nationally) given the state of where we are as a nation and given the daily discussion around this administration.

First is elevating the code and making it understood that ethics matter. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But look at what is happening daily in the news. So many principles in the code that are being debated and discussed by businesses, by media and by President Trump. A few examples?  Free Flow of Information, Conflicts of Interest, Disclosure of Information.

Second, we as an organization need to be unafraid to talk about things that are heated and charged. We need to talk about why ethics matter now more than ever. We are exploring how Minnesota PRSA can share insights, various perspectives and have some real discussions around what is happening in our world today.


A while back you took your first big corporate job with 3M–big change! Now that you’ve had time to acclimate to the role and company, what have been some key learnings in working for a company with the size and complexity of 3M?

Walking into 3M two years ago was terrifying. It is a complex, matrixed organization. When looking at it from the outside, you could find yourself asking how can you drive change and be nimble when the company is so mammoth. I wrote a blog when I first joined 3M about what it is like to jump the fence. I think a lot of it still holds true two years later. The biggest one for me: Be You. I was doing some real soul searching walking into 3M. I was questioning how I needed to adjust my thinking, my approach, my style when I started. But then it dawned on me – I need to show up as me. I am who interviewed. I am who they hired. That is what my team hired. I need to be me. And I am embraced in every way – from the way I think, to the way I challenge and to the way I make sure we all laugh.


You recently made this post on Facebook: “When I joined 3M, my only hope is I’d work with good people. I never would have imagined I would be challenged, inspired and developed by some of the most brilliant minds in the business.” You have the floor. Who, specifically, at 3M has challenged and inspired you over the last two years?

I just cannot name one person. I was so lucky to come into 3M and be surrounded by a team that wanted different. I was given permission, in fact I was expected, to do something different. All of these people are the reason I have been able to do some powerful things at 3M and elevate the role of communications. So, yes, here is a list of names (how Academy Awards), but I cannot just thank one person because there is just so much support and belief for the functions communications to make an impact.

  • Leslie McDonnell, Danette Andley, Stacy Schueller, Sarah Wolff, Andy Pollen, Brian Ksicinski, Evan Paskach, Jemma Fullerton, Ann Yates, Peter Berens, Scott Mitchell, Matt Fryxell, Mel Wong, Ana Hawkins, Cassie Jacobson, and Jon Ross


What would you consider your biggest achievement in your professional life to date? Why?

If you know me at all, you know the most important thing in my life is relationships. I am so astounded by the amazing connections and network I have built over the last 13 years. This group of people have supported me during the lowest time of my career and have celebrated with me during my greatest achievements. I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by so many who really care about me and Trevor. It is humbling to have this amount of love in my life and I do not take it for granted at all. And all these people know I would do anything for them.


So much talk of trends this time of year (I just spoke to Social Media Breakfast about this very topic!)–what 1-2 trends do you see, realistically, impacting the PR industry in 2017

You had some great insights when you spoke. Totally agree with you that organic is dead and investment in paid needs to increase. I have discussions pretty frequently about the importance of paid investment needing to fuel consumable content (to me there is a big distinction between content and consumable content).

While I don’t consider myself a trendspotter, I will share the lens I am looking through with my team – everything needs to be seen and created through the eyes of the customer. CDJs are becoming so critical to how we frame content and connect to our core audience. What information are we giving them and how are we offering something they care about when they need it? For example, I tell my team all the time that our website isn’t about us. Sure, it talks about 3M but if we aren’t giving that visitor anything of value, why the heck are we putting it out into the universe?

I know you may be thinking “customer-first thinking isn’t new.” While that is true, I think many communicators have been so focused on really intrusive ways of connecting (display, pre-roll, etc.). It is hard for companies to not talk about themselves all the time. But people don’t want to marketed at – they want to be engaged, informed and know you want to help them. They want to work with (and buy from) companies they see personal value in.  We are in the business of influence and we need to really raise the bar in how we motivate and inspire.

Something else that I believe will remain of utmost importance for us as communicators is the art of storytelling. Again not new but something I think we all need to recommit to as a profession. From my perspective —  Emotions influence decisions. Stories influence emotion. Stories have a tremendous amount of power.


Little known fact (actually, very well known fact for some): You’re a huge foodie. What’s the one Minneapolis/St. Paul restaurant you’ve been dying to get to, but just haven’t yet?

I do love my restaurants in this town! First, let’s get one thing straight. While Minneapolis does get the majority of love from reviewers and diners, I think the St. Paul restaurant landscape continues to do some killer things and make some big changes – good and unexpected (my heart is slowly repairing from the news that Strip Club is closing this summer).

My biggest conundrum is that I have fallen in love with so many places it is hard sometimes to not be a repeat visitor but there are still so many places I want to try! Top of the list is to visit the reborn Lexington. Josh Thoma and Jack Riebel have had so many twists and turns turn to get these doors open, I am curious to see if it lives up to the hype. Plus it is on my side of the river.

Since I want to give the sister city some love, I also want to pay a visit to the new Bad Waitress NE location. Not a totally new place since they have a location in town but I need to go cry in a Johnny Michaels handcrafted cocktail since this new endeavor took him away from running a fabulous little cocktail lounge in WBL – the Alchemist.


Finally: We’re not leaving this blog until you recognize that the Woodbury Royals (go class of 91!) are vastly superior to the Tartan Titans in every way, shape and form. Do you yield?

Well we are going to be here a long time…

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