I stumbled over Gini Dietrich’s wildly popular blog, Spin Sucks, about a year ago and have been hooked ever since. It’s a professional development blog for pr and marketing pros, but I would argue it’s a blog for anyone interested in showing up online today–so pretty much anyone and everyone.
It’s the blog arm of Gini’s marketing and communications firm, Arment Dietrich, and has some of the best and most consistent blog engagement I’ve ever seen online. I’m online a lot, so I’m not just saying that. It’s an intelligent blog full of timely, useful information we need to improve our online reach, AND it’s seriously witty and fun at the same time. There’s an authenticity that comes through Gini’s blog and social media interactions I find all too rare–and I suspect it’s one of the main ingredients to her online success. Her content is fresh, real, and addictive–kind of like really good (organic!) potato chips–you find yourself wanting more.
The topic I’m diving into for you right now is online engagement: the why and how of it. I can think of no expert better qualified to speak on that topic than Gini. She is the author of two books, Spin Sucks, and Marketing in the Round, and her online influence extends well beyond her business and blog into social media where she and her team consistently offer value mixed with humor, while enticing massive engagement from her audience.
Let’s pick her brain and find out what she can share with those of us eager to do the same.
CI: Gini, tell us a little background on your business, the early days, and how you came to build your platform to the extent you have.
GD: It was sort of by accident. It wasn’t done strategically at all. I hate to admit that out loud, but it’s true. We started blogging to see if it was a tactic we could sell to clients and to figure out how it all worked before they asked us about it. It was before any of the social networks existed, so we had to get the word out by carrier pigeon and the Pony Express.
And, it was a disaster. Those first few years? I’m totally embarrassed by it. I took it over as my pet project in 2009, and I started blogging about what I thought needed to change in the PR industry. It just sort of took off. So when people ask me what the secret sauce is, I say it’s about not being afraid to be opinionated, not being afraid to ruffle some feathers, and being okay to put all of your intellectual capital out there.
CI: I have to digress a minute here, but what was your introduction to the Internet. What did you think the first time you came into contact with the online frontier?
GD: You know, I don’t remember! How horrible is that? I do remember when I started working at FleishmanHillard, there was a computer in the center of the floor that everyone could use to, gasp!, email clients. We didn’t have it on our desktop computers yet. But I don’t remember my first frontier into the world wide web.
CI: Back to business: Why did you name your blog Spin Sucks? I mean, of course we all know it sucks–not that the knowing stops the spin, unfortunately–but what’s the personal story behind the name?
GD: We were sitting in our conference room, trying to come up with something brilliant. One of our super smart junior professionals said, “Do you mind if I create a committee for this? We’ll come back to you with some recommendations.” So she did. And they came back with Spin Sucks because, in their words, it drives me crazy when people call us spin doctors. And the URL was available so we went with it.
CI: What, given the opportunity, you would absolutely do differently if you had it to do over when it comes to building your online presence?
GD: HAHAH! ALL OF IT! LOL! I use Timehop because it’s super fun to see what you posted about years before, but it’s also mortifying. Some of the stuff I posted six years ago? OMG. If I had to choose one thing it would be to not be so loosey-goosey about the blog. We will celebrate nine years next month and it took us that entire time to figure out how to monetize it. And part of that is because, for nine years, our community has gotten everything for free. When we started asking them to pay for certain things, they rebelled! If that’d been part of our structure to begin with—and within reason—it wouldn’t have been so hard.
CI: You’re suddenly limited to one online platform (your blog, a social media platform, etc.). Which do you choose and why?
GD: FACEBOOK. I love Facebook. Twitter has lots its appeal for me. I’m still there several times a day, but it’s not like it was in 2009. It was super fun back then. Facebook has definitely replaced Twitter has my favorite. I use my personal page as my stand-up comedy routine. I’d never actually do that in-person, so it’s fun to pretend I’m hilarious on my personal page. On the business side, I talked my team into letting me be an admin and testing a few things. We started posting longer-form content there in July and, just this week added in Facebook Notes. While we don’t have the reach and engagement we did two years ago (we don’t pay to play), we’ve definitely seen an increase with this strategy. I’ll let you know how Notes goes. We’ve only posted a few of them so far.
CI: For someone just getting their feet wet in social media (an author, solo-entrepreneur, small business with limited resources, etc.), would you advise the same platform or something else? Why?
GD: Nope. I think Facebook stinks for business, if you’re just starting out there. If you are visually-oriented, I suggest Instagram. We’ve also seen some pretty incredible results from Pinterest. I’m waiting to see what shakes down at Google+, but right now it’s still a very good tool to help with your search results. And LinkedIn? Meh. It’s great for business-to-business, but not super exciting.
CI: What is your best advice for the small creative entrepreneur when it comes to getting people to ***engage*** with them online?
GD: People just want to be heard. They want to know what they’ve said is important enough for you to comment. I get made fun of quite a bit because I respond to EVERYONE, but it works. Think about it this way: Let’s say you’ve left a comment on a friend’s Facebook wall. That friend commented to everyone, but you. How does that make you feel? Not great, I would guess, and less likely to comment on that friend’s wall again. Same thing happens on the business stuff. In the beginning, you have to do ALL of the work. You have to find the right people online and engage with them. Find something they’ve shared that you can contribute to and start a conversation that way. Eventually, they’ll follow your online bread crumbs back to your blog or social networks and engage with you there. It takes a lot of work, particularly in the beginning, but it’s worth it.
CI: What drives you most crazy about online communication?
GD: It’s the tendency to react to a headline or a tweet about an article without actually reading the article. And then they go on and on about how you’re wrong and this is your opinion, and you want to say, “You know, if you’d actually read the article, you’d know we agree.” That drives me insane.
CI: What do you love most about it?
GD: I love, love, love that you can make friends and work with clients no matter where they are in the world. Some of my best friends today are people I met online early on. I love that we can build relationships from behind our computer screens and then extend that in-person when appropriate. I’ve been friends with someone who has been participating in the Spin Sucks community for years. He’s one of my most favorite people. He was in Chicago this past weekend, and we finally met in person, but it was like we’d known each other for years, not like we were just meeting. Because we have known each other for years…it’s just been online. I love that.
CI: To steal my favorite question you ask people on you interview on Spin Sucks: What’s the best book you’ve read in the past six months?
GD: Oh man! I have such a hard time choosing just one. I read a ton. This is why I like to ask this question…to enhance my reading list. I’d say it’s a toss-up between The Nightingale and Secrets of a Charmed Life. I loved them both.
Where to Connect with Gini:
P.S. If you like this post, you’ll love this one: How to be Awesome on the Internet: A Conversation with Sarah Von Bargen