Social media marketing has become an important part of any brand’s digital marketing mix, helping brands of all sizes foster customer connections and engagement. But as more consumers use social media to “ring the bell” and gain access to the person who can help solve their problems, many find the social bell is out of order when it comes to customer service.
For social media wiz Dan Gingiss, McDonald’s Corporation’s Senior Director of Global Social Media, customer service is arguably one of the most important pieces of social media marketing.
“Social media is the first and only channel where customers can talk back, marketers need to listen and engage,” Dan told me in a recent interview.
With more than two decades building up his marketing wizardry, Dan knows a thing or two about ushering people through the emerald social media gates and providing great social care—and no ruby red slippers are required for entrance.
With that said, as part of our Wizard of Oz-inspired Behind the Marketing Curtain interview series, today we’ll pull back the fabric and get to know more about how Mr. Gingiss arrived in the wonderful world of marketing, and share insights that can help inspire better customer service within your social media strategy, and perhaps kick a wicked habit or two.
Dan has spent most of his life and marketing career in the Chicago area—that’s his Kansas, he said.
“[Well], it’s not quite Kansas, but still the Midwest!” he joked.
And while Dan has been a marketer for more than 20 years, his numerous talents aren’t bound to any one industry. He also bills himself as a “pretty decent” pinball player and a grammar nerd—and he’s also a licensed bartender.
“[I got my bartender’s license] after taking a two-week night course after college and placing first in the speed drink-making contest,” he explained while also noting that there’s no fire or bottle flipping in his repertoire.
Dan is also a huge baseball fan—particularly when it comes to the Chicago Cubs club. But he’s arguably a pretty big Cleveland Indians fan, too; his all-time favorite movie is Major League.
“[It’s the] perfect combo of humor, a little bit of romance, and baseball!” he said.
As a marketer, he’s built his career as a marketing generalist. Borrowing a phrase from the John Fogerty song “Centerfield”—and keeping in line with his love of the game, Dan said: “I am a ‘put me in coach’ kind of guy. As a result, I’ve enjoyed domestic and global roles in B2C and B2B, product management, loyalty programs, and acquisition marketing.”
Over the last two decades, Dan has held positions at Discover Card, Humana, Diner’s Club International, and Mesirow Financial. Earlier this year, Dan joined McDonald’s Corporation as Senior Director of Global Social Media. He’s also a podcaster and the author of Winning of Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experience on Social Media.
So how did self-proclaimed marketing generalist land in a social media-specific role? We’ll cover that in the next section.
As an undergrad student at the University of Pennsylvania, Dan was majoring in Psychology and Communications—meaning he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he said. But, being the grammar nerd he is, he was the managing editor of the college newspaper. One evening, as he was pasting up the next day’s edition, he spotted an ad from MBI, Inc., a high-end collectibles company in Norwalk, CT that operates under The Danbury Mint brand.
“The ad promised to teach me ‘everything you need to know about direct marketing,’” he recalled. “So, I applied and they did.”
“On my first day of work, I was handed a bunch of product lines and told to create and execute marketing plans in direct mail, package inserts, and the Sunday coupons—that’s how I learned,” he said.
Four years later, Dan went back to school for his MBA and took his “first” marketing class. At that point, he realized that his undergrad studies provided the perfect foundation for becoming a marketer.
“Psychology and Communications are two perfect majors for a marketer because they are two skills that basically define what marketing entails—understanding your customer, and knowing how to speak to him or her,” he said.
But his journey was certainly not over. While spreading his wings as a marketing generalist over the years, in 2012 Dan found his true marketing passion: social media.
“[Mike Boush], the Chief Digital Officer at Discover Card, asked me to lead digital customer experience and social media even though I had no professional experience with either,” he recalled. “He recognized something in me even before I did: That I am most comfortable with my ‘customer hat’ on, thinking about every experience through the customer’s eyes. I also immediately fell in love with social media—especially Twitter—and never looked back.”
Just as Dorothy found dear friends and encouragement in the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion as she made her way to Emerald City, Dan’s yellow brick road was paved with a little help, too.
The aforementioned Mike Boush was one such individual who made an impact.
“He challenged me to become a “recognized leader” in social media,” Dan said.
Another was Jeff Reid, who was Dan’s boss at Humana.
“He asked me to create a personal goal (writing a book) and execute on it,” Dan explained.
Another mentor that came to Dan’s mind was the late Robin Carey of Social Media Today.
“She definitely had courage,” he said. “After meeting me once, she agreed to sponsor my brand-new podcast called ‘Focus on Customer Service.’ It was the first of its kind—dedicated solely to customer care in social media—and I had never recorded a podcast episode previously. Fifty-plus episodes later, that podcast spawned my book.”
“Robin believed in me when she didn’t have to, and I’ll never forget her for that,” he added.
At TopRank Marketing we believe in taking a smart, creative and results-focused approach in everything we do for our clients, as well as our own personal growth. Dan is certainly someone who exemplifies these qualities in his work as a social media marketing wizard. So without further ado, let’s dive into Dan’s tips for better social media marketing.
Good witch or bad witch? What’s one bad social media marketing habit marketers should drop?
Thinking that customer service is someone else’s problem. When we interrupt people’s social media feeds with marketing messages, we hope that they will engage with our fun and interesting marketing content. But sometimes, all we do is remind them that they had some other problem with our brand. Since social media is the first and only channel where customers can talk back, marketers need to listen and engage.
Dorothy’s ruby slippers were the key to achieving her end goal of returning home. What are a few tools you believe are key for social media marketing success?
Always be listening. People will generally tell you everything you need to know about your business—what’s working, what needs fixing, and what could be your next big hit. Marketers need to embrace the feedback, including compliments, questions, and complaints. Knowing your customer will definitely help you become a better marketer.
There are a number helpful social media marketing and listening tools out there—many of which I covered in the chapter on social customer care tools in my book—that can fit into any marketing budget and are worth the investment.
Poppies. Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep! What creative tactics can marketers use to keep their social audience engaged?
Always be engaging, too. I know, so many rules! But consumers want to engage with brands on social media. That’s usually why they reach out in the first place. Companies that engage back can create loyal brand advocates that will tell their friends and followers on social media. We’ve all seen the studies—there’s nothing more believable than an objective friend talking positively about a brand. And I’ve personally seen 1:1 engagement rates even after a customer service inquiry that far surpass any marketer’s wildest dreams. Then scaling that becomes the challenge.
What’s one thing you would ask the all-powerful marketing wizard for? (More budget, more resources, better data?)
An end to social media marketers thinking of social as a “special” channel that gets to play by different rules. Other than that consumers can talk back, social is just another marketing channel. It’s not unfair to ask for a return on that marketing investment. It’s not unfair to point out that likes, comments, and retweets don’t mean anything if more people aren’t buying your company’s products. Social marketers need to understand that corporate marketing budgets are finite, and social is competing against more mature marketing channels that have shown results for decades.
I’d like to sincerely thank Dan for taking the time to open up about who he is, where he comes from and how he approaches content and comedy. Thanks, Dan!
Of course, TopRank Marketing’s journey to Emerald City is still underway. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you more exclusive interviews and insights from industry wizards to add some smarts, heart and nerve to your marketing efforts.
Stay tuned for our next installment, my pretty!
What’s one thing you’d ask the all-powerful marketing wizard for? Tell us in the comments section below.
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