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Sherri Maxson, Social Business Leader at Grainger

This is a post from my company,’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands.

Sherri Maxson is one of those all-star members who has taken us along for her career as a social media executive at three different brands. She’s been a member since 2010 and a speaker at two different Member Meetings.

With nearly 20 years of professional experience in the digital world, Sherri Maxson’s career started back in 1994 as a web developer when the Internet was still new and shiny — before she would move on to lead social media at three major brands.

As a hobby, she built web opportunities for photographers to sell their art. But her fascination with the web started when her colleagues started creating ecommerce sites for major retailers.

“In the very early stages of ecommerce, it was apparent that people were not as receptive to buying online. What it really proved to me was the importance of marketing online. But this was even way before there was such marketing,” says Sherri.

Sherri says when she started her career the web was still a positive, supportive place to learn from other people.

“There were communities of developers sharing code with each other. It was a really friendly atmosphere and a creative environment. It was very aspirational, and I just fell in love with this space.”

She kept that mindset of learning and building up her skills over the next 12 years as things evolved for ecommerce and new platforms and ideas emerged like Google, YouTube, SEO, and blogging.

“Whatever it was, I wanted to learn it so I had a really strong toolbox to work with,” she explains.

She’s taken her skills in ecommerce and digital marketing with her to lead social at a university, a BtoC, and now a BtoB.

Sherri’s been the Director of Digital Marketing and Social Media for DeVry University and U.S. Cellular, where she lead an award-winning social customer service model. Now, she leads social business at Grainger, which ranked 15th in the Top 500 Internet Retailers in 2013.

But if you ask her, at the end of the day, her strategy for each organization isn’t too different.

“Every company is a snowflake, but it’s still about human-to-human interaction. You’re still talking to people. It’s about making sense of digital for the company and their strategy,” she explains.

She says where each company is unique is how they connect with their customers. For example, at DeVry, they were looking at things from a student perspective, engaging them in word of mouth and activating communities. For U.S. Cellular, it was about mobilizing an extremely large community base with customer service and applying a social business strategy enterprise-wide, which she described at a Member Meeting in 2012.

Her current work at Grainger, a BtoB you might know for supplying your office with everything from paper towels to industrial generators, focuses on building relationships and providing solutions for the people who make those purchase decisions. In her case study presentation at our Member Meeting in Chicago, Sherri described how Grainger’s social strategy is to make their customers the heroes.

She explains one of the biggest challenges for businesses in social is to get around all of the noise and think about the customers.

According to Sherri, “There are tons of ‘gurus’ and a hundred different companies to choose from to work with. But what I think is really important is that the business stays focused on what their strategy and goals are and more importantly, who their customers are and what’s relevant to them. Customer and human insight and the arithmetic really work together. It’s about transferring the goals and the customer needs into social.”

Connecting those business objectives while connecting with people is what Sherri says she loves most about her job. She says it’s energizing to see a team have conversations with customers who are just as excited to talk back.

“We all know there’s a reason we’re all excited about the future of social, and there’s a lot of buzz around it,” Sherri says. But she also acknowledges the need for big brands to see a connection to sales.

“It still has to make sense for the business, and we have to be able to account for the return on social and the value it brings to a company.”

Explaining the value of social is especially critical for bigger companies, but it can be a challenge.

“The value is there, and there’s lots of ways to show it. More importantly though, social media is about having conversations with your customers and listening to the conversations to help your customers. Social is not necessarily a direct revenue channel,” Sherri says.

But it can be difficult inside of a large organization. She says you have to think of the organizational structure, the checks and balances, and the people to work through to earn buy-in. On top of that, there’s a lot more at stake with shareholders, risk mitigation, and liabilities.

Sherri says, “There are also internal collaboration and social networks that have a lot of business value that can’t be overlooked as a part of the strategy.”

But making those connections seems to be paying off.

At Grainger, building relationships through social has helped them see growth.

“We’ve spent the majority of 2013 building the foundation, and we’ve seen some tremendous growth in terms of community size and amplification. We’re really getting the organization excited about social, and we’re starting to get different business units more socially engaged, which has been great,” she says.

One of the most exciting accomplishments for Sherri is seeing customer advocates emerge from the communities they’ve built at Grainger.

“We’ve been working hard on the foundation and keeping our customers top of mind in the process. It’s been great to build customer relationships and see them engage with us and our content in new ways.”

Say hi to Sherri on Twitter, or watch one of her fantastic Member Meeting case study presentations for Grainger and U.S. Cellular.

3 word of mouth tips for local businesses

This is a post from our project. Check it out for more great word of mouth marketing tips like this every day.

Local businesses have a great opportunity to tap into community pride and earn passionate word of mouth from people around town. The businesses that get this right become the icons of a community — the companies people think of when they talk about what makes their town unique. (P.S. This works for local franchises of big brands too.)

How to become a remarkable local business:

1. Be a hometown billboard
2. Don’t forget your best influencers
3. Take part in local pride

1. Be a hometown billboard

In Denton, Texas, Frenchy’s Lawn and Tree Services turns their distinctive orange trucks into community billboards by writing messages on them with giant magnetized letters. They announce stuff like school plays, wedding anniversaries, and well-wishes for students leaving town. People take pictures in front of them and post them to Facebook, blog about them, and look for the new messages on their trucks every day. By shining a spotlight on the community, Frenchy’s gets lots of attention around town.

2. Don’t forget your best influencers

As a local business, you have a great opportunity to get to know your most vocal talkers around town. Some great ones to remember: schools, sports leagues, churches, and charities. Groups of people are more likely to spread word of mouth than an individual. Do something for these groups like hosting one of their events, sponsoring a game, or helping out with their cause. These acts of goodwill can help you make relationships with the people who will talk about your stuff the most.

3. Take part in local pride

Even if your business isn’t from around here, you can still earn word of mouth by celebrating some local pride. Coca-Cola certainly isn’t local to Denmark, but when they heard it was named the “happiest country in the world,” Coke wanted to share that accomplishment with the Danish people. How? By dispensing Danish flags from a billboard at an airport. The simple gesture made Coke a part of a Danish tradition to greet arriving travelers with waving flags. That gave people at the airport something to talk about (and something to smile about).

We’re expanding our events team

My company, GasPedal, and its brands, and, are growing fast. And we’re looking for talented, passionate people to join our team in Austin and Chicago.

We’re hiring a VP of Events and a Senior Meeting Planner.

These folks will join our existing, awesome event team — and they’ll help us continue delivering amazing event experiences for our members. If either of these roles sound like you or someone you know, you know what to do!

About the VP of Events role:

GasPedal’s Vice President of Events is an experienced executive and member of the senior management team. You will build and lead a team of eight people (plus support from vendors and internal departments) producing 20+ annual events under four brands. We have a seven-year track record of producing stellar executive conferences (panels, discussions, keynotes, etc.). We deliver mind-blowing experiences, and we settle for nothing less than “this is the best event I’ve attended all year.” You love project management, creating great systems, and on-brand communications — and you’re obsessed with details, design, elegant execution, replicable processes, and constant improvement.

Apply for VP of Events

About the Senior Meeting Planner role:

GasPedal is looking for a very experienced meeting planner with a strong track record producing business conferences (with panels, discussions, keynotes, etc.) for senior executives. We produce seven fantastic conferences each year, and we’re obsessed with managing the details, creating great systems, hitting every deadline, and making sure nothing ever gets missed. We love to take a recurring event and make it better each time through elegant execution. You should love project management and process improvement. You’ll be supported by teams across the company, so you’ll need outstanding people and leadership skills, too.

Apply for Senior Meeting Planner

Newsletter #1017: The “Lessons from Crocheting” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Krochet Kids intl., started as a group of teenage boys who loved the novelty of crocheting their own hats and scarves to go skiing in. But as the guys grew into adults, their interest in crocheting became a humanitarian one.

Now KK intl. is a non-profit that teaches women in Uganda and Peru to make and sell clothes internationally. It’s an amazing education and mentorship program, and their marketing isn’t bad either.

Here are three lessons from KK intl.:

1. Build in a conversation starter
2. Use price to your advantage
3. Keep the conversation going
4. Check it out: Hipster Business Name Generator

1. Build in a conversation starter

Every product made by Krochet Kids intl. has a tag that’s hand-signed by the person who made it. And unlike most garment tags, they’re large and prominently displayed on the outside of the clothing. It makes each product one-of-a kind, but it’s also like wearing the message of the entire organization on your sleeve.

The lesson: With visual cues like these, your talkers don’t have to bring you up in conversation by themselves — someone will ask them about it.

Learn more: Krochet Kids

2. Use price to your advantage

This year, KK intl. ran a promotion to let customers decide what to pay for their stuff. “Name your price. Define your impact.” was the name of the campaign. It did two things: One, it lowered the barrier of entry for people who couldn’t afford to normally buy their stuff, which got more talkers involved in the cause. Two, it encouraged higher donations from the people who could afford to do more.

The lesson: They turned the traditional sale on its head to make it about more than saving money, but about an opportunity to join a cause.

Learn more: Krochet Kids’ FAQ

3. Keep the conversation going

The company does a lot to help their customers tell their story. For example, they encourage people to post photos to social media using #knowwhomadeit to get it featured on the site. They also create lots of meaningful content for supporters to share like annual reports on how the program has affected women’s lives economically, physically, socially, and intellectually. You can also write a thank-you note to the exact person who made and hand-signed your stuff on KK intl.’s site.

The lesson: Open the conversation between you and your customers. Give them lots of ways to not only give feedback, but to feel a deeper connection to your company.

4. Check it out: Hipster Business Name Generator

Krochet Kids intl. has a good story behind their name. But maybe they could have been a little more cutting edge with “Pencil & Pear” or “Pebble & Salt.” This business name generator helps you find the perfect combination of ambiguous and nostalgic words with the simple, cross-arrowed logo you need.

Check it out: Hipster Business Name Generator

Brandon Rhoten, VP of Digital and Social Media at Wendy’s International

This is a post from my company,’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands.

For this member profile, we chatted with Wendy’s VP of Digital and Social Media, Brandon Rhoten. Brandon’s been a member since April 2012 and presented a fantastic case study at our Member Meeting New York conference in 2013.

What do Steve Martin, Josh Groban, and Neil Patrick Harris have in common?

Their tweets inspire Wendy’s social media strategy according to Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s VP of Digital and Social Media.

Comedians and celebrity personalities are some of the most interesting people to watch in social, says Brandon, because they use it mostly as a creative outlet.

“People who ooze talent are able to use social media as a platform to display it to the world. That’s kind of what I look up to and our brand looks up to. We’re trying to be your friend and someone you want to pay attention to in this very noisy space,” explains Brandon.

Some other interesting folks Wendy’s social team keeps up with on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine: Louis C.K., Chrissy Teigan, Conan O’Brien, Allstate Insurance’s Mayhem, Josh Hara, Bottlerocket, and Lowe’s Home Improvement.

It’s all a part of Wendy’s strategy to be subtle, stay interesting, and most importantly, respect the medium.

Brandon says, “Taking something built for another medium, like an ad or a TV spot, and putting it on a social network is blasphemy. It just doesn’t work. People don’t pay attention to it, and they’re not interested in it. If you turn this thing people use to entertain themselves and have conversations with their friends into a purely promotional vehicle, you’re kind of making a mockery of it.”

In fact, it’s vital to Wendy’s social strategy that they stay true to the conversations that are already happening in social media. That’s why they don’t buy banner ads or plaster your Facebook wall with sponsored posts.

“We don’t want to take over people’s lives in ways that are disruptive and completely annoying. As a brand, we understand that the post you read right before our post was probably your brother talking about his kid. So we don’t want to throw a giant picture of a cheeseburger at you and say, ‘Go buy this thing.'”

But Brandon recognizes this is a unique position for a brand as big as Wendy’s.

He admits that at other companies with as much revenue and structure as Wendy’s, it’s harder to do something new that doesn’t have a proven track record. He says at Wendy’s, the company thinks progressively about digital media. In fact, they let him take the reins when he started as the Director of Digital Marketing in 2011.

“It’s one of the main reasons I took the job — they let me own social. They basically said, ‘It’s yours. You can build a team and find your own agency partners. You’re the ultimate judge of whether this is successful, and you’re also ultimately in charge of and responsible for it,'” Brandon says.

Another reason he loves his job: “There’s nobody who’s really, really good at it yet.”

Brandon explains that lots of brands have inspiring moments, like Oreo’s famous Super Bowl tweet, Coca-Cola’s initial Facebook setup, Chipotle’s customer service on Twitter, and the funny stuff Taco Bell pulls off. But he says it’s harder to find a brand consistently knocking it out of the park.

“I love that the work that brands are doing today is setting the baseline for what good work looks like. TV has been around for decades, most advertising forms have been around for a long time, and there’s a clear baseline for what’s good. In our space, everyone is setting a new bar every year. That idea that I just saw from my agency or one of my guys could be the biggest idea that’s actually ever been done in the social space. And that’s very exciting. You’re not necessarily chasing people’s work from the past, you’re actually establishing the standard.”

One way Wendy’s is branching out is by training their franchisees — the 6,500 small business owners who run, on average, four to five Wendy’s restaurants.

Brandon says that with so many stakeholders interested in social media, it puts an interesting wrinkle in his job.

If we were to ask every local market to develop their own social network, it would quickly become anarchy with copyright controls and legal usage. Plus, having a regular brand voice would be impossible,” Brandon explains.

Instead, they’re working with tools that allow franchisees to access their local markets with geo-targeted, branded content that keeps everything legal without creating conflicting voices. They’re also working hard to educate Wendy’s owners on the benefits of using social media in this controlled way.

“We can’t just tell a small business owner that they should not do something that would benefit their business. We have to make the case that managing social media isn’t their everyday job — they’re business owners, not marketers, PR people, or communications people necessarily,” he says.

In the meantime, Brandon emphasizes that it’s about fitting your brand into the social conversation organically.

He explains, “We’re trying to be — in our own way and in a way that fits our brand — interesting and worth paying attention to. We’re trying to understand the social space as best as we can before we open our mouths.

Catch up with Brandon by following him on Twitter or check out a video of his Member Meeting presentation on using social listening for business decisions here.

Fans can help you build anything

This is a post from our project. Check it out for more great word of mouth marketing tips like this every day. When it comes to this word of mouth stuff, we see a lot of BtoB marketers throw their hands in the air and say these ideas will only work for the BtoC […]

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ThoughtWorks kills sales commissions

This is a post from The Pursuit of Happiness, a blog on happy workplaces and work culture at my company, GasPedal. Check it out for more posts like this every week. In 2012, Chicago-based software company ThoughtWorks ended sales commissions and paid their entire sales team on straight salary. The result? More collaboration, more integration […]

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Newsletter #1016: The “4 Fun Lessons from Photojojo” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] Photojojo, an online photography store, radiates fun. Everything they do, sell, and promote has some element of excitement, quirkiness, and happiness. […]

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Jessica Gioglio on how Dunkin’ Brands puts the spotlight on their fans in social

This is a post from my company,’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands. This story features tips and advice from Dunkin’ Brands Social Media Manager Jessica Gioglio. You can check out her full presentation at’s Member Meeting in Boston here. “I […]

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