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Social Media Lessons from the Boxing Ring

In his recent social media bestseller, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” Gary Vaynerchuk tells marketers and businesses what boxing can teach them about marketing. The rules of boxing haven't changed over years, and the same holds true for marketing.

You should get the book, it’s great, but let me explain how Gary illustrates social media marketing.

A boxer spends a lot of time analyzing his own strengths and weakness, as well as those of his opponent. When two boxers step into the ring, they already know each other well from countless hours of analysis and strategic planning. This step is crucial to win both in the ring and social media. Effective boxers use a combination of jabs and right hooks to win the fight.

A knock-out in boxing needs to be carefully set up by a series of jabs. It’s no different than when you tell a good story; punch line has no power without the foundation that comes before it. There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup. The right hook gets all the credit, but it’s a series of well-planned jabs that come before it that set you up for success.

Right Hooks. Right hooks are the knockout punches. For marketers, those are the next highly anticipated campaigns that are going to increase revenue and make users engage in a cult-like following. A CMO’s dream. Right hooks are calls to action that benefit your business. They are meant to convert traffic into sales and ROI. Except when they don’t….

Jabs. Jabs are a series of conversations, interactions and engagements, delivered one at a time, that slowly but authentically build relationships. Jabs are the lightweight pieces of content that benefit your customers by making them laugh, snicker, ponder, play a game, feel appreciated, or escape.

Jab, jab, jab, right hook = give, give, give, ask

Boxing080905 photoshop.jpg "Boxing080905 photoshop" by Wayne Short - Edited version of File:Boxing080905.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

What 8 years of agency experiences taught me about social media marketing

Fortune 500 clients change their agencies frequently. Everyone is in constant pitch mode, planning the next right hook and trying to sell it to the c-suite. It’s a dog and pony show, cluttered with credentials, client logos, and case studies with no meaningful metrics.

Creative agencies compete on whose right-hook idea is the boldest. It’s all about swinging hard knock-out punches that will take the brand ‘to the next level.’ That’s your average social media strategy.


No one really talks about the jabs or what it takes to learn a platform. Or how to assemble a team that can respond in real-time to social media opportunities, such as Oreo’s black-out campaign during Super Bowl XLVII. Here is the usual…

“Just throw all those ideas under the community management slide.” What?

“There is a section about the social media dashboard in the back of the deck, you can put your ROI slide there.” Thanks!

Big brands still get away with ignoring jabs because they can put large paid media budgets behind their right-hook campaigns. Facebook ads will bring needed traffic just fine.

"Look at all the Likes we got last time!" No Comment.

Most common end result: The campaigns reached the eyeballs.

People saw them but they didn’t care. The chain reaction follows. Another RFP out. New strategy, bigger idea, more ad dollars. Another pitch, another agency, same outcome.

Know Your Platform, Act Like a User

Jumping on Reddit with your big marketing idea that worked great on Facebook may be disastrous. Why shouldn’t you throw all your TV ads on YouTube? In theory, it sounds like a great idea to promote your services by answering questions on Quora.

You can’t just throw your sales pitch and marketing  material created for one platform, throw it up on another one, and then be surprised that people don’t engage or are turned off by your efforts.

You have to take the time to understand each platform and take a long view approach to developing a community. If you want to become influential on the platform, you need to act like the user. However, no matter how ‘native’ to the platform you are, your content has to be amazing. Effective social media marketing is about engaging your audience in compelling stories. That’s a constant.

Gary’s little dirty social media secret:

“Though I get to things early and can often see the future, I am not Nostradamus. I’m not even Yoda.* I’m just the kind of person who shows new platforms the respect they deserve. I won’t predict what platform will see 20 million users in a year, but once it feels to me like it will, I will put my money and time there, testing new waters, trying new formulas, until I figure out how to best tell my story in a way the audience wants to hear it.”

*It should read, ‘Yoda I am not even,’ should I point out.

Social Media Marketing Done Right

Your number one job is to tell a story. No matter who you are or what you do, your number one job is to tell your story to the consumer wherever they are, and preferably at the moment when they are making decisions. Adding a social media layer to any platform, especially SEO, increases its effectiveness. Social media is overtaking the search engines the same way TV overtook radio and the Internet overtook the newspaper. From now on, everything you do should have a social component.

There is no 60-day, there is only the 365-day marketing campaign, in which you produce content daily. Period. Do not cling to nostalgia. Ignoring social media platforms that have gained critical mass is a sure way for a brand to look slow and out-of-touch.

Think conversation, not campaign. If you really want to start understanding your audience, you need to know what drives them and what their buying behaviors are. You can’t do this by sharing kitten memes or quotes, and you certainly can’t do this by only allowing for one-way conversation

Like boxers, great storytellers are observant and nimble. A great storyteller is keenly self-aware and attuned to his audience, he knows when to slow down for maximum suspense and when to speed up for comic effect. No boxer uses the same sequence of moves over and over again.

A story is at its best when it’s non-intrusive. On social media, the only story that can achieve business goals is one told with native content. If you want to talk to people when they consume entertainment, you need to be entertainment. It doesn’t require you to alter your brand identity — you shouldn’t.

Content for the sake of content is pointless. Businesses are on social media because they want to be relevant and engaged, but if their content is banal and unimaginative, it only makes them look lame.

Content is king, but context is God. Even great content that goes onto your social channels can fall flat if you ignore the context of the platform on which it appears. In summary, getting people to hear your story on social media and act on it requires: — using a platform’s native language; — paying attention to context; — understanding the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique; — and adapting your content to match.

Marketers who understand social platforms at that fluid level will succeed. Get out there. Be human. Take the time to understand each platform and act like a user. Talk to people in ways that are native to the platform and you will win.

The ideas included in this post are discussed in more detail in my book, SEO Like I'm 5: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization.

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