As a member of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, I was privileged recently to attend a breakfast meeting at which Sean Ryan (Director of Social and Mobile Marketing for J.C. Penney) was the presenter.  Coincidentally, having written two blog posts about J.C. Penney’s recent struggles with its marketing strategy ( “Next Time, Listen to My Wife” 4/10/13, “Next Time, Listen to My Wife—Part Two” 6/17/13), I had a very special interest in hearing from this particular guest.

Ryan clarified he was not officially speaking for J.C. Penney in his presentation, but rather he was present as a special guest to discuss social media, marketing, and strategy in broader terms.  That said, Ryan shared from the J.C. Penney situation and offered many excellent observations helpful to anyone involved in social media and marketing.  Here are a few of the most significant takeaways:

1—Know When To Begin Again.  Against the advice of many, J.C. Penney chose to shut down its original Facebook page.  Initially, some critics saw that action as pure folly, especially given that page represented a major presence for the company.  Ryan explained the social media dynamics and metrics to demonstrate the wisdom of the approach.  In reality, because so many Facebook users had chosen to hide J.C. Penney news-feed items, the original site had lost much of its power.  By creating a brand new Facebook page, this created the opportunity for all Facebook users to experience the company’s presence afresh and anew.  This of course is exactly what J.C. Penney wanted.  It gave the company the opportunity to rebuild its following and with the strong lead of its apology message for missing exactly what its customers wanted.  Sometimes, the best decision you can make in social media is the decision to begin again.

2—Use Creativity And Clarity.  J.C. Penney created a Twitter hashtag for its new campaign of jcpListens.  Ryan described the thorough creative process his team executed to arrive at this smart result.  JcpListens is very brief yet it conveys much.  It also conveys what a customer wants to hear.  I think sometimes companies exercise unnecessary restraint in the interest of avoiding becoming too sappy.  Although I am not advocating a saccharine sweetness, I do think the importance of authentic communication cannot be overplayed.  J.C. Penney did this.

3—People Still Love Stories.  Ryan provided two J.C. Penney advertisements.  One was a rather boring image of a couch with a pillow.  The other was a colorful picture of a child’s plastic three-wheeler.  Responses, hides, likes, and shares clearly demonstrated the audience could not stand the couch and pillow ad but it loved the storyline attached to the kid’s three-wheeler.  Part of the reason for that was readers connected their own stories to the image.  Anytime you are able to create, resurrect, or allude to a good story, you tend to capture your audience more powerfully.  Every company will do better with more stories.

I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear directly from Ryan.  His presentation reminds us companies are waking up every day and realizing they absolutely must listen to their customers.  Equally important, they are realizing the power of social media to enhance that customer experience.  I think J.C. Penney has listened to Kathy.

About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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