In 2006, I did something that was by all objective measures of questionable judgment: I quit a great magazine career to start a web magazine.
I called it SMITH in honor of my grandfather Morris Smith — a small-town pharmacist and great storyteller — and invited anyone with a web browser and something to say to share their true, personal stories. I had no money, no entrepreneurial skills — and would surely have no business still around six years later. But I do. And if there’s a single reason why I was able to turn a passion project into a profession now enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people across the world, it’s because of word of mouth marketing.
Back in 2006, I didn’t know what was causing folks to flock to SMITH was marketing, word of mouth or otherwise.
I just thought it was people telling other people about something they loved. And it didn’t matter that I had no choice: fans of SMITH telling their friends cost nothing. That approach, whether by chance or by design, doesn’t turn you into the next YouTube overnight, but it can lead to the kind of organic growth ideal for a one-man operation helmed by someone figuring it out on the fly.
And the best and biggest mouth belonged to my Jewish mother.
I have a theory that the only entity that moves information faster than the Internet is a proud Jewish mom.
My mom is not very tech savvy. She doesn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account. But she does have a purse. And in that purse, at all times, are postcards about my books that she hands out to everyone from her hair dresser to the artists she meets at craft fairs.
She doesn’t have an iPhone, but she does have an old-school address book filled with names and numbers of decades-old friendships from her camp, college, and her book club — and she’s forged the kind of bonds that makes her enthusiasm endearing and her word trusted (even when she’s bragging about her son).
Let’s put it this way: When one of SMITH’s projects called Six-Word Memoirs was turned into a book, my mom’s high school pal wrote a column about it in her local paper in Cape Cod before my book publisher managed to send out its press release.
On the other hand, the community on SMITHmag.net, SMITHteens.com and our social media extensions do have all the tech-savvy tools that most of us obsess over every day.
So, I’ve also made it easy for this group to spread the word in the way that they’re most comfortable — and, importantly, fills them with pride.
Our “six-word badges” that contributors can post on their blogs, pages, sites, feeds, and Pinterest pages say “proud and published memoirist.” With these words, we bring the story of SMITH back to the people who make SMITH what it is — and not simply an entity to be promoted.
Similarly, our T-shirts don’t feature a huge logo or URL, but rather someone’s own Six-Word Memoir. When SMITH community member Marybeth Williams wears her “Catholic girls. Jersey. It’s all true.” tee at the supermarket, you can bet people will ask her about it in the checkout line. She’s a version of a Jewish mother, too.
We all have friends, family, peers, co-workers who comprise living, breathing, evangelizing networks who want us to succeed.
And yet sometimes even the most driven entrepreneurs are often shy or aren’t sure how to energize their fan bases. We can’t make that mistake. We must be loud and proud of what we do and supply the people in our lives with the tools to be loud and proud, too.
Malcolm Gladwell calls these people “connectors.” I call them Jewish mothers.