This is a guest post from Jay Baer — social media and content strategist and author of “Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype.” You can also catch Jay speaking about “Youtility” at’s upcoming Brands-Only Summit this October. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his Convince & Convert blog.

One of the biggest mistakes brands are making in social is overemphasizing their owned media and underemphasizing their earned media.

Penn & Teller with BaerCompanies are spending time and riches to acquire a larger audience so that they can talk at more people, while simultaneously ignoring the simple truth that those people aren’t just message receptacles, but also megaphones waiting to be activated.

I’ve written in the past about the two types of talk triggers and making your brand worthy of social media. Remember, social media was initially driven by consumers talking about companies, not companies talking to consumers. The famous magician duo Penn & Teller evidently understand this differentiation fully, as my experience at their show in Las Vegas attests.

Penn Cell Fish trickWhen I was in town speaking at the New Media Expo conference about Youtility, I attended Penn & Teller’s show. I had been a big fan for years and invoked Teller in a popular post about time pressures in social media. I was joined at the show by pals Lee Odden, Nick Westergaard, Tamsen Webster, and Tom Webster.

The decentralized magic of cell Fish

Tom Webster nearly got his iPhone included in the opening bit, but had a volume snafu, so Teller moved to a different audience member/victim. Turns out, that opening trick (which they call “Cell Fish”) includes using an audience member’s phone as a video source and prop, and the participant can then look at the video on their phone and see how the trick is done.

Currently on YouTube, there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of videos from audience members who have participated in “Cell Fish.” This creates significant social ripples for Penn & Teller, and gives them a steady stream of new video content (five shows weekly at The Rio).

What will have more long-term impact? Penn uploading a video of “Cell Fish” or a few audience members per week uploading their own videos, forever? Penn has a large social graph, as evidenced by his 1.3 million+ Twitter followers, but by using a steady stream of audience members as the megaphone, the magicians increase the lifespan of the story from a few days to infinity.

Handshake social media

Penn & Teller handshakeBut Penn & Teller’s commitment to turning audience members into social ambassadors is no trick. After every show, the magicians adjourn to the lobby, where they sign autographs and pose for pictures until every single fan is satiated. Wow. Not only is this a great example of humility and Gary Vaynerchuk’s principle of the thank you economy, but in this age of moment sharing, every photo taken and uploaded creates awareness of Penn & Teller as a viable entertainment option in a ferociously competitive Vegas market.

By way of comparison, I also saw the Criss Angel show at The Luxor (I’m in Vegas A LOT for speaking gigs). Not only was the magic better at Penn & Teller (to my amateur’s eye, at least), but Angel’s show expressly forbid photography of any kind. Prohibiting fan participation equals a paucity of social ripples, other than text-only Foursquare check-ins and the like (which I admittedly did — against house rules — while in the restroom).

So Criss Angel gets a Foursquare check-in. Penn & Teller get Cell Fish videos, a photo of me and Teller on Instagram, Path, Facebook, and Twitter, a photo of me and Penn in the same venues, and photos of Tom, Tamsen, Lee, and Nick on their respective platforms of choice. Combined Twitter followers: 133,000+, and that’s just one row of the audience.

It’s about them, not about you

Three reasons your customers and fans are better megaphones than your brand:

  1. Collectively, they have more social connections than your brand possesses.
  2. They are trusted in a way that your brand will never be.
  3. There is a steady supply of new customers every day/week/month.

My challenge to you is to take some time and think about all the touch points where you could be encouraging your customers and fans to be creating content — and social ripples — on your behalf. Is it through signage? Is it via a contest? Or is by just shaking every hand?

About Jay Baer

Jay Baer helps businesspeople fundamentally rethink their approach to marketing, resulting in soaring attention, increased sales, and newfound customer loyalty and advocacy. He is a hype-free social media and content strategist and speaker, and author of "Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype." Jay is the founder of Convince & Convert and host of the Social Pros podcast.

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