It’s the cool kid at school, the ‘woke’ liberal arts professor: How really knowing social media will make it work for you.

Matthew Stover and I first met in 2018 on Zoom. From my Tokyo home, I worked with him, located in Florida, via the usual remote collaboration tools to whip up a communications plan for Amazon’s new campus, which was big in the news at the time. The chance to learn with other PR professionals across the ocean was one of my favorite things about learning online in the Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program at Georgetown University.

Matthew started Stover Creative Agency immediately after our May 2019 graduation, where we met in person for the first time. His agency currently provides strategic social media and public relations content for clients throughout the US and Europe. In the meantime, the United States has gone through a whirlwind of change in the social media industry.

So naturally, I had to pick his brain for his best tips and the latest trends in social media.

Tell us about what kind of projects you are working on and how your career has developed up to now.

Stover Creative Agency primarily works with nonprofits, institutions, and universities to amplify their work in a digital space.  We’ve been fortunate to do social media work with London Business School by communicating the launch of their programs centered around Women leadership and LGBTQ+ leadership.  My team is also doing PR and social media work for the exciting launch of a revolutionary drone startup that aims to keep first responders safe.    Outside of smaller clients, we are also doing PR for Imagine Symphony Live, a project that hopes to build the next generation of orchestral music lovers. 

Even though my public relations career started in Miami over 15 years ago, I quickly felt a deeper connection to social media while studying at Georgetown.  I feel that social media is still the best avenue to have great engaging relationships with your target audiences. 

The ‘Creative’ part of my company refers to the ability to create content primarily in a digital space. As you know, I’m a passionate photographer so starting this company was a way for me to capitalize on those skills and leverage my public relations experience in one entity. 

As a social media strategist, how have you seen communication strategy changing as the pandemic develops?

I’ve seen a significant uptick in business.  More people are indoors and spending time on their phones and computers.  They’re spending more time on social media and therefore, want to make sure they are communicating to their audience.  Clients want more content so we’ve had to be creative in what we post.

What are your areas of strength in social media planning? Tell us about some of your particularly successful campaigns or projects. 

My social media planning relies heavily on my public relations background. At the end of the day, I ask myself the following questions: 

  • What is the client trying to communicate?
  • Who are their key publics?
  • What platforms are they on?
  • What does the key public need to hear to ENGAGE with my client?

Once these questions are answered, I have a much better understanding of a way forward.  Unless the client wants something quick and easy, I usually have time to do research on the client, their industry, their competitors, past promotions.  The research leads me to establish a social media goal, objectives, and strategies to make the most impact on the client’s needs. 

With London Business School, they really wanted to get participants into their Women In Leadership program.  We decided the best way to do that would be to communicate on behalf of some of the professors rather than communicate heavily from the institution itself.  I learned at Georgetown that current research indicates key publics react favorably to experts rather than the leaders to the organizations.  As a result of this strategy, the program had 39 participants when they expected just 20. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the holy trinity of social media. If you had to advise a client on how to best use each social media in less than 6 words, what would you tell them?

I like to personify those platforms: 

  • Twitter – A ‘woke’ liberal arts professor
  • Facebook – The fun aunt of the family
  • Instagram – The cool kid at school

What are some social media accounts you think are killing it?

I’m absolutely fascinated with the Twitter accounts of Wendy’s, Chick Fil-A and Popeye’s.  These are major brands but they tweet like they’re your rowdy neighbor from down the street. 

As a result, their engagement is sky high.

This tells you a few things:
1.  They have an incredible understanding of their key publics.
2.  They’re using social media for its ideal purpose: spur conversation and engagement.

All too often, I see so many organizations stifle their voice on social media because they feel they communicate with the same tone as a fundraising letter to a million-dollar donor. If they are a professor, they tweet like they’re writing the abstract for peer-reviewed research.

It’s ok to be slightly informal.  Social media responds to authenticity.  

Describe some problems you encounter often with your clients. How are they failing to achieve best engagement?

When I work with professors, they’re absolutely terrified of saying the wrong thing.  Sometimes, it really gets in the way of being authentic.  They are extremely risk-averse in what they say on social media.

Another common problem is the strategy of creating content.  Organizations think they have to create content every day rather than creating a week or a month’s worth of content all at once and using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite to automatically post that content. 

What do you see happening in the next year in social media or content marketing strategy? How can we be best prepared to leverage it?

I still see a path forward for influencers: especially micro- and nano influencers. I feel it’s an underutilized strategy for startups, nonprofits, and small businesses. 

Similar to establishing a relationship with journalists, it helps to establish a relationship with influencers. 

Any words of encouragement for budding communications professionals? What should they do to set themselves up for success?

That’s a difficult one.

I’ve noticed the biggest barrier to my success has been me.  I often get in my own way by: 

  • Doubting myself 
  • Overthinking problems and solutions 
  • Getting distracted 
  • Obsessing over the wrong things

Having self-awareness of your thought processes can really put you on a different footing. 

Matthew Stover

Matthew Stover is a public relations and social media professional based in the sunny beach town of Ft. Pierce, Florida. He started Stover Creative Agency in 2019 to help amplify the work of nonprofit organizations, institutions, universities, and thought leaders. Matthew is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program.

How cancel culture is a little like 村八分, and social media is the new “village”

The phrase “cancel culture” has been popping up more and more lately. While the phrase has been around for years, most prominently on US Twitter, mainstream media and public figures have caught on too.

Google Trends results for “cancel culture”

Cancel culture, for those who aren’t avid Twitter users, is when many thousands of users call for boycott (ending) of someone who has made an untoward comment at some point in the past, typically about a minority demographic.

村八分 (mura hachibu), for those who aren’t Japanese speakers, means the shunning of someone from social life. It is said to have originated in the Edo Era and refer to a villager being excluded from 80% (hachibu) of village (mura) life due to a transgression against social rules including failing to contribute to communal work, etc. The 80% refers to the parts of village life the transgressor is excluded from: births, wedding, construction, etc.. The remaining 20% contains the communal issues they are included in to protect the village as a whole: fighting fires and managing funerals.

People are in danger of being mura hachibu-ed in modern Japanese society too, and the word is well-used, though now it refers to exclusion from polite society more than social services.

Social media has created modern villages full of mobilized villagers. Our posts may be subject to judgement of many millions of these villagers, who tend towards mobbing. It’s no coincidence the New York Times made a cancel culture spoof video set in medieval Europe:

But there is a major distinction between cancel culture and mura hachibu. The former’s effect is almost completely contained on social media. Damning, yes, if your livelihood is built mainly there, but decidedly less devastating if you’ve built your fame anywhere else.

Meanwhile, the mura hachibu affects the shunned in a very real way — it cuts them off from the very social fabric of their community. In the U.S., it is very rare to find an issue that all agree on, so being shunned on social media by even a large group of users doesn’t translate into real-world shunning — There is always another group there ready to accept the shunned. (That said, cyber bullying is a real and serious problem in Japanese society contributing to mental health problems and even suicide)

The Central Park Karen case is a recent example of someone shunned in real life — this “Karen” was fired. She took real-world action and called the real-world police on a Black man, just at a time when the American public and local government were keenly aware of the dangers of police brutality against unarmed Black men. Her carefully written apology fell on deaf ears.

sticky note with apology
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

So is the apology, a point of great difference between the U.S. and Japan, a waste of breath? In the U.S., it appears it might be.

A 2015 study found that subjects felt apologies made them feel “unaffected” or made them “more likely to desire that the individual be punished.” A smaller study found that no matter what the apology was for, the very act of apologizing appeared to lower support for the politician in question. (And maybe to no surprise, as an “apology” originally meant a defense of oneself or justification.)

Let’s look at modern Japan’s treatment of the famous who have broken social rules.

In recent years, many a politician has scandalized the Japanese public with embezzling, corruption, gambling, etc. while countless celebrities have filed for flashy divorces, been busted with drugs, or been caught cheating on their picture-perfect wives.

In any of these cases, a perfunctory 謝罪会見 (shazai kaiken; apology press conference) is held, where the guilty party, invariably dressed in a black suit and with solemn make up and hair, expresses their regret for having inconvenienced everyone with their scandal with a deep, X-second-long bow. (It’s such classic material that several online media publish best/worst apology rankings annually.)

But unlike mura hachibu, despite the searing headlines and intense media focus, many of these transgressors eventually wiggle their way back into the political or entertainment worlds. (Interestingly enough, some celebrities make their comebacks in nontraditional media channels, such as online video)

Japanese idol, Junosuke Taguchi does a dogeza after release from a detention center where he was held on charges of possession of marijuana, a serious offense in Japan. (Sankei Digital)

In fact, public apologies and even 土下座 (dogeza), one of the highest forms of apology in modern Japan, seem to have appeared on the scene after World War 1. This is also the time of mass media’s advent. The Japanese public has grown cynical, and dogeza are now the target of derision or suspected of being a “performance.” Yet, apologies are still requisite in the public realm. A successful return to former glory is subject to some complicated calculus based on original popularity, sincerity of apology, public sentiment at the time, and the severity of the violation.

While it seems clear what the “rules” are in the case of Japan’s shunning, and public figures tend to stay away from the touchy subjects.

In the U.S. having no opinion on a subject lead to attack as quickly as having the wrong one. Even a thoughtfully presented argument on one topic can be reduced down to its insinuations, alleged intolerance and XXXphobia, all while ignoring the veracity of the parts.

In the U.S., stronger demands for political correctness and sensitivity towards a wide diversity of groups turn the public sphere into a minefield of sorts. One statement can trigger an explosion, and no amount of explaining and dialogue seems to help. Even brands need beware: “the majority of consumers (76%) have taken an action in response to a brand doing something they disagreed with, including no longer buying from the brand, switching to a competitor, or discouraging others from buying from or supporting that brand,” explains Alison DaSilva, Managing Director, Purpose and Impact, Zeno Group.

Some say it has gone too far. A group of intellectuals in Harper’s Bazaar call the current situation an “Intolerant Climate.” The nature of the debate, particularly on Twitter where posts are limited to 180 letters, are tending towards the ad hominem and do not contribute to a constructive debate, they claim.

So how do we balance tolerance with free speech?

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

Bashing itself may be a gut reaction born from the fear that an unpleasant statement could spread and influence if not nipped at the bud. Our answer to that may lie in trust.

At the end of the day, we must trust that

1) there is such a thing as truth,

2) our fellow citizens have the ability to understand truth while also having an individual opinion

3) constructive debate can be had if all parties make a concerted effort

4) even if we don’t all agree, we can create a shared society where none of us are murahachibu-ed.

The world is no longer filled with isolated villages bound with oppressive practices, is it really in our best interest to recreate them? A well-reasoned, well-researched, polite counterargument is perhaps one of the best ways we can contribute to our own societies.