marcoRecorder

Disruptiveness matters

Lately, I have dedicated a lot of my social media (and a lot of my life) to fitness. I still talk about my main field of expertise which is communication and public relations, but my passion for fitness and bodybuilding has somehow affected both my life and profession in ways that I did not expect.

Firstly, why bodybuilding? I suffered a significant amount of injuries, especially while playing rugby. The latest injury caused me triple foot and ankle surgery which ended my possibility to do any competitive contact sports in the future. Bodybuilding was an alternative I discovered while working at the World Expo in Milan last year. After surgery, apart from the physical situation, I was in a bad place emotionally for a number of reasons. I always enjoyed doing some heave weight lifting and hitting the gym regularly, but bodybuilding is a whole new experience, and I was totally hooked since day one.

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What’s the difference between “going to the gym” and bodybuilding? We can talk about this for ages but it all comes down to one very thing: Bodybuilders compete. It’s that simple. Even though you might find very dedicated people who study, grow and develop their ability to grow muscle, it is the pain, the dedication, the concentration and the mental sacrifice required to get ready for the stage that draws the line between bodybuilding and hitting the gym. This path has taught me a few things I try to apply in my working life:

Let results speak for themselves. How many people do you know talking about fitness and well-being that want to sound like experts…while being visibly overweight? “You know, you should follow this diet…” or “My coach (that I got just two weeks ago…) says cardio is better than weight-lifting to lose fat…” and other nonsense. Similarly, I see and hear so many people talking about best communication, management or community building practices while not actually getting results.

If you get great results, whether you are showing your beach body or running a communication campaign, you won’t need to explain what you are doing. Work in the dark and shine when it matters. Since I got into this beautiful world, I have noticed that the guys that kill it on competition day are those who are always silent at the gym. Hoody on, headphones on, meals packed and go lift some heavy weight. Not many shenanigans but a big mix of dedication and perseverance. Apply the same to your work and career. Your results will speak for you and people will come to you asking how you managed to get results.

Grow out of your comfort zone. I have been very fortunate to be prepared for my first contest by an icon of Italian bodybuilding and a two-times Mr. Universe. Apart from killing me, making me puke (from over-exhaustion) and helping me to reach failure at each and every workout together, these sessions have taught me a very simple principle that accompanies the way I now see life: “To be what you have never been, you gotta be ready to do what you have never done.”

How many people do you see at the gym who have been training for three, five or even ten years and display no change in their physique or strength or condition? Similarly, how many professionals do you know who are stuck in the very same job, who still have the very same skills and level of expertise they had years ago? That is because our body and brain become very quickly accustomed to stimuli, and the moment they plateau is the moment they stop growing. Whether you’re building muscle or your career, it is crucial to keep challenging yourself with new stimuli. To keep growing you have got to change your workout routine, your diet, your rest patterns every month. Similarly try to change your working methods and the way you look at things regularly. Especially if you work in communication, you are challenged by an insanely fast-paced environment where it is easy to lag behind on the latest technology. Sure, many times you will fail both physically and mentally but it is this continuous shock that will make you a more mature human being and a more complete professional on the long run.

The winning team is the one doing the basics best. When I was a kid growing up in a small village in the North of Italy, most of my time I would spend it playing football. At a certain point our team was pretty good. I remember we went on a 30 games winning streak and some of our players got called into pro teams. A local newspaper came to interview our coach who was asked, “How do you get 11 kids to keep winning?” – his response: “We do the basics, every training session, until it is impossible to get a single pass wrong.” I remember that for one year we were given a task: at every session we would count the amount of keepie-uppies we managed to do without the ball touching the ground. At every following session we were not allowed to start practice until we beat our previous personal record.

When you make a decision to improve your body it is useless to think about supplements before learning how to have perfect nutrition and training technique. Still, most beginners are more interested in how to consume creatine and BCAA before learning how to eat 6/8 times a day to increase muscle mass. The very same way, you can’t build a great communications project by skipping the basics of continuous proper copyright, user experience and SEO to go straight into Facebook ads or Google AdWords…unless you have infinite budget.

This is how this sport has helped me look at life differently and definitely more analytically. Has anything happened to you that made you change the way you see your life and profession? Share it with me!

I already written and tweeted about Brussels’ disgraceful customer service culture (in basically all realms) and I thought I had covered it all. But you know, sometimes you think you hit rock  bottom but actually someone manages to dig through the bottom and find another layer of low. This time though, it was an international brand that inexorably faces the distaste of the Belgian capital in providing decent customer service.

A few weeks ago, I desperately needed to get a suit for a wedding and went to the SuitSupply shop nearby my office. I entered, approached a clerk and said “Hi, I would like to buy a suit.” I didn’t say “I’m browsing” or “Mmmhhh, just checking.” I said I wanted a suit. The purchase was just a matter of minutes away. Usually, I’m more careful in displaying interest straightaway, but this time I didn’t have the time for it.

To my surprise, the clerk simply told me “Yeah, check over there” indicating, with utter boredom, the suits department…(right, I’m at SuitSupply…I guess there are suits :/) but I expected something more that a simple indication like “yes, we got suits here.”

Anyway, I look at the suits, pick a few models that could go and approach the man once again: “I’m off to a wedding in Italy. It’s gonna be very warm. Do you think this fabric would suit the hot weather?” – His reply: “Of course. (Full stop).” Looking bored and somehow unmotivated. I asked about some other items and kept getting the same attitude. I was the only customer at that time in the shop.

I decided, I was not going to buy a 600/700€ piece of clothing with such customer service and left. As an active Twitterer, I shared my experience. See below

With both pleasure and surprise, @suitsupply got back to me to know what happened. I was happy to explain. I appreciate when companies try to improve and listen to customers’ feedback. They apologised and asked me if I wanted to be contacted again by the shop manager in order to get a second opinion. I was happy to accept…and here is where the customer service / communication disaster happened.

I received this e-mail (I deleted the author’s name).

Let’s look at it:

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  • Debatable use of English.
  • Some text in black some in blue.
  • No apologies offered.
  • “…that is not the experience YOU SHOULD HAVE after a visit…”

OK, not everybody (me included) is a native English speaker, but if you manage a huge store of an international chain in a European capital, you should be aware of basic manners, especially with an unhappy client. Anyway, I gave him my number.

They call me a few days later but I was abroad for work and missed the call. They sent me this

“Dear Sir,
I tried to call you several times without being able to reach you.
Met vriendelijke groet, Kind regards,”

Let’s look at it again:
  • No greetings
  • They do not offer an alternative.
  • They just said they called and I didn’t reply

I explained I was abroad and they could contact me anytime as of now. It’s been two months and they never got back.

Unsurprisingly, they have 2.5 stars on Yelp.

Here we see how the social media manager of the brand made an effort to make up for bad service while the shop manager repeatedly displayed bad manners. Have you had a similar experience in Brussels or elsewhere?

My dad is one of the most IT illiterate people I know. Probably he is the worst just after my mom, who (I swear) still owns a Nokia 1112 and hasn’t learned yet how to read texts. He has always been a true man of action, spending his whole life working in the constructions business all over the world and working hard every day. He is one of those guys that wakes up at 5AM to work….on a Sunday.

A few months ago, he got interested in using LinkedIn and in how to keep in touch with his former colleagues and current working partners. At the age of 69, I found this very admirable so I gave him a crash course on the social network. The usual stuff: how to connect, how to comment, what kind of content should be shared, which kind of language should be used and so and so forth.

With my pleasure and utter surprise, a few weeks later I noticed how he was probably the most engaged user in my over 4000-connections network, and he certainly was the most passionate user. Contrarily to most people on LinkedIn, he gives honest, spontaneous and personal comments about his field of work. He doesn’t try to (over)sell himself his brand, his expertise. He just says what he thinks. This made me think that this is how all of us used to be on social media before we started being more concerned with personal branding. We would just say things and explore opinions, trends and reactions. Now we continuously sell ourselves, our image and our brand. We kind of become our own brand.

In my work I often bump into people saying “It’s too late to change” or “I’m not cut out for communication and social media.” My dad gives the example that all it takes is the will and desire to learn anything. Everything can be taught and everything can learned at all ages. Go on dad! You’re the man!

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I spent an awesome day at FIBO 2016 in Köln, the biggest fitness fair in the world.  FIBO is an incredible opportunity to get the latest info, news, products, marketing tips in the fitness industry. This fair is huuuuuuuuge. One day is just enough to get a little gist of the massive effort the organizers have put into this beautiful event.

Here are a few things I bring back from this amazing day that I got to spend with some new fantastic friends:

  • Style matters. We got to see 4 or 5 pavilions during the day. You know, in fitness, bodybuilding or lifting, there hasn’t been huge innovation in terms of training machines. If you watch some of Arnold’s videos from the 70s you’ll see that the machines in those videos are quite the same as you see in a regular gym now. But now people want style. We entered the machines and weights pavilion (can’t remember the official name) and I noticed how most people gathered around an Italian brand with super cool and flashy weights, bars, dumbells etc…I hardly believe lifting green, cherry or flashy pink disques instead of the regular black ones will affect your gains. Nevertheless, I admit that entering a colourful gym gives you a different taste, a different feeling. It might have something to do with cromotherapy but now, gyms and providers have to face this challenge. People want to be surrounded by beauty and style. Especially in that place where we look for peace, tranquillity and the possibility to toss a tough day at the office behind.
  • There’s always a new kid on the block…Goodness me. In 12 years of lifting I maybe used 3-4 supplement brands believing that kind of covered the whole market. Well, I was sooooo wrong. There’s a thousand brands out there, all endorsed by famous athletes and fitness figures. Even major brands can’t rest on their lorrels both in terms of product quality and marketing. I think it is positive to experiment with different brands and competition among brands is beneficial for the final user. To fitness enthusiasts my advice is to keep studying. Look at the different composition of each supplement brand and see the effect on you.
  • Fitness communication is mostly about lifestyle. As I discussed in previous posts, fitness is very much a matter of lifestyle rather than sports and health. This has always been the case inside bodybuilding for instance, but it is now that the spotlight is more about the way you conduct your life. Phil Heath said more than once “you can’t be a rockstar and a bodybuilder.”Fitness businesses are booming and standing out among competitors is tough. “Consumers” are now aligning themselves with sports and health brands that they feel share a like-minded perspective. See for instance the great work of Gymshark towards this strategy.

Next year I will definitely be back and hopefully I’ll manage to go to more fitness fairs. Stay tuned on my social media for updates.

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I can’t remember the last time I have been so grateful to both life and karma at the same time. On the day of the Brussels attacks I was on my way to the airport to set off to Dubai.My flight was in the early afternoon and I was just packing up when I start getting drowned in whatsapp messages… I didn’t get it at first but when I turned on the telly I somehow realized what was going on. Obviously, plans changed and the state of shock I was in completely froze me.

As harsh as this sounds, I had to decide. Should I stay in a locked down city for a week or should I find a way to leave anyway? I managed to get my flight changed and had it leave from Amsterdam instead of Brussels. Now, getting to Schiphol airport was the problem. Nothing was moving. No trains, no buses, no taxis, no Uber, all rented cars were gone. I started to accept that I will have stayed in Brussels and that’s it.

Then, the most amazing things started to happen. I walk home and bump into my neighbour Andrea who works in the B&B just in front of my house. He was smoking a cigarette and I tell him my story.  I explained to him I was supposed to leave on that day but all national transports were shut-down. No trains, buses, taxis, everything. With no hesitation and without me even asking he said “I’ll drive you to Amsterdam.” I was in complete disbelief. I don’t know Andrea that well. I had just moved in the area a few months ago and we only crossed paths a few times on my way home during his cigarette breaks. I couldn’t believe such human and unconditional kindness still existed. He drove me three hours to Schiphol airport and when I offered to pay for gas he said “I don’t want anything in return. Just promise me that if someone will need your help someday you will do the same.” The respect I have for this man cannot be described with words.

I arrived to Dubai with an overnight flight and the second most incredible thing happened. I was a guest at a friend of a friend’s house, literally. I had never met Niya and Jeppe, the couple that hosted me during my stay.  They were the most genuine and wonderful people I have ever met. They showed the most amazing time in this wonderful place just out of their good heart without even knowing me. I will never forget this.

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Sometimes karma manifests itself in mysterious ways. I try to be a good human no matter what life throws at me. Being grateful is the first step towards inner peace. I think here, this step was more like a giant leap.


Twitter is in stalemate. Not only financially, not only structurally, not only in terms of growth. Most crucially, Twitter is facing an identity crisis, meaning that CEO Jack Dorsey and its entourage don’t know who they are anymore, and so don’t the 320 million current Twitter active users. Users are bound to the Twitter ship which has already hit a huge iceberg but could manage to save (al least) some of its fleet.

Communication Expert Jon Worth sums up the Twitter wreck situation nicely in his piece “Twitter and publicness“, drawing upon another article by Danny YadronWhy do normal people struggle with Twitter.” In particular, John points at Twitter’s main specificity: there is no difference from saying something and tweeting it. What you say it’s out there. Just the recipient changes.

It’s like when you tell somebody a secret about your crush or that embarrassing moment at your best friend’s stag party. You shared a secret and you think it won’t spread. And you know what? Most of the time it does. And the same is on Twitter. Even if you have a few followers and never think what you say will fly and be seen by loads of people. The infamous story of Justine Sacco can teach you otherwise.

John says “I’ve been aware for a long time that something that is normal for me – standing up and speaking in public to a crowd of 15, 150 or even 1500 people – is not at all normal for the vast majority of the population.” This is as simple as it gets. Not everybody is naturally prone nor interested in public speaking (because that’s what Twitter is). I now find zillions of social media experts that on a daily basis advocate that Twitter needs to go mainstream to survive…but does it actually?

Survival doesn’t depend exclusively on users’ pool and growth and frankly a “more mainstream Twitter” will simply not be Twitter anymore. In a previous article, I asked whether Instagram should (or not) maintain their original engagement model, that still keeps it unique (the upload being only available via mobile and the actual absence of proper third party apps). Following on to that, I am asking you “Should Twitter maintain its original model?”

Twitter has three main problems:

  • Lack of identity: Dorsey and co. need to figure out what they want Twitter to be, in order to also stop this media avalanche that doesn’t seem to get a brake.
  • Content saturation: There is simply too much stuff published. People start thinking there is no added value in posting since they have to struggle for a slice of attention of a cake that got way to big, too soon and with too many ingredients. This is atcually where the real Community Manager steps in and builds networks that go over mere the publication of content and move towards actual community building (which can no longer exclusively rely on online relations but needs to create a bridge between digital and traditional networking)
  • It needs an anti-spam policy: Contrarily to Instagram, there are thousands of Twitter management apps out there. Some are helpful in facilitating community management while others just facilitate spamming. They need a clean up.

If Twitter managed to create a clear cut dichotomy between content creation and content consumption they would certainly be more appealing to wider audience. This can only happen if they adjust the three points I mentioned above.

What is your take? Where should Twitter go? Should they resist, adapt or should Dorsey buy himself out and start something new. Two years ago twitter value was estimated at $45 billion. Now it’s about $10 billion. Maybe Dorsey lost his train ticket on the sales central station.

When I quit rugby and basically any kind of competitive sports where I need to run, jump or have some kind of physical contact, I fell lost. Competitive sports were kind of all I had done for the previous 20 years. Every weekend, whether it was football, athletics or rugby, I have taken part in a competition. I would wake up every Sunday with a purpose and the necessary concetration to make the best out of my body and mind. All of a sudden this was gone due to a severe injury and consequent triple ankle and foot surgery. It was then that I started getting into fitness. For two main reasons: Firstly, I have always enjoyed lifting weights. I used to be a chunky 106kg guy doing heavy squats, bench presses and deadlifts and I have always loved the post workout feeling and the effect that good traditional weight training has on your sports performances. Secondly, in this “philosophy” (yes, it’s a philosophy and a lifestyle) you are in constant competition with yourself. That was what I needed after surgery and what I need now. But I’ll blog more about this story later on…

I have been getting very interested in the fitness industry lately. Especially, in the way social media helps fitness instructors, businesses and new brands getting into the scene and promoting healthy and aesthetics lifestyles.

This is nothing new. It is a common analysis to say that when Arnold passed from the bodybuilding stage to Hollywood, he basically brought fitness to the whole world (a world that saw a dramatic increase in fitness-related businesses in the 80s). In this article I want to focus on how now fitness figures approach social media and interact directly with their followers and how they have, by doing so, created a new image of what a fitness instructor, or simply somehow who’s into fitness and aesthetics should be and do.

This is why I choose Lex Griffin as an example.I have been following Lex for years now and I’m very happy things are turning out great for him. As a communication expert, here are the reasons why Lex has been somehow revolutionary in his business:

He shows he’s got a life (with its ups and downs): A way too common mistake that fitness instructors, dieticians and pro bodybuilders make is that they forget that most people have a life. MOST people have jobs, family, bills to pay, they come back home tired or frustrated, they don’t all have a supplement shop behind their office nor a kitchen at their disposal 24/7. Still, until maybe just a few years ago, the communication of fitness experts was kind of targeted to an ideal world where everybody simply has the time to workout and diet every day or have ten fish and chicken-based meals per day. Lex changed this. His motto is “shredded with a life.” I remember watching some of his early videos when he was working as a baker and he was showing how to organize you’re life in a feasible manner while doing your everyday job. After watching that video I remember thinking “Ok, this lad, has an actual life and he knows what that means.

He understands people. Not everybody needs to be a bodybuilder or a fitness model. People can choose their level of commitment to a passion. Contrary to most people in the business, Lex understands that not everybody is either cut out nor has the actual ambition of becoming a fitness pro. However, embracing a healthy and aestethic lifestyle is beneficial to your body, your mind and your confidence. Hence, regardless the level of commitment, a bit of healthy life is better than no healthy habits at all. For example, his holidays posts do not say “don’t eat cake on Christmas” or ” make sure you keep training 4-5 times a week while you’re on holiday.” Instead, he understands that our mind and body needs some reward while doing a little effort to keep a bit lean during the holiday period. “Have cake or ice cream but not both” is feasible. Restrict yourself to the joys of life is not… and Lex knows that

He doesn’t show off: So many bodybuilders and fitness figures focus on themselves. How great they are and how they think they are the best. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It is an acceptable marketing and communication strategy to gather support and fans. However, when you want to inspire people, you need to understand who you are talking to. Too much showing off will discourage people, simply because most people are average. Most people do not have Arnold’s genetics and were not brought up in a family that cherish bodybuilding like Rich Piana. Most people discover fitness at a late stage of their lives and many times it is to recover from a situation they are unhappy with, such as bad shape, lack of confidence or injuries. Focussing on inspiring people to do great things is better than challenging people to become who we are just because we think we are better people.

He listens and responds, and he finds pleasure in it. Lex’s success couldn’t be the same without his continuous and public engagement on social media. Open, accessible, transparent. The three keys to great digital personal branding.

CaptureHe “loves haters”: In the fitness industry, haters are an everyday business. As soon as you get success, you get haters. People jealous of your achievements will focus on any small possible tiny detail they could use to undermine you or discourage you from going your own way and do what you love. The best strategy to deal with haters? Love them. Let them come to you and respond appropriately by showing results, dedication, and most importantly, composure. Lex is constantly under attack and still manages to keep it cool but always respond. This takes guts and a much bigger mental effort that bodybuilding already requires.

Who are your favourite fitness figures? Share it with me in the comments below