For part three in our series of “451 Heat 1-on1’s,” we spoke at length with social media consultant, trainer and speaker, Mack Collier (@mackcollier). Mack, based in Alabama and a frequent contributor to the Marketing Profs website and the owner and author of The Viral Garden, has been immersed in social media since it’s infancy and now helps his clients understand how best to use these tools to create and nurture lasting relationships with their customers.
To read about Mack’s insights into how to launch, manage and grow an effective B2B or B2C blog, how to target and connect with the “right” audience online, and how to measure the reach and value of those connections, scroll on below.
451: Your token motto is “Don’t focus on the tools, focus on the connections that the tools help facilitate.” How would you explain this motto to someone who is new to social media marketing?
MC: It’s kinda like the difference between using a hammer and a drill. Both are very useful, but for different reasons. So in the end, the tool itself isn’t what counts, it’s what the tool allows you to do that’s important. Twitter, for example, is valuable to me because it lets me connect with so many other people, so easily. But the value comes from those connections. Other people connect via Friendfeed, or via blogs, or even by picking up the phone and calling someone! The ability to connect is where the value is. Not in the tool itself. I guess the main point is not to fall in love with the tools and become blinded to the fact that it’s the CONNECTIONS and PEOPLE that are most important.
451: What would you say are the biggest mistakes made by companies when using social media tools, and how can companies avoid making them?
MC: I think one of the biggest mistakes is not having a clear strategy in place from the outset. Many companies start blogging, for example, simply because they feel the need to ‘do something’ with social media. But 2 weeks into it they realize that not getting comments or traffic or links really sucks, and they abandon the effort. Other companies have customers that are actively trying to engage with them via social media, and they ignore them because they believe if they don’t respond to their customers, that no one will realize that they are saying anything. (Feel free to start the eye-rolling at this point.) In short, I really think the excessive hype around social media is confusing a lot of companies. It’s making some companies feel that they HAVE to use social media, when maybe that’s not their best course of action. And it’s discouraging other companies from using social media that should be, because they feel that the tools are too complicated for them. At the end of the day, social media are simply a set of communication tools, and the rules that govern effective communication with other tools, mostly apply to social media as well. I find that most people know more about social media than they give themselves credit for.
451: It is a bit of a different animal than B2C, so how can B2B companies “create, nurture and grow” connections with their clients by launching a blog? Who should write it?
MC: This is another area where I think people ‘overthink’ social media. The end rules for effective blogging are the same for B2C or B2B companies. Who are your end customers, and what type of information will they find value in? Figure out what type of content has value for them, and create that value. Lather, rinse, repeat. That’s it. As for who should head up your blogging efforts, if all things are equal, I’d place the most importance on the person that has the most passion for blogging. Because when you first launch your blog, it is probably going to take a while for it to gain traction. You’re going to spend those first few weeks/months staring at a blog that’s getting few comments, few visitors, and few links. If your bloggers don’t LOVE blogging, they are probably going to want to quit. But the passionate ones will stick with it till their efforts start to bear fruit. And besides passionate, obviously you want people that can write well, and that understand your business and your customers. Blogging is NOT something you should hire for, IMO. And do NOT outsource the actual blogging to someone to ghost-write for you. Hiring an agency/consultant to help you ramp up your blogging efforts is fine, but don’t hire them to ghostwrite for you, as that’s doing nothing for YOUR blogging efforts. And while I have my soapbox out, if you DO hire a consultant to help you with your blogging efforts, demand that they provide you with training so that you can handle the blogging efforts when the project ends.
451: As a follow up, your blog post “The idea that ‘content is king’ in blogging is total bulls*it” raises some very interesting points. Explain the importance of “leaving your blog” to also help promote it.
MC: I think that post was a bit misunderstood by some people, and that’s probably my fault for framing it in such a ‘controversial’ way. Great content is absolutely important, but IMO the best way to grow your blog, is to leave it. Think of having a bakery that produces the absolute best cupcakes on the planet. If you are in downtown NYC, you are set. WOM will carry your business almost immediately. But what if that bakery is in rural Montana? Fewer people will discover it, and the odds are that those people will be able to promote your delicious cupcakes to fewer people. So even if you have an amazing product, given your location, you still might have trouble staying in business. Same thing with starting a new blog. You can have absolutely amazing content, but if no one knows that the blog exists, it won’t matter. Growth will still likely be very slow. You can accelerate your efforts by interacting with people on other blogs and social sites. As you do that, it helps drive traffic back to your blog. People see you leaving comments on their blog, and they want to check out YOUR blog. They see you being active on Twitter, and if you say smart and interesting things, they want to follow you. Maybe they want to click the link on your Twitter profile and check out your blog. The bottom line is that when you launch a blog, no one is going to know about it. The people that you want to be reading your blog are going to be spending time elsewhere. If you can go and interact with these people in THEIR space, that gives them an incentive to come check out YOUR blog.
451: Everyone is realizing how important social media marketing is, but don’t necessarily understand why. When companies don’t see immediate results they become impatient, and think it isn’t working. What have you developed as your ROI-indicator that helps a company understand if it is getting its time and money’s worth from social media?
MC: First, companies should start tracking everything as soon as they launch a social media strategy. Let’s say they launch a blog. Immediately start tracking visitors, comments, incoming links, and track traffic to the main website and incoming links as well. That way you can watch how these metrics change over time. If you launch a blog and 2 weeks later your skeptical boss calls you into his office for an update on what’s happening, he wants to see numbers. You better be able to say that ‘traffic to the blog is up X% and referral traffic to the main site is up X%.’ In other words, you have to put the effectiveness of your blogging efforts in terms that the boss understands, and values. YOU might want more interactions via comments and emails on the blog, but unless that increased interaction ties back to a larger business goal, and the boss UNDERSTANDS this, then who cares? But if you can show the boss that increased comments leads to a higher probability of an increase in incoming links, then he will probably understand the impact that has on SEO for his company. So you have to understand how the pieces fit together and track changes in the metrics that matter.
451: Recently you wrote about social media as being “one big clique” with several “superstars.” Do you think a business’s blog has to catch the attention of these superstars of social media in order to be successful?
MC: If those ‘superstars’ are their end customers, then absolutely. Otherwise, they need to be focusing on connecting with the actual people that will be buying their products and services. Sure, if your company has created a really cool blog that you think my readers might want to know about, absolutely contact me. But I think too many people are targeting ‘influential’ people in social media, when they need to be targeting the people that are enthusiastic about them. Which is why I think companies should target evangelists over influencers. IMO targeting influencers is about trying to build buzz, and that’s rarely sustainable. If you reach out to your evangelists, you are connecting with people that WANT to promote you to others. They have a vested interest in seeing your company succeed. Embracing and empowering your evangelists is a MUCH better business move than reaching out to ‘influencers’ who probably have influence with a market that has little to no overlap with your own.
451: Also, how important is it for companies, and individuals (including the superstars) to understand the importance of maintaining social interactions and engagements both online and off?
MC: I think ‘superstars’ get this, for the most part. But for companies, they need to treat social media as simply a set of tools that are going to let them better connect with and understand their customers. Ultimately, you would love to see online connections lead to connections offline, because that just strengthens the ties. And this is a point that often is overlooked by companies, but as you make these connections with your customers, you better understand them, and they you. It’s kinda like getting free market research, you can take what you have learned from your connections with customers, and apply it to your marketing efforts, to streamline and improve them. You better believe Dell is taking all the mountains of feedback they get from submissions made and commented/voted on at IdeaStorm and using that information to improve their marketing and communication efficiencies.
For more background on Mack, check out his consulting site.