Paul Gillin Discusses the Opportunity of Social Media

Steven Van Yoder(The following has been adapted from the Get Slightly Famous Podcast Series) Paul Gillin is a writer, speaker and online marketing consultant specializing in social media and the application of personal publishing to brand awareness and business marketing. Paul is a veteran technology journalist with more than twenty-five years of editorial leadership experience. His book, The New Influencers, was published in 2007, and his latest book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing, was published in the fall of 2008. In this interview, Paul discusses the emerging world of social media and how businesses can effectively harness social media to advance their reputation in their field. What is your definition of social media from a very practical business perspective? Social media is, foremost, a means of personal publishing. Other people might say it’s online conversations or group communication, but I consider social media as a way for individuals and groups to publish observations and thoughts, their analyses to the world, cheaply and easily and to exchange There’s a dramatic transformation taking place on the media landscape. For most of the recent era, media has been defined by people who had access to presses or to broadcast licenses. These were the people who could publish and there were not that many of them because it was expensive. In the last five years, publishing via the Internet has become basically free. Now, anyone with a computer or cell phone can publish to the world. Now, we have ways to publish information globally via a rich set of tools that enable people to find what other people are saying.   In your new book you say that the age of one-way messaging is over. What do you mean by that? Historically, messaging in marketing and sales, and to a large extent the way government entities have interacted with their constituents, has been a one-way approach. You deliver the message; you send it out through various forms. It could be advertising, marketing messages, even email marketing, but the assumption was that the people on the other end didn’t talk back to you. It was based on a shotgun approach. You were lucky if you hit a few interested people and got them to become customers. This approach reflected the limitations of the time. The media of only five years ago really didn’t enable interactivity. But now, interactivity is core to the practice of delivering a message. Social media gives people a way to respond, and increasingly, people expect to be able to respond and engage directly with the message sender, whether it’s a business or a policeman running for office.   Traditional media has long been the primary influence mechanism in society, and definitely in the world of business. Can you explain the role of new influencers you see developing online? Traditional media have historically been accessible to people with access to capital. Now, the cost reaching a huge audience online has been reduced to essentially zero; new forms of influence have emerged because people who did not previously have a voice now do. They have a way to reach others. Now, all kinds of new voices have emerged online that are acquiring influence. For example, up in Silicon Valley, there’s a blog called Tech Crunch, which has become a major source of information and intelligence about the venture capital world. Two mothers in Washington have a podcast called Mommycast that’s reaching millions of mothers around the world every week. These people didn’t have a voice in the past, but they do now, and they’re acquiring influence.   How does this new media landscape provide opportunities for businesses, large and small, to expand their influence and form deeper relationships withing their marketplace? For large businesses with advertising budgets to spend on one-way marketing, there’s the promise of cost reduction. It’s much cheaper to market via social media than mainstream conventional media. It’s also a way to engage your customers and having human-to-human conversations. Southwest Airlines, for example, is a company that’s done very well in social media because there’s a certain human side to that company. For small businesses, the opportunity is much greater. Traditionally, small companies did not have large advertising budgets. Their choices were very limited. And so, social media has opened up a landscape where small businesses can reach people in ways that were not economically feasible just a few years ago.   Let’s talk a little bit about how to effectively create a social media marketing strategy. Why is it essential to start with a goal before you build picking the tools for your strategy? A common mistake is embracing social media because everybody else is doing it. Social media is a tool that may be completely inappropriate for a particular company. The social media ‘tool’ is simply means to an end. You should start with the end goal and work backwards. For many companies, a blog is a very good way to start with social media and simply share information and expertise. Companies that value customer opinions might create Facebook group, where people can share information. Start with a clear understanding of what are you trying to do. Are you trying to generate leads? Improve your awareness? Attract investors? Solve a public relations problem? Change the image of a product? These are all legitimate business objectives where you can work backwards and determine which social media tools are appropriate. What’s the next step after achieving clarity around our business objectives? Find your market niche. Use Google to research your competitors, differentiate your voice, and come up with an approach to the market and a way of expressing yourself that’s unique. Then, become familiar with a small number of social media tools. Maybe it’s a blog that demonstrates your expertise, or Flickr for uploading photos related to your business, or maybe Linkedin or Facebook to grow expand your business network. For businesses that benefit from product or service demonstrate, YouTube videos might be the way to go. Whatever you do, don’t try to use a hundred different social media tools because you’ll never finish. Pick one or two tools and really master them.   Can you discuss how social media can position your business as a thought leader and resource to your target market and open the door to future sales? This is one of the great uses of blogs. Blogs are essentially a podium where you can educate your audience based on your expertise. If you’re an expert in making wooden signs, for example, its fairly easy to take some pictures of your signs, take a video of you making a sign, maybe share just words in the written word some of the signs, some of the tricks to making a beautiful wooden sign. You have a way to get that expertise out to others now and it’s a remarkably effective way to draw in business because it’s so searchable. People start with Google now to get almost anything done and Google loves blogs. It’s so visual. It’s such a great way to share an experience, and for small businesses, again, I think this is a great opportunity. Video is so cheap and easy to produce now. Why not take videos of the work that you’re doing and share them with people who might want to hire you? I think a lot of people are catching on to video as well. I’ve read various studies that are saying the growth of video is strong and expected to continue, precisely the reason that you’re talking about. It’s so easy to produce depending on what one does. If one is a professional speaker, obviously clips of them speaking could help close, make a sale. A restaurant could give a short tour of their restaurant and include and embed it on their website. It’s very successful in ways that wasn’t even a few years ago. These cooks will burst out of nowhere on the cable channels and acquire quite a following because they have a great style and the food that they make is unique. Well, you could do that yourself now. You know you can set up a camera in your kitchen and you can. If you’re funny, if you’re flamboyant or if you’re just fun to watch, you can now start your own cooking channel. It’s free. All you need is a video camera and you can create a Youtube channel and you can acquire a following. People are doing this all the time. The volumes aren’t the same as for cable TV, but you know, you can very quickly get up to a few hundred, a few thousand followers. It creates business opportunities, and mostly, it’s just fun because it’s really fun to publish something and see that a lot of other people are coming to see what you created. And effective videos do not need to be big, expensive production jobs. And there’s free software. I mean Microsoft and Apple both ship their computers with free video editing software that’s pretty good. I mean for basic functions, it’s not bad at all. The cost of media is just so cheap. I produce a lot of podcasts. I produced maybe three hundred podcasts over the last three years. I produce them all on a computer with about $200 worth of equipment and software. Very cheap, very easy and you can publish it to the world immediately.   Many executives are reluctant to commit to social media because they can’t measure it. Do businesses have to redefine the idea of ROI when they approach social media? I believe that you have to start with the “investment” side of the equation. What is your investment in social media versus an investment in a newspaper or television commercial? Your investment in the social media tools is basically your time with almost no other costs involved, which means your return doesn’t have to be all that great to make social media worthwhile. Returns need to be measured according to goals. So if it’s sales, you can measure how many visitors a piece of content attracted to a website landing page. If its media coverage, how many reporter phone calls did you receive? How many people downloaded an informational white paper? How many people listen to our podcast? How many people filled out a form requesting more information? These are legitimate measures of success. I think the whole ROI debate is off base, in my view, because everybody needs to measure different things. No two marketing campaigns want to measure the same things and there are different measurements. This is the most measurable medium ever invented, the Internet. You can measure almost everything. So, you need to choose the metrics that are important to you and measure those rather than searching for some grand solution to the ROI equation.    

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