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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jason Baer On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Jason BaerThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Jason Baer.

Jason Baer exudes contagious enthusiasm for connecting with people and building communities using social digital tools. As President of Convince & Convert, he offers corporations and public relations firms social media strategy, consulting and training, and advanced email strategy, to assist them in "harnessing the awesome power of social media strategy." His focus, though, is "think social media tools last, not first" -- a message that comes through in Convince and Convert [which just turned one] and in person, as I experienced recently at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston when we sat next to one another at dinner [and I received the really cool bottle opener business card].

Jason is no novice to the world of Internet marketing and strategy; he's been involved in it since 1994 and has just been named one of 5 Top independent bloggers about email marketing in Top Independent Email Marketing Blogs. Pretty cool!

You'll find Jason actively engaged with Twitter as @JayBaer . Since October 2008, he has bridged the two platforms via the Twitter 20 Interview Series, a thought-provoking interview series on Twitter with luminaries in social media and digital marketing, recaptured on his blog. Imagine, twenty 140-character questions answered in real-time.

C.B.: Jason, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Jason: I've been in digital marketing since the inception of the medium in 1994, with an emphasis on strategy and ease of use. I've seen the transformative power of the Web first-hand. After the dot bomb period, I knew there was another wave coming, but I wasn't sure what it would be. I felt "Web 2.0" was too tools and technology focused, and while providing tremendous information retrieval conveniences, left the user in the cold.

I was always a big networker - I was that guy at different business happy hours five nights a week. As Blackberries and the rest of the craziness that has eaten into our time took root, I began searching for ways to reliably replicate my networking online. I was an early adopter of LinkedIn for that reason. When people started to actually accept my LinkedIn invites and not peg me as a stalker, I figured we'd moved past the "it's all kids hanging out on MySpace" and toward a new means of connection.

I sold my previous digital agency, Mighty Interactive, and almost exactly a year ago started Convince & Convert to help brands and agencies connect authentically and meaningfully with their constituencies.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

Jason: I am consistently awed and encouraged by social media's ability to change brand perception and increase loyalty and advocacy. As KD Paine said at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum recently, the real measure of social media success is whether people exposed to you in social media think differently about you than they would have otherwise.

Somewhere in the last 50 years, business and marketing became more about science and quants, and less about people. Every numeral on the spreadsheet represents a real person, with real needs, and real feelings about your product or service. Social media to me is about one thing - humanization. And its ability to bring companies closer to their customers is unparalleled - when fully embraced.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

Jason: Like all things digital, especially those that jump the chasm of geekiness and become part of the larger culture, social media today lends itself to purely tactical thinking. "Let's do a Facebook page!" "Let's start a Twitter account!" The good news is that interest in social media among companies has never been higher. The bad news is that many of them are viewing social media as just that - media. A new, tactical place to spread brand messaging.

That's why the two things I most consistently write and speak about are social media being better served as a customer loyalty mechanism than a customer acquisition mechanism, and the critical importance of integrated social media strategy.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Jason: As a social media consultant, I'm probably a bit atypical in this regard. But, I definitely find myself creating a lot more content about brands that I am pleased (or displeased) about. I'll tweet about a bad hotel experience because I want to see if the brand is listening or engaging in social media. I'm also much more likely to consume brand-generated content if it's interesting, authentic, and tells a story.

It's also very interesting to see humanization at work. When I think Ford, I think Scott Monty. When I think Dell, I think Richard and Lionel. When I think Radian6, I think Amber Naslund. The companies that are making the transition from logo-centrism to people-centrism are the ones doing it right in my opinion.

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1. Get your house in order. Social media won't solve your problems, it magnifies them. If your product or service aren't dialed in, focus on that before you get involved in social media.

2. Create a helpfulness plan. At its core, social media and humanization remove friction and uncertainty from the customer<>company relationship and transaction. Companies have marketing plans, operations plans, financial plans, disaster recovery plans, and a lot more. But they never have a helpfulness plan. Work cross-functionally within your company to come up with 10 concrete ways to help your customers. Make their lives easier. That's the nucleus of your social media efforts.

3. Develop a social media strategy. It's okay to NOT be involved in social media. It's not a requirement yet. But if you're ready, think through with whom you're going to interact. Prospects? Customers? Repeat customers? Realize that social media users are not homogeneous. Not every customer is going to create a video just because you ask them too. Social media has gotten so broad, and you have to focus your efforts on particular segments of the population that interacts with your brand. Figure out what success look like before you start, and determine how you're going to measure it.

4. Tell a story. Features and benefits don't usually work in social media, because they aren't inherently interesting enough to get customers excited. Do some brand anthropology (actually, it's best to get agencies or partners involved, as it's very hard for employees to see the forest through the trees), and figure out what's the soul of the brand. What's the "one thing" that sets the company apart, and how can you build engaging content and connectivity about it? Zappos is great at this. They aren't in the shoe business or the apparel business. They are in the customer service business. They are Nordstrom's 2.0. That's their brand story.

5. Don't expect overnight success. Yes, social media can change the nature of how brands are perceived. But that happens on an individual or small group basis, not by the thousands or millions. Social media wins hearts and minds one at a time. It's not as efficient as TV or other traditional marketing efforts, but it can be more powerful (due to authenticity), and it's a lot more long-lasting. That's why social media "campaigns" can be very effective and innovative, but they have to be supported by ongoing dialog between the brand and its fans that's more customer service 2.0 than marketing 2.0.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and how best to do so.

Jason: Your strongest social media assets are your people. Period. Give them loose guidelines for social media engagement, and then turn them loose. Social capital is accrued by individuals, and loaned to the brands they represent. Each of your employees growing their own networks by being helpful, interesting, and awesome will benefit your company as much or more than any "official" effort. That's why the community manager trend is so exciting. Companies are realizing that sometimes it's better to make the people of the company the stars, not the products or services they provide.

Thank you, Jason!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

Jason says: "Social media ... is about one thing - humanization. And its ability to bring companies closer to their customers is unparalleled - when fully embraced." How succinct and completely relevant!

What about social media as customer loyalty rather than customer acquisition mechanism?

I love the notion of a 'helpfulness plan' with focus on customers and helping them. Do you have one? How do you focus on your customers?

Then, what about your people? How have you empowered them to deliver on helpfulness to customers?

For additional insights from participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old Series.

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Jay Baer said...

CB - Thanks so much for including me in your terrific series. Excellent questions, and it's fun to be on the other side of the desk once in a while. Your intro was much too kind. I'm just a guy that has a burning desire to help other people figure this out. At the same time, we're all teachers, and we're all students. I don't have all the answers, or even most of them. Just trying to keep the "shiny object syndrome" at bay for as long as possible. Hope to see you soon, and thanks again.

Amber said...

"Social capital is accrued by individuals, and loaned to the brands they represent."

Man. Good stuff, Jay. And thanks for the kind words. I'm passionate about this stuff just like you are, and it's so fun to me to geek out about this with you.

CB, great profile. Jay is a gem. I'm sure as hell glad that he's part of my community.


CB Whittemore said...

Jason, thank you for participating! You're right; we are all teachers and students. That's what makes this journey so very rich. The longer we keep the 'shiny object syndrome' at bay, the better!

I hope I get to sit next to you at dinner again soon!

CB Whittemore said...

Amber, isn't it spine-tingling all of the good stuff that Jay shared with us?

I agree, he is a gem -as are you- and I'm glad you are both part of my community!


nesh thompson said...

Jason, CB,

Great interview. "Social media wins hearts and minds one at a time" is a gem of a statement and one I fully subscribe to. That is why I think that the blanket mentality of using social media as a mass market broadcasting tool (for some) is not the right attitude to start with.

Very much enjoyed reading this.


CB Whittemore said...

Nesh, thanks for drawing attention to that gem of a statement.

And, I agree with you about mass marketing broadcasting. Using social medial tools in that vein is a misuse of the tools; we see plenty of those kind of attempts on Twitter and I, for one, run away from them.

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