Synopsis — Jeff Bullas, a Forbes.com Top 50 social media power influencer, talks to SMS about the role of social media in online marketing. He discusses the importance of each medium and how they can help businesses thrive in the digital era with effective strategies and informative blogs and points out that businesses should focus on the social media networks that their customers and prospects are engaged on. Bullas also shares what he thinks is the biggest challenge for business in 2012 insofar as social media marketing is concerned.
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An Interview With Jeff Bullas: Social Media Down Under
SMS: Jeff, thanks very much for agreeing to talk to us. Your blog (jeffbullas.com) has a very large following built over the last two-plus years. Why did you choose to focus on social media instead of some other aspect of marketing online?
Jeff: Once I experimented with Facebook, and then Twitter, I became intrigued with the topic of social media and social networks. Seeing how people have become obsessed with social media, I knew it would be a game-changer for marketing and online publishing. So far, Twitter has been the most active channel for distributing my articles and content globally. I initially concentrated on Twitter and have built up a targeted and focused following that today reaches nearly 100,000 followers. I also use a Facebook page where I have nearly 8,000 fans. After joining those two social networks, I started my blog. Today I have nearly 300,000 readers every month reading my blog posts.
SMS: In January of this year, you made the Top 50 social media power influencers on Forbes.com, coming in at an impressive #14. I know Forbes used a complex formula (from PeekYou’s social pull metric) to figure out who should make the cut, but what do you personally think makes your content so appealing? What do you offer that other social media bloggers don’t?
Jeff: It was an honor to be selected by Forbes and it was a pleasant surprise. I have worked hard at making my content helpful and relevant by listening to my readers to see what resonates and is shared the most. I set out to solve problems, so I provide a lot of how-to articles. A very important key to making my writing appealing is choosing headlines that make people click through to my articles. This is the first important step in the process of obtaining interest and readers. Two other important elements that set me apart from other bloggers are that my content is very focused, and it’s about what my readers want and like to see, not about me.
SMS: Can you give us a couple of examples of impressive social media campaigns in Australia that our readers in North America might not have been aware of?
Jeff: Tourism Queensland had a very effective campaign titled “The Best Job in the World.” The concept was simple: people post a one-minute video application explaining why they should be chosen as caretaker of Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef. The winner would blog and video-cam their way through a six-month gig that paid $100K US. The story broke at Reuters around sunrise in Australia on January 12, 2009. By breakfast time in London, the UK Director of Tourism Queensland was being interviewed in a spot that also turned up on the morning shows in the US. 400,000 new visitors visited the website within 30 hours — the original visitor goal for the full year . A social networking frenzy ensued, with 336,000 Facebook-referred site visits. Two months later, 423,000 people voted for a winner from the 50 finalists chosen from among the 34,684 people who had applied for the job. Also by the same date, the website had 6.7 million visitors, including 1.7 million from the US.
Another campaign that impressed me was by the National Australia Bank. A tweet in February 2011 appeared to have been mistakenly sent out by someone at the huge bank saying: “Sooooo stressed out. Have to make a tough decision and I know I’ll probably hurt someone’s feelings! Arrggghhh.” However, it was in fact part of an integrated social media and traditional marketing campaign strategy to get people to break with their current bank. NAB wanted to create buzz about their new competitive pricing across a range of banking products and give their dull institutional image a much-needed human face. The results? Across the various social networks, the Twitter campaign created 66% of all banking conversations online. In three weeks, different banking programs/products had increased applications/inquiries from 20% to 50%.
SMS: As someone who started out blogging awhile back, do you think that the platform is in danger of becoming irrelevant? As more and more social media properties come onto the scene, is the audience being fragmented by too many online properties trying to get their attention?
Jeff: I don’t think blogging is becoming irrelevant; rather, it’s evolving. What we have now is a whole range of blogging options such as microblogging via Twitter or using social media platforms such as Tumblr. Creating a Facebook page is also a blogging option now that is easy to use, very public, and multimedia-rich. With more than 155 million blogs already, I don’t think it is going away any time soon. You just have more options on what platform to use.
SMS: What about Google Plus? The recent redesign seems to be pitting Google even more against Facebook than ever before, with an emphasis on the visual and a look that has a lot of similar features to Facebook. Do you think Google can steal the scene from Facebook?
Jeff: The challenge for Google is that Facebook has become the de-facto standard for a person’s online identity and interaction. I think Google+ has introduced some healthy competition, which has improved the entire social networking landscape and ecosystem and made Facebook improve its product.
SMS: How do you think the increasing emphasis on the visual will mesh with the focus on original and useful content that is the cornerstone of Google’s notion of “authority” ranking?
Jeff: The increasing popularity of the visual medium on the web will change how online platforms are designed and function. Google’s challenge is to remain relevant in an increasingly social web. Google+ cost over $500 million to design and develop, which is clear evidence of how seriously Google is treating social. The integration of the +1 button and allowing people to vote on content and links will determine what content Google ranks high in search engines, whether it is a video from YouTube or an image from Picasa. Google is treating the social signals generated as core to its technology across all platforms.
SMS: Recent studies suggest that we don’t trust Facebook insofar as our privacy is concerned, much less understand its privacy settings, yet we continue to flock to it and increase our participation. Why are we ignoring this? Should people be expected to read and understand a mile-long TOS to avoid future problems with unexpected use of their data?
Jeff: We ignore the privacy problem because social networks provide so many other benefits. People are now treating this type of communication as vital as their phone or texting. It is still early days, but people will adapt to the challenges and nuances over time. Technology may be changing fast, but humans are slow to change.
SMS: Do you have a prediction on the next big thing coming from a social media property?
Jeff: I don’t know what it will look like, but it will embrace two key elements. It will be both highly “visual” and “mobile.” Instagram is maybe a hint of what is to come.
SMS: Now let’s turn to questions more closely related to businesses and social media. In your opinion, does social media suit some business goals better than others? What should be the ultimate goal of social media participation for businesses? Is it to create awareness, drive traffic to your website, sell product, branding, or something entirely different?
Jeff: Businesses have different goals they want from each element of marketing. Social media is no different — it is just another marketing tool and medium. Marketing fundamentals still apply. For some, brand awareness is paramount; for others, it is increased sales. Any marketing strategy and the resulting tactics should keep in mind two key fundamentals — the target audience and the goals. Social media is not a magic bullet — it should be used where appropriate, just like TV, radio, or email marketing.
SMS: With so many different social media outlets demanding we interact with them for the sake of our businesses, how should someone decide which one(s) to concentrate on?
Jeff: A business should focus on the social media networks that their customers and prospects are engaged on. As a simple example, Pinterest has a user base that is disproportionately female, so fashion and cookware-related companies would be relevant and appropriate players there.
SMS: If you had to identify just one benefit of participating in social media for the typical small business, what would it be and why?
Jeff: The major benefit of participating in social media is its ability to amplify word-of-mouth effects.
Why is this important? Because it is an efficient and effective channel that can lead to a brand’s visibility on a crowded web of 550 million sites. Standing out and being everywhere is vital.
SMS: What is the biggest mistake you think small businesses make with social media?
Jeff: The biggest mistake is not having a strategy or a plan with appropriate resources allocated. Just because it is social doesn’t mean it is free or that it can be done on the fly. It requires funding to resource and run it just like any other marketing strategy.
SMS: The new Facebook timeline is now reality. Do you see this as a positive move for businesses marketing themselves via Facebook? Or is it going to make it more difficult?
Jeff: It’s still early days and some sites are reporting a lowering of engagement, but I think that everyone is still working it out. The secret may be to take advantage of its stronger visual design, which will mean sourcing and using more compelling and shareable images and photos to communicate.
SMS: As a follow-up, how do you think Facebook is going to handle the dichotomy between people using it as a social network and those trying to do business via it? Is the boundary between the two going to further blur?
Jeff: Facebook is trying to maintain a similar theme and common ecosystem between pages and profiles. It is creating an ecosystem that has the capability for common functionality, but still allows the outsourcing of app development for business and personal. The result will be a diverse, feature-rich, and evolving social networking and mobile ecosystem that works for both.
SMS: What do you think is the biggest challenge for business in 2012 insofar as social media marketing is concerned? How does this answer differ for large corporations versus small ones?
Jeff: The biggest challenge is finding people with enough experience and skill to know what to do properly to put together effective campaigns. There are a lot of so-called experts in social media, but few real ones.
SMS: A final question. If you had to choose just one social media product to integrate with a business today, which would it be? Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, something different?
Jeff: If I were on the proverbial desert island, I would get by with just one if I had to, but in real life, choosing just one social media product is not advisable. Multi-channel marketing provides synergy and leverage that is more than the sum of the parts. Your target audience will prefer a range of different media and networks, and you in turn need to reach the largest audience. Some prefer watching a video on YouTube, others would rather read an article on your blog, or access your content from Facebook. Don’t put all your social media eggs in one basket. Create and publish your content at your hub (website and blog) and distribute it out to your audience where they hang out (and each business is different for that). This includes each one of the top six social network outposts of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Slideshare, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
SMS: Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your insights with our readers. I especially enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef job campaign — too bad that job hunt isn’t still open!