Synopsis — Tamar Weinberg is one of the industry’s top experts in social media, having been a well-known blogger and staple on the conference circuit for many years now. Tamar recently published her first book, The New Community Rules, which focuses on the milieu of social media and how marketers can best use the new social space. We have an interesting excerpt from the book available in combination with this special interview here. Tamar’s interest in computers and the internet began pre-AOL, and much about those early days of online communities is responsible for her enduring interest in social media and online interaction. But this interview touches on much more than intriguing aspects about Tamar that you don’t know — she discloses a lot of tips about how to make the most of the social media space while telling us about how she came to write her first book. And, if you haven’t read her hugely popular post on social media etiquette before, you can get Tamar’s take on the top three etiquette lessons that every social marketer needs to follow right now!
The complete article follows …
The Tweet Sound Of Social Media Success: An Interview With Tamar Weinberg
SMS: Tamar, how did you first get into social media? What attracted you to it?
Tamar: As soon as we got our first family computer, I was hooked. I started learning about how the bulletin board system worked and built relationships with some incredible people through my local library. We got an Internet-connected computer when I was 12 – my own – and I started exploring every single nook and cranny of the computer to discover what it contained. I even reformatted it a few times just for fun.
Within weeks I also discovered Promenade, an online service that would later become AOL. Promenade cost $9.95 for 5 hours and $5.95 for each additional hour after that, and I still remember my biggest bill — $267.48. That’s because I quickly became addicted to the online communities there.
I knew I wanted to do something related to computers “when I grew up,” so I majored in computer science. Strange, but I didn’t know much about marketing itself then, which is what I’m really focused on now! After college, I maintained a few jobs in systems administration, and ultimately found myself working at a search engine marketing firm. I slowly left the dark side, and found myself immersed in the social space right around the same time people were discovering that social networks could be tools for marketing. The rest is history.
SMS: What was the motivation to write your new book, The New Community Rules?
Tamar: Even though I always spent time on social networks in some shape or form for almost 20 years, it took me a considerable amount of time to really understand the nuances of social networking sites. The book is a labor of love that I wrote in order to explain exactly why social media is important and how to use different networks for maximum gain.
SMS: What is the major theme of the book?
Tamar: The big theme is social media marketing. The 140-characters-or-less version to describe the book would be “social media marketing is how to leverage its media to market your products or services.” We’re seeing a huge shift in technology given that social networks and status updates can be created relatively easily. There’s ubiquity in programming, domain names, and web hosting, and they are a lot more affordable than they used to be in past years. New networks spring up day after day, and there are new opportunities to market. It’s important to understand that each network might still be “social” at its core but each has different rules. The New Community Rules aims to eliminate the guesswork. I’ve done it already and now it’s time for me to empower you, the reader.
SMS: What influenced your thinking around social media marketing?
Tamar: I’ve lived within social networks for years. My involvement in the social space predates most people’s ownerships of computers. My college minor was psychology, and I also took courses in sociology. Having a unique educational background combining both psychology and computers, while also finding myself in some of the most diverse communities online, has really helped me get a more holistic view of the social space. I was able to learn about different communities and how audiences can shift the thinking of each individualized community. I remember as a kid having heated discussions with European youth about their insights on American culture. It’s surprising how we don’t understand perception until we actually get deeply involved and get to know the people in these communities.
SMS: One of the sections in your book is titled, “Content Is Not King (Not by Itself, at Least).” What do you mean by that?
Tamar: There are billions of pages on the Internet. Search engines have petabytes of content. If you’re starting a brand new website, you won’t be seen if you don’t have great content. However, even content is not enough. Search engine algorithms value trust placed by links and word of mouth. If more sites are linking to a particular piece of content, the search engine starts to think, “hey, maybe this is a valuable result for this search query!” and places that content up front and center.
Links today are a primary element of the currency of the web. If you write a piece of content and just publish it, but yet nobody discovers it, you’re not going to be found. Content is king, sure, but marketing is the queen.
Social media marketing is one element that can help your content become findable.
SMS: I have encountered a number of PR agencies scared to death of losing control over the message so they try to avoid social media. How do you overcome this fear? Isn’t it a situation where the conversation is happening anyways, why not add your voice and join in?
Tamar: Conversations are happening whether you like it or not and whether you’re involved or not. Everyone can become a content creator with the click of a few buttons and with a few taps on their keyboards. If they’re not talking about you, they’re talking about your competitors or your industry.
In this day and age, sitting and watching as these marketing opportunities pass by is a mistake because your competitors will have an edge since they instead will engage while you sit on the sidelines.
Fortunately for everyone, you won’t control that message but you can certainly leverage social media to nurture it. Plus, whatever insights you glean can help you make a better product or service.
It’s your responsibility as a company now to nurture perceptions.
SMS: Is social media a community-building initiative, a communication channel, or a sales channel? Where would you place it within the traditional marketing mix?
Tamar: I think social media is all three. You can build a community of evangelists. You can communicate with stakeholders, customers, colleagues, and friends. You can absolutely benefit from selling your products through social media marketing.
I think the best social media marketing initiatives actually encompass every single element here. Sure, some people might use social media exclusively to sell, but you’re missing opportunities to band your biggest fans together and communicate other news to them. And if you’re exclusively building community, you’re missing the fact that most people follow companies on social media because they actually want the deals (at least according to the 2009 Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Study).
SMS: When is it appropriate not to respond at all? Shouldn’t you defend any negativity about your brand?
Tamar: I think that’s really an issue of company culture. There may be times when you simply cannot please a customer and they’re not worth your time and energy. On the other hand, I find that some companies do not want to engage with naysayers at all. They actually would rather silence any negativity on their Facebook wall, videos that they control, or blog posts. I personally think that in these cases, companies need to be visibly engaging and showing that they’re making every effort to make the customer happy.
At the end of the day, as a customer, I’d rather see companies making their best effort to please a customer since it makes me feel good as a customer that they actually value me as one. If companies delete negativity or let the negativity continue, people begin to notice and it could really get out of hand.
Companies make mistakes, and we all appreciate and respect that. A company that apologizes and is proactive about relationship building will fare better than one that still does not understand that this is a human-based medium.
SMS: In your book you have done a great job detailing each of the major social media platforms including blogs, social bookmarking, video/photo sharing, social news, micro-blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn and others. Where do you think a small business should start? What quick questions could they ask themselves to help pinpoint the best platform for them?
Tamar: The short answer: go where your customers are. If you don’t know where they are hanging out, ask them! For most businesses, you could minimally get a Facebook page up and promote it on your website and in your storefront. Once they are on Facebook, ask them in a status message.
I also think that Twitter works for almost all businesses, because there’s always some conversation mining that you can use to get some intelligence about your business or industry.
LinkedIn is a third place to start, but I feel that it helps a personal brand more than company. When you engage in the communities and give great answers, people look at you as the expert more than the entity you represent.
There are of course other places to go, and there are very likely helpful niche communities as well, so start a conversation with your customers – be it at the checkout line or through your email newsletter – to find out where they like to hang out online.
SMS: For Twitter, what do you recommend on the frequency of tweets per week? When is it too much or too little to keep your following engaged?
Tamar: This is another question where there’s no right or wrong answer. I have some friends who are tweeting very often and see much success. I have other friends who tweet very often and aren’t as successful. It depends on the audience and the people who follow you. If you’re really active and dominate a particular Twitter user’s feed, they will probably unfollow you because they’ll be overwhelmed. For those people, try to get some feedback. They may be more receptive to more infrequent but informative updates.
I recommend being active at least daily or every other day so that you don’t appear to have fallen off the face of the planet – people expect you to be visible especially if you’re presenting yourself as a business, you know! If there’s nothing to communicate about your business and you feel like you have nothing to say, just start building relationships with people. That’s what social media is all about.
SMS: You are well known for your excellent blog post on your site, Techipedia.com, which is about social media etiquette. What three etiquette lessons should every marketer follow right now?
Tamar: The first is “don’t self-promote.” That sounds pretty counter-intuitive given that I talk about social media marketing, but if you go to a social network and immediately start flaunting your offerings and only trying to get new sales, you may immediately see backlash and perhaps failure. If you move into my apartment complex and I see you immediately put up a sign by your door saying “I sell cards! Buy them now!” without getting to know your neighbors, all of the neighbors are going to roll their eyes at you. Instead, take time and get to know the people in the communities that you’re getting acclimated with. Build bridges and relationships. Come bearing gifts first; it will help your marketing message spread farther. Remember, this is social media, and nobody wants to buy a product in the social media space from someone who has forgotten about the people he is dealing with. It’s still a human medium.
Second, think twice before you post anything and familiarize yourself with privacy controls. This is actually a more basic request, but I’ve seen people get in trouble and sued for comments made without considering the ramifications of their actions. Once something is public, it might never be deleted, even if you make the effort to remove all traces. The Library of Congress is archiving everyone’s tweets. Someone might retweet your comment or screenshot your blog post, and despite the fact that you wanted to keep your thoughts low key, everyone might find out about them. If you don’t want your mother or grandmother knowing something, don’t post it online.
And third, be human. In social media, informal trumps formal. Corporate web speak of the last decade is being replaced by terminology that makes companies human again. When it comes to interacting online, use your name. Don’t sign a blog post with “Landscaping in Phoenix.” When I see you on a street corner, I know you won’t reply to that greeting. I’m more interested in Jason of Phoenix Landscape than a fake name intended to manipulate blog comments for higher ranking search results.
SMS: In your experience, what have been the greatest barriers for companies getting social media marketing correct?
Tamar: A lot of companies get involved without really having a strategy in place. Social media is a shiny toy so they immediately jump into Facebook and Twitter without understanding exactly what they want out of it. I think that’s definitely one big concern. It’s not really a “barrier,” but they don’t execute well and they don’t get out of it what they wanted to begin with.
For big companies, there’s always corporate red tape. Issues may need to be responded to quickly, but some bigger companies need to get approvals from the legal team and other department heads before making anything public, so something can totally blow out of proportion if there are any delays. Social media users expect rapid response.
Another realistic barrier for smaller businesses is the time investment. Some get so excited about social media that they go everywhere and get burnt out relatively quickly, realizing that they don’t have time or energy to do this, especially as social media marketing is not an overnight process. They end up pulling away and a competitor builds momentum. For small companies, don’t spread yourself too thin; focus for a few minutes a day (up to as long as you possibly can) on the social networks that will best benefit your bottom line.
SMS: When and how can someone purchase your new book The New Community Rules?
Tamar: You can buy it today through www.newcommunityrules.com, which will direct you to Amazon. There, you can also read and watch reviews of the book.
SMS: Do you think Facebook will overtake Google as the prominent search mechanism?
Tamar: I think that it’s becoming quite interesting to watch. Both are good at very different things. In my opinion, Facebook will always be the preferred social site and that’s not going away with its explosive growth, but I think that Google will continue to be the most effective information-based search engine.
SMS: If you were stuck on the proverbial island and only had one social media platform to use, what would it be? Why?
Tamar: I’m going to go with Facebook. I use it mostly personally (versus professionally) and I would rather have a network where I can connect with my family – almost all of them are there – and share pictures of my island vacation with them.