I've wanted to jump into talking about social media for a while and I thought the best way might be to offer up my first guest spot to someone who's not only a pro, but a trusted friend.
If you've lived in Indy for more than a year and engaged in any social networking, personal or professional, than you've probably come across Ryan Hupfer at some point. First through his own venture, then later with Indy Mojo and Media Sauce, Ryan has leveraged a passion for the technologies that connect us and carved out a career in social media. He is co-author of Myspace for Dummies and last year, Ryan left our beloved Indy to head west, accepting a position with Hub Pages, a top 200-ranked site with over 10 million unique visitors every month. Here's my brief Q&A with Hup.
Numedia: You've used different aspects of the new media model to promote businesses that employed you, your own business, and yourself as a personality. Beyond the obvious of answer:"build a website & advertise it", what are a couple of simple steps a small business could take to raise their profile online?
Hup: I think that from a business perspective you need to first figure out what you want to accomplish with your presence on the web and really start from there. Try not to get caught up in the technology and focus on what's going to have a positive effect on your business processes, relationships and bottom line. I'm a firm believer in the fact that to understand the ways of the online world and social media you have to actually dig in and get your hands wet -- in other words, there's no better way to understand it than to start using it. Even though it might not be specifically for your business, go try out a new technology for either yourself personally or for another group that you are involved with, such as an extracurricular group that you're a part of.
Go ahead, start up a blog for the bowling league that you just joined or create a Facebook group for your neighborhood association. You'll learn more than you'll ever believe just getting these types of things up and running.
Numedia: I think a lot of business owners are wary of investing time and/or resources in new media. A lot of the resistance I hear is uncertainty in measuring ROI. How did the businesses you promote measure that return? How do you look at it when promoting yourself?
Hup: I would say that it's actually completely the opposite, Josh. With traditional advertising, which I have used before, I really have no easy and straight-forward way to determine my ROI and the benefits are more fuzzy and hard to track, predict and recreate. With social media or online advertising it's basically the complete opposite if implemented correctly. With new advertising technologies that are now available, such as pay-per-click (ppc) advertising and contextual advertising, it's a whole new ball game online. Advertisers are only paying for performance and aren't in the situation of wondering or guessing what type of return they're getting when shelling out marketing and advertising dollars.
For example, with my current position at HubPages we know more about the people who we are marketing to and signing up than you would ever believe. With the help of some strong reporting and analytics capabilities that the web now can empower any average marketer with predictive spending, cost analysis, accurate ROI reports and audience segmentation by marketing campaign is literally at our fingertips. I not only know who's joining HubPages from certain advertising outlets, but I know how much their approximate lifetime value for us will be, the total value of my current marketing spend compared to my marketing costs at any given time and even the normal behaviors of the people who join HubPages from each various advertising outlet. The web is providing more data than we can even process, so it's really up to us to determine what's the most important and how we're going to use it to make our campaigns better and better as time goes on.
Now as far as promoting myself, I have never really put a whole lot of time into determining the ROI of it from a marketing standpoint. The only real cost to market myself is the time that I spend. Determining the ROI is a little more abstract and relationship driven. If I ever got more serious with marketing myself, like if I began promoting myself as a speaker, then I would have to monitor it more closely, especially if I was going to spend some of my hard-earned cash to get a campaign up and running.
NUmedia: You may not be the most technically proficient writer (neither am I), but I think you have a great sense of balance in what you put out there. Even when you're promoting, it rings as authentic. Are you aware of that tone or voice when you're putting it together?
Hup: This is a great question and it's definitely something that I think about, but try not to over think when I'm putting something together. A long time ago I decided that I wasn't going to hide anything from my persona on the web, which makes it much easier to come across as an authentic and genuine person. The word 'transparency' gets thrown around a lot when people talk about communication on the web and more specifically with social media and there's a reason for that -- transparency builds two of the strongest things that you can have on your side when it comes to having a successful web presence: trust and loyalty. Without trust and loyalty you're pretty much screwed and being transparent is something that most people, much less businesses, have a hard time dealing with.
Whenever I'm putting something together I simply ask myself whether or not I would feel connected to it- and if I don't feel it, then I know it's going to suck. If you can't be true to yourself, then you're going to have many, many more problems communicating across the web. Also, there's an easy reason why a lot of people don't fully build trust and loyalty through transparency -- it's HARD. It's much easier to keep on doing what everyone else has done before and just get by with decent results. Taking full advantage of the web isn't quite as easy as running a print or banner ad, it's getting involved at a deep level and truly caring about the possibility of pulling off something big that you're passionate about. It's about digging in and getting to work.
NUmedia: I also know you consume as much media as you create. When you're looking for information or services are there certain things that appeal to you? Visual cues, language, tone, content?
Hup: I am drawn to stories about people and services that help me better understand them. When I'm looking for a restaurant I look on Yelp.com to see what the story of the place is all about because that's what I'm interested in the most. Just a few weeks ago I dragged my fiancee and her parents to a crazy, out-of-the-way restaurant in Houston, TX called the Potatoe Patch because I heard that they throw rolls at you while you eat. It was enough to make us go check it out and I have told tons of people since then because there's a good story there.
I also appreciate honesty, creativity and an ability to somehow make me feel emotionally connected to something or someone. One guy that I've never met before is Noah Brier who came up with this crazy awesome idea called BrandTags.net where he lets people give their initial thoughts on all kinds of brands and then creates a tag cloud out of them to give an overall sense of the public feelings toward each of them. I follow his blog because he's creative, he has opinions on all kinds of other things that I find interesting and he actually follows through with some of his wacky ideas. I love it -- did that answer the question? I hope so...it's getting past my bedtime here in California.
Numedia: What businesses do you see making the most of new media avenues? What sets them apart?
Hup: Social media has become such a mainstream thing here lately that there are example after example of 'ordinary' businesses who have successfully utilized these new technologies to help themselves grow. Also, some businesses (like where I currently work) have utilized the new social media landscape to build up new businesses that are anything but ordinary. Here are a few off each off the top of my head:
Businesses Using social media successfully
Comcast- Using @comcastcares on Twitter to help with support
Blendtec- The "Will It blend?" YouTube video series
CNN:- Using Facebook to dominate the inauguration
Starbucks: Taking suggestions via social media
Businesses built for/from social media
Threadless- T-shirts for the people, by the people
Netflix- Riding the web and changing an industry
Apple i(Everything)- The web has revolutionized how they distribute, package and promote their goods
Yelp.com- Creating the next generation of online reviews
Numedia: For a business owner starting at square one- where can they find assistance? Either online resources or professional?
Hup: From a business perspective I would say that, if you have the resources, you should hire professionals whose jobs are to not only eat, sleep and breathe social media, but who also somehow make sense of it. Groups like Media Sauce, who I used to work for in Indy, know their stuff and can be an amazing partner when it comes to diving into the social media swimming pool. But, that doesn't stop you from researching some stuff yourself, either -- so get out there and start Googling!
Currently, Ryan Hupfer is the Comminicator of Awesomeness! for HubPages.com, which is a highly monetizable and market leading online self-publishing platform- and he's tired so he's going to bed now.