Social Media for Business 101 – An Interview with Eileen Brown

Eileen Brown

Social media for business 101 – An Interview with Eileen Brown

Eileen Brown is the CEO at Amastra and Author of “Working the Crowd – Social media marketing for business“. She also writes the Social Business column for ZDNet. She helps companies of many different sizes understand social media for business and develop a successful social media strategy that connects you with your customers, identify influencers, gain advocates and improve the overall perception of your brand online.

In this interview I ask Eileen how we can grow our business using social media. Eileen reveals…

  • Why SME's need to have social media marketing as part of their marketing mix, no matter what niche they are in
  • Why Gen X are reluctant to use social media and digital marketing in their business
  • How to decide upon the right social media strategy for your type of business
  • How to use social media for competitive research and market research
  • 4 ways to manage your brands reputation online
  • How to get evangelists to spread your message and recommend your products/services for you
  • How to engineer buzz and engagement on your social channels
  • Why most of your fans/followers are lurkers and choose not to communicate with you (and how to combat this)
  • Why you must still keep talking even when response levels are low
  • The 5 types of social media user
  • How to amplify your message by building your audience
  • How to measure your social media results and tell if you are getting a good return on investment
  • Where the future of social media is headed
  • And lot's more. Just click the play button below to listen in or read the full transcript...

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Joey Bushnell: Hello, welcome to the online marketing show. I’m your host, Joey Bushnell. Today’s special guest is a social media expert and author, her name is Eileen Brown. Eileen is the author of the book “Working the Crowd – Social media marketing for business” She also writes the social media column for a very popular website Go to to find out more.

Eileen, thank you for being with me on the call today.

Eileen Brown: Thank you

Joey Bushnell: How did you get started in social media?

Eileen Brown: I came to social media via an enterprise route. I’d been doing social media in one form or another since 2004. Back then I worked for Microsoft and I managed the IT professional evangelism team and one of the briefs was to connect with customers.

The team initially used blogging to try to increase awareness of Microsoft products amongst the 1.1 million IT professionals in the UK. We soon hit upon strategies to do product demos of technology and put this technology online in a format similar to a 5 minute “How to” demo, a very sharp webcast. Back then we had to buy a server, get streaming services on the server, hire a domain name and blog about these blogcasts that we talked about. This sounds really primitive now but back in 2004 YouTube didn’t exist, YouTube only came about in 2005.

So I’ve been around the evolution of social media for a very long time. I left Microsoft in 2009 to start my own business focusing on social media and social business strategy. I was asked to write a book by the British computer Society which is coming up to it’s second edition of “Working the Crowd” and it’s available on Amazon and from the BCS bookstore as well

Joey Bushnell: Let’s talk about the concepts in your book Eileen. The first thing that comes to mind is… Some people still aren’t convinced yet about social media as a marketing channel so why do you recommend that small businesses have a social media strategy?

Eileen Brown: There has been some research that less than 3% of SME’s have social media in their traditional marketing activities.

Social Media is not  replacement for traditional marketing, it is an add on component to an existing digital marketing strategy which naturally includes a website.

Social media is not a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. If you think about the generation Y people who are coming up to their 32nd birthday this year. Generation Y are digital natives they were practically born with mobile phones in their hands. People older than 32 “digital immigrants” find the move to social media more of a challenge than generation Y who have grown up with this level of technology, interaction and sharing.

If you don’t absorb social media concepts and the new way of communicating, I think you’ll struggle with your business. If you’re not engaging on social media, you can bet your competitor is.

Joey Bushnell: Good point, if only for just that one reason you should be doing it, great point.

There is obviously many different types of businesses out there, that vary greatly, so how do we decide what social media strategy is appropriate for our type of business?

Eileen Brown: Everybody needs a social media strategy, it’s just the complexity of the strategy that changes. Just like businesses need a business plan, a social media strategy could be a one or a two page overarching implementation plan with a set of commitments about the channels that you are going to use on social media.

The frequency of communication that you are going to use and that frequency that you are going to use could be 20 times a day, once a day, twice a week, once a week or once a month but the key thing is to have a strategy.

Also implementation plans to include things like response frameworks, listening plans are really important when you have competitors because it’s a really great idea to get ahead of the competition and listen to what your competitors are saying. Or if it’s a topic of interest listen to what your potential customers are talking about the potential topics. Whether that’s dog grooming, horse livery, cyber security or tyre fitting, each of these have got competitors in the industry so it’s a really good idea to listen to what competitors are saying.

So social media strategies are incredibly important even if you are running a business as a one man band.

Joey Bushnell: Would you say it doesn’t matter what your niche is, there is probably someone out there on social media talking about that subject?

Eileen Brown: Yes. If you do a search, that could be a Google search for anything from chocolate to cinema tickets, search on social media properties across social channels and find out that there are videos, hints and tips, blog posts, Facebook status updates, Google updates, images and of course twitter messages for almost everything you can think of. The world is talking electronically are you listening?

Joey Bushnell: Do you have any tips for managing our brand on social media?

Eileen Brown: It’s really important as a brand to know what the perception of your brand is.

In order to find you what people think about you can send out a customer service survey poll once a week, once a month, once a year or twice a year. You can send out customer feedback forms, event feedback forms. From customer feedback you can then change the model of your business.

Managing your brand works in a very similar way, putting positive messages out about your brand, not criticizing the competition, being open, helpful, responsive, honest and transparent about the products that you sell and the services you offer. Apologizing freely if you’ve made a mistake.

All of this indicates that you are a trusted advisor, somebody who is respected across the industry, demonstrates credibility and authenticity in your actions. If you can manage to do this via social media, perception about your brand will change to something that is really positive. You get a great name, advocates then start to talk about you. As soon as advocates talk about you as a brand, you have a team of people almost working for you essentially who become your recommenders and evangelists for your brand.

Joey Bushnell: How do you get people engaged and talking? Can we actually engineer things in a way that gets a bit of buzz going?

Eileen Brown: For a start don’t expect an instant response and don’t expect all of your customers to speak back to you. Most people in social media are lurkers or stalkers of your Facebook page. They are aware of what you are doing but they choose not to communicate. It’s a very low percentage that will start to talk to you immediately so don’t worry if you feel like you are broadcasting to an empty room. If your content is interesting, engaging and relevant to the reader and thought provoking they will respond.

Often you will find that topics outside of your normal specialty area will engage a customer much more than a thought leadership piece or a white paper on something that you are experienced in. Often a glimpse into your personal life can help your customers realize thatyou are a human being with families and a sense of humor too. Sharing different aspects of your life, often you will find will get extra response. Having a blend of personal and professional in your social media activities rounds you out as a business and makes people realize they’re not dealing with an automaton but they are dealing with a human being.

But don’t worry if the engagement levels are not as large as you were hoping. Engagement levels are very low in some channels of social media but you still need to keep talking. Even if nobody is responding they are still listening to you.

Joey Bushnell: You used the word “lurking” Eileen, what’s the reason for that? Are people just shy? Are they testing the waters to see how they like you before starting to talk back? What would you say are the reasons why they don’t respond immediately?

Eileen Brown:  A couple of years ago an analyst group, a Forrester group, did some analysis of social communications called The Technographic Ladder. The Technographic Ladder categorizes different mechanisms of communications from the silent majority right the way up the ladder to the content creators.

We all fall somewhere on that ladder whether we are conversationalists who frequently engage in conversation with other people using social channels. Or whether we are just critics, we will read posts and not necessarily criticize them but comment on blogs to listeners and lurkers who might have a profile on a social media site but never communicate, don’t change their profile and just watch the traffic almost like passive onlookers. To the people who don’t have a social media profile and who happen across a social conversation if they Google something and find the engagement from blog comments that somebody else has written.

We are categorized in different ways. Not all of us would want to create YouTube channels and populate it with videos of us talking to YouTube all the time and not all of us would want to change our profile details every few weeks. We all fall somewhere along this line of updating, conversationalists, creatists and critics. It’s not a problem if you have a lot of lurkers on your social sites because they will still be listening to what you’re saying. So the important thing is keep talking.

Joey Bushnell: How do we amplify that message that we want to spread?

Eileen Brown: This is probably the most important thing about social media, it makes you scalable, much more scalable than you could possibly be on your own, which is always a challenge when you are a small business.

If you know who your advocates are and you can recognize your advocates and your influencers who are in your network already and you have a very good relationship with, advocates and influencers they will advocate our brand and our message. They will amplify it outside of your immediate circle, they will recommend you to their friends electronically. If you are writing a blog your advocates will repost your blog, comment on your blog, write blogs of their own talking about your great content and they will spread your message for you.

The key thing is to do a piece of work to identify who your potential advocates are and invest time in that relationship.

Joey Bushnell: How do we measure if social media is working for us or not?

Eileen Brown: This is one of the most important things that businesses can do, to measure your success. Small businesses quite often don’t measure their success. They don’t know how much time they are spending on their activities and they can’t measure whether their chosen activities are working.

If you are hiring somebody and you are paying them £10,000 a year and that person is your social media guru and they spend 2 hours a day doing social media activities such as reading, writing, researching, blogging, updating and modifying your Facebook page for example. 2 hours a day is 10 hours a week which means you are paying them 25% of their working week to do social media, that’s £2,500 a year. You’ve got to be able to measure a return on investment for this.

So the most important thing you can do is get a base line. It’s fine if your base line is 0. The next thing you need to do is measure how much time you intend to spend responding to customer queries, interacting, creating, blogging, managing your time and this could be 15 minutes a day, 1 hour a day or 1 hour a week. You need to be able to quantify how much time yourmeasuring.

Then you need to be aware of what you want to measure and it’s not just about the volume of people that like your page or read your blog or follow you on twitter. It’s not about the quantity it’s about the quality of your people. If you only had 40 followers but every single one of them was a repeat customer that could be better than having 4,000 followers of which only 10 of these are repeat customers.

It’s important to nurture the quality of your connections. So when you are measuring in order to get your return on investment, remember it’s not all about the numbers. Although in larger organizations with metrics and score cards it’s important to be able to have some measurement of numbers to justify the cost of expenditure.

You also need to think about soft metrics because a soft metric is much more than a “like”. A soft metric could be a comment on a blog, an email sent to you or a comment at a face to face event. These soft metrics give you a great indication as to how your brand is perceived. So in addition to having a traditional spreadsheet to measure your growth in likes, fans, friends and circles there also needs to be a way of capturing the softer sentiment and finding out how they really feel about you. If they are complaining about one of your product lines or service quality, these soft metrics give you an early indicator that you can change things and modify your business very quickly to adapt yourself to what customers want.

Joey Bushnell: If we’re are selling things online you can track clicks and see where sales came from. What about when your main aim is to get an email inquiry or a phone call, how do we measure those kinds of sales and keep track of which inquiries came from social media and which didn’t?

Eileen Brown: There are several analytics tools which you can use to track the people who click a link from your newsletter. There are URL shortners with analytics such as Bit.lythat helps you track where the link has been clicked. You can give customized links for each individual web page so you can find out who is clicking the web link and from where. When I say who, obviously you can’t check by name.

You also have the opportunity to use customization in all of your social media activities and putting different customization codes whether that is a quick response code that goes to a customized link. You can track which of your online activities are being the most successful. Whether it’s the QR code on the back of your business card, the shortened link on one of your social media estates or if someone finds your phone number and calls you just asking them where they got your phone number from. All of these can be logged and tracked so you can find out which one of your channels is the most successful

Joey Bushnell: Good idea, and where do you see social media heading in the future, Eileen where is it going to go next?

Eileen Brown: I have a one word answer for this… Mobile.

The future is in the palm of your hand. Stop at bus station or train station, everyone is looking at their mobile device. It’s a business imperative now for you to get your website mobile enabled. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy your goods, services or get in contact with you from their mobile device or their tablet PC. With GPS and the proliferation of Wi-fi in towns and cities, we are out and about more often.

To have success from a form factor that is a mobile device, whether that is a location aware application that gives points, prizes, money off vouchers or discounts to people who check into your location or give competitive opportunities to people who are checking into another location.

Or it could be an augmented reality application so when people come into your physical property with a photo of their lounge to buy a lampshade or a sofa they can just scan the object in your shop and see this object in their own environment. Augmented reality mobile and tablets that is the future.

That wasn’t a one word answer but Mobile is the one word answer.

Joey Bushnell: Eileen, where can we get more of your info?

Eileen Brown: It’s very simple to find out anything about me. The first thing I would ask you to do is just Google my name Eileen Brown. From there you’ll find my website, you’ll find me on Twitter, my LinkedIn profile, Google Plus profile, you’ll find my WordPress blog and my cbs zdnet column. Everything starts with one simple Google search for my name.

You can also find out more information about social business strategy and social media strategy from my book. It’s written from a British-European perspective and it’s written for business, it’s not written for socializing or consumers, it’s written in a logical way. This is how business works in the UK and Europe.

Joey Bushnell: And just a quick search on amazon and they will be able to find that as well?

Eileen Brown: Yes, if you search my name it’s the only social media book. I think there is an Eileen Brown who is a children author but that’s not me.

Joey Bushnell: Great. That’s the end of today’s episode, thank you for tuning in. Eileen thank you for coming on the show.

Eileen Brown: Pleasure, no problem! Thank you

Get Eileen’s book “Working the crowd: Social media marketing for business” on amazon at the link below…