Neal is one of the most knowledgeable persons I know that has a deep understanding of social media, content marketing, and influencer marketing. I’m glad the Four-Week MBA community can benefit from his expertise, and I took the chance to ask him a few questions.
Gennaro: Neal, great to have you on my blog. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your experience with social selling?
Neal: I have been involved in the industry that we call social media, social media marketing, and/or social selling. There’s a lot of different words people use to describe it. I began professionally, actually, before social media.
My background before the advent of social media was B2B technology sales, business development, and marketing. I actually just organically began to blog about LinkedIn back in 2008, which led to my first book in 2009 called Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging and Maximizing LinkedIn.
This led to my first speaking opportunity in 2009, which then led to my first paid speaking opportunity. It was really in January 2010 when four different companies over the course of two weeks reached out to me saying they wanted my help with social media consulting.
And that’s where I launched Windmills Marketing, my social media strategy consultancy, which since then has really spawned a career in speaking, in training, in teaching, and of course in consulting and implementation.
I teach social media marketing and social selling to executives at three different universities. Rutgers University in New Jersey in the United States. I fly every year to Europe, in Dublin, to teach at the Irish Management Institute. And every two or three years I teach at the University of Jyvaskyla. They have an executive MBA program called Avance in Helsinki, Finland.
I also, obviously, consult with companies. Recently, I’ve been focusing a lot on influencer marketing, and I have a book coming out on this topic, The Business of Influence, which will publish in probably late 2019, early 2020, depending on the timing of my publisher. So, that is a little bit about me.
Gennaro: What are some of the trends you see forming ahead that will impact social media in 2019?
Neal: Looking ahead for digital and social marketing in 2019 and just focusing on a few trends I see:
First, chatbot technologies on websites. I believe they started with customer support functionality. They’re turning into more sophisticated bots. Obviously, dependent on how you program them, that can really help to facilitate a conversation on your website 24/7.
Businesses invest a lot in content and in social media to try to generate a lot of website traffic, but once they’re there, they’re waiting for someone to click on a shopping cart button, or click on a “contact us” button, or maybe download an asset. There’s a lot more we can be doing in between that. That’s really where the chatbot comes in. I’ve heard, anecdotally, reports of companies saying that they’ve had double-digit numbers in terms of percentages of people that visit their website who will actually engage with these chatbots. I see that as sort of a mainstream technology that is going to be catching on worldwide in the not so distant future. Probably, a lot of large businesses already have this technology. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but I think it’s something that every, even small, business should look at implementing in 2019 and beyond.
Speaking of chatbots, Facebook Messenger bots is something that is talked about a lot in social media. I would say if you’re already leveraging chatbots and you can replicate that with a Facebook Messenger bot, go for it. If you haven’t done a chatbot before, I would first start with that before moving over to Facebook Messenger. I’ve heard, anecdotally, great results of companies that are doing Facebook Messenger bots. It’s something that obviously if you have a large and engaging community on Facebook, this is something you should be looking at as well. We’ve already seen data that suggests that Facebook Messenger open rates and click rates are way beyond what emails get, for a lot of different reasons. That’s another technology that you should be looking into in 2019 and beyond, as well.
Gennaro: What are some of the other areas?
Neal: I think content is as important as ever, and if you’ve been invested in content marketing, which is no longer a revolution. It’s more like an evolution. It may be time, instead of creating new content on a regular basis, to look back at your old content: Revise it. Make it more authoritative.
If it was short-form content, because that was the buzzworthy trend of the day, make it long form content. I think that when you look at top articles in Google search results, they tend to be more of the longer form. So, that’s something that I think companies should really strive for, and really focus on the quality rather than the quantity. If you don’t have the ideas for new content, go back and work on your old content. Revise it.
In some cases, prune it because your old content is going to compete with your new content for search engine rankings. It might be time to actually delete out old content. This is something that I’ve been doing a lot of. So, that’s sort of my take on content.
Gennaro: What else you think is critical to be successful?
Neal: Paid social … This is really where the conversation began. I think that paid social is still going to be effective for a lot of companies, but over time it gets more expensive. And, consumers at the end of the day, even though it might be on social media, are still going to look at advertisements as, guess what, advertisements. I think that businesses need to understand that and understand that they really need to be savvy, ideally leveraging user-generated content for their advertisements. If not leveraging, influencer content for their advertisements.
This leads me to influencer marketing where I see the future going. I see it going there because I almost think that this organic social media experimentation is coming to an end. It’s just harder and harder for organic social content from businesses to be seen in the news feed. It really is pay to play, and when you pay for it, it’s becoming more expensive, and it is an advertisement.
Gennaro: What’s the way out then? How do you make it work in this upcoming scenario?
Neal: How do you ignite word of mouth? That’s what social media was supposed to be about was word of mouth. It’s really about harnessing the power of influencers, and I’m not talking about those million follower Instagrammers. Everybody has influence, and I believe you should be starting with your fans, your employees, those that are already talking about you, and try to build a community that can tap into that greater community that is out there in social media that should become your customer.
This is something I’m going to be writing and blogging and talking a lot about over the next few months, but if you could take all that energy you spend into your own organic social media presence, and you can focus that energy on relationships with people. People like I said that are already your fans, your employees, people talking about you, or people that are more of nano influence or micro influence, or people that don’t have more than 10,000 followers but have a lot of great engagement in the niche communities that they have. I think that is time much better spent, and I think that if you take the data, you’ll see that you can probably replicate your organic social KPIs very easily by doing that over a short period, working with the right people.
So, that’s why I’m writing a book on influencer marketing the business of influence, and that’s why I’m really excited as more and more companies realize that influencer marketing is about community and not campaign. I think that they begin to see the light and a lot more money will be invested in people in 2019 and beyond.
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