On social networks & engagements: An interview with Aliza Sherman & Danielle Smith

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image of Aliza Sherman & Danielle Smith

In 1995, Aliza Sherman founded Cybergrrl Inc., the first full-service internet company owned by a woman and Webgrrls International, the first global Internet organization for women. She is the author of 10 books, including Mom, Incorporated (2012, Sellers Publishing), Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing (2011, Alpha/Penguin) and The Everything Blogging Book (2006, Adams Media). Aliza has been featured numerous times in USA Today, US News & World Report, CNN, CNBC, and profiled by People and Time. An international speaker, activist, and author, Aliza was named one of the “Most Powerful Women in Technology” by Fast Company magazine.

Danielle Smith is a digital correspondent, speaker, media trainer, and video-blogger. She is the founder of ExtraordinaryMommy.com and appeared on the CBS Early Show, Headline News, MSNBC, and NPR.  She is a brand spokesperson at high-profile events including the Red Carpet at the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards, the 2011 NFL ProBowl, and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Danielle was recently listed on Babble’s Top 100 Blogs of 2011 and Top 50 Women to Follow on Twitter and is an award-winning former television news anchor

Aliza Sherman & Danielle Smith are co-authors of Social Media Engagement for Dummieswhich focuses on the fundamental techniques of engaging with potential customers through social media in order to convert them into consumers. Below is an interview with Aliza and Danielle where they talk about how to start engaging,  the changing landscape of social media, and much more.

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WriteForWiley: What made you two come together to write this book? How did the idea come about?

Aliza: This is our second book together – our first was Mom, Incorporated. While we were contemplating writing a follow-up to Mom, Incorporated, we presented together at the Type A Parent Conference and were approached by editors from Wiley asking if we’d be interested in writing a Dummies book. When they offered us the opportunity to write about social media engagement, we jumped at the chance because we lived and breathed that topic every day.

Danielle: This was the perfect opportunity for us to write about a topic we love and live daily.  We truly believe that engagement is the cornerstone to any successful social media. We were thrilled that Wiley considered us the team to break it down and make it digestible.

How and when did you get involved with social media? When did you realize its potential as a powerful marketing tool?

Aliza: I’ve been online since 1987 so I’ve watched Internet communications tools evolve over the last two plus decades. I think my “aha” moment about what is today called “social media” happened within my first weeks of going online when I received an instant message on a local Bulletin Board System (BBS). At that moment, I realized that there were other people online at the same time I was and that we could connect and communicate. The Internet has been a communications platform from the start and a social one as more people got access to the network. Internet tools have totally transformed how we all communicate and connect with one another and to information. Social media is just an extension of those original tools although the technology has gotten faster and more sophisticated. I started consulting clients about Internet Marketing back in 1992. We all began calling it “social media” in about 2007.

Danielle:  I used the online space as a local producer for MSNBC when news first ventured into the digital world…but that was back when I was still wearing my ‘journalist’ hat and the term ‘social media’ had yet to be uttered.  For me, I didn’t begin as a marketer, but rather, I truly began by engaging. I used first Twitter, and then YouTube and Facebook to create and develop relationships, to learn about my ever-expanding community. As I evolved, my business and brand evolved as a result of those engagements and relationships. I recognized the potential – I wouldn’t exist as a businesswoman without social media.

When did you start focusing on engaging with people on social media?  Why did you go this route?

Aliza: As I mentioned, we’ve been online for years and engaging with people. It’s human nature. And wherever there are humans, there will be advertisers and marketers wanting to reach them. Using the Internet and social media platforms and tools to market to people has evolved over the years and become more pervasive and more personal. Both Danielle and I believe in initiating and participating in meaningful conversations with other people in the social networks we use. Brands should do the same, but they need to be more thoughtful about how they do this. Our book Social Media Engagement for Dummies provides recommendations and examples of how to properly engage with the online community you’ve built for mutually beneficial outcomes.

Danielle:  I’ve never NOT engaged on Social Media.  I honestly don’t know any other way.  I started by having conversations, by listening and responding and I’ve developed strong personal and business relationships (including my partnership with Aliza!) It pays to devote time and energy to this space. I’ve certainly seen both people and brands ‘broadcast’ on all of the platforms instead of engaging with their communities, but it isn’t ever a successful endeavor.

What advice would you give to someone starting off using social media to market? 

Aliza: As with any online marketing efforts, “listen” first. Online this usually means read. Go into social networks with open eyes and an open mind. Listen to what people are saying. If you have a business, see what people are saying about your brand. Learn how each social network you want to use works. Do your homework and understand the best practices of marketing in online social spaces. Don’t try to do too much but instead do the research to identify the social network or networks that will work best for you and help you achieve your goals, whether they are personal or professional ones.

Danielle: Anyone who tells you that you need to be everywhere, that you need to use EVERY social media platform, is lying to you.  Dedicate time to establishing goals and determining where your audience is spending their time.  If your community is on Facebook, putting your efforts into Pinterest would be a waste of resources. Once you choose your platforms, spend the time to learn them and most importantly, listen to your community – they need to know that you care about what they think.

What would you say to people who are publishing materials but are not actively marketing their own works?

Aliza: I think you need to first start with your goals. If your goal is to market something, than you need to weave in more strategic messaging and communication campaigns to market your work. But you can’t do it in a vacuum and ignore what people around you online are talking about and sharing. Be part of more than a one-sided conversation about yourself. Being social online isn’t about broadcasting your marketing messages and leaving it at that. Interact with and engage your online community, and they’ll be more attentive and responsive to you.

What social media platforms work best based on the different goals you are trying to accomplish?

Aliza: There is no hard and fast about each social network, however, while there is some overlap, each one does tend to attract and appeal to a different type of person. LinkedIn is clearly more business and professional-focused. Facebook has wide global appeal and is more mainstream. Twitter requires more specific communications skills and can reach a global audience that tends to be more news and information focused. Pinterest appeals to a more visual person. In the States, it appeals more to women, however, in the UK, stats show that more men use it, so when you look at popular social networks and any online communications tools in general, you need to research if the audience you’re trying to reach is actually using them.

Danielle: I’ll add to Aliza’s comments that it is crucial for a brand or business to take the time to determine where their audience is spending their time.  This isn’t about YOU? Do YOU like Pinterest? Or LinkedIn?  It is about where your community is spending their time and how THEY want to connect with you. Meet them where they are spending their time.

Say I am an author who would like to get people to follow and engage through social media. What are the best tactics to achieve this goal?

Aliza: Start with choosing the right social network or networks to reach the right audience of readers. Build a proper profile and presence on a network you choose to use. Get to know how it works and listen to what people are talking about then enter the conversations thoughtfully. Follow both the people or brands you find interesting and relevant as well as the people whom you think would be interested in your work. Engage them in conversation. Make sure you do put out some thoughtful marketing messages as part of what you post online so people know what you do and can opt to look further. If you never state that you have written a book and never link people to information about your book or how to buy it, you’re missing the point about online marketing. But if you aren’t truly interacting with others and cultivating relationships, you’re missing the point of social media marketing and engagement.

Danielle: Connect with other authors, search for people who are talking about your ‘topic’, listen to the conversations going on around you and make sure to respond to people when they reach out to connect with you.

What are some bad social engagement behaviors? What advice would you give to authors who have developed bad social engagement habits?

Aliza: I think one pitfall is to think you must be everywhere in social media and spreading yourself too thin across them all. Even though social networking is a major aspect of our work and how we built up our own brands and promoted our books, we struggle with the same thing everyone else does: where to put our time and energy to get the most out of our efforts. There is no “one size fits all” solution to that dilemma, but being more discerning about your social media marketing helps you focus your time and energies in a less wasteful way. The other really onerous habit to get into is to do nothing but broadcast messages without ever responding to anyone or reaching out to anyone. That’s just anti-social.

Danielle: I must echo Aliza’s sentiments.  Since most authors handle their own social media, it is easy to find yourself overwhelmed and trying to be in too many places at one time.  It is best to narrow your focus and choose the platforms you think best suit your book, your message and your voice.  Additionally, it physically pains me to see anyone using social media platforms specifically to ‘sell’ with no consideration for the audience.  Do take the time to invest in your community.  Listen and respond.

How did you use social media to promote your book?

Aliza: We’ve promoted both of our books online with a website and a blog. For Social Media Engagement for Dummies, we have a Facebook page, Twitter account and a Tumblr. But the real power of our promotions comes from our own individual accounts that we’ve cultivated over the years. We just let our friends, fans and followers know about our books, point them to where they can buy them, and ask them periodically to let us know what they think of our book or to please review it on Amazon. We also make it a point to promote others such as fellow authors and to shine a spotlight on our fans. We are genuinely interested in our online community members and want to talk about more than our own books.

Danielle: It was crucial for Aliza and I to use the social media platforms to engage with our audience – after all – this is the crux of our book.  We used our individual Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Youtube accounts to share our excitement and keep our community updated on our progress and book tour. Also, as Aliza mentioned, created new joint platforms where our collective content could live.

We have made it a point to respond as people have reached out to us and to follow up whenever anyone has let us know they have purchased the book.

I see you hosted a LIVE Google Hangout to promote your book. How did that go? What were the challenges?

Aliza: We did a series of Google Hangouts surrounding the release of our book. I enjoyed them. We had several conversations with another author – Megan Francis – and the feedback from viewers was very positive. Virtual tools, like Google Hangouts, really come in handy when Danielle and I can’t be in the same place at the same time. When we aren’t on a book tour, we can continue the conversations in Google Hangouts and on other social platforms.

Danielle: I absolutely love ANYTHING live.  Google Hangouts give us the opportunity to connect not only with our community face-to-face, but with each other since we can’t always be in the same place.  I think it is important for people to see Aliza and I as real people and to have a feel for the relationship we share.  While some of that comes across in the book, the conversation we have live adds a new element.  And the addition of our friend Meagan made the whole process so much fun.

What do you see in the future for social media? Where do you think the practices and theories are going as a whole?

Aliza: The fundamentals of human beings connecting through communications technologies tend to remain the same regardless of the technological changes. People want to connect with like-minded people. They want to belong, be a part of something, and an online community can be that something. They seek information and the Internet and social media provides the tools to access information or have it delivered to them in myriad ways. The rapidly changing technology may change some of the processes of how we connect, but the underlying human desire to connect is still there. We’re in constant learning mode in terms of how the technology works and its impacts on our personal and professional lives. I think we’ll continue to see a backlash or negative impacts from this “uber-connectivity” we’re all experiencing right now. But social media has changed the communications landscape forever.

Danielle: The beauty and danger of social media is that it is constantly evolving. It is exciting to constantly be on the cusp of the ‘next big thing’, but at the same time, it can be a challenge to keep up. There will be new platforms to learn, but the desire to connect, to engage, will remain the same. Social Media has fundamentally altered the way brands and consumers relate to each other.  Where a barrier existed, where the ‘logo’ used to hold individuals at bay, there is now a desire for a deeper connection and an expectation that brands make the effort to understand the needs of ‘their people’.  Social media makes that possible.

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