If you put together a short list of the go-to names in social media marketing today, Jason Falls would be among the top on the list. Founder of Social Media Explorer and co-author of the best-selling No Bullshit Social Media, Falls is a sought-after authority on the business of social media. He resides in a pretty elite group of experts. Recently, he took some time out of his busy schedule to gaze into the crystal ball and share where he thinks social media is headed and what you need to know to get there.
1. Can you catch us up on what you're up to these days?
I'm spending my days helping CafePress develop new and improve existing digital marketing efforts including content strategies, online media, social advertising and even public relations. We're a dinosaur in the e-commerce business, having been founded in 1999 before the dot-com bust. But we've got a vibrant, active community of designers and customers who we're trying to keep engaged and motivated to buy, sell and share on our platform. We're also always exploring new business opportunities and off-shoots. Our world is print-on-demand which means we take a base good, then find a way to print on it for you. As you can probably tell, the whole world of 3D printing is intriguing there because you're actually printing the base good, not building it. So let's just say I'm getting smart about that world, too.
2. What did your career path look like to this point? Can you talk a little about how you made the transition from owner/founder of a large agency to working for a big brand and how that evolved?
It seems like every few years, I make a big pivot. I started as a network radio producer, then pivoted to be a college athletic media relations director. Then I got into mainstream advertising, marketing and PR, later started my own consultancy that grew to an agency. Then I jump to the brand side with CafePress. I suppose I'm one for drama.
The CafePress opportunity was interesting, unique and unexpected. They came to me and said they were looking for someone to help them move to a more social business. I was happy to consult, but they said they didn't want a consultant. I laid out a few ways a full-time engagement would be possible, worked with Nichole and Jay Kelly (my business partners at SME Digital) to make it happen and it did. My thinking at the time was, worst case scenario, I go to CafePress for a while and get a master's degree in online retail and come out a ton smarter. That's certainly been the case.
3. What skills and experience prepared you for your present position?
Being a problem solver for clients is probably the biggest skill I brought to the table. Bob Marino (our CEO) is a fail-fast, fail-cheap kind of guy. He wants to try a dozen things, find one that gives us a working signal, and blow it up, then discard the rest and try 12 more things. There's the day-to-day work that needs to be done to build the brand's social presence, but most of my work is focused on those experiments where we're looking for a new way to drive audiences to do this or that. It's almost like helping run a startup within a big enterprise. It can be just as hectic and confusing, but it can also be just as exhilarating.
4. The book you wrote with Erik Deckers, No Bullshit Social Media, was a huge success. Do you have any other book ideas in the hopper?
Well, I co-authored The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing with DJ Waldow the year after No BS came out. Then the CafePress thing happened and I got busy focusing on that. I have a couple of book ideas I'd love to explore some day, but I'm going to need to get to a place where Bob doesn't need me going full steam ahead all the time to have time to do it. That's okay, though. I don't think books are all that credible if the author doesn't have the scars to prove they know what they're talking about. I'm getting more of those by the day. Heh.
5. What is the skill you think that social media marketers overlook and why is it important?
Math. If you can't analyze data and measure what you're doing, aligning that measurement to business goals and metrics, you're just another fluff writer selling the company a bunch of warm and fuzzy they don't understand. You have to be a numbers person, too, and make the numbers raise the management's eyebrows. If you're not talking in terms of top-line, bottom-line, year-over-year, month-over-month and user and revenue growth or savings, you're essentially telling the client or executives that you're an amateur. When you add "marketing" to the phrase "social media" you're talking about business. You'd better be able to talk business, too. Unfortunately, for the writery, creative types like us, that means numbers.
6. What do you see as the biggest challenge for social media marketers today?
Combining awesome creative executions with business-driving results. There are dozens of great examples of awesome social media and community ideas out there, but few that translate to real revenue growth or profit. We've got to start holding ourselves to a higher standard. It's not about a fun campaign. It's about a fun campaign that motivates people to buy, join or recommend. And it's about measuring that in a way the client or executives can understand and appreciate.
7. Where do you see social media headed?
It's going to continue to become one facet of a holistic digital marketing and even broader marketing mix. It's one main thoroughfare (like advertising or public relations) that has multiple channels to hit consumers at multiple touchpoints to deliver messages to audiences (and back to the brand). As we become more sophisticated social media marketers, we'll just blend it into our overall marketing approaches and it will become like everything else in marketing - another option to leverage to accomplish our communications goals.
8. Where are we as social media marketers missing the target today?
Connecting our efforts to business metrics. Period.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to people trying to be successful as a social media marketer, what would that be?
You've got to be more than a social media marketer to ultimately be successful. Sure, you can carve out that niche and serve a set of clients or your company and do well for yourself. But to truly add great value to a client or a company, you need to show them how social is one of many method to accomplish communications goals. Don't do social because it's social. Do social because it makes business sense to do it that way versus other options.
Many thanks to Jason for sharing his expertise. You can catch him on Twitter @jasonfalls, and writing for Social Media Explorer here. He also shares his personal musings and observations of life on Falls Off The Rocker.