The Journey of a Social Media Marketer: Q&A with SMT Influencer Rachel Strella
Here at SMT, we're always thinking about how to put the social in Social Media Today. From our #SMTLive Twitter chats, social media groups, and other interactive social accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) we get that social media is at its best when it brings people together.
Being that our influencers are one of our very favorite parts of our community, we decided sharing their stories, tips of the trade, and advice with you would be a fun (and very social) task. They’re the leaders of our SMT contributors, and they’re excited to share their perspectives with you.
This is the third in our series of interviews with our Social Media Today influencers.
We recently sat down with Social Media Today influencer Rachel Strella to talk about her social media marketing journey. Strella is the owner and CEO of her own social media management company, Strella Social Media. Feel free to check out her articles with SMT here after reading!
Social Media Today: How (and when) did you get started in the social media marketing world?
Rachel Strella: After college, I tried my hand at a variety [of] jobs in the marketing field. I wasn’t happy with the way some of the organizations handled their marketing efforts. The over reliance on traditional media was still very prevalent, at that time. So, my friend and mentor Maria, who I’d met through the Central Pennsylvania Association for Female Executives, suggested I might be an entrepreneur. In the summer of 2010, I met Maria for lunch. She shared her frustrations after attending a social media marketing event. She was still having trouble fully grasping - and implementing - the various forms of modern communication. Given my background in marketing and sales, Maria suggested I begin my own social media consulting company. I wasn’t sure if entrepreneurship was for me, but I decided to dive in alongside my day job. At first, the company was focused on helping small business owners understand the mechanics of social media marketing for their business. However, it didn’t take long to evolve into a social media management company as I discovered many business owners didn’t have time to maintain an effective and consistent social media presence by themselves.
SMT: What major impacts has social media had on your career and the marketing industry in general?
RS: For starters, I wouldn’t have a career without it. I didn’t intend on starting a business in this industry, but I’m so glad that I did, especially as early as I did. Now, it’s much more challenging to enter the game as an online marketing professional. There are so many people who want a career in this field. Social media and consistent blogging has allowed me to expand my reach in ways I never thought possible. I’ve built my audience, dramatically increased my SEO and generated top-of-mind awareness among my readers. Because of these efforts, I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients from New York, Los Angeles, Florida, Texas, Utah, Canada and even Europe. Not bad for a business from Central Pennsylvania. As far as the marketing industry is concerned, the impact of social media is an absolute game changer. Before the internet and the advent of social media, companies were the gatekeepers of the information about their products and services. Consumers received information with one-way communication such as ads and billboards. That changed very quickly when social media and online resources became available. In fact, in 2011, Google published a study which revealed that 70 percent of consumers were doing research online before engaging with a company. That number is now close to 90 percent. Consumers are now equipped with information to make better buying decisions and they are reliant on other consumers to receive information. This is a tremendous power shift in a short amount of time.
SMT: What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in social media?
RS: As a general observation, the way that the majority of businesses perceive marketing is still outdated. Many companies still spend a large amount of their resources on the one-way form of communication. They must be a part of the conversation happening online - by their customers and consumers, in general - and dedicate adequate marketing resources to account for this shift in consumer behavior. As a social media manager and consultant, the biggest challenge we encounter is the lack of control on the platforms. That may seem contradictory to my previous statement, but I’m referencing this is in a technical sense. The prominent social media sites - Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn - are all sites that are “rented space.” We don’t “own” them as we do with a website, for example. While we are at liberty to say and do what we wish on social media sites, we do not have control over changes, limited APIs, or customer service. We are forced to play by the rules created by the social media platforms - and those rules change often and without notice. Creating a consistent and concrete plan for our customers is challenging without a better way of knowing how and when shifts will occur that can significantly affect the plan.
SMT: What are the best parts of working in social media?
RS: Most [people] will agree that flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere is a clear advantage. I do enjoy that, but I also love that it fits my personality. I like connecting people, but I’m an introvert. It’s not as easy for me to work a room as it is a chat-room! Social media has allowed me to connect with a wide range of people that I might not have connected with otherwise - and across the globe! I also have the opportunity to employ my writing skills, which has always been my passion.
SMT: How do you expect social media to evolve in the business world over the next 10 to 20 years?
RS: People will finally get it. It will be a natural part of marketing, communications, customer service and operations. The majority [of] (if not all) marketing resources will be utilized on social media and online communications. I also believe that we will find a balance, however. There are many who will argue that people would rather be on their phones than in a real F2F conversation with someone. I think we will come to a point where social media will connect us in the way it was intended - to supplement and enhance the way we communicate, not overtake it.
SMT: What’s your favorite social media platform today and how do you expect that platform to evolve over time?
RS: Instagram. It’s so easy on the eye. I love that the visual elements take center stage and I can eliminate some of the other clutter that can clog up other social media sites. I also like that videos are under a minute in length, which forces a succinct message. (Unless you use IGTV, of course). I believe the platform will do what other sites do and continue cater to individual preferences. Marketing continues to become more personalized. Enhancing the platforms to cater to individuals would be a natural evolution.
SMT: What’s the best advice you would share with someone new to the field?
RS: First, it’s important to have foundational marketing and communications principles. You might not need a degree in communications, but you should have basic writing skills and the ability to understand marketing in the big picture. It’s equally important to stay abreast of developments in social media, which are constant. The best piece of advice I could give a budding social media professional would be to understand how to tie social media marketing efforts to meaningful goals for clients. As I said before, it’s challenging to enter the field now, so you will have to establish a real purpose with the efforts for customers. This will come first from understanding what the client values. Then, connecting those values to meaningful online presence.
SMT: What’s your favorite article that you’ve written for SMT and why?
RS: My very first published post: “I’m Not Perfect: My Struggles as a Social Media Professional.” It showcases the importance of vulnerability. I’ve always advocated that brands humanize their presence. It’s the single thing I ask my clients to do, above all else. I like to practice what I preach.