SitePoint Podcast #99: The Now Revolution with Amber Naslund & Jay Baer

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Episode 99 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy) chats with Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) and Jay Baer (@jaybaer) about their book, The Now Revolution, which is aimed at making your business faster, smarter, and more social.

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Interview Transcript

Patrick: February 11th, 2011. Today we’re chatting with the co-authors of a new book aimed at making your business faster, smarter and more social. This is the SitePoint Podcast #99: The Now Revolution with Amber Naslund and Jay Baer.

Hello and welcome to another interview edition of the SitePoint Podcast. This is Patrick O’Keefe and I’m riding solo today as I interview Amber Naslund and Jay Baer. This is episode 99 of the SitePoint Podcast, which means we are just one episode away from the magic number of 100. In honor of this milestone we are hosting a special live episode of the SitePoint Podcast. We have some special things planned and we’d love to have you with us in the room interacting during the episode. We look forward to seeing you there.

Amber Naslund is the Vice President of Social Strategy for social media monitoring platform Radian6. She is a frequent speaker and is the co-author of the blog Brass Tack Thinking which is at brasstackthinking.com. You can also find her on Twitter @ambercadabra. Jay Baer is the founder of social media strategy firm Convince and Convert. He is the author of the blog of the same name located at convinceandconvert.com. He is also a regular conference and event speaker and you can find him on Twitter @jaybaer. Together, Amber and Jay have co-authored a new book, The Now Revolution, which promises to help you learn the seven shifts that can make your company faster, smarter and more social, each explained with case studies, useful tips, and actionable implementation advice. Jay and Amber welcome to the show!

Amber: Hey, how you doing? Thanks for having us Patrick.

Patrick: It’s great to have you on; we just had you on episode 88 of the podcast, the SitePoint Podcast, which was published November 18th and recorded in mid-October, so in about I guess a span of 12 episodes you’ve made two appearances so that’s pretty good.

Jay: It is good, but you know we’ve been pretty busy since then, so while it’s only 11 podcasts I feel like I’ve aged 11 years since then.

Amber: (Laughs)

Patrick: Eleven weeks and 11 years.

Jay: We’re operating in sort of dog time right now.

Amber: Totally.

Patrick: Wow. So this actually might be the last interview you do!

Jay: It may be. It’s like Benjamin Button.

Amber: Yeah, right, we’ve totally contemplated whether we should do the rest of our interviews and events from a beach in Mexico somewhere, so you know, maybe.

Patrick: Well, authors know that you can’t do that on book sales alone.

Jay: You got that right.

Patrick: It’s a lot of work to get that money.

Jay: You still have a job, right Patrick, just want to make sure you didn’t retire on the proceeds of—

Patrick: Right, I didn’t retire on the many thousands of dollars that I made. But I feel like I need to put a disclosure at the front of the show here because I am briefly quoted in The Now Revolution and was proud to have been asked to do so, and I’ve lead conference panels with both of you and I like both of you a lot, I want the book to be very successful, and no I haven’t read it myself, knowing both of you as I do I feel confident in saying that I think it will be one of the most important books for this space that will be published this year. So my bias is clear and I guess let’s get started.

In looking at both of you in considering the interview I did something that I haven’t really done before, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I actually read both of your About Me pages and your LinkedIn profiles, all of it, and I found them both really interesting. First, Amber, I wanted to talk about your background a little bit. One of the things that jumped out at me was some of the earliest positions on your LinkedIn profile were charity related, titles like Endowment Campaign Manager, Director of Annual Giving, Director of Philanthropy; and I was curious what pushed you towards that space?

Amber: That’s actually kind of an accidental story. I was actually a music major in college and my first love was the arts, so I got involved in non-profits because I was actually pursuing a career in arts administration. So the first work that I did with the Milwaukee Symphony was basically one of those “show up and give me a job, I don’t care what I have to do” kind of things, and they actually had an opening in the fund raising department. So, I didn’t have a professional background in that but I kind of learned in the trenches, and I very much fell in love with it, so the community building aspect, the volunteer management, you know it’s the soft side of communications and sales I guess for the non-profit industry, so I really enjoyed it.

Patrick: I hadn’t planned this question but I’m curious now, what does an arts administrator do?

Amber: It’s mostly the operations behind what you would see in like for a symphony orchestra it’s the entire back-end of everything that happens outside of the performances, so it’s raising money for the organization, it’s developing educational programs; it’s all the logistics and operations for the concerts themselves, so it’s running the business side of being in the music industry.

Patrick: Because art does have a business contrary to what some might think.

Amber: It does believe it or not, it really does.

Patrick: Art needs the bills paid.

Amber: You got it.

Patrick: And then following that you transitioned into more of a traditional marketing position, and I noticed that your role as a marketing and communications director at one company ended, and then the very next month according to your LinkedIn profile you started blogging at Altitude Branding which is now Brass Tack Thinking, and then six months later you’re at Radian6. Is there an interesting story behind that transition from that traditional marketing role to blogger to a company that is really on the cutting edge of measuring the social media space?

Amber: Yeah, well, interesting I suppose is subjective, but I can tell you how I got there. Doing the traditional marketing thing in a relatively traditional corporate world it was falling in love with the communications aspect of things all over again that I’d been doing for a long time, but really falling out of love with a lot of the really kind of staid, into my estimation— I was not an officially trained marketer so I took issue with a lot of the ways that “really good marketing” was done. And I cut my teeth on that position for a few years, but I really felt like there was something more, and I’ve always been involved in the online space even when I was doing fundraising stuff. I remember when it was really exciting that we were going to do online fundraising, and I was one of the big advocates for that. So the Web has always been a really important part of what I did, and I decided that I wanted to strike out on my own so that’s what you saw there was I quit my job, and I don’t recommend people do it the way I did it because I did without a plan. I literally woke up one morning and said I can’t do this anymore and I have a different idea, so I walked in on a Friday and quit and the following Monday I filed papers to incorporate my own business which was— Altitude Branding was actually a consultancy right out of the gate, and I was doing mostly communications and branding work because that’s what I knew very well. So I did that and that led into consulting work around the Web and social space, and Radian6 was actually one of my first clients, so several months later they picked me up as a full time employee.

Patrick: Cool story. So I think that you spoke to this a little bit, but how do you feel that that early background, accidental background in philanthropy, applies or has helped you grow Radian6 and helped people in general that perspective to navigate the social media landscape?

Amber: Well, I think in my estimation the community of non-profits and fundraising is very much sort of online community 1.0, building those volunteer organizations and the relationships that you build with donors and the donor cultivation you do over the years is very much, I think, the principles on which I social media is taking root; it’s the idea that you’re there first to establish a relationship with somebody and get to know their purpose and why they care about your company and then the money comes later. And in for profit business we often turn that on its head and say buy from us first and then we’ll care about what you do. So there are a lot of underlying principles I think in the non-profit world that I think are still very, very consistent with the community building, the social media mindset and then mash that together with my love for technology and how I think it powers business and I think it’s actually quite a full circle transition.

Patrick: Yeah, I think that’s a tremendous point. And really one of the things that I enjoy or have enjoyed about this social media online community, the people who work in this space, it’s a lot of terms, but people in general, the people who are really good at this stuff that have a lot of attention are also very approachable people that are very giving of their time, that share a lot of information such as you and Jay and just looking at the inside of your book and the advance praise you know obviously I see a lot of names here that are well known in this space, people I know and don’t know like Seth Godin and Chris Brogan and Scott Stratten, Maurice Smith and Mitch Joel and Scott Mauney, and so on. I don’t know; it just seems like a lot of professionals in this space are very approachable and easy to access even if they are at the top of the space.

Amber: Yeah, that’s right. I think there’s very much a consistent thread of people who really get passionate about the potential for this kind of communication possess sort of the innate attributes in the people; we want to embody, we’re trying to embody the businesses that we want them to become so I think you’re on to something there actually.

Patrick: Excellent. So, Jay’s wondering “Why am I here?” So, Jay’s it’s your turn now. Now, Jay, you have a Bachelor’s in political science and I had Amber with philanthropy and political and generally I don’t know if people see those things as the same, as much as they should be, but when you were going to school and getting that degree what did Jay Baer want to be?

Jay: I originally set out to be a journalism major; I was gonna be Bob Woodward, that was the game plan, but took a college class, my very first college class, Intro to Political Science, and had an incredibly amazing teacher who taught us from a very well known book about political consulting from Larry Sabato from University of Virginia and it sort of turned my whole head around and was also the class where I met my future wife, so it was a very important class for me…

Patrick: Wow.

Jay: …and changed my major to political science and started in the political consulting realm, I started actually the summer after my freshman year, I started doing political consulting and campaign management. And what I liked about it very similar to what Amber said about philanthropy is that I liked retail politics, right, I liked the ability to win hearts and minds a few at a time, and I also loved the finality of campaigns. The day after the election you’re either super psyched or your super pissed, right, there’s really no— You’re never half elected and I love that part of it and I think that’s why ultimately I gravitated toward digital marketing and social media because you can keep score if you choose to do so, and of course we’ve got a lot of content in The Now Revolution about social media success metrics and tracking, and my background has been on that side of it for a long time.

Patrick: Cool. And there were a couple of other points in your bio which I thought would be of interest to all listeners, which are web developers, web designers, web masters, and so on, and the first was that you were VP of Marketing for Internet Direct and according to your bio they were the first virtual web hosting company. So in that role essentially from my perspective and quick reading of it we’re talking about the marketing of a brand new or relatively brand new surface, virtual web hosting.

Jay: Yeah, it was crazy.

Patrick: Yeah, and at that time how did you set out to market web hosting to small to mid-businesses in those early days?

Jay: It was such a strange time, I mean we’re talking about ’93, ’94 and literally my partner in that business invented the partitioning algorithm which allowed you to run multiple domains on a single box, before that it was one server, one domain name, and so he figured out how to run multiple domains on a server and so we ended up being in the web hosting business and so I was the marketing and sales guy, and the challenge was at that point nobody even wanted a website, I mean you could almost not even give them away.

Patrick: You could give these things away, websites, down the corner give away websites.

Jay: The people who understood, even at the very, very early stage, where this was headed and the power of the Web would pay crazy money, right, because they just really built their whole business around it. So, we primarily sold on features because we could out-feature everybody else in the market because of the way our technology was set up, and so it really became I think our slogan for a while was ‘nothing not included’, so if you were — if you knew enough to know that you wanted a web hosting company we tried to be the best one out there.

Patrick: So obviously how most web hosting companies reach people in this day and age is through the Web.

Jay: Yeah, it was not really an option for us actually.

Patrick: So I was curious, what, I mean obviously traditional advertising, business publications, newspapers; how did you go about kind of reaching those people and I guess what was most successful in the mid-90s?

Jay: We did quite a bit of print. So back in the day we did Internet World, Net Guide, Internet Week, PC Magazine, I ran a lot of full-page magazine ads back in the day. We did quite a bit of booth stuff at major Internet conferences back in that era, and then towards the end of my tenure at Internet Direct we just started to scratch the surface with any sort of online, in fact I bought the very first ad ever run on Ink.com, Ink Magazine’s website, and people sent me mean email for first sullying the content with an advertising banner, so I literally remember sitting there saying, hey, we could get this to animate, right, and like hey it’s a GIF-89A, check it out, we can have the mouse walk across the banner, and like the whole company walked into the office to see the mouse walk across the banner. It was an early days type of a circumstance.

Patrick: (Laughs) It’s a great story. Well, do you remember what the first virtual web hosting cost?

Jay: We originally charged I think it was $189.00 a month, and that would be a plan that right now would be about $9.00 a month.

Patrick: Okay, okay, well that’s not too bad considering how the Internet deflation works.

Jay: That’s right.

Patrick: Not bad at all. In addition to being around during those exciting times you also have a background as a web publisher and as the co-founder of azfamily.com, which is a large local focused website, obviously Arizona, and it’s now owned by an independent television KTBK that’s based in Phoenix which was founded in the 1950s. According to your LinkedIn profile the website began in August of ’96 and I started messing around with the Web shortly thereafter and have a general sense of how different a place it was when it came to tools and available software. So, at that time when you were developing this website how did you or your team go about developing it, did you write everything, did you have to create everything; was it as difficult as I think it was?

Jay: Oh, it was. It was crazy. And it was a terrific experience, it was a family owned media conglomerate, they had two TV stations, two magazines and two radio stations, and I sort of was the Internet guy. So we built the site azfamily.com to represent all of those other media outlets, and the smart thing that they did and that I made sure that we adhered to over the years was to have one site as opposed to six different sites, one for each magazine, one for each radio station, so you’re splitting your audience into very small pieces; we managed to get everybody to agree and put their egos aside to build one website. But we built the whole thing in Perl, the entire site was built in Perl with custom built CGI scripts, we built our own content management system, we built our own photo rotations, headline rotations, our own email distribution engine for email newsletters, actually did the initial very first IA, the very first site diagram I did on the back of a paper plate in my back room.

Patrick: Not even a napkin, with a paper plate.

Jay: A literal paper plate, yep.

Patrick: (Laughs) That’s funny. And as you walk through those tools I mean obviously it’s funny to think about it, and I recently was thinking about it with regard to the forum software space and I think how some people take it for granted because I was on Quora recently and I answered a few questions on there and it’s funny, I’ve spent too much time reading and answering questions to the extent of “Will X replace forums?”, “Is Quora the new forums?”, “Why haven’t forums done anything in the past 12 years?” Well, here’s the thing, like if you install forum software from 10 years ago and you install now you should see a tremendous difference, and the same is really true and it’s funny if you consider because even when I was coming up, so to speak, in the late ’90s and I started my really serious stuff in 2000, the tools out there, there just wasn’t much in the way of tools out there; I had static HTML pages, we didn’t have WordPress, we didn’t have anything like WordPress, this was back in the dark ages. And now you have things like CMS for WordPress or Drupal or Expression Engine, or whatever, and then you have all these email marketing suites, MailChimp, and so forth, and all these things people can sign up and have ready for free in about 10 minutes.

Jay: And I think about now, you know, we were doing probably three million pages a month on a site that was 100% homegrown CGI Perl spaghetti code, and to think that we even managed to keep that site online based on what has happened subsequently I look back on them, like I don’t even know how we did it, it’s really the world has changed so much. But, that’s the one thing about technology, right? Everything gets commoditized eventually, which is why so much of what we talked about in the book is not here’s how to operate this tool but here’s how to think about this strategically and have a plan for your business that’s actually tools agnostic because if you’re just chasing tools you’re always just chasing.

Patrick: Yeah, exactly. So you youngsters out there don’t take for granted what you have now as far as—

Jay: Exactly.

Patrick: Did azfamily.com have any community or interactive features?

Jay: Yeah, we had a lot of discussion boards and it was very much so, as you well know, one of the most successful areas of the site from a pageview generations perspective, I mean people who went into that section looked at an average of 13 pages a session or something like that, and people who didn’t go in that section looked at three, right, so a huge part of the stickiness of the site was all around the forums, and when I read your book it brought back a lot of memories both good and bad of those days. We had somebody one time threaten the life of an on-air talent in the discussion board, one of the TV anchors, and so the FBI came and like wanted our server logs and it was just crazy, crazy days. And I also remember sitting there working all night when we went to 2000, right, and making sure everybody was there in case the website blew up or the world ended; we’d have to be able to put the headline on, if it was Armageddon what would we do?

Patrick: Yeah. “You’re now reading this from a bunker; hopefully you have a good connection on that AOL dialup.” That’s funny. And how large of an operation was it when you left, I know you mentioned three million pageviews a month, but as far as staff?

Jay: We ran it super lean, we had two pieces of business, azfamily was a local contents site and then we also were a web design firm and built sites for other companies in Arizona. When I left I think we had about 20 people, 22, something like that, so not very big.

Patrick: Wow. Yeah, that’s pretty good though for a website local focused that was started locally and run for four years and I guess sold later.

Jay: Yep. Sold to Belo; the whole operation was, not just the site but the whole conglomerate, all the TV stations and the magazines and radio stations were sold to Belo Corporation, which own the Dallas Morning News and a lot of other things, for $350 million or something crazy, of which I saw nothing.

Patrick: Just to be clear. So let’s talk about the book. Amber, how did The Now Revolution come together, did one of you have the idea for it and then contact the other, did Wiley bring you together; how did the whole process kick off?

Amber: Well, the famous story is really that Jay and I had both been independently contemplating writing books. And I know that Jay had been talking to the inimitable Scott Stratten for a long time and Scott is a Wiley author and was nice enough to put in a plug for us at Wiley. And I have a couple of friends who were authors over there as well so they had been kind enough to recommend me, so the forces just kind of aligned really well, and Jay was thankfully more persistent and aggressive than I was at the time and he approached me and said I want to write this book but I don’t want to do it alone. And he and I seemed to think along very similar lines with a lot of stuff, we have some different approaches to things but our philosophies are very similar, so he came to me and said I want to write this book and will you write it with me and I said sure. So we put in a proposal and Wiley was crazy enough to tell us that they’d publish it, so I really have to credit Jay with getting the ball rolling here on something that I think we’d both been wanting to do but he had the gumption to actually take the next step.

Patrick: And for the collaborative writing process, well I should ask first, I guess you guys wrote the book together at the same time, right?

Amber: Yeah, we used Google Docs.

Patrick: Yeah, what tools did you use and how did you efficiently write together?

Amber: Well, we weren’t really heavy on the tools, I mean Google Docs came in handy for a lot of the writing and the editing stuff because it was in a central spot, but we got together one day in Arizona and I was out there for some business or whatever, so Jay and I holed up in a room at his old agency for a few hours one day and hammered through an outline and came up with what we thought were the central themes of the book, and we literally divided the books straight down the middle and went off to our respective corners and wrote our faces off and then we traded. So we handed each other the work that we’d done and we edited, added stuff to it, asked questions or whatever, and built on each other’s work, and we went through that similar process a few times throughout the editing; that seemed to work okay for us.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s just interesting for me as an author and I think other people who write with others in general because there are different approaches. I think I read Chris Brogan say something about how he scheduled time with a co-author and they wrote at the same time in the same Google Docs so things would be changing but you’re both sitting in there and writing at the same time, and that does seem a little chaotic but it can work for some I would say.

Amber: Well, I’m sure if it works for somebody that’s awesome. (laughs)

Jay: Yeah, I don’t think it would work for us, and we tend to write differently, a different process as well. When we put the book together we each wrote like almost literally the exact same number of words in this book, it’s crazy how it worked out like that, but I figured okay my system is going to be I’m going to write some everyday so I wrote 1,000 words for 21 straight days or something like that, and Amber is much more of a passionate writer, as anybody who’s read her blog can attest, she’s got that it means a lot to her, not that it doesn’t mean a lot to me, but she wears her heart and her beliefs on her sleeve and that’s what makes her such a powerful author. And so Amber sort of when she feels it is like okay here’s 6,000 words, it’s like blah!, just like rushes it out and then doesn’t write until she feels it again, and I’m much more sort of robotic and I just turn on the computer and just write and I’m like okay I’m done for today and that’s it. So, because we’re so different in that regard it would’ve been really, really difficult for us to literally co-author at the same time the way Brogan and Julian Smith do.

Amber: Yeah.

Patrick: Yeah, that was a really nice way to say Amber doesn’t write on a schedule. (laughs)

Amber: Yeah, it’s true. Well, he’s absolutely right that I don’t; I actually do really poorly when I try to force myself into writing mode, I’ll sit there and stare at a blank screen. So if I know I have a deadline I don’t blow deadlines but whether that’s 1 o’clock in the morning or 11 o’clock in the morning or whether it’s one hour or a four-hour marathon stretch of writing I just sort of have to tap into it when it hits me, and I don’t work really well on the whole prescribed daily words thing, and so everybody’s got to find what works for them and it managed to all come together in the end.

Patrick: The subtitle for The Now Revolution is “7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social”. And just out of curiosity did you come up with that?

Jay: (Laughs)

Amber: (Laughs)

Jay: That’s a question that doesn’t have a neat and tidy answer.

Patrick: (Laughs) Okay, I was just curious because I know with my publisher my subtitle was not fully me I will say.

Jay: I would say that’s probably true in our case as well.

Patrick: Okay, okay. But there are the 7 shifts, and obviously the book will go into more detail, but just to give us an idea of the contents can you give kind of a quick summary of what the 7 shifts are and Amber maybe you can go first and then you can alternate.

Amber: Sure, we can do that. I don’t even know how we came up with seven, I think we just decided we’d come up with as many as we needed until we were done.

Patrick: You were in Vegas at the time and needed a lucky number.

Amber: Yeah, maybe so, I am not lucky in Vegas. But the first one for us was about culture shift and the importance of — I think the reason we put that first is because we feel it’s really super important to have culture, mindset and intent sort of set out and all agreed upon before you can really move on any of the strategic or tactical stuff, so that was the first place we started.

Jay: The second one is all about creating a group of people within your company that you can trust and that social media makes hiring and staffing different than it has been in the past, that you’d have to have different people on your team and they have to really be a team, so we have a whole section on personnel and HR.

Amber: Right. And the third section actually builds off that one pretty seamlessly and talks about how to organize those teams, so once you’ve actually got people in place that are either in part or wholly focused on doing social media work how exactly do you organize them in a way that helps that scale across your organization and define some functions and bridge the gap between taking social media from a siloed function in a department to actually bringing it across borders and getting some collaborative work involved there, so that’s shift 3.

Jay: Shift 4 is all about listening which of course is endemic in the social media world, but we sort of take a different tact on it and talk about specifically what should you be listening for, what are the methods that you can use to tap into conversations about your company or about your brand and then the different types of listening programs that can be put into place in different companies based on their size and needs. So we show different models for setting up listening teams and then what to do with that information; one of the problems that I think is really widespread in social media as we talk today is that people have access to all this information and then they have no idea what to do with that, right, it’s not — data gathering and learning is not the same thing so we tried to give people a success path for that.

Amber: Right, and then we actually talk about, in the realm of what to do with that information; shift 5 actually talks about emphasizing the ability for your company to respond when necessary and actually get out there. The term that’s bandied about in social media is ‘engaging’ but we talk about it from several different perspectives about contributing content to participating to actually harvesting stories internally in social media to empower other employees to actually be able to be those kind of spontaneous spokespeople and unofficial marketing armies, so we talk a little bit about empowering everybody to have a voice and to be responsive when companies need them to be in a realtime business situation.

Jay: The sixth shift is what happens when you do that and it all goes horribly wrong.

Amber: (Laughs)

Jay: Which is the section that Patrick is quoted in, it’s all about social media crisis management and how to handle that and what to do about it and how to make sure it doesn’t occur but if it does what to do next. As we say in the outset of that chapter, “We hope it’s the chapter that you never have to read, but if you do have to read it, it will quickly become your favorite chapter in the whole book.”

Amber: Yep. And the last one is tackling one of everybody’s favorite topics in social media, which is measurement and metrics, so we sort of try to break down that beast into some clear guidelines for what types of goals you can realistically set for your social media activity and then how to decide which metrics and measurements might actually point you toward whether or not you’re being successful. So, we take the big hairy beast of social media measurement and boil it down into a way to sort of pick and choose some very top-line basic metrics that’ll get you where you need to go.

Patrick: So you talk a little bit, or a lot I should say, about I guess empowering individuals within your company to confidently answer questions themselves online or wherever. And part of that, and I probably know where both of you stand on this and so I just want to just throw it out there anyway, but the idea, the discussion of individuals within companies building brands while at the company that are stronger, or then the company and they take those brands with them, I mean at this stage that ship has sailed, right, is that a part of the shift of The Now Revolution?

Was that a bad question? Did I say that wrong? It felt like it came out really wrong!

Jay: It’s a great question; I’ll let Amber take the first crack at it because she was a community manager so sort of lived that circumstance.

Amber: Yeah, I mean I think that’s sort of the inevitability I guess of what’s happened online mostly because the days of the official spokesperson really are over, and I’m not sure that they ever really existed as much as we thought that they did, but it was an idea that we really liked to perpetuate. And so nowadays it’s just that we’ve given our employees things like the phone and we’ve given them email and we’ve empowered them with information about our businesses and we want them to be ambassadors for what we do, so it’s a sensible, I think, evolution to empower positions like community managers or even unofficial community managers in the sense that I tend to think that people in companies that are passionate about their role or passionate about their work or passionate about their customers are sort of defacto community managers; salespeople have a community of customers that they service, customer service people have that same community in a different capacity. Even internally people have communities that they need to foster, so I think those kinds of— I think that ideal of having people be able to be nimble and responsive to the needs of a company they’re accelerated by the speed of the Web right now, but I think they’ve always been sort of lurking there and now the Web is a catalyst for making sure that we have to be able to react at speed to those kinds of opportunities.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s funny you talk about giving them the phone and email, it’d be funny if every large company picked one person and took away their telephone and email for a month and then said ‘do work’.

Amber: Right.

Patrick: The Amazon.com product description for the book says that, “The Now Revolution isn’t about how to do social media, instead it outlines how you must retool your organization to make realtime business work for you rather than against you.” So it sounds to me as though this book is really strongly a book about the culture of your organization, is that fair?

Jay: Well, certainly it’s about the culture substantially, but it’s also about the mechanics; we talk a lot about how to create task forces and armies within your company, how to deploy those people, so there’s a lot of HR organizational process, how to make this actually work day-to-day type of insight in the book, but it’s certainly not a here’s the best way to get re-tweet kind of a book.

Patrick: Right, so there’s some do in there, right?

Jay: Oh, there’s a lot of do, it’s just not hands-on keyboard do, it’s much more the book is for people who are owners, high-level executives or people on the HR side, directors, managers to be like okay I’ve got all these employees, more on the way, how do we actually operationalize social media, which I was reticent to say that because Amber hates that word…

Amber: (laughter)

Jay: …but that’s really what we’re talking about, right; how do we take social media from wow, neat, nifty, and make it an integral part of what this business does day-to-day, and that’s why we wrote the book and that’s why we hope that the book is just as valuable five years from now as we think it is today because we tried to put something out there that doesn’t necessarily have a shelf life.

Patrick: Speaking of culture, I love that you cited ThinkGeek as an example within the book, largely for the culture they have as a group; Amber, what put them on your radar and why are they so special?

Amber: Well, I don’t know, there’s an affinity for all of us nerds in this space to love things like what ThinkGeek does. Personally I really want to get— I think it’s ThinkGeek that has this; it’s like a frame for your iPad that’s like an Etch A Sketch.

Patrick: Awesome. I actually just saw that the other day, it’s funny.

Amber: So very cool. But they just really live and breathe that idea of imparting the culture of your organization into every single individual person, so part of what we cited in the little, brief case study was the fact that one of their first interview questions for new employees is whether they prefer Star Wars or Star Trek. And so even the way that they vet potential employees is true to their sort of mindset, their spirit, their personality, and so right out of the gate they’re sort of guaranteeing that they at least get people there who have the right mindset and place first. You can train for skills and you can train for capabilities but you can’t really train mindset, and so they’ve really embodied that idea of bringing the right people onto the bus, as Jim Collins would say, and then empowering them with the information and tools they need to do their jobs but they’re all kind of on the same page to start with.

Patrick: And the Etch A Sketch iPad case is $39.99 on Thinkgeek.com. They also have an iPhone version for $24.99.

Amber: Man, that’s so cool, my visa card is cringing in my wallet right now.

Patrick: And maybe the coolest thing about is that the back of it is actually a mock of what was on the back of the Etch A Sketch, the little black ridges and all that stuff on the back.

Amber: No kidding? God, see that’s so cool. (laughs)

Jay: That really is awesome.

Patrick: Yeah, I actually found a Christmas present for my brother on there last year. He plays the game BioShock and if you’re familiar with that game, which I’m sure some of the listeners are, they have an actual syringe on there from the game like a prop within the game they’re selling it, and yeah, so you could spend hours on that website.

Now, I have some familiarity with forums and I found a quote on page 149 that was interesting, speaking in relation to crisis management you write that “An FAQ page without a discussion forum runs contrary to the expectations of today’s customers/reporters.” And forum in that usage is really meant to imply any open space where people can discuss an issue. Why is it important to not only make statements about a crisis but also to allow for open discussion that can obviously be rather unflattering? Jay.

Jay: Well, I think we feel that people care about companies and how they behave and ways that they historically have not, and the Web gives them the opportunity to do so. People want to see the sausage being made now, and things happen so quickly that if you say alright we’re just going to make a statement about what’s gone on and not allow anybody to respond to that statement in an official capacity; they’re still going to respond but it’s going to be in a public forum where you have no ability to control, right, so if you don’t give people what we call the pressure release valve where they can actually comment on your blog post or comment on your Facebook discussions tab or some other mechanism that you create then they’re going to take it to the public social web, your wall or Twitter or somewhere else where you really have a much harder time of corralling that sentiment. So we feel like if you give people something they say, look, we have set up this opportunity for you to interact with us and complain or vent or kvetch, or whatever else you want to do, then at least you have some semblance of opportunity to keep your arms around it.

Patrick: And in that kind of circumstance is there room for some sort of guidelines for the discussion, some sort of policies for interaction or is it should just let them say anything or is there room for some structure?

Amber: Oh, heck, we believe very strongly in structure. (laughs) It’s not a matter of— I think sometimes we can go too far to the edge of saying, oh, don’t police it because then it’s over-contrived, but I think the problem is that’s not really a realistic approach for most companies to take and actually scale that because it’s not so much a matter of telling people what they can’t do as a matter of empowering them with what they can do, so everybody understands the rules of engagement. So we think guidelines and policies are actually really important, and we talk very much about those in shift 5 and what we think some of the key elements should be in those guidelines to help people understand the lay of the land because they’re an important tool for businesses who want to take this beyond just one or two people in their organization.

Patrick: The final section of the book deals with ROI online. Amber, what are some examples of the right and wrong things that people track?

Amber: I had the chance to go into the right and wrong discussion because that one gets dicey. But I think the most important thing is to first understand what your aim is in the first place, so we talk about social media goals either aligning with awareness or sales or loyalty and making sure that the metrics you track line up to those types of goals. So if awareness is something that you’re after, metrics like reach or spread of information can actually be important indicators, but they may not be important indicators in terms of loyalty for your customers. So if you’re talking about customer loyalty you’ll want to track things like referrals or average transaction value over time and things like that. So, I think the important thing is understanding that we get caught up in a lot of these ideas, counting people like marbles or bottle caps or what have you because they’re easily accessible metrics and they’re very obvious ones to us.

Patrick: Twitter followers.

Jay: Yeah, exactly.

Amber: Yeah, exactly, that kind of thing. It’s so easy to get hung up on those things, but the really valuable information comes when you take those social media metrics and smash them together with other data points in your business that tell you something different.

Patrick: So in other words tying these things to actual business goals.

Amber: You got it. And Jay is like the goal master in that sense, he’s really, really good at laying that out and he did a lot of the work on that chapter, so I should actually shut up and let him talk here.

Jay: Well, I mean the challenge is there are so many different potential success metrics in social media and they’re circumstantial by definition, right. What your goals and objectives are in social media will in fact dictate which success metrics make sense for you, but the trick is to understand what it is that you are measuring at the business level and then find appropriate success metrics within social that help model that desired behavior. What happens in reality far too much now is that companies create a social media program and then decide to start tracking it ex-post facto, so you end up with this statistical gerrymandering where they say, well, what can we get our hands on from a data standpoint, let’s try and make that fit into our sort of narrative of how this program is supposed to be going, which clearly leads to poor decision making.

Patrick: I think in some ways it’s easier to make the case for The Now Revolution with large companies, but I believe that the small outfits, one to three people, represent such a great opportunity for growth and not just for book sales but growth in the space as a whole. And so how do you make the case for The Now Revolution to those people, the smaller entrepreneurs with small businesses that are short on time, Amber?

Amber: I actually think that to your point they have a huge opportunity mostly because they don’t have to reverse engineer processes or people or structure points of the business that actually might be a hindrance to this kind of agility. So in that sense it’s definitely an advantage; for the small businesses they’re going to have to get comfortable with the idea of doing a little bit of multitasking and that they are the community manager and the person who does the analytics and the person who does the listening, and they’re just going to have to do as much as they can. I guess it’s important to start somewhere as opposed to trying to do all of it all at once, much like we learned to adapt to email or the Web and incorporate that into our workflow in our business, we’re just going to need to learn to adapt social media into that workflow as well. So I think small businesses have a huge opportunity to start doing that from the ground up without upending too much of what’s already existing in their business.

Jay: Yeah, right. And so much of social media is about humanization and storytelling and building kinship, and small companies have a natural advantage in that regard because they’re so much closer to the customer, right, they understand the customer circumstance, the customer reality, much moreso than big companies do that have layers and layers of management. And so what we sometimes say is that social media lets big companies feel small again, but it gives small companies a natural advantage.

Patrick: Excellent. Well Jay, Amber, that’s all I have. Thank you for coming on today and I really hope that the book is a huge success for both of you and I’m confident that it will be.

Jay: Thanks very much. We were happy to do this and we’ll do it again 11 podcasts from now, just mark us in (laughter).

Amber: Yeah, you can just put us on the regular calendar. No, truly, thank you.

Patrick: Live from South by Southwest.

Amber: Right, right, there you go.

Patrick: Thanks guys. Once again that was Amber Naslund and Jay Baer, the co-authors of the new book The Now Revolution. You can find out more at nowrevolutionbook.com and you can pick it up wherever books and ebooks are sold. We’ll have links in the show notes to all related websites.

Thank you for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. I am Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network and I blog at managingcommunities.com. You can find me on Twitter @ifroggy. You can follow my usual co-hosts Brad Williams, Kevin Yank and Stephan Segraves @williamsba, @sentience and @ssegraves respectively. You can follow SitePoint @sitepointdotcom.

Do you have any thoughts about this interview? Please visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. Email podcast@sitepoint.com if you have any questions for us, we’d love to read them out on the show and give you our advice. This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad. Thank you for listening and don’t forget to attend our special live 100th episode, visit sitepoint.com/podcast for details. We’ll see you then.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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  • Vivek Parmar @WebGuide4U

    Podcasts are great, in no time you will learn more things from experts. Learned a lot from this podcast. Thanks for sharing.

    • Patrick O’Keefe

      Thanks Vivek! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • powerpotatoe

    I usually skip the interview episode, but I found this one helpful and interesting. I appreciate the discussions about how Amber and Jay got into their current work. Thanks.

    • http://www.managingcommunities.com Patrick O’Keefe

      Thanks powerpotatoe! Glad that you enjoyed it. :) I was really intrigued by their backgrounds!