Influencer Marketing and Social Media Strategy, with Evan Kirstel (CXOTalk #328)
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Influencer Marketing and Social Media Strategy, with Evan Kirstel (CXOTalk #328)

Social media in the enterprise is of crucial
importance, but most brands, I hate to say, are not doing it well. We’re talking with Evan Kirstel, who is one
of the top social media influencers in the enterprise in the world. Evan is going to explain to us how to set
a social media strategy and how to do it right. Give us a sense of your background and who
are you. [Laughter]
Well, I spent about 25 years in the enterprise world in B2B tech from some big companies
like Oracle, Intel, and others through startups. A few years ago, I struck out as an independent
to take my personal obsession with social and digital to blue chip clients in the enterprise
and really never looked back. Evan, when we talk about social media strategy,
why is it so important for the enterprise today? Well, increasingly, social and digital is
where your customers live. In this world of digital marketing, you want
to meet customers, partners, journalists, and analysts where they are. In this attention driven economy, they are
increasingly on social media. It’s about engagement with clients, prospects,
and customers in a place where they’re increasingly spending the majority of their time, and that
leads us to social media. What are the challenges that brands face when
they’re trying to do social media in the right way? People like engaging with people. Brands come off as sort of interlopers in
this social media discussion and have a tough time being genuine, have a tough time coming
off as something else but salesy and pushing themselves and, generally, find themselves
lost in the noise. There are a lot of big brands throwing a lot
of money at social and digital, and it’s very hard to stand out, to get noticed, and to
find a genuine engagement in this landscape these days. Those are among just a few of the challenges
they face. What is the key, do you think, to building
an effective social media strategy? Content is the first step, having compelling,
interesting and regular content that catches the attention in a really meaningful way. It all starts with the message and the content. It also starts with community. Social isn’t about putting press releases
on the Internet. It’s about building a community of engaged
customers, followers, employees, and management. It’s really hard to nurture and grow a community. Increasingly, those communities are growing
around social media, and so it’s really important for customers not only to build a community
on social media but to nurture that community and to participate in what are hundreds of
communities across the digital landscape. And so, it’s a little overwhelming, frankly,
not just for individuals but for brands. Participating in a community, building that
community, is that the heart of social media strategy or is a social media strategy apart
from that? Community building and advocacy, developer
relations if you’re in that space, is increasingly an important component, but it’s a strategy
that begins from the top down and meets the grassroots coming up. It’s no longer the domain of marketing, communications,
or PR but, for brands, it means leveraging and energizing the entire company and its
supply chain, it’s leadership, it’s management, it’s investors, and all of the various stakeholders
that are out there increasingly visible and active on social. It’s a multiprong strategy and, to get it
right or to do it well, you have to have all of the spokes of the wheel in alignment. Evan, can you give us an example from your
own experience working with brands of a brand that’s doing it well? Tell us the story of progression, perhaps,
that you took a brand through in order to have that positive outcome? Well, a more recent example is AT&T Business,
which of course is a very old brand, back to the invention of the telephone, literally,
100 years ago. Of course, AT&T Business is a gigantic brand,
a ton of success, a ton of visibility. But even for big brands like AT&T Business,
it’s not enough simply to focus on paid media and paid social. What’s really required is to leverage an audience,
engaged audience around their events, around topics, themes, and keywords like IoT, 5G,
and health technology that are interesting and leverage channels that extend their reach
beyond typical advertising and marketing. Social, these digital platforms, are tremendous
enablers to multiply reach, to drive visibility of engagement, and to reach those journalists,
analysts, influencers, prospects, and partners that are increasingly social as well. By working on social and digital in a meaningful
way, internally and then even externally with influencers like myself, they’re able to drive
visibility, engagement, [and] impressions 10x what they were doing otherwise. I think that’s a trend that, with big brands,
you’ll see. Even smaller brands that maybe aren’t getting
their fair share of engagement and visibility are turning to social because it’s a great
gorilla marketing tool or tactic to leverage–for very short money–visibility, insight, and
opportunity in digital. Inside a brand like that, who is the corporate
or the executive sponsor that’s behind the broader strategy? It’s interesting. In the past, you would have seen, obviously,
marketing take ownership and marketing communications take ownership of that activity. I think that’s extending into this new area
of influencer relations. Analyst relations, as you know, Michael, has
been a part of the company ethos for many decades. Now influencer relations and influencer management
is now coming to the floor. We’re seeing sales, business development,
and even the product house beginning to leverage social to get the message out. It’s really become a multidisciplinary, multiprong
strategy beyond just traditional marcoms, which I think has been fantastic, often starting
right at the top from the CEO downwards. It does require that executive level sponsorship
for this type of comprehensive strategy to work. I think companies that have proved most successful
have a champion at the top. If you take Salesforce for example, who isn’t
a client but is a good case in point, Mark Benioff is one of the most social CEOs in
the world. And so, by leading from the front and setting
an example of tone and content, he really rallies the troops around employee engagement,
participating in that advocacy right down to the average worker there. That’s a company that’s done a great job in
social and digital. Evan, let’s shift gears and talk about the
social media platforms. What are the platforms that brands need to
pay attention to today, and how should they navigate these different platforms? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news,
but the platform strategy is really all of the above. It’s not Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter,
et cetera. It really is leveraging every platform in
a way that makes sense for them and for their customers. You’ll see a lot of headlines about Facebook
not being suitable for B2B or Twitter not being suitable for sales, and on and on. But really, these communities, from Instagram
on to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and, of course, emerging communities like Kora, Reddit,
and others are giant platforms with hundreds of millions if not billions, in the case of
Facebook, of users and subscribers. It’s important for a brand to leverage every
one of those communities in a meaningful way. Even in the B2B tech world, there are ways
that you can really make an impact on Instagram, Twitter, and even Facebook, surprisingly. The key is to keep an open mind and to practice
the art of social and digital, not simply discount these platforms because you have
a hunch they might not work. Evan, can you give us another example of a
company that is using these platforms in a multi-pronged manner? Well, there are many. I like to look at startups that, through social
and digital, are able to generate a huge amount of buzz from the ground up. I mean in our neck of the woods in Massachusetts,
there is a super small company called Blueforce. Blueforce development is building IoT systems
for first responders. There are about 15 people but, by using social
and digital techniques, they’re able to build a community of firefighters, policemen, and
first responders that are really robust and dynamic. Frankly, it’s kind of become, for them, a
grassroots movement around applying IoT technology to the first responder world. They’ve done it through Instagram. They’ve done it through LinkedIn. They’ve done it through Twitter. They’ve done it through a lot of content curation
as well as content creation. Here you have a small, 15-person company who
are able to punch way above their weight class and get noticed and play with some of the
big boys and girls like Samsung who are out there as one of their partners. There are just tons of great anecdotes and
stories and they’re all doing it for, frankly, a fraction of the cost of traditional media
and marketing. How do they do that? How does a small company like that have the
resources to punch so far above their weight, as you just described? I think it starts with building a working
group in a company of folks who are willing to invest the time and effort required to
make an impact on social. Everyone doesn’t have to be a fanatic like
I am, but you do have to invest many, many hours in the week to execute a social and
digital strategy. The first part was making a commitment to
putting out content, curating content, engaging and, generally, participating in this sort
of social landscape. The second is, frankly, they hired an influencer,
namely myself, to help amplify, engage, and spread the word on their behalf. The combination of outside help and building
a core team internally, it made it sort of a push/pull kind of strategy that has worked
out tremendously well for them. We’ve been talking a lot about community and
engagement. Let’s turn our attention to these subjects. How can a brand build that community that’s
so important? I think the first thing the brand has to do
is enlist its employees. Employees can be your biggest advocates and
supports. Many companies have hundreds if not thousands
if not tens of thousands of employees who have nurtured, trained, and equipped, can
step up as advocates for the brand. The second is to build a content marketing
strategy that helps them get noticed with compelling, interesting, fun, and insightful
content across not only written word but spoken word–video, for example, I know you do very
well–and on and on. That helps them get noticed in a meaningful
way across these multiple channels. Finally, it’s having an influencer marketing
strategy. It’s working with analysts and influencers
across the social and digital landscape in their particular vertical or verticals that
can make an impact. Many brands are waking up to all of those
strategies and are starting to find social is the key sort of spearhead of their marketing
initiatives. What are the characteristics of successful
efforts that actually do magnetize people in a particular audience, group, so that they
coalesce as part of your community? Strategically, it means identifying the profile
of your audience, really understanding that audience, which of course differs from Twitter
to LinkedIn to Instagram, and positioning yourself accordingly. It means meeting that audience where they
are. Typically, it might be at events, but also
small events, meetups, it might be large events like CES and pretty much everything in between. That means being active, engaged, and tracking
not only events, but the keywords and hashtags that are relevant to your community and participating
in the sort of watercooler conversations that happen around these events, key themes, and
hashtags, and driving engagement. Tactics like Twitter chats, for example, can
be extremely effective. Video, like we’re doing now, can be extremely
effective. At the end of the day, it’s about driving
awareness, but also driving traffic to your content, to your website, to your events and,
ultimately, to your salespeople. Having a strategy that links marketing, i.e.
social and digital, with sales and selling and sellers, is also a fundamental requirement
for driving outcomes. I think many people are kind of nervous or
tentative about participating on Twitter. And so, what advice do you have for those
folks who want to build that community and want to engage, but they’re not sure how to
do it? Well, I think you find folks who you admire
and are interested in through social listening and really emulate what they do and how they
participate and engage and sort of copy the best of them. That’s always a good way to get started. I think, avoiding controversy, politics, and
a lot of the nonsense that happens on Twitter and focusing on the 1% of pure tech conversations
is really helpful. I would say, don’t be afraid. I’ve been tweeting and posting for over ten
years and can count on one hand the number of negative, truly negative interactions I’ve
had. I think, besides the headline of trolling,
bots, and negativity, there is a really great community there that is just right for engagement
and focus really on education and sharing insights versus the more controversial side
of social that’s out there. Evan, let’s talk about followers. Everybody wants followers. Is followers the right metric even to be thinking
about? Followers is a metric. I don’t think it’s the primary metric. It’s important to recognize that a follower
is not a follower is not a follower. A thousand followers are not necessarily less
engaged than someone’s 100,000 followers. Context is important and it matters more in
terms of the type of engagement you’re getting and the type of topics you’re engaged with. I mean if you look at your Twitter analytics,
you might find you’re getting way more impressions, retweets, and mentions than someone with many
more followers. It’s important to understand what you’re trying
to achieve versus simply focused on follower growth. Although, having said that, using some best
practices in terms of tools, techniques, daily tactics, it is possible to consistently grow
your followers among other key metrics. There is a core distinction between followers
and the engagement of those followers with your social media stream. Yeah, Michael. I suspect your followers, having known you
for a decade or so, are pretty engaged with your content and what you’re doing. That isn’t true for everyone on social. It’s really a function of sticking to a game
plan, sharing great content, and being engaged with your community in terms of sharing, liking,
and responding versus simply going after a follower growth at all costs kind of strategy,
which doesn’t really mean much in the B2B world because, in the B2B world, we’re talking
about thought leadership; we’re talking about impressions, website referral traffic, and
content shares, not necessarily followers. What are the right metrics? How do we evaluate the success of a social
media strategy or social media program? I think there are multiple benchmarks. I think, looking at website clicks and website
referral traffic is an important metric. Many of my clients use HubSpot, Marketo, or
other tools to measure the impact of social media on website visits and referral traffic. The nature of the followers you’re getting,
are they relevant, are they prospects, are they partners, are they analysts, journalists? There’s really a qualitative assessment that
needs to be made. Also, outcomes; if you are engaging with your
followers, it’s quite possible to translate, to turn those followers into prospects through
DM, through inviting them to briefings, meetings, [and] events. The engagement side of social is an important
driver of actual leads and return on investment. We hear about companies chasing what’s called
vanity metrics, and that’s not the best strategy. Tell us about vanity metrics. What’s that about? This is very much a business-to-consumer side. In the ad world, all you care about is impressions. While that’s an interesting metric, it’s not
the only, most important metric that you need to consider. On B2B, it’s really all about education, sharing
insights, informing the market about trends and opportunities, and sharing something valuable. That extends beyond the sort of vanity style
measurement that exists in B2C. The more meaningful interaction, content,
and engagement you can secure from social, the better it is for the brand and the better
it is towards an outcome. Evan, it sounds like you’re always thinking
about, what does my audience want, so who is my audience, what kind of content can I
share that they will find useful, and how can I make myself available to them through
interaction to enrich their lives, their experience? Yeah, that’s very true. Thanks for that. The fundamental mistake many people make and
brands make is that they really make their social account all about them, whether it’s
personal, it’s all about me, or whether it’s the brand, it’s all about my news, my products,
my datasheets. That’s a massive failure. The key to being successful on social, to
getting those followers you referenced, to getting engagement is making it all about
the marketplace, the latest insight, the latest news, trends, or tech trends. It’s really making 90% of your feed about
other people. In the process of sharing interesting, fun,
insightful content, you’re attracting the kind of followers you’re looking to attract. I think if brands were more outward focused
versus inwardly focused, they could be much more successful. It’s really hard for many brands to be outwardly
focused because the entire concentration of marketing resources and attention is usually
focused on, “Here is the new, cool stuff that we have and we need to get the word out.” Like anything in life, it’s a balance. I mean there is a balance to be had. Whether it’s 90/10 or 50/50, striking that
balance for the brand is important. In any given day, the most interesting news
in tech is not going to be their product. It’s going to be something else happening
in the industry. Providing relevant context and insight into
what’s happening around them in the tech space is what will get them attention. Finding, sharing products and solution info
is important, but only in a sort of mix of overall conversations. Evan, let’s talk about influencers. Why is influencer such an important topic
these days for enterprise social media? I think it’s an important topic. It’s misunderstood, and there is certainly
a negative connotation around influencers that has really been well deserved in many
regards, particularly in the consumer side of things. Frankly, I consider myself a practitioner
as much as an influencer. Although I’m not an analyst like yourself,
I consider myself to have an industry background, a perspective on the industry, a point of
view. When you combine my “influence” with the audiences
I have with my industry background, I think that’s what’s of interest to brands. Just having a large audience alone isn’t really
enough to move the needle towards those outcomes that you referred to earlier. Influences, in any vertical, in any industry,
in any space across, frankly, the whole economy now have the opportunity to bring their unique
perspective and experience to the social digital world. It happens that my background in B2B tech
is suited for a bunch of clients in this space. But aren’t influences attractive to brands
because the influencer has that distribution? Isn’t it, in a way, like the vanity metrics
where we’re just looking at followers here? Yeah, I think there’s a continuum. I mean there are definitely people chasing
sheer numbers. I think those are more tactical kind of one-off
engagements. Frankly, the client relationships I have and
I’m looking for are long-term, multiyear, strategic relationships where I bring my point
of view and industry insight with an audience. I think it’s the combination of those things
that are important to me. But, of course, there are brands from Heinz
baked beans to mainframes that are just chasing vanity metrics. I think those won’t be successful in the long-term. The ones who will be successful are those
who look for long-term, strategic partnerships and relationship with an influencer or influencers. How should a brand go about selecting, finding,
and then choosing an influencer? I think there are many ways to do it. What I’ve seen successful is, frankly, through
social listening. Looking at who is having conversations on
a consistent, day in/day out, week in/week out basis, and really engaging with those
individuals and building a relationship over time. If you look at the clients I had, we’ve had,
frankly, relationships on social in some cases for years before engaging in a contractual
relationship. So, it’s important to seek influencers who
have an authentic experience persona that’s relevant to the brand and can add value versus
making a sort of hasty decision based on an agency or other input. What about the distinction between paid and
unpaid influencer relationships? There are things all over the map as far as
that is concerned. I’ve done unpaid projects because there’s
a win-win in terms of visibility and recognition. I’m focused on paid work because, frankly,
I can devote more time and effort to the relationship and to building a relationship with a brand. The more time I spend, the better I get to
know them. I think the more successful relationships
will be a win-win regardless of whether it’s paid or unpaid in that the outcome involves
a win for both the influencer and the brand. It’s not sort of a one-way relationship. It’s evolving rapidly. Increasingly, there are things like bartering
going on with influencers and other means of payment. We’ll have to watch this space and see how
it evolves. Any final thoughts or advice on working with
influencers? I would just advise, the more you get to know
folks on social and digital in your space, the more you’ll understand the landscape and
you’ll understand who is who in the zoo. I’d say, don’t rush into building relationships. Get to know people. Build person-to-person style relationships. Start small with maybe a blog, a project,
or a video. Then test it and then move from there. I think it’s in the interest of both parties
to have meaningful, long-term relationships. That only gets to happen when there’s trust
from both sides. I think that would be my preferred approach,
for example. Finally, Evan, on this topic, are there ethical
considerations regarding things like disclosure that the brands and the influencers need to
keep in mind? Oh, yeah, the FTC has pretty strong guidelines
now about influencers and influencer marketing. Disclosure is now par for the course. I think it’s a good thing. There has been a lot of shenanigans that have
happened in the influencer marketing world in the consumer side now for some years with
crypto and other schemes. I think that now that there is a recognition
that disclosure is fundamental, I think it’s good for the industry and good for the community
of influencers. Evan, as we finish up, tell us about the tools
that you use. You’re like a machine with social media. It’s unbelievable the amount of content that
you’re putting out. How do you do it? What are the tools? What are the processes or workflows that you
use? It’s funny. There are a lot of tools, and there are a
lot of techniques. I find, in particular, there’s not one tool,
there’s not one silver bullet that works, so I’m constantly experimenting with tools. Frankly, there are hundreds, now thousands
of tools for curation, for listening, for content aggregation, and on and on and on. What I find myself doing is being sort of
a guinea pig for my clients and experimenting with tools, different techniques, and tactics
to see what works. By experimenting with my own account, I can
then make suggestions to clients. What you see is an ever-evolving experiment
of different tools, different modes of social, even different platforms, whether it’s Kora,
Medium, or other platforms, so I can become sort of a practitioner, if you will, when
I make recommendations. The lesson is, there’s no one tool I could
suggest. But if you get out there and practice and
experience firsthand, through trial and error, you’ll find sort of a stack that will work
for you. Can you give us a sense of some of the key
tools you’re using right now? I love Buffer, for example. Buffer is a great tool for sharing content
queues, for scheduling, and curating content. It really is an effective tool in that regard. I love a tool called DrumUp that will find
and curate content into my feed. I love Brand24, which is a great social listening
tool and a tool you can use to measure outcomes and measure impressions and engagement around
keywords and hashtags across multiple platforms. Those are the three I would definitely recommend
right away. Okay. Any final thoughts, Evan? I would just say, let’s connect, whether it’s
on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram. Come join the party. I look forward to seeing you there. Evan Kristel, thank you so much for taking
time to teach us about enterprise social media. Thanks so much, Michael. I look forward to catching your next episode.

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