Interview with Tamar Weinberg

Oct 17th

Only on very rare occasions can you say that someone "wrote the book" on a topic of relevance and it jumps from metaphor to accuracy. Tamar Weinberg, a social media strategist and author of 2009's O'Reilly published text: The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, makes a wonderful exception to the rule. An expert trusted worldwide for her experience, opinions and guidance in all things social, Tamar's book on the subject remains a vital, comprehensive and important work on understanding how to consider social media in marketing efforts.

We recently caught up with Tamar. The following interview shares her thoughts on social media, privacy protection and other topics of interest for webmasters, SEOs, and business owners trying to make more of their social media and holistic marketing efforts.

What types of limits make the most sense when attempting to be active socially, yet still protect your privacy? What kinds of personal information are most commonly offered, in your opinion, erroneously?

Most people would say the following: don't post anything to a social network that you wouldn't want your mother or grandmother to see. I think this rule is especially applicable in the social space. Even if you have no friends or followers, someone might be watching.
Think twice before you post something. Would you want to remove it in the future? Some sites won't let you, and worse, your message may have already been shared with the rest of the world.

How do you, as a media-recognized individual, view privacy with respect to adequately protecting and distancing your family members? Is it sometimes better to be anonymous? Are you currently surfing invisibly very often, or do you trend to identifying yourself most often?

This is a good question. My parents are definitely a lot more traditional than I, but I suspect that my 16 month old son is going to be living a pretty public life. I think that being more open is simply a way of the future, whether many of us like it or not. We're seeing the gradual push in that direction.
I present myself as Tamar Weinberg almost 100% of the time. There are very rare instances where I will come across as someone else, and those are mostly under accounts I created more than 5 years ago when anonymity was the norm in the social media space. Slowly, the online world evolved and so did my behaviors and habits. I know I'm not alone.

What are the simplest things a business owner can do to protect their privacy when increasing their social media presence and activity?

It comes down to really using your best judgment and thinking twice before you do anything you might regret. It also comes down to common sense. Use a different password for your email account that isn't the same as your Twitter or Facebook account, especially if those are very frequently used. You'd think this isn't an issue but it becomes increasingly more important as social media interactions come trusted, so accounts are really in heavy demand. I can't tell you how many tech savvy friends in the SEM space have told me that they were stranded in England and needed a wire transfer or just scored a free iPad and that I could get one too.
I don't think any of this is specific to business owners versus the average Joe. If you really are a public face of your company, though, or if you're looking to get a job in the near future, you should either avoid associating yourself with images of your drunken nights out and/or you should learn and master privacy controls of the various social news sites. You should keep your tweets and blog posts purely professional or at least not convey anything that would raise red flags either among your customers or your prospective employers.

How strictly should you maintain the lines between personal and professional when investing in your social media presence? How is this distance likely to impact your effectiveness?

Thankfully, there's no "one-size-fits-all" answer for this. My @tamar Twitter account actually is a mix of personal and professional tweets. I share social media and small business information, and I also talk about my son. Heck, I even announced the birth of my son on Twitter less than an hour after he popped out. :)
The answer is determined by who you want to be and what your followers expect of you. If you're blogging about technology and your entire blog is focused on tech - we're talking 50 posts a day here - and all of a sudden you blogged about how you were going through a divorce, it probably won't resonate with your readers. Then again, if that's all you blog about and built a community on that, taking on an unrelated theme may not really work for you either.
On Twitter, I actually think that having a healthy mix of personal and professional tweets is encouraged. If you're strictly professional, you're seen as a corporate drone. If you humanize your business approach, people will be enamored by what you have to say or do. A "blog" that is purely corporate speak isn't going to warm any of your prospects to you. Adding humor, avatars of the real people behind the posts, and giving more of a genuine human touch gives your customers a reason for doing business with you: because they want to do business with a person. They like dealing with people like them.
Social media has really fostered this shift of bringing people back in the picture. The last era that preceded this was devoid of emotion and it's about time that has come back.

Since it is such a young and emergent field of marketing, what are some of the criteria you use to decide to try a new socially-focused service or software? How does it earn trust and staying power?

There are now a zillion tools on the market. I'd love to try everything out but it's hard to really know them all and/or assess whether it would address my personal needs. I often represent the small business or startup and find that budget is a huge issue. Many people love social media because while it has a huge time commitment, most of the tools are free. For the smaller companies I work with, free does still take precedence. Of course, costly applications might be considered too if they boast great functionality, offer features that are not seen in the free solutions, and have an easy to use interface.
In this day and age, though, there are just so many people offering paid services for products that are already free. There better be a real unique selling proposition because trying to usurp the market leader isn't always going to be easy.
Sure, I pay for apps too, and usually I do so because the tool rocks. I love what it does, I love what functionality, and more importantly, I love the people behind the product.

How has early adoption paid-off or hurt you?

There's definitely a benefit to exploring the space before it gains momentum. You can get deep insights into the community before it gets saturated by spammers and those looking to make a quick buck. Plus, there's simply the competitive edge you get out of it. Having knowledge of a new community and knowing how to benefit from it gives you the opportunity to boost your own visibility. There will need to be some effort made on your part, though, to study the landscape and make some assessments on how to proceed. As an early adopter, you're probably going to be learning as you go along. You won't be able to wait for someone to spell it out to you in a blog post.
In the meantime, though, being first helps you build your own presence and become a leader in the space. That's what made Twitter beat-out Pownce. That's what helped some of the Twitter rockstars you'd have never heard of outside Twitter.com become so visible. That's what helped the folks in the Apple iTunes store build applications that actually earn the developers money, especially in a sea of hundreds of thousands of applications all vying for some attention. Being first really does have its benefits, but being first usually entails extra effort and attention to detail. If you're willing to go for it, I strongly encourage it.

What do you see as the long-term impact of mobile on social media? Is it happening already? How can you be more proactive in mobile social media?

It's funny you ask this on the day I finally bought a mobile phone that is finally catching up with the times. :) (I had a 3 year old Palm Treo with PalmOS. Yes, PalmOS was decommissioned last year. It's a long story.) While I held onto the phone, it wasn't because I love old gadgets; it's quite the contrary, actually! Today, with such widespread adoption of social networks, it proves that there's a much more compelling reason to go mobile. We love interacting online, but it's hugely powerful to put two and two together and meet an online friend face to face.
Mobile social media is all about doing more outside the convenience of your home computer or office PC. It's about networking face to face, which ultimately translates to greater successes as people who love you share all the great reasons why they do.
Mobile social media is also really in its infancy, but taking advantage of meeting persons of interest on sites like Gowalla, Foursqaure, and even Facebook Places can help build those strong relationships that are critical of social media. Plus, it's the early adopter mentality. You have an edge if you start now.

What are some of the warning signs that it is time to rethink or restructure a social media effort? What makes a clear point-of-no-return?

A lot of different factors could be the cause of a social media effort that isn't yielding favorable results. It depends on the goals you've set. If you're looking for followers and aren't getting any, you might need to reassess how you're going about it. If you're looking for traffic but none is coming, you may be using the wrong approach or targeting the wrong communities. If you're trying to get sales and are working at a social media strategy but see no movement after several months of effort (this isn't an overnight process), there's something to be said about the approach you're taking and it's time to try again.
Make sure you have some strong goals in place. Take a look at the landscape and see if there are untapped communities or influencers you have not been able to reach. See if your messaging is solid. Speak to other people in your community to see how receptive they are to your content. Just try again and keep working hard. Every business is social - but you might not be doing the right things to get what you're looking to achieve.
Sometimes it helps to fish where the big fish already are. Yes, it's great to be an early adopter, but it's even better to go where you know your customers are and where you're already hearing of success. You'll still need to work at it and revise your tactics if there's not much coming out of it.
But don't give up if you're at least getting some traction. Nobody said it will be easy. It is a process, and it will take lots of time.

You have a bit of a background in programming - so how much do you attribute this basis for your obvious agility through multiple social media platforms? Do you need to be a semi-programmer today to be able to stay in-tune with gadgetry, software and effectively balance all of the leading programs of social media?

LOL, my computer science programming background was...well, it ended after my very first class in college. I actually did graduate with a major in computer science, but I can't say I understand a thing about programming!
Therefore, while I programmed in a few classes in school, my background isn't reflective of where I am today. I've been living in the social media space since I got my first Internet-connected computer in 1992. I was using AOL when it was called Promenade and cost $9.95 for 5 hours (plus $5.95 for each additional hour). I thrived on local message boards. I actually went into computer science because I fell in love with the social media space before it was called social media, and I figured that computer science was going to get me closer to whatever it was that I wanted to do with myself! The schooling didn't, but I found myself where I knew I belonged after connecting with some great folks who introduced me to SEM right around the time that social media marketing started building momentum. The rest is history.
Agility might be a characteristic of programmers, but I think that once you really get involved in this space, it's a byproduct of your activities. Five years ago, I definitely wasn't multitasking as much as I do today. Now, I can't envision my life any differently. I can't see myself working at an office again because I do my best work at crazy hours with "breaks" that let me focus on other projects. I'm writing this at midnight. It's what I do and I flourish in this kind of environment. It can be learned and has nothing to do with a computer science degree. :)
I think a big reason for success in this space for me is that every action I take online is out of a passion for social media and being as effective and productive as I can possibly be. I wake-up every day with the goal to accomplish big things, and I try to explore the space as deeply as I can.
If you come into it with a passion for what you do, everything will come easy to you. If not, fortunately, there are so many people who are comfortable enough who can walk you through the tools and teach you how to get the most out of it all.

You've said that at a minimum, businesses need to be proactive and listening to social media. Do you believe that brands not yet established are able to sustain momentum simply by listening and reacting in an "appropriate" manner - or will they get lost in the shuffle without the aid of something more colorful and (occasionally) dramatic? Has social media become necessary for smaller business success?

Social media is absolutely necessary. I work with extremely small businesses in addition to companies in the Fortune 500. Sure, small businesses may not necessarily have much drama to act upon, but there are a ton of insights you can glean from the social media space. You can see what your larger competitors are doing and figure out how to run with your own campaign or see how to do it better. You can monitor your industry and find out what is happening that you should act upon in the social space.
The big concern comes to businesses who are so small who realize that they're not seeing much traction or conversion in a week's time. That's not abnormal. Social media takes time. Build the relationships first and then they will come when they need you.
With social media, ongoing communication is critical. Furthermore, small businesses especially have more flexibility to do it because they aren't restricted by their legal departments. The key, though, is to work at it. Social media isn't called social media for no reason.

In your book, you offer the study of how a Comcast rep used Twitter to find and recruit a Verizon customer. Is this type of scenario happening or even likely on other platforms, or is it the real-time response that has made Twitter such an effective customer outreach tool?

I actually once blogged about an online service I was disappointed with. The founder of a competing service wrote a comment on my blog post and I actually checked out the site. If they didn't reach out, I probably wouldn't have bothered.
Real-time response, though, is golden. If you reply immediately when someone is angry with your competitor, they may be more compelled to check you out while they're angry and thinking about how much they hate the competitor. Plus, what if this prospective customer doesn't know who you are? That's a good opportunity to build brand awareness.

What is the main thing people misunderstand or overlook about Twitter?

I think people still don't get it. Twitter's mission is to get people to answer the question of "what's happening?" or "what are you doing?," but at the end of the day, most people don't understand that Twitter is a social network. They hear that it's all about people sharing what they ate for dinner and don't realize that they can connect with people they know or admire and even engage with them.

What are 5 social media tools that you simply won't live without anymore? How does this list differ from the one you had one year ago?

As much as I love new tools, I also am pretty steadfast in my ways especially when something really works. My top 5 tools are:

  • Google Reader, which I have been using for about 2 years (I was a Bloglines addict before that, though)
  • HootSuite, but before that, it was all about the Twitter web interface and Twhirl. I also use Seesmic Desktop occasionally.
  • Skype and Digsby, because basic communication is still at the core of social media interactions. I used to hate Skype, but now I tolerate it mostly for video chat. J Digsby is a great all-in-one IM client. It just doesn't have Skype support. Before Skype and Digsby, I was using AOL Instant Messenger with the DeadAIM logging program (the last DeadAIM-supported version of AIM stopped working last month, so I'm bummed) and Pidgin. Yeah, I am a PC. :)
  • WordPress. Yes, I did use MovableType once upon a time, but years ago, I moved to WordPress because it was easier to install (the cgi-bin requirement of MT always threw me off!). WordPress has tens of thousands of plugins that help enhance the blog and make it feel like a real site.
  • Rapportive: This is an amazingly useful social CRM that integrates with Gmail (I run my dozen email addresses through Gmail's interface, so this really works for me) and gives me information about the people I am corresponding with. I can get their LinkedIn bios, locations, avatars, social networks, and more without having to manually look them up. As for what I used a year ago, well, there's nothing else quite like it!

Being active socially on the web is, or can be a full-time occupation. How does a lone, small business owner's participation differ from that of the lone, successful multi-site webmaster? How does one effectively scale social media efforts?

Don't spread yourself too thin. Try to build your presence where you know you can really make a difference, and branch out slowly if you want to experiment. Hopefully your marketing tactics will pay off to the tune of more business, more money, and the ability to hire more people who can help further your marketing message in the world wide open. ;)

Tamar Weinberg is a social media enthusiast and strategist who helps businesses boost their visibility on the social web. As the author of The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, Tamar cuts through the nuances of social networks and tells you exactly how to succeed online. She is also Mashable's Community Support & Advertising Manager.

Marty Lamers owns a Freelance SEO Copywriting company you can visit at Articulayers.Com. Since 2001, Articulayers has been fixing the world, one word at a time.

Published: October 17, 2010

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