I admit it – the chaos of the holiday season, especially Cyber Monday, got us a bit distracted from our biweekly “Talking With…” profiles. But we’re bringing back the series with a bang, featuring Mitch Joel, the president of digital marketing agency Twist Image and an active member of the Shop.org community. Mitch offers some fantastic perspectives on selling executives on the power of social media, which retailers are doing things right, how to find the right balance of not-enough content and too-much, and the biggest mistake you can make on Facebook. I think you’ll agree that the wait was worth it.
In a recent blog post, you outlined six ways for management to manage social media. In one of the suggestions, you said managers should lead by example and participate in many of these networks. If you had to sell an executive on the use of social media, both personally and for his/her company, what would you tell them?
I’d tell them to go Google themselves. Check out what people are saying about you, your brands, your senior management team, your competitors and the industry you serve. Check out places like Google Blog Search, Twitter Search, Technorati, IceRocket and more. You might just learn something or you might simply realize that there is zero conversation around you and your brands. And, here’s a hint: if there’s no conversation about your brands… that’s not a good thing. So, while this isn’t a tactic to “sell an executive on the use of social media,” it’s a great way for senior executives to understand where they sit and play in the digital landscape.
Shop.org’s eHoliday study found that 47% of retailers are adjusting to the economy this holiday season by investing more in social media. What are your thoughts on that strategy?
On one hand, it’s exciting to think that retailers are going to start listening and engaging in the many online conversations that are taking place. On the other hand, if they’re doing this because they think it’s a fast and cheaper way to break through the clutter, my guess is they’re going to be in for a very big (and painful) shock.
One of my new favorite thoughts is this: you can’t build community when you need it, you had to have been fostering a community, so that when the need arises, those community members are there for you. If retailers are just starting to build community now, odds are it won’t work in time for the holiday rush.
What do you think is the biggest mistake a company can make regarding social media?
A lot of companies have professionals who run around from boardroom to boardroom asking questions like, “what are we doing on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter?” To me, that is the biggest mistake. Don’t ask “what are we doing?” ask “why?” Once you can figure out why your company should be on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, you’ll be able to tie it directly into your strategy and your ROI. “Why?” is strategy, “What?” is a tactic. Too many companies are getting tactical without the strategy and then they’re left wondering why things are not really working out for them.
Name five retailers handling social media really well.
H&M is doing amazing stuff (especially on Facebook), Best Buy has been highly engaged in building community, Wal-Mart has been making some great moves with consumer reviews and sharing applications, Zappos has always been a blue-chip social media marketer, and I’ll leave #5 open for the many mom and pop operations that are really making serious in-roads and making their business that much more social and open.
Your book, “Six Pixels of Separation” was recently published. Tell me about the motivation behind the book and some of your favorite components.
My motivation was simple: write a business book using business language to get business people who are on the fence about the digital channels to better understand the changes happening in their world in a format they are most comfortable with (a business book). Along with that, I was encouraged to help those who are already deeply embedded in the channels and platforms to have one, centralized place that really looks at the changes in media and how this affects marketing and business. My favorite component of the book is the base premise that personal brands will rival those of the biggest corporate brands. As people become more connected and social, they expand their networks beyond geographical borders and can cross-communicate to masses – which is something we could never do before the advent of social media.
When you’re not blogging, how do you spend your days?
I spend my days thinking of stuff to blog about! Seriously, I am the President of a digital marketing agency called, Twist Image. We have close to 100 full-time employees with offices in Toronto and Montreal. We work with world-class brands, and I spend most of my time leading business development or working internally on client strategy. Everything I do: the blog, podcast, book, speaking, etc… all goes straight into Twist Image. We were just named one of the top ten marketing agencies in Canada by Marketing Magazine, and the only pure-play digital agency to make the list. So, that’s when I spend all of my days.
One of my favorite blog posts of yours recently was how people can easily and simply create content. While the post gave some great ideas about how to get started when you feel stuck, my question is really the reverse: can a person or a company ever have too much content (ie: too many Twitter posts or Facebook updates)? How do you know when it’s overkill or how can you keep that from happening in the first place?
I always laugh when I see self-proclaimed “experts” or “gurus” in these channels as the majority of them can’t be getting any client work done, because all they’re doing is tweeting and Blogging on their own behalf 24-7. I think there is a fine line, and companies have to figure out what I call, “the pulse” of how often to push content out there and how frequently to comment and add their thoughts elsewhere. Without knowing what the right pulse is for your specific business, I think things can get a little excessive or even a little too ghost-towny. There’s no specific formula as to what constitutes a good pulse, but once you find it, you’ll know.
How did you get started in the digital marketing space?
I had one of the first modems, and as soon as my computer connected to another computer, my brain exploded. My background is diverse. I used to publish music magazines (and yes, I put them online when most people didn’t even know what an ISP was), and once the music industry got tired, I moved over to help launch one of the first meta search engines on the Web (imagine, I was in the search game years before Google even existed). From there, I did a short stint at a mobile content company before meeting my business partners at Twist Image. In all of those professional shifts, the one key – and underlying component – was digital marketing. It was always my passion. It still is.
You’ve written a lot about the newspaper world and its struggles to make money. Knowing everything you do about digital marketing, if you were a newspaper publisher, how would you make any money right now?
I’d focus on publishing compelling content in audio, video, images and text that people were willing to pay for. If that didn’t work, I’d focus on publishing compelling content in audio, video, images and text that advertisers wanted to pay for. Bottom line, newspapers never sold content: they sold advertising. They need to figure out how they’re going to create some kind of relevant and worthwhile online advertising packages or they’re going to have to figure out how to sell content online. Both models are not easy and both models are going to require time and significant investment for them to flourish.
I saw in your bio that in one of your speaking engagements, you shared the stage with Dr. Phil. What on earth were you both talking about?
In fact, it was my first major public speaking event. The event is called The Power Within and they run these full-day leadership and motivational events. It’s usually five speakers. This one event was being headlined by Dr. Phil. It was in front of about 5000 people and it really set the stage for me in terms of discovering my passion for speaking in public. I am forever indebted to the good people at The Power Within for giving me that chance/opportunity, and it has lead to some fantastic events and business-building opportunities.
What’s your mobile device of choice, and why?
I currently have a BlackBerry Bold. I’ve been a BlackBerry power user since they first came out. I am also about to pick up an iPhone 3GS as I need to play more with the apps and augmented reality. Something tells me, I’ll be using both – together – instead of choosing just one.
Tell me something about you or your company that few people know.
I think few people know just how big and impressive Twist Image is as a company. I think most people have this preconceived notion that I’m just some guy who blogs, tweets, writes articles and speaks. It’s funny how being the “face” of an organization can sometimes create that misconception in the public. If people only knew how much time, effort and passion I put into Twist Image, its current growth and its future, I think it would shock them.