Chris Brogan very generously gave 45 minutes of his time last Saturday afternoon to skype into my class on Social Media Management & Strategy at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Chris is the president of Human Business Works and the author of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust (with Julien Smith) and Social Media 101. His new book, Google + for Business, will be released in November of 2011. Below are some of the questions from the MBA students as well as Chris’s answers.
Q: Why did you decide to write books on social media?
Chris: Actually I’ve always wanted to write books but I had in mind to write fiction. My coauthor of Trust Agents, Julien Smith, and I both had an early interest in entrepreneurship and then in social media as a way to build relationships. We found it to be an interesting way to look at the world. I was amazed when Trust Agents made the New York Times Best Sellers list-it must have been a slow week for book sales. On the other hand, there’s no asterisk next to my book stating this. J
Q: What is your take on Google+?
Chris: I predict that Google + will blow Facebook away, not by sheer numbers but instead by the huge traffic potential of Google+. This is partly due to the fact that Google and YouTube are the 1st and 2nd most widely used search engines on the internet. Dell is one company that gets Google+. Michael Dell is very active there in engaging live with the community. Talk about a trust agent-there’s no filter, no public relations person, he’s just talking with people about technology in the future. It’s all about building rapport-corporation systems don’t typically do this.
Q: What does it mean to be a trust agent?
Chris: Trust agents use the computer to be human at a distance. When you get a chance to laugh with someone, you take the information they’re sharing in a different way. It’s about engagement, building relationships, making connections. We forget how to be human online if we didn’t grow up with computers. You can’t discount emotions on social media but keep in mind that it’s not all “soft.” There’s business in there. You are in marketing regardless of what your job title is. It’s about sales, customer relations.
Q: How do we know it’s really the CEO or the celebrity who’s tweeting with us on Twitter or interacting with us on Google+?
Chris: Good question. Many stars have their agencies do their talking for them on social media. Taylor Swift has a 3rd party handling her fans on Google+. However, when CEOs or celebrities come off their perch, it matters-we sit up and take notice. Kanye West got tired of the media twisting his words so he got on Twitter to present his side of the story. You can still hate him but at least he’s making the effort to be transparent.
Q: If a company culture doesn’t have the openness that it should, should they even be online or have a blog?
Chris: Listening is the new black. Companies don’t have to tweet or post. They can just lurk to see what people are saying about their products or company. However, there can be a direct ROI to being more open and engaging. Tony Hsieh was able to sell Zappos for 1.9 billion, in part due to his open policy on Twitter to listen and connect with his customers.
Q: Will social media replace focus groups?
Chris: The question is, are focus groups really speaking for your customers? I had the CEO of General Motors say to me that focus groups and marketers were telling him one thing and reality told him another. The problem is that there is unstructured data on social media. It takes time to read through blogs and tweets to throw out a report of “really important stuff that someone should read.” There are some listening tools out there but we haven’t figured out how to quantify all this yet.
Q: What do you see as potential legal consequences on using social media? For example, if the CEO of a company is blogging something that’s not quite correct.
Chris: Good question. I have that same issue-what if I tell a company to do something while I’m consulting for them and it turns out to be the wrong thing. Professionals and companies have errors and omissions insurance that cover them for this. It’s best for companies to work with their legal teams especially in certain fields such as finance and healthcare. First, have a conversation about why you’re engaging in social media. Google the U.S. Air Force’s social media policy-they’ve done an excellent job.
Q: My company recently had an issue where someone wrote vicious things about one of our board members on our company blog. What’s your advice on how to handle negative comments?
Chris: Negative feedback can be the best kind-if everyone says you’re awesome but sales are down…obviously there is an issue you’re not aware of. However, anywhere there’s a chance for commenting, there’s a chance for stupidity. You can edit out crude language in the comments. If the comment is slanderous, you can report it but be cautious about throwing the lawyer card-can make you look like a jerk. Sometimes you have to accept the criticism and leave it there…acknowledge it by saying, I’m sorry you feel this way. If you look back at comments that person has said on other sites, you’ll usually find they tend to be negative in all situations. Also, many times others on the site will speak up and defend you…Keep in mind that research shows that 70 percent of people believe that if all feedback on a website is positive, that something is wrong. Why aren’t there any negative reviews? A good way to manage negative comments is to move it offline. Say that you’re sorry they had this problem and ask for their phone number so you can call them and talk.
Q: I’m concerned about how much personal information there is about me online. How do I handle this?
Chris: You choose how much to share. Don’t use Foursquare if you don’t want people to know where you’re going. When I’m going to a coffee shop to relax, I don’t post this as I don’t want people to track me down. And that’s ok too. Be smart about it. Embracing transparency is good but there’s too much letting it all hang out. Posting keg photos might be amazing at the time but perhaps not a few years later when you’re starting your career.
Q: We’re investigating Twitter as a business and professional tool in this class. What advice can you give us?
Chris: It’s about them, not you. If you’re not sure who to follow, listen first and then talk to people whom you find interesting. Look at Twitter.com/search for possibilities. My dad loves to play poker. When I showed him that he could connect with professional poker players on Twitter, it made it interesting for him. We do want to know more about you than buttoned-up you. But don’t post your kid’s photo to represent you or those red-eyed party photos.
Q: Any final tips?
Chris: The principles you learn from the web also work outside of social media. It’s all about being authentic. Also, keep in mind that making your own game is the new way of doing business.
Chris Brogan obviously practices what he preaches. He skyped in from what looked to be his basement and had to share airspace a couple times with his five year old. He was engaging and informative. As one of the students told me afterwards, he seemed like someone she would want to be friends with. She went on to say it was a good model for her in how to be both credible and approachable at the same time.