8 Questions with Neal Schaffer

There are a lot of social media gurus out there, but the more you poke around, the more you'll hear the name Neal Schaffer. The founder & editor-in-chief of Maximize Your Social and Maximize Social Business, Neal also just came out with a book, Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success. I'm honored Neal spared some time to answer the following eight questions.

1. We hear that social media is good for a company's "customer engagement" and customer service, and sales. How do you measure how well you're doing with engagement? How can you tell how well you're doing on social media in general, beyond the obvious, such as "We just posted this promo code or product, and we sold 5,000 widgets immediately"?

There are three important considerations here:

1. Social media begins with an objective, or a strategy. The book I just wrote, Maximize Your Social, is all about my social media consulting experience, and providing a framework – and handholding companies – through creating a strategy.

When you create a strategy, what is your obejective? That brings us to point 2

2. Is your objective customer service? Sales? I don’t think customer engagement is ever a business objective. Because business is measured in sales, expenses, and profits. I consider engagement a tactic, a means to an end and not the actual end. Once you have an objective, let’s say sales, then you can begin to measure, in a number of ways.

3. If you have an e-commerce site or you do business online, it’s easy to measure using analytical tools, such as Google Analytics, that allow you to see where the traffic came from and which type of traffic is converting on which products.

If you sell to other businesses, it’s a matter of asking “How did you hear about us?” That’s a best practice that every business should be asking.

I do believe social media is measurable. If you think about it this way: How do you measure the ROI of a print ad? Or a radio ad or TV ad? I think if you think of social media in those terms, social media is extremely measurable.

2. Social media sites/apps seem to have sprung up in a logical evolution. Ie, first we had Facebook (apologies to Friendster/MySpace), which was like one-stop shopping. Then Twitter came to accentuate the status update. Then Instagram to accentuate photos. Pinterest for clothing/recipes/etc. Vine for short movies. Reddit for conversations. And on and on.  What can we expect next?

There is so much that businesses can do in the here and now without worrying what’s next! Why worry about what’s next when there are hundreds of millions of users on Facebook, on Twitter; when Pinterest users are spending more when they go to e-commerce sites than any other users. When teens are using Instagram and there are  great ways to promote your brand there if that’s your target market. So I always tell my clients: Social media in the here and now. Don’t worry about what’s next. 99.9 percent of businesses have not maximized their potential for social media on the platforms that exist today.

3. What company or companies do social media the "best" and why?

The companies that do it the best are the ones that are profiting off it! Unfortunately, I don’t think most companies have had that experience. It’s really hard to say. There are companies that are quite famous for their engagement with social media users. I think Zappos is one; they have an extremely open culture where anyone can tweet on the company’s behalf and they’re very engaging on social media. I know the people who run social media at Whole Foods, and I think they’ve done a tremendous job on Twitter and Pinterest and the rest. But once again, engagement is not an objective, and I don’t know what the social media strategies of these companies are, and if they’re reaching that objective. One company I brought up in my book which I thought is doing it really well is a company called Lawson. Lawson is a Japanese company. There was a survey in Japan asking a few thousand consumers which brand’s social media presence actually encouraged people to buy its products. And the number one company in those rankings this year was Lawson – more than Sony, Panasonic or Hello Kitty. They do social media best because they are an innovator and an experimenter. When a new product like Vine comes up, they want to be there first. Wherever there is a potential audience in social, they want to be there, experimenting. In that way, in the US, General Electic is unique in that they are an experimenter and innovator. Even though they’re sort of an old, “boring” business-to-business company, they’re also trying to inspire and engage with the average consumer for brand awareness.

4. Which people do the best?

Wow; there are so many people out there. The best way I could answer that is to say that if you want to start using Twitter or Facebook, do a search for keywords that are relevant to your company or industry or products – and try to find a role model. Role models exist for any industry. A role model for a musician would have well over a million Twitter followers. But a role model for one of my clients who sells chemicals for environmental consultants would only have a following of a few hundred, but they’re probably doing Twitter really well. Those role models are probably doing the best, but once again we never know if they’re hitting their business objectives.

5. What are the biggest mistakes companies make on social media?

Too many! There was a statistic that said that more than 83% of marketers are still trying to figure out how to create their own social media strategy. I’d say that the biggest mistakes are not having a strategy, and not tying that strategy to your business objectives.

6. Why are you so interested in social media?

It happened organically. I was in between jobs, started using LinkenIn to build a bigger network here in Southern California, and through my experience, and through my desire to help others and reach out to others, people started asking me questions about LinkedIn. Then I started blogging about it, and my wife suggested that I write a book about it all; I published it in 2009. I got a bunch of speaking engagements from that, and in early 2010, a number of companies reached out to me to create a social media strategy for them, to hire me as a consultant. That’s when I launched my own company and I haven’t looked back. I love the experimental nature of social. I love the creative nature. I always say it’s half-science and half-art. I love helping others and I’m passionate and social. So social media speaks to me on a lot of fronts.

7. What's your favorite fiction book and why? Movie?

I haven’t read fiction in a long time, I’m afraid. I’m a huge fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. When I saw it, I was in high school. I was graduating that year. I love it because it teaches you that sometimes you just need to unplug and look around you and rediscover the beauty of the people and things around you, and the life we’ve all been given the chance to live. It might seem like a trivial movie, but I found it to be very deep then, and I still do now.

8. Which websites do you visit every day?

I tend to visit social media websites, primarily every day, because I know that’s where I can find the news and what’s going on.  On my Android, I have the ESPN SportsCenter app. Like you, I’m a huge sports fan. I was a big baseball card trader growing up. I still have my Topps cards! I’m a huge fan of LA sports. Love the Lakers and the Dodgers.


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