Neal Schaffer of Windmill Networking is with us today for the Business 2 Community Expert Interview series, and we’re excited to have him here to talk social media! As the author of two books, Maximizing LinkedIn for Sales and Social Media Marketing and Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn, as well as a contributing author to a book of social media case studies, Neal is quite knowledgeable on the topic.
6 Questions on Social Media With Neal Schaffer
1. How did you get your start in the industry?
My background is in B2B sales and marketing, but I didn’t get started to become an active social media user until early 2008. As LinkedIn was where I was spending my time and gaining expertise, I soon began to blog about my experiences as a networking vehicle as well as an easy way to share my expertise with the world. That was in July, 2008, and my blogging there actually evolved into the book which I first published in September, 2009: Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn.
To be honest with you, when I was blogging and writing the book, I didn’t consider myself as part of the social media industry. I was still pursuing career opportunities in B2B sales and marketing while writing my book as a branding exercise. That all changed when, after publishing my book, I started to get local speaking opportunities, and those quickly blossomed into social media consulting business deals. This prompted me to launch my own social media consulting company in January, 2010 and I haven’t looked back since.
So, as you can see, I got started in the industry in a very organic way based on market demand for my expertise.
2. What is the biggest challenge facing your industry?
I believe the biggest challenge facing the social media industry is education. To put it simply, the more educated businesses become on social media the better that they will be able to invest in and implement it effectively. This also means they will value consultants like myself, as well as other partners and vendors in the ecosystem, much greater than they currently do. For instance, I always say that rock star community managers should be paid six figures because of the influence and potential positive impact on business that they yield, but most companies still view similar social media specialists as something that an inexperienced professional or even an intern can do.
Social media is still a niche field of expertise which many claim that they have but most lack. On the other hand, with so much of our time being spent online in social media, and with the way that social media can virally spread information among friends and networks across the world, the need for businesses to engage in social media and strategically leverage it is only going to get greater.
Only with education will businesses, together with the entire social media industry, grow and truly reach their potential value.
3. What is the method to your blogging success? What inspires your blogs?
I always thought that blogging was free advertising. By sharing my expertise with the world through blogging, not only was I promoting myself but I was also paying it forward to so many others around the world and building up what I call “social clout.” I also try to constantly blog two times a week, but unfortunately don’t always find it possible. That being said, when I do blog, I try to either have a resourceful list of actionable items or provide some unique insight on a trending social media topic. I try to make it worth the wait to my reader.
My blogs are inspired by my own personal experiences of working with social media, either representing my own brand or working with clients. Sometimes I see people get carried away with only one side of a story, and I like to try to expose a different side or opposing point of view. I really like to try to provide some thought-provoking advice, so these “devil’s advocate” ideas that I have, which are inspired by the daily social media events around me, are my favorite ones to blog about.
4. What do you think is the future of social media?
Social media will continue to change and evolve and become part of our social infrastructure. I always say that social media in 2015 will be like the Microsoft Office of today – a tool that we all understand and use on a daily basis. That being said, as social begins to permeate and influence many things around us, it will not look like it does today in a few years’ time. Whenever I speak on social media, I always end with a slide showing hikers in front of a huge mountain, with a road curving around a bend. I tell my listeners that social media is like that mountain and is not going away, yet we will never reach the top of the mountain and the roads are always changing with no advance notice. Those that are prepared for change within social media, and remain holistic in their views of social media and how it can be best leveraged as a tool, stand the most to gain. That’s why I follow that mountain slide with a “commit yourself to social media” slide. Social media is truly here to stay, and only by committing ourselves and business with the appropriate investment of time and resources will we reach our maximum potential.
On the other hand, I presented in Japan last week (yes, I speak Japanese in my spare time!) at an agricultural industry event where I was asked, “What advice do you have for me to promote my rice on Facebook?” I answered, “Imagine a few years from now when every business is on Facebook. How will you differentiate yourself from the other businesses?” Until now just having a social media presence was a differentiator in itself, but that is rapidly changing. When everyone is getting bombarded with so much information (the recent emergence of Google+ doesn’t help…) every day, we can only spend so much of the day in so many social media websites. We can only engage with so many brands and read so many blogs. Attention is a fixed value that cannot be increased. This will be the biggest challenge for social media.
5. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Just like with social media, if you have no objective or reason to blog, don’t do it. If you’re only blogging to try to make money, while it can be done, not all are successful and it is a hard and long road. If you have some expertise or unique experiences to share with the world, though, I encourage you to blog, especially if you are a passionate person like I am.
Once you’ve decided to blog, I will give you the same advice that I give my corporate blogging strategy clients:
1) Get set up on WordPress.org. Yes, self-hosted requires a slight learning curve, but you’ll thank me for it later.
2) Choose a URL which includes a keyword for which you want to be found and/or plan to sell products or services about. It’s a good branding as well as SEO exercise.
3) Decide on a few “categories” or buckets of content revolving around the key theme of your blog. This will make it easy for you to blog x times a month per each category, as well as give you an idea as to what your readers are resonating with by being able to compare performance for each category.
4) Try to blog as consistently as possible, beginning with once a week and aiming for twice or even ideally three times a week.
5) Don’t start blogging until you have a 1 to 2 month stockpile of blog posts. I have seen too many bloggers start on their blogs by blogging several times a week and then running out of things to say in a few weeks….
6. Where can we find you on the web/on Twitter/Facebook/etc.?
Empire Avenue: http://empireavenue.com/nealschaffer
For more in the Business 2 Community Expert Interview Series, please visit our archive.