You might have read a ton of tips from various social media experts and influencers. But today, the gentleman who has graced Branex Talks with his presence is undoubtedly the biggest name in influencer marketing. He’s none other than Mr. Neal Schaffer. Neal needs no introduction as everyone in the digital marketing realm knows him as one of the brightest and oldest stars in the Social Media multiverse.
He has authored three books, including Maximize Your Social, The Age of Influence and Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn. He is fluent in multiple languages, including Chinese and Japanese. He has spoken at more than 200 events speaks all over the world as a keynote speaker.
He provides social media consultancy and training to both international and local businesses in formulating robust strategies that leverage social media to glean the maximize returns.
In today’s conversation, he shares nuggets of wisdom that will your business thrive in the ever-changing digital marketing landscape. Let’s formally begin the interview.
Q: Hey, Neal. First of all, tell us how you started your journey? How did you become such a big influencer?
Neal Schaffer: You know it’s funny. My journey started back in 2008. I had actually gotten back from Japan, where I’d lived for fifteen years. I was in the job market for the first time in the United States, which sounds sort of weird being born and raised here.
And at that time, I was in a situation where I really did not have a local network and I wanted to build one. And that’s where I became a real heavy user of LinkedIn.
Heavy to the point that I was participating in LinkedIn groups & I created my own LinkedIn group. LinkedIn used to have a queue forum called LinkedIn Answers.
I was just very active and when I ended up landing my job, I decided that I wanted to share all of this knowledge that I’d gained really as a networking vehicle.
I wanted to dig my well before I get thirsty as they say and just continue my network building even though I’d found my job. So I launched a blog and that blog I launched on LinkedIn because LinkedIn used to support third-party apps and one of them was wordpress.com.
So I think you know I wasn’t thinking about branding obviously. I think the–what was it called—expert’s answers to your LinkedIn questions blog, something like that.
Content creation is really interesting because, at the time, there weren’t a lot of people blogging like there are today. Content marketing was not a word. You didn’t have these big corporations that you were competing against and I was talking about things that LinkedIn wasn’t talking about themselves.
I think they’ve got a lot better at that over time, so I began with content creation. It started with a blog and that blog then became my first book Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging and Maximizing LinkedIn and I haven’t looked back since then.
So that’s how you begin with content creation on a niche topic. I’m a little bit unique in that I started “niche” and then I went “broad”. I did not want to be a one-trick pony and just talk about LinkedIn all my life and that’s why I did that.
But that is how you start your journey in your yielding digital influence is through content creation, right? Also engaging and building a community, which I did and a lot of that was actually done on LinkedIn, at the time.
Branex: What do you think are the biggest challenges being faced by B2C companies and how to overcome them?
Neal Schaffer: Well obviously, you know anybody can create a product these days, find a factory in China– do drop shipping. So I think that B2C companies it’s a global marketplace.
So even though you might have had the number one market share in the United States up until today, all it takes is someone with the number one market share in China or Korea or Japan or India or Singapore or Germany or Russia to come in and start to take over your market.
So I think at the end of the day it really comes down to you know the biggest challenge is really understanding your customer and delivering on a remarkable experience for that customer that builds brand loyalty. Furthermore, remaining friends with that customer for as long as you can and let that customer teach you what other products and services you should be providing to help grow your business.
And I think that’s a really huge challenge. I think it requires companies to become much more human in their marketing, much more focused on customer experience marketing. And I do believe that part of all that can be leveraging influencers and letting them inside this word-of-mouth marketing about your company that’s really going to help build up.
Branex: What do you suggest when it comes to content marketing strategy for B2B companies?
Neal Schaffer: Well, you need to be producing content because you need to both educate your current customers on how to best use your products as well as educate prospects throughout the buyer’s journey. Through every step of the cycle that helps them decide on the best purchasing decision and that obviously should be your product or service so I think that you know I forgot who it is who said it.
The companies who’re really good about creating content about their product, they suck about creating content, about solutions or about lifestyle and the lifestyle’s more for the B2C. The solutions and how’s it going to make my job easier, how’s it going to help my company.
That’s really the B2B side of things and that’s really the focus, an audience-centric focus, on helping–this is the type of content that I believe B2B companies need to create more of. And like I said, influencer marketing for B2B companies as well they need to reach out to others in their industry, tap into other experts and other influencers and make them part of your content marketing and I think you’ll see a lot more success with it for a variety of reasons.
Branex: Can you give us some tips on how to manage sales and marketing goals simultaneously?
Neal Schaffer: Well, the best way to do that is really to break down the walls. You know sales and marketing, I’m not saying that should you have a VP of sales and marketing. Marketing and sales have different objectives. But I do believe that part of those objectives are mutual.
Whether it comes to content marketing or influencer marketing or social media marketing that sales can be a tremendous help to marketing in how can marketing deliver on their objectives without understanding what the objectives of sales are.
Because at the end of the day when the company grows, your marketing has been successful. And if your company is not growing because you have not understood what sales is trying to do or you’re going in a different direction there are problems.
So sales & marketing should be aligned. And one of the easiest ways to align that, I believe especially from a marketing perspective, is through the creation of an “employee as influencer” which a lot of people call employee advocacy.
But the employee-as-an-influencer program is focused on the sales department. If your company has a social selling initiative, try to become an active participant in that and help sales launch that if your sales team is so savvy on social media. You’d be surprised there’s still a lot of sales teams that are in that boat.
Branex: Influencer marketing is getting more popular day by day. How can a digital marketing professional turn into an influencer?
Neal Schaffer: You know influence is all about content creation. Now I know that there are some influencer accounts, like on Instagram, that are just memes or just quotes and they just use other people’s content. I don’t believe that’s becoming an influencer. I think that’s just creating a new media entity, right? Like a new magazine or a new newspaper.
If you want to turn into an influencer, you need to put your thoughts on paper, your face in front of the camera or you know the video. You need to first understand you know what it is that you’re trying to do. Why do you want to become more influential? You want to try to get a better job? You want to launch your own business? Awesome.
Those are all great goals you can have. But you really need to start with that goal and then what do you envision yourself doing ten years from now. And how can becoming an influencer help you do that?
So, hey ten years from now, I want to generate all my income just from being an influencer. Awesome.
What does that look like?
Is it are you a YouTuber?
Are you a LinkedIn influencer?
Are you a blogger?
And I think that when you think about it in those terms, you begin to realize what you need to do and obviously if you’re not passionate about something, it’s not going to continue for ten years, right?
So, it has to be something that you’re passionate about. So this gives you some ways of thinking of how you can become an influencer. But I do believe it starts with understanding you know what it is you’re trying to do, why you are trying to do it and envision yourself in the future.
And then trying to figure out you know how you’re going to get there. Inevitably it’s gonna come to content creation. But what’s going to be your niche, what’s going to be your content medium, what social networks are you going to try to establish your communities on and then it’s a matter of implementing & really building from there.
Branex: What are the key factors to consider when we define the strategy of influencer marketing? Which tools would you like to suggest for influencer marketing campaigns?
Neal Schaffer: Well, influencer marketing is no different than content marketing or social media marketing. It’s just another type of marketing. I believe it should be another line item in your budget. So, you have content, you have you know Google ads, have social media ads, you have influencer marketing.
So whatever you do with influencer marketing, the strategy should feed into whatever marketing strategy you have. It’s a holistic approach that I’ve always talked about. It maximizes your social what have you.
You need to figure out what are the specific areas of your marketing strategy, where influencers can push the ball forward more effectively than with other marketing channels.
Which tools do I suggest?
I have a blog post that I hope you can link to, on like 64 influencer marketing tools. There’s a lot of different tools out there & it really depends on a lot of different things if you’re B2B/B2C, if you want to build your own program, if you want to hire an agency or if you want to go through a marketplace.
So there’s no one single answer for that as you can imagine. But I do believe by reading that blog post; you’re going to get a really good idea as to what technology exists out there that can help you.
Branex: Workstation setting plays a role in enhancing productivity. Describe your workstation where all the magic happens.
Neal Schaffer: Ooh!Yeah, I think I’m going to have to avoid showing the picture. My workplace is not as efficient as it could be, but I will say just to give you a snapshot of a few things I have.
I do have this little IKEA. So I have a MacBook pro, right? But I do have this little IKEA computer stand, which helps to raise it to like a thirty-degree angle. I do that for two reasons. I find that it helps me be a little bit more productive when I type. It also raises my computer up a little when I shoot videos or my webinars or live streams.
I also have a– I don’t know how many dots by dots this is maybe a 24×24, square LED light that is right behind my computer. So that when I do the live streams or shoot videos or have Zoom calls, I turn on that light and it really helps light up my face. You know, lighting is one of these critical components.
I do use a fixed internet in my office, so I have two prongs leading into my or connected to my USB-C ports. One is my electricity & the other one is my wired LAN, and I use the Wi-Fi as well, so. It is on a regular desk, a desk that I bought–I think I got an Office Depot and I sort of constructed it myself.
I have a lot of Post-it notes when I’m on phone calls. I tend to make notes on Post-it because you know email is my normal workplace and if it’s not on my email, I need a way of organizing that. I also have a whiteboard where I write down important projects that I’m working on or that I’m waiting on. So hopefully, that gives you a little snapshot as to how I work.
Branex: Let’s have a quick rapid fire. Answer the first thing that comes to your mind after reading.
- Facebook or Twitter?
Neal Schaffer: Twitter
- Organic or paid?
Neal Schaffer: Organic.
- SEO or SMM?
Neal Schaffer: SMM
- Tea or coffee?
Neal Schaffer: Coffee.
- Book or Blog?
Neal Schaffer: Book.
Branex: You have an impressive 220.9K+ following on Twitter. How did you achieve this feat? What tips can you give small-business owners who want to grow their followers on Twitter?
Neal Schaffer: Dude, I’ve been on Twitter since 2008. So, it’s been like you know it’ll be 12 years this fall. It takes a while right, but you need to be active. And what I mean by active is both tweeting, responding when people reach out to you but also proactively engaging with others. And part of proactively engaging with others is obviously following others.
So, if you want to grow your followers on Twitter, you need to be posting every day. Hopefully, a few times a day. You should be talking to a few people there on Twitter whether they are your followers, whether you do keyword searches and follow other people and comment on what they posted. If you continue to do that over a period of time, your following is going to grow.
I would say the exact same thing for Instagram, actually. But you know that that’s the advice for Twitter. I don’t know if you’re going to get to 220,000, not every marketing expert is at that level.
That means some are much higher and some are lower. So, it depends on a lot of factors and how strategic you want to be on Twitter, but hopefully, that’ll give you some ideas.
Branex: Facebook algorithmic changes are actually limiting organic reach. What do you suggest for increasing organic reach on Facebook?
Neal Schaffer: You need to be doing AB testing. You should be posting content on a variety of networks and if there’s a network where you get more organic reach, more website traffic, more engagement, you got to invest more in that network.
I have clients that bang their heads on the table about Facebook’s organic reach. And I’m like look LinkedIn gives you ten times reach right now on the LinkedIn company page. Why are you focussing on Facebook? I will say if you want to beat the algorithm changes, obviously, photos and videos are the way to do it.
The days of just posting links– and I still fall into this trap, I will admit it. But really the more photos and videos you can post, it’s going to be less website traffic. Still, it means you’re going to be touching more people on Facebook because you’re going to get more engagement and, therefore, more visibility in the feed. It’s a little bit different. But if we go from the marketing approach to the PR approach of using Facebook, if we don’t want to pay for paid ads, that really works for most of the clients that I work with.
Branex: LinkedIn’s number one network professionals. What tips would you like to give to increase engagement on LinkedIn?
Neal Schaffer: Same thing. Post on your feed. Engage on your feed. Try to follow a few new people, try to engage with new people as well as with your connections in your network feed.
And if you do this right, five people a day, ten people a day, 20 people a day post once a day, post twice a day. If you’re able to maintain that for a good period of time, I think you’re going to do really well.
LinkedIn groups are back. You know there’s so much activity in the feed. I know that LinkedIn groups used to be powerful. They’re not as powerful. You could try to experiment, but I think just being active in your feed is going to help you get a lot more engagement on LinkedIn and as well as posting photos and videos. LinkedIn really is not much different than Facebook these days when we look at a lot of the content that’s being posted and a lot of the content that is going viral there.
Branex: Which personalities in the industry have been your inspiration? Would you like to name a few?
Neal Schaffer: Early on, Jeremiah Owyang was definitely one of the inspirations. He was an analyst at Forrester. He’s since gone on to do different things, but he’s still one of the true you know I believe thought leaders in the space.
Obviously, Seth Godin, who I had the chance to see speak is an amazing inspiration. Brian Solis has been an amazing inspiration to me throughout my career. Jay Baer as well. Dave Kerpen. Chris Brogan. Mark Schaefer, who is not my cousin, although we call ourselves virtual cousins. There has been a lot of people. So hopefully, those give you some ideas.
Branex: How do you see the future of digital marketing? What trends do you expect for 2020?
Neal Schaffer: Well, you know that we are not in a revolution anymore. It’s an evolution right and I believe that the need for content, the need for SEO, the need for marketing automation, the need for paid advertising and the need for influencers are the areas where I think companies should be focusing on in 2020.
I think we’re going to see a lot more brands get a lot more photogenic as they should. So you know we’re thinking mobile-first. I think at some point, brands really need to be thinking video-first. And those brands that do thing video-first are going to be way ahead of the pack going forward.
So we know like the future of video’s coming, this is the year. I’m not going to comment on that. But I will say you know in terms of engagement in terms of how we see people engaging with social media?
How can you keep people retained for a long time? How can you entertain people? How can you build engagement? Video is the key, right? So I hope that companies really take a more aggressive approach to video in 2020.
Branex is a web development digital agency. What is the one piece of advice that you would like to give Branex?
Neal Schaffer: I believe webs and apps, user interface trends change really rapidly, right? And I think a lot of companies are still stuck in the past. I think you should be or every company should really be rebranding their UI or really making sure that the user interface is kept up to date with you know the social media that we see, right?
You know we see sites like Instagram updating the user interface. We have new sites like TikTok that more and more people go to and are very used to that user interface—that look and feel. If your website is still stuck in the past, you know people are going to go from social media to your website; they’re going to be going wild.
Was this website was made 20 years ago? So, I do believe that that is really key and that is something that if I was Branex, I would be bringing it up more because you are a web app development digital agency.
I would also be trying to understand your customer’s needs more. They don’t have a need for a website, they have a need for generating more business from their e-commerce store or maybe they have a need for generating more leads from their content.
Try to find out those critical business needs that your clients have. And then position yourself as the company that can provide them the solutions, whether it be web development, whether it be app development or whether it be their partner in a digital agency.
So there’s a lot of different ways you can support your clients. Instead of thinking of yourself as a web development app/development agency, you are there to provide digital solutions to help your companies make more money using digital media. And you have all these different solutions for them.
And it’s being able to have conversations not with marketing people but with the VPs of marketing. Not with the VPs of marketing but with CEOs, trying to find the different ways in which you can help them and to be on top of the trends.
To be saying, “Hey! We need to have a quarterly meeting because the trends change so fast. We want to provide you the latest updates on where we think we can best help you. And obviously, we have the products and services to help you.
So you want to become part of that trusted network of advisers for every one of your clients. So that when they reach out to you or when they see “Wow! TikTok is really big.” Do we need to be on TikTok?” You’re like the first company they reach out to ask that question right trusted network of advisors.
And I think that everybody should listen to this. Obviously, digital is just one piece of the pie. It’s really about business, it’s about sales, it’s about profits, it’s about speaking the language of Excel.
How does that fit into the big picture? And if you’re able to articulate that to customers or to your bosses or to your clients, those are the people who I think do really well in digital and business in general so I hope this advice helps.