Inbound Now #20 - Defining social media demographics with Brian Solis

In this episode 20 of Inbound Now, Brian Solis joins us to chat about:

  • Forming relationships with influencers
  • Building a demographic to reach
  • Deciding on your social media goals
  • Getting people involved and keeping people engaged
  • Celebrity tweeting and celebrities leveraging their online influence
  • Brian’s thoughts on Klout
  • Where business-to-business companies should be online
  • Brian’s YouTube show “Revolution”
  • F-commerce
  • Using infographics


David:              Hey everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 20 of Inbound Now. Today I have a very special guest. He is Mr. Brian Solis. He is a well-known and well-dressed online marketing thought leader. He is the author of “Now is Gone,” and his latest book “Engage,” you can see it over his shoulder there. Product placement, I like that. He regularly blogs over at his site,, and he runs his own video interview series that I really enjoy. It’s called “Revolution,” and I recommend people checking that out. So welcome to the show Brian.

Brian: Hey, thank you very much. Thanks for having me on. I also want to throw a shout-out to Geoff Livingston, who was the primary author of “Now is Gone,” and then also, since I have the opportunity to send a shout-out to Deirdre Breakenridge, whom I wrote my second book with, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.” But really, right now, this last year and the next year are all about “Engage”.

David: Cool. It’s a great book. I re-read it. It came out about, I guess, what, a year and a half ago? And then there was a re-write. So why the re-write?

Brian: The book debuted at the last South by Southwest, 2010, and it’s a wonderful book. It did really well, and I was asked if I wanted to make any changes before it went into its next edition. I saw an opportunity to say, “Why not?” Why not preserve the original “Engage,” its original intention and walk the walk, you know? That walking the walk really entailed having spent a year listening to people’s reactions. Quite honestly, and in all transparency, people loved the original book for its depth and density. It’s a 400 page book. It explores not just social media, but social science, psychology, how we got here, what we need to do as businesses to really engage, not just the acts of engagement, but to genuinely build relationships through engagement. At the same time, people didn’t love it for its depth and density. They wanted a faster, more friendly read in order to execute.

So I decided that there’s nothing wrong with the original “Engage.” It is what it is, and you can still read it. So if I’m going to take the opportunity to write something fresh, then let’s do it. So I cut out 35,000 words, 40 topics, and added a whole bunch more stuff in there that might help people plan, execute, and measure at their pace.

David: Gotcha. I would imagine that a lot of the stuff, when you’re writing a book on the social web, a lot of the stuff is changing every day. So was that also something that you wanted to kind of update?

Brian: You know, I think I changed one or two references to products in the book, but for the most part, it was written to have at least a six year lifespan. So I didn’t change anything from a timing issue, because really the same principles are there. We’re really looking at how do we build better foundations for engagement, for relations, regardless of the platforms. In fact, I could have removed Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, and it probably would still be right on. But that’s the point of all this. It’s taking a step back. There’s no shortage of books that talk about the advantages of Twitter and Facebook and all of the other emerging networks. What was really missing was a book that advised you from a business strategy standpoint and then a customer-centric approach through social science, customer needs, advocacy, influence, etc., all of the things that we needed to learn at a much deeper level in order to not talk at this, but to really lead this.

David: Right. Cool. So one of the concepts you talk about in the book, social media has kind of introduced this new layer, new level of influence across all industries. How can companies find these influencers and form symbiotic relationships with them?

Brian: How much time do we have?

David: All day, all day.

Brian: I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to this. Really, all engagement starts with not just listening, but actual research. By research, I don’t mean monitoring. Don’t come to me and tell me how many mentions we have on Facebook and Twitter and blogs and what the sentiment is. What I need to know is what people are saying. I need to read between the lines. What are they saying about us? What are they saying about our competitors? Who’s saying it? Who’s leading the conversations? Where are they taking place? Who’s asking the most questions? Who’s answering the most questions? What’s recurring?

Try to get some idea of this intelligence, and at the same time, see who the influencers are at a higher level, looking at the marketplace in general. So that would be through tools like mBLAST, or maybe working with you folks, or maybe working with a company like Tracker to really identify those higher level influencers across all of those platforms, and then reverse engineer. What is it going to take to move them? What is it going to take to reach the audience of an audience of an audience, and in turn, direct them in a way that’s going to have a meaningful outcome? All of these things are things that need to be defined, not marketed against.

David: Right. That’s one of the things you talk about in your book, using the psychographics and demographics, and amongst other things, to kind of reverse engineer people’s actions to see who they’re talking with and how they think. So what would be some advice for our viewers out there to kind of start building that, that profile of the people they’re trying to reach?

Brian: Well, through that intelligence we get a better idea of who they are. And I think the first thing we’ll realize is that there isn’t one place to reach them. There isn’t one type of psychographic or demographic or behavior-graphic. That we have to look at why it is that they’re connecting, to whom they’re connecting, and what it is that they’re looking for, what’s that tangible value, and then building that engagement program in that regard. What’s the value we can deliver to each of those segments? How do we connect the dots of who those segments are and how they’re connecting to one another? Too, how do we go directly, how do we go indirectly? Through other influential voices and intermediaries, and that could include influencers and advocates. Then how do we measure success on those fronts? Because a lot of companies are rushing to Facebook and Twitter, any other social network, and they are building channels, they are getting people to like them, and they are getting people to follow them, but they are not really addressing the what’s going to keep you connected to me. We’re already starting to see customers start to un-follow and un-like brands because there isn’t necessarily value to translate the new spam in their newsfeed or their social stream into tangible benefits.

David: Right. That’s one of the things that you talk about, stating the goals of your social media program first, and then working backwards from there? And “click to action” as you call it, right? So can you talk a little bit more about that?

Brian: Well, a goal can’t be that we need to double our followers in 30 days, and honestly, I see that as a goal from some of the best-known brands out there. What we’re really looking at is determining what’s going to move the needle internally. Is that sales, is that referrals, is that impressions, is that influencing behavior, is that votes? I don’t know, whatever it is. Is it all of the above? And then realizing that you can still have a content creation and promotion strategy, you can still market, you can still brand, but there has to be some subset or some focus of social media directly to go and drive clicks to action that are going to have meaningful business outcomes. By clicks to action, that means that there has to be an outcome, a cause and effect defined in each instance. If I share a tweet as an organization that I need to measure, it’s going to probably include a click, a click-through passage. It’s going to have a click path, and there’s going to be some outcome out of that so that I can measure the conversion. What happened, how many people clicked it, what did I get out of it, so that I can constantly improve that experience.

David: Right. I watched a talk that you did a little bit ago at the Affiliate Summit, and you gave an example of Walmart. They were putting out a deal, and basically once the deal got 5,000 likes or whatever, people got the TV at a lower price. You kind of talked about it as a new distribution mechanism that worked extremely well, extremely fast, right? So these types of campaigns, do you see them as being kind of like the new Super Bowl ad? Just kind of spreading everywhere virally, quickly? What’s your take on that?

Brian: Well, information does spread very fast, very quickly, and that’s an advantage and it’s also a disadvantage. It means that you’re not just competing for the future. You’re competing for the moment. In order to compete for the future, that means that you have to consistently compete for the moment. That’s what makes social so important, but also so risky if your social strategy is anything less than trying to compete effectively for the moment. Walmart did that once, did it very well. So what else are we going to do? How else are we going to keep people engaged? I think that’s really what this comes down to, is that people will value engagement if there is value in the engagement, but more importantly, everyday human beings, you and me, with the connections that we are building in social networks, we are becoming mini media networks. That 5,000-like campaign for Walmart on Facebook, just on a low estimate, if each one of those individuals are connected to 150 people, and 5,000 people click that, it has a tremendous reverberating effect that Walmart, for the moment, was on the tops of, not only of everybody’s minds, but on their newsfeeds. And that’s something we have to think about. It’s not a campaign-driven initiative. We’re talking about a continuum to an always-on society.

David: Right. So going through those social channels, and basically everyone liking that, sharing it to all of their … and I agree, that is a low estimate. 150 connections on Facebook, I think it’s a lot higher actually. So, kind of going in that same vein, you recently interviewed the CEO of, Arnie Singh, about celebrity tweeting and basically leveraging their influence online to spread messages. So do you see that as kind of a rising trend that’s here to stay, or is that going to become kind of played out, moving into the future?

Brian: There are a couple answers to this. I mean, there’s tremendous value in it. Celebrity endorsements aren’t anything new. Social media is the latest extension of something that has worked very well, over a long period of time. A lot of this also comes down to the value of the celebrity too, because social media is new for them as well. Meaning that they are able to also bypass their traditional intermediaries to reach their, not just fans, but now stakeholders directly. So they have to ask themselves, “What’s the balance? I could tweet about my favorite sunglasses. I could tweet about my favorite jeans all day long, and I can pocket some nice extra money. But what’s the cost opportunity? What’s the opportunity cost for that? Do I lose credibility? Do I lose loyalty? Do I lose trust?” So it’s also a question that they have to figure out. There’s a balance; it works, people are absolutely cool with it, but to the celebrity, it’s going to be around for a while. The question is, are you going to be around for a while, with a dedicated audience?

David: Right. Cool. So you talk a lot on your blog about online influence. So what are your thoughts on Klout score? Do you think it’s a good indicator of who to kind of reach out to, or what are your thoughts there?

Brian: I’ve been studying this for a very long time. I’ll start by saying this. Influence, you can’t redefine it regardless of how many times social media gets to redefine other terms. Influence is the ability to cause a change in behavior or to cause an effect. If you look at that definition and you compare it to the definition of a Klout score being the standard for influence, then there’s a disconnect, because Klout is not measuring the effect. The only way that you can measure effect is to say, “I’m going to work with these Klout influencers. Their scores tell me they should be influential. So I’m going to put this outcome or this action or this measurement in the engagement campaign with them.” Ultimately that metric of engagement, what happens to the outcome, that’s the real influence score. So then, if you think about it that way, Klout, Peer Index, mPACT, really what we’re looking at is an algorithm that shows almost social capital within a particular network, that there is varying balances of trust and recognition and authority and expertise and popularity. That balance ultimately comes together as a score, which usually a higher score indicates something substantial that we should pay attention to, but I don’t believe that that is influence. Influence is what happens after it’s activated.

David: Right. So it’s more of an indicator like, yeah, this person might be more influential. They have a higher score, so let’s do our research even further to see where their audience is and if they’re a right fit, right?

Brian: Yeah, it’s the capacity, probably, to influence. Now, where the front-facing Klout, and the … let's say if you decide to work with Klout to find “influencers,” the front-facing Klout will show you scores. The reason why I call it sort of like the private network or the direct engagement with Klout is because they’ll work with you to find influencers around topical relevance. Find me all the influencers who love to talk about Starbucks and Peets Coffee, for example. Then we start to get a little bit more specific, so the capacity to influence has a topical relevance to it.

This is also what we’re also seeing with Tracker and Peer Index and also mBLAST. mBLAST has a database that allows you to search for influencers of topical relevance and gives you a score. Now again, all of those are giving you the capacity to influence, and in some cases the more you drill down, the capacity to influence within a particular space, but that’s for you to design, for you to activate, and for you to measure. So ultimately the brands become the holder of who the influencers are.

David: Okay, cool. Yeah, awesome man. You just blew me away there. All right. Cool. In the book you mention that Facebook, you view it in your mind as the most important social network right now, and it’s reaching critical mass. Does this ring true for B2B companies? Would you say focus mainly on Facebook, or is LinkedIn more of a better option? Or again, is it where your audience is?

Brian: I think you got to the same answer I was going to give. I mean, really, this is true. It really is fascinating. I get this question all the time. I’ll give what I’ll consider a wonderful, thoughtful speech that I spent a lot of time on, in a room. You’ll see a lot of nodding heads, and then invariably or inevitably someone in the audience is going to raise their hand and say, “But how does this apply to business-to-business?” I stop and I think, “The whole thing applies to business-to-business. Are you just now starting to listen?”

If you research, you’re going to find the places where your prospects are, where your influencers are. That could be Facebook. That could be LinkedIn. That could be old-school Web 1.0 forums, in Yahoo Groups, for example, or in boards that are still alive and active today. Who knows? But that’s why research becomes really important, and you’ll find some sort of balance and the activity within each of those communities tells you what you should think about in terms of how you’re going to balance your strategy. I would also say that in business-to-business there is a greater capacity for branded influence, where business customers are looking for insight, direction to make some very intelligent decisions. The way the business-to-business decision-making cycle works today is they’re usually dealing with approved vendors, or word of mouth is absolutely incredible. Word of mouth is translated in the very traditional method.

But increasingly business-to-business organizations are looking to the other staff members within a particular division to say, “What are you hearing? What do you suggest? What are you hearing out there? What are you finding out?” Those individuals are the ones that are connected through their social. They’re following certain bloggers. They’re reading certain experts. And much in the same way that influencers became influencers, well, your thought leaders, your experts, the people who are making your business what it is, can also become influential using the same channels. It’s not just for intermediaries. I think, especially for business-to-business, this is an opportunity to boost your Klout score. Research tells you everything, and even where to publish your thoughts and your expertise. Not in a newsletter, not in a contributed article to some industry publication, not in an e-mail, not into an internal whitepaper, but as a full-blown open blog post or update or video, something that your customers, your influencers can find, appreciate, and share.

David: So on the topic of doing the research, how do you do it? Do you go through Google? Do some search queries? Find some influencers in the space and then ask them, “Hey, where are people interacting in your community?” How do you do it?

Brian: All of the above. I don’t have a template. I look at this as an opportunity to really get a dedicated and genuine answer. So I might use Google. I might use Radian6. I might use Spiral 16. I’ll use, published by people browser. I’ll use a variety of tools. I’ll use Google blog search, Technorati.

David: Awesome. I just wanted to get in how Brian Solis does his research. You do dive way in-depth and kind of paint a picture behind what you’re looking for. All right. Switching gears here for a second, this is kind of a selfish question. You run the show “Revolution” on YouTube, where you get a ton of heavy-hitters. You’ve had Katie Couric, Guy Kawasaki, and Charlene Lee on your show. So how do you go about selecting guests? What was the idea behind the show?  Why did you start it?

Brian: For years I’ve been sort of pushed in the direction to start a video show. I’m not exactly sure why. I think a lot of it has to do with, over the years, I’ve had great opportunities to interview celebrities and notable personalities on stage at conferences around the world, and those individuals who’ve watched that or the interviewees themselves had suggested that, “You should have a show.” I never wanted to be in front of the camera. So I held off until it was inevitable. I started the show in a way that I can manage. How do I pick my guests? Well, they have to have something that’s tremendous to say, and at the same time give the audience and me, honestly, something that I can sink my teeth into to think about so that I can walk away from watching that program and go do something differently than I would have otherwise.

David: Do you have a studio setup? Or is it kind of a mobile studio? The production quality is astounding. You blow my show out of the water.

Brian: It is a show that we have engineered carefully. I should probably preface that by saying that anything that I’ve tried to do, whether it’s blogging, whether it’s photography, whether it’s podcasts, what have you, every experiment that I’ve done has gone to show what happens when you invest production quality into the mix and to see if it has an effect on the content. I don’t necessarily have a right or a wrong answer, other than it is just a constant focus of mine, to just experiment from that standpoint.

So, with that said, we shoot mostly out of Current Studios in San Francisco, Current TV. We’ve built our own little set, and it’s nice and we shoot everything on digital SLRs, and we’ve designed it to be something that you would expect to see on a top network but for the Web. Also to say, look, we’re not just going to do 3, 5, 7 minute videos. I think Guy Kawasaki came in at 30 minutes. And we’re going to see if people watch it. The good news is that it’s not fulltime production. It could be, but we’re treading lightly and cautiously, definitely with open minds and open eyes. The one thing that we have realized is that moving forward we have to make it a lot more portable. So the show just went on iTunes today, and we’re going to continue to expand its focus.

David: Very cool. I’m a big fan. So, one final question here. Actually, I have two more. You talk about, in that recent talk you gave and in your book, f-commerce, kind of e-commerce through Facebook, and things like Blippy and American Express. They’re kind of tying in buying experiences, and people are sharing those through their social networks. Do you see this activity actually diluting the value of that person’s Facebook stream? Do you see it as spam, or do you see it as something valuable to their community?

Brian: If you trigger a like on Facebook, for example, you earn a one-time endorsement. How you keep that relationship, that like, is up to you. What we’re already seeing is individuals starting to un-like brands because of that very issue. There’s a story that I’m going to be publishing pretty soon, by a friend of mine who went and followed all of his favorite brands on Facebook and documented the results. What did his newsfeed look like? Was he able to keep up with his friends? Was it completely slammed with marketing messages?

There are studies out there. There was one recently by Exact Target that showed that individuals are un-following and un-liking brands because their newsfeed is getting completely spammed. So if you’re going to introduce f-commerce into the mix, don’t just introduce your entire catalog, your entire service portfolio. Introduce certain exclusive offers or products that they couldn’t get anywhere else. Introduce discounts and offers and promotions. Do it in a way that gets people to feel like there’s some value in that connection.

David: So you use a lot of infographics on your blog, and they get spread all over the Web. Do you see that as a growing trend, and is it still working as well as it used to?

Brian: Well, kind of like the question we talked about earlier, about video and production quality. I think infographics, the market for them is honestly infinite. There’s a difference between is great infographics and infographics just trying to get spread. It’s almost like say in a viral video. There isn’t a recipe for them, but great content is worth sharing. Now, with that said, that’s true for blog posts, it’s true for tweets, it’s true for video. How do you make great content? Not only great content, but how do you make shareable content? I can tell you there isn’t an easy answer. Every infographic I create with the JESS3 team, it’s why we’re not cranking these things out on a weekly basis. They take months. The next one that’s coming out we’ve been working on for, I think, about a year. Mostly because we don’t have all the time in the world, but also, it’s incredible, the methodical process to get from the concept that you’re trying to communicate to map into a very clean way to visualize it. For people to say, “Wow, you just took a complex subject and made it so I could appreciate it visually and then also share.” The infographics have been wonderful. In fact, there was such a huge demand for them that we had to make posters out of them for people. I can’t even tell you how many thousands of posters people have on their walls around these infographics.

David: Nice. Cool. So Brian, where can people find you online?

Brian: They can find me hopefully at my blog at, at Twitter, which is @briansolis, and on Facebook it’s facebook/thebriansolis.

David: Awesome. Definitely check out his show, “Revolution,” on YouTube and now on iTunes. Get the book. I highly recommend “Engage.” It was a fun read. It’s a little long, but it’s packed full of good stuff. So I appreciate you coming on the show, and I hope to get you back some day.

Brian: Yeah. David, thanks a lot. I really appreciate it, and thanks for the shout-out on the book.