Inbound Now #21 - Ignoring vanity metrics & getting real social media ROI

Dan Zarrella joins us for Episode 21! He shares some valuable insights on how to measure and track your social media activities outside of the normal “metrics”. He also shares some of the things he has learned from running webinars with over 25,000 registrants.

In this episode we chat about:

  • Being a social media scientist
  • Justifying social media with real numbers about real money
  • Tips for successful webinars
  • Facebook marketing
  • Using new Facebook features
  • How to get more Twitter followers
  • The future of social media


David: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 21 of Inbound Now. Today I have a very special guest, our own Dan Zarrella. Dan is our internal social media scientist here. He is the author of “The Social Media Marketing Book.” He’s the co-author of “The Facebook Marketing Book” with his wife Alison. He’s also a social media speaker. He’s been mentioned in a variety of different places, like the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wired, just to name a few.

So welcome to the show, Dan.

Dan: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

David: Yeah, no problem. I wanted to get you on here a couple of shows back, but it finally worked out, so cool.

Dan: Nice.

David: Awesome. After listening to all those press mentions, it must feel great, you finally made it to the top to make it on Inbound Now, right?

Dan: Yeah. No, it is. I’ve been fingers crossed for quite a while that I would get the call to come be on the show. So I’m excited.

David: It’s where to go. It’s all downhill from here, right?

Dan: It is. It is.

David: I wanted to get you on the show today to talk about the necessary ingredients for running successful webinars, because you’ve run a ton of great webinars here at HubSpot. Some studies you’ve run over the past couple of years and kind of dive into that. Also some Facebook tips you mentioned in your new book. So, sound good?

Dan: Yep, sounds very good. All right, cool. So explain to the audience out there what exactly is a social media scientist, and where did you get your degree?

Dan: So the title actually came from my wife. So back several years ago we were working together at a small webdev shop just outside the city, and I had a blog,, which I’ve been writing on since, I want to say, 2006, something like that. I had this stupid tagline, “Social Media Consultant to the Star,” which was dumb because I wasn’t doing any work for any celebrities or anything. I mean it was just a name I’d come up with. Then I’m a bad PHP programmer, so I can write code. I’m not great at writing something that’s needs to be maintained and stay up for a long time, but I can handle stuff that’s one-off. Like, I have a PHP tattoo from years ago. So I started using the PHP abilities and getting data from APIs or from scraping stuff from the Web and started doing analysis. She’s a copywriter, and so she suggested, “Why don’t you call yourself a Social Media Scientist. I think it fits better.” It kind of stuck from there.

I think the reason that it’s key and the reason that I’ve had the modicum of success that I’ve had with it is because I go to a lot of social media conferences. I read a lot social media books and blogs and stuff, and I hear a lot of advice that is, for lack of a better word, unicorns and rainbows. So it’s stuff like, “Engage in the conversation,” and, “Love your followers,” and “Hug your prospects,” and stuff like that. It sounds good, because I’m not going to come here and tell you to punch your customers in the face or anything. But it’s generally not based on anything more substantial than what feels right or what’s truthy, to use Stephen Colbert’s term. So as a social media scientist, I like to get beyond those unicorns and rainbows and look at the actual data about how people behave online, why they behave that way online, and how marketers can leverage those behaviors.

David: Exactly. That’s actually one of the questions I had for you. So in a recent post you did entitled, “Need to Justify Social Media:  Use Real Numbers About Real Money.” Right?

Dan: Yep.

David: You talk about those that engagement metrics, not worrying about those until you can actually nail down the hard dollars. Right?

Dan: Yeah. If you’re measure anything, that means you’re spending resources, be that time, be that money into social media. If you’re spending money and time doing these things, the first thing you need to measure is how much is it making you. Because if you’re literally just wasting your time, and it is possible to do that, if you’re just wasting your time, if you’re not measuring this stuff, you don’t know that you are. Right?

David: Right.

Dan: So to me the most important metrics to measure in social media, or in any kind of marketing really, is how much dollars and cents it’s making you. I prefer customers, not even leads. I like to know, like right here at HubSpot, I’m a big fan of not even measuring my work based on the number of leads it’s earning, but I want to know what the, and we call it MRR internally, it’s essentially how much revenue all my webinars are generating. Like it’s fun to have 10,000 people on a webinar, but I want to know how many of those people turn into customers, how many of those people are actually paying …

David: Gotcha, yeah. So with companies that aren’t eCommerce, that’s what you look at, the metrics of, “Okay. So where’s the traffic coming from and are they converting into leads? And then at the end of the day, are they actually buying?”

Dan: Are they buying, yeah. I understand, especially in our context where it’s B2B, the sales cycle can be kind of long. It can be 60 to 90 days, whatever, and so actual customers can be a slow metric to measure. So that’s why then I started talking about the engagometrics. I call them canary in a coal mine or proxy metrics because they’re leading indicators of that. So, if you get more leads, you’re probably going to get more customers. If somebody stays on your site for a really long time, they’re much more likely to become a lead and then a customer.

David: Right.

Dan: So those things shouldn’t be used as replacements for revenue-based measurements, but I think they’re good, like I said, canary in a coal mine kind of metrics to give you feedback faster than customer accounts will.

David: Okay, cool. So switching gears a little bit, so you do hold the record here at HubSpot and perhaps the world … I don’t know. I didn’t look into the stats of this.

Dan: At least for B2B webinars I think.

David: Yeah, B2B webinars, exactly. So it was like 22,000 or something.

Dan: 25,070 or something along those lines. 25,700, something along those lines.

David: That’s crazy. That’s crazy numbers.

Dan: Yeah, registered for the “Science of Timing.”

David: So can you share some insights with the audience? How did you get the word out there? How did you get so many people? What’s the success behind this?

Dan: So the first thing and the most important thing is that if it was just me off in some room working by myself, I couldn’t have done that. Right?

David: Right.

Dan: The most amazing thing about HubSpot, especially my experience here, is the support and sort of the fuel and the push that the rest of the marketing team, the rest of the organization gives me. So we have a huge email database. We have over 100,000 followers on Twitter. We have a giant blog. So to start off, we’re leveraging those things. Our average webinar size, for the bigger webinars, is approaching, average, probably 10,000 registrants right now, which a year ago or a year and a half ago, that was the biggest. Right?

David: Yeah.

Dan: So that’s kind of the base, the platform that I’m working from, and then beyond that, everything that I can do to help turn the webinars into events really is helpful and so we can’t miss events. So once we get past 10,000 or 12,000 registrants, then I start tweeting about the fact that 10,000 people are signed up for this webinar. All of a sudden, if you not signed up, you’re like, “What the hell am I doing? I’m not signed up for this webinar.” It turns into more of an event, and it becomes a thing where like if you’re not there, you’re going to be missing out on what everybody’s talking about the next day, later that day.

We do custom hold music. So normally, when you call a webinar, you call GoToWebinar or Vcall, like when we use for the big webinars, you hear this sleepy jazz music. Occasionally, it will be Frank Sinatra, and I love Frank Sinatra, but he doesn’t get me pumped up and chair dancing. I think it’s really key, you know, you can login up to 15 minutes ahead, and so we have like an 18 minute custom hold music. It’s a dance music mix that’s custom made for our webinars. We get 80, 90, 100 people tweeting, not just about the webinar, but the intro music mix. It gets people excited. It signals really early on that something is changing. Like I believe it was the acting guru, Stanislavski that said, “The theatre experience starts at the ticket window.” For me, the webinar experience starts the first tweet you see about the webinar, not when the webinar starts.

David: Right.

Dan: So building up that event kind of stuff beforehand really helps.

David: Okay, cool. What other stuff? So you’ve run this series, The Science of you name it Internet Marketing, you’ve done it. Right?

Dan: Yep.

David: So creating that webinar, are there some tips that you would give, like make sure that you use more pictures than bullet points? What kind of tips did you give?

Dan: Yeah. About midway through “The Science Of” series as it exists right now, there is “The Science of Presentations,” in which I did a bunch of research with using the “Science of Facebook” webinar, which is the webinar directly prior to that one where I had a ton of registrants and stuff. Using a lot of the observational data from that, using one from a lead generation webinar we did, and then I did surveys. I talked to industry leaders – Nancy Duarte, Guy Kawasaki and stuff. Go to folks who do amazing, amazing presentations. I really studied what makes a presentation contagious, and that’s what I wanted to learn. Like, how do I get people to talk about my presentation? How do I get people to blog about my presentation?

One the things that we found is that people … and Nancy enunciated this really effectively. She said that, “When somebody’s really liking what you’re saying in a presentation, they don’t want to time to look away from your presentation and tie up a tweet.”

I do takeaway slides in all my “Science Of” presentations, which are these one slide, just a little bit of text. It’s under 140 characters and it’s a takeaway of what they’ve just learned in perfect, contagious form. Like it makes sense if you see it out of context. There are all of these tips that I have in “The Science of Presentation” materials where it’s how to construct those things, and then you put that takeaway up there. You tell people that it’s under 140 characters and literally ask them to tweet it too, because the calls to action are huge. So I give people different reasons for tweeting it. I say, “I do these webinars a lot. If you tell me what you like, what you don’t like, I can make it better in the future.” I know one motivation for people tweeting stuff that I found in my research was, “A lot of your friends can’t be here, so share the content with them. That way you get the reputation for being smart.” So actually asking people to tweet it really, really helps, and mentioning the hash tag early on.

The last two big webinars we did we trended on Twitter. One of them was the topmost talked about topic for the hour worldwide, like over Justin Bieber.

David: That’s kind of incredible that you beat out Justin Bieber for just a minute even.

Dan: Yeah, yeah.

David: Nice. Yeah, definitely include that hash tag so people can spread throughout the conversation.

Dan: Yep.

David: Okay, cool. So in your experience, you talked a little bit about this, but like promoting the webinar. You talked a little bit about the social proofing, “Hey, 10,000 people have already registered. So you’re missing out if you don’t.” What other stuff do you guys do to promote it?

Dan: We do a ton of email. I do blog posts generally. I mix it up depending on the webinar and depending on what the topic is. Sometimes I’ll just do blog posts for the HubSpot blog. Sometimes I’ll do a guest blog post. When I do guest blog posts, I don’t like doing just one. I like to do like five of them, and I’ll write them ahead of time, kind of with properties in mind. Maybe this one’s about blogging. I want it to be on ProBlogger. This one’s about writing, so I want it to be on CopyBlogger. So I’ll write five of them and then just start making a list of the top marketing bloggers, the top bloggers, and then just start pitching it to them and get a lot of that kind of stuff. So that’s helped quite a bit.

Then we do some paid stuff. Honestly, I know it’s inbound marketing and all that, so that’s a little bit …

David: We’ve got to cut that part out.

Dan: … of inside baseball, yeah. But we do do some paid stuff. So we’re playing with the Twitter ads, the sponsored, the promoted tweets, promote the count stuff. We do do some stuff with Facebook and then with some other smaller people who have either blogs or email newsletters.

David: Okay, cool. So in Facebook, what are you guys doing, like Facebook ads or other things?

Dan: Yeah. So we have done Facebook ads for webinars quite a bit in the past. They’re not great for generating webinar attendees. It gets expensive per click to get any sort of volume. What we have planned for the next one, which ‘The Science of Analytics” on May 19th at 2:00 p.m., is a Facebook event. So we haven’t seen great success with it yet. We’re still experimenting with it. We’re still learning how to use an event to drive people to the webinar, but that’s another thing that we’ve been playing with.

David: So in your Facebook marketing book, what would be one of the biggest takeaways that people could get from there? I didn’t get a chance to read it before this interview, but what would be some of the biggest things that you learned in your research there?

Dan: I think the key thing, and people are getting better at this, the marketing community at large is getting a lot better at this one, but people have profiles, brands have pages. There are two different uses of Facebook, and you really need to understand that and go at marketing on Facebook with a page, not a profile. Honestly, we did a radio tour when we released the book, and a lot of the folks that we talked to were like, “Oh, I have a profile for my work stuff. I have a profile for my personal stuff. Should I blend them?” I’m like, “No, you shouldn’t have a profile for your work stuff.” You’re a professional and you have a profile, but if you’re doing marketing, it should be with a page.

David: Right.

Dan: Facebook will, if you get too crazy with profiles for marketing, Facebook will ban your profile. Then you get all the cool analytics, the insight stuff, the cool ad stuff, you get all the cool stuff when you’re using the page correctly.

David: So they do have you can transfer over now from a profile to a page.

Dan: Yeah. A couple of years ago, when pages were first starting to happen, my wife and I were working at webdev shop just outside the city. We were like the marketing team there, and we were working on a senate campaign, actually, against John Kerry at the time for a Republican. It was a very uphill battle. So we started doing a lot of stuff with Facebook. We had a profile setup and I was also managing that for the most part. We were doing a ton of marketing with the profile. We were joining lots of groups and talking to people, and Facebook shut it down. This is before there was an easy pathway to go from profile to page. Then she emailed them, talked to some folks over there, and they helped us move it over, but they will kill a profile if you get too aggressive with it.

David: Yeah, definitely. So with some other recent changes in Facebook, now you can use Facebook as the page. Have you dived into any data there?

Dan: What do you mean?

David: So basically you can switch over to use Facebook as your page, browse Facebook and like stuff as your page?

Dan: Yep.

David: So have dug into anything there?

Dan: I haven’t done any research there. What I love about that is that, so in that example that I was telling about the senate campaign. What we were doing is we were using it as a profile joining groups and stuff and commenting on those groups and talking to interest groups and special interests groups and things like. You can essentially do that and it worked pretty well. So you can essentially do that with pages now. If you’re a little mom and pop cupcake shop on the corner and the pizza shop across the street has a page, you can go and comment on the pizza page and say, “Hey, come over for desert afterwards.” Or you can tag them and on your updates, which will show your post on their wall. So that stuff is pretty good. I haven’t done any database analysis of it yet, and my wife is really the one who’s in the trenches with the Facebook day-to-day stuff.

David: Okay, cool.

Dan: You can tell which chapters she wrote in the book, because if you liked them, she wrote them essentially.

David: Yeah. Okay, gotcha. So you do a lot of stuff here like you build out tools. One of tools you built was TweetWin, right?

Dan: Yep.

David: What does it do? It analyzes your Twitter profile and lets you know when’s the most opportune time to tweet would be?

Dan: Yeah, basically that’s the goal of it. The math behind it is that it looks at your last 2,000, or whatever the number is right now, tweets and it finds the hours where you had the most retweets per tweet.

David: Okay.

Dan: And then the days where you had the most retweets per tweet. So that should suggest to you, it’s correlation not exactly causation, so you have to be careful about that. But correlation is generally a hint at causation. Right?

David: Right.

Dan: So when I talk about science, there are, I think, two different kinds of science. One is physical science like physics, where you have laws about how gravity’s going to work all the time and you have a mathematical formula to say that this is going to always work like this and this is the law.

Then you have medical science, where in the medical field they do research with hundreds of patients, thousands of patients, and they come up with an aggregate, best practice courses of treatment, and then individual doctors apply those to cases. They start with those. If it doesn’t work, they experiment with another one and they experiment with another one.

So with marketing science, it’s really that latter case. It’s here is the best practice over aggregate. Your specific case may be a little bit different, but start with this suggestion and then experiment from there.

David: Okay, cool. So the causality, okay, gotcha. Basically, that tool though is kind of like a lead gen piece to one of the webinars, right?

Dan: Yep. It’s was for “The Science of Timing” essentially. When you go to it, you can put your email address in and subscribe to get updates from us on other webinars like this. So it generated, I think, 6,000 new email addresses for us.

David: Right.

Dan: We got a bunch of famous people to tweet it and stuff. It benefited pretty well to help build the webinar. Then the webinar, again, when you add to that brand of the webinar where the webinar was more than just a webinar, it was an event. Like there was a tool for it, there was music for it. You know what I mean? There was a whole event around it.

David: Okay, cool. Yeah, I just thought that was an interesting piece. Like building a tool, making it kind of sticky, making something that’s different than every other promotional item out there, where there’s some utility behind it and it kind of spreads a little further, right?

Dan: Yep, and it’s closely related to what the webinar is. So for “The Science of Analytics” I’m probably not going to be able to do that because I’m not going to build Google Analytics. For “The Science of Timing,” it was easy enough for me to build something quick, a couple of days, and have it up there and going.

David: Okay, cool. So in another study you did, “The Five Scientifically Proven Ways to Get More Twitter Followers.”

Dan: Yep.

David: What were some takeaways there? Showing a profile picture, being more authoritative in your bio, what other stuff can people takeaway in action items for that?

Dan: I think one of the most key things from all of my data that I’ve found is that self-reference is not contagious. Meaning, that if you’re on social media just to talk to your friends, there are a lot of people on. I would say most people are. Talk about yourself all day long, that’s fine. But if you’re on social media to get more followers, to build your reach to market a product or service, stop talking about yourself. Like I’m not going to retweet somebody about themselves, especially if I don’t know them. Honestly, most people’s lives are a little boring. So usually when you’re talking about yourself, you’re like, “Oh, I’m bored. I’m watching the game and then I going to go to bed.” Like, I’m not going to retweet that, that’s silly.

So in Twitter it doesn’t work. In Facebook, it really doesn’t work. I’ll occasionally break my own rules and like for one blog post I wrote about, I called it “My Unfair Advantages.” It was about Alison and my six-month anniversary and all that. But for the most part stay away from talking about yourself and talk as yourself. Every time I’ve done research, one of the most important things people have told me the reason they follow a specific Twitter follower or a specific Twitter user or the reason they read a blog is because they like that person’s unique perspective. They don’t want to hear about that person all day long, but they want to hear what that person thinks about things that are happening. It’s like the old Dave Chappelle joke where right after 9/11 happened, they interviewed Ja Rule, and Dave Chappelle’s like, “I want to know what Ja Rule thinks about all this.” You didn’t want to hear Ja Rule talk about himself. You wanted to hear Ja Rule’s take on what was happening. So people want to know what your take is on what’s happening, but not what you’re doing.

David: Okay, gotcha. Is there a healthy balance there though of talking a little bit about your company, or just like not talking too much product focus? I mean you can’t just talk about other people and that’s it. Otherwise it’s not really a marketing medium.

Dan: I don’t think you need to necessarily need to talk about other people.

David: Right.

Dan: I think the people that you need to really be talking about is your followers and your fans and your readers. So, like at HubSpot of instance, they way we do it is we have a company blog and we’ll occasionally talk about different people getting promoted inside the company or different rounds of funding. But mostly what we do is we do research that basically only HubSpot’s brand could do, because HubSpot being analytical and all that, and then we teach our audience how they can use.

David: Right.

Dan: So we’re not just out there talking about other people all day long. We’re not just talking about our competitors and the rest of the people in our space, but we’re talking about what we’ve done and how that can help you. So it’s not just like, “Oh, the HubSpot office is cool,” and like 15 posts a day about that. It’s here what we’re doing and here’s how you can use it to benefit you.

David: Gotcha. Cool. So what do you see as a rising trend in social media? What’s coming up in the future that you’re keeping your eye on?

Dan: I think there are two things or maybe three things. I don’t know. We’ll see how many I get when I’m done with them. One is that, and this one’s a little self-serving, honestly. I think social media and the marketer in general is getting much more technical. You don’t need how to program to be a good marketer, but you probably need to know HTML and CSS to be like a decent Internet marketer. You need to know what a hard bounce is and what a soft bounce is. Marketing is much more technical than it used to be. My wife, who’s a copywriter and she’s kind of a geek but about stuff like Buffy, she knows HTML, CSS, and iFrame. She knew FBML when that was still the thing. I mean she wears a lot of pink, but she’s an old school marketer in the traditional sense of the word, but she’s very technical compared to marketers ten years ago. So I think that’s really key.

Another thing that I think is huge in social media, is right now and is going to be more, is that the lines between online and offline are blurring. It used to be that there was the online world and you generally didn’t meet those folks very often, if you ever did. The online world didn’t really have much of an effect on the offline world. But these days, I go into a bar, I get a fancy beer that I’ve never had before. I take a picture of it, I tweet it, and then the bartender sees the tweet and I get a free sip of this other beer that’s really interesting. So that online/offline world is blurring. Or some Yelper posts on Foursquare that they’re in the bar and so they get a free whatever. So that line is really blurring.

I think stuff like augmented reality, AG I guess it would be, is going to be really, really huge. I don’t think the technology is intuitive enough yet. Some of the Google goggles, or whatever that thing was, or the Yelp app where you can kind of see things.

David: They’re pretty cool.

Dan: They’re really cool, but they’re novelties still. They’re a little bit trivial right now, but I think they’re definitely going to get much more awesome, as everyone has smart phones and smart phones get more powerful with location based services. That line is just getting really, really blurry.

The most recent data that I’ve published is that 33% of all Facebook postings are done mobile. But a third of the content being on Facebook is done on fly, is done out in the real world.

David: Yeah. I would say that the augmented reality piece and the lines blurring between online/offline that has to do with mobile devices. Everyone had one now or they’re going to have one within the next year.

Dan: It’s funny. There’s a, I think it’s IBM, or somebody’s running a commercial now where it’s like, when we used to think of computers, we thought of boxes and now we think of them, you know, it’s everywhere and they’re outside the box. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s totally true. I have a desktop computer at home, but mostly what I use is my Netbook or my phone. A lot of folks are using tablets and stuff now. It’s not just a box on your desk that you type on anymore. It’s just stuff that’s everywhere and out there.

David: With the online blurring with the offline, would you say it’s almost critically important now that businesses with physical locations are actually listening in on that stuff so they can capitalize on opportunities like that?

Dan: Yeah, absolutely. I think right now we are still at a point where I can safely say the most important thing to do for a local market is to just show up. You don’t even have to be super sophisticated yet. In a couple of years, yeah, you’re going to need to get your ducks in a row and get up to speed. But right now, like claiming your Google local page and getting active on Yelp, getting active on Twitter and Facebook without being a super crazy social media genius is perfect for the little mom and pop pizza place, the little mom and pop cupcake shop. In a couple of years, you’re going to need to be more sophisticated, but right now just get there. I think that’s huge. You need to get in there and start doing stuff.

David: Yeah, get in there and start playing around. Cool. So, Dan, where can people find you online?

Dan: My blog is There are two R’s in my last name. A lot of people miss that.

David: Yeah, you’ve got a hard name to spell, man. You need to rebrand.

Dan: Yeah, change my last name. My wife actually has one L in her first name, and then now two R’s in her last name. So that’s a whole other mess. But so on Twitter danzarrella on Twitter. I write for the HubSpot blog. If you subscribe to those emails, you probably get stuff about the upcoming webinars, and then in bookstores and on Amazon.

David: Yeah, definitely check out “The Facebook Marketing Book.” I read your first book, “The Social Media Marketing Book” …

Dan: Thank you.

David: … before I ever worked with you.

Dan: I’m sorry.

David: Yeah, it was good. I liked it a lot.

Dan: It’s really basic. Both of the books are. They’re both tactical. This one’s a little less basic than the first one. The first one was just sort of here’s everything that’s available to you. Second Life is in that book. The HubSpot offices then were right below Second Life’s offices, the East Coast offices, because they were over in the CIC.

David: Oh, I did not know that.

Dan: Or at least when that office was still open. So I got to interview Guy, that’s why they’re in the book. Then plus I had my avatar, where I’m like me, but like a buff version of me, which my wife thinks is hilarious. But that book was a quick run through, “Here’s everything in social media. Here’s what you can do.” You’re not going to become a genius reading that book. Then this book is, “Here’s Facebook. Here’s all the different stuff you can do with Facebook.” They’re tactical, basic things. Future books that may or may not be in works are going to be much more like “The Science Of” stuff.

David: Ah, spoiler alert.

Dan: Yeah.

David: The Science of Science is the book that’s coming out. Well, yeah. Dan, thanks for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Dan: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

David: Yeah, good stuff.