Friday, January 22, 2010

Case Study: How MarketingProfs uses Twitter

Over on this week we've had a fabulous discussion about what happens if your company has 1 person that's handling your social media strategy, and then they leave. In the post, I referenced how MarketingProfs does a great job leveraging Twitter to connect with its users.

And then I got to thinking that other companies could definitely learn from what MP is doing with Twitter. So I fired off an email to Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs (and all-round superheroine in the true 70s SuperFriends sense of the word), and she quickly agreed to share with us the following interview. Now I think most of my readers know this, but here are the disclaimers for this post:

1 - I frequently write articles for MarketingProfs, and posts for the company's blog, Daily Fix.

2 - I think Ann Handley is the bee's knees and she's one of my favorite people on the planet.

And I also think that companies, especially startups and virtual companies, can REALLY learn from how MarketingProfs uses Twitter. Here's my interview with Ann:

Mack Collier - Why Twitter? What did you see in the site that made you think that maybe it could work for MarketingProfs?

Ann Handley - Actually, at first... I didn't see anything worthwhile. Twitter makes a terrible first impression: All that senseless chatter about what someone ate for lunch, and what movie someone just saw, and stupid video links, and other inaneness....

And it is persistent! A bunch of people broadcasting their thoughts and feelings all day? Where's the value in that? I created an account for MarketingProfs, then abandoned it promptly.

MC - Was there one 'it' moment that made you realize that Twitter was going to help MarketingProfs? If so, what was it?

AH - But still, people I like and respect were crazy about Twitter. I started to wonder if I wasn't missing out on something.

Then one day, when I popped in to Twitter per chance, I happened to see a New York Times (@nytimes) news tweet. It was a tweet generated automatically from a simple news feed, and it wasn't a particularly big news story, even. But nonetheless, as I was watching, a few other people on Twitter started commenting on it. And some retweeted it. Meanwhile, the story wasn't even yet on the NY Times home page.

That was the a-ha moment for me: when I saw that with Twitter came tremendous opportunity to report, filter, and engage. Later, a plane would land in the Hudson, and there would be wildfires in California, and demonstrating in Iran, and so much more (Obama, Susan Boyle, Motrin Moms, and a thousand moments in between).

Later, we'd really see the power of Twitter first-hand, and Steven Berlin Johnson (@stevenbjohnson) in his Time magazine cover story (June, 2009) would describe it in a way I would immediately grok: "Twitter matters because it's about what matters."
Soon after, I would realize that the potential for business is huge: a platform that allows you to engage, directly, with prospects and customers. A platform that affords a way to humanize your brand. A way to service. A way to deepen and develop relationships (and the art of doing that, which is an interview all to itself....)

But that moment with the forgotten NY Times story was a glimpse.

MC - You are now one of many MP employees on Twitter, but I believe you were the first one, right?

AH - Yes. I was.

MC - Did you have to twist any arms internally to get others from MP on board, or did they see the value as well? How did you sell them on the value of Twitter?

AH - It was an evolution.

One of the great things about working for a small company is that you can often have a lot of autonomy, and an ability to experiment. There's an element of fearlessness in a start-up that I love: A sense of that it's okay to give things a shot, even with the understanding that it might not work out, and you might be wrong. So it was in that spirit that I launched @MarketingProfs on Twitter.

Like a lot of people who thrive in that kind of atmosphere, I have a touch of what my friend Peter Shankman (@skydiver) calls ADOS -- "Attention Deficit... Oooh! Shiny!" Twitter specifically, and social media generally, appealed to me much the way that the Internet itself appealed to me a decade ago: It was a new frontier, and WOW. Wait a sec: Let's see how far we can go....

So I embraced Twitter first, with encouragement from Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), who was then still with Podtech (before he went to Forrester). I operated under the radar for a while, both within MarketingProfs and externally. Which was good, as it turns out, because I made plenty of mistakes. I didn't embrace Twitter wholeheartedly. I wasn't transparent and didn't identify that it was me behind the account. I spent some time as a broadcaster: All I did was tweet out MarketingProfs headlines. I didn't discuss (I didn't "at" people). I didn't follow back.

I'm embarrassed by all that now, but at the same time, it was a necessary step in the process.

Gradually, others within MarketingProfs started to embrace Twitter, too. CEO Allen Weiss (@allenweiss) and our seminar den mother, Shelley Ryan (@shelleyryan), were among the first to embrace Twitter as a way to further our brand and connect with customers. Since then, many more have joined -- including our Customer Service "head ninja" Penny Fiederlein (@pennosh), Director of Advertising Sharon Hudson (@sharihudson), President Roy Young (@royprofs), Community Manager Beth Harte (@bethharte), Director of Publications Vahe Habeshian (@habesh) and more.... You can follow the whole MarketingProfs crew (all 21 of us!) here on the "Profs People" list:

I've never pushed the social agenda within MarketingProfs. In a way, MarketingProfs is like any other company: There are those who are suited to social media and those who are not. We encourage those who are suited to it and have a love and passion for it... but we don't mandate participation or even encourage those who do not.

To what end?

MC - In the framework of Marketing Profs' social media strategy, where does Twitter fit in? Is it the centerpiece? Or is Daily Fix? How do you rank the tools in terms of importance for MP?

AH - I see Twitter as key to our social strategy. There isn't anything we find as useful in terms of immediacy for connecting with potential subscribers and readers, or talking to our members, or listening to what marketers care about, or learning what resonates with them, or fixing complaints, or getting feedback, or joking around, or even simply informing those about what we're working on -- about our new Affiliate Program, for example, or new research, or whatever the case.

That said, our blog is key, too. You were a founding contributor to that, so you know how much I value it. But Twitter allows us a breadth and immediacy that's unique. Do I hope that my 50,000+ followers will become subscribers? Absolutely. Do I hope that, even better, that they'll become paid members, and pay us to access our research and seminar and case study collections? Absolutely. But regardless, I'm resolute in my belief that the connections I build there pay off, one way or another, for the business, for me, and for the group of followers themselves.

Maybe not right away. But I'm nothing if not patient.

Thanks Ann! Ok, two things that really stuck out to me from reading Ann's answers:

1 - Love this quote from Ann on why she started using Twitter: "But still, people I like and respect were crazy about Twitter. I started to wonder if I wasn't missing out on something." That is the EXACT reason why I started using Twitter. I couldn't see the value, but I kept seeing smart people like @Armano and @KatieChatfield using Twitter, so I figured if they are using Twitter, there must be something there.

2 - She started out using Twitter as a broadcast tool. Yes that's right, most of the people that NOW use social media very well, got to that point through trial and error. And honestly, I used Twitter in the same way at first (*blush*).

Thanks again Ann, oh and MarketingProfs is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Congrats!


John McTigue said...

Wow, that's really interesting that Ann now embraces Twitter almost to the same level as their blog. I would never have guessed since the blog is so powerful and authoritative. I too believe in the power of Twitter, especially since you can so easily channel your stream into useful lists. I learn a lot, I engage a lot, and it pays off in many ways.

Maggie said...

Nice interview, Mack :) My own experience with Twitter was very much the same.

One small suggestion for Daily Fix & Twitter: the tweetmeme button on the blog is retweeting something like this:
RT @tweetmeme Tactic Lust | MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog
I believe they could easily fix this so if I like a blog post and want to retweet it, the Twitter ID would be @MarketingProfs :)

Anita Campbell said...

Great interview, Mack. You brought out insightful points that will be helpful to other publishers and site owners. - Anita

lisahickey said...

I love this interview. Thanks to you both, Mack and Ann. Interestingly, when I started on Twitter you were both people I gravitated to immediately (out of hundreds, even thousands of tweeters) because of your thoughtfulness in talking about the media. At the time, I had no idea you were connected in any way.

My "aha" moment with Twitter when one night at 4 am when I talked to a random women about sexism in the workplace and people from all over the world joined in. Someone began translating my tweets into Spanish and retweeting them. Another person started calling for hashtags. It was amazing, inspiring and empowering all at once.

Not sure where all these tools and technology will lead us, but I sure as heck want to find out.

Many thanks for your words and ideas.

Stan Phelps said...

Thanks Mack and Ann. Very insightful.

Unknown said...

Mack and Ann, I happen to think the world of both of you and credit you with helping me with my own journey through social media. From plurkshops to fancy twitter tools you were there when...

This is a great interview and it's nice to see the inside story of a company's adaptation of the tool. Thank you both for sharing!

John R. Sedivy said...

I really enjoyed this interview, especially the reasons for using Twitter. I have been asked the question of the usefulness of Twitter, and in my experience those who haven't come to the self-realization of the utility generally don't get it, even with detailed explanation. Over time, the "ah-ha" moment usually strikes. It will be interesting to see how users evolve Twitter's use as it matures.

Rachel Happe said...

Great interview - I think it is extremely useful for newer adopters to understand that the rest of us were also a bit tentative and bewildered by Twitter initially as well. We recently did a case study on how we use Twitter at The Community Roundtable (with results), if people are interested in how we've evolved the use of Twitter for business. It's here:

JCMeier said...

I think this interview might actually help me a bit. I'm trying to find better ways to use Twitter, all the while I still kind of hate it, and I think now have a better sense of direction here. Thanks.

Jamie Search said...

That was a really interesting interview. You raised an insight into Twitter that will be helpful to other businesses.

Mack Collier said...

Guys thanks for the comments and glad you enjoyed the interview with Ann. I think this point by Rachel is extremely important:

"I think it is extremely useful for newer adopters to understand that the rest of us were also a bit tentative and bewildered by Twitter initially as well."

And I think that can be extended to ALL forms of social media. Often, the people that are the 'best' at using a particular tool are the ones that have made the most mistakes with it.

Jen said...

Never judge a book by its cover. Twitter seems useless but is actually very valuable.