TakeFive with TweetReach: Steve Farnsworth

Steve Farnsworth

Welcome back to TakeFive with TweetReach, our ongoing interview series with influential members of the Twitter measurement universe. This week, we’re excited to speak with Steve Farnsworth of Jolt Digital Marketing about the evolution of marketing and the accountability of metrics with the recent introduction of social media, and so much more!

(What follows is an edited transcript of the Google Hangout interview with Steve. To see the video recording in its entirety, visit my Union Metrics YouTube Channel.) 

TweetReach: We like to start everyone out with one question, because there are so many different paths into social media: how did you get started using social media? Can you describe your first “ah-ha” moment?

 Steve Farnsworth: You know, I’ve been in marketing for a a lot of years- I started off in MarComm and Lead Gen- back during the old, ugly days of direct mail, but it was really interesting to do because you could see what worked and what didn’t; you actually had real data. Marketing is still very much this kind of “We think we’re doing the right thing but we don’t really have any data to know”.

I got into communications because I loved the ability to have a conversation directly with an audience. Even when you’re working with the media- at that time, PR really was your main communications engine- it was earned media. So I love the ability to set the agenda for how your product was viewed and the space it was viewed [in], and by definition, your competitors. Intellectually, that was very challenging. With the contraction of media, a lot of the communication stuff really kind of became press releases and stuff like that.

And that wasn’t really interesting to me, I was actually really kind of bored with marketing in general, about five years ago. I’d been using social just for my personal interests because I love that social bookmarking; I love the discovery. I put out a lot of content that I realized, as a marketer, [reflected] my belief behind creating content that actually had a direct conversation with the audience. So here was a format where you’re actually communicating; when you wrote a [press] release, I always believe in writing it so human beings can understand it, as opposed to just the people who wrote them.

So I’ve seen this change and social was self-adapting [and] self-organizing communities around like-minded issues. As a marketer, I always thought we did a poor job supporting each other and being a [community], working with each other. . .that didn’t exist. Four or five years ago I’m starting to [see] a lot of the things I’d always wanted as a marketer come to fruition: accountability, organizing groups. Social is just- and for me, I saw how social played in with communications, with blogging and other kinds of communication- I was like, “This is what I’ve been wanting for so long”. And even more important things have happened in the last couple of years, as marketing automation has come down and now we can really track things.

The “ah-ha” moment was when all those things were coming together: all that communication, people were responding to it, I’m connecting with like-minded marketers, and it’s like, “Oh, wow, I can actually go back to all the things I’ve done all these years and all that stuff is applicable now and it really is integrated, and it’s exciting where it’s going”. And I got really reenergized as a marketer because of that. I think this is a golden time of marketing. We actually have data, we’re writing content that’s useful to people– nobody reads marketing-speak and people produced that for years. Now. . .if you don’t write stuff of value nobody’s going to read it. I love that because most people still don’t get that; marketers still don’t get that, or at least management. So for people like me, who are consultants, that pays my rent.

TweetReach: Exactly. If you don’t want to read it, who else is going to want to read it?

Steve Farnsworth: Absolutely. And I think that’s the thing: so many of the things we’ve created as marketers historically- and I was trained traditionally- [was] stuff that nobody would read other than the people who wrote it. Now that doesn’t fly; you can do it, but it just doesn’t get you eyeballs, doesn’t get people involved. You need to think, now, of yourself as being a producer, a managing editor. You need to think about content that’s going to be something someone wants to read on the airplane when they’re traveling. The accountability is awesome.

What I find most often when companies are “doing content” is that there’s a real misalignment of editorial focus with who their potential buyers may be. They don’t really think about the buying ecosystem; you need to think about who’s at sign-off? who’s going to do the demo? who’s going to be the influencer? who’s going to be using it every day? You need to understand that dynamic and then write content that’s usable to those people, that solves their problems from your expertise.

TweetReach: So this is related: Your blog focuses more on digital marketing strategies, yet many marketers are still treating social media as a bolt-on to their marketing mix. How can companies best integrate social media and measurement into their ongoing marketing efforts?

Steve Farnsworth: It all goes back to: social is a set of tools. So you have to [ask], what is it you’re trying to do? Any marketing goals need to dovetail into the larger business goal and on some level that’s going to be about moving product. There are different things that don’t necessarily move product directly that you want to influence, and those are relevant issues. [Overall] you think about what your goal is: you want to move that product and you want to use social. The measurement piece comes into, how does that translate into sales? You can track, “we find that when people download these digital assets, that tends to translate into x number of demos, and x number of demos translates into x number of closed sales. Now you actually have pieces that you can’t necessarily tie all together, but you can at least look at the data points and see if you’re driving traffic [where it translates into the most sales down the line].

TweetReach: Let’s dive in a little on some specific metrics and talk about the measurement of campaign reach. How do you weigh the importance of the quantity of a campaign’s reach (the overall size of the potential audience) vs. the quality of that reach? How does that play into upper-level planning and strategy?

Steve Farnsworth: I think that things like “Likes” and “shares”, fans and followers fall into. . .again, how does it track back? They can be interesting, and you should track that kind of data just to kind of see what’s happening so you can correlate it, but what you really want to do is focus specifically on metrics that have a behavior that connects to your final goal. When people share things is important, but you can get misled by things that are highly shareable but don’t translate into a behavior. So you need to find that mix and not get dedicated just to “Oh we got 250 shares on that!” Well, does that translate into a behavior that ended in a business result that you can measure?

TweetReach: That’s definitely part of the higher-level business strategy: tying everything back into business goals.

Steve Farnsworth: I think that campaigns are outdated in that sense; I know we still use that [term] in the conversations we have and the things that we do. I think the reality is that we’re beyond that. . .think agile marketing: responsive, iterative marketing that is constantly evolving, taking advantage of things. You have to have a combination of looking forward and planning, but you also have to have that responsiveness.

TweetReach: Let’s switch gears a little bit: What is something you’ve written that got the most surprising feedback?

Steve Farnsworth: What surprised me is [that] I wrote a blog post on using news releases as brand journalism. . .most companies do a news release and it goes [makes a vanishing sound]. Nobody reads it. Except customers, or their direct audience, or stakeholders or other people who are specifically interested in that company. But by and large it’s not a broadcast item.

So based on that, I said if it’s not going to get picked up or it’s not going to be a big news story, why not write it as a story? Why not write the story AP-style. Truly write an interesting story, maybe something with a narrative– write [it so people will] read it as a piece. A nice clean story [with] storytelling techniques; make it interesting, factual. It stills serves the purpose of communicating all of the relevant pieces to an audience, and a news person can still pick it up and read it. Unless it’s going to be big news, write to the people who are going to read it.

I got so much crap for that. I had even journalists who I respect. . .take me to task for that. And there’s all these old, traditional PR people going, “That is just OUTRAGEOUS!” and they were offended that I was suggesting something like that, because somehow it would break a tradition. And it’s like, so what you’re really arguing is this old, broken way of doing news releases that nobody reads, in a format that is absolutely barf-a-rific, somehow is better? And it’s not. I understand the need for certain organizations who are public and have disclosure obligations to write traditional news releases; I’m not saying you don’t do that. I’m just saying that most news can probably be done better as a story.

So that kind of stuff. . .gets a surprising level of passionate, kind of angry response. I’m all for that. I’m willing to have that discussion because I really believe what I’m suggesting is a legitimate alternative. Especially if companies really embrace Tom Foremski’s [saying] “Every company is a media company”. And I really believe that; most companies just fail to grasp that. So if they’re really media companies, why not become producers and managing editors of content that people want to really consume?

TweetReach: Okay, one last question: Any social media marketing pet peeves? What practices irritate you the most when you look at the state of the industry?

Steve Farnsworth: When people approach marketing with this “we can buy our way into it”– you can if you’ve got boatloads of cash, rock on, but no one ever does. What they do have [is] a limited budget, and they still want to try to buy their way in. You know: “Can we get this for $100?”. “No. We’re going to spend about $5k on this project and you’re going to be happy because it’s going to generate $100k for you”, or whatever the thing is.

People that think they can buy their way into social– if you’re not providing value on social, you can’t buy followers. You can buy bots. So that lack of understanding that this is a process and you have to earn people’s attention, and all of the bad decisions that blossom from that- [it's a] real fundamental misunderstanding and a lack of respect, I think, for consumers and for marketing- blows my mind. And it’s allowed to happen because unlike a product- when you show marketing- you don’t have a product that doesn’t work, you just have marketing that’s not effective.

I would love to see more people realize this is a long game; demand more from their marketing advisors. Ask about “How soon should we start it? [Let's establish] clarity on our goals: how are we going to measure those goals, what to do to achieve those goals, and how are we going to iterate, review and go to the next thing?” I would love to see that be the model. That’s not an ongoing cultural thing in most companies, unfortunately. And that makes me sad.

TweetReach: That’s a good pet peeve. That’s not just “I hate people who have a bicycle in their profile picture”. [Laughter] Well, thank you so much, again, for talking to us today! Anything else you want to add?

Steve Farnsworth: Come see me at @Steveology on Twitter, or my blog Steveology Blog and I’d love to have you guys leave comments and stuff like that.


Steve Farnsworth is the Chief Digital Strategist at Jolt Digital Marketing where he consults mid-to-large organizations on communication strategies to create product preference and build customer communities that foster brand loyalty. With over 13 years as a senior executive, Steve writes, blogs, and speaks about how smart companies can effectively integrate social media, PR 2.0, and content marketing into their marketing mix.

As a director with the Silicon Valley Brand Forum and an adviser to other professional organizations, Steve has moderated panels, spoken at or facilitated industry events at Intel, Yahoo!, HP, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Adobe, Electronic Arts, Hewlett-Packard, and Stanford. In 2012, he was  appointed the Communications and Social Media Advisor to TEDxSanJoseCA.

Steve has been noted by Forbes magazine as one of the Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, and by the magazines as being the #1 influential PR Tweeter with the highest percentage of “Good” (actual humans) Twitter followers.

As @Steveology on Twitter, he has over 80,000 followers and has been included in The Top 35 “Connectors” on Twitter, awarded as one of The 2011 Nifty 50 Top Twitter Men, and cited as one of the most influential people online by Fast Company‘s The Influence Project.