In this interview, I talk to Dan Zarrella about why and how marketers should use data to create more successful campaigns. Dan is a social media marketing expert who is known for analyzing social network effectiveness. He has personally created applications such as the social URL shortener Votrs.com, Link Attraction Factors keyword tools, as well as TweetPsych, TwitterBrandSponsors, TweetBacks and TweetSuite.
He was recently awarded Shorty and Semmy awards for social media & viral marketing. Dan currently works as an inbound marketing manager at HubSpot and is the author of The Social Media Marketing Book, Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness, and The Facebook Marketing Book. His latest book is called The Science of Marketing: When to Tweet, What to Post, How to Blog, and Other Proven Strategies and you can follow him at Twitter @danzarrella.
Why aren’t all marketers using data to create more successful campaigns? Why are they afraid?
You know, I see more marketers embracing data now than embraced it say 4 years ago, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
It can be a scary thing. The use of data requires an entirely new, more technical skill set that many traditionally educated marketers may not have yet. It’s not fuzzy and soft. If your marketing efforts aren’t working the data isn’t going to lie about them. If you have some closely held superstitions, as many of us do, data will shatter them.
But at the end of the day the rewards outweigh the hassles of learning to use data. Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed.
How do you stand out online now when there are over 200 million blogs and a billion Facebook accounts?
I never really put too much stock into “early adoption” as a business tactic. If you’re good at picking which sites or platforms or memes are going to catch on you can get some good play from them, especially early on. But in the long run it’s all about that blue ocean strategy.
Finding–or in most cases, creating–the niche that you can own. Saying something different than what the rest of your industry or market is saying. Doing something that only you can do in a way only you can do it. In the book I present data that shows that novelty and a unique point-of-view are big criteria for building reach and social spread.
When I started out years ago, I called myself an SEO or a social media consultant and had very little traction with it. Then I started doing the data analysis and my copywriter girlfriend–now wife, Alison Zarrella–suggested that I call myself the social media scientist. I was the first and the only person using that kind of branding and it worked out great for me.
When building an online presence, what should you avoid doing and where should you spend more of your time?
The easiest answer is that you should look at your data, find the things that are working and the things that are not. Spend more time doing the stuff that’s working and avoid doing what’s not.
More generally I think Pinterest is a great site for many businesses to experiment with. I love how action driven users there are. They’re pinning things they want to buy or make or do. And I have some data in the book about how to more effectively use Pinterest.
And on the other hand, I think SEO, as a distinct discipline isn’t as important as it used to be. If you’re using a content management system like WordPress, or a content optimization system like HubSpot most of the technical heavy lifting is already done for you. The rest comes down to good content and reach building. I have a chapter in the book about SEO that explains my views on it.
Can you give an example of a campaign that was successful and show the science behind why it was?
One of my favorite examples isn’t a campaign but a set of Twitter accounts. Take a look at the top most followed accounts. Remove all the celebrities who were famous before or outside of Twitter, that’s most of the list. Then remove the major media outlets, super popular websites, newspapers and television stations. The list is now almost totally empty.
What you have left is a handful of accounts like @OMGFacts with 5.3 million followers, @NoteBook with 4.1 million, @CarrollTrust with 3.8 million and @WhatTheFFacts with 3.2 million. These don’t belong to celebrities, or big companies. These accounts built their reach with Twitter. And they didn’t do it by “engaging in the conversation.” They did it by automating their accounts and sharing lots of interesting content. The data shows time and time again that this is how social reach is built, not by being “chatty.”
What are your top three most valuable marketing tips?
1. Experiment with contra-competitive timing. Too often marketers look at a target audience and wonder when they should try to communicate with them. Their first thought is when that audience appears the most active. But across many channels, the data suggests that it is easier to be heard when the rest of the market is quiet. So experiment with Tweeting, Facebooking and emailing on the weekends.
2. Don’t forget about calls-to-action. For some reason marketers gave up calls-to-action when they started working in social media. “Please retweet” works. Facebook posts that ask for likes get more likes, those that ask for comments get more comments, and those that ask for shares get more shares. If you want someone to do something, ask them to do it.
3. Always challenge unicorns-and-rainbows superstitions and myths about marketing. If you have some long-held belief about marketing tactics ask yourself why you think that. Is it based on data? Or is it superstition?
Dan Schawbel is the author of the upcoming book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press, Sept 3rd).