Social Media as a Owner-Operator, an Interview with Simon Waller
Interviewer: Tim Martin, November 2013. Episode #02 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: Simon, welcome. Thanks for coming along today.
SIMON: Thank you so much for having me.
TIM: Mobial, your business. Tell us a little about that.
SIMON: Yeah, sure. Mobial is basically aimed at helping businesses to get the most out of mobile technology. So I consult, I speak, and I train within organizations around the effective use of technology, and especially working with executive teams.
TIM: Nice one. So there’s a future in mobile after all?
SIMON: I think there’s a massive future in mobile.
TIM: I think you’re right. The reason I’ve asked you in today is because you’re like me to some extent: we’re lone wolves. We just do our own thing on our own. We’re one-man operations. Challenges around that with social – you don’t obviously go to a building and work with them and have lots of people around you in terms of other employees and so forth, but you’ve got a social media footprint. How do you manage that on your own?
SIMON: I think in terms of managing it, it can be quite challenging, especially just in terms of having the support around you to be able to I suppose manage multiple channels and generate content and all those type of things. I think the advantage is probably rather than so much on the management, but in terms of our strategic side, I feel that within the circle that I work in, there’s actually a great opportunity for peer-to-peer learning.
TIM: Ah, right, of course. You may not have fellow employees, but you’ve certainly got people around you that you share ideas with.
SIMON: Yeah. A lot of the people who work in a similar space to me are thought leaders in some way around their chosen topic. A number of them do work in social media. So from them – like since I first moved to Melbourne about 3 ½ years ago, I’ve been able to tap into what they know, and that’s really helped shape both the things I put in place and probably even most of what I’m doing today.
TIM: Right. And what are you doing today?
SIMON: One of the best things I learnt early on was basically don’t invest in channels you can’t afford to maintain. If we’re looking at the different channels that are common in terms of social media and in internet marketing these days, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, I really chose to invest heavily in LinkedIn. I think because of its business-to-business focus, it is more likely where I’m going to be able to connect with my client base than say Facebook.
I see Facebook very much as being a business-to-consumer kind of relationship. People don’t generally engage with me and the work I do around mobile technology and business from a consumer perspective; they do it from a business perspective.
For me, Twitter probably is something I’ve always really enjoyed. When someone explained to me the power of Twitter and being able to connect with networks of likeminded people around the world and tap into their knowledge, that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and still use as a massive source of information for my business.
TIM: That makes sense, but did you arrive at this point through trial and error, or is that something you just knew from the get-go, that Facebook wasn’t going to do it for you and LinkedIn probably would?
SIMON: To be honest when I first came across the concept of social media, I was quite skeptical. I wasn’t quite sure how it would actually fit in as a business tool. I used Facebook, like a lot of people start with Facebook, as a purely social tool for myself to use, and when I moved across to Melbourne from Perth, it was a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family.
I didn’t really believe that any of those social channels were actually a business tool, and it was only when I connected with people who knew a lot more than I did that I started to see the potential of them.
That being said, I got snippets of people’s time; I didn’t get the luxury of having a social media strategy built for my business or built for me. So as a result of that, there was a lot of trial and error, and to be honest, in hindsight I would’ve been better off investing a bit more upfront in terms of my own learning. I have gone through probably a number of social media accounts that no longer exist on a number of platforms that probably weren’t appropriate.
For now, I feel that I’d probably take a different approach now. If I was starting up now, I’d start with one and build up a confidence and a level of sustainability within that one platform, and then move to a second one and then try and do the same thing again.
TIM: Your blog, how long have you been doing that?
SIMON: I’ve been blogging I suppose on and off for the last couple of years. I’ve blogged on a couple of different websites that I’ve owned. I originally had another business called Tomorrow Work, so I did a lot of blogging on that. That’s where I cut my teeth.
I think the blogging that I’m doing now, it’s a much higher quality. I think you learn over time what good blogs start to look like.
To be honest, with my own blogging strategy, the thing I could probably do better is blog a bit more for other people. I often write for myself; I write the things that interest me. I think that’s great in a certain way. It positions you as a thought leader sometimes in what you do, but it’s not necessarily content that people are finding immediate value out of, and as a result of that, I probably don’t get it shared as much.
Interestingly enough, when I meet up with people who’ve read my blog, it’s often that they really like it. I get good positive feedback from it, but it doesn’t seem to be the tips and tricks and the “Here’s 5 things that you can do about such-and-such” that people then find an immediate reason to share with other people.
TIM: I guess it’s a dilemma – and I know a few people that they’re in the same situation – are you blogging to try and demonstrate your expertise? Are you blogging to try and connect with the informational needs of people that may be thinking of bringing you in to consult or to train or to speak? In which case, two very different buckets of content.
SIMON: Yeah. It’s something I still struggle with; I don’t probably get that right. I think that there is – the blogging I do is really about positioning me, but it doesn’t necessarily – I don’t know if that answers questions for people that would then say “Ah, yeah, that’s the problem I’ve got. I should get Simon in.”
So it’s something that I probably need to work on, and again, it probably goes back to the fact that a lot of my whole social media strategy, it’s a bit ad hoc. It’s not really structured as well as it could be.
TIM: I know there are many individuals and organizations out there that if you ask them to rattle off their social media platforms, a blog is not one that is up there in the top two or three. Do you think more people should be blogging?
SIMON: I think so. I think we’re getting to a point now – if you look about how we engage with other platforms – and Twitter’s a great example. Basically the retweet, where you’re basically on a very small scale positioning yourself with many, many, many retweets. But none of them are actually you. It’s kind of a little snippet of lots of other people’s thoughts that come to reflect or position you.
I think blogging is actually a much more thorough approach to positioning yourself. It really reflects what is important to you, what you value, what value you offer to your clients. It’s harder; there’s obviously a lot more time and thought that goes into blogging.
But I think that to me, it’s a more powerful representation, and especially if your business is one that’s engaging with a thoughtful client base. For me, I deal a lot with senior executives, C-Suite executives; they need to know that I’m not frivolous in what I talk about.
TIM: Yeah, absolutely. So this is your long form, deep dive content so you can really establish yourself as someone who’s got more than a fleeting insight, yeah?
TIM: The time requirements for a blog, I guess depending on how quickly you’re able to write, can be large. But you don’t need anyone’s permission, do you, because you work for yourself.
SIMON: That’s right.
TIM: Do you think that makes it a little bit easier?
SIMON: It does make it easier. I think what I’ve also come to find is one of the hardest things I used to find about writing a blog was actually determining what the focus or the content was going to be. I think I’ve got better at that.
So I suppose I’m much more aware – for instance, when I’m doing public workshops, I’m much more aware of what people are responding to. It could be just a simple message that I share around mobile technology and saying, “Right, I can just write a blog on that message,” not feeling that the whole thing has to be an essay about how we engage with mobile technology going into the 21st century or whatever it is. It can be something quite simple about how do you choose a good app?
I think that that, to me, choosing a much narrower topic is making it much easier for me to blog. For instance, I presented up in Brisbane last week to a CIO conference up there, and I wrote a blog on the message that I shared with them on the flight home. Within the 2-hour flight back, I’d mapped it out, I’d written it, I’d checked it, and it was ready to be published.
So for me, especially with using mobile technology, we can actually do a lot of stuff in our dead time. It doesn’t have to be that high value time that we’re using to do this type of stuff. It can be actually the time when we want to get out of the office. “I just need a break from this.” Go down to a café and sit there and just write a blog while you’re having your coffee. There’s no reason why you can’t knock out a blog in half an hour, 45 minutes. Still actually have quite a lot of substance to it, but it’s not really cutting into the rest of your work day.
TIM: Yeah, for sure. Now, as a consultant, obviously you only eat when you kill. How do you find the site or content or blog specifically for lead generation?
SIMON: To be honest, I find – I track using Google Analytics the amount of traffic going to my site and how much is actually also being derived through those different social channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. I don’t really necessarily know, though, the relationship between that and a converted lead.
It’s probably partly because a lot of the work I do is low volume, high value work, and as a result of that, people may read that, they may position you; they call you 2 weeks later to say “Hey, would you be interested in coming in to work with our executive team?”
Anecdotally, the feedback has suggested there’s a good link. When I go in and speak to people, I very often get a comment that says “I read your blog,” and there’s an indication that there’s a correlation between that and actually me coming to work. There’s one client I’m working with at the moment where I think that without that blog in place, I don’t think they would’ve differentiated me from say another mobile technology trainer. And to be fair, that’s now evolving into quite a substantial piece of work.
To me, I look at it and say even if I land one or two jobs like that, that justifies me blogging for 2 years.
TIM: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned Twitter and LinkedIn; how do you use those platforms in different ways?
SIMON: For me, Twitter and the power of Twitter really came from what I first got out of it. Even now, when I talk to executives about Twitter, one of the things I find is at that executive level, a lot of people are not engaging in these social channels.
One of the messages I share with them is what’s the power that they can get out of it, and for me, initially that power was understanding the use of hashtags as a way of researching information. A lot of the stuff I do around mobile technology, I find content for my presentations on Twitter. Specifically I follow a hashtag called #futureofwork. It’s an amazing community of people around the world who are sharing some extraordinary content using that hashtag.
So for me, that was the first step. I got so much value out of that community of people without even knowing who those people were that I just wanted to contribute back. So first of all, I find content and I just repost it using that hashtag when appropriate. A lot of my own content on my own blog is related to that.
For me, it was actually a very natural progression to build up and contribute back to that community. It was never actually really – and even now I don’t necessarily look at it as a marketing platform. I just think it’s a way for me to be able to share with people who value the same types of things as me, the type of stuff that I do.
I have no doubt that indirectly, that actually has a powerful role in terms of positioning myself and ultimately connecting with a wider audience than just a peer network. But that’s how I start, and I think it’s a really valuable way of thinking about it. Don’t go out there to market yourself on these channels, because if people see that it’s just a marketing message and that’s all that you shared, then they shy away pretty quickly.
TIM: I think you’re right. So would LinkedIn serve the purpose of more – not so much listening and getting information, but more putting yourself out there and building your profile?
SIMON: Yeah, definitely right. I look at it – I assume these days almost anybody who is going to hire me will have looked at my LinkedIn profile. I’d say that that is actually the case 90% of the time or more. There’s very few people who are interested in “how do we get our executives to use mobile technology?” who haven’t got to the point of having a LinkedIn profile and checking out other people on LinkedIn.
So I do expect that when people go there, I’ve spent a lot of time building my profile both in terms of the content about me, but also then what I share on there in terms of how that reflects on the skills and the knowledge and stuff that I have as well.
The other thing which I like about LinkedIn, it does give you an opportunity to actually be a little bit more thoughtful in your response. Like when you’re on Twitter, the 140 character limit means that your own thoughts around a particular article are fairly short. Even just being able to add two or three sentences around an article and your thoughts on it on LinkedIn I find quite powerful.
So I probably share less on LinkedIn, but I take a bit more time with what I share.
TIM: Now, here’s a dilemma: you as an owner and operator, do you see the brand as being mobile or Simon Waller or both?
SIMON: That’s a really good question. When I first started, I thought it was more being the brand, but over time I think that’s changed a lot. I actually went through quite a big process recently of redeveloping my website, and as part of that process I actually got a professional writer to come in and work with me on some of the content.
Because up until that point, I’d written everything on the site myself; I actually built the website myself as well, and I found that over time, you’d just build content on top of content on top of content. It was all a bit murky about what it actually stood for.
And the message that I got from her, and also from the website developer I worked with, was there actually wasn’t enough of me in the website. And I realized that as much as there is a brand that I use to represents what I do in that part of my professional life, it really still is me. What people are buying, they’re buying me. People don’t necessarily want to buy my brand; they want to buy the expertise that I have and the knowledge that I have.
So I now would say that it’s probably – whereas at the beginning, I thought it was 70% to 80% the brand and 20% me, I would say that it’s now the opposite.
TIM: Does that change the tone when you engage on social media? Do you talk more in the first person, or do you still think about “we” and “our”?
SIMON: I actually talked about this with this content writer, and at the moment I’m actually maintaining two personas. If I talk about what I’m doing – I might put on the blog that I’ve been asked to go and speak to say as part of A&P Samplify [sp] Festival, I might write that in the third person. I’m actually looking to sign that from the blog as being from “admin” as opposed to being from me.
But if it’s a thought piece about my thoughts on mobile technology in the workplace and how it’s changing the way we work, that would be signed by me and then written in the first person. And it might be just me still holding onto what I used to have. Maybe there’s actually on legitimacy to having that separate persona for the business. I’m not sure yet; I feel that it’ll work itself out over time.
At the moment, I feel comfortable with that, because I think it’s also hard sometimes to talk about yourself in the first person in terms of your achievements – yet it’s quite legitimate to share those things on things like your blog. Because part of what you’re doing with the blog is giving people the confidence to deal with you, and that confidence comes from knowing that you have dealt with other clients that are substantial clients.
So to me, it is important that I can share with people that I do work with clients such as A&P. It’s hard for me to say that about myself, so by just taking that third person persona, I feel a little bit easier about it. (laughs)
TIM: We’re not very good in Australia at blowing our own trumpet, are we?
SIMON: No, no, I’m not very good at it.
TIM: What about practical consideration? On your social media platforms, do you use a logo for the profile pic, or do you use your own face?
SIMON: For instance, in a previous business I used to run both a personal Twitter account and a business Twitter account. I’ve dismissed the business Twitter account now. So from Twitter perspective, it’s just me. It’s my handle, @simondwaller. And it’s my profile peek.
TIM: You mentioned a website before. In these days of social media, do we need a website?
SIMON: I think we do. I think for a number of reasons. First of all, building your online presence purely on other people’s platforms has risks with it. I think there’s risks around the longevity of the platform and who owns the content.
I think there’s also challenges around uniformity, so if you have a Facebook profile page, it kind of looks a lot like everybody else’s Facebook profile page; you just get to change the banner image. Whereas I find that for me, my website is personalized around exactly how I want it to look and how I want people to interact with it. I designed the structure of it, the way the pages look, the font – everything is my choice.
I think that that’s actually quite important. For me, I don’t feel comfortable that if you’re a consulting business of any kind of substance that you could just have your online presence being social platforms.
TIM: I completely agree. New platforms opening up all the time; do you experiment with them all just to see what they are and see if there’s any application for you? Or do you wait for other people to validate that before jumping in?
SIMON: I used to experiment a lot more than I do now. As I said before, I actually struggled to have enough time to manage them all properly. I think it’s like what I would do with mobile technology. If it was mobile technology, yes, I would be on there, test every platform, and as a result, I now have two Android tablets, I’ve got a Windows RT tablet and an iPad, and I’m about to get a new one.
But that’s what I do. I do mobile technology; it’s my responsibility to test those platforms and to share what I know with other people who don’t have the time or the expertise to understand what is a good platform, what’s a useful platform, how do you use it in a useful way.
I probably take now slightly more of a backseat approach. Again, as I said, I’m lucky enough to have peers in my network who do do this stuff and who are much clearer around what the value of different platforms and the use case of different platforms are. So now I feel that it’s smarter for me to use my time building my expertise around what I know, tap into the networks I have around me to identify new social media platforms as they arise.
TIM: Google+, is that on the radar at all for you?
SIMON: Yes, I actually do have a Google+ profile as well. I struggle to add content to it on a regular basis. I’m a massive Google user, so all my email, calendar, contacts, everything is built on Google Apps. Google+ is a very natural fit for that. I do use Hangouts and stuff already as a Skype alternative.
I think it’s becoming also an increasingly important platform. I think if you look at the growth of Google+ over the last couple years, it’s quite extraordinary. A year ago, you would struggle to find high quality content on there, and then suddenly in that last 12 months, it’s really shifted a lot for me, is my experience. There’s also a lot more maturity around what your profile looks like, how you interact with your page, the ability to post to it easily.
So it’s something that I’m trying, at least every now and then, to put some original content onto Google+ that I’m not sharing on other platforms, to kind of build up that platform a little bit. It’s probably, to be honest, the next thing on my radar that I would want to actually devote some more energy to.
TIM: Yeah, I love it. The clean interface and the high quality content through the communities, I find extraordinary. I still am a little amazed when you hear people sometimes say that it’s a ghost town. (laughs) I’m like, “Well, I don’t know where you’re hanging out; seems pretty busy where I am.” But anyway.
So the applications on mobile that cross into social, for example Instagram, is that something you concern yourself with? Or that just happens to be a social element within mobile?
SIMON: It’s not something I actually concern myself a lot in, and it really comes back to the statement I said before, that a lot of my client base – when you get to an executive level, people are not really engaging in social as much as they should.
So if I had time to spend with them around social, and every now and then I do, I would start with the basics. And the basics would be around Twitter and then talking about LinkedIn to some of them, especially with business-to-consumer based organizations. With Facebook, though, probably I’d say that business-to-consumer organizations are more up-to-date with social media than business-to-business organizations.
I don’t think business-to-business organizations, a lot of them, realize that social media actually has value for them yet. So to me, that would be the starting point. It’d be rare that I’d actually get the time, then, to go into it in more detail.
And even with Instagram, my own experience of it is it’s a great social platform. For me, the value I get is sharing photos with friends and family and my “social” social circles as opposed to my business social circles. I don’t know if I have a use case for Instagram in terms of a business social application.
TIM: One of the advantages of it being mobile is that literally you’ve got the ability to capture and create that content on the fly. You just pull your camera out and you take a picture, obviously, of anything as arcane as a piece of machinery or a cog or whatever it may be.
Which actually leads me into thinking: to what extent in your view can you see the social media, a particular social media platform, branching? You’ve got the desktop application; then you’ve got the mobile application. They seem to be moving further and further apart.
SIMON: Yeah, I think that the LinkedIn example is a really good one. They’ve just redeveloped all their iOS-based apps, so their iPad app, with a new interface which is further away, I think, from what the traditional LinkedIn interface has been in the past.
I think when you also look at how we work mobile, there’s a legitimate need for it to be different. One of the interesting things – like a lot of the talk around websites over the last couple years has been around responsive design, which is the idea that obviously the website will redesign for the screen that you’re operating on.
What that doesn’t do is change the content. It just changes the way that it’s presented on the screen. Now, when you’re working in a mobile way, you often actually want access to different content. First of all, geographical content becomes more relevant than it would be if you were stationary.
The second thing is, you probably don’t want access to as much content. You don’t have as much time or the screen is not as big, and so you might want an abridged version.
I think that that’s probably where we’re seeing the thinking around mobile and social becomes more interesting. The first thing we do is take what we did on our computer and make it available on a mobile device; the next step is we actually start to think more clearly about “If I was on a mobile device, what type of content do I want access to? What type of features do I want access to?”
I think that our thinking in that space is less mature than it is in the desktop environment, but the growth of mobile and the natural fit between mobile and social means, I think, that a lot more energy is going into that space at the moment than perhaps what we’ve been seeing into the desktop versions of these type of platforms. So I imagine the divergence will grow.
TIM: Yeah, I think you’re right. Stay tuned. Simon, thank you so much for coming along today. Let people know where they can find you.
SIMON: Sure. Best way to find me is through my website, which is mobial.com.au. All the contact details are on the website.
TIM: Excellent, thanks, Simon. That’s a wrap for another show. I will see you all next time. Ciao.