Tim Martin on Social Media, an Interview by Adam Franklin
Interviewer: Adam Franklin, May 2014. Episode #15 from the NET:101 podcast.
ADAM: Hello, it’s Adam Franklin, and I’m here with Tim Martin. Thanks for joining us.
TIM: Thanks, Adam.
ADAM: Tim is a popular conference speaker and respected trainer through his NET:101 training sessions. Tim’s also had a 15-year career in digital marketing and social media, and he regularly presents to CEO groups on behalf of The Executive Connection. I personally have known Tim for a number of years, and I’m a big fan of his no fluff and sometimes provocative approach to marketing and social media.
Now Tim, I’ve mentioned a little bit about you there; would you mind giving us a brief overview of your business and maybe some of the bits that I’ve missed out?
TIM: Yeah, sure. Gosh, provocative. Am I provocative?
ADAM: I think so. We’ll get into that later in the interview.
TIM: (laughs) Yeah, sure. No, I think you’ve got it mostly there. I am a trainer and educator. I did do consulting for awhile and also had my own agency for awhile, building websites. That process I outsourced, but I did the marketing around them, the search. Back then it was mostly Adwords, which went into organic search.
But I actually find it more interesting – I certainly find it more rewarding financially and personally to train and educate and not so much provide solutions for people.
ADAM: I actually found the same there, Tim. We’ve made a move just at the end of last year to move into an advice-only model. You’ve led the way there.
TIM: Yeah, pretty good.
ADAM: How would you explain your web marketing philosophy?
TIM: I think it’s naturally unfolded over several years. I mean, I’ve gone down lots of blind alleys, but I’ve had enough time to work some things out. I ironically started with the website 7 years ago, and that website is still the centerpiece of everything I do today. Social, yes, obviously I train in it and I’m active in it.
But one of the things I’m quite adamant about is that you’ve got to be able to measure a result; you’ve got to be confident that you’re getting a return on investment. And what I’ve been able to do through my website alone, the last few years, and certainly sitting here right now, that’s been my greatest value generator.
ADAM: You speak about a couple of dead-end alleyways that you’ve been down. I think that’s sort of par for the course for people in business like ourselves. Along the 7 year journey, what have been your major “aha” moments?
TIM: I think organic search would have to have been the big one for me. I started off in paid search. I was probably one of the first advertisers ever to use the Google Adwords platform here in Australia, and I was quite smitten with it. The idea that you could get an ad up instantly, that you could tag it quite precisely and lead people to any part of the World Wide Web that you wanted them to go, was extraordinary.
But that was back in the day where there wasn’t a lot of competition, so you were able to bid on keywords down certainly lower than a dollar, oftentimes around 20, 30 cents a click-through. Those days are long gone. So I moved on from paid search and discovered the power of organic, and that was principally through my website. The ability to publish to the web, have that stuff be indexed and have pages from your website show up in results long after you’d originally published the content, that was a big revelation to me.
ADAM: That’s actually been something I’ve certainly appreciated in my journey too, Tim, the fact that you can write something today and then it’s still there next week, next month, next year, and Google will still pick it up and it’ll still send traffic to it, people will read it and share it, and it really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Compared to even a Google ad, which was fantastic in the early days, and the idea of only paying if somebody clicks on it was great, but the fact is once somebody’s clicked on it and you’ve paid your money, you’ve got to reach into your own pocket or pull out your credit card again to get the next wave of traffic. It really makes it hard to build a sustainable asset compared to organic search results. So totally, totally agree with you there.
TIM: I did actually end up going down the rabbit hole of trying to understand how the algorithm worked, and there were some things you could do to game the system. I think we have all been into that dark space at some point. It’s getting harder and harder to do these days, but back then, the algorithm wasn’t sophisticated enough to pick up low quality content. It was almost as easy as sprinkling a few strategically placed keywords around, and it would do the trick.
Now, I still see some organizations and individuals that are still back there, that they think it’s keyword-driven, that they’re not putting any emphasis on quality content, connecting with the customer, building up credibility, that sort of thing. It amazes me that there are people out there still taking money off other people to do that sort of stuff.
ADAM: And thank goodness, I think that things like Google Authorship are now being introduced so that Google has an even clearer way to identify who the quality content creators are and to reward them appropriately. It’s no longer the mud fight that existed even just 5 years ago, where you could be getting lots of back-links from low quality directories or sprinkling keywords throughout your site and relying just purely on that. I’m so pleased to see that Google’s rewarding the quality, because it does take time and a lot of effort these days.
TIM: It certainly does. That brings me back to the website again. As far as I’m concerned, there are places to publish content around the web, but there’s no better place than your own website or your own blog. So to have that platform, to have that content marketing publication machine, really should be the centerpiece of anybody’s online marketing.
ADAM: Tim, the second part of this Web Marketing That Works podcast is where we look at marketing experiments. I like to delve into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, let’s start off with the good: what have you tried that’s worked well?
TIM: What have I tried that’s worked well? I think nothing worked for me particularly well first up. I’d give things a go, like I’d give a blog a go and I’d give Twitter a go when it first came out – and maybe I didn’t understand it fully, but it just didn’t seem to do anything. It didn’t seem to give you any return. And then you read a few books and you listen to some podcasts and you hear stories about people that are making it work. But of course, they’ve done it because they’ve been persistent and they’ve refined the way that they approach it again and again.
So I think just about everything I’ve done first off has been a failure, to be honest. Some things have persisted through and other things that I’ve tried – building a community in Second Life, for example, that certainly didn’t work.
ADAM: (laughs) No, that’s going back a few years.
TIM: Am I dating myself now?
ADAM: Well, I was there too.
TIM: Gosh. I never saw you. I saw a lot of other weird people, but I never bumped into you, Adam.
ADAM: (laughs) Now how about the bad? What’s failed, and what have you learnt from that experience?
TIM: I tried some traditional offline marketing. It’s really weird; I don’t think I was ever a classical marketer in the sense of running offline campaigns for a company. But there’s still that tendency to think that there’s something in it, and ironically, as an online marketing person, a digital specialist, I was drawn to this flame of wanting to try offline marketing and run some ads in a newspaper or run a radio campaign or whatever. And they were just complete failures, super expensive, I’m pretty sure I got nothing back for it, and I wouldn’t even know whether I did or not because there was no way, really, to measure it.
So I think I’m going to stick to things that I know. I’ll be honest: I do not understand how offline marketing works. I understand how offline relationship building works, but the idea of hiring space on page 8 of a newspaper and paying money for that is just a deep mystery to me.
ADAM: And Tim, how about the ugly? This is confession time. Have you had any dead-set shockers?
TIM: Well, I did send a newsletter out recently that caused people to cancel my course, so that could be a shocker.
ADAM: Do you want to tell us more about that?
TIM: Well, you used the “p” word, provocative, before. My position is that social and online is a great way to express yourself and let a bit of personality shine through. So the question then is, what would that personality look like? Some people would say that’s a brand position, but what are my brand values? It’s to try and be fun, to try and be a little bit mysterious, provocative if you will.
But there’s a line between a brand position and then going out and actually pissing people off or upsetting them. I kind of crossed that line in a recent newsletter. What I was putting together I thought was quite clever, but it actually offended some people, to the point that they canceled my course. So there was a little bit of a learning curve for me that it’s good to push the envelope and be a little bit provocative, but you don’t want to marginalize people.
ADAM: Okay, so if you had your time again, would you change that newsletter, or would you write that person off as someone who wasn’t necessarily a great match for your brand personality or your course? Would you change your stance if you had your time again?
TIM: Yeah, I would dial it back a little bit. I think what you have to be comfortable doing, and what I need to be more comfortable in doing, is marginalizing a few people. You don’t want to try and please everybody, because then you’ll end up pleasing nobody.
But I think that the mistake was that you can be a certain way after people get to know you and they can build up some trust around your message and they know that you’re not some complete idiot or psychopath. So when you’ve got that credit in the bank, I think it’s easier to push the envelope. Gosh, I’m mixing my metaphors there, sorry.
But there was no credit in the bank in this instance. She hadn’t met me; she signed up to the course and received something that she was offended by, and of course, the response was to stage left exit.
ADAM: Right. Okay. To bring some of the listeners up to speed there, there’s provocative headlines, like I know there’s been “The Cocaine Edition,” “The Self-Inflicted Pain Edition,” and “The Porn Edition” of your newsletter, and me as somebody who knows you, they’re provocative headlines, deliberately provocative, and then you explain in the actual email newsletter itself the exact correlation between say cocaine or self-inflicted pain or porn and how that ties into social media or web marketing.
I think it’s been done in a very clever way, in a very informative way as well, and in a way that actually reflects your personality. Yes, it is quite provocative, and that’s really the part that – I’ve admired how you’ve decided to put yourself out there and do that, and I guess I would imagine it wins over many more fans than those people that it offends. But I guess it is always a fine line deciding exactly the path to tread.
TIM: Yeah, and thanks for your kind words. I guess some people would say that unless you are offending someone, you haven’t found what that line is. So it certainly wasn’t a terminal crossing of the line. I was able to step back. But yeah, look, it’s fun, and this is what I like about what I do in my business. This is what I like about online marketing, social media marketing generally, is that whole personality-driven aspect of it. You can have a position. You can be controversial. You can be funny. You can be mysterious. There’s a lot of latitude in terms of being somebody that’s a little bit different than the guy to the left or the guy to the right.
ADAM: Yeah, it sure is a good way to be memorable. What I love about marketing, too, is that it’s about expressing your personality, and there’s only one you, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to be the real you than to be a fake and to be bland and boring and put up these perceptions of professionalism, which really often just translates to being bland, in my opinion.
So I’m pleased to see that you are flying the flag and putting yourself out there, because I certainly gravitate towards your content, and I’m sure lots of other people do as well.
TIM: Thanks, Adam.
ADAM: Tim, if you were starting from scratch, starting your web marketing from nothing, what would be the first thing that you did?
TIM: It would be to roll my sleeves up and start to build some owned online properties. And I guess when I say owned, I mean things that you’ve got full control over, no one can take away from you. So a website, but if you can’t manage that, then a blog.
I would want to set those up myself as much as I could, so I understand the processes involved. Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and learn how to code and build a website from scratch, but you need to learn by doing, and to start to build things and experiment online and have that direct interface with what you’re doing is the best way to learn. And of course, with learning comes confidence, and with the confidence you can start to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and start to experiment with the web. And I think it’s that experimental phase that gets really interesting for people.
My perception is that a lot of people are still afraid of breaking something on the web, that if you press something the wrong way or press it too hard, the whole thing’s going to tip over. But you can’t. You can’t break the web. I like the idea that people are constantly skilling themselves up by having hands-on exposure. They’re pulling levers and pressing buttons and twisting dials, and they’re working out how stuff works.
So my advice would be to set some stuff up that is yours, as I say, and start publishing. It doesn’t have to be profound, and it may not find an instant audience, but get into that mode of thinking like a publisher. A website and a blog is a perfect publishing vehicle or vehicles to do that.
ADAM: And the good thing about starting out, too, and rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty and practicing publishing is the fact that you’ve got that safety of not having a very big audience at the start, so you can make mistakes. You can trip over, and you’re not going to embarrass yourself, because realistically in the first couple of blog posts, you won’t really have too many people listening to you.
But as you grow, you’ll become better and that’s when your audience will grow. So it really is quite a safe learning environment on the web, and it’s nowhere near as scary as it might seem to someone who’s never actually tried it before.
TIM: Yeah, completely. I see some people out there that are waiting to get their job or career break before they start this process, and I say you don’t need to wait for that to happen. You can start now. You can go to Blogger.com and you can set up a blog tonight for free, and you can post your first post. It could be a project based around your local community group, or for your partner who’s got a gym business, or just yourself as a personal brand. But you don’t have to wait for permission, I guess.
ADAM: That’s such a good point, and I actually find that if you start these things, then you get your career break after it’s already started, not the other way around. So it’s kind of focus on this first, and then the opportunities will come afterwards.
TIM: Yeah, for sure. Build a platform, I guess, in summary.
ADAM: Tim, Part 3 of the podcast is where we dive deep into one specific area. Now, my question to you is what specific web marketing tactic brings you the most joy?
TIM: I would say that it’s the one that I find the most difficult to do, and that’s the blog. I do like writing; I’m not a particularly fast writing, so I find for me to get a blog post out takes probably 2 to 3 hours. Which is incredible, when you think about it. That’s really, really slow.
But I love the finished product. I love finding the image to hit the post. I love polishing the paragraphs. I love hitting that “Publish” button and having it go out there. And then of course, it gets picked up by search straightaway. People who are subscribed to the blog read it; I can see that on my live analytics as people jump across and start consuming it. That to me is really, really satisfying.
ADAM: Can we just dive a little bit deeper here, Tim, and would you mind maybe taking us through the exact process that you go through for these 2 to 3 hours? Like is there a research phase and then a writing and a polishing? What does it actually look like for you?
TIM: I pretty much shoot from the hip. It’s whatever I’m in the mood to create. I know some more disciplined bloggers have an editorial or publishing schedule; I don’t tend to do that. I just get an idea in my head, and I’m in the mood to write, so I do that.
But there’s so many upsides to writing. It doesn’t matter where you publish, but that process of writing, as you well know with your book coming out shortly, it crystallizes the ideas in your head. You have to be able to articulate what you’re thinking in a way that a third party can understand. And of course, that helps in future circumstances when you’re presenting to other people in courses, as I do.
But beyond that, I think it’s the fact that you’ve got content out on the web and people can reference it, determine your credibility. It’s a nice subject matter expertise or thought leadership play. But it’s just the discipline to do it, and I think that’s the hardest thing. I try and put out one a week, but as I said, I’m the sort of guy that publishes when I’m in the mood. Thank God I don’t work for somebody else, because I wouldn’t be able to crank a blog post out on demand, I don’t think.
ADAM: I’m of the same opinion. When inspiration strikes, you need to make the most of it, and it’s very rarely during business hours. Inspiration rarely strikes according to the plan you may have for it, and I often find I’m writing blog posts late at night or I get ideas early in the morning or out on a run – always times that I’m not at my computer.
TIM: Yeah, of course.
ADAM: I find using tools like Evernote to jot ideas down is really effective as well, but you can’t always be in the zone for writing, I guess. To get one out a week is a big effort.
TIM: Yeah. Sometimes I fall off the wagon, but so far this year I’ve been able to put out one a week.
ADAM: Tim, have you got any really effective pro tips for the more advanced listeners?
TIM: Ooh, pro tips. I’m quite interested, and I want to explore this more myself in terms of repurposing content. I can do it to a minor extent. It’s easy to take an image, text or an image that I’ve put through Facebook or whatever and repurpose it onto Pinterest, for example. But I’m more interested in building up a repository of content that I can sit down and start to really create some other formats. So just take the blog posts and put them together into an eBook format, to take some of my blog posts and put them into video format. Could be me not so much reading them word for word, but restyling them.
This comes down to the fact that I’ve got limited hours in my week. I’m totally onboard with the idea of producing quality content and pushing it out on a regular basis, but gosh, it’s a big ask to do that day in and day out. So I’m trying to get smarter as to how I produce the content and how I can leverage it in different ways.
ADAM: That’s a great tip, because I think a lot of people prefer to consume, for lack of a better word, their content in different ways. Like I know we’ve spoken in the past about you love listening to books as audio books, and I do too, when I go out for a run or I’m commuting somewhere.
I’ve actually done a couple of video interviews, with yourself included, but my series of video interviews I’ve actually found aren’t as popular as when I take the transcription of that exact same interview and repurpose is into an eBook format. The eBook format is just significantly more popular, and I don’t know why, but at the end of the day, there’s more people who are interacting with your content, which is a good thing.
TIM: Yeah, it’s easy to get locked into one content medium. Text is the obvious one for people to publish through their websites and blogs, but audio and video I think are still largely overlooked by many organizations.
ADAM: I totally agree. Audio and video is going to be the big push for me this year as well.
TIM: Yeah. So the podcast that we’re obviously recording at the moment, this is your podcast, I’ve got my own podcast, I find that it’s been a lot of fun up till now.
ADAM: Up until this podcast you’re doing with me now, Tim? (laughs)
TIM: Well, it’s downhill from this point. But up until this point, it was pretty good. But yeah, let’s just take into account that different people like to consume different media in different ways. I find it very efficient to listen to podcasts and audio books because I do a lot of walking, so I’m doing two things at once. I probably wouldn’t deep dive to the extent of having to read the equivalent length podcast in the blog format, for example.
ADAM: Yeah, and then also the flipside of that too is that it’s also for some people a lot easier to talk for half an hour than it is to actually put pen to paper or put fingers to keyboard and actually produce a blog post. So in terms of ease of content creation, audio and video can be a lot more fun and a lot easier as well.
TIM: Yeah, video is another one that once you’ve got the kit, you’ve got a $300 HD camera and a $25 tripod and a $25 external mic, you’re good for go. You’ve got your own little mini television studio that you can start creating video content. And people like video. They’re quite happy to hit the play button and watch a video for 3 or 4 minutes, and there’s a huge amount of information you can transfer in that small amount of time.
ADAM: Absolutely. Tim, Part 4 of the podcast is where we look at what you’ve learnt from other people. I personally know some of the bloggers and whatnot that you follow, but would you mind sharing with our listeners who you’ve learnt from, whether it’s in person or via their books or their blogs?
TIM: I continue to be inspired by the likes of Seth Godin on a number of levels. I find his words encouraging, but also I’m very impressed with the persistence and the consistency that he’s able to produce. I think it’s anyone that starts a journey and there are going to be moments where they waver on it, there’s self-doubt, they go into a [inaudible 00:24:39] or whatever, but they keep pushing forward.
I like the idea online that you launch before you’re ready. Not to wait for that perfect moment that everything is lined up and you can hit the button and it’s the grand opening and the curtains pull back. As Seth would say, ship it. Get stuff out and [inaudible 00:25:02] on it quickly. That’s been my guiding philosophy for the last 3 or 4 years in everything that I’ve done, is to really push myself to put stuff out there and then work on it once it’s out in the wild.
ADAM: It’s quite confronting, isn’t it, trying to put – well, just firstly putting stuff out into the marketplace, whether it’s a podcast or a blog or anything for that matter, because you’re opening yourself up for being judged and being criticized and everything. And I know Seth Godin refers to that as the resistance or the lizard brain kicking in. How do you overcome that fear or people not liking it or leaving negative comments or judging you?
TIM: I’m getting better and better at that. I would say if I went back a few years, I was quite sensitive to the opinions and views of others. I don’t know whether this is part of me getting older or it’s just more confidence on the web or whatever, but I’m not looking for validation from other people as much as I used to.
So I’m happy to put stuff out there. I know stuff that I personally don’t like that I’ve done, and stuff that I really like what I’ve done, and I’m probably comfortable to have my own internal compass guide me in that respect, and not be so sensitive to what other people are saying.
ADAM: Are there any particular books, say by Seth or by anybody else, that you’d particularly like to recommend or that have really impacted your marketing journey?
TIM: Yeah, the marketing journey. Look, I’ve got a bunch of books that I could rattle off; I read a lot. But I’m actually finding inspiration from non-marketing books. I’m pushing myself to more and more listen to fiction, and I think there’s great little insights in terms of ways people communicate and the subtleties of social interaction and engagement that have nothing to do with business or social media, but it’s just the interplay between two parties, which is why I like fiction so much. So I do get good inspiration from that.
There’s one book in particular, and it’s not really a marketing book, but it kind of rocked me on my heels when I read it this last summer, which was The Master Switch by Tim Wu. This talks to the idea of who controls the different points of the value chain. On the internet, for example, who are the content controllers? Who controls the pipes where the data flows through the internet, and who controls the devices which content is consumed through?
It’s made me look at the internet in a very, very different way. I actually thought the internet was this big monolith, stable beast, but I actually think it’s a lot more fragile than people believe. And we take it for granted that we can just set up our own businesses online and connect with people through pipes, but it’s not to say it will always be that way. Again, Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. If you want a little insight as to what an alternate reality could be like on the web, take a read.
ADAM: Thanks for that recommendation there, Tim. Are there any closing thoughts or final pieces of advice you’d like to share with our listeners?
TIM: Look, it’s a journey. I think we’re all on the journey. I think there’s a tendency for us to think that other people are further ahead than us – in fact, that everybody is further ahead in their understanding as to how the internet works and social works, but that’s not the case. Most of us, you and I included, Adam, are bumbling our way through. We’ve probably got a little more structure than somebody coming up to it for the first time, but it’s moving so quickly and it’s changing so quickly.
The underlying rules don’t change, but the rest of it is changing all the time. I would say jump right in. There’s no better time to do it than now. Get that hands-on experience, learn by doing, and be comfortable that you’ll never arrive, that it’s the journey. And that’s the fun of the whole thing.
ADAM: That’s awesome. It’s really true, because no matter how far you are through the journey, there’s always someone further ahead, there’s always someone further behind, and as long as you’re moving forward and you’re enjoying it, then I think that’s the most important thing.
TIM: Pretty much. This is a fun space, for sure.
ADAM: It is a lot of fun. Tim, finally, you’re a wine buff. I’ve got two questions for you. One, what wine can you recommend to our listeners? And then finally, how can people connect with you?
TIM: Ooh, gosh, you didn’t warn me that you were going to ask me that.
ADAM: That’s a spot question.
TIM: Gosh, I have to think. I’m a big fan of pinot noir. I used to work in the wine industry, and pinot, whether it be locally grown or from Burgundy, I’m a big, big fan of. I love some of the stuff coming out of Central Otago in New Zealand especially. Expect to pay decent money for it, but that’s the thing with pinot. What was the next question?
ADAM: Next question is how can our listeners connect with you?
TIM: Right, that’s easy. Okay, my training organization, NET:101, can be found at net101.com.au. My Twitter handle is @2sticksdigital. That’s probably the easiest way to connect with me, over and above, of course, sitting down and having a coffee, which I’m always a big fan of doing.
ADAM: Fantastic. Well, any listeners in Melbourne, Tim is easily contactable and no doubt would love to sit down for a coffee or maybe a glass of pinot. Tim, thank you so much for joining us, and all the best with your marketing journey, and thanks for sharing everything that you have with us today.
TIM: Great. Thanks, Adam.