Ted Rubin is a leading social marketing strategist, acting CMO of Brand Innovators, and co-founder of the recently launched Prevailing Path.


David Reimherr: Ted, to dig in, what do you feel is the first thing a small business should do before they start their digital and social strategy?

Ted Rubin: The first thing a small business should do is listen.

Pay attention. Watch customers when they either come in the store or see what they’re doing online, talk to people, talk to friends, go to people’s pages. I mean, what I see happen is, a lot of people they read books, they read articles, they ask experts’ opinions, sometimes they even hire a small agency, but they don’t really pay attention themselves to what’s going on, what’s happening in their business. They need to know, are their customers even interested in social media? Is it a place that they’re at? I mean I would say in general these days probably everybody is there, but there are certainly people who have businesses where social media might not even be that relevant. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paying attention to it, but it might not be where they want to put most of their time. So, just to summarize that in one simple word: Listen.

DR: You mentioned good old fashioned talking to your customers, but on the digital frame, in the digital world, are there any good tools or even a good strategy you can use to help the company with their listening on social?

TR: Forget about tools and just start going to the platforms themselves. The best way to learn how these platforms work is to actually go on them and use them. So, now I’m not saying you have to go on to Twitter to be an active tweeter, but get a Twitter account, start watching the feed, follow people, see what they write, spend a lot of time doing this. And remember, there’s Twitter, there’s Facebook, there’s YouTube, there’s Instagram, there’s LinkedIn. This can take up a lot of your time in your initial let’s say research side of things. Another huge mistake I see people doing other than just not listening is not participating.

I can’t tell you how many small business people I see hiring – it can either be an intern, or they’re hiring a local practitioner or a small agency, or they’re just getting a friend or family member. It could be their kid, and very often it is – and by the way I don’t say that in a negative way, I mean I use the word kid just because that’s the way I talk about my children – but taking their twenty-two-year-old son who works at their restaurant to start doing their social, but they don’t bother understanding it themselves.

They would never hire a cook and not understand what goes on in the kitchen. They would never hire a bartender and not know how to pour a drink themselves.

Before you worry about the tools, understand the platforms. Understand Instagram, understand Facebook, understand Twitter. And again, look, I don’t have a full understanding of these platforms, and I’ve been doing them for years, and I work with companies doing them, and I use them aggressively in my own personal brand because I don’t know everything about them. I learn things, I use things that work for me, very often I learn new things. I use something called Hootsuite to manage multiple Twitter accounts and different social accounts. You can use a free version. The version I use, I think it costs me twenty dollars a month, and I have twenty Twitter handles, and two other people helping me some of that stuff. So, that’s not a very big expense for a small business. I use Buffer on occasion. I don’t do a lot of scheduling of tweets unless I’m working with a brand that requires it and asks me to, and I don’t do a lot of that kind of work, but I do periodically.

Buffer adds some additional functionality in addition to what Twitter does.

DR: Now, you’re listening, but when starting your social strategy, or for sure your digital strategy, a lot of focus in the past, and currently, is keyword research. How much does this play a role in developing your strategy? And then on top of that, any tips or good tools that you’ve used to accomplish this correctly, to give some people a direction in regards to the SEO aspect of all of this?

TR: Well, Dave, I’ll tell you. I’m not a big proponent of that, and it’s not because I don’t think it works. I think it’s great. It’s because we all have to specialize in things that we’re better at, so I don’t spend a lot of time with that, or I do my own keyword research mainly to find topics that are important, not to include keywords in things that I write. So, again, I’m not an SEO expert. There are people that know a lot more about this than I do, this is not really my wheelhouse. What I think is more important is worrying less about the tricks that get people to see what you’re doing, and producing a lot of great content, and then making sure it appears in a lot of different places.

TR: I emcee events for brand innovators all over the country, filled with brand marketers, and their biggest complaint is, ‘Oh my god, it’s so hard to keep up with all the content,’ and I kind of look at them and go, ‘Why is it so hard?’ Even for big companies, it is a challenge, but for the small business, this is so important. First of all, start leveraging your employees. Now, granted, there are a lot of small businesses where it’s just two people, or it’s just one person, or you really don’t have anybody doing anything other for you then maybe baking in your kitchen. But a lot of small businesses have additional employees who are smart people, who are capable of creating content. Start leveraging that. Give them a voice. Don’t do it as, ‘Here is an extra job function for you,’ do it as ‘Here’s a way for you to help start building your brand because you’re probably not going to be here forever. You might want to start a business like this yourself one day,’ so why not help support and learn and then share their content.

What I’m trying to do is give these people the tools to realize there’s so much more at their fingertips than they realize. Content – you walk into your office and you take a photo. Yesterday I’m on the train, I’m heading to visit my daughter in Philly to have brunch with her and her friends at the University of Pennsylvania, and I think about an ad on the wall from Blue Point Brewery out in Long Island. And the ad itself was a mistake. There’s a mistake in it, and this ad is being posted everywhere. So, I haven’t even posted it yet, but it was one of the many things I took a photo of that I’m holding because I’m going to put that out at some point and make a statement about editing your content before you post it all over the world. And that’s for me, because I’m a marketer, and I’m a guy that’s trying to teach companies to do things, so everywhere I go – I was at lunch and they served this amazing brewed, cold coffee in like a beer bottle that I’ve never seen before. So, I take pictures of it, and I post it out with a comment. I tag the company, I talk about what an amazing product it is, and then I tag one of my business partners, my business partner, John Andrews, because I know he will love this, and what am I doing? I’m talking about a product, I showed everything about it, but what I mean is, it’s so easy to create content.

And then here’s another thing I think a lot of companies are lacking on, and it’s really important to small business. You can use your content again, and again, as long as it’s evergreen. So, if you write a post about next week’s sale, or about the Fourth of July with something specific about an event this year, okay, that’s a one-time thing or maybe a couple times before it goes, but if you’re writing a post about how to bake the best cupcakes or a great place for breakfast, or here’s a great meal to eat healthily and stay fit at the same time, why not use it again, and again, and again? I can’t tell you again how many companies and normal people go, ‘Well, we already posted that.’ So? Why wouldn’t you post it again? I mean so many companies are forgetting the basics of marketing, reach, and frequency. Number one is, you want to post it again, and again, and again so people get it. I get people at events all the time – somebody who doesn’t get it will raise their hand and go, ‘You know, Ted, you wrote that tweet the other day and I think I’ve seen you post that five other times,’ and somebody else will raise their hand and go, ‘Yeah, I’m so glad he did, because now I remember it.’

DR: Or saw it for the first time.

TR: Exactly. And then the other thing is, if you’re growing your following, remember that every month you have new followers that have never seen what you posted. And don’t think they’re digging back into your blog a year ago when you wrote a post that’s still totally relevant. So, what I do is, I’ll take those posts, and I’ll reformat them a little bit, I’ll change maybe the title, I’ll change a little bit of something, and then I’ll post them again. I never run out of content, my problem is, I don’t have enough time to post at all.

DR: That’s a good problem to have, right? But you’ve gotten to the point where you have a system where you now have just a plethora of content. It didn’t start that way, I assume.

TR: Exactly. When I first got into Twitter, it was the end of 2008. I discovered this platform that for me was like manna from heaven, because I think in 140 characters, and I’ve never been a long-form writer. I started building a following, it was the early days, and then a mentor of mine said to me, “Ted, you have to have a blog. You need a place that’s a repository for yourself, and it’s a place that builds your brand, tedrubin.com.”

DR: That’s a great point.

TR: And stop worrying about it being perfect. I’ve got to tell you, the only thing I really worry about being perfect – I can take a day to get the right title. Not because I worry about the rules of title writing that you can read all these blog posts about, but just because I want it to make sense to me. But what I’ve learned is that I stop worrying about it being perfect, otherwise they’ll sit on your desk forever. Put it out there. First of all, remember something. You can always update your blog. You can always fix it.

DR: Yeah, don’t have paralysis by analysis, and definitely listen. And on the listening part, we won’t go into details on how to do this, but all these platforms have settings where you can get an e-mail in your inbox when somebody comments or says something, so if the listeners don’t know how to do it themselves, get somebody who’s vaguely familiar with these platforms, and there are easy settings that you can use so you don’t have to be staring at the, all the time.

TR: Yes. And here’s a great piece of advice to small businesses – you really want to stand out. Answer people’s comments on Facebook and Instagram. Nobody’s doing that. The Fortune 500 companies ignore it because they’re so into silo-ing their businesses. They’re so siloed, that if you try to talk to somebody at an event who has the title ‘mobile marketing’, and you mention digital or traditional marketing, they go, ‘Oh, that’s not what I do.’ Really? It’s about your brand. But they’re trying to silo social platforms, so what’s happened is, Twitter has become the de facto place to comment, and respond to people, and have conversations, whereas the vast majority of brands – and I’d say well over ninety percent – you can post all day long on their Facebook comments, or on the posts they put on, or write comments, and you will never hear back from them, and it’s pitiful. Because the ones that do really make headway, and remember, you need to communicate where your audience, and how your audience wants to communicate. You have to stop trying to drag them to where you want to communicate.

DR: Those are great pointers, and to kind of circle back around, we’ve talked a lot about communicating, and listening, and getting out there, but as much as this is talked about and repeated, it still bears repeating-Should a company or brand be talking about themselves, or their product service benefits, versus talking and communicating about general problems or questions that the industry has, and if it’s a mix, what’s your opinion on how much of each, or if it should be weighted in one direction?

TR: I think people are over complicating. Contrary to popular belief, people don’t sprout two heads when they sit in front of a computer screen or look at their mobile phone. There are important basic tools.

  1. Number one is, you’re not your customer, so do your research. Know what’s important to them, listen to their conversations. You know I like to say that businesses are out there complaining every day that not enough people are coming to their Facebook pages anymore because organic search is dead. Well, how about going to their pages? How about stop worrying about who’s coming to your page, although I can give you tips at some point, maybe another show, on how to make that happen more often instead of worrying about the Facebook, your feed, and organic search. But start going to their pages. You know whenever I speak to any audience, one of my slides is a fly on a wall, and I like to ask the audience, ‘What is this?’ Some of them say a fly, it’s the proverbial fly on the wall, and you know the expression ‘I wish I could be a fly on the wall in that meeting’. But guess what? Every consumer in the world is inviting you into their living room, and nobody’s going. Taking a few minutes every day and making it a part of your morning or afternoon to see what comments are out there- that’s number one.
  2. Number two is, try all different things. You never know what’s going to work. Again, use a little common sense, think about your industry, your people, the people you’re trying to talk to, what their likes and dislikes are, and then try different things. I like to say that I’ll try something, and then if it takes hold, I drive a truck through it.

DR: What about using emotion and humor in your marketing. For some companies, it’s a no-brainer, but do you see this as something basically all companies should give a go and see what sticks or what hits?

  • I think people need to be human. I think that the most important thing is, when you’re out there on social media, so much of it is robotic. Even if it isn’t robotic, you’re given pre-approved tweets you can send from a brand, you work at FedEx and you need five levels of approval to say thank you. It’s gotten to the point where people get these answers that are so mechanical, they don’t use your name, they don’t talk like people. So, what I’m going to say is, whether it’s humor, whether it’s being snarky, whether it’s just answering with a nice smile and an emoticon, showing people that you care about them – I don’t care if this is a major B2B company, the person on the other end is human. They want to know you care.
  • When you’re human, when you get in – don’t delete comments. If someone puts a ranting, inappropriate comment in your feed that’s one thing, but if somebody writes in and doesn’t agree with you, what people love is that I’ll come back. Some guys were criticizing me recently from the UK about all the Twitter handles I had, and they were throwing out some snarky tweets, and saying things in this whole conversation, and I jumped in and started answering all their tweets, and I answered it with ‘this is why I do it, this is what I do here, this is how I handle it’. By the end of the conversation, these guys are now supporting me and sharing my content. And by the way, that didn’t mean they agreed with me at the end, but what they appreciated was that I was willing to share my strategy and how I approach the market with them.

DR: That’s one thing I have personally gotten better over the years. I don’t worry about what the situation is right now, just worry about what it’s going to be. You can take care of pretty much ninety-nine point nine-nine-nine percent of issues, or problems, or challenges, just by figuring it out, talking, communicating, and then you come to find out that those people, you’re right, those are going to be your brand evangelists. It’s so funny how that happens over the years, so look at those opportunities. Maybe not even as a challenge, just look at it as an opportunity. Like hey, sweet, now I have the opportunity to engage, now I have the opportunity to turn this passionate person in my direction because those are the ones who are going to be out there squeaking the most. They’ll be squeaking in your favor at the same time. They’re those sorts of people.

TR: And even if they still firmly disagree, look, I always try to keep everything. Look, I’m anti-Trump, I’m a Hillary supporter, I’m a Clinton supporter, and I’ve had some conversations that have gotten heated on the other side where people have gotten upset with me. Look, I maintain my demeanor, I state my point, I thank them for their input, and every once in a while, like I had a conversation once with a group of dad bloggers who I didn’t agree with their point of view, and a couple of them started saying ‘I hate your condescending, I appreciate your input.’ And I’m like, you can hate it, but it’s legitimate, because I really do appreciate – I love conversing with Trump supporters and understanding – first of all, I agree with some of their points, I want to understand how they think, and by the way if you’re a marketer and you don’t want to understand how the people that don’t like your products think, then you’re missing and huge opportunity to turn critics into supporters.

DR: Absolutely. Just to reiterate, some of the most challenging situations are the ones that have the most opportunity, because those are the people who are out there making noise, and you can turn them to make noise in your favor, and it’s not anything about sacrificing the way you think or what you’re believing in, it’s a matter of just stating your point. And you can’t rationalize with crazy sometimes, but in general, though the majority of the population is not crazy. We’re in a weird time right now, but the majority of the population is not crazy. They just have their own opinion.

TR: That’s a good point. You can’t be rational with crazy, but what is around all the time is there are haters all the time. So, my opinion is, haters hate, and I just don’t engage with them. I thank them for their input and I move on, and most of the time, not always, they will walk away because they want the people that fight back, they want the people that get angry with them. So, the other thing is – and you made a good point earlier – is people respect you when you state your opinion, and you stick by it, and you’re not bullying. I tell brands this all the time, don’t apologize, number one if you’re not wrong, and number two if you don’t mean it. So, even if you’re wrong, don’t apologize unless you’re going to do something about it. Don’t just apologize to say ‘I’m sorry’. This is not like a husband or wife going to bed and you don’t want to go to bed angry.

DR: That’s the one exception to the rule.

TR: I’ve got to tell you, Dave, there’s this great old Tim Allen show, Home Improvement, and there’s this great episode where he’s been married for years, and years, and years, and his brother in law who’s much younger is finally getting married, and he’s giving him advice about how to have a good marriage, and he goes, ‘Let me just tell you. You wake up in the morning, and the first thing out of your mouth is ‘I’m sorry’, and you just keep saying until you go to bed,’ and you’ll have a great marriage. But back to the other thing, don’t apologize if you’re not sorry. Explain your point. I mean look, I’ve had situations where I’ve had mom blogger trolls come after me because I posted a video on Facebook of a kid being ignored by his dad on the beach, and I’m told how inappropriate it was, I violated their privacy – first of all it was from a distance where you couldn’t see their faces, it was on a random beach, I didn’t even say where I was, and I just made a point about being present to your kids. And look, I’m a divorced dad, I take any moment I can with my kids, and it upset me. And they jumped in, and they got all upset, and I just didn’t back down. I wouldn’t let them bully me, and I came back and said, ‘Listen, nobody knows who these people are, and even if they do, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. If you’re on a public beach, then you’ve got to realize that there are going to be people taking your pictures, taking video.’

Now, there might be people in your audience that don’t agree with me, but what I did was, I had a twenty-minute conversation about this on Facebook expressing my opinions, never losing my cool. I mean some of these women went totally off on me and called me some not so nice names, and I just answered them with dignity, and with my opinion, and by the end, the vast majority of them were thanking me for having the discussion.

DR: Well, I mean you’re right in line with another big social media superstar, Jay Baer, wrote a book called ‘Hug Your Haters‘, and I personally haven’t had a chance to read that one, but I’ve seen a lot of his posts and everything, and it’s basically about getting out there and turning these advocates in your favor, and it’s basically doing exactly what you’re suggesting as well. Just engaging, and explaining, and moving on.

TR: I love Jay’s book. I wish it was called ‘Hug Your Critics’, because it’s very hard to hug haters, and a big part of my advice is to ignore haters, especially when they’re inappropriate and cruel. But Jay’s real point is hug your critics, in other words, embrace them. Remember that critics are probably giving you great inputs, because as Jet Blue likes to say, if one person is complaining what the odds are, there are another hundred and fifty people with the same complaint, and if you respond to it and answer it and talk about it publicly, you’re going to be saving yourself time, because you’ll be solving and addressing the problem for all those people at once, which is a great point. And Jay, when he speaks it’s really what he says. Jay’s a great speaker, and I’ve got to tell you, something most people don’t know about Jay is, one of his best talents is – and something I pride myself on, but he’s probably better – is emceeing events. We’re very different, Jay is incredibly prepared, knows about all the speakers, what they’re talking about – he did that at an IBM social commerce conference and impressed me. I also have had a great panel with Jay at Social Media Marketing World, and he’s a great moderator, so I have a lot of respect for Jay.

DR: Any parting thoughts?

TR: So, first of all, I’m going to say that in the future, it’s going to be critical for small businesses to decide where they want to put their scarce resources so they can maximize their ROI. Because, look, I talk about return on relationship, but in the end, I say what return on relationship will do is enhance your ROI, because, in the end, it’s all about return on investment. And I believe that in our personal lives, too. We do more of what gives us a better return, that makes us feel good, that gives us value that we perceive as value, and we do less of other things. And businesses that use social successfully, in my opinion, will reap the rewards of customer satisfaction, deeper employee loyalty, more effective knowledge sharing, improve brand reputation, lowered costs, and really importantly, increase revenues. So, remember that relationships are like muscle tissue. The more engage them, the stronger and more valuable they will become. And start using the phone to actually make phone calls. I know it sounds like something that’s really hard to do, but what I love to do when I’m at events is, I hold up a phone and I ask people what it is, and they say it’s an iPhone, and I ask them what’s the biggest word in iPhone, and invariably the audience shouts out ‘I’, and I laugh and say, ‘No, it’s phone. It’s not all about you.’

And I give them a challenge. I challenge them because I tell them that everybody has apps on their phones, but most people don’t realize they have this app that if you press seven to ten numbers you can actually hear somebody voice. It’s remarkable. You know you don’t have to use emoticons to express emotion, you can yell, you can you can laugh, you can whisper, you can do so many things to express how you’re feeling. So, I want to challenge your audience to pick up the phone at least once every day for the next thirty days and call someone they haven’t spoken to in a while, and just ask them, ‘What is there I can do for you today? How can I support you?’


Ted Rubin is a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Brand Evangelist, Acting CMO of Brand Innovators, and Co-Founder of the recently launched Prevailing Path. In March 2009 he started using and evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship, hashtag #RonR. Ted left his position as Chief Social Marketing Officer of Collective Bias on August 31, 2013. He remained a principal shareholder until the November 2016 acquisition by Inmar.

In the words of Collective Bias Co-Founder John Andrews… “Ted, you were the vision, heartbeat and soul of Collective Bias, thank you for building a great company. From innovations like cbSocially to the amazing relationships you built with the blogger community, clients and employees, you drove the epic growth. You will be missed!”

Many people in the social media world know Ted for his enthusiastic, energetic and undeniably personal connection to people. Ted is the most followed CMO on Twitter according to Social Media Marketing Magazine; one of the most interesting CMOs on Twitter according to Say Media, #13 on Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, and number #2 on the Leadtail list of Top 25 People Most Mentioned by digital marketers.

Return on Relationship, ROR, #RonR, is the basis of his philosophy… It’s All About Relationships! His book, Return on Relationship was released January 2013How To Look People in the Eye Digitally was released January 2015, and The Age of Influence… Selling to the Digitally Connected Customer is due April 2017. Connect with Ted at TedRubin.com or @TedRubin.

Originally posted at magnificent.com

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