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An Interview with Social Media Expert Nate Riggs

10/18/10 by Brandon

We’re continuing our ‘Trade Show Experts’ interview series with another very interesting topic – Social Media!  In business, you can’t turn anywhere these days without being inundated with some guru or expert telling you to ‘be more social’ online.  To help us sort through what this means for the trade show community, we interviewed Nate Riggs, a social media strategist with extensive experience in helping clients integrate social media into their trade show exhibits.  For more information on Nate and the services his company offers, visit his website here.

trade show social media expert, nate riggsCan you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into focusing on social media?

In middle school and high school, I got hooked in playing games like Wolfenstein and Doom on an old Gateway PC.  When we finally got the internet (via the old AOL discs) I was able to find some chat rooms where people were talking about the game.  That was my first exposure to talking to other humans on the web.

My background has been in everything marketing and B2B business development, primarily with agencies.  I’ve had experience from everything to telemarketing to brand strategy agencies to SEO and web shops.  Back in late 2007, I made an effort at pitching the CEO at a SEO firm I was working at on allowing me to build out a department that would focus on helping clients with social media.  It didn’t get anywhere, and a few weeks later, I left and started my firm Social Business Strategies (SBS).  Then the economy dove off a cliff.  That was a fun first year!

Can you tell us about the type of clients that you work with? Sizes?  Industries?

We mostly work with middle market and larger companies when we’re building collaborative blog teams (i.e. teams of people who use a blog to create and distribute content on behalf of their organizations), but I also have a passion for small business and free agents on personal brand development and social media presence building.

As for a specific industry niche, we do a lot of business in education, ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) and retail right now.  We also have some clients who are marketing agencies or research firms, but we’re not locked on any one industry.  I tend to think that the ocean is too blue right now to lock down to one or two verticals.

What are the types of services you offer to these clients?

  • Internal & external communication strategy development, mostly using social media
  • Social business audits – looking at the online presence, internal technology platforms and the rate of company wide adoption of social media tools
  • Collaborative blogging programs – we help companies get a corporate blog moving and producing results by spreading the content workload across large teams of employees.
  • Training seminars and workshops – both customized and standard
  • Professional speaking for conferences, events and internal corporate gigs.

Something that’s just getting started for SBS and our partners at Incept is the ability to outsource certain portions of a social media program to skilled Human Business Teams.

Based on some research by Marketing Sherpa and Junta42, about 55% of companies currently outsource some of their social media efforts to ad agencies.  The challenge is that agencies don’t typically have access to humans who are trained to do things like operate listening posts, respond to online conversations in real time and administer collaborative blogs.

We’ve spent the last year building teams at Incept who can offer those services to both B2B and B2C companies at a much lower cost than it would take to hire and train new employees, or even move existing employees around.

If a new client comes to you with no social media experience but a desire to integrate social media into their trade show strategy, what is your advice on how they can begin?

It’s funny that you ask that, because I’ve had two prospects approach with that exact scenario.  My advice to both of them was stop, breathe and look at the BIGGER picture.

Integrating social media tools simply for trade show exhibition is a very reactionary approach and tough to make work for the long term.  Social media needs to be viewed as an ongoing part of your broader marketing strategy – just like trade show exhibition is a part of a broader marketing strategy.

I think companies can get into dangerous waters by only turning on social media for the duration of the trade show promotion, and then having little or no activity after the event campaign is closed.  Once you open the lines of communication on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facbook, or even a blog for that matter, people will want to keep using those platforms.  If no one is there to seed content and participate in the conversations that content ignites, the impact could create poor brand impressions longer term.

I would suggest that if a company wants to use social media in trade show exhibition, spend time looking at how your company and culture will adopt social media as a business solution, not just a one-off campaign tool.  How do you do that?  I’ve written some “how to” style posts over at CMI that might be helpful.

Can you share some examples of social media being successfully integrated into a trade show strategy?

Not off the top of my head.  Again, social media does not really work in a vacuum.  Companies that are rocking it across the board with using social media are Freshbooks, Zappos, and HubSpot.  I really like what HomeDepot does on YouTube and Twitter.  AT&T is getting better every month and BestBuy does a nice job with Twelp Force.

Veeam does a nice job as well using a variety of tools and communities, and I know they have a big tradeshow program.  The point is this – if a business focused on building adoption of social media tools, develops an end to end marketing strategy that includes social media as a tool, then the business will have the opportunity to use it anywhere they want – including trade show marketing.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in social media?

First – some companies thinks of social media like it’s PPC advertising.  Build the platform, turn it on and the technology spins in the cloud all by itself to rain leads on your sales pipeline.  Not the case.  Social media requires smart, passionate and entertaining humans to operate the tools, create content and engage with customers.

Second – for larger companies, thinking that hiring one person to be a social media manager is going to get them results.  Frankly, it’s not possible for one person – even if they are full time – to do everything that needs to be done.  Social media is a team effort.  Hence, why we call these “Human Business Teams”…  Teams of humans who strategically use social media tools on behalf of an organization to seed content, listen and participate in productive online conversations.

Are there any tools that you would recommend to help companies improve their social media actions?

Aggregators like Hootsuite, CoTweet or even Tweetdeck make social media conversations manageable.  These are critical to any kind of successful program.

Get familiar and savvy with things like Google Analytics, Bit.ly or other tracking mechanisms.  At SBS, we use a collaborative blog platform called Innoblogs that helps to make the blogging workflow process run smoother.  It also delivers some SEO benefits once the company is hitting the 5-8 posts per week mark.

Companies should also consider looking at and investing in pocket video cameras like the Flip line or Kodak Zi8.  These are essential for fast video content production.

Social CRM is also a big one for keeping tabs on your customers, employees and their online interactions and presence.

Are there industries where having a solid social media strategy is an absolute necessity?  Any industries where social media isn’t very important?

In today’s world, I think social media can be used across the board.  Obviously online companies like membership –based organizations or SaaS tools have a lot to gain from marketing or doing social customer service

But most people don’t consider the implications of using internally focused social media tools to help drive and connect company culture.  I think that just about every company would benefit from have employees that have more effective communication and deeper relationships with each other.  Social media is great at helping make that a reality.

What do you see as the future of social media?  Any thoughts on how our very smart readers could get ahead of the curve if your predictions come to fruition?

Video is getting bigger and bigger.  There’s a ton of advantages to using video as part of your strategy, and I think one of the most powerful is how video can help to humanize your business.  At the end of day, humans do business with other humans inside companies – not the company itself.

I also think that Curation is going to continue to grow.  More and more people are creating content at alarming rates.  There’s a real competitive advantage that can be had by being the collector of other peoples content as well as your own, and sharing that with your customers as an added value.

Location-based networks are going to face a big vertical shake up.  If you look at other technologies – profile based networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, there’s typically 1-2 Big players left and the others are laggards.  Same with Microblogs.  Twitter is the category killer today, but even two years ago there were tons of Microblog concepts like Plurk or even Jaiku.  They’ve all but disappeared over the past two years.

Right now, there are about 8 significant players in the location-based concept startups.  I think we will see 1-2 players rise out of the pack and possibly even buy up the smaller platforms.  The question is, who will it be?  Most people will bet on Foursquare today, but consider that everyone, at one time, bet their stack on MySpace.  A lot of things can happen that effect mass-adoption.