It’s a tale as old as time. For as far back as you can remember when you were a kid, you made friends by forming a connection with someone whether it be a shared interest or some other common or relatable trait. In business it’s very similar. When you’ve earned trust then you’ve earned business, and that’s laying the groundwork for a sustainable business.
When a business or brand relates authentically to prospective customers, it’s generally because they trust them and more importantly they share a common interest or even pain point. If you manage to get a group of these fans, then it’s like you’ve cultivated your very own cheering section that will virally tell their friends and family, and so on. It’s learning how to mix today’s social media with the “old school” way of going out and making personal connections.
Rich: Want a profitable return from all those posts, pins, and tweets? Melinda Wittstock has innovated a predictive social intelligence platform that generates and measures your return on authenticity (ROA), so you can genuinely connect with fickle consumers and put a viral multiplier effect on customer growth, loyalty, and brand buzz.
A serial entrepreneur, award-winning journalist, and content marketer, Melinda thinks ahead of the curve and loves to change the game with disruptively innovative solutions. She’s writing a book on female entrepreneurship, and she somehow manages to juggle her third business – raising two kids and golden retriever as a single mom – writing her book, great friendships, and a new relationship, while somehow finding time to meditate, exercise, and sleep. Melinda, welcome to the show.
Melinda: Hey welcome. I’m really happy to be here with you. It’s funny, when I hear all that back to myself I think, “Oh my god, who is this woman?”
Rich: Are there five women, actually?
Melinda: It makes it sound a good deal easier than actually it is. But yeah, I am a bit of a juggler. Sometimes balls drop because I’m an entrepreneur, and that’s kind of just part of how we all roll. But if I don’t meditate, it’s even worse.
Rich: I am trying to meditate more often, I’m using Head Space, and I was just talking to a friend of mine and he showed me he has 272 days in a row. My all-time record is 2 days, and I’m currently at 2 days right now.
Melinda: It’s really interesting. I think once you get in the habit of doing it, it becomes a necessity. At first it’s so hard. I was one of these Type A people that just couldn’t do it to save my life when I began. And then it just became , like anything, you just get better and better at it. I find now that I just get real inspiration and so many ideas, I have so many insights, and I’m more likely to be in flow in my life and able to prioritize a lot better. It’s very helpful, it’s worth doing for sure.
Rich: I’m going to try again. Alright, so one thing that we didn’t mention in your bio but I know about you is that you interviewed Steve Jobs, and he said you asked the best questions.
Melinda: He did, I was blown away by that. Way back I was a correspondent on the London Times and I somehow joined that newspaper when I was only 22 years old. I wrote about business, and finance, and mergers and acquisitions, and all sorts of stuff. I got to interview Steve Jobs when he was at NeXT. It was a really interesting time in his life, he had been pushed out of Apple and coming back. And I was this brash upstart, I must have been insufferable. I tended to ask pretty tough questions that get to the heart of that matter, and I think that’s one of the things that makes the algorithms we use right now so good, is being able to interrogate some of the social data and get to the point of what’s actually important.
But yeah, he told me I asked the best questions because most of the questions he was being asked were pretty superficial ones and he thought I had some depth. So that was a nice little feather in my cap. I think I should get the t-shirt made, “Steve Jobs Says I Ask The Best Questions”.
Rich: That would be a good t-shirt, absolutely. So let’s get back to this idea of “return on authenticity”. Now we hear the term “authentic” and “be authentic” all the time, but what does that really mean and how do we ultimately get some sort of return on it?
Melinda: That’s a great question. I mean, first of all “authenticity” has become a little bit of a buzzword – which is unfortunate – because it is really a predictor and an enabler of the best marketing. If there’s no authentic connection between someone who’s selling a product and the person who’s buying it, there’s less likely to be a sale, and moreover there’s less likely to be a loyal fan or repeat buyer let alone an influencer.
So I want to back up a little bit, because authenticity is part of the puzzle of what really works, especially when you’re marketing on social media. To me it’s the ingredient that allows you to have meaningful connections with your customers. And if you can get that meaningful connection or relationship with your customers, there are so many great things that come to you as a result. Just the loyalty of your fans and customers, potentially viral word of mouth where your happiest customers can bring more people like them to the table just by way of referral. And it’s more likely you have repeat buyers and it drives your customer acquisition much more lower.
I think a good way to think about it is – and obviously all those things result in what you want to see in your bottom line. You asked about the return on authenticity, so it’s this meaningful connection and all the things from that, increased traffic, better conversion rates, lower cost of customer acquisition, increased revenue, increased earnings, increased profit, even company valuation.
So it’s a bit of a process for how you get there, but the formula is pretty simple. Know your “why” and your unique voice, what are you selling and why is it important, why is it different, walk your talk in alignment with that, and develop relationships with your customers. And to do that it’s honestly more than just being authentic, it’s showing that you authentically care about their needs and desires, and their interests and their tastes, and you show up authentically wanting to create value for them and help them.
Rich: Of course. And I don’t mean to belittle the point, but this requires us to actually authentically care about our clients. And I know that everybody says that of course they do, but we’ve all gone through experiences where we do not feel like we are cared for or there’s any sort of connection there.
And there are obviously times – you’re an entrepreneur, I’m an entrepreneur – when you’re stressed out because you need to make payroll or there’s something looming on the horizon that can be tough. Sometimes our authentic selves are not exactly our best selves. How do we balance being 100% authentic, and really doing what might be best for the company?
Melinda: Well that’s a really interesting question. So I’m going to unpack that in a couple of different ways. I think the most important thing – especially if you’re an entrepreneur – is to remember why you do it. So authenticity doesn’t mean that you have to not say you’re having a bad day, but you do need to connect meaningfully with your customers. And here’s why. I just kind of want to back up and lay the landscape now and how the landscape has changed, so we can contextualize the concept.
Consumers are now in control. It used to be that businesses were in control, that businesses dictated, that businesses would advertise and the consumer would choose whether to buy or not. And that’s sort of B2C selling. Now of you can imagine, it’s completely flipped around. It’s C2B. Consumers are sitting back and waiting for brands and businesses and coaches and consultants and solopreneurs and freelancers to “wow” them. They’re just going to sit back and see who comes to them, they have all the power and they expect concierge service. You can blame millennials for this, but this is what is happening.
So if you don’t put the relationship with them first, they telegraph that to all their friends. So when I think of our customers I think of the average business owner. I think of myself in the early stages of my companies and what a tough time that is. You’re really tempted to go fast because you need revenue, you’ve got to close sales, you’ve got to go for it. The temptation is to take the shortest possible route from A to B to close those deals. That leads to a very transactional sale that doesn’t necessarily get you repeat business, it doesn’t really grow your brand, and it doesn’t really set you up for longer term sustainable success.
It’s very tempting, I’ve been there. And you’ve got to do a little bit of that hustle for sure, but you also can go often much faster by going slower. If you actually take the time to really understand who your customers are, get to know them, you will have a much better idea of what their pain points actually are and a much better chance of being able to compete in the crowded marketplace by being truly different. Because at the end of the day if something goes wrong or you have a competitor or a new entrant that comes into the market, if you’ve developed that loyalty with your customers, they’re going to be there for you and they’re going to bring all their friends.
So it’s kind of a more longer term or a longer view, but it’s much more sustainable. And when you walk over that tripwire where suddenly your customers are so happy they’re bringing others customers in on your behalf, you’re not doing the selling anymore, your customers are doing the selling for you. Which is much more powerful to the point of we’re 12 times more likely these days to believe someone that’s not a company, that’s just a third party non-interested referrer. We’re going to believe them more than we’re going to believe you during a sale. So there are so many reasons why it’s really important to do this.
Rich: I’ve heard you mention the word “connection” a few times, and it’s interesting because I see some of these social media consultants on Facebook – for example – and they’re complaining. There are a few people that I see and they seem to do nothing but complain, and I’m guessing that’s their authentic self.
But obviously that’s not necessarily going to be serving any of their customers, so I’m guessing it’s some sort of fine line that you have to walk where you need to be authentic, but at the same time you’re not going to complain about every little thing or share every last bit of information. There’s still a little bit of polish. We live in an Instagram filter world, we still need to put some sort of filter on if I’m understanding you correctly.
Melinda: Let’s go back and really define what we mean by authenticity. What we mean by authenticity is a number of things. First of all, “ROA” is kind of a cute term, so it’s kind of like saying I’ll be authentic and say that’s a marketing term. It’s turning ROI on it’s head. But while we’re talking about what is being authentic for a brand or a business, in the old days before there was social media and a lot of technology, sales were all driven by relationship always.
Imagine you had a bunch of salespeople, they dusted off their best suits and shined their shoes, got into their car and drove someplace, and spent a lot of time, money and investment in developing relationships with customers. So technology comes along and disrupts all of that. And the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater”, people want to forget that selling is still about a relationship. People buy people, they don’t buy from brands, they buy from people where they feel an emotional connection. People buy from people they know, that they like, and that they trust. So the only reason to really be authentic is to find that true, emotional connection with somebody.
So think about how you make a friend in real life. In real life you find something you have in common, and often it’s a shared vulnerability or a shared challenge. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out all your dirty laundry, but it does mean you have to find something in common with that person where you resonate.
So when you go on social media as a brand or business, my first thing we always do with all our clients is ask what’s your “why”. Why do you even do what you do? What inspires you? We were working with a client who sells a barbell on Amazon where their are a million barbells, so how was he going to stand any chance of standing out. We took a couple hours of deep diving into his story and it turns out he’s a cancer survivor, and he used this particular barbell as part of his workout routine and swears it was a really big part of his recovery. But the main reason he wanted to sell it was it was part of an early suite of products that he wants to sell to help people prevent and recover from cancer.
So that’s a mission, that’s something that’s really part of his personal story or his reason why he wants to sell barbells. So when you talk about your own personal story or your journey or why you’re there, people can connect with you and see you, you’re not just some faceless person. So that’s just a really big part of how we connect emotionally. But you’re right, I do see a lot of people going on Facebook and thinking that authenticity means that you have to bore everyone to death with everything that went wrong and the person in the line at Starbucks that pissed you off, and that’s not really all that inspiring.
You’re just really looking to get in touch with your own “why” and understand and listen to your customers so that they will listen to you.
Rich: Right. So authenticity is not necessarily about being naked in front of the crowd. What it really is – if I’m hearing what you’re saying – is that you need to understand your “why”, why are you doing what you’re doing. Because otherwise, you are a commodity.
And then, what are your customers suffering from so that you can really understand them, and does your product or service help them in some way, that can become a connection and so they might care about your product once they know that they care about you and you care about them.
Melinda: Yeah. And because they have all of the power, they’re only going to buy from someone that they know truly and genuinely cares about them.
Rich: So you mentioned this gentleman who had the barbell that he was bringing to market, so let’s bring it down to ground levels. So I’ve got my “why”, I know definitely why I’m doing this, I understand what my customers are looking for, how do I actually use some of the social media platforms that are there to tell my story? Do you have any strategic or tactical things that you can share with us that maybe you’ve done with other clients about how you put together a Facebook campaign, or what kind of things should you be doing on Instagram to share your story and reach those people that you’re trying to help?
Melinda: So it’s a mix of things. This is a great question, thank you for asking that. So it’s a mix of things and it’s not necessarily one size fits all, but there are some best practices. A lot of it is just not being “salesy”. And what I mean by that is not going on social media all the time and saying “Me, me, me, me, look at me, look at me, buy this, buy this”. If you’re just entirely one sided about yourself, it’s seen as spam.
Now you have to do that some of the time, but not all of the time. So think about why people are there and understand the context of what people are doing when they are on social media. It’s not Amazon or eBay or a Shopify site, it’s social media. They’re there to talk with each other, find friends, and meet with their friends.
However, 92% of all purchasing decisions are actually made as a result of social conversations, so there’s a bit of a conundrum there. So it means that you have to go into this as a conversation on being really helpful and sharing content that other people care about, asking people questions, sparking conversation, being in the conversation, being helpful, getting to know your customers, showing up and just being interesting, creating content that’s interesting to them, and that sort of thing. When you develop or cultivate people, there’s a certain point where you say, “Hey, can I do business with you?” And maybe you tell them you have a special offer that they may be interested in, and you do that in a really non-pushy, salesy way.
So it’s just a different way of doing it. There’s a great book about thsi by Gary Vaynerchuk where he writes exactly about this. It’s kind if like, “give, give, give, give, give, give, ask.”
Melinda: And now I can almost hear everyone who’s listening to this now saying this sounds like a lot of work. And it is, so this is a reason why we have a whole bunch of hacks around this so it’s not much work.
If you have to personalize conversations to hundreds of thousands of people, there’s no way you’re going to be able to do that, especially as a small business owner. You just don’t have the time, there’s no way. Not everyone can be Gary Vaynerchuk and be living and breathing 24/7 on social media.
So what we do is we help people find who are their prequalified most likely leads by virtue of what they’re sharing with each other on social media. So we’ll actually find and qualify customers and use our technology to do that, but there’s also hacks and ways you do that with the naked eye and just using search functionality on all the different social networks to find people like the types of people you think are going to be receptive to what you do. Or you can use a tech solution like us that just gets you there really much faster.
So you have all your target lists, you have who they are on Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook or wherever, and you start interacting with them. Now the other thing that we do that’s really important is within that we pick the most influential of those people. So say you had 100,000 prequalified people, let’s go back to the barbell client. And maybe these people are cancer survivors or they know someone who survived cancer or they’re fighting cancer – we know a lot from their social conversations – or they’re just really into preventative medicine, or they just really like to work out and don’t have time to go to the gym. You think of all the differnet things that may qualify somebody.
Now of all those people, say we find 100,000 people and you segment that down into why they would want to buy that barbell. And you start to think about what your campaign is going to be, how are you going to engage those people around what they’ve already said interests them. Moreover, you pick the ones that are the most influential by virtue of how they show up on social. So some people are real connectors, they’re real viral and sharing and retweeting and commenting, and they have this really kind of amplification that we score and track so we can tell how influential they are.
So imagine this, we once found 10 women that drove more than 9 million other women to an Amazon shopping cart in 4 weeks of Twitter conversations.
Rich: That’s pretty impressive. And I’m sure we’ve all seen result like that, maybe not that dramatic, but we’ve definitely seen that some of the people in our circles seem to be able to really engage and motivate a community.
Melinda: Exactly, but here’s the thing. When they do engage and motivate the community, you have to really show up and thank them. You want to keep those people really close to you, they’re really valuable. So for all the people who are listening to this thinking it’s overwhelming, not really, you pick a couple of people a week. Say you’re a small business and you’re just starting out or your product is new, pick 5-10 people a week that you’re going to get to know on social media, and really go at it as if you are making friends.
Maybe it’s like if you’re doing consultant sales like enterprise software that are longer term sales, this is kind of similar, I guess. So really work with those people, make them feel really special, make them feel publicly special by really rewarding them on social media, and then from there they’re going to start to do the work for you. They’re going to say you made them feel so good and everyone is going to think you’re a nice guy, and it’s literally that. It works, it works over and over again for all our clients.
Rich: Very cool. And I’ve definitely seen that, even without the software. You definitely notice people in your community that seem to be going above and beyond. And thanking them either verbally or in some other way goes a long way and it becomes a virtuous circle.
Melinda: Yeah. And also one of the things that really is effective too, is really giving people the surprise of just over delivering or just delivering a ridiculous amount of value to a few people. And then everyone is like, “Wow, that company is really awesome.” So you may make one person super happy, but that person is going to be so happy they’re going to telegraph that out to 1,000 other people. So you just now in essence made 1,000 people happy and showed 1,000 people that you really care.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense.
Melinda: So if you’re an entrepreneur you know about leverage. So all this is is leverage. You want every action to a multiplicity of impact so you’re not just going one on one. And that’s the beauty of social media, because you can really scale. So it takes a little bit of time to lay the groundwork, but again it’s like going slower and you’ll go much faster in the end and really lay the groundwork for a sustaining business.
So like if you had a product – say for Amazon sellers – and you’re planning more products and you need to grow your brand, you need to do social because of the algorithm with Google because they’re also taking that into account.
Rich: That makes sense. Melinda this has been great and I’m sure a lot of people would like to dig a little bit deeper to understand who you are, where can we send them?
Melinda: You can always just grab me. So if anyone emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I will get those emails. Also just on our homepage at verifeed.com, anyone who really wants to sign up for a really quick consult with me and see if we can help you in any way or has any follow up questions, we’re happy to do that as well. And then of course you can find me on Facebook, melinda.wittstock on Facebook, and Verifeed is up there as well. On Twitter there’s a squatter on the Verifeed name, so you can get me at @veriate. So you can find me, I’m all over the place. It’s pretty hard not to find me, actually.
Rich: Sounds great. And I hope you get access to the Twitter feed and get rid of that squatter.
Melinda: I know, right? It’s funny, I spend so much time on all our client’s Twitter that I realized I’m not doing enough if it for myself. So funnily enough – especially with female entrepreneurs – we put everyone else ahead of ourselves. I just finally got to the point where I said, “Wait a minute, I should be using my own thing on me.” So everybody who follows me will be seeing me doing a lot more of that because I really want to get a lot of women entrepreneurs in particular engaged in my book. I’ve already interviewed 100 women and I’m writing this book that I wish I had when I was starting out.
So any female entrepreneurs who are listening, by all means get in touch with me because I’m creating a whole movement around that. We’re going to totally change the way business is played.
Rich: Sounds great. Melinda, thank you very much for your time today, I appreciate it.
Melinda: It was great, I had a good time. Thank you, I hope it was helpful.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, creator of the Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference (get your tickets now!), and author of a new book, The Lead Machine. He loves helping businesses fine tune their strategies for digital marketing in the areas of search, social and mobile.