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Winning at Social Media in 2021 with Debbie Miller

An Interview with Debbie Miller

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood chats with Debbie Miller, President at Social Hospitality.

Debbie talks about her journey from an English graduate to social media expert and how she started with her own agency.

She shares her opinions on social media evolution over the years, introduction of new social media platforms from time to time giving rise to new marketing methods like influencer marketing phenomenon. She gives us detailed insights into her go-to social media campaign strategies, importance of taking online relations to in-person, relevance and importance of hashtags and much more.

Check out this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next cup of E -coffee with Experts!

It’s beneficial to have a social presence, because everyone is using those channels on a daily basis even if they’re not proactively shopping or looking for a service.

Debbie Miller
President, Social Hospitality
Social Media
Hello, Everyone. How is it going? Today we have with us Debbie Miller, President of Social Hospitality. I am really excited to have you. Before we start discussing social content with you, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your company for our viewers.

My name is Debbie Miller. I’ve been running my company Social Hospitality for about four and a half years now, full time. Prior to that I was with another marketing agency, kind of building my own brand on the side. I’ve been doing digital marketing for about 12 years. I started a nonprofit for a few years, then I worked again for that other agency for six years, and now for over four on my own. I focus primarily on organic social media, email campaigns, and content development. It includes website copy, blog posts, copies for emails, articles, and all. That’s our primary focus.

I work with a variety of industries. Previously, I worked primarily in the hospitality industry in my career, which is how the name Social Hospitality evolved in the beginning. Now, I work with a variety of different brands, both in the B2B and B2C space. We help them tell their story online and hopefully get lots of lots of new clients and customers.

Well, that also explains your journey. I mean from being a graduate in English to starting your own agency. How did that happen?

It was a happy accident about what happened. I got an internship at UC Irvine, where I was going to college. They happen to place me in a marketing internship at that nonprofit that I mentioned previously. I got hired there when I graduated. That’s kind of how that happened. And, the timing also was very fortuitous because I graduated in 2008, which is right on the dawn of social media for businesses. Facebook had come out a few years prior, that had only been available for college students. That started evolving into being available for businesses as well. When I graduated and got into marketing, I was able to meet with other people who had been in business for a longer period of time, but they were brand-new to the world of social media marketing. It was brand new for everybody. Luckily, I was young and able to adapt quickly to all the social media changes that were happening, I was able to be resourced for them as well. It’s a very synergistic arrangement that happened with myself and a lot of people that I network with back at the time.

You started your career when social was new, Facebook was new. How has the entire social media space evolved over the years?

It has definitely evolved a lot and still is always changing. It’s hard to keep up with sometimes. When I first began, Twitter was a lot more prevalent for Biz Dev and talking and communication. Now, I feel like it’s a little bit more news-oriented. People get their news there, but they don’t necessarily go to Twitter to look for a restaurant. We have other channels like Instagram or Yelp for searching different businesses like that. I remember at the time when social media was first starting for business. We call them tweet-ups, where people meet on Twitter, have been chatting on Twitter, and go meet in person from having met through Twitter. That was really exciting at the time. It doesn’t happen as much anymore. Twitter certainly still is a great business tool for many companies, particularly with its integration of hashtags. Hashtags are much more popular on Twitter versus Facebook.

LinkedIn for businesses and B2B brands is very relevant. It was also relevant back then. I still kind of say Facebook and Twitter are kind of the big two, but just depending on what kind of business you have. It might make sense to not be on Twitter, and be on a more visual brand like Instagram or Pinterest, depending on what it is you’re offering. That’s something I like to do with clients is look at their particular brand and their particular audience. See where your audience is hanging out because that’s where you want to be. You don’t necessarily need to be on every platform, but beyond the ones that are most important to you and your business. In terms of evolution, there are so many different angles to talk about. New platforms that come out regularly like TikTok were not even around two years ago and now it’s a big one, especially for Gen Z.

Some of the platforms that have been around forever, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, they’re always changing their algorithms. They’re changing the way that they present things. Twitter recently updated their character count from 140 to 180 characters. There’s a lot of little changes that happen on a regular basis that you need to keep your finger on the pulse of to know what’s going on when you’re using those mediums to market your business.

Absolutely. You talked about TikTok. Many businesses are actually hiring young people just to make some TikTok videos on their mobile phones, right? It's cost-saving and at the same time an interesting evolution of social media as well.

Totally. I think you hit upon two topics there, one of which is ticked off marketing, and the other is the influencer marketing phenomenon. There are different ways to go about it. TikTok is geared towards a younger audience. I don’t think 50 or 60 year old people are looking for businesses on TikTok. Tailoring to your audience and knowing where your audience is, is critically important. If you do have a younger audience, it might be vital to be on TikTok. It might be worthwhile to spend that money on an influencer to get in front of your audience. I think influencer marketing can be a tricky topic, but if it’s done right well, it can be valuable.

One thing I’ve seen being beneficial for a lot of businesses is called micro-influencers. It’s not necessarily a big celebrity because people can be a little mistrusting. They know they have all these endorsements and all these brands that they’re promoting, and they’re getting paid to do that. It doesn’t seem as authentic as perhaps another regular person who might have a big following that they’ve grown organically, but they have a more personal vibe about them, and they feel more relatable to people. Using those micro influencers, it can be beneficial. They’re obviously a lot less expensive than the big celebrities as well.

I’ve seen one good example: Marriott hired this guy and he was a regular traveler that was loyal to Marriott Hotels. He started taking pictures of their carpet, the unique carpet patterns on different hotels. They ended up bringing him on board to do a whole campaign around their carpet. It was something very unique. He was an older man and not the typical vibe when you think of an influencer. It worked out really well and created that win-win situation. There are a lot of different ways to go about it, if you find the right kind of people to be an influencer for your brand.

Absolutely. When you talk about micro-influencers, I just remembered, we used to work with a client from Australia. He was into carpet cleaning. The way he had actually developed his brand and become one of the biggest names. He collaborated with somebody who used to give carpet cleaning training. He collaborated and made a lot of videos with him. The USP would be that whoever worked with him, will get the entire training and stuff. So, not a big celebrity, but somebody who actually a lot of people looked up to as far as training and improving their carpet cleaning business is concerned. He collaborated with him and ultimately grew his own brand. Debbie, there's a difference between Google and social, right? In Google, when you're trying to do AdWords or SEO, you're basically trying to rank on keywords where actually your user is searching for them or looking for a service. It's very direct. Now in social media, it is not necessary the person is actually searching for that service or keyword. You're just trying to get in front of your audience. So, when people do social campaigns what is the best strategy? Is there a strategy where you should promote content as a trigger point and then nurture your audience or do direct lead-gen campaigns on social as well?

I have a couple of different candidates I can go off with based on the various things you just said. I know this is kind of a cop-out answer, but it depends on the brand. A lot of brands will use social for brand awareness more so than direct revenue-generating campaigns. Sometimes it’s hard to correlate ROI to social. You don’t know that someone didn’t go to your Facebook page, and then go to your website and make a purchase. You can’t always correlate that they come back a couple of days later. There are different tracking mechanisms you can employ to try to track as much as possible.

Also, a lot of times people might again find you on Instagram and then remember and go see later there’s a retargeting campaign, and they’ll find you again. That’s trackable. But, there are a lot of ways in which social generated brand awareness isn’t measurable, which is kind of a bummer. It’s beneficial to have a social presence because everyone is using those channels on a daily basis even if they’re not proactively shopping or looking for a service. They’re always on those channels just to kill time and mindlessly scroll. You want to be there for sure. It’s great from a brand awareness perspective, regardless of if you’re practically advertising or not.

If you are proactively advertising and doing a lead gen campaign, there are definitely a variety of tools that you can utilize to optimize that as much as possible. Facebook ad manager, their ad portal has a lot of great opportunities for targeting your specific audience. Their targeting tools and the elements they have available for targeting is great. The benefit for marketers is that Facebook knows so much about us. If you’re selling a specific product, you can target people who are interested in that product. You can target people who like similar pages. If it’s a certain age range, male versus female, all of those different, demographic targeting data. Facebook has all that and they’re able to give you your exact audience. That’s awesome for marketers. You want more leads, you want people who are going to actually engage with you or buy your product or service or whatever it may be. That’s highly beneficial.

Facebook and Instagram are integrated as well, so you can advertise to platforms with a targeted campaign that can be highly beneficial. You can spend a relatively low amount of money to do that, which is also awesome. You don’t need a huge budget, whereas you might have needed a huge budget to do other marketing campaigns in the past.

Circle back to original SEO elements of the conversation, certain social platforms are actually really good for SEO as well. Pinterest is an example. When you add a pin to Pinterest, you can add your website link and description. Anyone searching for certain items at Pinterest, they’ll find your pins, and click on your website. I’ve seen Pinterest be a huge driver of traffic to websites and a huge SEO play that can be integrated with Pinterest.

Similarly with YouTube. We know YouTube is the second biggest search engine. People are always looking for videos on certain topics. When you add YouTube videos, not only are you sharing those across your social networks, but you’re also optimizing your video title and your video description and thinking about what keywords you can add in there, as that will help you rank higher in Google as well. There’s a lot of different ways that search and social are integrated. You can either use them for brand campaigns or lead gen campaigns, depending on what you’re going for.

It's good for marketers. We recently did a test in a social campaign with Facebook, where we actually kept the targeting broad instead of narrowing it down. Initially, we started getting conversions. Some were relevant, some were irrelevant. The tests we have done, once you start getting, let's say, on average one lead per day in Facebook, the algorithm understands where your actual audience is. Even the quality automatically starts increasing. Facebook knows so much. The algorithm is so smart that you ultimately start getting relevant leads with time.

I don’t do as much on the paid side. I do more organic social. I’ve done some advertising campaigns. It looks like audiences are another great option. That’s where you can take an audience that you already have, such as an email list, for example. You can integrate that into Facebook and they’ll create a list of people who behave in the same way that your actual audience does. So again, it’s kind of creepy from a privacy perspective. But from a marketing perspective, it’s a goldmine. You have so many people who fit your ideal customer mold and are able to market to those people.

Debbie, you have spoken about taking URL to IRL, taking online relationships to in real life. It would be great if you could elaborate on that here on our channel.

That’s something I’ve run into a lot with clients, especially in the hospitality industry, where they have perhaps a loyal fan base or loyal customers. For example, Marriott Hotels. People who’ve been going to them for years, who will always go to a Marriott Hotel, who will be loyal to the brand in person, who will always frequent that specific brand. Then you have an audience online, who perhaps found a Facebook page or an Instagram page. They like you and follow you, but they’ve never set foot inside a Marriott Hotel. It’s the practice and the strategy of bridging that gap of how do you get your in-person audience and loyal brand advocates to advocate for you online?

So how do you get Mr. Brand Ambassador, who’s walking into your Marriott Hotel all the time? How do you get them to post about you and talk about you to their friends and become an authentic micro-influencer type person? Similarly, how do you get that online audience in the door? It goes both ways on that in that regard, but it’s a tricky situation. Especially in hospitality that happens a lot, where you have two separate audiences, and you want both to become the other and, and get more. You want to grow the audience, that’s being in both areas. That’s advocating for you online, and that’s actually spending money with you setting foot in the door of your venue. There are different ways to do that.

Actually, COVID created a lot of ways. The QR codes make it easy for people to pull the business right on their phone. The page on Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever. In-person signage that promotes, like, “Take a picture or post, tag while you’re here and we’ll give you a free appetizer.” Figure out ways to get the on-site people to be posting. Similarly, offering the people who might follow you on the fan page, give them an incentive to come in the door. Like, “show the coupon code, when you come in for a free appetizer.” It’s figuring out ways to get those two audiences to become the same and to become advocates on both IRL and online?

I think one thing that happened because of COVID is, everybody was online, right? I believe the competition to create viral content or engaging content has increased because everybody is putting content online. What are your thoughts on that?

It’s a really interesting phenomenon. I think QR codes, especially, are one thing that are going to continue to resonate in the future, even post-COVID. I think people are a little more tuned in to the kind of content that’s out there. The trick for marketers is you have to figure out how to stand out amongst the noise because there’s so much content online now. How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? How do you put out content that resonates with your audience, and that stands out, and that is authentic.? It’s a tricky balance. It’s something that you’ve just tried to figure out again, it’s a different brand.

It goes back to the core elements we talked about at the beginning of knowing where your audiences are, paying attention to your audience needs, your buyer personas and where they’re hanging out, and what they’re doing. Monitoring what your audience is saying about you, not only your own content that you’re putting out but content that’s being said about you out there by others. That’s new in the social media space is that you have all these people talking about you and you can’t always control the message and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Make sure you’re on top of all that noise that’s out there about your company as well as important. That’s kind of more of the reputation management side of things. Monitoring all that and just keeping track of everything that’s out there and controlling it as much as possible. Make sure that it’s authentic and unique, and different from what everyone else is saying as well.

Right. How do you particularly respond to negative comments on social?

It’s a great question. There’s a lot of different ways to do it and it depends on the circumstances as well. There’s usually some sort of brand document with some responses for different scenarios. I actually had a client who was doing community management for a grocery store at the beginning of COVID. That was an experience to be remembered. People were on all sides of every issue. Every side of everything, people are upset and they’re heated. We had responses for everything that we had to kind of map out. There are tweaks that need to be made based on the specific situation. One rule of thumb that I’ve always done, in general with negative comments, is to respond publicly, but then take it offline.

If someone complains about something, say, “we apologize for the situation, so and so please send us a private message. We can explore this further”. Or like, “Please do not damage your contact information, we can follow up with you or our team can follow up with you.” That shows publicly that you’re addressing the issue and not skirting around it. That allows you to take the conversation offline, and resolve the issue without airing the dirty laundry on a public forum. That’s kind of the general rule of thumb would be respond publicly and then take it private, so you can wrap it all up nicely.

Absolutely. What according to you are the best practices for using social proof in your marketing strategy?

Social proof, I think, is becoming critically important. It kind of ties into the influencer conversation, as well as using social proof to show that not only are you as a brand promoting these things, which is the traditional way of marketing brands would be promoting themselves now that you have all these advocates that you can have advocating for you on social media. It shows that people are using or believing and utilizing and trusting the brand message that you’re putting out. It shows that you’re not just spewing this stuff to be an advertiser to market yourself. It adds a layer of truth and honesty to what you offer by having social media users showing that this is true, this is real.

There are different ways to go about doing that. One example that comes to mind. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe Bryant’s wife, who I follow on Instagram, she just launched new sweatshirts for the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation. She sent the sweatshirts out to a bunch of celebrities and sports stars. Everyone was talking about that campaign and to raise money for that organization. That was a perfect example of social proof. It’s showing that here’s all these important people that are supporting this mission that are wearing these clothes. That was a great example I thought. It was really impactful to see all these people get on board. It’s cool to see so many different kinds of people from so many different places that we’re supporting a single mission. I think there’s a unifying aspect to that. It feels really lovely, especially in the current world.

We talked about Twitter and said hashtags on Twitter add more value. What are the best practices for using hashtags? What makes a good hashtag?

This is kind of a tricky topic because on the one hand, you do want to use hashtags and expand your reach in that way. On the other hand, it comes across as spammy. If you use broad hashtags all the time, people probably aren’t gonna see them because the bigger brands that use those hashtags are probably going to be more viewable than you are. You have to find the middle ground there. Instagram is definitely a platform where hashtags are relevant. People search for hashtags.

My clients usually will use hashtags on Instagram but not as much on Facebook. I usually use Facebook as much for hashtag searching. I have seen on Twitter, hashtags are still very popular as well. They always show their trending Twitter hashtags. So certainly on Twitter and Instagram hashtags are still pretty relevant. I think just finding the ones that are relevant, not going to get buried in others in other hashtags, and then also finding the right amount to make sure you’re not going to get shadow banned. That’s where Instagram will block you, if they feel like you’re blue for using hashtags. That will make you not show up for those searches anymore. So that’s something to keep an eye on. I know I run the election as well. You should add hashtags to your post, but they basically turned off hashtags on Instagram, because there was too much misinformation being spread. My clients were like, “Why is no one seeing my posts anymore with all these hashtags? I’m like, “They’re not showing the same way they did before.” That was definitely a noticeable shift when that occurred. It’s kind of the short versus long tail keyword problem and SEO.

If your hotel is doing hashtag hotel, but there are also a million people in hotels using hashtag hotel, you’re never gonna get to the top of that feed, there’s no way. If you use something like, “Los Angeles hotel”, or something specific like that, you’re more likely to rank, because there are not as many people searching for it.

Absolutely. Successful social media strategy requires community building to be successful. How do you think businesses can do that?

I think one component is making sure that you’re responding to comments and monitoring comments. If you do like reporting, make sure you’re tagging comments appropriately to keep track of everything that’s coming in. Again, doing monthly reporting and analysis are more often than that. Sometimes it is important because you can see what’s working, what’s not working. You might see that certain channels are doing great, others are not doing well at all. You don’t need to spend time there.

From a community-building perspective, for Twitter, Instagram, I’ll go follow other relevant accounts to that brand or other relevant influencers in the space and then comment on other accounts as well. The idea is that those folks will hopefully follow you back and comment back to you. It’s kind of a circular relationship-building exercise, but that’s a little more manual. It works pretty well and allows you to have targeted accounts versus having like a bunch of bots or something, follow your account, which can drive up the numbers, but there’s not going to be any ROI from that. They’re never gonna engage with you or buy your product. So don’t buy followers.

I was doing research last week. It's a really simple thing, but it caught my eye where social accounts being sold have increased. There's a proper marketplace where people are actually selling, like an old persona LinkedIn profile or a particular persona Facebook profile. It has increased so much and has become so popular.

Interesting, I didn’t realize that. We didn’t hear of inherited clients that had bought Twitter followers or something. You could tell they were all spam. It was just all real spammy. These people never spend money on you. They’re never going to engage. There’s no point in that. But some people for whatever reason, if you understand the numbers, that’s the way to do it, but there’s not going to be any real ROI there.

Absolutely. It's something called social manipulation, where people are using it. Let's say, I'm a roofing contractor, then I will buy certain profiles that already have those types of connections. Then I make them join groups and then these people start answering, communicating, and ultimately manipulating and pitching this particular person in these profiles and stuff. It's working for a lot of people. Debbie, somebody like you handling social media, What are your favorite tools that you know you use or suggest any social media marketer to have?

There are a bunch of different ones. They all do similar things. It kind of depends on the scope of your community management needs as well. I mentioned the grocery store. They obviously needed a lot of community management. They had to manage all that amount of content that comes in for them, whereas the smaller client might not need as much of that. So for larger clients, Sprinkler is great. Social Studio is great, and a client of the larger client that’s on social studio for community management purposes. For scheduling content, you can go a little more like Hootsuite or Buffer. Agorapulse is another great one for scheduling and they have great reporting as well. I would say those are the main ones. Sprout Social is also great for both scheduling and monitoring. Those are probably the primary ones that I’ve used.

Right. Well, then we thank you so much for your time. It was lovely chatting with you. Hopefully, we'll catch up again with a new topic.

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