An adman's journey into social media marketing

Sometimes, the best person to tell your story is someone else.  At a recent PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) speaking engagement, a reporter, Maggie Caldwell, from the Greenwich Post just outside New York was in the audience. 
She wrote this story about my journey from adland into social media marketing.  Thank you Maggie. 
By Maggie Caldwell, Hersam Acorn Newspapers
Small business owners of the world take note: If you are a Twitter contrarian or Facebook foe, you are likely diluting your business’s potential by ignoring a major customer base.
So says Rob Petersen, founding partner and president of Barnraisers, a Wilton-based online marketing solutions company that builds brands primarily using social media. A veteran ad man who has been at the front lines of the changing advertising field, Mr. Petersen discussed trends, tactics and best practices in social media before a group of PR professionals and small business owners at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich last month. The luncheon was sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America’s Westchester/Fairfield chapter.
“Social media is a different kind of marketing channel. It is based on a conversation, not a monologue,” Mr. Petersen said. “People access the Internet so much more. The capability to access your friends for recommendations, rather than listening to an ad is just the way you do it now.”
The Internet has changed consumer behavior, he explained, citing statistics that 90% of purchasing decisions now begin on the Internet, 75% of consumers shop online before they buy at the store, and 85% of consumers look for independent reviews.
“Consumers are now in control,” he said.
Mr. Petersen’s own foray into the world of social media came after he saw ad sales plummet as the recession set in in 2008. He says he is no “techno geek” but started blogging for his own company about trends in advertising. He later taught himself how to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media programs.
“I did it because I was scared,” he said. “I had clients and then the worst recession since the Great Depression happened.”
Through the experience of keeping a blog, Mr. Petersen became a self-taught expert on social media. It changed his whole course of thinking about advertising as he began to recognize the potential of this new platform. He noted that the way people buy products, which had been the same for decades, was shifting. He saw that once consumers bought a product, they wanted to share it, leading to purchase reviews.
His blog on its own became such a success, Rutgers University offered Mr. Petersen a job teaching classes on social media and digital branding. The university is now one of the first to offer a social-media specific MBA program.
“Traditional marketing strategy boiled down to one thing: Shout it out!” Mr. Petersen said. “If you want to grow, shout it louder. Now it’s changed… People don’t buy the way they used to. Now let’s listen to what people are saying.”
At his Web site,, Mr. Petersen lists a number of case studies about companies successfully using social media to their benefit.
“Social media is the difference between launching with many millions of dollars, versus many millions of fans,” Mr. Petersen said paraphrasing Chris Bruzzo, vice president brand, content and online at Starbucks, which launched a highly successful social media program called “My Starbucks Idea,” where consumers invent and then vote on new drink offerings at the coffee chain giant.
Trust factor
One of the major components of social media is that it imbues the consumer with a sense of trust, Mr. Petersen said. He cited the case of Foiled Cupcakes, a company launched by a Chicago woman who started baking in her home kitchen and selling her cupcakes for delivery online. The business has no storefront and relies almost entirely on social media to get the word out about her services.
“The value is in trust, engagement and timely responses,” Mr. Petersen said. The company created a blog and set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and created its own community of followers.
“People like to do business with people they know,” he said. “Social media offers more than a phone number or e-mail address… it gives a face to a product.”
Another company that ran a hugely successful campaign online was Blendtec, a manufacturer of industrial blenders that was looking to expand from the B2B (business-to-business) market to reaching everyday consumers.
The company launched a video series entitled “Will it blend?” in which the company’s founder, Tom Dickson, blends all sorts of household items, from golf balls to stuffed animals to glow sticks. Two videos of him blending an iPhone and an iPad received more than 10 million views each on YouTube.
“Blendtec had a product that you had to see in action to understand how good it is, and he found a medium for it,” said Mr. Petersen. “This was a campaign that probably cost less than $20,000 and in turn, the company’s sales increased by 700%.”
Social media budget
After going over some case studies, Mr. Petersen said it might behoove business owners who are either Internet shy, or too busy, to create a social media budget.
“At the end of the day, it is a time equation,” he said. “When you bring someone on, you have to ask how much time do you require to do this, and what is the compensation.”
In looking for the right “social media marketer,” as he termed the profession, Mr. Petersen advised people to seek out a person who will embrace the business, who has an interest in what they are promoting, and who has a proven track record that they can amplify the message.
He said it takes time to draw people to a new Web site or Blog, but there are proven methods to grow an audience online. These include searching for other people who are writing on a topic that has to do with the business and commenting on their site, or inviting them to view your own.
“Use the social networks to say ‘I have a blog out,’” Mr. Petersen said.
The worst mistake someone entering the world of social media could make, however, is to build an audience and then just stop Tweeting, Blogging, or interacting.
“People will wonder what happened,” he said. “You must make a dedication to this. At least three to six months to start.”

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