Interview with the Experts: Lisa Barone, Outspoken as Ever
You're kind of famous on Twitter. When I first started working at WordStream, I signed up for Twitter and you were one of the first people I followed, because my coworker referred to you as her "girl crush." :) How long have you been on Twitter and what do you say to detractors and people who just "don't get it"? How can businesses use Twitter to their advantage?
No one is famous on Twitter. Let’s just get that out of the way. :) As far as how long I’ve been a member, the experts say I joined Oct 18, 2007. That sounds about right.
I do think Twitter is something you either “get” or you don’t. And if you don’t get it, it’s because you have forgotten how to talk to people. And if that’s the case … please don’t spend your time tweeting about how stupid Twitter is. That just makes me want to kick you. I think Twitter is awesome for business, especially if you’re a small business owner. It’s such a great way to find the people having conversations about you and to talk to them. Whether the conversation is positive, negative or they’re just namedropping, it’s a point of contact that you didn’t have before. It’s a great CRM tool. It’s probably the most powerful outlet a small business owner has right now.
I've seen you tweet that your family doesn't understand your job. (I sympathize—when people ask what I do, I'm like, "Well, uhh, you know Google?...") Let's set the record straight once and for all. What does Outspoken Media do and what does your role as Chief Branding Officer entail?
My mother thinks I’m unemployed, my father thinks I’m a secretary at Google and my little brother tells them both I’m a pirate. So, yeah, there is some confusion which makes family gatherings fun.
Outspoken Media is a full-scale Internet marketing company. We do everything from SEO to affiliate marketing to social media to online reputation management. If it’s about promoting and making money off your site on the Web, we do it and we do it well.
As for myself, on the client side I’m responsible for managing all content creation, helping to create social strategies, building communities on sites, and working with clients to set and establish their voice. For Outspoken, I’m obviously responsible for our own blog, as well as building our company brand and making sure people know we exist and what we’re about. I, essentially, build and manage brands – ours and those of our clients.
As a brand evangelist, do you think the average Joe/Jane should develop a personal branding strategy? If so, how should they go about it?
Yes. Your personal brand is your image on the Web. You need to be responsible about building that out in a way that helps you get where you want to go. I’d start by creating a home base at yourname.com and using that URL to identify you everywhere else you go on the Web. From there, you need to determine what you want your brand to be about and then decide what content you want ranking to help represent that. Once you know, you can create your game plan around that to determine whether it includes building social accounts, creating media, promoting news articles and blog posts, etc.
What are the elements of Lisa Barone's personal brand? Is it everything you want it to be?
Ha, wow. I think my personal brand is that I stand up for things that I feel are important and I don’t mince words. Is it everything I wanted it to be? I don’t know what I ever “wanted” it to be anything. I didn’t realize four years ago when I started blogging about SEO that I was building a brand. I thought I was doing my job. I didn’t realize people were really reading or that it’d be the best job I could ever ask for. I think the “brand” I have online reflects me on most days, though it’s an exaggerated version. I’m opinionated and I have a quick mouth, but I’m not typically shouting at people or talking all the time. I “won” Most Introverted in college and I’m still that girl on most days.
Which companies or brands do you feel are doing an excellent job at building and maintaining their brand? On the flipside, which brands are doing a bad job?
Obviously there are all the standard social media success examples – JetBlue, Comcast, Dell, Zappos – but you don’t need me to recite all those (and I hate when others do). Really, I think small businesses in general are doing an excellent job with social media. I look at someone like the Cardonas Market in Albany, NY and see how they’ve used Twitter with @cardonasmarket to get people excited about them. They’re Follow Friday’ing local people in the area, they’re tweeting when food is right out of the oven and fresh, they’re announcing sales, they’re telling you about the cheese of the week. They don’t have thousands of followers, but they don’t need them either. They’re going after the people in their area who can benefit from what they offer. That kind of stuff gets me excited.
I’m not going to out anyone mucking it up … but there a lot of people mucking it up. Mostly because they’re not listening or because they think they’re above their audience. Without your audience, you’re nothing.
Say I work for one of those companies that's not so hot at brand management. What are some of the steps I can take right away (the low-hanging fruit) to salvage my brand?
Start listening. That’s where everything has to start. Creating your listening station and getting plugged in. You need to hear what people are saying about you, even if it hurts, and then look for ways to change the conversation if you’re not happy with it. Usually that means shutting up first and then reaching out second or third.
You recently got a lot of attention for publicly taking Seth Godin to task for his Brands in Public business model. The response to his announcement on blogs and Twitter seems largely responsible for him changing the model. Is this vindication that social media—and being outspoken!—can really change things?
Yeah, that was crazy, wasn’t it? I can’t lie; reading that Seth had listened to the community feedback and changed his model for Brands in Public … it was emotional. It was one of those moments where you remember that voices do matter. Using your voice to right a wrong is the coolest thing in the world to me. That’s what gets me excited. And it’s exactly what social media is about. It’s about getting involved, tuning in and listening to your customers. And good on Seth for engaging in the outcry and listening to what people were saying. It was a great testament to the power of social media. If Seth Godin can listen to concerns of the community and act, then so can any business. You just lost your excuse.
Writing on emotion can have its hazards. Do you try to weigh the consequences and potential repercussions that a call-out post may have in the future (or on your future) before you write it? Or do you just let it fly and let the chips fall where they may? Have you written anything you regret?
I pick my battles and make an effort to be responsible with my words. You do have to weigh the consequences. If I’m going to call something out, I try to make it about the product or company, not the person behind it. I’ve had a lot of people take some hard personal shots at me, so I do try and keep that in mind when I’m writing. I broke that rule with the Seth Godin post because I really felt he was taking advantage. It was just as much about him as it was the product.
Writing on emotional is difficult. Both in finding the line and also in putting so much of yourself out there. Someone joked with me once that I should receive “combat pay” for the stances I take. I don’t think people realize the toll that letting it all hang out there can take on you. As much of a win as the Seth post was in terms of getting him to change his stance, I took a lot of heat, too. My skin’s a lot tougher than it used to be but I’m still human. I can’t simply turn away from the community and stop feeling when things get hard. My job is the community.
Has there ever been a post I’ve regretted writing? I don’t think so. I think in the beginning I was a bit more careless than I should have been. I just didn’t know any better. But I’ve taken all my slaps and I’ve tried to learn from them and handle myself better next time.
How much do you think about SEO when writing for your blog? Do you do keyword research, optimize your title tags and so on, or do you rely on other ways of finding an audience?
I really don’t, probably much to Rae and Rhea’s dismay. I’m not an SEO. I don’t pretend to be an SEO. I try to use terms and phrases that I know people are searching for but that’s just good usability. There are times where Rae will go into a post a tweak a title tag or something but that’s about as far as we go with it. I probably use Twitter to find an audience far more than I do SEO.
What software/apps/tools do you depend on to do your job (and live your life)?
If you were to ask Rhea, she’d compile you an itemized Excel document that would blow your mind. I’m a pretty simple girl. My life consists of FireFox, Twitter Search and Google Docs. And then iTunes or Pandora to tune out the world. I spend my day writing so I don’t need much more than that.
Are you addicted to social media and if so, do you care?
I’m addicted to being connected and the conversations. I absolutely am. So much of my job is about reaching out and being accessible to people that when I’m not … it’s a completely absurd feeling for me. Unless I’m in flight, my BlackBerry is always on and within reach. Even if I’m out with friends, I like sharing what I’m doing with my Internet world. I think that’s really it – I like to share things. Whether it’s content, an experience, an emotion, a viewpoint, I like connecting with other people. I was probably a real hit in kindergarten.
What effect does the continued growth of Twitter and Facebook, which favor quick updates and social "sharing" over long-form writing and hard linking, have on "traditional" blogs? Is blogging on its way out?
I want to say that I answered the previous question without reading this one so I really did just use “sharing” all on my own. :p
I think Twitter is somewhat killing the links to my blog posts and I don’t really appreciate it. :) Honestly, I don’t think Twitter and Facebook have had the drastic effect on blogging a lot of people like to talk about. And blogs definitely aren’t on their way out. I can’t express myself through Twitter the way I can through a blog post. Twitter is great for quick bursts and points of contact, but it doesn’t have the same power as long-form content. I obviously can’t explain/expose/evaluate something on Twitter like I can in a blog post. I think blogs are going to evolve to be a bit more real-time. Things like RSSCloud will mean that you’re notified as soon as a post goes up. You don’t have that hour or so feed reader delay. That’s what I’m excited about.
What blogs do you read every day? Who should we follow on Twitter?
I get asked the “what blogs do you read” question a lot. I think it’s time to create a post on the topic. Look for it in the next few weeks. :)
Thanks so much Lisa!