Episode 230 | Posted on

Social Media Meets Content Marketing with Michael Stelzner

In the marketing world, it is imperative that we focus on creating video because the future truly is video. There’s no better time as we’re recording this with the launch of Disney Plus, Apple Plus, and of course there is Netflix. Clearly there is an insatiable desire to consume video out there, as my guest today, Michael Stelzner points out. Michael is the founder of Social Media Examiner, author of the books Launch and Writing White Papers, and the man behind Social Media Marketing World–the industry’s largest conference, which is an incredible conference–I’ve been there multiple times. He’s also host of the Social Media Marketing podcast and founder of the Social Media Marketing Society

In this episode we talk about the Facebook apocalypse, the unreality of reality shows, the ever-changing algorithms of social media platforms, the growth of video consumption, and the transformation over the past five years in marketing from text to images to video. So if you’re curious about the world of social media and you want to hear about the inner workings from the guy who truly has his finger on the pulse, check out this episode. 

In this Episode

  • [00:29] –  Stephan introduces Michael Stelzner, CEO, and founder of Social Media Examiner and Social Media Marketing World, and host of the Social Media Marketing podcast. 
  • [07:33] – Michael shares his video documentary goal: The Journey. 
  • [11:55] – Michael explains how the social media world has changed over the last few years.
  • [17:37] – Michael advises that creating videos is the future marketing. 
  • [23:06] – What do marketers need to know to future proof their marketing?
  • [30:57] – What types of  content on social media platforms help with audience engagement?
  • [33:39] – Which platforms are more profitable in terms of advertising cost? 
  • [40:52] – Michael elaborates on how Facebook groups are one of the ongoing social media marketing trends.
  • [52:39] – YouTube as the biggest opportunity and potential in social media marketing.
  • [55:27] – Michael’s recommended resources on learning more about social media marketing.

Jump to Links and Resources


Mike, it’s so great to have you on the show. 

Launch by Michael Stelzner

Stephan, thanks for having me. 

Let’s talk a little bit more about your back story because you are the go-to guy when it comes to Social Media Marketing; what’s happening, the trends, the latest, greatest stuff, and you didn’t come out of the womb that way. You created that niche for yourself, and now, you’ve got the industry event, Social Media Marketing World. I’d love to have you share a little bit of your back story with our listeners. 

Sure. I undergrad in a Master’s degree in Speech and went on to work in a high tech job in the 90s. The Internet was being born in the mid-90s, and along the way, I became a product marketing specialist. Actually, in the mid-90s, I went off on my own. I started a creative agency. It’s hard to go back and remember all this stuff. Back then, we were developing websites for most people who didn’t have websites in the high tech industry. We were doing conferences. We were doing annual reports. Everything was printed back then, so we’re doing print collateral.

Writing White Papers by Michael Stelzner

Around the early 2000s, I got into writing heavily. I wrote a book about white papers because I have done a lot of them for my high tech clients. Around 2008, I got introduced to the concept of social. This was when Facebook was just becoming open to the general public outside of students, and Twitter was around, but they spelled it weird. I just got enamored with it. In the beginning, I started focusing on the writing world because I developed a pretty big name for myself and the white paper space. I started interviewing people about how to use social to promote your white papers. 

I started writing generic articles on pretty big publications like MarketingProfs and Copyblogger about the dark side of social media. Social media marketing tips and techniques and that stuff just exploded like you got crazy virality on social. Turns out you’re right about social social. That’s like the early days. In 2009, I started Social Media Examiner, and then the rest is like a crazy ten years of history.

When was your first Social Media Marketing World? 

The very first physical conference was in 2013, and this will be our eighth year coming up in 2020. 

Very good. What was the attendance on the first one?

Believe it or not, we have 1100 people from 34 different countries, which is pretty unusual. Of course, a lot of people that told me this and a lot of people said, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” because I’ve been speaking at conferences for years and I’ve been taking notes about all things I didn’t like about conferences. Knowing this is a social conference, I wanted to be highly social, so our very first party was in a museum surrounded by actual dinosaurs. It was metaphorical in some regards because we were ushered in an age of change, and the dinosaurs represent the old ways of marketing, and we were the new way, so I was excited. 

Very cool, and you’re at over 5000 attendees now as of last year, right?

We had 4700 physical attendees and 3000 virtual attendees at our 2019 event. We don’t know how many people are going to show up for 2020. It’s too early to tell, but right around that number is where we were last year. 

What’s your goal for this coming?

It’s really hard to say because our world is changing, so we’re not sure whether or not we’re going to see flat growth, slight decline, or a slight increase, but our goal is to ideally get the same number of people that were out there last year. There are a lot more conferences, and people aren’t going to as many events as they used to, so our goal would be to get the same number we had last year. 

People want valuable insight, access to great people, and recognition before they want products and services. Click To Tweet

I think you had a stretch goal of 5000 last year.

We actually have a stretch goal of 10,000 that I had made years earlier when everything was exploding. I dreamed of a 10,000 event. I’ve gone to VidCon—for those who don’t know, it’s the big YouTube conference, but it’s got a big fan component. I had seen they had over 10,000 by year 7. I’ve made a goal to have 10,000 by year 7. Obviously, we didn’t get anywhere close to it. I realized that we don’t have that fan component, which was a bulk of their attendance. I realized that not all dreams become a reality; let’s put it that way. 

VidCon is a very different conference. I attended one year, and I’m like, “Boy, this is not what I was expecting.” There’s a lot of pre-teens who were running around chasing after the YouTube stars. “Oh my God, it’s The Try Guys,” then there’s a whole mob of people going running off. I’m like, “Who? What? The Try Guys?”

I almost got run over by hundreds of girls, and they’re all, “Why are they running?” They’re like, “I don’t know, but everyone’s running. So let’s run.” It was crazy. You hear the screams like it’s a Beatles’ concert. At that conference, they do have an industry track, and I’ve been able to develop some really cool relationships with a lot of people. Of course, also at VidSummit, which is the event that we were just most recently at.

Yes, and you spoke there, right?

I think I was on a panel. I was a last-minute addition to the podcasting panel. I’ve actually had the benefit of being on a panel twice at that event, and it was a last-minute addition. So, you’re right. I did have a speaker badge around my neck this year.

I spoke too, I have my own session, it went well, and Derral wants me back. That’s pretty awesome.

That’s huge. 

He said he already heard a good buzz about my session. It hadn’t even been a half-hour. After my session finished, he had already heard good things. That’s good. So, you chronicle your growth, the road bumps, and all that you hit along the way in a podcast. Well, it’s more of a show, a YouTube show called The Journey, right?

Right. My video documentary.

Tell me what’s your strategy around that. What’s the end game?

We did it for two seasons, and we put it to bed. I’ll tell you what the strategy was. We did it for the 2018 and 2019 conference. The hypothesis was that people wanted to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of what goes into marketing. An event, that’s a big event. The hope was that they would watch it, get to know us, get to see that we’re just like they are—flaws and all—and hopefully, decide to come and be part of the story.

We did it for two seasons. We ran it weekly for about 22 weeks each season. The episodes were about seven minutes in length. It was crazy because there was a camera guy literally nonstop in our offices, filming. We didn’t know what the story was going to be until we had the content. We would film and go through at least 40 hours of editing, trying to find the true line, the storyline for each week of the episode. It was a massive financial undertaking.

It did have a big impact on the audience. They did know who we were, but it was so expensive to produce that we eventually decided that we’re going to produce different kinds of content on our YouTube channel.

Did you have a specific outcome? A smart goal as they say? Specific, measurable, achievable, etc.?

Yeah. Each season, we stated what our goal was. Like we’re going to sell these menu tickets, whatever it was that year. What we did not do is tell everybody how badly we missed the goals. Instead, all we did was say, “Hey, we’re not on track. What the heck are we going to do?” We would document those crazy ideas that we would come up with. For example, let’s build a bot, or let’s try this email automation sequence. I don’t even remember all the things. We did a lot of things. 

We brought on experts that I had on my podcast, and they consulted with us. We would sometimes do the things they said, and sometimes we don’t. One time, I went live on Facebook in February of 2018, and I talked about what was known as the Facebook Apocalypse.

I don’t know if you saw that clip or not, but that video was seen 600,000 times on our Facebook page, and I got all sorts of crazy press. I was on Fox News, San Francisco. I was on the BBC radio show, their big show in the United Kingdom and all these other things. It was non-stop all day long. The Associated Press called me and wanted to interview me for all the stories. It was just craziness. All that was just one of many things that happened, and we documented the entire thing. That was a seven-minute episode of the journey.

That kind of stuff—what happened, not that crazy—just happens all the time. We just happened to be filming it all, and it made for really good entertainment. But in the end, we weren’t able to track the revenue that we had hoped for.

Attend marketing conferences, listen to podcasts, or read books that can uplevel my expertise.

I did ask people at Social Media Marketing World, both years, “Raise your hand if you watched The Journey,” and the first year, a pretty substantial amount of people raised their hand, about a third of the audience had watched The Journey, which I didn’t know if those were the people that were already the faithful returning customers or if they were new.

The second year, we didn’t see as many hands go up, and we began to notice that it was problematic because when you’re filming a documentary, and you’re dealing with real stuff, you got to be careful about how you show off your employees because they don’t want to be typecast as the person who makes all the mistakes, or the person who is the comedy relief because that’s real.

So it did create a little bit of crazy talent experience here internally, so we would have to have showing parties where we would get everybody in the room and show them the clips and then afterward we’d say, “What do you think?” We had to strategically edit certain things out because we want to protect the innocent, and it was very easy. I now know how to create reality shows; it’s very easy. Just take the clips that you want to create the drama. But sometimes it happens at the expense of people.

Right, and what they also say about reality shows is that they’re as far from reality as you can get.

Exactly, but with us, it was real. It did not contrive anything. It was just the crazy town world of marketing because anybody who you know, as you know, in the last few years, the whole landscape in the social media world has changed.

So let’s talk a little bit about that, we’ll then come back to what you’re doing on Youtube and with video in general. Tell us more about that statement: how everything has changed.

In the last two or three years, we have seen radical declines in organic reach on all social platforms. There was a day when you could post something, and half of your fans would see it, or even more than half of your fans would see it. Now, you’re lucky if a couple of percentage of your fans will actually see your content. This is true with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, pretty much everything. As a result, there is a path, and it’s called the paid path. But the reality is that most marketers never pay.

Mark Zuckerberg recently disclosed in one of his public internal meetings that there were seven million active advertisers on Facebook. There’s a lot more than 7 million businesses that use Facebook. As a matter of fact, I think I heard 100 million Facebook pages, at least for businesses. So, the vast majority are not utilizing advertising. That’s a big shift, how do we get our message out there if we don’t have a budget or if we don’t want to pay big daddy Facebook?

There are other shifts, the video shift. We have seen a radical change since I started with social media, wherein the beginning, it was all about the written word. A lot of people that came into the social space came out of the public relations world or out of journalism. Back then, it was about blogging. It was about writing. It was about interacting in text and developing a community.

But along the way, video became a big part of it when Facebook introduced native video, and then all the other platforms followed suit. Eventually, a live video came into play. Then, short-form video came into play in the case of stories, which started with Snapchat, stolen by Instagram, popularized across all the social platforms. So now, video consumption is what it’s all about, and it’s like, “Wow, wait a second.”

If you’ve been in this industry for more than five years, you’ve gone from text to images to video. If you don’t have any formal training on how in the world to create a video, it can be a very perplexing world because it is completely changed. What do you think? Do you agree?

I agree, and I think a lot of folks are camera-shy, they have self-worth issues, or just don’t feel comfortable being in front of the camera. It takes a special person to be willing to just put themselves out there in that format, or on physical stages for that matter, too. I was terrible when I started speaking on stage. I was just a trainwreck. I decided I’m going to take every speaking gig I can possibly do until I become fantastic at it. It took a lot of training, and I became an excellent public speaker.

I still work on my craft. I just went to Michael Port’s Heroic Public Speaking, his full undergrad and grad program, which was incredible. So, I’m constantly investing in myself to get more skills, more comfort, and unconscious competence with speaking on stage. But yet, I have this issue with getting on the screen and doing videos. I don’t do a lot of videos, I’m not very active on Instagram, I’m not very active on Youtube, and I need to change that. I know I need to change that, but there’s this mental block that is preventing me and many others. I’m sure that many listeners can relate to this and say, “Yup, me too.”

Absolutely. It is a huge struggle for a lot of people, especially people that really like to have their thoughts all worked up before they open their mouths. Or people that are very self-conscious of the words that they’re saying and want to autocorrect. The good news about the written word is you can edit it like crazy. The good news about podcasting is you can go back, and you can scrub out all your ums and ahs and make you sound spectacular. But when you’re live, it is what it is. When you’re on Instagram, it is what it is.

I did this little experiment, which I would encourage people to do what you’re uncomfortable with. I made this commitment to myself to go live for 30 days on Facebook. This was years ago. This was probably back in 2015 or 2016 when Facebook Live has just come over to the mobile phone. I had a tripod, a little monopod thingy with me, and I would go hiking and just freeflow. I would have a concept in my head, “Okay, this is what I’m going to talk about. Let’s just say imposter syndrome.” I’m going to for about 10 or 15 minutes and whatever happens, happens. If no one’s there, I’m going to keep talking. If someone is there, I’m going to encourage them to talk to me.

At the core, people want one of three things. They want access to great information, access to great people, and recognition. If you can focus on all three of those things ideally, you will incredibly be successful. Click To Tweet

I can’t begin to tell you, I tripped over branches, I had a bee smack me in the face, I swallowed a fly at one point, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t make it to 30 days. I made it to 25 days, but I did it enough to know that I had the confidence that I could continue to do it because I just ran out of ideas at a certain point.

You could do that today with Instagram stories, just push the darn button. You don’t like it? It doesn’t matter. It’s only 10 or 15 seconds, do another version. 

It is imperative that we begin to understand how to create a video because the future is video. There’s no better time as we’re recording this with the launch of Disney Plus, Apple Plus, Netflix. You got all these video streaming platforms. These companies would not spend billions of dollars to create this content exclusively for direct streaming the consumers if there wasn’t an insatiable desire to consume video. And there really is.

And what do you think is the better format? Longer videos or short form?

For social media, it’s definitely the short form. What I mean by social media is if you’re talking about Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You want to keep it short because people do not go to those platforms to watch videos. So, I’m talking like 60 seconds or less. Even though you can go longer, I don’t advise it for pre-recorded video.

For Youtube, you can go a little bit longer. We tend to go seven to ten minutes on Youtube. A lot of the Youtube creators will tell you 10 minutes minimum, but I think that formula depends on your audience. We found the sweet spot is about seven to eight minutes with our particular content that we’re creating.

Now, in my mind, that is all short-form content, but in the social world, short-form is literally 5–15 seconds. Mid-form is a minute, and long-form is more than a minute. That’s the reality, so it does not need to be long. It shouldn’t be long because most people will not watch longer videos.

I’ve had a number of Facebook ads experts on my show, and they’ve all told me that ads that are longer than 60 seconds will not be watched on Facebook. Or if they will, it’s very rare. They have to be outstanding high-quality. So, you can beat the anomaly, but it’s hard to beat the anomaly. You have to be really good.

So if we’re talking about short-form video, let’s say it’s less than a minute, is it better to do this as a live video? Or is it better to do it as a pre-recorded, all spiffed up with cool editing kind of video?

Well, for a live video, you can definitely go longer than a minute, but keep in mind that most people will not watch it after the live show is done. The key with live video is you want to do it at a time that everybody knows that you’re going to be live.

For example, we have a live show that goes live every Friday Ten in the morning Pacific, and we advertise that to our audience organically. They know, and they come. I think that you could really go live for 10 or 15 minutes, but you got to be really good for people to watch it. That could be the longer-form video.

Most short-form videos will not be live because it’s hard to go live for just a minute. I mean, the good news is you can, and that maybe your secret weapon. If you just decide to grab your phone and go vertical and go live for a minute, knowing that nobody will probably show up in the first minute just because it’s convenient, then go for it. Because it is convenient, it’s true.

I like that statement “go vertical.” Is that something that you came up with?

What I mean by “go vertical” is— 

I know what you mean, but let’s explain it to our listeners who are not sure.

When you do Instagram stories, it’s vertical. When you take a selfie, it’s probably vertical. It might be horizontal, but if it’s just you in the shot, it’s going to be vertical. It’s hard to hold that phone horizontally. So, the idea of going live vertically with your phone is, it’s just easy to hold the phone. If it’s just you, people don’t really care about the fact that there’s stuff around you necessarily.

I tried both ways, but I think vertical is a little bit more personal, a little less formal. If you think about everything on Instagram stories being vertical and being less formal, it just is a very easy consumption model. When people click play, it does fill up the entire screen; they don’t have to rotate their phones. That’s what I mean by going vertical.

And is that the right way to go, going vertical for every social platform? I’m thinking LinkedIn may be landscape mode, maybe horizontal.

Utilize video marketing with the help of YouTube, Instagram Stories, Facebook, Facebook Live, and more.

Yes, because on LinkedIn, you have to actually use an app to go live, a third-party app. To the best of my knowledge, as far as I know, you have to use a third-party app from a desktop. So, in the case where you’re going live from a desktop, then obviously not going vertical makes sense because you could share your screen, you could use E-CAM or any other tool out there that works for you. In that case, you’re going to go horizontal.

If you’re out and about or your at an experience, I did this when I was at Universal in Orlando, where I was showing off the Harry Potter thing, I just went live vertically, and I just showed everything. It’s whatever works for you, but as you said with LinkedIn, vertical video is not going to really work.

We have two trends that we’ve gone over: the decline of organic, the trend towards more video—from texts, images, to video now. Is there another trend you want to share?

Oh my gosh, there’s endless trends.

Well, what does the marketer listening to this need to know in order to stay current and future-proof their marketing?

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that ad costs are rising, and they will continue to rise. What that means is that you will have to become more reliant on paid acquisition because your organic reach is not going to be there. The cost for that acquisition will go up because there’s a limited amount of real estate out there on the social platforms, and they charge a premium to get access to the audience that you want to get access to.

In particular, as of this recording, Instagram Stories is the most economical medium out there because Mark Zuckerberg has declared that there’s access inventory there. Therefore, you can get your ads placed into stories in a very economical way if you choose to do that. But there may be a lot of inventory there because that ad unit may not be very effective. It’s a very short, vertical ad that shows up for just a couple of seconds. From what I’ve heard, I think you can group up to three of them together. You could go 15 seconds times three with those stories, but they have to be really well done. 

If you think of how Instagram works, it’s a platform designed to keep you on the platform because there’s not a lot of external links. So it’s mostly a branding play when you’re doing that kind of advertising that may not be serving your objectives.

I think marketers need to go back to the basics on a few things. I think it’s time to really invest in Youtube—I know we’re going to talk about it a little bit later—and the original content creation in particular. I’m very big on podcasting, I’m very big on blogging, and I’m very big on original video creation.

The reason why that’s so important is because we have changed from social being about sharing to social being about engaging. In the olden days, it was all about sharing. You share this with your audience, and they will see that. That is no longer a core metric that social marketers should care about because sharing does not mean exposure anymore like it used to. If someone shares your content, it doesn’t mean anything.

For example, on your blog, if they posted on Facebook or Twitter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those platforms are going to expose that content to the relevant fans of whoever shares that. I believe that the sharing metric is a dead metric.

We still keep it up on our blog because we like the social proof that we get. We used to get 5000–10,000 shares per article, and now we get, if we’re lucky, 1000-2000 shares per article, which is still a lot for publications like us.

That is a lot.

But we keep it up there because it is a powerful social proof metric. We don’t care about the actual traffic that comes from the shares. We track it, and it’s inconsequential. We instead want that social proof mechanism.

But getting back to the core of it, if you can create content on a medium where people are going to hang out, if you will, like podcasting, they spend a lot of time listening to this show with you and me, maybe a half an hour each way on their drive. Or on Youtube, where people spend an outrageous amount of time.

If you can create content on those platforms, then you have the opportunity to be “the Publisher.” And when you are the media or “the publisher” you’re becoming a little more independent and a little less dependent on paying the social platforms to get your content out there and seen. The platforms are all pretty much-closed ecosystems of this juncture. They’re really not designed to drive you off the platform in any way, shape, or form. So, we just need to rethink how we do what we do.

Another trend, I think, is Facebook Groups.

Marketers need to go back to the basics on a few things. It’s time to invest in Youtube, podcasting, blogging, and the original form of content creation in particular. Click To Tweet

Before we jump into Facebook Groups, I want to dig in really quickly into a couple of points you’re talking about. Why is that the share metric is a dead metric?

One thing I heard this year from Molly Pittman is that the share-to-reaction ratio is really important in terms of your ad cost on Facebook. If you have a very high shared reaction ratio—reactions being the likes, loves, wows, and all that—if you have way more shares than reactions, you’re going to pay less to reach the same audience than if you had the exact opposite. Would you find that to be an accurate statement?

I think she might have even said that on my podcast, I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t disagree with it. But you have to understand this isn’t the context of probably a video ad. I think that there are some things that definitely can work when it comes to sharing, and I would defer her expertise on this. What I was trying to say is that if you’re in the business of trying to get people to organically drive traffic to your website by sharing your content, there’s a good likelihood that that content will not be seen by their audience. That’s what my hypothesis is.

In the case of what Molly is talking about, if you create an ad that is so good that someone will share it, that’s rare. That’s really rare. I can understand why Facebook would reward that behavior, but I don’t know outside of a special sale to many people that would share an ad. I can’t remember ever sharing an ad. Have you ever shared an ad with anybody?

I don’t recall. I don’t think so.

I’d share it privately with someone, but I don’t think you would ever share it publicly. So, I don’t know. Maybe they’re looking at whether or not those shares are going through Messenger. Perhaps they’re letting someone else know about it, maybe that’s the kind of share metric they’re talking about.

I do see ads, though, that have been shared many times. When it’s an ad that got some viral appeal to it like a Harmon Brothersproduced ad, those are usually very entertaining.

Right, but let’s also call a spade a spade. I know the Harmon Brothers and Travis Chambers. They’re the two leading experts in creating these “viral” ads. They put a lot of effort behind these ads to try to make sure the right behavior happens. They put enormous money into this to make sure that the right behavior happens so that this thing can get legs on its own.

So they’re doing what they believe the algorithm wants them to do. I’m not going to say they’re gaming the system, but I will say that they understand the game of the system better than anyone else. My guess is they’re creating content specifically with the intent of trying to get to do something like what you’re talking about. But you have to understand, sometimes that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars.

The Harmon Brothers say that if you don’t have a million dollars, we probably shouldn’t be talking.

Exactly. We’re talking about massive budgets. We’re talking about big productions. We’re talking about the kind of stuff that it’s not an option for the average marketer like you and me.

And even if we had a million dollars to spend on a potentially viral ad, which Daniel Harmon had said on this podcast that he does not design the ads to go viral, he designs them to get sales.

Yeah, but they do use humor.

Yes, very effectively.

They know that humor, and so does Travis Chambers. They know that humor will get a share. They’re banking on that. If they say they’re not, I don’t think they’re being intellectually honest because there is that organic goal. They hope this thing gets some organic lift.

The moral of the story is, yes, shares matter a lot more. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen anybody share any video on Facebook. Almost all the shares I see nowadays on Facebook are links to articles. It’s very rare that I see any post from any page other than my own page. I have it “see first,” and sometimes I don’t even see that.

I just think we have to be intellectually honest about the fact that the algorithm is really smart. They know what us, marketers, are trying to do. They know if we’ve got all of our staff sharing something that they all work for the same company, and they’re going to necessarily give it any credit at all.

I just don’t think that the world is about creating content that’s designed to be shared anymore. I think it’s more about creating content that can get people to create the output that Facebook and Youtube wants. Youtube wants session duration. Facebook wants people to hang around on Facebook longer. If that kind of content results in the desired outcome, then maybe they will reward that content.

Which is a great point that all these social platforms—not just Youtube and Facebook, but also LinkedIn and Twitter—want to keep us on the platform. If we’re dropping link after link after link into our Twitter account or into our LinkedIn and never posting, just a text, tweet, a video, or an image that doesn’t link off somewhere, eventually the algorithm’s going to say, “You know what? I’m sick and tired of you, and you’re trying to drive everybody off of my platform.”

So, I’ve learned to dial that down a bit and focus more on keeping people on the platform doing the occasional text tweet, doing a lot more image tweets, uploading images, and videos as well, keeping people on the platform more. And it seems that the algorithm is rewarding me. I got 1.2 million or 1.4 million impressions last month for Twitter. That’s a testament to this revised strategy.

Combine different marketing strategies and find out what works best for the brand.

What social platforms want is engagement. They know that if somebody goes to the effort of actually commenting or sharing—but I think commenting is more important, and a meaningful comment, to use Mark Zuckerberg’s phrase, that is far more important because most people never will comment and something that gets some good dialogue going is something that will make the platform more meaningful for those that choose to participate in such dialogue. That is really what it’s all about.

We, as marketers, have to ask ourselves, how can we ask the right kinds of questions to convey that we understand who our audience is but also to allow them to express themselves? And that is going back to the way it was at the beginning, which is fascinating—good old fashion text.

One thing I want to follow up on here with the ad cost rising is which platforms do you think the ad cost is so prohibitively high that it’s probably not a good deal? I just did some LinkedIn advertising at the beginning of the year, and it was so unprofitable, it was a complete and utter waste of money. I used a really good guy for that. He’s AJ Wilcox.

AJ’s told me, and I’ve seen him comment inside of various places that Wallington is evolving their placement features. They’re also getting substantially more expensive. It’s become very hard for small businesses to actually get in any meaningful return on investment on LinkedIn unless you’re willing to pay a lot.

If you have a very substantial valuation of your customers, like if each of your customers worth like $10,000 or $25,000 and you’re willing to make a pretty substantial investment to acquire that customer, then obviously you might be a really good fit for LinkedIn. But Facebook is still far more affordable than LinkedIn and Instagram. We’ve had the same response Stephan, as you have. LinkedIn is so ridiculously expensive that we’re just not willing to “experiment” with our money there.

It’s like setting your big piles of money on fire. It sucks.

Exactly. That’s the way it is for Facebook right now. It’s the holidays as we’re recording this, and ad costs are obviously going up because there’s very limited inventory. We’re into an election year in 2020 here in the United States, and we’re going to see a lot of money being poured into Facebook on the elections, and available inventory’s going to be pretty tight.

Russia’s going to use it all up.

There’s a lot of money that’s going to be spent on Facebook, so those costs are going to rise. You’ll see a decline in January, mid-January probably through the Spring until the campaigns start going crazy, both local, state, and federal. I think the days of affordable Facebook advertising are over with, and we have to get really smart about how we choose to use our money at a platform like Facebook.

I would agree. Now, Twitter is more expensive than Facebook from what I hear. It’s not as bad as LinkedIn, but it’s pretty bad from what I hear.

I can only speak from experience that we’ve had as a company. We have not had a lot of great experiences on Twitter with ads at all. First of all, you have to be using the actual Twitter apps in order to see the ads, and there’s still a big third-party network of apps out there like Tweet Bot and all these others that you’re never going to see an ad on, which is part of the problem they’ve had with having an open API over all these years where anybody could design the apps.

I don’t think people hang-out for very long on Twitter, and that’s the challenge. You’re on and off it in a matter of minutes. Youtube is obviously the bigger opportunity in my personal opinion, which we don’t think of a social, but if we can figure out how to create “video ads” as you mentioned earlier—video scares the heck out of marketers—if we can figure out how to get creative with video ads that are marketing ads and we know that our audience hangs out on Youtube, then perhaps that might be the last big frontier where the cost is not completely outrageous.

There really are a lot of people, I heard a billion people every day, if I’m not mistaken, almost a billion are watching videos on Youtube for a pretty substantial amount of time, so there’s inventory there.

Is your company doing a lot of Youtube advertising?

We’re beginning to experiment with it. We have been experimenting with Youtube advertising over the last two years with limited success, but each year as we get to know more and more, we began to come up with strategic plans. As of this recording, we’re not running any Youtube ads, but we hope to run some Youtube ads here before the conference.

What social platforms want is engagement. They know that if somebody puts an effort on commenting or sharing, it means that the published content is highly relevant. Click To Tweet

Got it. My understanding of Youtube advertising is that if you dial it in, it can be really affordable and super high value. That’s what I heard from Tommie Traffic, that’s Tommie Powers. We did a podcast episode a while back.

Another one is Tom Breeze talking about the same thing. If you work with a specialist Youtube advertising agency and not a generalist that says, “Oh yeah, we can do Youtube ads, we can do Google ads, Facebook ads, we can do it all,” like a jack of all trades, master of none. Their company is very much a Youtube specialist advertising agency, which I like, and I think highly of Tom; he’s also been on the show. What were your thoughts?

Well, we’ve used Tommie and Tom actually, believe it or not. Tommie advised us and Tom—it’s funny they both have Tom names—we hired Tom’s agency.

We did not have a lot of success because we were selling something complex, which is a conference ticket. It depends on your product. If you’re selling an e-commerce product that is an impulse buy, something less than $100, which is definitely not what we’re selling. You might have more success with Youtube ads.

Something that’s complex is spending many thousands of dollars to come to San Diego, get your airfare, get your hotel, and get your conference ticket. All in could be $3000. It’s just a very complex sale. As a result, we were not able to really get the ROI on that that we were hoping for.

We’ve also worked with another gentleman, Brett Curry. I don’t know if you know who that is, but he specializes in Youtube ads as well, a fellow speaker in Social Media Marketing World. Might be a good guy to get on your show. He’s very focused on the e-commerce world. We’ve worked with his organization in the past, too. We just never been in the crack of that nut, but we know for a fact that it can be successful. It depends on your product and your consumer’s buying behavior.

Do you think that SEO as a service could be a good thing to advertise on Youtube?

I would imagine, yes, only because there’s so much content on Youtube specifically about searching and optimization. I would venture to guess you absolutely could, for sure benefit from that, but I would experiment.

My philosophy lately has been, “Let’s treat everything as an experiment.” Let’s try a small experiment over here, and then let’s say that the experiment must be successful before we expand into the bigger experiment. We level to it once we’ve gotten through level one. If that experiment fails, we agree we’re not just going to do another experiment on this, at least not now, maybe next year.

The thing we do is experiment these days, and I think that’s the right attitude because otherwise, you could go on full scale and spend outrageous amounts of time and money on something that might be a distraction.

Right, makes total sense and I wholeheartedly agree with you on that. I’m very much an experimentalist. I try things, and I have hypotheses, control groups, and all that. I want to apply the scientific method to what I’m doing and not just go with my gut. Although my gut is pretty good. I did the 10,000 hours plus and the slicing.

Generally speaking, I’ve done so many tests over the years. There are very few surprises when it comes to testing. Generally, you know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. Occasionally, when you do get that surprise, you’re like, “Wow! I never would’ve guessed that.”

Okay, so I interrupted you in the middle of you’re going through the trends, and you were about to embark on Facebook Groups. Can you elaborate?

I wrote a post called Beware of Facebook Groups if anybody wants to check it out. It said Long Live Communities. What I did is I talked about how and why Facebook so desperately needs us to develop groups and nurture communities. I’ll give you the essence of it. Facebook has said that we’re going to ensure privacy inside of certain kinds of platforms, for example, Messenger. They’re going to encrypt end-to-end all those private messages, which implies that they have not been encrypting it, and they have been reading those messages.

So, Facebook has been reading every private message you’ve ever sent, anonymizing it, trying to determine which your interests are, based on those private messages that you sent. That allows them to build out the open graph on you and everyone else that you know so that they can try to customize the ads experience. Now, when this officially rolls out, this end-to-end encryption, they’re going to need another way for people to feel comfortable talking about things that they talk about privately in a more public setting.

Facebook groups represent the future because if you’re on a private Facebook group, you might say things in there you would never say in public. Facebook wants to encourage that communal interaction under the auspices of “We care about the community,” which is true, but they also care about data. It’s a big old data play where they’re trying to get people to develop every conceivable community you can imagine, so they can mine that data to understand more about you and your interests. Anybody that doesn’t think that’s what’s happening with Facebook is completely ignorant and doesn’t understand what they’ve been doing all along. We are the product, and they’re selling us to the world.

By the way, did you see The Great Hack on Netflix?

Yes, I did. I watched that; really interesting.

It was really interesting.

Very interesting and a lot of it affirms some of the things that I’ve thought. The moral of the story is they have the best group platform out there. Period. LinkedIn used to be great, but now it’s not. Facebook made the best possible product for groups, but we need to be aware that if we build our home there for a group, there’s a good chance that they’ll do to groups what they did to pages, which means they’re going to minimize the reach. You’ll have to pay, eventually, to get to all of your group members because you cannot export those group members.

They don’t even let you easily know who everyone is a group member, like you don’t know who all your fans are. It’s all part of the mystery of how they do what they do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll be serving ads into groups eventually as well because they’ve already talked about monetization features coming to groups and all that stuff.

The days of affordable Facebook advertising are over, and we have to get really smart about how we choose to use our money on social media platforms. Click To Tweet

But aren’t you building on rented land? Isn’t that a scary thing?

Yes, you absolutely are, but isn’t that what we’ve been doing all along with social media? We’ve been using rented land from day one, and there is this Downtown Disney mentality. You know because you live in LA. You’ve been to Downtown Disney, and you don’t talk about it, right?

All of the shops that are cool are in Downtown Disney. It’s the prime real estate. It’s where everybody passes through to get into Disneyland from the hotels. The hope is that if you could be in Downtown Disney, that’s where everybody is, your business will thrive because they’re all there, and that’s been the promise to marketers from the beginning with social platforms. Everyone is there. You want to be there.

There has been this, “Yes, we’re building our home on rented land, but can we afford to not be there?” There’s that juxtaposition that we have to face as marketers. We have to be there, but we also have to have a contingency plan. That’s where the development of content that does not live on social platforms is really your contingency plan, and that’s where SEO comes in, of course. That’s why that’s something of great value for a long time. If you can create search-optimized content for audio, which doesn’t just include podcasting but also includes things like Alexa and smart speakers, if you can do it for the written word and you can also do it for video, then that would be ideal.

As a matter of fact, on the video front, Google recently announced that they’re going to show snippets of videos in the search engine results. They’ll go right to the section in the video where the answer is. You’re probably aware of this, right?

Of course. An example of that is how to tango. If you Google for that, you’ll get a featured video, and it’ll have that bit of the video highlighted already.

That’s scary as heck. Let’s be honest. We create all these videos just to have them show that one little clip. If you try to monetize that video, they may bypass all the other stuff, and that’s a problem. They’re already doing this with featured snippets inside of text, which you know more about than I do. Of course, you know that you can shut that off, but at the same time, do you really want to shut that off and not have the possibility of somebody clicking on that?

We’re getting into a world where it’s tough to create content that is being used by these billion-dollar companies. We want to placate them, but at the same time, we also need to be able to be independent from them.

Speaking of featured snippets, Google’s strategy here is really to take all of your content, break it up into little bits, and put it into its database.

Right, somebody has to click.

That’s called the knowledge graph, and if Google can give the answer right to you as the searcher without sending you off to find it on the website, that makes for happier searchers, and they’re making money off of our backs, off of our hard work.

I recently read a statistic from I think it was McKenzie, I’m not sure, but more than half of all searches result in no click, which is scary. That means that they are actually delivering up the content and guess where they’re learning it from? Us.

That’s the world that we live in, and that’s the challenge. We live in a world where essentially we are the slaves in the mines bringing out the diamonds, and somebody else is basically going to do something with those diamonds. It’s just a weird world, and I don’t know whether or not it’s all going to change or not, but I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable in the long run. I think that we’ll see some changes happening here in the next five years.

Well, I’m waiting for the days when AI is the largest contributor of content to the internet and not humans. That’s coming.

I know, and that’s scary. The good news is AI does not have opinions, and the encouraging word to everyone is that opinions are human-based. Facts are easy for an AI to learn, but opinions are far more complicated. I’m sure that they will eventually come, but as long as we share our opinion on things, and people care about our opinion, that will give us at least a slight edge for the near future.

Slight edge for the very near future. Artificial general intelligence is where we’re going to get to. The AIs will not only be smarter at facts but smarter at opinions, art, and science, like the next Picasso will be an AI, the next Beethoven will be an AI.

This is why content diversification outside of text is so important. At this juncture, outside of deepfakes, we don’t really have yet—it will be a long while before we do—the ability for an AI to create compelling content on a subject like we can on video on a weekly basis, or we can on audio.

We don’t have AI that is like you, Stephan, that could just ask me all the right questions and create a really compelling podcast. Or we don’t have two AIs talking to each other and having a really interesting dialogue, yet.

Not yet.

That’s something we would want to listen to, but we’ll see.

Well, in the meantime, there’s a lot of algorithmic disappointments out there, too, like Facebook Graph Search, I find completely useless. I don’t know what your opinion is about Facebook Graph Search.

I can’t remember the last time I tried to search for anything on Facebook, it’s ridiculous.

It is ridiculous.

They don’t make it easy to find even stuff that you posted on your own business page or on your own personal profile. It was important for them, and then it wasn’t important for them because they realized they could make money somewhere else, because nobody was going to Facebook to search for stuff.

Now, you mentioned the open graph at one point earlier in our conversation. Is there anything about the open graph that our marketing listeners should know or our marketer listeners should apply in their marketing strategy?

Actually, not really, but as a consumer, you can go into your open graph data, and you can go ahead and see what Facebook thinks you’re interested in, and you can retrain it. You’d be surprised that all the things that they think that you have an interest in are wrong.

If you as a consumer want to go in there and say “No, I’m not interested in origami,” or, “I’m not interested in underwater basket weaving,” or whatever it is, you can just click those things off so that it can develop a better understanding of who you are.

And we will include the link to do that in the show notes.

Yeah, cool. It’s just under privacy settings. The key thing to understand is that the open graph is really just every single person. They have data on each of us. The idea is that the open graph is basically their big database of all these ever-changing behaviors that we do and things that they think we’re interested in.

The bigger question is the artificial intelligence system, and how we need to understand that when Facebook comes out with these announcements—every couple of months they do—and they say don’t do this, for example, they’ll say “Don’t use certain kinds of words in your call to action, like don’t encourage people to comment, or like, or share.”

Or say a certain word in the comments. My eyes roll every time I see that like, “Say this to get this cool thing that I’m going to give to people.”

And people are using bots. They’re using messenger bots to try to track that, make that stuff work. But the moral of the story is the AI’s really effective and really smart. So much so that Facebook is telling people nowadays to just let it decide where to place the ads.

As a matter of fact, we have an article coming out literally next week on text optimization, which is a brand new feature on Facebook ads. The way it works is you can go ahead and come up with five variations of your headline, your body copy, and a couple of other text elements. Then Facebook will dynamically, using its AI, decide which of those pieces of texts in the ad to use depending on the interest of the audience that you’re targeting. It is really smart.

The idea is you could have five different headlines, five different calls to actions, and five different body copies. It will just magically sew the ones together that Stephan is interested in based on what it knows about you, and it will do it differently from me, Mike. That’s the magic of it. It’s deciding based on what it knows about you.

It’s taken that open graph data, combining it with the AI to automatically compile the best ad to the target audience, and that is really interesting. That’s where the job of the marketer is going to become a lot easier as these tools become available to us.

Now we need to circle back to Youtube, and we only have a few minutes left, so let’s do this lightning-fast. What is it about Youtube that you see as the biggest opportunity and also the biggest potential roadblock, land mine, or whatever with Youtube as well?

The bottom line is that people are reading less and watching more. We know this. It’s obvious based on all the things we’ve been talking about today. The average amount of time that people spend on Youtube is pretty much higher than almost all the other social platforms. The average duration session is about half an hour on Youtube. The reality is that people are spending a lot of time on Youtube, and you need to be there. 

What we’ve started to do is we started to create original, 2–3 times a week, video tutorials on our Youtube channel youtube.com/socialmediaexaminer. Just like articles except we bring experts in studio, a lot of our speaker experts, we fly them in. We film original content here, and then we release that content directly to Youtube.

We have a really high-end editing team in Austria that produces really cool animations that go with these videos. We spend thousands of dollars to produce every single one of these videos. We’re doing it for free. There are no ads, and there’s no call to action other than watching another one of our videos.

We have a two-year commitment to doing this. We’re currently about 33,000 or 34,000 subscribers. We want to get about 200,000 subscribers, ideally in two years. 100,000 to 200,000 would be the goal, and we want to get to about 25,000 views per video on average. Right now, we’re at about 2000–10,000 views on average. The reason we’re doing this is we believe that this is the new frontier, it’s video consumption. We want to grab a new audience that likes to learn by video consumption, not just audio, and not just the written word.

We believe Youtube is the future. We already know there are a billion people there watching every day. The key to the entire thing really for us is eventually to monetize it, if we want to remarket it into people that have watched our Youtube videos on a regular basis, and say, “Come to Social Media Marketing World.”

In the short run, we have no plans to do any real promotion at all. We have a little tiny sign in the background that says “Social Media Marketing World” that’s literally 1½ feet by maybe 2 feet. It’s subliminal on a little thing behind us, that’s it. There is nothing anywhere on those videos that say a darn thing about the product that we sell, just all about providing value.

Wow. That’s like the opposite of direct response.

It’s really about cultivating an audience. We want them to come to the well multiple times a week and find great value from us. The hope is that they’ll tell their friends about us or we’ll become indispensable to them. Maybe they’ll say, “What else do these guys do? Whoa, they got a podcast. Whoa, they got a blog. Woah, they got a conference.” That’s the hope.

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mike, for all the wisdom that you imparted to our listeners. If folks want to take the next step and learn more about social media marketing, of course, you got the Social Media Examiner site, and you’ve got the conference, Social Media Marketing World. So what are the URLs for these different places that you want to send people to including the academy?

First of all, if you have room in your listening patterns for another podcast, mine is called Social Media Marketing. We drop it every week. Then, if you go to socialmediaexaminer.com, you can find everything. You can find Social Media Marketing World, you can find our society (which opens up just once a year), and you can find anything else that we’ve got going on there, our live show, our Youtube channel, everything is at socialmediaexaminer.com.

Alright, thank you so much, Mike, and thank you, listeners. Now take some action, apply this in your marketing, and let me know how it’s going. My email is me@stephanspencer.com. I want to hear from you. Thank you, and we’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak.

Important Links

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Constantly update my marketing knowledge so I can keep up with trends and the latest strategies. Attend marketing conferences, listen to podcasts, or read books that can advance my expertise.
☑ Utilize video marketing with the help of YouTube, Instagram Stories, Facebook, Facebook Live, and more.
☑ Strategize how I want to do video marketing. Determine what type of content my audience wants and translate that into video. 
☑ Combine different marketing strategies and find out what works best for the brand I’m promoting. It can be a mixture of offline, online, organic, and paid ads. 
☑ Be social on social media. Study where my prospects spend the most time and establish a presence on that platform. 
☑ Try podcasting to position myself as an expert in my niche. Podcasts are great for easy to consume long-form content.
☑ Observe my social media metrics on a regular basis to find out how I can improve my strategies moving forward. 
☑ Be all about engagement. Communicate with my followers on all areas and make sure queries, messages, and comments all get responded to. 
☑ Plan my content ahead of time so I can strategize how I want to communicate with my audience through social media.
☑ Check out Social Media Examiner to learn more about the latest on social media marketing.

About Michael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner is the founder of Social Media Examiner, author of the books Launch and Writing White Papers, and the man behind Social Media Marketing World–the industry’s largest conference. He’s also the host of the Social Media Marketing podcast and founder of the Social Media Marketing Society.



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