Interview with Ted Rubin
Nicole Scott: Hello Ted! We at Vult Lab are grateful you have taken time out to discuss social media with us. With 2019 just starting, startups and enterprises alike are considering new strategies to tackle to improve their brands for the upcoming year, so let’s provide some inspiration! Let’s begin with a little bit about yourself and how you engage with the social internet.
Ted Rubin: I am a Social Marketing Strategist, Speaker, Author, Provocateur, CMO of Photofy, and MC/HOST of Brand Innovators monthly Marketing Summits. In March 2009 I started using and evangelizing the term ROR, Return on Relationship, hashtag #RonR...
Many people in the social media world know me for my enthusiastic, energetic and undeniably personal connection to people... #NoLetUp! is my motto. I left my position as Chief Social Marketing Officer (the first CMO to have that title) of Collective Bias in Q4 of 2013 and remained a principal shareholder until the November 2016 seven-figure acquisition by Inmar. In the words of Collective Bias Co-Founder John Andrews... "Ted, you were the vision, heartbeat and soul of Collective Bias, thank you for building a great company. From innovations like social syndication engine cbSocially to the amazing relationships you built with the blogger community, clients and employees, you drove the epic growth. You will be missed!"
My books, Return on Relationship, was released January 2013, How To Look People in the Eye Digitally was released January 2105 and The Age of Influence… Selling to the Digitally Connected Customer was released in May 2017.
I am currently writing my latest book, along with my business partner and Retail Thought Leader John Andrews titled Retail Relevancy.
Nicole Scott: You have extensive experience in particularly the connections one can make online, even coining your own hashtag #RonR. Can you explain that a little bit more in-depth as well as some highlights from your book How to Look People in the Eye Digitally? So often do people get distracted by numbers and forget authentic engagement is the most important facet of the online world!
Ted Rubin: ROR, #RonR: Return on Relationship™… simply put the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple $’s and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through connection, loyalty, recommendations and sharing… and is used to define and educate companies, brands, and people about the importance of creating authentic connection, interaction, and engagement.
You may have noticed that it’s not terribly difficult to build up a huge list of connections on your favorite social platform, if volume is your goal. Volume doesn’t necessarily translate to quality, but there are plenty of tactics to rack up big connections numbers if you’re just aiming for a “high score,” or bragging rights. This is on my mind thanks to an article circulating from Media Post, which suggests that our brains are wired to limit us to 150 to 200 relationships, even with the advantages of digital technology.
You know that I’m big on building relationships, and it’s certainly important to give the people you connect with the time they deserve. But those numbers just don’t add up to me for a few important reasons.
What’s in a Friend?
The first sticking point – and it’s a big one – is that the article doesn’t provide a firm definition of what it means to be a friend or maintain a relationship. If a friend can only be someone that you speak to every day, visit often and invite to holiday dinners, then sure, maintaining more than 150 of those relationships wouldn’t leave you enough time to eat, work and sleep. That’s a pretty narrow definition, though, and one that feels more than a bit dated in our digital world.
When I’m building a relationship (online or otherwise) I place real value on the small interactions. It might be a colleague, someone totally new, or the person who works the counter at the best local lunch spot. If you value the time that you spend with another person, then you don’t have to be in constant contact to maintain a healthy relationship. Besides, if we’re talking about the difference between friends and acquaintances, we have to recognize that most of our close friends began as acquaintances in the first place.
Expanding Your Influence
Now, back to those big social connection counts. You may have noticed that I like to put myself out there. I love meeting new people. It’s never been about numbers with me, and I certainly don’t place an upper limit on the amount of people that I connect with. The key is that if we maintain a broad range of relationships online, we’re really moving from one sphere of influence to another.
In other words, those 150 – 200 friends are on a sort of rotation. It’s not that I forget about people. Life just has a way of directing you toward one sphere or another, depending on what you’re doing at the time. For instance, one of the best things about starting college is opening yourself up to a huge group of new people, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your friends from back home. That process continues after college when we begin a new job, move to a new town, pick up a new hobby or sign up for a new social platform.
So give your current relationships the time that they deserve, but don’t let that stop you from connecting with new people online. Life rarely follows a straight line. It meanders from one point to the next, and I’m always excited to meet the people who are waiting around the next corner.
Nicole Scott: Speaking of authentic engagement, you also have quite a lot of speaking experience under your belt. Reasonably so, many startups stay secluded until their ideas are fully fleshed into something confidently presentable, but being interactive in-person is also extremely essential for an idea to flourish. Exactly how essential is active participation in the startup and social media community outside of one’s screens, for instance, conventions or meet-ups?
Ted Rubin: Active participation in the startup, social media, and other communities outside of one’s screens is vital to have a broad understanding of what is happening and when. Our bubbles are definitely important from a support perspective, but if you only see things from your viewpoint and perspective, you are more than likely not truly understanding your consumer.
Nicole Scott: Do you think the online marketing movement is currently or is moving toward more genuine interactions with their follower base? Explain a little bit about how you predict the future of social media will move as far as priorities and directions of start-ups and businesses alike.
Ted Rubin: 2019 needs to be the year of doing what I call… Looking People in the Eye Digitally. The last few decades of marketing tactics have made us lazy communicators. Most often we don't even pay attention to who we are talking to other than via the data we collect (and even that's a maybe). In order to fix this and really start to benefit from social relationships (both as individuals and as companies), we need to start "looking people in the eye digitally." We don’t need to fit our world to digital, we need to fit digital to our world.
It’s time to stop making excuses, and start bringing in-person social skills to the digital world. All of the positive benefits are out there waiting, and it’s up to us to make the effort to realize them.
Nicole Scott: Many businesses are even starting to move away from Facebook, WhatsApp, and even Instagram, despite its boom in popularity in the last several years. What do you think is the cause of this, and what do you think people will replace it with, if anything at all? Will people will just gravitate back to old methods and try making them work again or revolutionizing them in some way?
Ted Rubin: Personally, and with all the marketing events I MC/Host nationally (40+ annually) I do not see this happening. There are a lot of complaints out there, but other than media properties with niche audiences or connectivity, Facebook, Google, and Amazon own the advertising world, and all the nonsense talk about invasion of privacy is mostly by the those "old" methods because they WILL NOT work again.
As my business partner John Andrews and I have been saying over and over... nobody cares about privacy... so can the media stop whining about it. The bottom line is this, of course people care about their privacy but perhaps not as much as the media protests. Personally, I'm happy to exchange privacy for making my life more simple. Facbook, Amazon, Google, Apple etc. can have plenty of data about me if they will use it to help me streamline my shopping, discover new things, and generally remove friction. I actually believe the bad actors in this situation are most often the brands that are using the data provided by these platforms in an irresponsible way.
Nicole Scott: With social media’s ever changing behaviors, do you think it’s more helpful or hurtful to view this space as something ever shifting? Do you think there’s enough consistency or dependency in the industry to keep people believing it’s a necessity for success?
Ted Rubin: I am going to respond to this question from a slightly different perspective, that of ARROGANCE. It’s hard to overstate how important confidence is to success, and how easy it is for confidence to become arrogance. It can grow from little things. Maybe you contributed a big idea to the project but felt that you didn’t get enough credit. Or maybe you got too much credit. Perhaps you see the positive trajectory of the team you’re a part of and overstate your part in it. It’s OK to be proud of your work and to foster pride in teamwork, but when that morphs into feelings of superiority, your whole team can start assuming that past results guarantee future success.
“A confident, level-headed leader knows that arrogance is bad for business, and that times of success are when they need to temper confidence.
No matter where it originates, arrogance is bad for business. A confident, level-headed leader knows this, and knows that times of success are when they need to temper confidence. You want team members to feel they’ve contributed, but not that they are more valuable than the rest of the team. As a leader or a team member, you also need to check yourself constantly, to make sure you’re not sowing the seeds of over-confidence in your business and marketing.
It’s important to stay vigilant because arrogance can destroy a successful business or team from the inside. When one team member feels they’re more important than the rest and their attitude goes unchecked, suddenly the rest of the team may not be so willing to engage and share their own ideas. An arrogant team member is willing to sacrifice the good of the whole to continue to feel important.
It starts with you
Of course, this isn’t just a risk for teams. It’s also something that we all must address on a personal level. When you come up with a great idea, put in the work to bring it to reality, and see your idea lead to success for your business, of course you should be feeling confident! However, stay humble and don’t let complacency creep in or the damage can escalate. You feel the confidence of success, so maybe next time around you put in a little less effort and expect to get the same results. Then, what happens when that lesser effort doesn’t lead to the results you hoped? Well, it’s got to be someone else’s fault, right? Arrogance might tell you to look outside of yourself and place blame, when the real problem is much closer to home.
The cure for arrogance is a willingness to look at your actions through a lens of humility. Honest self-evaluation can be hard, but it’s incredibly valuable. In good times and bad, it starts with asking: How can I do a better job? No matter how well you and your team are doing, there is always room for improvement. Just as importantly, no matter how well something has worked in the past, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to be the best thing for your business moving forward. The old saying that “pride goeth before the fall” is true! People who take a step back and reflect periodically, often find more ways to improve their performance than their self-important colleagues.
Beware the dangers of pride and arrogance in business. You never want to feel like you have ‘arrived’ – no matter how well things are going, how hard you worked to contribute to that success, and how much your team values your input. Confidence is a powerful, positive thing, but only when it’s tempered by a healthy dose of humility.
Nicole Scott: Let’s sum up with some final thoughts: if you could give someone the most essential advice about how they should react to 2019’s potential as far as social media, marketing, and engagement is concerned, what do you feel is the most important idea to emphasize? Maybe advice potentially underground in the industry or often overlooked?
Ted Rubin: The authentic practitioners of social marketing – those who last, build connections, and foster relationships – know how to be authentic, honest, and real, without going over the top. They might touch on a controversial subject, but they’ll do it thoughtfully, rather than offering a rapid-fire opinion on every trending topic. They’ll let you in on meaningful details of their personal lives without sharing so much that you feel like you’re at someone else’s family reunion. They’re not perfect, but they embrace that fact and accept that they can’t please everyone.
Most importantly, they’re comfortable in their own skin – which is important both online and out in the world. I gravitate toward people who are authentic and confident in who they are, and I try to be the same way when dealing with other people. I may not always say exactly what you want to hear, but what I do say is coming from an honest place. My opinions are just mine, and I try to provide enough background that you’ll understand where I’m coming from, even if you don’t ultimately agree.
On a marketing, social, and influence level, you’ll often go much farther being authentic than you will by only saying and doing the expected. But this isn’t just about building a following. Being who you are, connecting with the people who matter, and refusing to be dragged down by the negative, ultimately makes for a happier life with more freedom. Just be “you,” and the rest will come along.
Relationships are like muscle tissue… the more they are engaged, the stronger and more valuable they become. The ability to build relationships and flex that emotional connection muscle is what makes social so valuable.