How many people in the world blog about what you blog about? How niche is your niche? In the age of content shock, how can you create something that gets noticed and read?
AgoraPulse took a punt last year and tried something new. They added a new blog (and podcast) to their site with the aim of getting noticed, of becoming an authority in the social media marketing world.
I talked to chief scientist on ‘The Social Media Lab’ Scott Ayres and asked him about the project and why he was the right guy for the job.
One thing I think that is really interesting is that you’re not just the guy behind social media lab, you’ve had quite a varied career, you’ve been working on lots of businesses. When was your first business?
I’ve probably done everything under the sun. From delivering appliances, to running restaurants to running my own businesses.
When did I get started in business? I think, 12 years ago. I owned a car shipping business shipping cars around the country. That’s when I really fell in love with working for myself and working from home. That’s where I fell in love with social media too, from doing the social media and marketing for that business.'I was constantly on Tweetdeck doing searches for people who were shipping cars and I was finding clients left and right.' @scottayres @agorapulseClick To Tweet
I was going to ask that. It doesn’t seem like one day you’re running a car brokerage and the next day you’re doing social media. Was there a moment where you said, well I’m going to give this a go?
The interesting thing there is. The guy’s name is Gary Remy. He has, it was a social media but it’s now an search engine company in Heuston.
I was working at this company before I had my own and he was ‘Hey, you gotta sign up for this site called LinkedIn’. This is when MySpace was still hot. Facebook hadn’t even arrived at this point. So he’s saying ‘You gotta get on LinkedIn, that’s where everyone is finding a lot of business’.
For shipping cars, our market was B2B so it was a lot of car dealers, people at auctions, that sort of thing. So I signed up for LinkedIn and started getting tonnes of business just by networking. And I went ‘Wow, there’s some power here networking online that I’d never realised before’.
Then, when I started my own business about a year or so after that I got addicted to using Tweetdeck. I was constantly on Tweetdeck doing searches for people who were shipping cars and I was finding clients left and right.
Facebook came along and I became a rabid user of ”Fanpage Engine’. It was a product by Hubze. This was back in the old FBML days [Facebook had a version of HTML that you could use to create custom pages on Facebook]. Hubze had this product where dummies like me could create these little custom landing pages on Facebook and they were hot back then.
I became a big user of their app, even doing training videos because other users were really trying to find out how to use it. I was playing around with social and I was bored sometimes during the day because it wasn’t always busy, so I started making videos and training about that tool and blogging about it and then one day David from Hubze messaged me and said ‘You know more about our product that we do, why don’t you write some blogs for me?’
So I started writing for him, I was blasting out three or four a week, I was writing a lot of news stuff and it parlayed into me working for him part-time and at some point, he said ‘Why don’t you just worked for me full time? You can run our blog, you can do our training and support’. That’s how I fell into social media. It was a complete accident.
I worked for David for 3 years. That company kinda fell apart because Facebook changed from FBML to iframes. I moved over to Post Planner for 3 or 4 years and now I’m at AgoraPulse for the last year and a half.
So you’re a bit of a serial blogger or content creator essentially for social media tools?
Yeah, the bad thing is about Fanpage Engine or Hubze is that when that company closed, the website guy erased everything. I had written 2,500 blog posts. It was a ridiculous amount, maybe 2,000. All those posts just went away one day, all that great traffic with my name on it that came up in searches on Google. That was a bummer because our blog had actually been named in that top 10 social media blogs by Social Media Examiner.
Post Planner won that too when I was blogging for them and of course, AgoraPulse got it, but I can’t take any credit for AgoraPulse taking it because I hadn’t started writing for them yet.
I love blogging about social media and breaking it down so that business owners can understand it and get past all the garbled talk. I like to get to the nuts and bolts because I’m the guy who’s been there and done it. I’ve been in the trenches, figured out a business and I even have a side business of my own.'I do about 90% of my business on Facebook, that's bookings through messages and comments. I run a lot of ads so social media has been huge for me when it comes to that business.' @scottayres Click To Tweet
Is it a bouncy castle business?
Yeah, I rent inflatables. I started out with 4 or 5 units and now we’re 5 years later and we have 35 inflatables, a warehouse, I have 2 workers and that has all been because of social media. I don’t do any other marketing except for social media.
I’m in a small town in Texas that’s probably about 8,000 people and we’ve got a Facebook page with about 5,500 likes on it. I do about 90% of my business on Facebook, that’s bookings through messages and comments. I run a lot of ads so social media has been huge for me when it comes to that business. It’s been fun to play around to see what works.
It’s one of those things you’ve probably experienced, there are a lot of ‘experts’ out there who talk about social media a lot but they only do digital stuff, they’re only selling their courses or their training and it doesn’t always parlay into the local businesses, especially those hyperlocal like my bounce house business that are tangible products.
And you’re using it now for the AgoraPulse podcast, it is like putting something a little bit different into the mix.
Exactly, if you look at all the businesses around the globe most of them are local businesses. Not everyone is selling digital products. I think a lot of us in the social media space get caught up in that and forget what it’s like to run a pizza joint. What it’s like to have a clothing store on the corner or the insurance company or the real estate office? So I’ve always had that mindset when I’ve written blogs or had podcasts, how can the real person apply this?'I think a lot of us in the social media space get caught up in that and forget what it's like to run a pizza joint. What it's like to have a clothing store on the corner or the insurance company or the real estate office?' @scottayresClick To Tweet
Which brings me on to the Social Media Lab. You were brought on to work on this specific project with AgoraPulse. Tell me a little bit about how you came up with the idea for that or why you wanted to do that specific topic?
It was kinda funny, I got out of social media for a while, for about 6 or 7 months and just was burned out by sitting in front of my computer. So I just worked on my inflatable business and I was actually a substitute teacher in my local high school.
I was persuing the teaching gig and then started talking to Emeric who’s our CEO. He said ‘Hey, we have this idea, we’re looking for the five-legged goat‘ which I guess is some kind of equivalency to a unicorn, it’s rare to find. They were looking for somebody who had written about social media and was well connected on social media and could run these detailed experiments about different practices in social media that may or may not work. I came on in January of 2017 tasked with starting the whole project of Social Media Lab.
Emeric is the kinda guy that if he says he’s going to do something he’s going to do it. AgoraPulse spends about 15,000 dollars a month on these projects, whether it’s through paid organic or staffing.
The whole goal is, there’s a lot of blogs out there and I’ve written these blogs that are just fluff pieces. They’re just newsjacking, a new feature comes out so you write a 1,000-word blog post to talk about it, to get traffic, to get eyeballs on it but you’re not really adding a lot of new information to the social media ecosphere.
The lab conducts in-depth social media experiments that are typically 4-6 weeks long. They take a lot of pulling of data so we’re kinda becoming data nerds. That’s what Emeric wanted, he wanted to create something that was different from the regular blog, something that kinda branded us a little bit differently and made AgoraPulse stick out.
He hired me in January, and we had this grandiose idea that in April we were going to launch. But March rolled around and we didn’t have a website yet. I’d already done, 2, 3, 4 experiments, had them written and ready to go but we had no site.
So we decided we’ll launch in May. Then May came and we still didn’t have a website, then May became June and June became July and finally, in August we knew we had to get this thing launched so we started in the middle of August.
It was the weirdest thing for me because we’re a global team but most of the marketing arm is based in the US, but I felt for about 8 months people probably thought I wasn’t doing anything because there was nothing to show from it. I’d created some cool experiments but had no way of getting it out there. I felt bad for a while that it was taking so long to get it started. It was a rough go but we learned a lot from it.
You know that’s kinda good to hear, particularly for small businesses because I know I’ve got projects that I’m only beginning to get done now that was supposed to get done in January. To me, it’s a relief that bigger businesses do this too.
Yeah, sometimes you think you’ve got a start date and if this doesn’t happen you’ve got to be willing to keep moving. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it. When we launched it in late August it wasn’t 100%, we just wanted to get it out there, get it started. Once we get started we can develop our processes, we can tweak.
We’re 30 experiments in now and we’re still tweaking the process. Even now this quarter I’m working on setting up some better minimums for our testing. We’re tweaking our podcast a lot. Sometimes we go every week, sometimes every other. We’re working on how do we market a podcast?
Yeah, I have to say it’s very hard. Part of it is persistence, I’m beginning to get the download stats now but I’m 2 years in. It’s not the easiest thing to get people to listen. It’s a whole different thing trying to market a podcast.
It is and social media is super crowded space so it’s how do you stand out and catch people’s attention? Our blog part of The Social Media Lab has done phenomenally, we’ve exceeded all of our goals as far as page views go. People have joined our email list and even converted over to paid customers which is our ultimate goal. It’s not our main motivator but it is an ultimate goal.
But the podcast is just kinda like we’re running in the mud. We’re running in place, we haven’t moved the way we wanted to so I’m I’m experimenting which will probably become a blog post at some point of how can I double our downloads. What do I need to do to get it out there more?'Our blog part of The Social Media Lab has done phenomenally, we've exceeded all of our goals as far as page views go. People have joined our email list and even converted over to paid customers' @scottayres Click To Tweet
That’s interesting, very interesting because sometimes I think it’s just me. I do think a podcast is a hard thing to market. It is the one question you see in podcasting groups ‘How do I get more listeners?’ and nobody’s really got a solid answer. It would make a great Social Media Lab actually.
I’m in a lot of those groups too on Facebook especially and I’ll post a question or answer saying that I’m having a hard time getting listeners and they’ll say ‘what’s your niche’ and I’ll say ‘Social media marketing’ and they’ll say ‘Umm shouldn’t you know how to do that?’ but it’s so different. It’s a different mindset the people who listen to podcasts. They don’t read the blog. They’re different, you have to figure out the iTunes market, how do you get up on the front page? How do you get yourself out there to get found?
iTunes and Apple products seem to be where most people, particularly for our podcast are listening to us. Stitcher does OK, Spotify does better than Stitcher but next to nobody listens on the website. It’s all through the Apple products so we’re looking at how do we figure out the Apple market and get discovered more by them?
If you come up with an answer you can tell me!
You mentioned at the beginning that the real goal of this was to put AgoraPulse out there as being an authority on social media, do you have metrics in place for that?
We did in the beginning, we only want to set 2 goals, set too many and we’re just annoyed by our own goals. So the only 2 metrics that we look at are page views and downloads. We have grown our email list for the lab, I think we’re a little over 10,000 now which has happened quicker than we expected and they have a really good open rate too but page views and downloads were our ultimate goals.'We are starting to stir things up and we're disrupting things because we are talking about things that people aren't talking about.' @scottayresClick To Tweet
I guess from a brand awareness point of view that is the most important thing isn’t it, that people are reading and listening?
Yeah it’s nice when you get props from people in the social media space that say they listened to that last one or that read our blog and are sharing it on social media. We are starting to stir things up and we’re disrupting things because we are talking about things that people aren’t talking about.
We did a test on Instagram ‘If you have emojis in your Instagram account do you get more engagement?‘. A silly sounding thing but is there business value in this? We ran our test on a couple of Instagram accounts and sure enough, when I used emojis in my updates it got more engagement. When I looked at other people’s accounts it did the same thing for them so there was some business value in that. Even though a smiley face or a poop icon isn’t necessarily serious there’s something to it.
Do you have a favourite experiment?
The one that really caught me by surprise was Instagram carousels. They had just launched a month or two before we ran the experiment. A carousel is where you can post multiple photos and people can swipe to see those photos in your post. The theory was that this was a great way for people to engage because they’re going to slow down and engage with each of your photos and swipe through them.
So we tested that to see if that was really true. In the end, every account I ran the test on and then every major account that I looked at, I looked at the Dallas Cowboys, Starbucks, I looked at even Instagram’s account itself. All of the posts at the time of the test that had carousels had lower engagement than regular 1 photo Instagram posts.
That was shocking to me because you think it would change the engagement. Lisa Kalner-Williams who is our product marketing manager who helps us with content is an Instagram junkie, she thinks the problem with carousels is that it’s a different sort of action that people are used to.
On Instagram what are you doing? You’re thumbing up the whole time. To stop and do a left-right action is so different and such a hard thing to do as a hardcore Instagram user and I think that’s why they weren’t successful. Now we need to test them again because it’s 6 months later to see has that changed.
Find the Social Media Lab on:
You can also read the blog and listen here.