Recently, we participated in an interview with the new website Missouri.com. The interview was part of a series of talks with small business owners and innovators from the Show-Me State sponsored by our client Master Your Card Missouri.
Missouri.com: What inspired you to focus on hiring and developing Missouri-based talent from the start? How has this decision shaped the vision and direction of Rocket Group and what kinds of results has it yielded within your community?
Gus: When I started my company and decided we were going to be a virtual agency, I had a lot of options. I could have contracted internationally or nationally, but I decided there was plenty of talent here in our backyard and we would do our best to showcase and create opportunities for those Missourians. I am a Missouri kid at heart and want to take care of our own first.
Missouri.com: What are some ways that small business owners can start using social media to improve their bottom lines?
Gus: The easiest, and most successful, way to start using Social Media is just to tell the stories of your business and yourself. Letting your audience see behind the curtain, what influences you, or how you have come to be where you are are great sources of content and are messages that will create the social relationship you are trying to build with your customers and prospects. You can’t be selling all the time on these channels, as people will just tune you out.
Small business owners also have to learn to fish where the fish is and fish when they are biting. By studying the audience interaction and they will quickly be able to determine what days and times of days will lead to the greatest interaction. They also can quickly determine what platform their audiences are on. Here in Missouri if you aren’t on Facebook but you are on Google+ you are really wasting your time in reaching a local audience. I think twitter is the greatest thing ever but still concentrate my business marketing on Facebook because that is where the greatest number of audience members are.
Missouri.com: Can you talk about the significance of your business revenue model shifting predominantly from political clients to business clients over the last 3 years? How does your approach differ when dealing with different sectors?
Gus: As far as my approach, I generally work the same way in across all fields. I remain honest, open and direct in discussions leading to creating any work. I set the goals and temper the expectations that any one tool is the silver bullet to winning an election or doubling someone’s bottom line.
The decision to grow our business related client work came from several fronts. First, we work exclusively for conservative candidates and causes and almost exclusively at the state legislative level in Missouri. We were there in the days when the current conservative majorities were in the elected minority and played a key role in the majority shifts in 2002. After that election, I accepted the challenge of running my company and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Missouri State Senate at the same time which I did until the end of 2010. Thanks to technology advances in that decade and the structure of my contract employees and the legislative schedule I was able to do both jobs successfully at the same time.
Once I left the Senate, due to term limits, I able to dedicate more time to increasing our business related work in the Mid-Missouri area and have been rather successful in that effort. Our political campaign work is still a significant piece of our business, and we had a successful 2012 going 5-1 in our major campaigns.
Missouri.com: What are some social media trends that you’re excited about?
Gus: The amount of analytical data that is almost available in real-time in Social Media is extremely exciting. This information gives us the ability to see what is working and what isn’t which allows us to pivot messaging and tools. Instead of committing client dollars to traditional media and being stuck with one message for weeks at a time, we can now make brand-consistent changes and updates at least daily.
The use of photographs and video, which show the influence of Pinterest and YouTube across all platform’s is also very exciting. This just gives a brand even greater ways to highlight behind the curtain operations, employee appreciations, and customer satisfactions.
Missouri.com: What tips can you give our audience for creating great website content that motivates potential customers?
Gus: Blog. This gives you a way to be as personable and direct as you are in Social Media. Social Media should be used as a tool to drive audiences back to your website and they should find the same voice(s) there as they do on Facebook, etc. We try to use video and photos in our blog posts as much as we do on Social Media to help tell our stories.
Businesses, especially small businesses, should always have their contact information and links or embeds to maps of their location on their sites as well. So many businesses, especially in the hospitality field, forget to put that critical information on their sites or make it hard to find.
Always look at your website’s user experience as you would when you are looking at sites that drive you crazy. If it makes you crazy, why would you do it on your own site?
Missouri.com: What advice would you give to someone who would like to use Pinterest to promote their brand but isn’t sure where to start?
Gus: To be honest, Pinterest is a weak spot with us. Just last week, they announced the release of brand pages for Pinterest so we will have to start paying greater attention to it. We have always recommended certain types of business – especially consumer and consumable goods – take advantage of this platform to highlight their products. Again, this is where awesome photography can play a big role in the future of your operations and a reason why we ourselves have made recent upgrades in our own camera equipment and capabilities.
Along with LinkedIn, this is an untapped gold mine for businesses in our Mid-Missouri market looking to make a splash online. The local audiences might be small right now but they are highly engaged and you can own your competitive real estate there very quickly.
Master Your Card – Missouri is a public education campaign from MasterCard
Missouri.com: Can you expand on your plans to start including mobile marketing to your already long list of services?
Gus: Stats don’t lie. Nate Silver told me that.
So much consumer brand interaction is taking place on mobile devices, even while they are physically in a business location, businesses need to be ready. Their websites need to be optimized for mobile, they need to make sure they are the “Mayors” of their FourSquare, Google Places, Facebook brand page, Yelp and more so they know what consumers are saying about them. This is something, again, that our Mid-Missouri market is not deeply prepared for and it may be our evangelist mission for 2013.
Missouri.com: As a self-proclaimed “Social Media evangelist” what has inspired you to offer public appearances and free seminars? What are the most common questions you get during these sessions?
Gus: That was good timing. Well, first, we didn’t self proclaim that we were, Jason Falls told us we should be and we accepted that challenge. Study after infographic after frustrated marketer have shown that the middle of the Midwest, us, are the last little island to have accepted platforms like twitter and LinkedIn. We use Facebook at normal personal rates but lag in business page development and interaction.
I have enjoyed speaking about and sharing my knowledge on Social Media, of course there is always the higher goal of gaining business from these appearances but I go out of my way not to make the presentations all sales-pitchy.
According to the Law of Uncle Ben, which I wrote and will someday be court-ordered to stop publicizing: As Social Media professionals, enthusiasts, and influencers it is our responsibility to educate all interested parties on the true power of these platforms.
The questions I normally get are the basic ones about security and set up. There are still a lot of people who don’t grasp the basics which many of us take for granted. The questions that frustrate me are from the folks who were doing, for example, Facebook in one of many abusive or wrong ways and then blamed the tool for the failure of the message.
Missouri.com: What are 3 things companies should and should not expect from social media?
Gus: Good content and commitment are the only legitimate ways to do find success on Social Media.
Companies should never expect Social Media will be easy, free, or grant instant success. These tools change on an almost daily basis which is why no one can rightly call themselves and expert at this stuff. It is going to cost them time and money to get up to speed and build an audience. Also, someone might be able to quickly build an audience of hundreds or a thousand for their small business by asking their friends and friends of friends to LIKE their page but then what? Can those fans do business with your restaurant or car wash if they live 2000 miles away? Finding and building an audience that actually does or can do business with you is the toughest and most time consuming thing about Social Media.
They should expect consumers will say bad things about them online, that their competition is watching everything they do on Social Media, and that it can be the greatest tool they have in their marketing mix if they commit to using Social Media in the proven successful ways.