Gary Vaynerchuk: Successful storytelling on social media

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Gary Vaynerchuk, Chief executive officer and co-founder, VaynerMedia

Gary Vaynerchuk, Chief executive officer and co-founder, VaynerMedia

Gary Vaynerchuk is a social-media–marketing genius. Vaynerchuk first made his mark with Wine Library TV, a video podcast that helped transform his family’s New Jersey liquor store into a $60 million business and tastemaker. Characterized by his outlandish descriptions of vintages and quirky personality, the show made him a cult hero in the wine world. These days, Vaynerchuk boasts more than a million Twitter followers, is a regular on the conference circuit and has authored three books, including his most recent book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. His micro-content agency, VaynerMedia, has created campaigns for the likes of GE, the New York Jets, PepsiCo and Nabisco’s Nilla Wafer cookies. Here, he talks about what works and what doesn’t in social media.

It seems pretty unlikely that someone could parlay a family wine business into a career as a marketing guru. What’s the secret to attracting attention the way you have?

I think it comes down to stage and sizzle, and thankfully I’m good at both. If you’re good at sizzle, you’ll get attention. You need to be PR savvy, and make sure you’re part of the emerging platforms. Of course it’s really important to have a stage. I’ve actually built big businesses. I’m on my second large company, so I’ve proven myself and people listen to what I have to say. And now that I’m a little older I’m using my public speaking, my TV appearances, to get more tangible results for clients. Some people can get attention. There’s very few who can hold it. I’ve done both.

Why are you so attracted to social media?

For me it’s a necessity, a desperate need for relevance. If you’re not producing content for the places where people are actually spending their time, you’re quickly becoming irrelevant. This is e-commerce all over again, the Web circa 1995. When I launched in 1996 everybody made fun of me. There was a lack of understanding of the scale that the Internet was going to bring. Now I see the same lack of understanding of these social platforms. These are places to tell your business stories because that’s where customers’ attention actually is.

People are struggling to figure out how to use social media for marketing. What’s your best advice?

It’s not super complicated. You put content up and you see how your audience responds. There’s no real secret sauce. With social media you have the ability to engage and create a strong contextual relationship with your consumers. The difference between social and traditional advertising is you don’t just put up a billboard or a commercial or a radio ad and then just let it fly. Social media should be social, it’s an ongoing conversation.

What role does analysis play—whether that means old-fashioned human monitoring or computational analytics?

There’s a lot of analytical work that goes into it. At VaynerMedia we pay close attention to what consumers have historically responded to across the Web and we watch that data as it comes in in real time. But at the same time we’ve learned important lessons about how many characters to put in a post, what time to post, what colors do better. It’s really the crossroads of IQ and EQ. This is the intellectual property that’s made us who we are. In my book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, I make a parallel between social media and boxing, which is known as a sweet science.

How does that work day to day?

There’s always a mix of intuition and creativity and trying to understand the overall objective of the business. But that’s also reinforced by what we know historically has worked. And then the question becomes, how do you freshen it up to avoid diminishing returns? You can’t use the same move over and over. It’s a cat and mouse game that’s really about trying to get people to pay attention so you can bring value. And value can be defined as smiling or snickering at a piece of content or it can be educational. If you give a consumer the top five apps to download on her phone and those apps work for her, you’ve delivered value. This is what we think about.

What do you see that brands are doing wrong?

People are using social networks for distribution instead of as native storytelling platforms. They’re just blasting out links. Putting in a little more effort to tell a story through a photo or a quote gets dramatically higher results. People go through Twitter on their phone at a 100th of a second. They’ll scroll right by links but a picture may stop them in their tracks. Also, it’s important to publish content that’s structured for mobile devices. Half the traffic is happening through iPads and smartphones now.

One of your clients, Nabisco’s Nilla Wafers, saw a 9 percent bump in revenue this year. What role did you play in that growth?

The brand hadn’t grown in ten years and the only money they spent this year was with us. They didn’t do any radio, no television, no billboard, no direct mail, no anything else—and they’ve gotten a significant return. We’re creating the images and pictures and the infographics for Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine. You need to put out stories, pictures, quote cards, small pieces of content. It’s about delivering content day in and day out rather than creating one big commercial.

Do you have an editorial calendar or is it more about responding to real-time events?

We produce a content calendar a month in advance, but if the biggest star in America is posting about how much he loves Nilla crackers with vanilla pudding on top of it, everything gets turned on its head. We need to jump on that. Traditional advertising is like being in the movie-making business while what we do more is more breaking news.

What sort of news have you broken?

We do it every day, but recently a very large celebrity was talking about his love for Tropicana, one of our clients. We jumped in. But there are times when we’ve missed opportunities, too. Remember the famous Oreo piece at the Super Bowl? We tried to jump in there for a client but we didn’t have approval on the legal side so it didn’t happen. It taught us an important lesson. If you’re going to produce content in a matter of hours, you’ve got to get legal and the brand team on the same page to move fast enough. There are a lot of business leaders out there who are crippled by their legal department, which causes a business to be a very slow-moving battleship. I believe in the next decade companies that can’t adjust to this new faster reality will really struggle.

You think companies have a decade to adapt?

I do. I’m not naïve. In 1996 when I launched I thought by 2005 everybody was going to buy everything online —but it’s still only 15 percent of commerce. Things take time. That said, a decade comes quicker than people think and I can’t impress enough on the people who might read this that you’re writing your legacy every day with your business decisions. I highly recommend you take this new storytelling method very seriously.

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