Ted Rubin believes in the power of social networks. As the chief marketing officer for E.L.F. Cosmetics from 2008 to 2010, Rubin used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and a network of bloggers to make the company a “social media giant,” according to AdWeek. Now he’s chief social marketing officer at Collective Bias, a social shopper media company, as well as a speaker and contributor to Mashable and I.B.M. Smarter Commerce. Last month, Social Media Marketing magazine recognized Rubin as the most followed chief marketing officer on Twitter, with more than 80,000 followers. He may be best known for coining the phrase “Return on Relationship,” and his book of that name will be published this fall from Tate Publishing. In a recent conversation, Rubin explained his theories on using social media for relationship-building, and how brands can do this at events.
How did you first get involved in social media?
I was with E.L.F. Cosmetics, a family owned business with basically no marketing budget. So they were very happy to let me experiment in this space. They didn’t buy media, and they were hitting a wall with traditional word of mouth. I jumped them into the social space. But, of course, after a time, their big concern was, okay, we may not be spending the money on traditional media, but it is still taking your time, and the time of other people in the company. So where is the value? I had to come up with something to explain it and that’s when I came up with the concept of return on relationships.
So how do you define return on relationship?
Simply put, it’s the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. R.O.I. is simple dollars and cents. R.O.R. is the value, both perceived and real, that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations, and sharing. This is all about the return you get from building relationships and emotional connections and trust and loyalty, and then the sales that come from that. Every major company at one point or another started and probably put millions of dollars into loyalty programs. They saw how great the hotel industry and the airline industry was doing with that. Everybody wanted their points. And they all had data based on that, [such as] how much better was a customer who was in your loyalty program versus someone who was not. If you look at that data, you know what return on relationship means. It just wasn’t called that. Now we have these platforms that enable us to do that every day, every minute of the day, around everything we do, except we’re not measuring it the same way. So people are not as comfortable, because we are not giving away points.
How does this concept impact event strategy?
If you are a big brand and you are doing an event, there was a time when that was only valuable on the couple of days it went on. And then there was the minor residual effect with the one or two articles that might be written about it, the few people that might speak about it afterwards. But now if you wrap a social shell around it—before, during, and after the event—the tweets will go on for weeks. Look at BlogHer. You go to Twitter and Facebook, you’ll find 90 percent of the women who were at this event, all they are talking about is BlogHer. They’re posting pictures, they are doing blog posts, they are talking about it on Facebook, they are tweeting about it. The hashtag is like the town circle. The conversation can go on for an unlimited amount of time.
“I think face to face is the brass ring. Now we have to learn on social platforms to do what we’ve learned to do when we meet people face to face, which is look them in the eye.”
It sounds like you believe Twitter is the most valuable social platform right now.
I think it has the most power. It has the strongest ability to last longer and not disappear. At least for right now, Twitter is definitely the best place to network, build or at least start relationships, and to surround conversation around an event—so far beyond Facebook it’s not even funny. Not even close. Facebook groups are like another community—you have to go to it. It takes too much effort. No one will go there. But if you build a hashtag, all they have to do is put that into their Tweetdeck or whatever management platform they are using to track it and now they can see what people are saying. Twitter is one of the best search engines available for real-time information. Any company that doesn’t have people actively engaged on Twitter is losing out big time.
Any specific tips for using Twitter for events?
Ask for people’s Twitter handle on the registration form. Make the hashtag as short as possible. Follow every single person that uses that hashtag and follow back everybody that follows them.
I would use an application to save people that retweeted me. Then I would start engaging with those people. Thank people for tweeting about the event, tell them, “We’re so glad you are here.” I’d call them by name. I’d make a comment about where they are from. People think that isn’t important, but you would be amazed at how people react if you respond to their tweet and make a personal comment. And yes, interns can do that for you. If that person tweets back and starts asking technical questions about your business, you do need an escalation policy for the [intern] to get the information they need. But there is nothing wrong with using an intern to follow back everybody that uses the hashtag, to follow everybody that follows you, reply to everybody by name, make them feel like you are paying attention to them. I would also be actively tweeting about the event. There are companies you can hire to do this. They live tweet the conference from your handle. They listen to speakers and tweet about the sessions. You amplify your whole event by doing this.
As people become more engaged on social networks, how does that impact in-person events?
I’m a big proponent of face to face. I go to events all over the country. I want to meet the people I meet on social. I probably have met face to face at least 3,000 or 4,000 of my Facebook friends, which is the majority, and probably anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 of my Twitter followers. I think face to face is the brass ring. Now we have to learn on social platforms to do what we’ve learned to do when we meet people face to face, which is look them in the eye. And how do you do that digitally? You look at their background, you look at their bio, you look at their LinkedIn page, so that you know something about them and you can answer them by name.