Our Interview with “Scalable Intimacy’s” Mike Troiano

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For the latest edition of HEAT, we picked the brain of one of our favorite social media gurus, Mike Troiano (@MikeTrap), to find a little bit more about how he has made the transition from “varsity ad guy” to popular social media branding blogger at http://scalableintimacy.com/. Mike, currently based in the Boston suburbs, is constantly providing his readers and followers with insights into how brands should operate in a “social” online environment (my favorite tip from Mike: “Brands on Twitter that don’t follow you back might as well stick to print. Or draw on caves”).

Read on for Mike’s thoughts on how social media can help brands build scalable and intimate relationships, the “socialization” of B2B marketing, and the importance of maintaining a stable “buzz” at the social media cocktail party.mike

451: You have a extensive background of experience working in the ad business. When did you realize that you wanted to make the shift into digital marketing and found Ogilvy & Mather Interactive? Actually, was it your choice?

MT: No, that one actually wasn’t. I was working for Martin Sorrell at the time as a kind of troubleshooter, and he sent me in to fix “a problem at Ogilvy with American Express.” The solution to that problem became O&MI.

451: When you first started the interactive side of the agency I bet you never could have anticipated that the Internet would look like it does today, littered with social media technologies. Am I wrong? Did you anticipate that this would eventually be the web’s next big progression?

MT: Looking back, the signposts were there. It was obvious to us that e-mail and chat were the real engines of AOL, not the “professional” content. But did I envision that leading to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter et al? No way.

451: So tell me a little bit about where you are now, and how you are attempting to make sense of the shift in the way that we all interact with brands and media. Are you 100% invested/convinced in the viability of the social Web to be the central focus of marketing for the foreseeable future? 

MT: Yes. I would go so far as to say that while the move to digital media was incremental, the move to social is transformational. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious geek… we’ve reached the end of the broadcast-dominant paradigm. Brands need to make the leap and engage to stay relevant, or – eventually – they’re going to dry up and blow away.

451: You do a great job describing your blog and overall thesis of social media marketing on your blog’s “Manifesto,” but can you give us a high-level overview of what you mean by “Scalable Intimacy” as it relates to social media?  

MT: Scalable Intimacy is how I think about the true promise of social media… to enable brands to build the kind of “intimate” relationships that are only possible with authentic dialogue, on a “scale” sufficient to impact the operating results of the enterprise. That’s it.

451: That overview should segue nicely into a question about your blog post on engagement vs. activation. In essence, is the ROI of effective social media quantifiable in measurements like sales, response rates, signups, etc? Could we aggregate all of that and just say, “qualified leads?”

MT: It goes beyond sales and beyond leads. Activation might enable a brand to answer a critically important product question in a timely fashion, or reduce their unit customer service response cost, or grasp the external reality in a way that influences their business strategy. It depends on the business goal, really. Engagement is about creating the means; Activation is about delivering the end.

451: Do you have any examples of companies that have effectively developed marketing content online that is engaging enough to drive a good amount of activation?

MT: The usual suspects… JetBlue, Dell, Zappos, all do both to one extent or another. HubSpot offering a free SEO audit to people who visit it’s content-crammed blog… that’s activation. Tony Robbins interspersing product promo with inspirational messages on Twitter is another. Chris Brogan using his online influence to drive attendance at his shows… It’s everywhere, I think, at least among people who seem to know what they’re doing.

451: It is typically harder for the B2B marketer to be “social” with their brand. Have you found that the social web opens up opportunities for these marketers that may not have existed before?

MT: I guess. If you’ve ever been to a B2B trade show, you know there’s a strong social component in meatspace. When a critical mass of decision-makers in those industries are on the social nets – as is inevitable – it will happen there as well.

451: Where do you see this all going in the next 5-10 years, and what will the typical brand manager/marketer look like?

MT: Wish I knew. What I do know, though, is that brand managers will start to look a lot more like sales guys, and a lot less like MBA-types. It’s time to get dirty and go sell some sh*t. Old school.

451: Lastly, riffing off the “social media is a cocktail party” analogy. What if you’re a brand that has a “drinking problem,” likes to take things to the next level, and is often too edgy or over-the-top? Do you play in the social media marketing sandbox too and risk doing something controversial, or do you stay out?

MT: Social media is about doing stuff that’s worthy of attention. If the attention you get is negative, adjust your behavior. Most attention is good, though – just don’t be more “drunk” than the people you hang out with.

Mike Troiano is the founding CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Interactive and an established tech venture entrepreneur. Currently, Mike serves on the board of Crimson Hexagon, a Cambridge-based technology company that distills meaning from the online conversation. Read his professional blog at http://scalableintimacy.com/ and check out his personal blog at http://troiano.me/

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