Chris Brogan knows social media like few do. He was using it in the late 1980s, when the only platforms were green-screen bulletin boards over ultra-slow dial-up modems. But he saw something magical there.

by Dann Anthony Maurno | March 01, 2011 | (0)

Chris Brogan knows social media like few do. He was using it in the late 1980s, when the only platforms were green-screen bulletin boards over ultra-slow dial-up modems. But he saw something magic there.

“Suddenly, I’m meeting people in a social setting who are into what I’m into, versus meeting them by proximity,” he says.

Some 25 years later, Brogan is a social media guru. He literally wrote the book on it; he is co-author of The New York Times bestseller Trust Agents, about using the Web to build trust, reputation and relationships. He is a featured columnist in Entrepreneur magazine, and his blog is No. 3 in the Ad Age Power 150 and was ranked by Technorati as one of the top 100 blogs in the world (alongside Ariana Huffington, Perez Hilton and TechCrunch). Pepsi, Comcast, General Motors and Microsoft have all paid handsomely for his wisdom, and beginning in May he’ll share that knowledge with meeting professionals through a column in One+.

Relationships Before Transactions

It is no accident that Brogan’s company is called Human Business Works.

“What I’ve been teaching all along is how to use these tools to become human, at a distance,” Brogan says.

The online world of the 1990s had a feeling of distance, because the Internet was used as a broadcast outlet.

“The tools didn’t facilitate interaction. Calling [the company] Human Business Works points out that in business, you’re hoping for a relationship, not a transaction.”

People trust, admire and interact with people.

“This matters to [meeting professionals] because you’re looking for recurring business. You’re looking for the opportunity to serve a community—that’s what MPI members do. So ‘Human Business’ reminds people who work with us that that’s what we’re there for; not always to maximize revenues as much as to create longer-term relationships.”

The maximized revenues naturally follow. 

Used right, Brogan says, social media helps to build those relationships before, during and after an event. Before, a community can gather in a moderated forum, or simply in a LinkedIn community or on a Facebook page. They whip up enthusiasm among themselves for the event and recommend it to others. 

At the event, attendees are not meeting for the first time at a cocktail mixer and reading one another’s “Hello, My Name Is” badges; they have already established a rapport and found common interests. And they know one another by sight. Brogan makes his face conspicuous in his blogs, on his website and in YouTube videos.

“I want people to find me—people who can introduce me to other people I should meet.”

As attendees maintain those relationships they’ve built, they become better prospects to attend next year.

“If people attend and don’t feel they’ve met new people, they’ll go home without any interest in coming back. So there’s a huge opportunity to ensure the success of that event [this year and the next],” Brogan says. 

Relationships Sell

So why waste time with online registration and direct mailers? Why not just hook attendees on Facebook? 

“Anytime a planner uses these media as a broadcast channel, they’re wrong,” Brogan says. “We get enough blurts already, and we don’t respond to it,” he says referring to one-way messages like direct mail and e-mail. “We respond to two-way information—a conversation.”

So the method in social media is to engage others in a conversation—alongside each blog or forum is a call to action, such as attending an event.

That is another opportunity for meeting professionals to use social media tools directly on an event website to engage prospective attendees.

“You can drive someone to a website. But if I’m not sure I’m going to attend, can I talk to somebody there? And is it really easy to have a social media conversation, or do I have to call an 800 number?”

That, Brogan believes, could be the point at which you lose a prospect; a multitasker or social media enthusiast may simply not bother to use the phone. 

Perhaps engagement and conversation seem too soft for aggressive meeting professionals. But social media is not communications lite; people communicate through social media to engage with friends and are increasingly comfortable using the tools in business. And with its opt-in nature, people who get in touch have volunteered to be leads. They have qualified themselves. 

But they can disqualify themselves just as easily, especially when faced with a hard sell.

“In social media, at least the commons like Twitter and Facebook, those are opt-in,” Brogan says. “So if you’re in the commons leg humping to get me to go to a meeting, I can opt out of your conversation and never see you again. You really have to respect the conversation.”

Sure you’re on the clock and have a quota. But as Brogan advised in a whimsical YouTube post, “You’ve got to engage people like they’re real human beings. Then if you sense that they need your product…talk about what you have to offer.”

Something else meeting planners can do with social media is sales nurturing. Brogan describes classic sales nurturing as, “This horrendous thing where a sales guy would call a person again and again, until that person finally says ‘yes.’” Social media create new tools for reaching out and establishing a relationship that leads to business. Brogan met a business associate from New Zealand because they connected online over their mutual admiration of Batman. The business relationship came later, when they both attended a conference in Boston. 

Is that sort of manipulative? Forced? It may feel that way in America, Brogan says, but it is the way of business in Japan (and it works).

“There, the social strata is tied tightly to the corporate world. In America, we have some relationships with business friends, but we’re supposed to make friends with our neighbors so we can have cookouts. I don’t want to crush the Weber grill, but we’re having this daily consensual cookout with the whole world now. We can talk with an associate in Japan as though it’s over the back fence and perhaps do business.”

Connections and Business

All of that aside, social media can ease the business of meeting and event planning.

“Connections are the bread and butter of event planning—you need a network. There are event planners in the office next door to me, a company called Destination Partners, and they’re forever on the phone saying, ‘This bus contract failed, do we know who can get us another?’

“So, how can you make your social network a more value-resonant network? How do you use serendipity to get a better response?”

Serendipity is, by definition, luck—unexpected good fortune, sometimes divinely provided. But Brogan creates his own good fortune through Twitter.

“Your phone doesn’t accidentally add 200 or 300 new contacts,” he observed in a 2009 talk. “Twitter does; new people come and find what you’re doing,” and Twitter connections become people on whom you can call. 

“Every day I need something, and I ask Twitter instead of Google, and I find something I need in a business capacity. I’ll hear from someone who tells me, ‘My brother is a CEO of a company that does that,’ and I have that connection.”

Pay attention to this, Brogan says; your connections will be more important than your résumé, particularly in the meeting and business event industry.

“I’ve maintained for a few years now that at some point, when we go to a job interview, the person across the desk will ask, ‘Who do you know?’ instead of, ‘What do you know?’ It’s going to matter.”

Brogan had to interrupt our conversation and leap onto a conference call with a client. He was talking the client through measuring the tangible ROI in social media.

“In this budget-challenged time, you need material impact, and here’s one way to do that,” he says. (See “Untangling the Value of Social Media” in the October 2010 edition of One+ for more on the ROI of social media.)

A Batman bobblehead doll seemed to nod and listen in on the call; Brogan sat in front of four Batman paintings.

It is no accident that Brogan is a Batman aficionado; they both enjoy tools.

“In the fictional world where Batman exists, there are real superheroes with powers. [But] he’s just some schmoe with a bunch of gadgets and tools and he has to keep up.”

And Batman keeps up with Superman, wonderfully well, with tools of his own creation. 

“Talking to MPI’s members is going to give me an opportunity to share ways they can improve their business using these tools,” Brogan says. “These social tools aren’t everything; I’m not blind to think the tools I’m using are the only way one markets. But I’d say that, should you have not executed anything better than Twitter and a Facebook page, we’ll have a lot to talk about.”

And Brogan is excited to do that.

“That’s my win: helping educate someone to take a few more steps into that water.” One+

(Photo by Stuart Garfield)

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