On SEO, social media & small business…
…An interview with SugarSpun Marketing‘s Jennifer Evans Cario
Today we feature our interview with Jennifer Evans Cario, founder of SugarSpun Marketing and among “The Women Who Rock SEO – the second wave.” Jennifer talks about her career in internet marketing and SEO, her passion for helping smaller businesses with cost-effective social media marketing strategies, and her upcoming book, Pinterest: An Hour a Day.
As one of the most notable women who rock SEO, you’ve been in and around the industry for about what, 11 years now? Would you share a bit about how you got started in SEO?
Eleven years sounds about right, though I’ve been in online marketing since ’96. I worked my way through college developing web sites and then quickly moved into working as a site manager for a few start-ups.
In 2001, I found myself working for a mid-size chemical company, handling their web site and online marketing. That’s when I stumbled across JimWorld’s Search Engine Forums and started soaking up everything I could about SEO.
When it became apparent that my bosses not only “didn’t get it,” but also didn’t want to get it, I turned in my resignation. A stint as the Web Search Guide at About.com and some private consulting followed, and by 2003, I was running Search Engine Guide, working on my own projects, and speaking at most of the major search related conferences.
You changed course at some part in your career to focus on small business social media marketing. When and why the change in direction?
While SEO fascinated me on many levels, it lacked the creative strategy and the connections with people that have always driven me. When the marketing community started looking at blogging as a marketing channel, I made the shift to that side of the business and haven’t really looked back since.
Because Search Engine Guide focused on the small business audience, and because most of the speakers at industry shows were always interested in focusing on big business, I sort of naturally fell into the role of trying to share budget and time friendly techniques for leveraging social media channels. As a consultant, I’ve always worked with companies of all sizes, but as a speaker and writer, it was really important to me to make sure that the small business audience was addressed.
My grandfather was a small business owner and I always admired him for the work he put in to building his business and for the way he treated his customers. Maybe it’s my way of honoring his memory, or maybe it’s just my love of the Internet’s ability to open the doors to anyone with a great idea and determination…either way, I LOVE making sure the small business audience is getting taken care of.
There has been, and continues to be, a lot of discussion about the merger of search/SEO and social: what’s your take on this?
I think it was something we all saw coming from the first time we noticed a forum post or a blog post show up in a search query. For as long as I’ve been teaching online marketing, I’ve always told people about what I call “The Pinocchio Effect.” You see search engines, like the famous character, want nothing more than to be a “real boy.”
If you look at every algorithmic change we’ve seen get introduced by search engines over the years, pretty much all of them have been designed to replicate human judgment. The goal is to allow a computer (which can “think” way faster than we can) to value a piece of web content like a human being can. So whether you’re looking at keywords, domain age, the social graph or the number of retweets, it’s all designed to determine how valuable a piece of content is in the eyes of a human being.
The massive development of the web into a place defined by social connections makes for an absolute perfect intersect with search. The great news for me…someone who left SEO because I disliked the technical nature of It…is that the work I do on the social media front helps businesses to position themselves to benefit from any future algorithmic shifts that rely on the various types of social graph data to influence placement.
The social media marketing platform has ballooned and keeps growing with new venues such as Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest: where do you see the best social media marketing opportunities for the small business owner?
The best new social media marketing opportunities are wherever your customers are. That’s really what it boils down to.
I can’t think of a single social media channel outside of blogging that holds clear-cut value for every single company. A high end B2B engineering consultancy isn’t going to pull much value from Facebook. Likewise, an organic menu planning service for stay-at-home moms probably won’t be too successful trying to leverage LinkedIn.
I feel it’s the responsibility of every company (and strategist) to look closely at the business goals of the company, spend time researching the target audience and where they are online, and then craft an outreach plan accordingly. Let your goals and tactics define your venue instead of trying to find a way to make it work on the latest buzz site.
That said, services like Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr have all made enough noise and progress over the course of 2012 to warrant serious consideration as a potential venue. I still think Google+ is close to worthless as a social media channel, but its impact on SEO makes it a venue that most companies still have to give consideration to.
We’ve seen less of you at conferences lately and a lot more of you online. What have you been up to on the training front this year?
As with most of the industry that has been in the game since the early days, I was getting burnt out with all the time on the road. In 2009 and 2010, I was a single mom with two pre-schoolers who was on the road no less than 85 days a year. That’s a rough schedule to keep when you have kids so young.
When my good friends Michael Stebbins and John Marshall asked me to come on board as faculty at MarketMotive.com, I was blessed to be able to continue doing what I loved without having to spend so much time away from my family. Rutgers University followed suit and brought me on board to teach their web based social media courses early last year as well.
After two years of constantly being on the go, I took a nice break in 2011. I think I spent a total of six days on the road for work. I also moved to a new state and got married that year, which never hurts in terms of motivating you to keep your feet planted a bit more firmly in one place.
Now that life has settled in again, I’ve been hitting the road a bit more frequently. I’ll make the rounds to four or five shows a year now…but for the most part, I like keeping my training gigs online.
You’ve got a new book coming out soon, can you tell us about it?
Absolutely! I’ve been wanting to write a book for several years now, but the challenge in social media was finding something new to say.
I had no desire to write yet another book that mimicked what everyone else was already writing. Add in all that time on the road and taking care of my family while running my company and I couldn’t even fathom how I would have fit it all in.
Then last year rolled around, and I found myself married to an amazingly wonderful and supportive man, and a friend introduced me to Pinterest. This was months and months before the marketing community started obsessing over it and I found myself wondering if this might be one of the next big wins in the social media realm.
Through a combination of great timing and circumstances, I had the chance to pitch the idea to Wiley right as the firestorm was starting to brew in the media. With my husband’s support to pitch in to help with the kids and some of my workload to free up time for me to write, we got a plan in place. I started writing Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day last April. I’m wrapping up the last chapter of the book this week and it should hit the bookshelves in either January or February of 2013.
Finally, where do you see social media marketing going? Do you think it’ll ever surpass or usurp search engine marketing?
Social media marketing will continue to simply become “marketing.” When that term was coined, it was still a completely new idea for companies to take to the web to actually get involved in conversation with their customers. It was something entirely new. As time continues to pass, we’re seeing a paradigm shift in how companies and customers relate to each other. Social media has opened the door to a new way of doing business and I don’t expect to see that ever go away at this point.
I think over time, we’ll hear less about “social media” marketing and more about just plain marketing.
As for whether it will ever surpass search engine marketing? I don’t think there’s a yes or no answer possible there. It’s not a zero sum game. People won’t choose one or the other because they serve different purposes. Social media will always be part of search engine marketing and good SEO will always be incorporated into social media. For a good integrated marketing strategy, the two will help drive each other to boost the overall brand.
More About Jennifer Evans Cario – President, SugarSpun Marketing
With more than a decade of experience in online marketing, Jennifer has made a career out of helping small to mid-size companies find unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Recognized as an industry leader in small business social media strategies, she is known for using real language and a common sense approach that delivers solid results while still allowing her clients to fully understand and participate in the process. Along with founding SugarSpun Marketing in 2009, Jennifer serves as the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive.com and as adjunct faculty for Rutger’s University. Cario is also the author of the upcoming Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day. You can find Jennifer on Twitter via @JenniferCario.
photo thanks to Mike Baird
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That’s a great point regarding social media and needing to be where your customers are. There are so many social networks to choose from and it doesn’t make sense for every business to be active on every single one, especially if they don’t have the time.
For one of my businesses, I found fewer than 10 percent of my customers use social media. It is so important to know your base find out what your customers are doing.
I may start using Pinterest or I may not — right now generating sales via known methods takes priority. I have a strict requirement of social media: it must show a return on investment. Intangibles are nice but they don’t pay the bills.
Thanks Nick! I know you’ve been pushing much of the same approach I have toward social media for quite a few years now online. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “oooh shiny” and forget all about the bottom line.
Charleen, I hear you on the ROI. We start off with every client by asking what their top tier business goals for the next few quarters are. If we can help address those goals with social media, then it’s worth working on a strategy. If it’s simply about “being there” then we encourage them to invest their time and money elsewhere.
Social media is not the goal, it’s a way to help REACH your company’s goals. Seeing it any other way does a serious disservice to your company’s long-term success.
Admire your passion in helping small business owners! You are right – social media isn’t a goal, it is a channel. As marketers it is really about finding out where your customers are and utilizing the right channels to achieve your business goals.