We are welcoming everyone back from their unofficial summer break with a bang. For this month’s influencer interview, I was told I was meeting another tech influencer. “Awesome,” I thought, “Our brands can learn a great deal from anyone in the tech space, and influencers who promote tech ideas are invaluable assets on campaigns.”
Then I met with Mike Allton, who resides in the tech space but is not the traditional techy with whom I’ve rubbed elbows. His dynamic background is unexpected, and he shares his story in a way that keeps you wanting more, which is great because he is also an author.
This interview will impact brands and influencers alike because Mike has, at some point in his career, been on both sides. The gems that led to his success as both a small business owner and social media influencer are so hard to come by, and he generously shares them with us in this interview. Take it in, and then follow Mike’s blog and social for more of his wisdom!
ZJ: Mike, what interested you in the social media and content marketing industries in the first place, and how did you get started?
MA: It was actually quite accidental. Ten years ago I was building websites for local businesses, and as part of my own marketing efforts, I started to write about how businesses can use social media to promote themselves.
While those articles didn’t help my own marketing very much, they did result in something spectacular. I discovered that really enjoyed writing about content marketing and the various facets that go into it. I found that I was also quite adept at exploring, testing and teaching about social media, email marketing, and SEO.
It’s grown from there over the years to be an all-consuming passion.
ZJ: Can you please share a bit about what inspired you to launch The Social Media Hat?
MA: When it became clear that my articles about social media weren’t going to be of use to my current business, I decided to launch a different site and business to house them.
Initially, it was simply going to be a portal site – similar to Mashable – where I’d blog about the topics that interested me. But there’s deeper meaning there.
From 2001-2005 I worked for a small computer sales and repair shop in Norwalk, OH. It was a family owned business that was trying to grow and do a lot of different things – which meant that the owner had to wear a lot of hats.
Aside from being the head tech and business owner, he was also responsible for human resources, accounting, and customer service. When we wanted to renovate the basement and make it a large lab the owner put on his carpentry and masonry hats. When we wanted to fix up the outside, on went the painter’s hat. And when an employee was having trouble, the owner had to don the hat of
And when an employee was having trouble, the owner had to don the hat of therapist.
Like every other small business owner and blogger, he was responsible for many different aspects of the business and had to wear all kinds of hats.
It became my goal then to make at least one aspect of the business – social media marketing – easier for business owners, giving them one less hat they had to wear.
ZJ: Ahhh, so that is where The Hat reference came in – I love it! You have also flourished on the social media scene and as a content marketer – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. When did you start becoming active in social, when did you start gaining a massive amount of followers, and what do you think was the impetus for them following you?
MA: 2012 is when I officially launched The Social Media Hat and began focusing on social media marketing for myself. For some profiles, like Google+, I actually started over at that time because, up until then, my activity had been sporadic or even wrong.
For instance, I’d spent a lot of time on Google+ following everyone I could. Like most “Follow First” methods, I’d grabbed people’s attention by following them, but only a fraction followed back – and few were following me because they were genuinely interested in me and my content. I’d build up thousands of followers who couldn’t care less what I was working on.
So I started over and began to make real connections and develop real relationships with key people on Google+. As my relationships and conversations improved, so too did my content. As I continued to write and publish articles, those great connections on Google+ were receptive and eager to share.
The result was stunning. Instead of hundreds of disinterested followers, I gained tens of thousands of people who looked forward to my next article and share.
I’ve devoted different levels of time and attention to different networks, and used different networks in different ways, but always with the same end-goal of reaching and helping more people.
ZJ: You offer training on The Social Media Hat from Blog Coaching to Social Media – do you have clients who are influencers in other industries and can you share one or two tips on what you recommend for them to get started? (Nothing you wouldn’t give away for free)
MA: Traditionally my target market has been small business owners – often solopreneurs – but I have also worked with major players in Hollywood and other industries.
The tricky part with anyone who wants to start on social media, whether they’re truly new to the tactic or just launching a new network, is determining goals.
Most of the time, the goal is to gain a larger audience as quickly as possible – and that’s a terrible place to start.
Instead, businesses, bloggers, and influencers should first think about what their long-term goals and voice is going to be. What do they want to use social media for? What do they want to talk about? Who do they want to reach?
Taking the time to refine that message from the start will result in a far more targeted and focused approach to social media that will resonate better with your desired audience.
ZJ: At what point did you begin collaborating with brands on sponsored content, and can you share a bit more about your process (did you seek out agencies, the brands, did they seek you out, what made you decide to do this)?
MA: Collaborating with brands has been an ongoing process from early on. As my readership grew, I began to identify specific brands and tools that my audience would be interested in and wrote about them more.
Sometimes I would just write about a brand without any arrangement or compensation in place because it was simply helpful information.
Sometimes I would research affiliate arrangements and use that to monetize my time.
Other times, brands would approach me.
As my influence and relationships have improved, so too have the level of collaborative arrangements.
Now, in my case, creating sponsored content is not a primary focus, and therefore I’m content to allow interested brands to approach me. I currently create about one sponsored piece per month, and that fits my schedule and availability.
Other bloggers who wish to make these relationships a more central part of their business definitely need to be more proactive in their approach. It should be clear on their website that they’re open to such arrangements, and they should be actively targeting brands who would be a good fit.
I would also recommend a far more focused social media strategy than I currently employ myself. I like to write about social media, and my monetization is casual, so I can afford to be somewhat active on all of the networks. Someone who is actively seeking brand sponsorships would be better off focusing on building highly active and responsive communities of followers on just one or two networks.
For example, Instagram is currently filled with potential for influencers as brands are highly motivated to reach interested consumers. But Instagram isn’t my favorite network as I prefer to create written content as opposed to images or video, so my time there is superficial.
I create quote graphics and experiment with other techniques so that I can speak intelligently about the network, and have accrued a nice size audience – but they’re unengaged. I don’t spend time trying to have real conversations with them and, as such, would not be valuable to a brand sponsor.
My wife, on the other hand, is actively working on building a personal brand in the boutique children’s clothing space and is highly focused on Instagram. She’s creating an engaged audience who is interested in her content and perspectives, and she’s already been successful at leveraging that audience into brand sponsorships. Despite having a fraction of the followers that I have!
ZJ: Do you see yourself as an influencer and if so, what does that mean to you?
MA: I do. But I also understand that, technically, anyone with a Voice and an Audience is an Influencer to those people.
I recognize that others may think of me specifically in influencer terms because I’m active socially and create a lot of personally branded content, but being an influencer is simply a side-effect of my real goals.
I enjoy helping people to understand the nuance of social media, and of course, I really like to write about the various networks and related techniques. That in itself would make me an influencer to my audience.
What’s propelled my “status” even more is my relationships with other influencers in my industry. When I’m able to work with them, and they talk about me or share my work with their audience, that has a positive impact on the perception of who I am.
So while I may not market myself or even talk about myself as an influencer, the reality is that I have influence on my readers, as well as influence over other influencers in my space.
It’s an interesting perspective because, sometimes, brands that seek me out do so because of the latter influence. They know that I know people in my niche and they’re hoping that I can help them reach more of my peers.
ZJ: I ran across The Book on Hootsuite on Amazon which you released this year. What audience is this book written for and how can it be useful to some of the more social savvy folks out there?
MA: Both my book and Hootsuite itself is geared mostly toward small business owners, bloggers, and solopreneurs. It’s a utility knife that can do a lot of different things across a variety of networks.
For instance, Hootsuite users can post updates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+, and they can read my book to learn how to schedule, bulk schedule, and even auto schedule that activity.
For the more socially savvy, there are benefits to using Hootsuite when you’re running an agency and actually managing the social activity of other brands and businesses. For that, they’d want to use the built-in organization of Teams and Permissions, and understand how to run branded reports. All of that is covered in the book as well.
What’s more, there are so many little-known features and hacks within Hootsuite that, frankly, almost no one outside of Hootsuite even knows, let alone use. For instance, while most users learn quickly that Hootsuite will automatically shorten shared links, what they don’t know is that you can set default parameters so that every link you share automatically has predetermined UTM values like Campaign or Source.
That’s really useful if you share content from a lot of other sources and want them to know how much traffic you’re sending them!
I originally wrote the book in 2015 and released a Second Edition this year along with print availability.
ZJ: What motivates and drives you every day to do what you do?
MA: Being able to provide for my kids and have a lifestyle that permits me to be there for them at the end of the day.
ZJ: Do you have a life mantra or quote you live by? If so, what is it?
MA: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
ZJ: Favorite quote?
MA: What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2
ZJ: What would you say are your three keys to success?
- Find your passion and find a way to make it part of your daily life.
- Set aside time to read, read, and read some more.
- Make time to travel and gain new experiences regularly.
ZJ: If someone wanted to grow their online business and simultaneously become an influencer, what advice would you give them?
MA: First and foremost, online growth and influence are based 100% on the creation of content.
You have to have a Voice that is uniquely You, and in order to communicate that Voice, you have to use electronic mediums. Whether it’s blog posts or short tweets, Instagram images or YouTube videos, it’s all just different forms of content.
There are no online influencers with 5-page brochure websites.
So you’ll need to decide what kind of content is the best fit for you and your audience. If like me, you’d rather write than create videos, a blog or content website is the way to go.
If you like to talk and interview other people, perhaps a podcast would be good!
Either way, it’s critical to come to that understanding and make that determination.
Once you’ve decided on a content format, then you have to do the work.
Creating content and developing an audience takes time. One blog post, one reader at a time. Influencers are never born overnight. Rather, they grow up like trees from a seedling.
ZJ: What recommendations do you have for brands who want to partner with digital and tech influencers like yourself?
MA: The best recommendation I can offer is to maintain perspective. Brand sponsored content doesn’t work the same as other advertising mediums like, say, Pay Per Click ads. You can’t expect to set and hit the same kinds of goals and metrics.
With a banner ad, you can determine what you’re willing to spend on impressions, clicks, and conversions. That’s because those are relatively controlled factors, but also because once you stop your budget the advertising ends.
With influencer marketing and sponsored content, influence is usually far more reaching and long lasting.
An article that I wrote about website upgrades which featured the hosting company Liquid Web, for instance, will be visible and potentially referred to for years.
For that campaign, both sides knew what my website traffic and social audience are like, but we didn’t try to place arbitrary goals of click-throughs or sign ups or anything like that.
While the brand ultimately does want and has every right to expect sales, they have to understand that those will come, over time, after repeated exposure from a variety of sources.
Keeping in mind that, when partnering with tech influencers, the brand also gains visibility with other tech influencers, paving the way for future relationships and opportunities.
ZJ: Do you have any upcoming announcements?
MA: I am currently working on my next book which will delve into the techniques that I’ve learned and mastered over the years which allow me to be a successful, prolific blogger. You don’t have to love or even like writing to be a great blogger (though it certainly helps!). And you don’t have to love writing to be able to use a blog and social media to promote and market your business.
What you need is the right mindset, and that’s what my next book will teach you. Coming 2018.