As a company willing to inspire others to be great in their respective fields, we will be sharing stories from marketing industry influencers who are making an impact and helping businesses like yours succeed.

The first person in a long series of such interviews, is Neal Schaffer, a well experienced Social Media Marketing Influencer. From speaking around the world to teaching social media marketing to executives at universities to writing books on social media, Neal has been recognized as a leader in the field.

Learn more about his industry and what he's been up to from his blog. He granted an interview to the Kudobuzz Content Team and here is what he had to say:

What Separates you from your Competition?
Well, we all have unique experiences in life and in business and that’s what separates us from our competition. Believe me, if you do a search for “Social Media Consultant” on LinkedIn, you’ll find tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. Really, what I like to talk about which I believe separates me from my competition is:
First of all, I am international - and international is very important. It goes hand-in-hand with something else that I have, which is a very holistic perspective on social media and marketing in general, which relates to the holistic business experience I have overseas. I speak fluent Mandarin Chinese as well as, Japanese. I lived in Japan for 15 years doing business in the region and it’s that international and holistic business experience that has helped provide a very fresh perspective on social media marketing, social selling and influential marketing for my clients and for the industry as a whole.
Moreover, what I think has attracted a lot of Japanese as well as European Clients to want to do business with me is that I do have that international perspective and it’s not just an American-centric approach that some people have. When I began as a social media consultant, I realized that what companies needed was obviously education but strategy and I’ve tried to remain strategic in my approach for all of my clients.
ROI-driven is another way in which I separate myself from the competition: My background is not PR or marketing; it’s more from a sales and Biz Dev perspective so everything that you do in sales has to be tied to a sales-generating activity. Therefore, I take the same approach to social media marketing. It has to be ROI-driven.
Also, I’m always trying to add new value and find new ways of thinking about social media from a marketing and business perspective; so a keyword that I like to use is innovator or innovative and this is another thing that I hope differentiates myself from the competition in that when you see a blog post I wrote or listen to my podcast, you’re going to find some innovative concepts in there. So those are the five keywords that I’ll throw out there that I believe separate me from my competitors: holistic, international, strategic, ROI-driven and innovative.

What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?
I’m trying to solve the business problems that my clients have and inevitably, they are related to the digital transformation as it relates to sales and marketing. People are engaging with brands, content; and devices very differently than they did 20 years, 10 years, 5 years ago and even in some cases, last year. This creates problems for businesses in that they may not be successful as they were before or maybe they were start-up and want to tap into the power of digital. I am trying to solve those business problems and see how digital and social can help them. As I like to say, Social media replaces nothing, it complements everything so what are the strategic areas in which they can often shift traditional ways of doing business into something that is more digitally transformed and that will provide them a greater ROI in the era of today?

• What sort of research have you done? Do you have any available data?
The research that I do is very specific to my clients. One of the types of research that I do often is a social and digital media audit; so these audits are very specific to each company and to each industry. I don’t focus just on one industry; therefore, I don’t have enough clients in a particular industry where I have that data to paint a greater picture.

• What interesting trend have you observed in your Industry?
Obviously, influencer marketing would be the big trend and the concept of influencing and how influence has become democratized and continues to be. This is why my next book that I’m writing is going to be on influencer marketing tentatively titled “The Business of Influence” and because all of you that are reading this are online merchants, if you aren’t or haven’t been working with influencers, then you’re really missing out on huge opportunities to work with them to achieve a number of different objective. So, be thinking about that as you continue to read this article.

• What are you most proud of?
I’m just proud of all of the achievements that I’ve had; working with  Fortune 50 companies and helping them with their social media strategy, working with a Grammy award-winning Musician and help him with his social media strategy; I’m most proud of those types of clients.
I’m also proud of the fact that I’ve written three books and I’ve won awards in recognition for that. I’m proud that I’ve been acknowledged as a leading Influencer in social selling or social media marketing or influencer marketing. Whenever I’m recognized by someone I’ve never met or by a leading authority in the industry, it’s quite touching and it just speaks to the power of social and digital marketing; because I came out of nowhere. I started with a blog in 2008 which I converted into a book in 2009 which led to me launching my social media strategy business in January 2010, but it’s always an amazing feeling to be recognized for what you have contributed to the Industry….so, those are the things I am proudest of.

• What kind of books do you read? What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I tend to read books on marketing. No surprise, books on social media marketing, but also Content Marketing and marketing in general. There are a number of good books I’ve read, and I am friends with so many business book authors that if I mention one in lieu of the others, I’m afraid some of them are going to get really mad. So maybe I’m going to stick with a book that’s not or non-directly related to Social Media Marketing or marketing. There’s a great guy that I’ve met; I’ve got to know in Social Media named Chris Strub. He was and continues to be a Snapchat influencer and he embarked on a 50 States, 100-day tour of our Great United States. He documented all of this not only on Snapchat, but in a book that he wrote of the same name; so in the summer of 2015, Youth Organizations in all 50 US States made for a once-in-a-lifetime voluntourism guest for 29 year New York native - Chris Strub. It’s a pretty amazing book of someone who is passionate about having a lasting impact on people and bringing out a spirit of humanity of volunteerism. The sub-title of this book or the quote on the cover says: “A heartfelt hug for humanity” and I think that’s a great way to describe it. Sometimes, we need to read books that are directly related to business, but other times we need to read books that remind us about humanity and that is one book that I highly recommend you read too.

• Who are your role models or mentors?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs; my father is an entrepreneur who started his own business and a few of my brothers are entrepreneurs who have also started their own businesses; so I have a lot of role models and mentors, in my own family. That’s number one.
Also, there a number of role models and indirect mentors that I believe are thought leaders in my industry that I always look to for inspiration. Here are the top ones that come to mind:
Jeremiah Owyang is someone who is not directly related these days because he's an ex-analyst. But in the early days of digital and social media marketing, he had a number of compelling blog posts and research papers that he wrote. He never wrote a book, but he’s definitely a thought leader and a mentor that I thought of in that aspect.
Brian Solis is also someone that I’ve learnt a lot from, that I think of as a mentor and written a number of great books.
There’s Jay Baer who just came out with a book this year called “Talk Triggers” which talks about the inciting word of mouth which a lot of the concepts there resonate with how I talk about Social Media Marketing and even influencer marketing.
Mark Shaefer is a great guy, a fellow faculty of the Records Business School who has a lot of great content out there and is definitely a thought leader.
There’s also Ann Handley and Joe Pulizzy and these two come specifically from the field of content marketing; and writing content is so central to what we do in marketing; be it digital, social or offline.
So, those are a few mentors I would say I look up to in the Industry.

• When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?
I have partnered with various companies as an influencer as well as partnering with other agencies. From an influencer perspective, obviously the key thing I look at is what’s in it for me. I try to find balance; I understand that partnerships have to be win-win. There’s a yin and a yang, the partner has to be happy, they have to be successful, they have to be profitable, but you need to be equally profitable as well….so you need to sort of calculate, what value do you bring to the partnership, what value are the partners getting from you? And if it’s not a 50-50 or a 60-40 or even a 70-30, you need to walk away and you need to demand more. Partnerships are sales. It’s a negotiation and often in partnership negotiations, you’ll find that some partners get better terms than other partners. You need to remind the other party of all the value that you bring, you need to get more value for what you’re bringing; and that value has to be monetary, has to be guaranteed and specific not all these fluffy things that don’t offer a lot of business value for your customers.

• How do you keep your employees (or team members) keen or motivated?
You have to keep in touch with them often, you have to remind them of the big picture, you have to congratulate them on their successes and you have to nurture them and let them know that if they stay with you, they’re going to learn a lot on a daily basis. If you continue to nurture, educate and train them, why go somewhere else when they’re going to get experience that provides them tremendous opportunities? That way, they’re appreciated, and feel valued.

• What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
I think the biggest risks I have taken are in providing new products and services. One was when, I started to develop a social media tool to help companies better leverage how their social media is going and what ideas that I have for them to better optimize their social media for greater ROI; but it was risky from a monetary and a time perspective; and what I realized was if I really wanted to launch a tool, I need to focus on just doing that and to unplug from all the other businesses to make it successful. However, I couldn’t do that because I was already successful in these other businesses; so I decided that developing the tool was just something that the natural synergy for my business was not there. I ended up co-founding a conference called the Social Tools Summit as I found myself -providing a lot of advice even becoming an informal advisor for many social media tools companies. So the reward from that risk is that it led to other opportunities with companies that I would have considered competitors and are now collaborators and partners.

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