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Interview with Jennifer Abernethy, Author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing”

There are a lot of pretenders out there, self-appointed experts who claim the mantle of Social Media guru, but very few who are the real deal. Jennifer Abernethy is the real deal. Abernethy was a former million-dollar per year account executive for the Washington Post among other corporations. This bricks and mortar experience informs her writing and research. She knows what it takes to sell in a tough market and she brings this expertise to her new book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing (Penguin, April 2010). The Idiot’s Guides are known for having experts write them and this one is no different.

Now CEO of The Sales Lounge, in the Washington DC metro area, she recently sat down with me for an interview:

Ruth Sherman: What drew you to Social Media and using it as a marketing tool, especially with such deep roots in traditional marketing and sales organizations?

Jennifer Abernethy: I’d always worked for corporations and they send their people to a lot of training programs. Even though I’d been a top producer, I would always freeze in these classes. Furthermore, I knew that there was more than one way to sell — nothing they were telling me was the way actual sales happened. I thought I could help businesses to do better at sales. And do it in a hip, fun, relaxed way, something I’d never had.  I started off the traditional way with cold calling and networking. At the time, Facebook was expanding beyond the college market and I decided to set up a Facebook page because at the time there were 30 million users and as a sales pro, my mindset is always how can you reach the most people in the least amount of time. The next day, I had a message from someone who said, “Tell me about the Sales Lounge.” No one had asked that in the prior month of traditional marketing. I knew then I had made the right decision to use Social Media to market and sell and the rest, as they say, is history.

RS: What can someone in a big business get out of Social Media Marketing?

JA: Corporate professionals have to be on LinkedIn, which I call the “Cable Channel of Social Media.” While you have to have a complete profile and do a good job with presenting yourself, the new trend is to talk about your customers and prospects. For example, instead of talking about yourself, why don’t you do an open letter to your prospects? If you’re a CEO or other C-level business leader, you must be aware that customer service is a huge differentiator in a crowded field. With Twitter, you can monitor what customers are saying about you and respond immediately, which is a great way to build relationships. If you have a fan page on Facebook, you can also upload photos, video and audio, so it’s a terrific way to let your fans know what you’re up to and, again, stay in close communication with them.

RS: All the social media sites have a spot for a profile picture and you’re a big advocate of putting a great headshot up there. Can you delve into that a little more?

JA: It’s really important that you have a photo of yourself that shows your personality. The trend is away from the traditional, full-face headshot, dressed in a suit with the blue or grey background. There are some great headshots that don’t look at all into the camera, that are laughing or show you in some kind of spontaneous reaction.  These are professional, for sure, but they are not stiff and they provide people a window into who you are and give a more accurate picture to others and let them in a little. It’s a little bit more relaxed, but has energy. There is a section in the book about headshots and I show some examples of headshots that I think really do the trick.

RS: I love Twitter, think it’s great. What do you think about it?

JA: I hesitated to get on Twitter, because I didn’t get it. I wasn’t sure it was going to help me, but I have to say, I’ve become a convert and think it is a great reputation management tool. I call Twitter the “Cocktail Party of Social Media” because it’s like being invited to a neighbor’s cocktail party and you open that door and people are happily chatting away, exchanging information. That’s how Twitter feels to me. It’s interesting, too, because it has actually brought people closer together. We’re able to form communities of like-minded individuals and connect with so many people we NEVER would have been able to meet otherwise. And you should also download tweetdeck, which adds so much functionality to Twitter.

RS: What’s your thought on automation? For example, I often will get an automated response from someone I follow and I’m not crazy about that.

JA: If you have time, send a personal note and put the follower’s name in it. But don’t ask for something. It’s not about you. Ultimately, however, once you’re getting hundreds of followers or more per week, it’s impossible to do unless you have a team. So. I’m ok with sending an automated welcome note, and I do take followers seriously, and am excited about every single one. If you do have to automate, don’t put something in there like “join my Facebook fan page.” That sends the wrong message and it’s very inauthentic. It can be automated, but don’t over sell. Remember, selling is giving.  Also think who are the people you love? They’re the people who introduce you to others, who ask how they can help, who are the connectors. That’s how you should treat social media.

RS: Should you follow everyone that follows you?

JA: Almost. This is what I mean by open networking. You never can know where your next great contact will come from, so I do try to follow people who follow me. I do vet them, however. If they look like they’re just trying to build their list or if I think it’s an automated type of follower, I won’t follow them. It’s quality v. quantity and trying to develop a quality list as opposed to a quantity list.  You want to stay open, keep an open mind and be an open networker but check them out first.

RS: How do you get started? It seems so overwhelming.

Know your target market. Try to pare it down. When you get into each of these individual sites, it’s pretty easy.

RS: Where is all of this going?

JA: Info on demand, customer service on demand. Someone tweeted the other day that she was in the airport and her flight was delayed and she didn’t have her iPhone charger with her. Within 3 minutes, the airline paged her, asking her to come to the counter because they had an iPhone charger waiting for her. Now she’s told that story to thousands of her followers, I’m telling it to you and your readers, it’s a great story for the airline to repeat to exemplify great, immediate customer service. A limo service during the big DC snowstorm saw someone had messaged on FB they were stranded and the limo company went and got that person home. You cannot beat this type of service and what a great way to stand out from the crowd.

Now you can add video and audio. Facebook now allows for audio messages to your friends and fans through a site called And there are great sites to add video including, and

RS: You’re a big fan of video. Why should people use it?

JA: Video is exploding as a way to leverage social media marketing. It adds so much to the communication. First thing: Go register your .tv domain. That’s a must. Video is becoming vital for anyone who is thinking about growing their business through their online presence. For the first time, it’s cheap, if not free, and easy to use. Videoconferencing software and programs are ubiquitous and they provide the face-to-face communication that has gone by the wayside due to email, text and IM. But whatever you do, video provides another, deeper look still into your personality and the personality of your business. It’s another highly effective avenue to connect and be “social.” And it works terrifically. That’s the way we’re wired. Now you have to use it.

RS: What do you tell people who say it takes too much time to manage Social Media?

JA: There is a bit of startup time, but once you get it going, you will be looking forward to your daily status updates, to who’s following you, who has messaged you and what is being said about you and your industry. We’re still at the beginning of this revolution. But you have to do it because that’s what your competition is doing. If you don’t embrace it, you’re going to be left behind.

As I said, the real deal. Reach Jenn through her website and find and follow her at @SalesLounge onTwitter. She’ll follow you back!

Copyright 2010 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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