It’s been interesting for me to learn how those I’ve profiled have gotten involved in, and use, social media in their personal and professional lives. There have been for whom it’s been a recent discovery and tool, while others have simply seen it as a natural extension of earlier technologies and tools. This week’s feature profile definitely falls into the latter camp.
Sharon Hayes has been an entrepreneur in the technology world since the 1990s. She admits to starting during the days of Genie, CompuServe and AOL – and was named one of the “Super Schmoozers” of the industry by the publication Business Start-ups. But that was the 90s – what has she done lately? Well, according to TwitterGrader, Sharon is currently the 3rd most influential woman on Twitter (yes, ALL of Twitter). She was also featured in Huffington Post as one of 16 Brilliant Business Minds on Twitter and was named to the 40 over 40 list by ProBlogService.com. So naturally I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for my feature this week.
I’ve been following Sharon for a long time now – she was one of the first “influential” Tweeters I remember following and interacting with years ago. I love the way Sharon mixes motivational quotes with songs from blip.fm while engaging in easy conversation with other Tweeters. Social media was invented for people such as Sharon – she makes it look so easy (and with more than 100,000 followers, plenty of others apparently agree). And predictably, Sharon doesn’t disappoint in the interview. She went above and beyond the call of duty and provides a ton of interesting and useful insights, thoughts and advice in the world of social media. And if you read the whole interview, you’ll learn of some exciting plans Sharon has in store for a social media-related start up later this year!
Enjoy this week’s profile!
Which social media networks do you use consistently?
Personally, I spend around 85% of my time on Twitter, 10% on Facebook and the balance split between LinkedIn and some other smaller networks.
What was your “Aha” moment regarding social media (when/why did you decide to become engaged)?
I’ve never really had one per se. I think that a big misconception is that social media is something “new” when it’s really not. Social media is simply an evolution of how online networks and the Internet are used for communication. As far back as the mid-1980’s, I was active in online forums on local services and international ones such as Compuserve, Genie, AOL, etc. I’ve always been a proponent of creating dialogue with prospects and customers/clients. In fact, in the late 90’s I was one of people featured in a cover story Entrepreneur’s sister publication “Business Start-ups” ran called “Super Schmoozers.” The focus of the article was how people were generating business by networking online. What has changed – and along with it the attention paid to it – is that in the past, the number of people you could reach through one online vehicle was limited in scope. It was very niche-oriented for the most part. Although we still have that today, social networks in their current form have become about the ability to have a wider reach with the same effort.
When did you first join Twitter? What was your original motivation for doing so?
I am friends/associates with a number of people who are early adopters. In early 2008, I started receiving invites to join Twitter. I created my account in September 2008. The first 10 or so people I followed during my first month were people I already knew and wanted to stay connected with. I attended a conference in LA where I exchanged info on Twitter and LinkedIn with a number of attendees. The number I followed increasing to a whopping 30 or so. I became more active in December of that year when I finally figured out how to use Twitter.
Has the way you use Twitter (and other social media channels) changed? If so, how?
Most definitely. When it comes to Twitter, my following base has grown dramatically over the 2 ½ years I’ve been active. I now have well over 100,000 followers. Because of this, how I use Twitter has had to change out of necessity. I used to engage in a lot longer discussions than I do now on more serious topics, often with several people at a time. Although I do still engage with my followers, it’s not as in depth as it was before. I sometimes struggle with balancing quality and quantity. My business partners focus more on the other social networks so what I do elsewhere is more about maintaining contacts rather than being more aggressive and pro-active as I am with Twitter.
You are into the domain business in a big way – how did you get involved in it?
I started to get domain names in the mid ‘90’s. Like many others in business at the time, I had heard of the sale of Business.com but it took a while for me to see it as a viable business model. I was working at growing an email marketing service that I eventually sold, so my focus was there. The wake-up call for me was when I received an inquiry from a start-up about a domain I had registered. It was a 3 word one, a brandable and not a generic. Over a period of a couple of months their offers increased from $1,000 or so to mid-five figures at which point I sold it. Turning $140 into a sale like that woke me up. By late 2000 or early 2001, domains represented a significant part of what I do.
What is the biggest misperception people have about the domain business?
That’s an easy one: that we’re squatters. Domains are virtual real estate, plain and simple. Domain investors like help establish a market and economy for domains. There is often anger on the part of those who feel that because a domain isn’t being used as an active site and they have a “great” idea for a domain, they should be entitled to it at registration fees. That’s as silly as saying because there is a vacant lot that someone acquired years ago for a small amount, anyone with a use for it should be entitled to it.
You’re able to cram a lot into your Twitter bio – can you elaborate a bit on each point?
Interestingly enough, I really haven’t changed my bio over the time I have been active on Twitter.
Entrepreneur – I am a creator. Clients I consult for often call me a rainmaker. My #1 skill is being able to come up with ideas and figure out whether or not they can make money and how. This identifies me first and foremost on the professional side. Almost all of my business endeavors are focused in providing marketing services to organizations.
Motivator – I try and keep my tweets upbeat and motivating to followers. Most of the time, I am in a good mood myself but even if I’m having a crappy day, I try not to let it show on Twitter. I list this second because this is the role I try to fill with the bulk of my tweets.
Domains & Email Marketing – These are the 2 primary industries my businesses are in.
@reply 4 follow – I don’t automate follow-backs. Although I’m generally quick about returning follows, there are periods where I don’t have time for a week to do them. Someone tweeting requesting a follow will ensure I do follow back right away.
The other items listed are personal interests and things I tweet about. The last – smiles – is what I hope to give people who read my stream 🙂
Does Social Media play a big role in your job?
First, keep in mind that I don’t have a job in a typical sense. I’m rarely involved in the day-to-day operations of my businesses. As a business creator, social media helps me stay on top of trends in a way that I’ve never been able to before. I can keep a finger on the pulse of innovation. My gig is income generation and marketing. Being able to ride trends makes both roles a lot easier.
Second, social media – especially Twitter – allows me to get a better handle on people. By people I mean – I use Twitter for recruiting (often indirectly), knowing who is a good candidate for joint ventures or partnership and when scouting for potential clients. You can learn a heck of a lot about people and organizations by just observing.
Third, my Twitter presence has opened a lot of doors for me in three distinct ways. In over 20 years of B2B work, this is the first time I’ve really put myself out there in a big way. The number of clients who want me to sign non-disclosure agreements before working with them has dropped to almost nothing. So it definitely has helped on the credibility/trust factor. I’m very good in all of the business areas I am in but it’s often hard for prospective clients to see what I may be able to do to them. To be able to point them to Twitter and my success there – even though social media is likely nothing to do with the work my business will be doing for them – demonstrates what I’m capable of. Finally, I do generate a lot of business through networking on Twitter. I’ve been able to reach people that would have been difficult to otherwise.
How has social media changed your life in general? Personally and professionally?
The challenge for me is the co-mingling of my personal and professional life for the first time. I have people who follow me on Twitter or who are friends with me that I’ve known since I was a kid, family, almost every ex-boyfriend is connected with me, you name it. Although I’ve always tried to live a life of integrity, I think social media has made this even more important. I think before I share/say just about anything. On the off-side, I think in my personal life, I have been forced to become cautious. I mean off of social media and in the ‘real world.’ Personal branding is not just what happens online but in our day-to-day lives now.
It’s a question I’m sure you get all the time but, how did you amass 100,000+ followers?
I know that the number may seem overwhelming to a lot of people, but keep in mind that it happened over a period of 2 ½ years. It was not overnight. Honestly, follower count means absolutely nothing in isolation. There are people with more followers on Twitter who don’t have the same influence that I do. Influence is about action ratios – what percentage of followers – and the influence of those followers – will take some kind of action on your tweets.
I’ve grown my follower base by having a consistent strategy: I followback those who follow me, I share quality information I come across on my own and through the tweets of others, my followers share (retweet) my tweets at a high level, I make sure to consistently tweet using different keywords (which attracts followers from searches) and I’ve written some very well-received blog posts relating to Twitter.
How do you manage your followers and social media channels? Do you have any favorite tools?
I use Cotweet on a day-to-day basis for managing my tweets. I use friendorfollow.com for unfollowing those who unfollow me. I really don’t use other tools.
You like to Tweet music (links to songs). How did this start? Do you follow a schedule or just Tweet music when you feel the itch?
Music has always been a big part of my life. I’ve also done a lot of work in the music industry (online marketing). I discovered blip.fm and really liked the idea that I could share music easily with my Twitter followers. At first, I was a little concerned about how it would be received by my followers. But it seems to have worked out well. It’s a way to connect with people on a different level. I don’t follow any set schedule. Sometimes I will go weeks without sharing music at all. It depends on my schedule, where my head is at, and so on.
OK, on a more serious note, how do you think innovative organizations using social media? How do you see that changing or evolving over time?
I think that the more innovation organizations are using social media to create and support their own micro-communities. Social media, as I alluded to earlier, is simply about creating a dialogue with prospects, clients/customers, supporters and fans. Where many organizations fail is that they use social networks only to broadcast (and in some cases to proactively prospect). There are some cases where broadcast-only has been effective, but in actuality, that is a more difficult route for most organizations to go. I think that over time, we’ll start to hear more success stories of start-ups reaching multi-millions or billlions in revenue simply because of their ability to understand how to create a fan base through social media.
You don’t disclose your friends on Facebook – why not?
If I had a choice, I’d hide my contacts on every social network – even Twitter. When it comes to Facebook specifically, it is out of respect for those I’m connected with. Before I turned that setting on, I had issues with friends being randomly added by others. I also am connected with some high profile people on their private accounts – which they prefer not to get out to the public. With both Facebook and LinkedIn, I am much more restrictive in who I will connect with. I will also remove people who I feel abuse the connection in some way.
Do you use Quora or Linkedin?
I just joined Quora, although my business partners have already been active on it. I do use LinkedIn, but primarily for private communications. More than half of my LinkedIn contacts are people I’ve already done business with. At least half I have met in person.
How do you decide who you’re going to follow or become friends with on Facebook?
If I get a request from someone that I’ve met in person, is a personal contact or is in the domain industry, I will add them. There are a few hundred social-media only friends I have on there as well. If I see someone just spams links on Facebook, I don’t add them. I actually try to skim the status updates of everyone. It’s a much tighter connection for me than any other social network.
How long have you been involved in the Green/Sustainable movement?
I’ve tried to be active in some fashion through my adult life.
What are some of your favorite ways to try to live a Green lifestyle?
I think my favorite way – and the easiest – is through how I eat. Most people aren’t aware of the huge difference in resources required for eating different foods. When I’m at home in Canada, I try and avoid consuming any meat or poultry and limit myself to fish and dairy for protein sources. I try to buy local foods when possible. Even if it costs a bit more for me, it is at a lower cost to the environment.
A big thing for me in recent years – like many others – has been my books and music to digital only consumption. I also stopped my subscriptions to dozens of magazines and cut back to one daily newspaper from several.
I avoid buying clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned. The chemicals that are used in the dry-cleaning process are toxic. I only use cold water when doing laundry to save on energy.
You’re open about challenges you face in your personal life – some people think that its dangerous to share too much personal information online. How do you manage this?
I’m not so certain I actually do share that much from my personal life. Small bits and pieces, yes, but if you actually read my tweets or status updates, you’ll see I really don’t get into specifics. I am very conscientious of people in my personal life. Those closest to me are private people. For personal issues I may be struggling with, if I think it can resonate with enough of the people I am connected with, I may share but in broad terms and only if I feel it can help others in some way.
Do you think people should be thinking about using social media to help build a “personal brand?” If so, what kind of people should really be making this kind of effort?
I do believe so. The new wave we are in is all about personal branding. For anyone considering a career as some kind of professional (or going the self-employed route), it is a must. I had a meeting last month with a Vice President at a well-known company and we talked about this exact issue. Although there is not any immediate uncertainty surrounding his employment, he is starting to work on building a personal brand that is separate from the company he works for.
What is your most memorable social media experience?
The quasi-celebrity thing is quite bizarre for me. In 2009, I was at the Montreal airport and I had someone come up to me with a copy of a major daily newspaper. There was a picture of me in an article on Twitter. I had no idea it was even going to happen. This stranger recognized me and asked me for my autograph. I think society’s fascination of recent years with reality stars is now starting to move over to social media influencers. I routinely get offered money to just show up at events. I’ve been offered commercial work. I get offered a lot of free stuff.
Who are better Tweeters – Canadians or Americans?
Ha! As a Canadian who spends half of my time in the U.S., I have to plead the 5th!
Are a fan of any sport? If so, who are your favorite teams?
As a former Montrealer, I used to follow both baseball and hockey a lot. My dad was a huge sports fan and going to Expos or Habs games was normal. I’ve gotten out of following sports in recent years but am hoping to stay on top of the upcoming baseball season. I’ll need to adopt a new team to root for since Montreal is now teamless!
Have you met any fun/famous celebs?
I have a lot of celebs who follow me (and who have followed me first) but I’m really not into the celebrity worship thing. I’ve done a lot of work over the years with celebrities for online marketing and perhaps that has made me a bit jaded. At the end of the day, it’s not about the number of people who know us but what we do with our time. That being said, my favorite celeb in social media – like many others – is definitely Alyssa Milano. Not only does she understand social media, but she also uses it in very positive ways to benefit more than just her own career.
Place you might want to visit (and will Tweet from)?
I actually rarely tweet when I am out. I try to disconnect from social media to fully enjoy experiences and the people I am with. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion which was pretty neat. I had a lot of people ask me to tweet pictures from there; a few even offered me money! But even for that, I just wanted to enjoy myself.
Funniest Social Media moment?
Rather than share with you a “ha ha” time, I’ll share an “ah ha!” moment for me. It’s often hard to predict how things we say on social networks will be received. Several weeks ago, I was having a rough day. I have a lot of young people who follow me on Twitter and try to keep my stream G-rated. I tweeted asking if people would unfollow me if I swore. I must have had over 300 responses to that one tweet – very unusual and unexpected. I also gained over 150 followers in the hour following that tweet and jumped to the top 10 on Twitter Grader’s influencer chart. With one exception, everyone seemed to be supportive of the idea. It resulted in a lot of jokes and I connected with some people on a whole new level.
Biggest Social Media pet peeve?
How many people and organizations really don’t get some basic things about social media even now. On an individual level, I get 50+ requests a day from people I have had no communication with to do “something” for them. They just don’t understand the reciprocity of social media.
From an organizational standpoint, I am often offered a lot of money to tweet things or promote things by companies who want to get the word out. I always decline offers. But I do tweet about things I like and use. I am an influencer. Heck, the other day I mentioned a specific restaurant and had over 30 people tell me they were going there that day because of what I said. I don’t understand why companies aren’t more proactive in reaching out to influencers like me who are already promoting their brands. I have a recent case that is demonstrative of this apathy. I’ve been in California since the start of the year. My laptop died. I reached out to a company whose computers I’ve bought for years and have recommended many times to others. They have a strong social media presence. Anyway, they offered to send me a loaner of a low-end laptop for the rest of the time I was in California. Huge opportunity missed for a company that drops tens of millions of dollars on traditional advertising.
Although I believe the general social networks like Twitter and Facebook will continue to grow, I think we’ll start to see a gradual movement towards social networks that allow easier access to people with similar interests. I don’t think this necessarily means niche social networks but ones where you can more naturally connect with others. Facebook has taken a huge step towards trying to do this with Facebook groups and fan pages but they have put control in the hands of users and organizations. I’m not so sure that is the best approach.
Disclosure: I’m a few months away from a soft launch of a social network that will allow for the organic development of specialized interest groups.
Any parting shots?
A lot of people shy away from actively engaging in social media out of fear. They feel they don’t understand enough so they don’t want to do it at all. Don’t look for gimmicks. Don’t look for magic bullets. Don’t spam. Don’t chase numbers. Just be you. You’ll figure it out as you go along.
Thanks for participating!
More from my site
- Stacy Kinney (Green/Social Media Entrepreneur): Kaufer Follow Friday Feature Profile
- Wendy Wiseman (Entrepreneur/KIBOOMU co-founder): Today’s Kaufer Follow Friday Feature Profile
- I’m officially a book author! Check out my new ebook: “Behind the Tweets: 25 Unique Twitter Users and How They Use Social Media In Work, Life, and Love”
- Behind the Tweets: Shea Gunther (@SheaGunther)
- Behind the Tweets: KIRO-FM Morning Anchor Linda Thomas (aka @TheNewsChick)
- Derek Markham: Writer, New Media Guy, Sustainability Expert (My Follow Friday Feature Profile)