Welcome back to my “Behind the Tweets” column. I took a brief hiatus but am back now with a truly exciting guest.
Sarah Evans (or @PRSarahEvans, as she’s known in the Twitterverse) is one of the true Twitter superstars. Although she professes to having “no clue” how to use Twitter when she first joined in 2008, she was one of the first PR professionals who quickly understood its power and harnessed it to build a tremendous following – while also doing a lot of good, including raising tens of thousands of dollars for a shelter in her home state of Illinois during a “tweet-a-thon” that brought in tons of donations for the organization.
When she first joined Twitter, Sarah was working in PR for a community college in Illinois. It became apparent to most of us observers that she was quickly outgrowing that limited role and it was only a matter of time until she would be forming her own agency – which she did through Sevans Strategy (and it became an instant success, named as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 10 Hot Startups of 2010).
Sarah was also featured in the February 2010 edition of Vanity Fair’s “America’s Tweethearts.” and named to Forbes’ “14 Power Women to Follow on Twitter” list in 2010. She is a frequent featured speaker in social media and marketing conferences, including SXSW, PRSA International and Social:IRL (in which she provided the keynote address).
So a special thanks to Sarah for taking time from her incredibly busy schedule (including her recent vacation in Mexico) to participate in this week’s “Behind the Tweets” profile. As you might expect, she shares some great information and tips.
Which social media networks do you use consistently?
Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare
What was your “Aha” moment regarding social media (when/why did you decide to become engaged)?
I joined Twitter in 2008 and had no clue how I would use it…the first week or so. After I started connecting with complete strangers (which was creepy to me at first) I realized I could connect with other like minded people. Shortly thereafter I realized there was an opportunity to leverage this tool to build a community of people I wanted to connect with–including other PR pros and journalists.
When did you first join Twitter? What was your original motivation for doing so?
(see last question)
Has the way you use Twitter (and other social media channels) changed? If so, how?
The core reason why I use social networks has never changed and that is to build relationships. However, my strategy has absolutely evolved.
You made a seamless jump from working at an educational institution to becoming a successful entrepreneur. How hard was it for you to make that transition?
It wasn’t a matter of easy/hard for me, but overcoming the fear of going out on my own. I had a lot of support from my husband, family and friends. I remember when I was discussing the transition with my father-in-law and he told me, “In six months you’ll wonder why you were worried.” He was right. Once I got in my groove and, of course, had clients it just became a part of my life. Leaving a safe, steady job was the best decision I’ve ever made.
What is the biggest misperception people have about social media?
Social media is a tool and can be an extension of marketing and communications. Think about the telephone. The tool itself doesn’t market or communicate, it’s the people that actually use it (and use it well) who make things happen.
How do you find time to do it all? You tweet, blog, post on FB, take care of clients and seemingly have a life outside of work.
I don’t! It’s always a delicate balance and, at times, different things have to give. Our clients come first. Sevans Strategy doesn’t spend any money on traditional marketing and advertising. Our clients and best relationships have emerged via social networks (which is pretty cool). I also know that the more online content I produce and provide (e.g. blog posts) the more business that comes in. There is a direct correlation between the PRsarahevans.com blog and Sevans Strategy referrals. It never ceases to amaze me.
I’m also not doing this alone. I have an awesome team who supports the client work. Without people like, Liz Pope (@lizpope), this wouldn’t be possible.
Usually I ask guests: How has social media changed your life in general? Personally and professionally? But in your case I think the better question is “How has it NOT changed your life?” It seems like you live, eat and breath social media and it’s been fundamental in all aspects of your life. Or is that just an illusion?
Social media is a natural part of my life — it’s not a task or a chore, it’s something I enjoy, leading to a natural integration into my day-to-day activities.
It’s a question I’m sure you get all the time but, how did you amass 60,000 followers?
It’s taken some time, but my tips to others are (1) be genuine, (2) provide helpful resources and BE the expert you are (3) get sourced in mainstream or traditional media and relevant blogs 4) look for ways to involve others in your conversation.
How do you manage your followers and social media channels? Do you have any favorite tools?
I use a host of tools from Tweetdeck (iPhone app) to Hootsuite (desktop) to My6sense to whatever the hottest tool of the day (or month) is. My online management tools constantly change.
You are truly on the forefront here – how do you see innovative organizations using social media? How do you see that changing or evolving over time?
It depends on the organization. Recently we’ve seen interesting social media campaigns like Old Spice’s interactive campaign and Conan’s use of sponsored trends on Twitter. However, not everyone has the time or money to produce the same results. There are amazing small, local business owners who are using social networks to generate client leads, retain customers and keep a true pulse on their brand. They couldn’t do that before and THAT is what is so amazing to me. At Sevans Strategy we’re not just watching for the latest and greatest trends, we want to be a part of them–for our clients.
How do you use Twitter? How about Facebook? Do they serve similar or different roles for you?
Facebook is much more personal for me. Someone connected with me there is less likely to find social media content (although I do share my blog posts there) and more likely to read what my latest pregnancy food craving is.
Twitter has evolved into a tool for connecting, syndication, news gathering, aggregation and all sorts of goodies.
Do you use FourSquare, Quora or Linkedin?
Foursquare – sharing a cool location that I’m visiting with followers and friends
Quora – crowdsourcing and serving as a useful resource of information to those asking questions about social media/PR
LinkedIn – professional network
What do you think of Quora?
It’s another social network and will only be as valuable the community who uses it. My favorite “new” social network right now is Instagram.
How do you decide who you’re going to follow or become friends with on Facebook?
Typically for Facebook I friend people I “know.” Whether we met at a conference, did work together or like most people, went to school or work together–there’s a personal connection. It’s a good problem to have, but I’ve just about reached my connection limit for a personal page and our team is working on ways to integrate a “fan” page so I can keep connecting.
It seems you are pretty open about your personal life – some people think that its dangerous to share too much personal information online. How do you manage this?
Even though it might seem like I share a lot, I really don’t. I’m extremely deliberate about what I do and don’t share.
This is a loaded question but 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?
It depends. Why do you want a personal brand? As an employer, I’m probably not going to hire someone with a “big” brand (but hey, that’s me). Entrepreneurs, business owners and celebrities–those are the people who benefit from growing their brand. If you fall outside of those, focus on building personal relationships. Remember, the best time to build a network is when you don’t need one.
What is your most memorable social media experience?
Last year a minor earthquake hit Chicago around 4 a.m. To verify what I felt, I tweeted to see if others had the same experience. Why? My cellphone doubles as my alarm clock, I wanted to connect with others and I knew this would be a story. In addition to publicly tweeting and direct messaging national news producers, I posted my story at CNN iReport. These relatively simple actions resulted in New York Times and CNN coverage–all before 9 a.m. The result? Within four hours, there were five new (and viable) business inquires for Sevans Strategy.
Who is your favorite All-Time St. Louis Cardinals team?
I was too young to remember the 1982 World Series team (although I do have all the baseball cards), so I’ll go with 2006.
Are a fan of any other sport besides baseball? If so, who are your favorite teams?
I’m a huge college and professional basketball fan.
(Although I really enjoy watching the Celtics and Heat play.)
Have you met any fun/famous celebs?
Through client-work at Sevans Strategy and as a social media correspondent, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interview a plethora of celebs, from Perez Hilton to Dwyane Wade to Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian.
Place you might want to visit (and will Tweet from)?
Hmmmm. I’m not sure.
I may have missed this but do you know yet if you’re having a boy or girl? If not, are you going to find out before the big day?
It’s a surprise.
(Editor’s Note: and here’s where the pregnancy tiredness kicked in…)
Funniest Social Media moment?
Biggest Social Media pet peeve?
Thanks for participating Sarah!
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