Marketing Superheroes: Chris Brogan, Big Storyteller Plus

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Chris Brogan, the President of Human Business Works, is one of the world’s most respected experts in the space where business meets social. Today, he is a guest of SEJ, and shares with you a few secrets of the trade.

Chris Brogan - courtesy his blog

I’ve known Chris since the early days of social networks, when the term social media scarcely even existed, and I was lucky enough to catch up with him for the following brief Q & A, which I know will be of interest to many.

For a slight background on Chris, he is a veteran from what I would call “the trenches” of the Web 2.0 – social – digital revolution. You all know that PR and hype about “the conversation,” well Chris and his contemporaries started (back then it wasn’t hype, but innovation), and then evangelized it. More than this, more than beating the drum of social networking … Let me just put it this way, “you don’t get on the New York Times Bestseller list just without paying the price.”

Accolades, I am sure any of you can “Google” Chris Brogan and see enough. Let’s glean what we can from his answers to what I hope are intelligent questions. (SEJ is in bold italic, Chris follows in plain text.)

Many people are interested interested in the track you book “Trust Agents” takes. Can you elaborate on “trust” as it applies to SM Chris?

It might surprise you that Julien Smith and I don’t consider Trust Agents, or The Impact Equation (our new book) as books about social media. We just use these tools to accomplish our goals. The book Trust Agents is about how to be human at a distance. The book, The Impact Equation, is about how to improve your idea, move it across a platform of value, and get people to care about it. Trust is important because it’s part of our buying decision. There are MANY ways we can derail a sale long before the “buy” button based on several tangible and intangible experiences.

The reason I asked about trust, and your new book, is because of the power SM has as a great influencer, but you also talk about the comings and goings of social networks, too, Chris. Do you think another social network will rise up to compete with the big three? 

I could care less about which social network survives. It’s like knowing which telephone will survive. If I have your number, I can reach you. The social network that will thrive won’t thrive in the future, because we get excited about different things.

For instance, right now, I like Instagram 1,000 percent more than Facebook. But a year ago, I would make fun of Instagram incessantly. What’s changed? I started to realize that Instagram was a much more reasonable look into someone’s life, whereas Facebook has a lot of sharing of funny or snarky messages just because they are clever. Who will win? Email marketing. No question. Not even joking.

In a Forbes interview you just gave, you allude to something interesting and important for “would be” social media gurus, that is an understanding of what SM “engagement” really means. My question is, “How can business professionals be taught SM is not some magic pill, an easy button to marketing success?” 

Business professionals can be taught that lesson quickly. Tweet all day and see how much revenue shifts. None. Engagement is just that: the ability to get someone to give a damn about what you have to say. What happens next is a deeper understanding of how these platforms drive business value. Not sales. All around value. That’s what I’ve come to learn. Know my two favorite metrics for judging your success at social media? $ and # of subscribers. That’s it.

In that same Forbes interview I was a bit amazed that one of the world’s most experienced social media consultants actually recommend email marketing for audience targeting and engagement. Can you quantify the idea of email versus or compared to SM campaigning for instance? 

First off, I despise “campaigning” unless you consider that an instance of a larger storyline.  Meaning, if I want 100 buyers, I will spend a lot of time nurturing relationships until I have the 100 buyers I want. I will then nurture another 20 buyers to be potential replacements, should I start losing people to attrition. But campaigns tend to be transaction-minded. “I need $x or we die.” What I want is “I’m tending the rows so that I’m getting a steady stream of $x.”

Email is the only social network where you hold the cards. If you mess up on Facebook or LinkedIn, they can pull the plug and all your effort is gone. If the world abandons Twitter tomorrow, I could care less how many followers you have. If you don’t have my email, and if I’m not OPENING your emails, then you have nothing. Nada. Nicht.

As a component of an overall marketing plan/campaign, how much resource do you think should be applied to email marketing, paid twitter or Facebook, and etc.? 

I put zero dollars on paid twitter or FB unless you have a ridiculously transactional product to sell. People tell me the stupidest things when they tell me they’re successful. “Well, we got 1,000 more likes.” I say, “Great! Did you get paid?”

Here’s the deal: if I were making up a marketing plan/mix, and online was going to be part of it, it’d be this: 20 percent Twitter, 30 percent blog, 50 percent email. Not RATE of messages sent. Weight of value of platform in your efforts. GET THEM TO SIGN UP. That ensures frequent potential chances to buy.

Referring to your talk with Forbes again, you flatly state AOL and Myspace as pretty much being “all in” where networking goes. If another network does arise from some social ash, how would it be differentiated from Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, do you think? 

I think the next networks will be unlike what we’ve seen. I keep hoping someone will pick up on what Nine Inch Nails (yes, the band) did years ago. They made a loose social network heavily mobile-based, that gave people proximity based networking. NOT Foursquare. Not “here’s everyone.” Instead, “here’s everyone who feels like talking about ____.” That’s the sexiest thing. These “from the ashes” brands are just trying hard to revive, but you know what they’re trying as models? Same thing: ads. The Internet is far more rich than ads. That’s just the easy first layer.

Turning the page for a moment, another of your books; “The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?” deals with essentially the “effectiveness” of messages. Just how much of your effectiveness equation relies on “adaptability”? I mean, how important is it becoming for organizations to be able to “shift” quickly, their focus?

The funniest thing about messages: marketers spend so much time worrying about how to say something. Want to know a secret? If they spent 10 percent more effort on learning to listen better (digitally), they’d make tons more money. Marketers think they’re paid on clever. Agencies propagate that stereotype. Marketers should be paid on revenue claimed. That would change the storyline drastically, don’t you think? To me, listening is the new black and will be for a long time. Deliver concierge-class service and people will buy from you even when you’re the most costly option. I know. I’m such a buyer.

I asked the previous question because in our news and PR business we are constantly presented with what I call “moments” like you suggest in your book. Window’s of opportunity for clients (businesses) arise nearly daily, yet very few companies are able to take advantage. My question is Chris, do you see corporate silos coming down in favor of some new dynamic structures? What do these structures look like?

Silos exist for one purpose: to keep simple systems in place to simply manage simple processes. Is there anything simple about today’s buying environment? Silos need to come down. In the course I developed around my book, I sell it to marketers, salespeople, and customer service types. I invite blended audiences, because to me, if you’re not punching all three tickets, at least to some degree, you’d best learn your barrista skills.

In a recent article on your website you talk about content marketing as a sort of “broadcasting” station, metaphorically that is. I find this extremely useful, especially for newcomers to the online content game (digital businesses). My question is; “How do you consult clients to get them to adopt the “magazine approach”?” 

Companies are flailing a bit right now because they have tried all these strategies that consultants have come up with and they’re coming up short. Meanwhile, the mainstream still isn’t giving them a lot of value. Know who agencies are competing with? Not each other. SAP.

My friend Jamie Anderson at SAP was showing me this retail tech that tells a store where people are lingering in the aisles, and all this other amazing data, and that’s all tied to the back end ERP systems. You think someone offering to give me a great campaign around a pink monkey will win over someone who has hard data on one’s physical proximity to a product and who can show me marketing data in REAL TIME?

When I sell the magazine approach, it’s wide-area funnel activity. I sell the concept that if you want to help the consumption-hungry modern buyer, you’ve got to equip them to be a hero. What does that mean? If you’re selling B2B, you’ve gotta give that person information and serving suggestions and follow-on support that will make them a hero to their boss. If you’re selling B2C, you’ve gotta help that person get the most out of their purchase. That’s what I do, anyway.

Your post “Everyday Is Someone’s First Day” is quite brilliant, for me anyway. In line with this idea, how important do you think it is that businesses try and “consider” customers’ real needs? Will the day come when everyone will be able to identify “good” companies, versus “bad” companies based on a digital footprint? 

I ask really simple questions to people when they bring me in. I ask, “is that how YOU buy?” when presented with their methods. There’s almost always a moment of dead silence. If I’m feeling really cocky, I’ll throw in an eye roll. But I mean it. People wouldn’t sell this way to their mom. Why do they think it’s okay to sell to “the customer base” that way? I push hard that companies adopt a sustainable, relationship-minded approach to business. I call it “human business,” but that’s because I’m frustrated that everyone thinks the shiny toys are what will save them.

Fairly often, I sell the modern approach to the oldest rule in the book: the Golden rule.

Take Away

Chris Brogan is a non-nonsense kind of guy. Some might suggest he is “brisk,” maybe even blunt. He is not really, this is just the effects of being honed I call it. The way Chris operates reminds me a bit of my brother when he came back from Vietnam. A Force Recon Marine, he was there a bit, changed somehow for better and worse. Being a talker, on a car ride one day I asked; “How come you are always so quiet now Paul?” He gave me his golden rule: “There’s not so many things to talk about that are really all that important,” He said. But when people know what they are talking about, those words carry weight.

Phil Butler
Phil Butler is theEditor at Everything PR, Argophilia Travel News,  and Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups,... Read Full Bio
Phil Butler
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  • What a throwback!! Good to hear from Chris. And I’m still a fan of email marketing – it’s customizable from the user standpoint and it’s the most effective way to get my attention.

  • Yes @Kristen, Chris was around way back when none of us knew exactly how to react to innovation. Remember back in the Mashable days when the least little thing made readers rush over and try stuff?

    A different day now, the result of a bit too much marketing of the wrong kind. Chris has always been one of the ones thinking outside the box, in that space where we projected Web 3.0 – and beyond. If you read his site some, or the books, his talks about “ads” being so outdated, I remember my thinking about another form of advertising.

    Clearly, we are not there yet. Thanks for taking the time Kristen.


  • I’m not trying to be harsh on YOU. I’m being harsh on business pros. We HAVE to turn our heads around.

    • Amen on “Brass Tacks” Chris, anybody having spent as much time and effort developing a skill, HAS to sooner or later “boink” some people on the head about direction. I never had a coach soft soap me into a winning performance.

      Thanks again for taking your valuable time Chris, looking forward to discussing the new “ad paradigm”, this interests me a great deal. Keep “boinking” businesses, the economy needs it.


  • Brogan is a genius! I love this quote the most “I put zero dollars on paid twitter or FB unless you have a ridiculously transactional product to sell.”

    Beautiful post!

    • @Steve, Thanks a lot, agree too on the “genius” aspect. Who’da’thunk’it back when everyone was scurrying about figuring out MySpace and how to answer questions on LinkedIn, getting diggs, then Stumbling about click, click, clicking, some would emerge as “Best Sellers”? I mean besides Tim O’Reilly, that is.

      As you suggest, Chris is “spot on” where businesses need to put their money. And, thank you for taking the time Steve.



  • Sunny Jain

    Chris has been around every digital street corner we have seen these last few years. It’s clear by the answers here, online marketing is coming of age.

  • Great article!
    This days when You count time (every seconds) its hard to find interesting themes to read 🙂
    I like ideas about SM, particularly ingenious or at least authoritative ideas .
    I will tell you one thing that wasn’t mention (ok it was, but hidden mind you) – Be creative – finding new ways, finding other’s mistakes and avoid them! – Only then will your goals will be met!

    Thanks for great article.

  • Quite a refreshing post. What I see as a trend is simple metrics as way of measuring success: number of tweets, follower count, Likes, number of backlinks etc. And the sad thing is that service providers would rather tone down on business benefits and stick with simple stats to justify the next check. Recently I had a situation of analyzing the social capital of a local repair shop. They had hundresd of Likes and new twitter followers from all over Aasia, but almost no contacts with people from their city. The value of that 27% monthly growth is social engagement? Zero $.
    Thanks for laying it out plain and simple, the success of SM should be measured in dollars, not Likes from people who wil never care or buy from you.

  • Chris Brogan never ceases to amaze me. In a age where the social media war of “twitter, vs. facebook. vs. linkedin…etc ensues, Chris says email marketing it still one of the greatest forms of social media communication. Mind blowing. In a recent debate with a business associate, I learned that many brand and social marketers are doing away with email marketing because of the spam levels and infrequent use of emails because of social media. I can hear it now…. Announcer: Let the games begin. In corner one: social media … In corner two: email marketing. It would really be interesting to see the influence levels for each. Well written article.

    • Sherita, if I may pitch in and answer your question.. The influence level issue was researched by MecLabs and their findings are spot on with what Chris says. In the Meclabs summary, organic traffic brought 29% of the clients, email marketing brought 25%, 12% of conversions came from PPC and only 6% from social activity.
      In terms of traffic, the power distribution is similar: 43% of traffic comes from

      • Sorry, hit Enter by mistake. Anyways, 43% of the site traffic comes from organic search, 25% comes from email marketing and only 5% from social.
        Using the 80/20 rule, it’s kind of obvious that SEO and Email Marketing are still the breadwinner activities.
        Basically it all boils down to how much each channel conveys brand reliability. With SEO and Email, it seems the percieved brand value is highest, and with PPC and Social, lowest. Perhaps because almost anyone can spend money on PPC and anyone can act as a XYZ Industry Rockstar on social sites by retweeting other people’s stuff.
        I guess it’s no wonder that Chris votes for Email Marketing, and we’re having this discussion on a SEO site. 🙂

      • @Igor, no worries on striking the wrong keys, I have misspelled just about everything of importance in the world these years. And you are so correct. I guess you know too, SEO, mail, Social, mobile, Lone Ranger radio broadcasts, it’s all going into the “channel” mix and is what we have to talk about. Between us bizillion SEJ and search fans, I always thought email marketing was dead as a door nail. Just goes to show, so we are here.

        Thanks Igor for taking the time, I’m actually glad somebody pulled the numbers outa their hat.


    • @Sherita. Thanks for the kudos, I know Chris will appreciate too. I was and am amazed too at how effective email marketing is. We have worked with a lot of top drawer SM marketing people over the years, the hurdles being overcome day by day in the social space – yet, somehow there is no “connect” quite like email. I intend to talk with Chris and others in that sphere to try and hash out just exactly what will replace or make the “ad” move over.

      Again, thanks for the nice comment Sherita, and for taking your valuable time.



  • Very interesting evaluation and response to the question. As a newbie to online business marketing it is now looking like email marketing and I will have that lunch date after all. I’m inspired Igor. 🙂

  • Great interview Phil, I was particularly interested in the paid section of twitter, facebook and emarketing. As a 20 year radio veteran reaching your target audience is a must, and Chris makes a great point in that e marketing is probably the best strategy in retaining and gaining new customers.

    Thanks for sharing with the crowd Chris.


  • Great post. Chris is 100% spot-on with his comments about email marketing emerging as the winning social network. Email, like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ is a great place to engage and hold conversations with your existing and potential client base. But thanks to the fact email marketing subscribers have gone one step further than simply clicking a “like” or “follow” button and actually registered their personal information to receive marketing communications – it’s the only realistic, “social” environment where you can actually sell and expect to see a return on investment.
    Email is trusted because it offers a formal environment. It’s a place where you might receive a job offer or conduct detailed, business related conversations. The combination of permission and trust make it a great place to promote and drive business transactions.
    iContact (where I am gainfully employed) recently published an infographic ( demonstrating email marketing’s dominance over social media. Not only do more adult internet users maintain at least one email account (92%) than visit social media sites (65%), they also prefer email marketing over social media for sourcing deals (13% compared to 3% on Facebook and just 1% on Twitter). Consumers who receive email marketing communications also spend more money with 44% larger orders and 28% more frequent purchases.
    Perhaps the most important stat revealed on the infographic is the return on investment marketers can expect to see from email with average returns standing at an amazing $44.25 for every dollar spent. With returns like this it’s not hard to see why 72% of marketers believe that email marketing ROI is very good.
    This is not to say social media shouldn’t have its place. It’s an essential driver of traffic for content marketers and provides a vital customer services role if monitored correctly. It can also help a business develop their personality and rapport with its customers. I believe social media has also strengthen email’s position by allowing email recipients to share their emails across their wider social networks – essentially turning email from a largely retention marketing tool to something of an acquisition marketing tool (without the costs normally associated with acquisition).

    • @John. Thanks for taking the time to share data. I see from Chris, and from you guys at Vocus and iContact too, a lot more refinements and tools coming online for all of the marketing channels we are talking about here. I’ve been doing a bit of work in the hotel marketing end myself, people like WIHP Hotels and some others tapping into paid and commission OTA channels. And too, we’ve started edging back in to email – sadly, and a lot because of my hardheadedness (eek) we were unbalanced in our approaches John.

      What you suggest in that infographic, bears fruit in as you point out “ROI” benefits that can be extraordinary. My only concern is, once everyone hops on board the pie is going to get pretty small. But then, maybe peeps stop opening mails again and another branch grows? Am I suggesting marketing methods a cyclical? Yep.

      Even still, I am not the guru Chris, you, and some of my other contemporaries are. Bottom line is like Chris says – $. I love your “acquisition marketing” argument too John. Maybe we can dig into that when you have the time?


  • Chris is right. Back in the day before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, me and a lot of friends hung out on chatrooms, IRC, ICQ, forums etc. Social Media isn’t about the platform, it’s about the engagement between people online throughout numerous tools.
    At the end of the day, it’s simply the conversation before the conversion. Email marketing lets engage in a more private manner in which you can come to an agreement between seller and buyer.

    • @Bob. A very good point here. SM as an introduction conduit is extraordinarily effective, and Twitter even better depending on the circumstance. Bottom line, “meeting up” with just about anybody you can name, is a part of using these channels effectively. Combined with blogs and other forms of media, email is obviously the “end all” unless we are talking handshakes. Nice one Bob.


  • Hi Chris. Simple Sells. Good insight in tying social media metrics to revenue and subscribers via email. It drives me nuts when I talk with people about social media and they go on about how they have tons of followers with little ROI proof. As an online marketer myself, I tell people to tie social media to email to do their list building activities and for making sure you’re drawing in good open rates. This is how social media is truly added to the sales pipeline and I’m stoked that you’re calling it out as it is.

    Personally, I believe that many social media marketers mean well, but just like in a cold call situation many social media marketers have cold feet when going for the close. I work with many social media marketers and the one thing I try to relay to them is that they’ve got to go for the close. It’s funny because their responses are usually like this; “I would, but then that person might dislike me or unfriend me or stop following me…..” Now I’m not saying that the job of a social media marketer is to turn into a cold caller. By all means – NO. There’s a certain “tact” that’s required and there’s a time for the close, but to NEVER build the close into a social media campaign kills the purpose of it’s creation in the first place.

    I really appreciate this interview. Many social media marketers look to your materials for insight and I think being able to take a stand in where a social media marketer should take responsibility is critical. I like to look at these goals as a creative “framework.” Definitely good stuff!

  • I haven’t heard from or checked in on Chris Brogan in a while, I do find his no nonsense, cut through the BS approach to be quite refreshing.

    As a B2B business I found his comment, “If you’re selling B2B, you’ve gotta give that person information and serving suggestions and follow-on support that will make them a hero to their boss” to be right on the mark. This is what we do everyday, it works, and is the first step in creating a true partnership in business. That’s what we want as a business. We don’t want to just fix your problem “du jour”, we want to be that trusted resource you can always call on and count on.

    As far as B2C, I think that environment is extremely fractured and scattered and it’s hard for businesses to know where to spend their time and money. The real answer is that they probably need to be everywhere.

    Phil, amazing Take Away points, your brother’s point of view is spot on.

    • @Brian. Thanks a lot for taking the time Brian, I know how busy you guys are at O’Rourke. As to your long term thought processes and methods, if only every business acted and reacted this way. A quick buck is worthless when compared to building a brand.

      As to Paul’s philosophy, I was so proud of him, just for him to take the time with me. We can learn so much from one another. With open minds and hearts, that is.

      Again, thanks for taking your time to comment. These discussions really can help us go places.



  • Thanks for posting this.. It’s been a pleasure to read 🙂

  • Nicole Garcia

    Thank you, for the information! I completely agree with Chris. I tell “clients” all the time that it’s not just twitter, fb, pinterest and BOOM sales. With a good team and collaboration between: building a relationship with one’s audience + content marketing, a blog is a must, email marketing and the “real life” aspect of “word of mouth”. All these put together is, in my opinion, the SM best plan. However, I find most businesses believe Social Media and SEO are quick fixes, want to employ RAM and just “hope” they generate “sales/leads”. I am NOT an expert, still learning, I appreciate all the information provided in article annd completely agree with Chris’s approach. Thank you!


  • I’m in real estate…and in our “bubble” SM is the only vehicle that warrants our attention. I have been an outlier by saying that I love the “old standards” email marketing and direct mail (for real estate) . At a tech conference I was jeered for saying these things… But hey….proof is in my pocketbook. I have a strategy for twitter and facebook is useless to my upscale clientele. Good one, here, Phil. Thanks Chris!

    • @Kevin. Hey man, thanks for taking the time, I know in your line there in Miami Twitter might just as well be a pelican diving for minnows. Nuf said, that for the most part echelons up there have too little time for SM. But their emails? Once you’re in… But then you know.

      Again, thanks for taking time away to engage here Kevin. Send us some South Beach instagrams man.


  • I’ve been reading the comments these past few days and they inspired me to write up a blog post with a bit of humor (I think), so Im sharing it with the community here, hope it creates a few fun moments for those who decide to spend 3-4 mins reading it

    • @Igor. Nice. I found myself laughing, thinking about another scene from Jerry Macguire. Cruise looks pleadingly at Cuba; “Help me, help you! You gotta HELP ME HELP YOU!” To wit, Cuba gets tickled at his agent. “I love that about you Jerry.” I find myself doing this with clients at times, the Jerry side of the dialogue, that is.

      “I am out here for you! You don’t know what it’s like to be me! You guys gotta help me, help you! You simply have to use all the channels, and each one has its own set of parameters and metrics.”

      Well, ROI is the root of all marketing. The only rub being if the client is patient enough for the “scent” to take hold. Thanks Igor, good points.