It’s no secret that the world is more connected than ever. Internet penetration is growing exponentially, and with Facebook’s mission to ‘connect the world’ by providing Wi-Fi connectivity to remote areas in the world, that are otherwise inaccessible, you can be sure this shift in the way we live our lives is here to stay. Curaçao is very much at the forefront of this shift, with an Internet penetration of 86.7%, far surpassing global Internet penetration numbers and those of the Caribbean region, and Facebook penetration at an astonishing 93.1%. (Source: Internet World Stats – www.internetworldstats.com/stats2.htm).
Text By Maruja Bogaard
There’s no question Curaçao is riding the digital wave. But what does this mean when it comes to doing business? How can we benefit from this disruption in the way we live and the way we consume, or – perhaps more importantly – the way our customers consume? We spoke to Mark Babbit, co-author of ‘A World Gone Social’, to gain an enlightened perspective.
Mark Babbitt has been named on the list of ‘Top 100 most desirable mentors’; been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes; runs one of the top 5 online communities for college students entering the workforce; and is a true advocate of how social and digital media can enrich the way we do business today.
MB – Mark, one of the things that stuck with me, when reading ‘A World Gone Social’ was the inspiring story of how your company YouTern got started, and the influence social and digital media had in turning it into what has been recognized as one of the top 5 career sites for college students. Can you tell us more?
Mark – The success of YouTern was an accident – that’s the best way to put it. Inspired after seeing an online recruiting business fail, pretty much because like most job boards, they were taking the ‘human’ out of ‘human resources’, we thought ‘what if we created a site that not just helps people – particularly college students – find jobs, but helps them prepare for jobs.’ At first no one knew we existed. But my team believed in the power of social and digital media, and of blogging, and slowly but surely our efforts started catching on. Then we got a huge break: Mashable selected us as a top 5 career site for starting your career, and literally overnight we went from, ‘Does anybody know we exist?’ to ‘the Motherland.’ From there, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc., and The Wall Street Journal found us, and word of mouth spread and all of a sudden we were helping thousands of people every month find their next job or internship.
MB – Incredible how instrumental social and digital media were in getting your message out. And to think that your team struggled to get your buy in!
Mark – Oh, I was the typical old guy, who thought: “Facebook is for kids – there’s no way that we can build a business model based on social media.” It took them three months to convince me to get on Twitter. They did everything for me: set up the Twitter accounts, helped me get a Facebook page, and spruced up my LinkedIn profile. At the time I had no idea, not just of the power of getting on social media and treating people with respect, but also of the blogging and the digital media side. I was so new to all of it that I was shocked to see how it helped us get where we needed to go.
MB – There’s something else that was a winning strategy for YouTern. You have a philosophy of giving away value-added content.
Mark – Yes. Social media gives you a chance to talk to people, and to listen! But talking is not the same as providing a valuable resource. And that’s what set us apart. To this very day, we still give away everything we know for free, with the belief that people will choose us when looking to choose a career partner. And it’s that kind of loyalty that community building, (empowered by social and digital media), helps us earn.
MB – That struck a chord with me, because it’s a topic that often comes up in my work with clients. Many struggle to find that fine balance between giving away information freely and that infinitely important ROI.
Mark – There is an absolute balance in giving away enough information to establish ourselves as subject matter experts, but not giving away so much that the company, or client no longer needs us as consultants, as speakers, as solution providers. When you find that tipping point between giving just enough away where your customer knows you’re the right choice to help them solve their problem – that’s where the magic happens, that’s where the ROI kicks in.
MB – That’s a great way of putting it! So, one of the things I love about ‘A World Gone Social,’ is that you go down to the core of what social media and social business really accomplishes – how it transforms us as people and as communities, and how that is applicable, not only to customers, but also to employees and to business leaders. Who did you have in mind when you were writing it?
Mark – We actually wrote the book for leaders at many different levels. We wanted to bring about a shift in the traditional thinking of leaders of large corporations, in particular, who are so much more interested in maintaining control over their employees, over their customers, over their processes than they are in listening to their customers and their employees, and offer a better way to lead, a better way to hire the best people, and to treat customers. But this was so counterintuitive to them, that they didn’t get it at all. However, a more diverse crowd of middle managers and younger leaders kind of latched on to the book, and saw it as a way to differentiate themselves by being more inclusive, more collaborative. They realized they could win the respect of their team by being themselves, and by being open and vulnerable.
And we’re so proud of the fact that we’re actually helping social media become kind of a middle-out, bottom-up trend and an organic movement in the workplace – instead of the topdown, traditional way.
MB – Also for entrepreneurs and leaders of small and medium businesses, (SMB’s), who are often able to make a quicker turn-around in the way they do business – it’s a great philosophy for them to adopt.
Mark – That is absolutely true. We often talk about contagious pockets of excellence in our consulting practice. Nobody wants to be told that change is inevitable and is going to happen at them, or to them. They want to help make change happen. They want to be part of that metamorphosis. And it happens by social listening, by collaborating, and by hiring the right person at the right time – these, often young, entrepreneurs know how to tap into that. And when change starts to happen, they go back to their team and say ‘look what we’ve just accomplished!’ Evaluate, compare, and iterate. That’s where organic change starts to happen. And our goal is to help companies realize that change, by building those contagious pockets of excellence.
MB – So social and digital media really is where business is happening right now…
Mark – It is! And I think, especially for those people who are reluctant to embrace it, it’s time to realize that social and digital media is a way of life, not just a way of running your business. You know, not being on social and on digital media today is like hearing the phone ringing – knowing here’s a potential customer on the end of the line – and yet you refuse to answer. Social and digital media is how business is done; it’s how life is done. And if your business or your personal brand isn’t on social media, being transparent and authentic, and leveraging all that’s good about social and digital media, you’re missing out!
MB – You say transparent… In the book you refer to transparency as ‘one of the most paramount elements of business success.’ How can we make transparency work for us – especially on social and digital media?
Mark – That’s a terrific question, and actually quite difficult to answer; here’s why: transparency, like authenticity, has become such a buzzword. And it’s absolutely tragic that we minimize these concepts to buzzwords, because there’s nothing more important on social and digital media than being yourself. So instead of using a discredited buzzword, let’s instead talk about honesty. Let’s talk about vulnerability, and what it takes to not just be a subject matter expert, but a trust-worthy, likeable person, that people actually want to do business with. That’s what transparency and authenticity does for us. It not only puts us in a position of being known as a technical expert, or a subject matter expert, but as a person that people trust enough to want to work with.
MB – Mark, it’s been an honor and a true pleasure. In closing, do you have any advice for those who wonder how to truly make social and digital a way of life, and struggle to find the time? Can we take it step by step?
Mark – Oh God, yes! It took months for me to embrace social media. I can’t expect anybody else to do anything differently. I think we can get our profiles up and get our toes in the water, and see what works best for each of us. For some it may be Facebook, for others it’s Twitter or Instagram. Just listen for a while, see what is being said, and when you feel ready, get out there and join the conversation. But don’t be afraid to listen first – the world can use more great listeners!