Building Powerful Online Relationships

Beth Trejo, CEO at Chatterkick (Sioux City, IA)

Beth Trejo is CEO at Chatterkick, a digital marketing agency that focuses on using social media platforms to connect businesses in a “real way” with their customers and drive to their businesses forward. Beth warns social media is complex. Time is everything on social and companies do not have the luxury of crafting content and sending it through committee approval processes. She cites studies that show that “about 80% of all businesses are not responding to their social media messages” – they only look at Facebook Messenger, skip the other places messages come in, and potentially miss out on big opportunities.

Beth believes that many companies cannot effectively manage social media internally. They may not have the time to handle the volume of content needed to build relationships. Coordinating messages across the range of platforms customers may be using adds to the challenge. In addition, businesses often do not realize that these platforms are communication channels and can used for far more than just advertising and promotion. 

Beth says, “It’s a lot of time to manage a social account. And if you have seven channels and lots of content going out, that’s a big job.” Chatterkick’s role is to help clients forge strong social media bonds and execute outreach expansion strategies. These “real connections” help companies:

  • build employee and customer loyalty 
  • gain competitive advantages 
  • understand and clarify what return on investment can really mean to them.

Beth explains how important it is to get employees of a company to share their employers’ content. Things that can impact employees “sharing” include:

  • Are they proud of how the company portrays itself online as a business? Do they like the company’s website? Do they like the content? (Put out content that makes them proud.)
  • Do they even know the content went out? (Tell them what is going out, when, and where and remind employees to share it if it is something they care about. Make it easy for them to share.)
  • Do they understand the underlying technology? If they share something, who it will go to? How will they do it? What will they say? What should they say? (They may need some training.)
  • Do they feel “authentic” in their brand amplification conversations? (Chatterkick believes that authentic content and real photos are what work on social platforms)

Beth believes a strong indicator of employee pride in their company and what it is doing is when they share the company’s social media content, not only with potential clients, but also with their friends and families. She has also found social media platforms to be a cost-effective way to recruit new employees – and “it’s not all just a LinkedIn game.” The biggest thing to think about when recruiting is not compensation, but the value proposition. Potential recruits are more responsive when presented with visual and digital representations of the company’s culture.” Even subtle differences can make jobs “stickier.”

Chatterkick had elements of distributed work long before Covid. Beth says remote work takes “constant work,” open dialogue, and a lot of thought about team needs, removing communication barriers, and preventing communication overload. These needs will change, depending on the teams involved, client needs, and community impacts. 

Beth can be found on her agency’s website at: chatterkick.com or by email at: beth@chatterkick.com

Transcript Follows:

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today by Beth Trejo, CEO at Chatterkick based in Sioux City, Iowa. Welcome to the podcast.

BETH: Thank you so much. Great to have a conversation with you today.

ROB: It’s great to have you here. Why don’t you start off by introducing Chatterkick and what areas of excellence the firm focuses on?

BETH: Yeah, I’d be happy to. Chatterkick was started 9 years ago. We really saw the need to help connect our business partners with real humans on the other end of logos. We use channels and platforms that are relevant, which happen to be social media, and we believe the power of those connections can help drive business forward. Some of our partners use us to build loyalty on behalf of their employees or their customers; other times, they use our support to help gain competitive advantages or really understand and clarify what return on investment can really mean to them.

We are often categorized as a digital marketing agency, which we definitely fit into that category, but really focus on the social media platforms and how they can impact business.

ROB: Got it. It might help to dig into a client as an example, because it sounds like you are perhaps more focused on the conversation aspect of social rather than the broadcast side. I might not have that quite right. Can you get us into what this might look like with a client? 

BETH: Oftentimes we find that businesses don’t have the time or the expertise to handle social media internally. We started on that premise and still fulfill many of those needs today. A business will come to us and say, “Hey, we need support. We’re just posting every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and that’s the extent of what we’re doing on social.” So, we help them develop a strategy and then execute the strategy to form those bonds from two-way communication as well as with advertising, marketing.

We’re seeing a ton of digital recruitment need right now. These platforms are communication channels, and I think sometimes we forget about that as business owners. There’s a lot of pushing of ads and promotion out there, and that oftentimes does work. But there is so much more that can be had on these platforms, and that’s where we see an opportunity for our business partners to get ahead.

ROB: That’s a great point to push in on, that substitutionary effect of content and objectives focusing more on maybe recruitment than some traditional messaging. How are clients looking at that? Is that an easier ROI for them to get their heads wrapped around, or is it just different?

BETH: I think it sometimes is easier. It really depends. There’s two things we see from return on employee engagement or digital recruitment strategies. The easiest one is “I was spending XYZ a year in the traditional ways to acquire new candidates, and I was able to save money (XYZ percentage) using some of these social tools.” Sometimes it’s just as easy and simple as that.

When it comes to employee engagement, it’s very similar to how you would measure your customer engagement on these platforms. The most manual and probably painful tracking way is to literally tag and count, tally up, who is engaging, how much they’re engaging, and digitally what does that presence look like with your team and your colleagues. Then there are other softwares and tools we can use to speed up that tracking process.

But ultimately, that’s where we see the businesses have some of the most success, because your employees are already connected to your customers. If they’re sharing your content, even if it is bleeding out to their friends and family, that’s how you know you have really proud employees that care about what you’re doing. They want to spread the word personally just as much as professionally.

ROB: That’s an excellent point. It can be such a tricky thing to thread because people really are often proud of the work that they do but can also feel inauthentic to an extent. We just had a team retreat, and one of my team’s suggestions – certainly not mine – was that the team could amplify our social content. But it also feels awkward to ask them to do that.

How do you think about helping employees to feel authentic in their brand amplification conversations?

BETH: That’s a really good question. You never want to force people to do it. I think there is a fine line. I see a lot of businesses try to give incentives or find ways to gamify that, and I do think the concept of gamifying that is interesting. I’ve seen it work. But if you want to stay authentic, the best way to do it is put content out there that maybe different business units or different teams are really proud of.

A lot of the hesitation when it comes to why your employees aren’t sharing your content, from what we’ve found, is technical. Some people are still really scared and they don’t know how to do some of the technical things on these platforms. They don’t know, if they share it, who it will go to. How will they do it? What will they say? What should they say? If you have people that are naturally not digital natives, there may be some learning. That’s the biggest barrier they’re having.

The other barrier we see is they just aren’t proud of how you portray yourself online as a business. Ask your employees: Do they like your website? Do they like the content you’re putting on social? If there’s a big gap, chances are they’re not going to share it.

Then the other thing is a lot of people miss things in your content. It’s not a matter of they don’t want to; it’s just they didn’t know it went out. There’s eight different platforms they’re following; they’re not thinking about searching you out. So, you need to make it extremely easy for them, even if it’s as simple as sending it out in your update, like, “This is the content that’s going out this week. It’s important to us because of this.” Maybe you hit up your Slack channel and say, “Hey, this post just went out. If this is something you care about, please share it.” Just little reminders make the biggest difference.

ROB: That nudge there certainly seems helpful. When we’re talking about recruitment, I’ve seen billboards for restaurant jobs; I’ve seen online ads for executive jobs. Is there a sweet spot for you? Is it more in a B2B context, white collar? Is it consumer and retail and that sort of thing?

BETH: I think the beauty of it is we’re doing everything from filling food processing manufacturing jobs to high level white collar leadership positions. Again, if you just think of these platforms as communication channels and not as solutions, different strategies definitely work on a lot of the platforms, honestly. It’s not all just a LinkedIn game when it comes to recruitment.

The biggest thing that businesses really need to think about is, what is the value prop you’re putting out there on the job? So many people are still using the “We’re looking for an energetic self-starter.” When you are in a very high demand employment category, you have to offer something different. You have to find that one little thing that makes your company unique as an employer brand and lean into that, because that is what will attract the right type of candidates and the ones that maybe you’re having a hard time finding in other traditional ways of recruitment.

ROB: And it’s not going to be as transactional, either, as the “We have $13, $15, $20, $25, $30 an hour jobs,” because what you lead with is what you get. You’re going to get someone who’s chasing a dollar and they’ll take $5 an hour more somewhere else when they can find it. You’re leading with who they can be and become.

BETH: Right. If you really have it dialed in – some of the employers we’re working with that are recruiting both production type jobs as well as leadership positions really have a visual and digital representation of who they are from a culture perspective. Those little, subtle differences oftentimes will help make jobs stickier.

It makes a big difference when it comes to – you’ll get that passive candidate that’s sitting in front of their TV watching movies. Your job has to be positioned well enough that they will take action. Very different than if they’re searching on Indeed and actively trying to find a job. That’s where social media is extremely powerful. It’s that “Would you go to a job if you didn’t have to work nights and weekends?”

One of our best performing ad’s copy units says something along the lines of “If you can’t name one reason you like your job, it’s time for a different job.” It’s funny because we could put every incentive out there. You’d think that’s what would really drive people – sign-on bonuses and all of these very attractive financial rewards – but that one is the one that actually gets the most people to apply.

ROB: That’s really, really interesting. Beth, you mentioned that Chatterkick’s been around about 9 years. Take us back a little bit and maybe share, how did the business start? What led you to take this dive?

BETH: I did not come from an agency world. I created an agency that I would want to work with. Prior to starting Chatterkick, I was at a regional Chamber of Commerce. I was an account management position where I would go out and visit with businesses and literally ask them, “How can I help you on behalf of the Chamber?” What that led to is a lot of answers that fit into buckets of they needed to communicate with their potential employees or their potential customers.

They were kind of stuck at that time – this is 12 years ago, probably – about how to navigate the digital trends, how to understand the power of their website. I saw these conversations and they were happening more and more and more, and people were looking to me for the solutions, and I was saying, “Okay, there’s Facebook. Try it this way,” plug and playing all of the different platforms.

I was also in in-person meetings – committee meetings, coffees, lunches – and was watching the purest and oldest school form of social networking, handshakes and connecting with people in real life and forming relationships. I really saw the power of that. I was taking that same model and helping businesses move that to the digital world.

That really was the premise on how Chatterkick was born, and why I still believe in that power of a real person on the other end of some of our digital elements and platforms. I think that is a differentiator in many categories today.

ROB: And your clients will certainly see that as well when you have that personal touch, that personal handshake – although some of that has been limited a little bit over the past year, limiting even for teams. Have you been able to get together with clients? Has your team been separate? How have you thought about that personal touch when the physical touch has been maybe easy, maybe not easy to find?

BETH: We’re a remote team anyways and we’ve had different elements of remote over the last 10 years. But even in the last 5 years, we’ve definitely hired team members in different markets, and our clients are all over the country. So that wasn’t a huge change, but one of the biggest changes that we had to overcome was our content captures.

One of the ways that we’re a little bit different than a lot of agencies is we believe that authentic content and real photos, regardless of the type of business you have, are the things that work on social. So, we include that with every engagement, whether they’re in New York City or in the Midwest. That content capture – and this is content specifically designed for social media, so it’s a little bit different than a commercial photo shoot – but we had to reconfigure what those looked like when the pandemic hit.

What we ended up doing was we did them virtually. It was almost like a podcast episode, and we would take the audio and use it for content. We would take the quotes and use that for Instagram stories. We would take screenshots of the person and what they were saying and develop that for thought leadership pieces.

It ended up working well for a lot of our businesses that couldn’t have people onsite even if they wanted to. It still allowed us to get that real content from the leadership team and from the employees working at the business without having all of the work on them to source up the photos and the pieces of content that work on the platforms.

ROB: You’re in this somewhat unique – not completely unique, but relatively so – position where being distributed was nothing new to you. What have you found to be some of the key factors to making distributed work and cadences of gathering, if there are any?

BETH: We were just having these conversations internally, too. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned about remote work is it’s constant work. You need to constantly be thinking, “How can I help my team? How can I remove communication barriers? How can I help prevent communication overload?” Because that is also a real thing that happens with everybody online all the time.

So it’s a constant conversation that we have, and I think it’s going to continuously change on what that looks like depending on the team we have, depending on the client’s needs we’re addressing, and the different parts of what our communities look like. Some of them are wide open right now and others are a little bit less. What does that look like for different thresholds and tolerances of gathering right now? An open dialogue and communication is really where we’re starting.

We did open our office. We have one primary office that is almost like a co-working flex space that we’re keeping right now to let people come together locally if they would like to. We’re kind of leaving it in their hands. And then our remote team, which is probably 60% of the total workforce right now, are welcome to go to co-working spaces, but many of them are still working directly in their home.

ROB: That’s such an interesting dynamic even in and of itself: who chooses to go out and work somewhere and who chooses not to. You see trends emerge, but it’s so much deeper and more complicated than that for everyone’s situation.

BETH: It really is. I think just having the mindset of flexibility is really important. I know I like that. Like, “My house is going to be quiet today so I’m going to work from home,” or on the other side of that, “My kids are going to be around and having their friends at the house, so I want to be at the office today.” [laughs] I think that is really nice to be able to offer and have that flexibility on where you work, because your days all look different too.

ROB: Absolutely. Beth, you mentioned how this thing started. What did it look like when it started to grow? How did you think about what goals were key to bring on, when it was key to maybe bring on someone else essential on the executive team side, that sort of thing?

BETH: I have an interesting story. I started out myself, and I had an administrative partner who was more than just administrative. Almost a key executive that was able to help me ramp up the business. She wasn’t working full time in the business; more of a support system.

I am great at speaking and leading teams, but the details are not necessarily my friend, especially as it relates to starting a business. So, she was really able to come in and help align some of those weaknesses and things that slowed me down. Because when you’re starting, you need to get customers. We ended up landing a pretty large customer in the beginning. While I thought I would be cold calling all day long, I was really working directly servicing customers.

Then we had an intern come in and hired her full time. That was our first full-time employee. It was one of the scariest things I had to do as a business owner, especially at that time, because it is scary to hire someone. Once we got to a three-person team is really where I felt like we could gain a top of opportunity and momentum. We were all on the same page. We had our defined skillsets. We were able to move quickly and adjust quickly and get a lot accomplished during that timeframe.

Actually, when we scaled, we kept that model and, in some regard, reverted back to these three to four people dynamic teams that surround each of the customers. In social, time is everything. You don’t want to spend 4 hours creating one Facebook post and then send it to four copywriters and approval process. Overwork is a thing when it relates to content. We didn’t want to have these two silos like traditional agencies have in some regards of creative on one side and execution/implementation. It was too many account management barriers.

So, we created these teams that can work quickly on content and have those conversations on a regular basis. If someone needs to change copy a little bit or an employee is no longer there and they need to take them from the website, that can happen a lot quicker than trying to make it through four different departments and leadership teams.

ROB: I think that’s a great takeaway, that pod approach. You’re not having some sort of interchangeable copy team trying to learn brand voices they haven’t seen in 6 months. It makes a ton of sense.

As you reflect on the business so far, what are some other lessons that you have learned where you might have course-corrected sooner in the business if you had learned these lessons sooner?

BETH: I think one thing that has always been challenging for me – and it still is, and it’s one of those things I continue to work on – is I often avoid conflict. Because of that, I’ve probably avoided tough conversations a little too long, whether that’s with clients or team members. Not addressing things in a fast and immediate fashion has let things dwindle and bubble up in ways that never really was my intention, but I have noticed that can really impact the organization, again, on both the customer and the employee side.

That’s one thing I am continuously working on, being able to move into an area of conflict in a quicker manner and address things – still kindly and not trying to be a jerk, but sometimes those tough conversations are the ones you need to have the most.

ROB: It’s definitely a balance in there somewhere. We all know the stories of the closely held business where the person in charge is just kind of a maniac.

BETH: Right. [laughs]

ROB: How do you reflect and find those moments where sometimes it’s time to let something go a little bit, sometimes it’s time to lean into it and address it?

BETH: Oh man, if I had the answer to that, that’d be awesome. That is something that is really hard. I think a lot of agency leadership struggles with that because, you’re right, you don’t want to make hasty decisions, either, and you need to have the right information. But sometimes you won’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle to actually make a decision. Sometimes you’ve just got to move on with it.

I have looked at some awesome models out there, like “Is it urgent? Is it immediate?” and better prioritizing and planning on that decision-making, but it’s still tough. [laughs]

ROB: Sometimes we just need to know that, too, and that helps to know that it’s tough for us, absolutely.

Beth, as you reflect on what’s coming up next for Chatterkick and your clients – I feel like we’re a little bit away from the new and exciting channels conversation for the most part. It used to be the channel of the month or the week or the year. There are still new channels, but it feels like it’s less about the flavor of the day. What’s coming up that you’re excited about?

BETH: This is probably a unique answer, but I’m actually excited that some of these platforms and the people that are using them – businesses, agencies – are reverting back to “Maybe we should look at something a little bit simpler,” or “Maybe we need to answer all of our reviews in our comments” or “Maybe we do need to take a stand on something that’s important to us as an organization and put it out there into the world, or showcase our people more.”

I think that is exciting to me because I’ve seen things become so ad-heavy, so commercialized that we forget who we’re talking to. We always talk about, “Would you click on that?” I mean, how many times do we as businesses put content out there and say, “I wouldn’t click on this. This doesn’t look interesting to me”? There’s an element of that that I think we forget about.

I have seen the trends of people – and there’s data that supports it – that businesses are looking for customer experience and forming those intimate relationships with their customers, and that wasn’t always the case, especially in the consumer goods category or the fashion industry. But there are brands that are doing it really well, and they’re seeing market share shifts. That is what really excites me because I really do think we want to know what our lipstick brand is all about. We want to have that information so that we feel like we can narrow our choices when it comes to products or services, both in the B2B and B2C space.

ROB: It sounds like it ties back a little bit to that differentiated hiring conversation. We’re in, as you mentioned, various stages of reopening from COVID. We have companies that need employees, we have companies that are trying to reacquire customers, we have new entrants. It seems a little bit like the transactional commodity value prop. Maybe for the moment it’s even being a little bit priced out of the ad mix. Everyone needs the same ad space, the same inventory.

BETH: Yeah, I definitely think that. I see, again, businesses taking a step back and saying, “We have 500 priorities today” – small businesses as much as large entities. “How are we going to prioritize what really matters to our customers, what matters to our teams that will be supporting these customers? Is what we are selling or telling a good use of our time, and does it reflect what we’re about?” I have noticed that shift a little bit.

I’ve also noticed people ignore that, and they’re struggling when there’s a crisis. They’re struggling when some of their employees post something bad about them. They’re struggling when they get a negative review. If you can’t get ahead of it, you’re going to be in that scenario where you’re constantly playing defense. I just think that’s a hard place to be in the digital space.

ROB: Absolutely. When you’re talking about employee reviews, is that more Glassdoor or more Yelp?

BETH: You see it across the board. You see it from people posting on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to people posting on your employer review sites – Glassdoor, Comparably, Indeed. But then you also see it coming in your comments on your platforms. Maybe it’s on your Instagram post, maybe it’s on your LinkedIn post.

The statistics still say that about 80% of all businesses are not responding to their social media messages, and I think a lot of that is because they’re just checking Facebook Messenger. They’re not checking all the other spots that these messages come in. I always tell our partners, Step 1 for ROI is just answer your digital phone. You have to be there, you have to respond. It’s just the way that people want to communicate these days, and if you’re not there, you may lose out on a big opportunity.

ROB: That’s an interesting rise that you’re alluding to. The consumer-facing social is what we’ve historically thought about as social, but it almost seems like businesses that are smaller than would usually need a CorpComms department now have a CorpComms function to their social.

BETH: Yeah. We see that even with businesses that never thought they would be – their audience isn’t on Facebook, their audience isn’t on Instagram. What they don’t realize is they’re in different mindsets. Go grab your customer’s phone. Is Facebook eating up their battery? Are they on Instagram? Chances are, they are. They’re just maybe not in that same mindset, or maybe they’re looking at it differently.

But if you’re not there to check the messages, you can miss big deals or customer service complaints or just contact requests that don’t get followed up with. They’ll come through those channels, oftentimes.

ROB: That sounds more than a little bit overwhelming, but I’m guessing that’s why people call you.

BETH: [laughs] Right, exactly. That’s the other thing we have really tried to educate people on over the last 9 years. I understand the allure of “This is an intern’s job; let’s go grab an intern. They can do all the things.” But if you’ve ever done all the things, you realize the width of how many platforms and how different the platforms are, and then the depth and how many steps need to happen before one Facebook post or one LinkedIn post goes out.

So, I think it’s really important for leaders and executives to understand that this isn’t just a simple thing anymore from a technical perspective. It’s a lot of time to manage a social account. And if you have seven channels and lots of content going out, that’s a big job.

ROB: Absolutely, it is. Beth, when people want to get in touch with you and with Chatterkick, where should they go to find you?

BETH: They can go to chatterkick.com. It’s spelled just like it sounds. My email is pretty easy to access; it’s all over our website, but it is beth@chatterkick.com.

ROB: Sounds great. Beth, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, for sharing the Chatterkick journey, for sharing the fits and starts of reopening and all that means for teams and marketers and businesses as well. It’s been really helpful.

BETH: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

ROB: Thank you, Beth. Be well.

Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.