Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Social media consultants guide owners through Web marketing

DALLAS — Jerry Wright is a whiz when it comes to inventing protective face gear but considers himself a “social media idiot.” Nick Schaeffer is a master electrician, not a master of the virtual universe.

Yet both are finding marketing success on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media.

They routinely post blogs, star in slick, newslike videos and continuously fine-tune their social media strategies to the ever-shifting online landscape — yet spend minimal time fixated on it.


They’re among the 200 small and midsize companies that have outsourced their social marketing to Splash Media LP in Addison, Texas, near Dallas, in the past year and a half.

Most clients pay $5,000 a month to get four blogs ghostwritten, one custom video, monitoring of social network chatter and monthly assessments of how well their strategies are working.

“We can’t just get people excited about social. It’s got to work,” said Chris Kraft, Splash Media’s co-founder and chief executive. “Our clients don’t have the luxury of throwing tens of thousands of dollars doing branding experiments. They have to have real customers come across the transom with every dollar they spend.”

Splash Media’s multi-million-dollar studio rivals those of major news organizations. It has a virtual backdrop to create custom sets, and its state-of-the-art technology can make even a small electrician look big time.

With 2011 revenue expected to reach $14 million, Splash employs 84 full-timers, including 40 account managers.

It also contracts with 130 blog ghostwriters (mostly former teachers and journalists), as well as a video production crew and on-air talent.

“When you look under the hood of social media, it’s really just the next iteration of Internet marketing,” said Paul Slack, co-founder and chief strategist. “We help clients find where their target audiences are. Then we help them fish in those ponds.”

There are more than 200 of those social ponds, but Splash Media focuses on the big lakes: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

“We go to where the eyeballs are,” Kraft said. “We don’t claim to be experts. We’re learning every day.”

Displacing Twitter

Lately there’s rapid eye movement to Google+, which Kraft predicts will be the No. 2 social media platform behind Facebook, displacing Twitter in two years.

Splash Media is a combination of Kraft’s video production company and Slack’s Internet marketing company, WebDex Inc., following a merger in early 2010.

Both men are in their early 40s and have been entrepreneurs since their high school days in Dallas. Both dropped out of college their freshman year.

Kraft, who produced a No. 1 country music video early in his career, got into corporate video production in 1995.

“I got together with my filmmaking buddies and said, ‘Corporate videos suck. What if we skip the agencies and go direct to the companies’ marketing teams and tell them: ‘Look, we can bring all these filmmaking and storytelling abilities to your corporate videos.’ ”

In 2004, he shifted into the Internet, forming Splash Media with funding from Timbercreek Capital LP, owned by a former boss.

Kraft’s idea was to create corporate TV networks on the Internet.

“You didn’t have to be part of a health care network or an automotive network,” Kraft recalls thinking. “You could be McAfee network or Adobe TV with your own TV station. They could create their own information pipeline to communicate with both internal audiences and its customers.”

Adobe bought the concept in 2007. “They took their top product evangelists (a glorified euphemism for top salespeople) into our studio and created dynamic training and educational pieces, which were really marketing pieces.”

McAfee Inc., which is still a client, signed on the next year.

Slack, in a parallel universe, began his Internet journey working for an e-commerce company that went bust.

In the fall of 2000, Slack took about $10,000 that he had left to start WebDex, which helped businesses attain visibility on search engines and generate sales leads. “Everyone was thinking: ‘Plug a shopping cart on the end of your website, and you’ll make a bazillion dollars,’” Slack laughs. “Nobody was thinking: ‘How are you going to get people to your Internet store?’ ”

Clients paid Slack a monthly retainer of $2,000 to $3,000. He wanted to offer videos for an additional $500 a month. Kraft thought $15,000 a video was more like it. In late 2009, they came up with an answer. They combined Slack’s expertise with Kraft’s content creation for a monthly fixed rate.

Route can get bumpy

It’s turned into an avenue for success, but one fraught with potholes.

“Two companies coming together,” began Slack. “Two cultures coming together. And we immediately launched a new product that nobody had ever delivered before. There were definitely growing pains.

“But at least we didn’t kill each other.”

The highest-paying client, a marketing company in the Washington area, has a $30,000 monthly tab. “That’s an outlier,” Kraft said. “Eighty percent of our clients pay $5,000. On the low end, we have an electrician with five trucks bopping around the metroplex. That’s a big investment for a smaller company.”

Kraft is talking about Schaeffer, whose knees knocked the first time he stared into the camera and read his script.

Now that he’s made a dozen information videos, the 44-year-old owner of ElectricMan Inc. in Dallas has found his groove.

“I’m able to release the passion that I have, and they capture it,” said Schaeffer, whose video topics include lighting tips when remodeling a home, how to protect a home from power surges and how to check the wiring when buying an older home.

He pays Splash about $3,000 a month — his most expensive and most effective advertising expense. “I’m getting a more intelligent customer who is more informed about what they want.”

Renay San Miguel, former television reporter and anchor for CNBC and CNN Headline News, is Splash Media’s chief content officer, helping write scripts and doing on-camera interviews.