The Journey of a Social Media Marketer: Q&A with SMT Influencer Nathan Mendenhall

Here at SMT, we’re always thinking about how to put the ‘social’ in Social Media Today. From our #SMTLive Twitter chats, social media groups, and other interactive social accounts (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) we get that social media is at its best when it brings people together.

Being that our influencers are one of our very favorite parts of our community, we decided sharing their stories, tips of the trade, and advice with you would be a fun (and very social) task. They’re the leaders of our SMT contributors, and they’re excited to share their perspectives with you.

This is the fifth in our series of interviews with our Social Media Today influencers.

Recently, we sat down and chatted with SMT influencer Nathan Mendenhall. According to his SMT bio, “Mendenhall is a social media professional who specializes in creating award-winning. data-driven social media marketing strategies”. Currently, Nate serves as the Director of Social Strategy at THAT Agency. and can be found on Twitter at @NCMSocial.

Social Media Today: How (and when) did you get started in the social media marketing world?

Nate Mendenhall: I got into social media marketing ten years ago. It was literally my first job out of college. I actually didn’t really take the job listing seriously because at that time using Facebook and Twitter for marketing purposes was absurd. There weren’t even ads on the platforms at that time. Luckily I took a chance – and here I am.

SMT: What major impacts has social media had on your career and the marketing industry in general?

NM: Social media marketing revolutionized the way that consumers interact with each other and the way consumers interact with brands. Never before in human communications has the average person had the ability to raise a brand up or tear one down with a piece of content.

However, this amplification of communication makes things much more complicated when it comes to measuring the exact amount of influence social media has over a consumer’s buying decision. We know there is influence, but there are so many other factors to consider when observing digital buying behavior that we’re kidding ourselves if we think a single tweet sold a particular item all alone. The marketing industry, as a whole, has had to become more data-driven, detail oriented and transparent. Also, the industry must be more apt to change, as the evolution of social media marketing has been lightning quick over the last ten years.

From a personal perspective, I would still be in marketing to some capacity if social media didn’t exist, however, it has helped me build a personal brand, and develop a skill set that saw me sitting across the table from CMOs of competitive brands at a very young age. Imagine being 23 years old and debating the use of social advertising with an executive team that has 20+ years experience, yet little to none with social advertising.

Social media has provided me with an adventurous career up to this point.

SMT: What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in social media?

NM: We have a very big problem in the industry which leads to a lot of challenges and blatant disregard for proven best practices.

Social media is the only marketing platform that literally everyone has access to via their mobile device. With little to no experience, anyone can pop open Instagram and call themselves a marketer, or create memes and proclaim to be a ‘social guru’.

There’s so much more to marketing a business via social media that, when I explain what should go into a proper strategy, people’s eyes glaze over. There is so much detail and data incorporated into a strategy that builds a business – most people don’t realize this. More “senior” leadership in some organizations think that having their college graduate niece or nephew run their social accounts is “doing social media” right, because they’re younger [and] more digitally savvy. This is a terrible thing for digital professionals. Would these same people allow that same college graduate to plan a TV commercial or radio ad? Social media marketing can reach 10x the people, at a fraction of the cost. Imagine that.

Let me be clear – everyone can learn the best practices and principles needed to effectively market a business on social. However because the platforms are so accessible, most people grossly underestimate what goes into a successful effort. With this lack of education comes the myth that vanity metrics boil down to business objectives. Yes, impressions and engagements are useful indicators of how content is being consumed by social media audiences, however, with the application of social advertising, followers are pretty much obsolete when it comes to tracking them to bottom line business objectives.

Way too many brands abandon fruitful social media strategies and partnerships because they didn’t get enough Instagram Followers last quarter. Blah.

SMT: What are the best parts of working in social media?

NM: I would have to say that the gratification of working in social media comes from being able to leverage so much data to achieve a goal.

Literally every interaction on social channels creates data that’s ripe for use. Leveraging that opportunity to create measurable results is really exciting for me.

SMT: How do you expect social media to evolve in the business world over the next 10 to 20 years?

NM: That is an interesting thing to think about, because ten years ago, social media was in its infancy.

I actually think we’ll go through a period of time where people will pull away from social media in the more traditional sense. As the coming generations will grow up always having had a digital footprint, they might be less averse to sharing content about themselves and their lifestyles on social media.

I predict a boom in data, and how it’s used to understand consumers, and target them through advertising – way more than today. Social channels will fragment more, and people will gravitate to the platforms that have more like-minded users.

SMT: What’s your favorite social media platform today, and how do you expect that platform to evolve over time?

NM: Professionally, I’m platform agnostic. It doesn’t matter which platform my client partners are on, so long as it’s serving their business objectives.

Personally, my first love is Facebook, just because my friends and family tend to do more storytelling there – however, consuming content on Instagram is much quicker, so I find myself spending more time there on a daily basis. I expect Instagram to implement more algorithmic signals – a la Facebook – as more and more brands jump into the mix.

Tik Tok is also making a lot of noise, so I bet that will get bought up and/or replicated in the near future.

SMT: What’s the best advice you would share with someone new to the field?

NM: Just because you enjoy using social media, that doesn’t mean you know how to use it to build a business.

As long as you check your assumptions at the beginning, and keep an open mind, you’ll do great. It’s not rocket science, but it definitely takes some experience to become an efficient and successful social media marketer.

Also, always be learning. Things change quickly, and you can easily be left behind if you don’t continue your education.

Follow up: What’s your favorite article that you’ve written for SMT and why?

NM: Not to be a dork, but I’ve written over 100 articles over the years for SMT. I need a new hobby. 

My favorite would have to be a recent one entitled “11 Reasons Your Website Speed Is Killing Your Social Media Marketing.” It’s not the sexiest article, but it showcases a missing link that impacts the success of social marketing campaigns. Everyone wants to talk about how ‘cool’ or ‘viral’ their content is, but that doesn’t mean much if the end user can’t convert on your website because it’s providing a bad experience.

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