On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with Adam Brown, founder of Sircle Media, a social strategy firm in NYC. Kelly and Adam discuss how agencies can use different variations of content across their social media channels to attract prospects with portfolio work, enabling conversion prior to a conversation.
EP 41: Using Social as a Closing Tool, with Adam Brown
Kelly: Welcome to another episode of Thrive. If your agency has any hand in creative or content development as a service offering to clients, we might all assume that we know how to sort of do social for our own agencies. But let's be honest, I think that most of us really don't know what we're doing when it comes to social media or we look at it maybe as a talent attraction tool, right? So my guest today is Adam Brown, who’s the Founder and President of Sircle Media here in New York City and Adam has a little bit of a different philosophy so I thought it would make a great show. And I just want to welcome you Adam for being on the show today.
Adam: Thanks for having me. The pleasure is all mine.
Kelly: So let's kind of start at the beginning. Seven years ago you founded this agency Sircle Media. How did you get involved in it and what was sort of the market cap that you felt that you could sort of close?
Adam: Yeah, so in my former life, I worked with a lot of different agencies in all different capacity and I found that most of the agencies I was dealing with I really didn’t love, either they didn't have their act together and so I thought that their model was broken or it was very siloed. I always thought there was like one piece that they covered but then they're like if you didn't integrate with everything else, there was always a problem. And so, part of my brain was, why can't there be like a four seasons type service agency out there? So I sort of like put that on the back of my brain. And then specifically with social media, around that time, you're talking like 2011, 12, there were SMBs. I was SMB. I was talking with a lot of SMB owners and most of them just did not know how to navigate social media at all. It was such a black box. So I thought okay, agency with four seasons all those service with social media offering built for SMBs? This actually could be something. It was just like an easy transition. It just made so much sense to me. It was so obvious and I just felt, it wasn't being covered.
Kelly: Right. And so, now I mean we'll talk a little bit about that transition from SMBs but you're actually working with a lot more household consumer products brands and things like that. So what was that transition like?
Adam: Yeah, it’s funny what I've learned over time is SMB is a broad scope. It used to be this really tiny little businesses and that's definitely where I started literally, dry cleaners and restaurants. But it seems like the spectrum is like anywhere from like one to a hundred million in revenue so all of our clients, I should say most of our clients phone there, there's definitely some that are north of that and these days probably very few that are south of that. So the transition has been very seamless like a lot of brands at different sizes and different stages in their life cycle, they have similar issues. Generally a lack of understanding especially when it comes to social media, usually understaffed or wrongly staffed internally. So it wasn't much of a transition. It was more of a transition going from the client side to the agency side than from agency side for really tiny to bigger but it was pretty fluid. It just sort of business 101 but just articulating in a social media mindset.
Kelly: Right. So let's kind of dive into social media for agencies. I feel like from my perspective most agencies view their own social media channels as really just I don't know either obvious self-promotion but not in a strategic way or they're solely using it for talent attraction kind of a behind the scenes view of what it's like to work at the agency. You actually use it more as what you call a closing tool so I'd love to really dive into the discussion and talk about that.
Adam: Yeah. And so, I think it goes with my framework that I recommend to clients or even people that I just know in the world. They come to me because I’m the social media guy now. It's you don't go so smart, you go stupid is my recommendation, right?
Kelly: I like that.
Adam: So it's like just think about the context of what these things are, like if anything else like social networks represent scale like reach and scale. So for me I came from a sales background. I was in the mortgage industry for eleven years and I ran marketing and sales and when I came up in the business I was cold calling people. This is like in the early 2000s. So having platforms like LinkedIn especially LinkedIn right now. Twitter, Instagram, DM, it provides cold calling in a much nicer friendlier package and you have so much more contacts. You know who you're communicating with. And coming in leading in as a social agency, you have a little bit more credibility than just someone calling you on the phone. And so, it's just such a powerful tool not only to go out and get the business but I find putting out content and being a thought leader it's the most powerful conversion of business. And so I do see what you're talking about. A lot of brand, a lot of agencies are putting out we have the best culture, it's so great to work here.
Kelly: Happy hour.
Adam: Yeah, happy hour and bean bag. And we work in an agency in New York City so I have all that and we definitely have some of that too. Our agency is great to work at too. But I just think if you want to put out, first of all, I use it in two ways social media. Primarily Instagram I used to push out the work we do. So just like here's the assets we make. We definitely over index on content creation so go to my Instagram, you can see the videos, graphics, photos that we create. Most businesses these days see that and they're like wow, like I want that kind of stuff. But more importantly I use it as a fishing rod to go and get business, start a dialogue and then they see the content I put on social as my conversion tool.
Kelly: So you're using it, if we were sort of contextualize that, you're using it as a little bit of a portfolio specifically on Instagram, like a portfolio on Instagram. But then also on other platforms you're using it as brand awareness for the purposes of business development.
Adam: Yes. That you articulate better than me. But I'm old school in case you can't tell by the gray hairs. I am in my early 40s.
Kelly: I got them too.
Adam: Okay I don't see him. But so I came up during like late nineties, it was like websites were brochure website. It was basically literally your brochure. So to me I use them around the same way like here's the great content we created, like you want to see it? Here it is. It is gonna be better than my deck. I'm posting there every single day, take a look. So that in and of itself is like a smorgasbord of like here is what you can get and since I usually lead in with content, actually going back to your question before about working with bigger brands. Our original thesis was you need a social media manager, it's a full time job, it can't be an intern or receptionist or your cousin Sally, like it's a real full time job. And that was in 2011, 12.
So fast forward to now, that these has only gotten stronger and it's really multiple talents, multiple personalities. They need to do it. So that piece is in and of itself makes a lot of sense for SMBs and growth companies but then there were bigger brands that they have a huge team. So my thesis of you have all these different people on it. You can't get them in one salary. You need someone like us for then they have the seven people so they don't need it but we became a very attractive option for brands looking to create social first especially video content outsource because most brands don't have that internal, even bigger brands. It's just such a luxury to have like a really good video guy or girl on your team. And then especially when you're bigger to outsource that, it's very expensive. You go to an expensive agency. They see you your name. They charge you a big price point and so you know you need video but its cost prohibitive so you don't create it.
So anyway long story short, it is like that's a great way for me to lead in and say look, everyone needs video and it's sort of equalizes the little guys and the big guys. You're not doing it internally so here's a representation of half of what you can get done externally with a company like mine and that gets them in the door and then the conversion tools just longer form of content. A lot of the stuff I'm doing, I am like, you don’t mess around on I do TV that it seems like nobody watches but the three people that watch it for me had been helpful. I have had marketing directors take a look at it because it's kind of a new frontier. So in order to earn their stripes, they’re on that new frontier looking around. And so, I found it's actually a very good place for cheap attention to get your message across to convert sales. That was my long answer. I am very sorry for that.
Kelly: No. That’s great. It's really valuable content into kind of going into that depth is really insightful. So I guess my question would be since your objective across the board is portfolio and brand awareness leading to conversion and closing, is there a different strategy per platform or since the objective is similar, is it the same strategy across all social platforms?
Adam: So yes and no. So yes, content across all platforms. So trying to get creative, I just got my new Yeti microphone as I told you like figuring out ways to like better record your creative that maybe transcribes to written and maybe capture audio. I've been dealing my Anchor podcast for the last year plus like so yes lots of content and then different per platform. I find when I post on LinkedIn that my written does well. People I guess just read there so they’ll read a little bit longer. I post on my blog. No one reads it. So what can I do? But I keep that as a home based platform in case someone's on my website looking around maybe they'll see some of that stuff.
Kelly: Oh that’s great for organic search also.
Adam: Yeah organic search. I don't get much traffic. Again different than other companies and other agencies for sure that are spending a ton on marketing, I really use my own call calling 2.0 soliciting, just getting referrals and word of mouth. I don't really focus a lot on keyword management and search optimization. I think there's a lot of players in my space. Some not that great, some that are great that are doing that and I'd rather not chase those dollars. I don't focus on that although it's an ancillary benefit but it's really more when you get to my website and your poking around, I'm hoping you might look on the blog and maybe search whatever category you're considering using me for and then you'll see a lot of thought pieces that I've already written. What I find more than anything is I'm a New Yorker. I've been in sales my whole life so I have gift of the gab. That can take you so far. Sometimes that is a disadvantage coz that’s discounted because they think you're gonna sell them and most people in it we don't want to be sold. So when they see it as a thought piece on my website, they're like oh he's talked about this before and it is just stronger than me actually articulating on a phone call.
Kelly: Right. Can you share a story with us about when sometime when a lead came in from any other channel other than social, whether it was a referral or organic search or whatever it was, networking and then how you feel like the content on your social platforms acted as the exact objective that you were hoping it would and sort of close the deal for you because they love the content so much.
Adam: Yeah, so I would say from a macro when I started I was vertical agnostic. I would work with everyone and I still think that a lot of the principles and just understanding how to navigate the different platforms can apply to any verticals B2B, B2C, what have you. But really in the last two years I focused on healthy CPG and beverage like those are the verticals that I believe in, that I consume. It is just a market that's growing so makes a lot of sense for me. So having very deep roots on all my platforms and content in those categories obviously helps. They see me as a thought leader and somebody who understands the market.
In addition to that, most of my business comes from investment firms, private equity and venture capital firms in this space. So by having this display of great content that I already produced for other brands in the portfolio above and beyond the referral they gave me, makes them think, oh I'm a new investment of a portfolio of this company, they click around and they're like oh my God you're already working with so and so. These guys are killing it, why I went with the with the finance team, this is amazing, you're already working with them and so it's like literally a hundred percent close rate for business. So that's been very, very helpful and I continue to go about that. What's even more important is even though that portfolio that we've been talking about, in Instagram it's visual so it's more like art than science. I really bring it home with science.
So the science there, going back to my blog is we’ll use the examples of how those assets translate into sales, whether it's like supporting velocity at retailers, we're driving traffic and sales to Amazon or their website. So when I'm able to like bringing them with the visual and show the data with like hey here's a fun blog or look at my last LinkedIn post or look at Anchor, I'm gonna send you over five recent podcast recordings about why Instagram followers don't matter and I take that whole package and send it over. The selling does itself. It really brings in I would say fifty percent of the business I brought in the last year has been through that conversation or DM-ing people on Instagram. DM-ing a hundred, this is simple math, but a hundred people we hear back from 20 of those 20 times 5 days, like it's starts to add up. You convert five percent of those people, fifty percent of my business has come through those vehicles outside of me like going out and soliciting new business so it’s been very powerful.
Kelly: And for those hundred messages that you're sending out per week on Instagram as a DM, are you using any type of automation or you doing that pretty much all manually?
Adam: Got to do the work. Yeah I do it all manually.
Kelly: Ok. Great. So for the agency leaders that are watching and listening to this, are getting some really in depth details about how strategically how you do this for your own agency, what's the first thing that you would advise them to do if they kind of want to take a page out of your book?
Adam: Do the work and it's really served me well. I'm a salesman who's been a marketer who now owns an agency. I think a lot of agency owners are great, or maybe they're more creative than I am. I'm not a creative and or whatever it is; however we all got here as the head of an agency or as decision-makers, an agency, won’t specifically talk about sales. It's sort of hard to fake the sales unless you do it. My high school basketball coach used to say you can't teach tall. If you’re tall, you're tall and that puts you ahead. I'm not so tall so I wasn't such a great basketball player at least not on my team.
But the point is you have to be able to put in the sales work. And I think a lot of agency owners don't do that or they don't see social network in the context like we're talking today as like that is how I am selling. It's more going to networking events or putting out an email newsletter and I think those are great ideas too but I think if you want to really go out and solicit business, you have to have the hustle to do it and then get told no, a thousand times which could be very aggravating. If you DM someone constantly and never hear back after a couple days, you're probably like that doesn't work. I am going to move, my expectation is if I hit thirty percent, I am an all-star like a baseball player. So I just had that in my brain and I think it's hard to manipulate or make that muscle become something you have but I think it's mission critical.
Kelly: Yeah. And the other thing I was just going to mention is that from the context of, if you are an agency that is delivering or offering social media management and the creative concepts and all of that for your clients, it's not a stretch at all. It seems almost natural to use social media as a tool like this because that's the space that you plan. If you're supposed to be an agency that has deep expertise in this particular service offering, you should be using it as a sales tool, as a business development tool.
Kelly: So that makes sense to me.
Adam: Super obvious. I think most agencies, definitely majority wouldn't, or are not thinking that way.
Kelly: No way.
Adam: Yeah they're just like oh Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, like this is, I would even argue some aren't even thinking this way or like this is how you use it now, which is a problem. I think in general they have a playbook. It sort of formulate in this is what they do. But very few are thinking about it and like the hand to hand combat micro work blocking and tackling stuff that you need to do, but not only does it produce business. As you’re point, it literally is an example of how to leverage these with your own efforts and you think it would be happening, it just doesn't.
Kelly: Right. Well this has been a great conversation Adam. I’m really, really appreciative for you being on the show today. Thank you.
Adam: Any time. I've been a bit fan for a while as you know. I appreciate that you made some time for me. Thank you.
Kelly: Thank you.