12 Nov 2018
Who to follow: Eric Meyerson
Who to follow: Eric Meyerson
Eric Meyerson has worn many digital hats over the course of his impressive career.
After moving to California in 2000 to attend the MBA program at UC-Berkeley -where he also edited the school’s weekly student publication and helped start the National Social Venture Competition – Eric struck out into the booming digital world to make his mark. He’s been a marketer, a “lousy” (his words) product manager, and a “pretty good” (his words again) coder, but he’s spent the last 10 years marketing social media platforms and marketplaces, including leading advertiser and creator marketing at YouTube, leading video and publisher marketing at Facebook, and leading consumer marketing at Eventbrite.
Today, Eric lives in San Fransisco with his family and a dog named Howard, and is head of marketing for a new startup called Sensai, which he joined late 2017 as part of the founding management team. The Sensai team has built a new social media marketing tool especially for small businesses and artists, assisted by artificial intelligence.
Sensai’s early results have been exciting, to say the least, as Sensai’s active beta customers have accelerated their follower growth by as much as 198% when they posted using Sensai’s personalized guidance.
Couple Eric’s impressive marketing background with his involvement in an interesting artificial intelligence-driven innovation and a lively social media presence (sprinkled with plenty of snark), and you get one of our very phavourite phollows. That’s why we’ve kept a keen eye on Eric’s social media activity for quite some time now.
“Fall into” season is right on time, though. pic.twitter.com/OjvnqDYUMh
— Eric Meyerson (@EricMeyersonSF) October 23, 2018
Now that we’ve reviewed Eric Meyerson’s impressive digital marketing bona fides, let’s see what else this digital dynamo has to say…
Eric Meyerson tale of the tape:
Favourite food: Fresh fruit
Pets: A dog named Howard ***pictured below***
Dream Job as a child: Point guard for the Miami Heat
Last big purchase: Taking my family to Japan
Guilty pleasure: Dumb YouTube videos
Pet Peeve: Those ukulele jingles you hear in the background of every video ad on the internet
An interview with Eric Meyerson
For those who might not know, what is Sensai, and how does it make life easier for marketers and brands?
Sensai is an A.I.-powered solution for social media marketing for small businesses, nonprofits, and artists. Only 28% of small businesses have strong confidence in their social media marketing strategy, because the platforms change their algorithms and features constantly.
Sensai uses a combination of human expertise and data science to make personalized recommendations to our customers, so they can get more engagement from their organic social media. More than 30,000 businesses signed up during our beta, and our Professional-tier customers grew their social media followers 198% faster when they actively signed in, and used our guidance to post consistently and effectively.
Why should brands make artificial intelligence a part of their social media marketing strategies?
As recently as a few years ago, when IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy, A.I. was still for large enterprises and institutions. But with the expansion of cheap cloud computing and improvements in machine learning, A.I. applications are becoming increasingly accessible to small businesses and individuals. We’re seeing an explosion of A.I. across the entire marketing technology space.
At Sensai, we have an awesome data science team that analyzes your audience, your engagements, and also brings in data from all the other people who have connected their socials, and then runs predictive analytics to deliver personalized wisdom about what kind of content will engage the most people, what time of the day or week you should post, which hashtags will drive more discovery.
How have things changed in the social media game during the 10 years you’ve been involved?
It’s almost hard to imagine that just a decade ago, most people had flip phones and had never signed into a social network at all. I recently did a #throwbackthursday from 2008 of candidate Barack Obama sending a text message to get me to volunteer for him in swing states. That was considered a radically inventive move ten years ago.
By next year, Americans will be spending more time on their mobile phones than watching TV. And social media is the real operating system of the mobile phone. As people spend more time in these environments, people with a message or product to sell — businesses, political parties, influencers, media — have to be there, because their customers simply aren’t paying close attention to other mediums anymore.
So the major social media platforms have built marketing tech into their systems in order to capture the value they’re providing the business. Contrary to popular belief, my ex-employer Facebook does not exist primarily to collect and sell data. But the data that people provide, both unknowingly and quite willingly, have helped Facebook built an awesome targeting platform for marketers.
The reason why Facebook’s revenue keeps going up and up is because they’re now an essential element of any marketing mix, and they’re amazing at discovering the value that marketers are getting for free, and then making them pay for it. And people will pay for it because it’s still worth it!
What this means is that social media has gone from a place where people, artists, brands, all communicate freely, to a place where more of this communication is commercialized. That works really well for consumers, and it works really well for the platforms. For anyone marketing a business — and for most businesses, that’s the owner or an employee with a lot of other responsibilities — it makes their jobs a lot more complicated and expensive. It’s so much work!
The other thing that’s changed in social media is consumer expectations. A generation raised on reality TV was generally willing to put their lives online. But then that created new social pressures. “Look at my life” became “Look at how incredible my life is.” You couldn’t just be normal; you had to be extraordinary all the time. Teens fled Facebook because of drama, criticism, pressure to be great all the time in front of all audiences, including their parents. People realized what a drag it was to live in public. Snapchat exploded among teens because it took all the pressure away — take a silly selfie with a puppy nose or bunny ears, send it to a few friends, and then it disappears forever. Take a photo because you’re bored, or because you’re awake at 5 am. No likes, no distribution, just fun and authentic interaction with friends.
And the many controversies around social media that came out 2016 — state-sponsored misinformation, political manipulation, data breaches, bots, trolls — forced platforms to confront what they’d become. People are still hooked on social media because the content is always fresh and variable and personal. But when @OregonMom88737363 replies to you on Twitter with “her” political opinion, and it’s the same opinion as @NebraskaPatriot23846408, you might feel a little grossed out about engaging there.
I can tell you this, having worked at two of the biggest social media platforms in the world: contrary to what you might read in the press, the people who work there care very, very deeply about the social impact of their work. That goes from the executives to the junior employees. But it took a few disasters for them to acknowledge just how deep their impact is, and because the content on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is nearly infinite, moderating them effectively is also nearly impossible. Until the day when you need a government ID to sign up for an account, we should continue to approach all these platforms with utter skepticism.
But I’m way more excited about where social media is going, than where it’s been.
Should consumers be concerned about the increasing role artificial intelligence is playing in the digital marketing arena?
Generally no, but with one big qualifier.
Most people really don’t care that deeply about handing over their data. Surveys show that people are aware that Google, Facebook, and other companies are tracking them and creating data profiles of them, but if people cared deeply, they could take easy steps to curtail it — ad blockers, using anonymous search engines like Duck Duck Go, quitting Facebook, turning off location services, not geotagging their Instagram posts. And the main reason why people don’t care isn’t just because they like using the features that this data enables. It’s also because the major benefit to them is more relevant advertising. If you’re a young man, would you rather see an ad for the latest video game release, or for arthritis pills? This doesn’t just benefit the advertiser, but also the consumer.
But A.I. is more than just better targeting. It’s also starting to write marketing content, develop ads, test, and optimize. It’s amazing how fast it’s moving. I love what you’re doing at Phrasee. A.I. is writing fantastic copy for email marketing for enterprise.
Consumers shouldn’t be that concerned. It’s really marketers who should be concerned, because A.I. is changing the end-to-end process for acquiring and engaging customers, and if you’ve carved out a functional career for yourself in a niche of marketing, or really any business function, you need to seriously consider how much of your job can be automated.
Now here’s the caveat for consumers: Companies are getting better and better at influencing people. And sometimes that influence can take the form of driving compulsive behavior. People like Nir Eyal, who literally wrote the book on hooking people to your product, have been warning us about the dark side of “stickiness,” which is addiction. Entire industries, from gambling to mobile games, have cracked the code on driving compulsive behavior. A.I. — which can test, watch, learn, and test again — gives more people more power to influence people in negative ways.
So imagine a big e-commerce player using these tools to drive more compulsive shopping among vulnerable people. Imagine the Russian troll army’s ongoing manipulation of voters, but managed by an A.I. that can learn on the fly and measure how it transforms people’s attitudes and actions. These are the things we need to watch closely.
What are the key trends in the evolution of social media that brands and marketers should keep an eye on?
The major social media platforms spent years creating value for brands — reach and engage people for free — and then gradually started charging for it. Facebook especially pulled back on organic reach, and Instagram and Twitter are heading that way.
It’s been a lesson to brands. You don’t own the relationship with your followers. The platforms own it, and you just rent it. The platforms decide how much it costs. Now, generally, the value is still good, which is why the social media platforms are generally quite successful at making money.
This may sound obvious, but a surprising number of people still don’t get it. And the reason they don’t get it is because they’re not marketers, and they don’t have the time to get it. Most businesses in America are quite small, and often the business owner is running marketing, in addition to everything else they need to do to keep the lights on. So at Sensai, we work with a lot of SMB owners who are really baffled why they can’t get traction on social media.
But even professional marketers struggle to keep up. I spent years packaging up Facebook and YouTube algorithm changes and deliberately under-communicating them to brands, creators, and publishers. Even the people working at the platforms superficially understand the algorithms that drive discovery, and because of the rate of change, and the self-learning that drives the algorithms, it means your playbook is out of date. It may be 50% out of date, it may be 99%. For someone who isn’t a pro social media marketer, it’s hopeless. They shouldn’t do it themselves if they actually want results.
What makes a social media ad effective?
In the end, social media ads aren’t that different from other ads. The content needs to be compelling, and needs to align with the context. You need to put in the time to test, learn, adjust, test some more. You should test all kinds of targeting — it would be great if you could just say “give me moms in Georgia who like surfing,” but it’s not quite that simple, yet. There are plenty of marketing agencies and technologies that can help you get there, with varying results.
Above all, being a great marketer — and I don’t claim to be one, yet — is about a methodology. It’s not about coming up with the next Old Spice Guy or killer campaign. It’s about trying lots of things, including things that you don’t think are going to work, and accepting that failure is part of the process. One of my favorite elements about running social media campaigns is how often the success or failure of the creative subverts my expectations. I love being wrong, because I learn from it every time.
What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life today?
My life is non-stop excitement. First, I’m helping launch this startup. After years in medium-to-giant companies, it’s exciting to drive everything and be close to all the work. And our launch videos both won Platinum from the Marcom Awards! I have two kids in San Francisco public schools, and that’s been an incredible experience for everyone. And Brit + Co, a major women’s media company, just completely remodeled our dining area for a video segment.
So, it’s not exploring cursed ancient ruins or anything, but my days and nights are pretty intense.