Mark W. Schaefer: An interview by Bob Morris

Schaefer, Mark
Mark W. Schaefer is author of The Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time (2011), Return On Influence (2012), and Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time (2013) as well as a globally-recognized educator, speaker, business consultant, and author. His well-known blog {grow}, is one of the AdAge Top 100 marketing blogs of the world. Mark has worked in global sales, PR, and marketing positions for nearly 30 years and now provides consulting services as Executive Director of U.S.-based Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He has advanced degrees in marketing and organizational development and holds seven patents. Mark enjoys teaching social media marketing courses and is a faculty member of the graduate studies program at Rutgers University. He was named by Forbes magazine as one of the top 50 social media “Power Influencers.”

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Morris: Before discussing The Tao of Twitter, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Schaefer: There were quite a few wonderful people in my life but probably the single-biggest influence is Peter Drucker. When I lived in Los Angeles, he was teaching in the MBA program at Claremont Graduate University. I applied but was told I was too young to enter this prestigious program. I went through an appeal process, arguing that they needed my youth (27 at the time) to add to the diversity of the program! I made a stand on the grounds of EEO and incredibly, I was admitted! It was a little intimidating taking my seat amidst some of the greatest business people in the region, but I really wanted to be in that program!

I had the chance to study under Professor Drucker all three years I was in the program and he generally lectured about one of his books. My favorite was Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a simply brilliant book that holds up through today.

Peter Drucker was one of the only people I have ever met who could distill incredible complexity into simple wisdom. The scope of his knowledge was breathtaking. He would sit on the edge of his desk and lecture for three hours straight without a break, and without notes. There is not one week that goes by that I don’t recall some lesson or piece of advice he provided and use it in my daily life. He was also a very kind and gentle man. I know how fortunate I am to be able to say that Peter Drucker was my professional mentor. A real milestone in my life.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Schaefer: There is so much! That was a long time ago, you know, and I’ve learned a lot. I think the biggest change in me has been a greater awareness for the positive role of humility in business. We have a culture in the Western world of associating humility with weakness, when in fact it is a strength.

When I started out, I felt a need to know all the answers, especially when I got into a leadership position. But being honest, involving others in the process, coming up with a better solution together, sharing the weight of decisions – those are all benefits of humility. I also think being human, instead of trying to wear the Superman cape, is powerful and liberating.

Actually that is another lesson from Peter Drucker. He taught via the Harvard case study method and he absolutely hated it when we tried to provide the “answers” to a case! “What makes you so sure you are smarter than the people in the case,” he would ask, “Smarter than people who have worked in this industry for decades?”

He taught me that it was more important for a leader to have the right questions than to have the right answers.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Schaefer: O’Toole is talking about the culture of a company, the most powerful force for good or evil in the organization! And there is really only one way to address it. From the top. There is no such thing as a grassroots cultural change.

In the 1990s, I was fortunate to work at Alcoa when Paul O’Neill was the chairman. He single-handedly changed the culture to put safety as the number one priority – above production, above profits, above any other goal. He correctly thought that if a company was managed with that attention to detail the profits would follow too. He lived it and breathed it with every breath he took. One time, he sent tremors through the company when he fired a beloved VP because there were unsafe conditions in his plant locations. Now that changes a culture. That destroys the tyranny of custom!

Sadly, I’m not sure many companies appreciate or actively manage the role of culture in the mix.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to the Tao of Twitter. When and why did you decide to write it?

Schaefer: The number one question I am asked is, “Can you help me understand Twitter?” And simply, I can’t. At least not over a cup of coffee or a phone call! It’s complicated.

So I wrote the book to answer that question. The other books out at the time focused on the technology and gadgets but I thought they completely missed the point. It’s a very human communication channel, at least when it is at its best. So I wrote from the perspective of a non-techy, human approach to Twitter, explained through real life stories of failure and success. And people seem to love it. It has been the best-selling Twitter book in the world for some time now.

Morris: What are the most common misconceptions about Twitter? What in fact is true?

Schaefer: There is this ridiculous image of Twitter as being trivial, the “what I had for breakfast” argument. Twitter has played a powerful role in the overthrow of governments. Of breaking the news before the networks. Of connecting people instantaneously through ideas and images. The scripts of television shows are evolving based on feedback from Twitter. That is not trivial. 
Morris: I agree with you that Twitter can – and does – serve as a “profound and wonderful means by which to provide and receive news, especially fast-breaking news.” In your opinion, what is the most significant difference between a tweet and an email or text message?
Schaefer: I can send a tweet to the world. You never know how far it will go or who it will impact. There is no communication channel on earth quite like that, is there?

Morris: In your opinion, what is the most valuable business benefits of an active involvement with Twitter?

Schaefer: There are many, many benefits and I cover that extensively in the book. For, me, it has to be the ability to network with relevant and interested people far beyond your normal “range.” In the book I described how my business focus was so small before Twitter. I only imagined myself in a regional marketplace. But through Twitter an entire world of collaborators, partners, supporters, friends, and yes customers, opened up. Twitter is networking on steroids.

Morris: In your opinion, why specifically are Twitter users “the most influential online consumers”?

Schaefer: I’m not sure of the psychology behind this, but Twitter users are bold. When you only have 140 characters to express yourself, you better be to the point and you better say something that cuts through the noise. After a while, you become pretty good at it!

Twitter is by far the preferred method of consumer complaint out there. If you want to be heard, you tweet. And people do want to be heard!

Morris: How best to attract and then sustain followers? Are there any especially important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind while doing so? 
Schaefer: You know that is a great question. It used to drive me crazy when somebody unfollowed me. It was like being jilted without an explanation! Was I too chatty? Not chatty enough? Boring?

You’re not going to please everybody. So just be yourself. Be helpful. Be kind. Do your best to share great content. Pay attention to people. Engage when you can. If you do that, you will not just attract and sustain an audience, it will be an audience of advocates.

Morris: What are the most self-defeating, counter-productive mistakes that people tend to make when tweeting?

Schaefer: I once had a guy tell me that Twitter was a bunch of crap because he “marketed and marketed and marketed” to people and nothing happened. I explained to him that his marketing problem was that he was “marketing” at all.

People are sick of being sold to, advertised to, marketed to. They go to their social media accounts to escape all that. They go there to chat with friends or play Farmville, not hear about your new line of ball bearings or whatever.

People won’t spend 3 seconds with a commercial but they will spend 30 minutes with a great story. They want to know people who will help them get through life, who will help them make money, save money, save time, and be happier and have more fun. Almost every company does one of those things, right? So we need to change the focus from “selling” to “helping.” And it must be authentic helpfulness. People can sniff a fake a mile away … even if it is only 140 characters!

Morris: What do “Twitter Chats” involve? What is their primary purpose?

Schaefer: This is a new chapter I added for the re-launch of the book. Since I first started writing about Twitter, I would say Twitter chats have had the biggest impact on people’s opportunity for networking and personal and professional growth.

Simply put, Twitter chats are regularly-scheduled gatherings of like-minded people around a topic. There are Twitter chats about everything and you can find a schedule of these meetings just by googling “Twitter chat schedule.”

This is a place to meet industry leaders and build your following of relevant individuals. They are a great place to connect and learn from a global community.

Morris: Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read The Tao of Twitter and is now determined to increase and accelerate the given enterprise’s success with Twitter. Where to begin?

Schaefer: It all starts with strategy. Twitter may not be a priority for a lot of companies, but generally if you can benefit from personal networking, you can benefit from Twitter. The first step is learning enough about the channel to ask the right questions. And of course the best place to learn about Twitter is The Tao of Twitter book. or so I’ve been told!

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in The Tao of Twitter, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Schaefer: I think The Tao of Twitter is truly the operating manual businesses need to navigate Twitter. You can read this book in 90 minutes and have a really clear direction on how to start an effort or improve what you have. That has been a relief to a lot of very confused people!

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Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Schaefer Marketing Solutions home page

His blog

His Amazon page


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