How Social Media Can Impact a Business When Starting From Scratch: A Conversation With Pat Williams (a.k.a. @cletch)

Think social media has no place in your business? As a multitasking blogger, Realtor and marketing entrepreneur, Pat Williams initially embraced social media as a newcomer to Michigan and newly single parent who needed to meet people and make connections, fast.

Pat Williams

“I understood that there really wasn’t anybody else that could test it to the degree that I could,” she said. “I for the last two years have worked my real estate license only through social media, only through the connections. Because I didn’t know anybody here; two people.”

Williams, a World of Warcraft enthusiast who maintains five business and personal blogs, recently spoke with A Healthier Michigan about early adoption of social media, how people are over “free” and about testing the waters for responses. An edited transcript follows.

A Healthier Michigan: How did you come to get involved in social media?

Williams: (My site) Canadiana Connection was social media before there was social media, I guess. I built this site myself first of all to teach myself how to build sites. The first one was on FrontPage, of course.

FrontPage is a blogging platform?

FrontPage was one of the first WYSIWYG Web-building systems. It was owned by Microsoft and it’s defunct now. I built it and I realized that my children at the time, when I first came to the states, were not going to know anything about Canadian history or Canada, because of where they were born. So I thought, well, I’ll do some research, I’ll put some information up.

And all of a sudden I start getting e-mails from people. And of course there was no blogging system then where people could leave a comment on a site, nothing was dynamic. And it became a huge job.

With my (marketing) business then, it was all word of mouth. Nothing was online, nothing was social media, it was all word of mouth and most of my clients were all within two miles of each other.

So this was all before social media. Along come Facebook and Twitter and blogs. When did you start utilizing those sites and how did they change things for you as a business owner?

(I got into) social media through Motor City Connect. Knowing I was getting a divorce and I had to somehow increase my income, I thought I’d better meet some people in Michigan. I only knew two people and that was the people on either side of my house.

So I got my (real estate) license to sell my own house. At this point I supported real estate agents since 1999, so I knew the industry quite well — not only procedures, policies and marketing, but also national, because my clients at this point weren’t just in Ohio anymore. So when I began with Twitter, I thought this was a great way to really get a pulse on Michigan and understand what’s happening here. I don’t think even at that point I’d been downtown Detroit before. And it excited me and I saw the opportunity.

So I started talking to my (marketing) clients about social media. It was very early and they were poo-pooing it: “I don’t have time, it’s just a waste of time. Why should I do that?” — all the usual objections. I thought, well, I have this real estate license, I’m not going to be able to sell this house, why don’t I use it to really see how social media can impact a business starting from ground zero?

When I met (A Healthier Michigan editor and contributor) Shannon Paul, it was the very first Tweetup I had ever been to. I had done some work years ago, when I lived in Canada, for a newspaper. I had a couple of columns and did some articles. I said to her, how do you find blogging?

For me personally, I’m fact oriented because of the newspaper background. It’s really hard for me to blog about something when I don’t know all the facts. And she said, you know what, it’s OK. Don’t worry about it. Just do it, and if you don’t know all the facts, ask people for their input. And for some reason, in her saying that to me, it gave me a free pass.

What have you learned over the years about what works with social media from a business perspective and what doesn’t?

That nothing is consistent. What I’ve learned is that what you think works today may not work tomorrow. So you always have to keep your eyes open and your ears open, for the change and the traps.

Like right now, people are really getting tired of being inundated with e-mails with requests for free purchases. I constantly test to see where people respond and where people don’t. And what I’m finding is free is no longer a keyword. People no longer care if something is free.

What I’ve learned is that everything has to be reciprocal. So don’t expect somebody to promote you if you’re not promoting them. And I use the term “promote” loosely. It could just be mentioning their name to your followers.

What are some businesses that you think are using Twitter or Facebook effectively or are influential in social media?

It’s funny, and I’m not saying this to kiss up, honestly I’m not. I was laying in bed the night before thinking, who do I think is doing this well, or who is thinking the way I do? Blue Cross Blue Shield [of Michigan] was one of the only ones that came to the top of my mind because I think that people are getting tired of the drama, the in-your-face stuff.

You mean, with health care?

No, any business. The freebies throwing out, the world is going to end tomorrow if you don’t read this, that sort of thing. It catches a lot of eyes immediately, but I think what happens is it burns out quickly. I think the companies that will sustain are the ones that are putting good, solid information out over time, are consistent and dependable. And the reason I thought of you is, Blue Cross Blue Shield stuff had kind of sneaked up on me. It wasn’t in my face all the time, but I see posts, and they’re good posts. They’re good information.

Well that’s good to know. I’m blushing.

I guess personally, I like to read stuff that says, I know I don’t have all the answers, but here’s a solution that I found that worked, as opposed to the stuff that says, I have all the answers, do this and do it this way.

Well thanks, but what about some other businesses?

Shane Carson built a solid social following via interaction on Twitter and has recently unveiled an online radio endeavor. As a result of his kindness and openness to promote others without asking for anything in return, I plan to ensure I have a listen.

Stefan Swanepoel has a well respected real estate trend analyst for years but when he decided to involve himself in social media he got down in the trenches and talked to people. He wasn’t like so many of the other established names that just broadcast.

His social media influence was heard the other night when he organized a group of online friends to tweet about his new book “Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life.” The impact of the organized “tweet up” helped the book climb the rankings in several categories, all in only three hours. I’d say that’s successful and the only reason it happened was that Stefan had built a lot of goodwill over the past two-and-a-half years — of course he also has the skills to back it up.

Locally, I also think Gardner White is doing a great job, because they were nowhere on my personal radar until the 140 Conference couches. I like their conversational tweets and would check their store for what I am looking for before I consider anywhere else.

How much importance do you place on purely being social with social media, as opposed to using it for business tactics?

I’d say 99 percent. I don’t think that’s necessarily right for everybody, but because I do a lot of testing of things, I like the freedom to be able to do that without pigeonholing myself as being all-business, all-social media.

You talked about how you’re starting to get to a point where you need to whittle down your entrepreneurial activities, narrow your scope. What sort of new things are you looking at from a blogging or social media perspective?

With my Canadiana Connection site, I’m probably going to bring on some advertising at some point, once I finish transferring the content over. I also want to start interviewing people. I enjoy finding out about other people. I much prefer to be the one asking questions.

Then on the Real Estate Tourist aspect, I am passionate about real estate — I wouldn’t have essentially worked in this business for 10 years and not been — so I’d like to start interviewing other agents who have some unique and cool listings and find out, say, the history of a house that is in New Orleans, or a bed-and-breakfast on the East Coast. Not necessarily to appeal to other realtors, but to appeal to people who are like me and just enjoy learning about real estate elsewhere.

At the same time, those two endeavors allow me to test different ways of doing things and connect with people, which I will bring back to my CyberCletch business. I currently have about five people working for me. And this time, it’s virtual instead of in my office at home. With the exception of two people, they’re all Michigan-based as well. And I met them all through social media.

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