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Social Pros 9 – Christopher S. Penn, WhatCounts

Posted Under: Social Pros Podcast
Hosted By
Jay Baer

Daniel Lemin

Convince & Convert
Jay Baer

Hannah Tooker

Jay Baer

Leanna Pham

Convince & Convert
About Social Pros Podcast:

Social Pros is one of the longest-running marketing podcasts in existence (10 YEARS and counting), and was recently recognized as the #1 Audio/Podcast Series by the Content Marketing Awards.

Our purpose? Making sure that we speak to real people doing real work in social media.

Listeners get inside stories and behind-the-scenes secrets about how teams at companies like Google, Reddit, Glossier, Zillow, Lyft, Marvel, and dozens more, staff, operate, and measure their social media programs.  With 600+ episodes, the Social Pros Podcast brings the humanity of social media to the forefront, while providing incredibly useful marketing strategies that listeners can immediately implement.

Follow Social Pros on LinkedIn.

To inquire about becoming a guest or show sponsor, please email our Executive Producer, Leanna Pham, at

Apple Podcast Reviews:

The Social Pros podcast has quickly become a favorite in my feed! I'm consistently impressed by the engaging conversations, insightful content, and actionable ideas. I truly learn something every time I listen!

@Arlie K

This is absolutely an awesome listen for anyone in communications or social media!!


This podcast has become one of my staple weekly podcasts for learning about marketing! Love the conversations that they have and it's always enjoyable and educational!


Love the podcast - informative, in depth and spot on for any business size.


This is Episode 9 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Christopher S. Penn, the Director of Inbound Marketing for enterprise email company WhatCounts. Read on for insights from Chris, and Eric’s Social Media Stat of the Week (this week: social media as a B2B lead […]

This is Episode 9 of the Social Pros Podcast : Real People Doing Real Work in Social Media. This episode features Christopher S. Penn, the Director of Inbound Marketing for enterprise email company WhatCounts. Read on for insights from Chris, and Eric’s Social Media Stat of the Week (this week: social media as a B2B lead generator!).

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Huge thanks to data-driven social media management software company Argyle Social for their presenting sponsorship, as well as Infusionsoft and Jim Kukral at DigitalBookLaunch. We use Argyle Social for our social engagement; we use Infusionsoft for our email; and Jim is our guest host for the podcast and a smart guy).

Social Pros Transcript For Your Reading Enjoyment

Speechpad – Transcription Services
Jay: And we are back with Episode Number Nine of the Social Pros podcast. It’s Jay Baer with my trusty sidekick Eric Boggs. Eric, what is going on my man?
Eric: Hello, Jay. It’s a bittersweet day in North Carolina. Tarheels exited the NCAA tournament, so there’s some sad Argylers today.
Jay: Some sad people. Explain to the folks at home why your company is called Argyle Social.

We should get a social media software company named after these!

Eric: We’re called Argyle Social in large part because the Carolina Tarheel basketball team has argyle trim on their uniforms.
Jay: So it does justify a sad day in your organization when you name the company after a basketball team uniform and that basketball team is defeated. I’m surprised you’re actually working today.
Eric: Well, you’ve got to move on.
Jay: That’s a good attitude.
Eric: It’s 200 days until “Midnight with Roy“, so the countdown’s already beginning for the next season.
Jay: Midnight with Roy, that sounds like a terrible time.
We have an amazing show today. One of my personal mathematical heroes, Chris Penn from WhatCounts is joining us on the Social Pros podcast today. A genius by any measure. We’re looking forward to talking to him.

There goes Chris Penn standing on a tree. N-I-N-J-A-I-N-G
There goes Chris Penn standing on a tree. N-I-N-J-A-I-N-G

Eric: And also a ninja. People joke about marketing ninjas and developer ninjas. Chris Penn is literally a ninja. That I always think is one of the funny parts of Chris’ personality.
Jay: Yeah. We don’t just mean he’s really good at math. He’s actually a ninja, has like a ninja card and all that.
Eric: Exactly.
Jay: He actually has a throwing star during this podcast. It’s going to be fantastic.
Quick shoutout to our sponsors, Argyle Social, named after the North Carolina Tarheels basketball team. Our friends at Infusionsoft, as well as Jim Kukral from

Jay’s Thought of the Week

Jay: Let’s get right into it. Here’s my thought of the week. I feel like I have trod this ground before, perhaps not on the podcast, but it’s ground I’ve trod. But I feel it merits some additional trodding, which is there is no secret sauce in the social media software business.
I get into lots of conversations with clients and perspective clients who say, I’m paraphrasing but not so much, “We need to get good at social media measurement. So we need to buy Radian6 or Argyle Social or Involver.”
People are confusing the wizard and the wand. The software is just a vessel. It is a cipher. It is something that you can use to gather data, but gathering that data doesn’t create measurements necessarily. It just gives you the raw material to create those measurements, right?
You have to be your own middleware in social media. You can’t just buy a license and press a button and have all your mathematical problems solved. I wish it were true, but it is not true, and it drives me crazy.
Eric, I’m sure being in this game, this is something that you struggle with all the time.
Eric: Where do I begin? Jeez, you are absolutely right. We see the same thing with our customers. What blows me away is in sales conversations, which are very similar to the conversations you have with your clients and prospective clients, people kind of have their head wrapped around this number that they need or this set of data that they need. When we really probe and ask them about the business problem they’re trying to solve, that’s never nearly as clear as their need to know number XYZ or metric 123. When you really try to map these conversations to the business issues, people have a really hard time with that.
I think what’s good for guys like me that are in the social software business is that people don’t have a clear sense of the business objective, and so they reach for these tools as the crutch or . . .
Jay: A lifeline. Phone a friend.
Eric: Yeah, like an aid to help them get there, help them find the answers.
Jay: Do you think it’s because the people who are making social media consulting or social media software decisions, aren’t really involved in business level decisions in their organizations? It’s just above their pay grade, or is there something else afoot here?
Eric: I think that you’re on to something there. There’s definitely the macro trend that we see, and you could even see it just by having conversations at South by Southwest. Previously, social wasn’t getting visibility into the executive team or the management team level. More and more, social is getting visibility at the strategic level.
I think that in the past, people have had a hard time mapping social to business objectives because social is kind of off in a corner. Today it’s getting more integrated into the marketing and sales and product.
Jay: It’s more like customer service. I think one of the ways that social media gets elevated in the C-suite is its customer service and customer satisfaction role.
Eric: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of the easy way in through the backdoor. When you’ve got a volume of customer requests coming through Twitter, suddenly Twitter’s important. Once you’ve validated it’s important for one thing, you can start to make the case for other pieces.
Jay: Nice. We’ll continue to hit this theme on the Social Pros podcast and try and clarify this for some folks out there. What is your social media stat of the week?

Eric’s Social Media Stat of the Week: Social Media is the Best Source of Leads for 11% of B2B Companies

Eric: The stat of the week comes from a February 2012 survey from the marketing magazine B2B Magazine. It was about lead generation. It’s not surprising that for most B2B marketers, 59% actually, of this survey said that lead generation is their greatest online marketing challenge.
I’m wondering what the other 41% of the survey’s online marketing challenges of B2B organizations . . .\
Jay: Where to have lunch.
Eric: Yeah, that’s another question for another time. Of the people that participated in this survey, 57% said that email marketing was the online channel that contributed to the most qualified leads. 13% of the people actually said social media, which was surprising. I would have actually thought that number to be a little bit smaller. It’s encouraging to me that 13% say that social is the most effective lead driver for their organization.
Jay: Yeah, even more so than email in a B2B circumstance. That is an interesting finding, and I wonder what that would have been last year. It would have to be zero or nearly zero.
Eric: Yeah. If you had asked me to ballpark these numbers, I would have said 5% or less.
Another interesting nugget from this survey is that 30% of the people that responded felt that their email programs were well optimized, which is a number I think is awfully small. I would think that a lot more people would have figured out email marketing by now.
Jay: Well, you know, it’s new. This email thing just came out. We haven’t had a whole lot of time to optimize it.
Eric: Transport to 1993, hit AOL email, exactly.
Jay: That stat on the other hand has probably been the same forever.
Eric: Yeah. Maybe that is, maybe only 30% of the market can actually well optimize a channel. Maybe that’s the ceiling.
Jay: I think on the email side, and as you know, I come out of the email side of the business as do you. I think it’s that only 30% of the people give a damn enough about email to actually spend time optimizing it.
Eric: That’s true. That’s a good way of looking at it.
Jay: I just think it’s people are like, “Meh, it’s good enough.”
Eric: Of these same people, 5% said that their social efforts were well optimized, which I find to be encouraging. The vast majority, over 55%, said their social efforts were early stage, but showed promise, which makes sense. That’s kind of where most of the market is based on our conversations.
Overall, I thought this was a good piece. We got it from We’ll link it up in the blog post.

Special Guest: Christopher S. Penn of What Counts

Jay: Excellent. Speaking of somebody who knows a little something about email and social media and B2B, see how we did that? It is our friend Christopher S. Penn from WhatCounts. Mr. Ninja, welcome to the Social Pros podcast.
Chris: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, depending on when you’re listening to this.
Jay: Not to mention the fact you are a legendary marketing podcaster in your own right. Before we get into your business, why don’t you tell folks about your own podcast?
Chris: I have been doing a show with John Wall called Marketing Over Coffee, now in its fifth year. Out of a donut shop in Natick, Massachusetts. We record every Wednesday and do what’s on our minds.
People have likened it to just eavesdropping, fly on the wall talks as John and I banter about the latest things with bitter cynicism and deep skepticality about all things marketing.
Jay: You’ve done more than nine episodes?
Chris: We have done more than nine episodes. I believe we’re coming up on either 250 or 300 episodes by now.
Jay: Holy mackerel.
Eric: Jeez.
Jay: Eric, I don’t know if we can survive that. How many North Carolina losses can we take by the time we get to 300 podcasts?
Eric: I was going to say, Chris, it’s surprising you still like your partner after all that time.
Chris: Yeah. It works really, really well. That’s actually not the greatest number of shows I’ve done. Back in the podcasting heyday, I did a financial aid podcast and that reached 937 episodes before it came to the end of its run.
Jay: It’s like Gunsmoke, but for financial aid. I love it.
Eric: Did you guys do big retrospectives for your 100th and 200th episodes? How does that work? I need something to keep pushing toward.
Jay: Are you planning for the tenth episode retrospective show next week? Greatest hits and highlights already?
Eric: Exactly.
Chris: We did for the 100th, and then after that we were like, “We’re just going to keep going.”
Jay: It’s like the 15 year class reunion, right?
Chris: Exactly.
Jay: Yeah, whatever, close enough. Chris, tell the folks at home about WhatCounts and what you do there, and how you have seemingly a lot of irons in the fire.
Chris: Okay. I guess the briefest way to do this is I started out as customer of a company called Blue Sky Factory, way back in 2006, when I met the founder, Greg Cangialosi, at an event I created with Chris Brogan called Pod Camp.
He offered a free account for us to try out, because the company was still trying to ramp up at the time. I was a customer of this company for a while. After the student loan industry got beaten up pretty badly and lost a lot of profitability, I ended up having to move over to a new career. I just jumped right over to Blue Sky Factory to become the VP of strategy and something or other over there.

Chris Penn Marketing White Belt
Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading at

Then thanks to things like social media, email, and inbound marketing and all that wonderful stuff, the company became so successful that we actually got acquired last year by a competitor called WhatCounts, where I am now the Director of Inbound Marketing.
In addition to that, I have “Marketing White Belt,” which was the book I published last year. I’m almost done with a sequel, which is “The Blue Belt Book.” There’ll actually be a series of five of these corresponding to the belt grades in the ninjitsu system that I practice.
A whole bunch of different other little things going on all at the same time.
Jay: You have, as you said, in addition to your own books and your own blog and your own podcast and your own Twitter program, Google+ and everything else, you also create a substantial amount of the content and thought leadership that WhatCounts puts out.
How do you balance that personal versus corporate thought leadership and content creation, especially in your case, where some of the things that you talk about really cross over between industries?
Chris: At the most basic level, and I kind of joke about this, whenever it comes to making the decisions about who gets what, it’s whoever’s credit card is being used to pay the expense report, or whichever paycheck is being used to pay stuff.
Typically, I will not delve particularly deep into email marketing on my own properties, because I figure that belongs very much to the day job. Likewise, I don’t do a whole lot with social and some of the advanced stuff with WhatCounts, because its core competency really is shipping an awful lot of email.
Beyond that though, it’s an interesting situation because WhatCounts works with some of these Fortune 500 companies and even a couple of Fortune 50s. Yet in terms of footprint in social and online marketing, just looking at the web traffic alone, my own personal website has about three times the traffic of the corporate site.
I bring almost as much audience into the company as I create for it in my line of work. It’s definitely murky, but as long as I’m providing value and working to the benefit of people, no matter what I’m doing, it seems to work out pretty well. I’m not trying to write books just for one or the other. I’m not trying to move audience from one to the other. It’s a combined, big thing that says we want to be helpful to people.
Jay: You mentioned that on one side you talk more email and WhatCounts and more social on your side. You are one of the foremost experts I can say firsthand, because we talked about and I’ve seen you present about it on a number of occasions, on the synthesis of search and social.
You probably heard us talking at the beginning of the show about the magic number syndrome and trying to use social media software to achieve mathematical nirvana. But it requires you to actually stitch together metrics from social media, from Google Analytics, things like that. You obviously have books about this. Could you encapsulate that thinking for people a little bit?
Chris: Going back to the tool discussion earlier, I think you guys are at a very, very good place when it comes to your perspective. In the martial arts, there’s this concept, it’s a Japanese concept called shuhari, which means “preserve the form, vary the form, break the form.”
The same thing applies to social media marketing, and especially when it comes to any kind of social tool, whether it’s content creation or analytics. You get the tool first. You understand it, you use it, you use it a whole bunch, you figure out what it’s supposed to do, you follow all the best practices, and you get competence in using the tool.
Once you are competent at using the tool, then you start to vary it. Okay, can it be used for this? Can it be used for this? That’s where things like Google Analytics come into play. Where because of the tool’s tremendous amount of flexibility, once you understand things like event tracking or multi-channel follows or an event flow or conversion flow, now you can start to get squishy with it and say, “What can we use this tool for that is not in the manual but would still be a good idea? What can we use custom reports for? How can we build a custom report that ties together the things that are important?” Then after you’ve varied it, after you understand the full capabilities of the tool, you transcend it.
That’s the third part where you break the form. You don’t need a best practices handbook anymore because you are the best practice at that point for your organization. You’ve gone so far out of cookie cutter land into baking your own custom things that if someone were trying to take what you were doing and copy/paste it to another enterprise, it would fail miserably because it’s so customized to what you’re doing because you’ve transcended the need for a recipe or cookbook.
Exactly the same way that you go to a restaurant and there’s a master chef, someone who’s got 30 years under his belt. He doesn’t need to measure tomatoes and salt to put together an appetizer. He just does it from decades of experience.
It’s tricky for us as digital marketers to wrap our heads around this, because in order to even get to the part where you should be doing variation and you should be approaching mastery, you’re talking about at a minimum of ten years of practice if not more. Social media is just approaching that. Blogging is not much more than 20 years old at this point.
Jay: How long has anybody been using one particular tool, either? Because your staff changes.
Chris: Exactly.
Jay: The tools change. The staff that uses the tools change. People switch vendors, things like that. I would be amazed if there’s any people out there who have been using one particular piece of social software consistently for more than three years. There’s probably not too many of those folks out there. Salt has not changed a lot.
Chris: Exactly. So the converse side of that is be very careful of people who go around billing themselves as experts or gurus or whatever on something, because it’s really hard to be an expert at something that’s only been out for two years.
Jay: Unless you’re looking at expertise on a comparison basis.
Chris: I suppose. You can be an expert in something. You can be an expert in communications. You can be an expert writer who’s been writing for 20 years. 20 years ago you were on a typewriter and now you’re using WordPress.
The skill and craft of writing is something that you’re working to refine. People who go around touting themselves as “tool masters” are missing the point. The tool is there to help you become a better craftsman. You don’t really ever go out into the yellow pages and see “hammer expert.” I want to hire a guy to build my house. I don’t care how good you are with a hammer. Give me someone who can build my house.
Jay: I used to, back in the day, be in the web design business. My first two online startups were Web Strategy, Web Dev. I had a rule that we would not hire anybody for front end work who didn’t have an actual arts degree from a major university, because you had lots of people who could theoretically design a site, but they were masters of whatever the particular software du jour was at that time in the evolution of the Internet.
They were great at the software, but when you said, “Why does this look good, or what’s the aesthetic or theory behind it,” they couldn’t do it. They just didn’t have any training in the philosophy of design, they could just push buttons. I think it falls apart, and I think we’re at the same space again. History is repeating itself.
Chris: Absolutely. Before you go out and try and become a black belt, you really should try getting your white belt first.
Jay: Yeah, but that’s no fun.
Chris: It’s no fun, but it’s important. It’s like handing a four foot razor blade, known as a katana, to the guy who just walks in the door. At some point someone’s going to lose a limb.
Eric: Chris, what was the analogy that you made about learning fighting by going to a bar? I think you sent that in an email or I saw it in a blog post.
Chris: Yeah. There’s this bizarre conflict that Tom Webster was talking about.
Eric: That’s right. That’s where I read it.
Chris: About on the one hand there’s people who say academia and ivory tower stuff is completely irrelevant to the real world, only experience counts. Then the other side, the academics are saying those folks over there are just spinning their wheels. They don’t have any basis for what they’re doing. It’s just trial and error and hoping it all works out.
They’re two opposite camps. One’s bashing people who have degrees, and one’s saying people who don’t have degrees are worthless. In the middle is reality, where you put together knowledge plus practice. Eventually it leads to wisdom.
The joke was if you want to learn how to fight, you can go to a martial arts school, but at a certain point you need to take it out on the road to become effective, whether it’s testing or whatever.
The alternate version is you could go to a bar, go to the nearest dive bar, walk in, shout some racial slurs or something like that, experience the action of the fight, repeat that a few times, pay your dentist, and you will have a rudimentary grasp of how to fight. It’s not the most efficient way of doing it, and that’s the counter argument to people who say you don’t need an MBA.
You don’t need an MBA. But if you don’t want to be learning with the school of hard knocks, it might not be a bad idea to get some of that basic training so that you have more to fall back on.
Eric: Well said. Or you could just be like you and be really smart and be able to go a local dive bar and win all the fights.
Chris: My lawyer advises me to avoid dive bars generally, which I pay very careful attention to.
Jay: Chris, we were talking about social for customer service earlier in the podcast. How much do you get involved with customer service provision for WhatCounts? Do you oversee that part as well, or is that handled elsewhere in the organization?
Chris: There’s a huge customer service division. I would say probably service and support are the lion’s share of our staff, actually. Everyone’s got their own dedicated account manager and stuff.
On the social front, I front end the listening. Myself and our CEO Alan Nance, we just keep an eye on stuff. When stuff comes in, we just escalate things as quickly as possible. Just pop into Salesforce, okay, who’s this person’s account manager? They’re complaining.
It’s funny. People will complain on social networks when we think we’re not listening, like on the weekends, or they will complain when it’s not serious enough to bring to their account manager, even though they have one. They are usually surprised and occasionally slightly creeped out that we are listening, and their account manager seems to call them out of the blue saying, “Hey, I heard you were having some trouble. What’s going on?”
It’s good for them and it’s good for the business, but I don’t do a whole lot of the problem resolution myself, mostly because we want people’s account managers to know what’s going on with their customers.
Jay: Are you saying that social media gives succor to the passive/aggressive element of society?
Chris: Yes.
Jay: It’s so well said. I see this all the time. They like to complain when they think we’re not listening. I love that.
Eric: My favorite is the someone complains, and then they don’t get the response that they want, or they don’t get the white glove treatment that they want, and then they complain some more about how they were treated after they complained.
Chris: If you guys ever want to see epic legion complaining, go check out the World of Warcraft forums that Activision-Blizzard has. I mean, the number of people who complain about things that are clearly first world problems is just legendary.
Jay: Yes, the World of Warcraft forums. That is a first world problem, no question about it.

Social Pros Shout Out

All right, Chris. This is the time of the show where we ask you to give a Social Pros shoutout to other people, things, animals, vegetables, minerals that you believe are worthy. Where do you get so smart? What do you listen to and read and things like that to become Chris Penn, marketing ninja?
Chris: I read a lot of economics blogs, believe it or not. I tune into the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They publish their data fairly often, and as flawed as some of it is, at least it’s consistently flawed in the same ways, so it’s predictable.
Tom Webster, who you’ll find at @Webby2001 is one of my favorite minds to debate with. So is Bryce Moore, who is @abiteofsanity on Twitter. Both these guys are very unique to me, in the sense that when we chat privately, they are completely unafraid and thankfully so of calling BS to my face, saying, “Dude, that was completely off. Your math is wrong here, here and here. Fix it up.”
One of the hallmarks I like to say of a good practitioner is you surround yourself with mentors, teachers, and people who are smarter than you so that they can constantly help you challenge and improve your game.
Other people that I find extremely important, Chel Wolverton who is my business partner for a lot of my speaking stuff and things is constantly finding the newest and coolest things. You’ll find her @ChelPixie on Twitter.

Eric: Also on Netflix streaming too by the way.
Chris: There’s some talks on there that will literally change how your brain thinks about things. I’m working on one talk right now, which is titled, “Climb the Staircase to Self-Transcendence” by Jonathan Haidt.
There’s an interesting talk about religion and spirituality, but there are some really profound implications in that for social media practitioners and how we manage communities and some of the pitfalls of that. I’m not ready to dig fully into yet publicly until I work out a lot of the details myself, but there’s some stuff in there that explains a lot of things like cults of personality and stuff that I think makes that entire video series so important to subscribe to and watch.
Jay: Awesome. Very well said. I think you may be, although we’re only at episode nine and we’re going to try and get to 900, you may be the only person in this section of the podcast who cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a Social Pros shoutout. I’m just going to go on record right now and predict that that’s the case. I could be wrong, but I’m just going to lay it out there right now.
Eric: I fell asleep actually for that part, Chris. When you said “Bureau of Labor Statistics,” I passed out from boredom there for a minute.
Jay: We lost Eric.
Eric: I woke back up when you said “TED Talks.”
Jay: Awesome. Chris, thanks so much. We loved having you on the show. It was tremendous, as we expected. Always good to run into you in this great land of ours, and continued success in all the things that you’re doing.
Chris: Likewise.
Jay: That will do it for Episode Nine of the Social Pros podcast. Many thanks as always to our sponsors, Eric Boggs and Argyle Social, named after the University of North Carolina basketball uniforms. Little trivia.
Also Infusionsoft, and our friend Jim Kukral from Digital Book Launch. Next week on the Social Pros podcast, it’s going to be Lauren Teague from the PGA Tour, talking about how professional golfers are embracing social media big time. Also, big win for Tiger. Tiger’s back.
Eric: So it would seem.
Jay: Interesting. The Masters is coming up too. We’ll talk to Lauren about that as well. Thanks everybody.

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