Jay Baer: I love the way Eric Siu talks about content into taking a sprout to piece of content, a seed piece of content, and then expanding it to into other dimensions and other circumstances.
Such a smart way to do content marketing and social media. Eric Siu from Single Grain. He's the CEO of that digital marketing agency, is our guest this week on the Social Pros Podcast. I am Jay Baer from Convince and Convert. Thanks as much for being here as always, Adam from Salesforce, not with us this afternoon, so flying solo with Eric, but you're really gonna enjoy this show.
Eric runs a good size digital marketing agencies, had tremendous success and as you'll hear later on in the episode, Eric bought the agency for $2. $2 which is a pretty good return on investment.
I want to get right to the episode, but first remind you that our benefactors here at the Social Pros Podcast include Salesforce marketing cloud. We have a brand new report called the State of Marketing.
They interviewed, check this out, 4100 marketing leaders from all around the world (this is the fifth edition of the research) talk all about the impact of customer experience on marketing and how the role of social media is changing, how critical AI is in 2019 and beyond. Eric will talk about AI in this episode a little bit later. I want you to download this. It doesn't cost you nothing. You will learn a lot. It's great research. It's at bitly/jaysays. That's bitly/jaysays.
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Eric Siu, CEO of Single Grain, legendary, LA-based digital marketing agency is this week's guest on Social Pros. Eric, thanks for being here.
Eric Siu: Thanks for having me Jay.
Jay Baer: So tell us a little bit about how you are structured at Single Grain. I mean, I started doing digital agency stuff in the '90s, the early '90s when domain names were free.
Between now and then is obviously a long time because I'm old, but be, what digital agencies do and how they're structured has necessarily changed a lot over the years. And even in your business, right? You guys started more I think on the search side, and then evolved into a lot of other services. Talk a little bit about how you're structured.
Eric Siu: Yeah, I can talk about structured. I could talk about how I bought the agency for $2. So maybe someone you've had in the past is Sujan Patel on your podcasts. I don't know if you have or not.
So there's another marketer, name's Neil Patel. His cousin wanted to help with the agency and I came into it. But I'll leave the $2 story for later. But in terms of how we're structured, we are primarily focused on paid media over here.
So we primarily work with large tech companies or software as a service companies. That's kind of my background. The way it is, is I'm at the top, we're actually in the process of hiring a CEO right now and then you go to the layer below that, then you have the people that are actually doing the work, the technicians, which is I think what you typically see.
But the account managers are actually doing the work and then the content team is ... because my background's in marketing, it's almost like our own little internal marketing team. We don't really do it for clients per se, but we do a lot of it for ourselves.
So we've got our two podcasts, we've got our blog. We do a lot of events. So there's a lot of things that we do around that, and I try to them. They're like my baby from client work.
Jay Baer: Nice.
Eric Siu: Yeah.
Jay Baer: Do you think of paid media today, say paid search and paid social, even paid display, do you think of all of those as the same and do you manage them the same or do you have different people on say, SEM paid Google versus Facebook, Instagram?
Eric Siu: Yeah, good question. So we do have people that are specialists in a certain area. That being said, we do try to make them more T-shaped as marketers where they can understand at least the basics around the other areas.
So yeah, I mean, short answer to your question is yes. We have specialists around Google. We have specialists around Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.
Jay Baer: When you think about content today, you mentioned the content team and then obviously you've got all the different social channels now, some paid, some organic. Do you feel like content and social are still different or are they the same thing and social is just a short piece of content or a smaller piece of content or is social just an amplification vehicle for a longer form content execution?
Eric Siu: To me, I feel like it's the same thing. Even before we started this podcast, I was like, "Man, I really think content and social are the same thing." So, I'm glad you asked that question.
Because, what you're doing, whether it's on social platforms, you're publishing content and then if your content is good, you start to build the audience. It's the same thing with the blog too. You start to build an audience because you publish good stuff, people opt into your list, right? And you can pull people into your world.
So, to me, it's the same thing. Once you start to write good stuff, you build an audience, that's your amplification tool. So, yeah, they're very similar. I'll just put it that way.
Jay Baer: Do you feel like today, every client that you work with has to be everywhere? I mean, to me that's one of the most fatiguing things about the business today, is that there's so many stones that you probably should turn over in order to reach your maximum audience, maximum conversions, et cetera.
It is both time intensive and financially a daunting sometimes to say, "All right, now we've got to be on Snapchat and now we've got to be on WhatsApp and now we've got to have...” It's a lot. It's good for job security, I suppose. But, do your clients ever say, "Man, you guys are telling me I got to do something new again?"
Eric Siu: Yeah. So, you know it's interesting, all the stuff that we do from a content perspective on our side, for better or worse, we don't really recommend it to our clients.
I mean, like from working with Uber or like Amazon for example, they're doing their own thing. So, I think that ... The first part to your question was do you need to be everywhere? Something around that, right?
Yeah. So, what Neil and I talk about on the Marketing School Podcast, we keep talking about omnichannel marketing, which I'm sure you have people talking about on this podcast. But the problem is now attention to sort of split.
So, when I think about going to Netflix, when I'm watching video on Netflix and I end up opening my phone and I start watching YouTube videos, my attention is being split. So they talk about the rule of seven all the time, but is it really the rule seven or is it more like the rule of 17 now or the rule of 14?
Facebook, Google, all of these companies, their business models are all about advertising. So they want you to stay there more. They want to hold your attention more. That's how they're incentivizing.
Jay Baer: It's so true. When you're staffing at Single Grain, are you looking for a particular type of person or a particular skill set at this point, or both?
Eric Siu: Yeah. So, I think I'm looking for a particular person because I don't really focus a lot on the agency side of things.
We have our software, we have our education stuff, we have products which is kind of my background. So, you want to look for someone that ... at least for me, I should just say for me, we look for people that are culture fit.
Culture fit is someone for us, one of our main tenants is growth. As long as they're growth oriented, the skill stuff that's going to come, that's fine cause they're very open minded, and that we have our other core values too, but the skill stuff becomes easy to train 'cause you're training on this stuff, you've been doing this for a long time. I'm talking about this a lot.
You can get that anywhere, but if you have the wrong attitude, that's hard to untrain 'cause you've been doing that for 20, 30, 40, 50 plus years.
Jay Baer: Sure. Yep. We talked about this a lot on this show and offline. What are the services of the pieces of that continuum that you think agencies are disproportionately good at delivering?
Like, you know what? Agencies should do this, third party should do this and in house, you should probably do that. What's the secret sauce now for the agency side of it?
Eric Siu: Yeah, that's a good question. I think a lot of things that are going on, we see that more and more clients are taking things internal, in house.
I actually tell clients, maybe to our detriment, that, "Hey, I actually recommend that you take things in house." But for us, the benefit you get from working with an agency is, we're iterating really quickly on the newest things.
So we're trying the newest things not only on ourselves but then we're translating those things over to clients. So we're getting a lot of learnings from different areas and then we're able to take the best learnings and help you execute on them.
But the most important thing I think for agencies to differentiate themselves is you're offering some sort of transformation. So if you have some type of amazing webinar funnel that works really well and you start deploying it for clients and you continue to add value to that funnel instead of just saying, “You're just going to do execution,” you can then afford ... not afford, you can then charge a lot more money, that it's not just, "Oh, I'm gonna pay you a couple of thousand dollars a month and you're a vendor. I'm going to charge you six months down the road."
Jay Baer: Yeah. 'Cause you're actually then execute it in making it happen for them.
Eric Siu: Yep.
Jay Baer: Yeah. Interesting. When you get a new client or you got a new engagement or even somebody you're working with in one of your education programs, is there something that you typically encourage people to do less of in social and digital?
Where you're like, "You know what? You're probably wasting time by focusing on this thing and that thing is probably not delivering return. You should just do less of it. Stop doing that."
Eric Siu: Right. I think you would align with this too. I think for me, it's people saying that they do things but they're doing it wrong. So they're like, "Hey, yeah, we tried the content marketing thing."
They're very dismissive, didn't work well. Then you look at what they did and they're writing one post a month and it's a 300 word article and you wonder why they're not successful with it.
So it also depends on the stage that they're at. It's doing the right things and not trying to do too many things, especially if you just raised the Series A and you're just getting started. But if you have bigger budgets, you have more leeway to try many things at once and see what sticks.
Jay Baer: That's one of the things I think is fascinating about your business. Eric Siu is our guest this week on the Social Pros Podcast. He's CEO of Single Grain, an LA-based digital marketing powerhouse and also the host of two spectacular podcasts; Marketing School, which is the daily show with the legendary Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere.
Eric, you have an interesting client mix at Single Grain because you do some work with startups and Series A-funded companies that you just mentioned, but also some really giant enterprise organizations.
That's got to be really interesting from a client management perspective. Because their expertise and maybe even their expectations of you has to be quite a bit different. How do you go about that?
Eric Siu: That's a good question. I think, like, if you compare Uber or if we look at ... let's say, we work with Amazon too, those are fairly similar because Uber is considered a startup, but they're about to IPO.
So those are a similar range. But then when you look at ... so similar set up there, but then when you look at the Series A companies, as long as they have a marketing manager and a marketing team, the setup is almost the same.
I would say that working with a large company like Uber for example, you might be meeting with some of their executives sometimes. If we're doing a really kick butt job, you end up getting dragged into these executive meetings, which are good things.
I shouldn't say dragged, it should be get pulled into these meetings and you get to have much higher level conversations and you get to feel like you're part of the team.
We actually encourage that with our even Series A funded companies do, let's say they raise 5 to 10 million dollars, treating us as a partner versus a vendor leads to much better results. When they do that, it makes things a lot easier.
Jay Baer: As a company that is data driven and based on metrics and results and performance and paid media, I'm interested to ask you your take on influencer marketing. Such a big part of the social media landscape today is activating influencers and using influencers on Instagram and other channels to boost reach and things like that.
My experience both as a quasi-influencer and also as a marketing consultant is that that can certainly work. But sometimes the path to success can be a little bit more elliptical and the measurement schema can be a little different than what you might find in give Google money run report. What is your take on that at Single Grain just as Eric Siu and where do you see that part of the business headed?
Eric Siu: Yeah. You know, that's interesting because I'm an angel investor in this one ... they were an influencer marketing company and the data showed up that they should pivot away from it and they ended up becoming this company called catalog, which they offer images for social or a flyer for retailers.
They've found the influencer model was like very up and down and clients turned quite a bit. It's kind of what you're alluding to too. It's hit or miss sometimes. You could work with the influencer and pay millions of dollars and then you don't really get a return from it because you targeted someone that's too broad.
So if I target Kim Kardashian to buy my marketing software, probably not the right fit. But what I would say is, you mentioned quasi-influence or even like a micro influencer. I think those are worth more because their audiences are the right fit if you're picking the right people and they're more engaged. They're the super fans.
So if that's the direction I would go in if I was selling retail products. Software too, I would say like for Neil and I, for Marketing School, a lot of people offer us software. That's the benefit of having a podcast that's continuing to grow and I'm sure you get offers that are same way.
They continue to do that and they're happy to continue to help us because they say it helps. So that's another example of us being micro influencers in this space.
Jay Baer: Yeah, no question about it. Recent announcements in the last few weeks that LinkedIn is now going to offer live video joining the brigade of social platforms that offers live video, Facebook, obviously YouTube, even Instagram with IGTV, Twitter with Periscope, et cetera.
Where do you come down on the live video conversation as a marketing tactic? Is it something that everybody should be doing or is it becoming a X and we're going to jump the shark here?
Eric Siu: Yeah, I'm in love with live. I think one of your questions later actually ties in with life. Maybe I'll look for that question later, but the live has been phenomenal for us. We use Wirecast and I'm sure you've heard of Wirecast. We simulcast-
Jay Baer: Yeah, I haven't used it yet.
Eric Siu: ... to YouTube. We simulcast Facebook and now with LinkedIn, it's going to be one of the main ... Wirecast could be one of the opening API partners or integration partners.
I am all in on it because I can just create three pieces of content at once, so I can then make it into 15 different blog posts and then a bunch of different videos. Going live on YouTube, our YouTube is not huge. We're at like 16000, 17000 subscribers. But we grew ... our subscriber growth rate went up by 30, 40% just by starting to go live in January.
So at least for right now, I'm all about it because we talked about earlier, these platforms want you to stay on longer 'cause that's how they make money, and the lives helps them stay longer-
Jay Baer: Yeah.
Eric Siu: ... stay longer. Yeah.
Jay Baer: Do you do either of your podcasts live or more advice in counsel kind of shows?
Eric Siu: Yeah. You know what? So, yesterday, Neil and I recorded for two hours for Marketing School and we go live now, and it helps with watch time and everything. So why not?
The Growth Everywhere Podcast, I've been doing for five years. Originally, I was doing one new episode a week and then the four episodes Tuesdays to Fridays were just repeat episodes because the stories are evergreen and that was the logic.
Now, I basically started taking my live videos and converting them at the podcast, and then my download rate doubled. On that one, that's more your daily off the cuff advice and I just actually did five minutes of advice before we hopped on over here.
Jay Baer: Fantastic. Yeah, I mean, I think it's the best way to go about it. I mean, if you're gonna start with a piece of content, our advice is always to start with video because if you have video, you also have audio. And if you have audio, and a transcribed as transcription, you have pretty much 80% of an article.
If you've got an article, then you've got an infographic, and you can just cascade it all the way down the chute. Definitely the most efficient way to go.
Do you feel like in ... I don't know, let me throw out a date. Let me throw out a date. let's say three years, Q1, 2022, Eric Siu, here's your crystal ball. Are companies still going to do organic social media at all or they'll just be like, "Nah."
Eric Siu: You know, people keep talking, "Oh, AI, AI, AI.” I think everyone's talking about, “You have to be a data company. You have to be a data-oriented company.” Completely agree with that. Where does the data go? It gets fed into machines, and you were talking about machine learning and AI.
I think a lot of it can eventually be automated because you're not going to be able to tell the difference between if it's a human doing it or if it's a machine doing it, 'cause it's so easy for machines to eventually start to predict what-
Jay Baer: Work.
Eric Siu: ... humans engage with. Yeah. So, that's where I think it's going. I do think it's still going to be ... it's a communication medium. So I don't think social is going anywhere, because communication is not going anywhere.
Jay Baer: Yeah, and especially for customer service. We see more and more citizens turning to social because they think, sometimes correctly, that they'll get better service on social versus phone or email or live chat or anything.
Eric Siu: Right. Yeah, Delta does a good job with that. I love them for that.
Jay Baer: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big Delta guy myself. All right, I do want to ask you, before we get into the big two questions that we ask all our guests here. I do want to ask you the story about you buying the agency for just two American dollars and turn it into what it's become, which seems like a pretty good return on investment…
Eric Siu: Best investment I’ve made so far.
Jay Baer: It's a pretty good gig. So tell us a little bit about that story.
Eric Siu: Yeah, so when I came into the agency, I was running Growth at a company called Treehouse and they teach online education more like coding and web design.
Neil, who was a mentor figure, he taught me the ropes around online marketing, he said, "Look, you did a good job at this company. Why don't you come help save this company?"
So I went from having a good product, a good team to just having that sprinkle marketing onto it to see it grow, to saying, "Man, Google is really hammering this company because we're an SEO." You said we're a search company, which is true. Things were just really tough for us, and, "Man, can I save this failing operation? Could I do something I've never done before?" So it was a challenge to myself.
Now, I came in as a number to a chief operating officer. There was actually four other partners. It was four Indian guys and then one Asian guy. But things actually got worse in the first year and then Neil said, "Look, I think you should get out of this thing. There's no grand equity. I think we should all get out."
I said, "Look, I think I might want to stick around." Everyone basically wanted out. Sujan wanted out too. By the way, I still talk to all of them. We're all friends, and I was able to get Neil's shares, 10% for $1.
Jay Baer: It is an absolutely unbelievable story that you sort of rescued this from ... not rescued because you were a part of it, but sort of took this from the ashes to what it is today. What do you attribute that to? Just kind of riding it out, and the tides turned or, or did you say, "Let's add different services or go to market in a different way?" Because to go from fundamentally nothing to something, there's gotta be a catalyst there.
Eric Siu: Yeah. You know they say in the stock market, when you're negative, a hundred is much harder to get to positive. It's true.
If I were to do it again, I probably wouldn't have done it. I probably would have done something else. But, hindsight's 20/20. You never like ... once you hit a certain mark, it's like, "Oh, okay, everything connects and ..."
Sorry, I just want to make sure I'm answering your question right. So can you rephrase your question again?
Jay Baer: Yeah, I'm just wondering if there was one particular thing, the point to that you were like, "You know what? This was the decision that we made that allowed this company to-"
Eric Siu: Right. I think it's always a series of things that lead up to success. But what we did decide to do at the time, I was like, "Man, okay, we're pivoting from search," and then I was like, "Okay, we got to go into content marketing."
Then I made a really bad hiring mistake, which is I put all of myself, it's my fault at the end of the day, and then dropped this all the way to one employee. Then we decided, I was like, “Man, okay, you know what? The only way I'm going to keep the company afloat is if I refer the leads out.” Because we're getting a lot of leads, right? Site would continue to grow and then we will take a percentage, maybe 20, 25% refer the leads out, and that was keeping us afloat.
Then what I started to see was that the people that where we referred the leads to, they weren't retaining. So I was like, "Do I really want to go back and build this agency from the ground up?" And I said, "You know what? Let's do it."
So we decided to focus on paid media and because it's very black and white, you get reports. I got, we're doing better work than other people. I thought we could do better than other agencies and that led us to where we are now, which has led us to expand back into SEO and content, and we've been growing ever since.
Jay Baer: Amazing. Fantastic. Eric, really, I'm so impressed by what you've built at Single Grain, especially coming from $2. A $2 purchase is extraordinary. Congratulations. I love what you're doing in the content that you're putting out.
Folks, if you haven't had a chance to tune in to Eric's podcast Marketing School with Neil Patel, it is fantastic. Short episodes, to just a few minutes, kind of one great tip a day on how to be a better digital marketer. Really useful stuff.
And Eric Siu, Growth Everywhere. Terrific stories about people who have also grown their own businesses. So tune into both of those, anywhere that you get your audio goodness and YouTube as well.
Eric, just gonna ask you the two questions we've asked everybody here on Social Pros going back nine plus years. Friends, Adam will be back next week on the microphone with me.
First question, Eric Sui, CEO of Single Grain, is if you could give somebody one tip, somebody who's looking to become a social pro per the name of the show, what would you tell them?
Eric Siu: Yeah, so I agree with you on the video portion. I think you're starting with one seed piece of content. So I think the easiest way to think about this is ... You were talking about, "Hey, a video can actually lead to audio—can lead to text."
What we've been calling this, just to make it a little easier for our team to understand internally is you have ... we're calling it the contents sprouting techniques.
So you start with the seed piece of content and then once you're ready to expand it into different pieces, you're sprouting it and then you have to promote it so they need to be pollinated.
Then what's gonna happen after you pollinate it is monetization. So you harvest it. So it's almost like this whole Single Grain thing is coming full sprout. I think, first, don't try to do all that stuff. Start with one seed first. If you're good at video, do video. If you're good at audio, do audio. If you like to write, go ahead and write. I think it's more competitive right now. 4 million plus new blog posts coming in every single day. But start with one seed first and then expand.
Jay Baer: Yeah, Eric, that's really good advice. Find something that you're disproportionately good at, do more of that, and then cross sample that content into other venues.
Look, it is competitive out there and we tell our clients this all the time at Convince and Convert. If you don't love the content that you're creating, you're not going to be very good at it.
Eric Siu: Yup.
Jay Baer: It's pretty impossible, so you can tell. People know if you love writing or they can tell if you love video, they can tell if you'd love podcasting. You just can't fake it. It shows us up, it's like dogs can smell fear and fans and content consumers can smell the difference.
So, find what you love and do more of that.
Eric Siu: Cool.
Jay Baer: Eric, last question for you. Thanks so much for being on the show. If you could do a video call with any living person, who would it be and why?
Eric Siu: Yeah, I think it would have to be ... I was debating between Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I think I would go with Bill Gates because ... I love both of them, but you got two people or ... just look at Bill Gates; very focused on philanthropy.
When he was in business, he was ruthless. He was dominating. But at the same time, he had a kind heart. He realized that there's a lot of people pirating Windows, but he also realized it was doing so much good around the world that it's okay to let it go.
To be the way he is now, doing so well in business and redeploying that, it's basically a premise I think we can all get around, which is just helping humanity grow faster and move faster.
Jay Baer: I love it. That's a great answer. I have one more question for you actually, Eric, right now.
For those of you watching this on our YouTube channel, this will make sense. If you're just listening, I'll just describe the scene for you. Eric is in his office, in his recording studio and behind him is a bookshelf with a series of what I presume to be business books.
They are organized by color, which is very snappy looking. So my question is this, have you ever seen anybody, 'cause I know this happens, who organizes the apps on their phone by color? You know what I'm talking about?
Eric Siu: No, I haven't.
Jay Baer: I have seen it. In fact, somebody who used to work with us, used to do that and all the apps on their phone were organized by color.
So all the yellow ones together, all the red ones together, just like your bookshelf. And to me that seems like a really hard way to pick the right app on your phone.
Eric Siu: Yeah. You know what? I think behind me, what you're seeing is that's a coincidence. I think you see an orange and red clump. Then I see a blue clump too. Well, I see a green clump too. Wow.
Jay Baer: Then a black clump. I think it's planned. I'm not positive. We gotta get to the bottom of this.
Eric Siu: My team set ... we brought the books from my home, so I think they set it up that way, so I'll have to ask them about it. It wasn't my doing.
Jay Baer: I don't know. There's like a hidden interior designer at Single Grain that's up there making a difference.
Eric Siu: Yeah.
Jay Baer: I appreciate. Eric, thanks so much for being here. Congratulations on all the success at Single Grain. Don't forget to check out Eric's podcast, Marketing School and Growth Everywhere, anywhere that you get your audio files.
As always, this show is Social Pros. It's hopefully your favorite show in the whole world and it's brought to you by Convince and Convert, Salesforce, and this week Pattern89.
Adam will be back next week. Don't forget every single show, 350 episodes, I don’t remember what number we're at now, I always forget. You can get at SocialPros.com and of course on the YouTube channel as well.
We'll talk to you next week. Thanks so much. I'm Jay Baer.