INTERVIEW by MELISSA CASKEY | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of SEAN MALARKEY
When this “Twitter thing” first started getting some buzz, most of us just shrugged it off. Myspace was all we knew, and Facebook was something we had just started getting accustomed to. Since then, not only has Twitter’s ubiquitous presence integrated our daily lives, but now people like Sean Malarkey (who originally started in real estate) are showing us how to take our free time and turn it into a career. His blog says he “does stuff online,” but all that “stuff” he’s doing happens to influence hundreds of thousands of followers – the first 70,000 of which he got in three months. Most recently, Sean teamed up with entrepreneur Lewis Howest to create “FB Influence,” which they just sold for over $500,000. Luckily, he let us in for a peek at what it takes to create a name for yourself in the broad world of social media.
Can you briefly share how you got your start in social media and your online career?
When Twitter first launched, I got an account. I tweeted out a couple times, and no one ever responded. I just didn’t really get what it was for, and so I left it alone. In December of 2008, I was having a conversation with a buddy of mine and he started raving about how great it was, how much fun it was, and how it was different from Facebook and blah blah blah.
He told me to get on and follow his followers and they’d follow me back because they knew who I was. I think I followed 1,000 people that night.
The next morning, I opened up Twitter and 800 of the 1,000 had followed me back literally overnight. I tweeted: “Thanks to the new followers,” and got ten replies. I did a few more tweets, and was getting engagement and thought: “Wow, wonder if I follow 200,000 what’ll happen.” I just kept cutting a blueprint and learned a lot… you have to unfollow people or you won’t be able to follow more.
In my first three months I grew my following to just over 70,000 people. At some point, I tweeted out a link to a property we had on our website and I about fell out of my chair when I found out I had driven about 500 hits to our website in five minutes. I wondered: “If I follow more people, will I be able to drive more traffic?”
How have you managed to make social media into a career?
It all kind of happened by accident. I kept getting questions from my friends about how to do different things on Twitter, and at some point I decided to start blogging about it. Then, I started getting requests from people saying: “I’ll pay you to grow a following for me on Twitter.” So it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks that people were willing to pay for this. I wrote an eBook back in early 2009 on Twitter and how to grow a following. At that time there were close to 5 million people on Twitter, and a lot of stuff happened in 2009 that just caused Twitter to explode.
It was a lot of luck. I was in the right place at the right time. It worked really well for our real estate business. As everything was happening on Twitter, I ended up selling my interest in our real estate business and doing this blogging/marketing online. I went full-time at that point.
What kind of advice would you give to people who might want to pursue a similar career? And how can they make money?
Get really good with the networks. You can spend a lot of time just on it and learning it. You can get education or somebody can show you everything that they’ve learned and how they do what they do. There are a lot of good resources, free or at a cost. But if you want to get there quickly, I would say get as much information as you can. As simple as Twitter is, there are a lot of strategies that can be put into play that can really increase your effectiveness.
Once you’ve got a good understanding and use the networks a lot from a business perspective, – Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – just get as good as you can. Typically, when you’re good, business will gravitate toward you. If not, it’s pretty easy to find a lot of companies, restaurants, businesses that are not good, not actively using it. In this day and age, it has to be part of your marketing, or people will go looking for you and it hurts you when you’re not there.
Why do you think Twitter caught on so well?
I think it’s hard for people who don’t use it to understand. And it’s understandable that a lot of people get on, sign up, and never come back because of the way the platform is. But I think for those who get it and use it, it becomes almost addictive. For me, it’s a lot more instant than Facebook. If I post a link to a blog post on Facebook, it’ll take about 12 hours for the same amount of traffic to come from Facebook as it would from Twitter. And in Twitter it happens in about 5 minutes.
For people who maybe don’t get Twitter or aren’t that interested… if they’re interested in sport or news or anything going on around the world, just using the “Search” function, it’s amazing how much information is there and in real time. It’s rare that I watch the news, but if I do it’s rare that I hear something on the news that I haven’t already heard on Twitter. I had to chaperone my daughter and her friends at a movie and there was a soccer game going on that I wanted to watch, but I couldn’t. But I could sit there on my phone and hit “refresh” over and over, and it was like I was literally watching the game.
World news is the same way. We’re in the middle of a huge shift in the way we communicate. Most people I know are logging into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn either before or right after they check their email in the mornings. We’re seeing governments being overthrown, guys like Charlie Sheen jump on and explode from a publicity standpoint.
Heaven forbid Twitter dies out…but do you have a backup plan? What other things are you interested in as far as social media?
My business partner, Lewis Howes, is kind of considered the king of LinkedIn, and we thought together we could offer a whole lot more than we could separately. So we’ve got a little bit of diversity in that regard. In general, through doing a lot of marketing on the Internet, and especially the fact that we’re involved in social media, it’s opened up so many doors that it doesn’t even concern me anymore.
Our social media education represents probably a third of our revenue for our company, and we do a lot of contracts and partnerships with big media companies to help monetize their traffic. We turn down ten projects for every one that we accept.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
That I get to play on social media all day. I’ve got one of the most fun jobs out there. It’s really cool helping people, and the great thing about Internet marketing is that most of it is ideas and theories. When you can implement stuff and see it succeed, it’s really rewarding.
How can readers contribute to your success?
Check out my blog, follow me on Twitter… interact. Google me and find me all over social media that way.