Val is currently working as a Brand Evangelist, a job position that leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s about telling a brand story – a type of job a storyteller can only dream about, and the way he arrived to his position at Sucuri demonstrates how important authentic stories are.
If you are looking to make your mark as a Social Marketer, this interview will give you first hand advice on how to address your audience, how to market yourself, and create a healthy brand.
Val, can you tell me more about how did you get into social media, and how did you end up working at Sucuri?
I have always been a people person. I always enjoyed talking and chatting to people around me. Reading has also been one of my biggest passions. These two went hand in hand for many years, prior to any computers being around.
Back in 1995 I was introduced to the first computer I ever saw. A 2.8.6 as we use to call them. Shortly after that came the first mIRC chat experience, then creating my first chat channel, then yahoo.com where we were either chatting to folks or playing chess. I was “visiting” places I was only dreaming about as a kid, but I was doing it online, waiting minutes on end for that “HD” version of a photo to download into the browser, a Netscape. 🙂
When Facebok hit Europe I was one of the beta registrants, then I got a Gmail invite on a forum and I started to be an early adopter of pretty much anything that included; people, connectivity, travel, and reading.
Back in 2006, for Christmas, my wife and I wanted to teach, by then, our only son saw the value of volunteering and helping someone in need. So, we prepared with him (at that time he was three and a half) from his own toys and clothes some gifts, we purchased sweets, and went to find children in need to give the gifts to them. He loved it so much, we decided we would do it next Christmas too.
Long story short, Luca went to kindergarten, and told our story to his friends, who then shared it with their parents, which resulted in parents calling us to say that they were ready to “join our charity organisation” 🙂
That’s how we started packing gifts inside shoeboxes in 2007, and in 2017 we celebrated our 10th anniversary having helped over 650,000 underprivileged children who received gifts for Christmas. We’re present in 19 countries and having over 4000 volunteers run shoebox locations in over 300 cities.
How does this tie in with Sucuri?
Well, in 2014 our website was hacked, just days before Christmas. Sucuri helped to clean and restore our website. I liked them so much, I decided to become their Social Media Marketer and Brand Evangelist.
What do you do as a Brand Evangelist, and how does storytelling help you do your job better?
It’s absolutely the simplest thing in the world: be yourself and tell your story.
To my “luck” I was hacked by bad actors and then saved by Sucuri, who in turn became my employer, and not only my solution provider. So, whenever I need to tell “a” story, I do not need to resort to inventing or making things up as I go, but I actually connect back to my love for people, remember how it felt for me to have our website hacked, and I simply share that. Be it face to face, on social media posts, interviews or anything else.
As a Brand Evangelist for Sucuri in the past 3 years I traveled the world, joining conferences and events, and talked about the experience I had, showing people how they can benefit from increased website security.
Stories about real people, real customers, who have been in the same position I found myself in 2014, on a cold December morning, around 4am, when I saw a huge Syrian Salvation Army flag on my ShoeBox website homepage.
What’s your secret to telling a story in 140 characters?
It’s 280 characters now. 🙂
But still, keep it simple, short and make sure it has value for the correctly targeted audience.
Always have a CTA that is not salesly, but conversational. People want to be listened to, want to see their opinions featured.
Would you recommend Twitter as good way to connect to your audience?
Yes, Twitter is one of the best tools to connect to people. I am particularly fond of Twitter chats, which I attend every week, on several topics, like social media, digital marketing, blogging, security etc.
Social Media is often undervalued as a marketing channel, what would you say its biggest value is?
Social Media enables large communities of people to engage, exchange information and also organise online to create results and facts offline. Volume is one of the essential ingredients. Have an idea for a webinar, or a product idea? Pitch it in a tweet and get instant feedback from all walks of life, culture or religious background.
What do you think is the best way to hook your reader?
Do not be salesly. Be real and authentic. Create value proposition.
You’re an avid photographer as well, and you have almost 30k followers on Instagram. I noticed that all of your posts have descriptions, stories by them. Can you tell me more about how and why you write those?
Oh, sure. I am thinking that not all of my audience is able to view colors, or observe details in a scenery, or even hear the different sounds inside an Instagram video.
Furthermore, I am a person who enjoys finding out more when I look at a picture. Where is this? What else is there, how did the photographer get there and so on, are questions I always ask myself. So I take great care to make sure that my audience gets as many details as possible.
What would be your advice to an up-and-coming social marketer?
Do your homework well. Social Marketing is a very complex and time consuming kraft to learn, and never ever can you say now I know enough. You need to have a permanent learning mind, able to spot trends and adjust strategy accordingly.
Another thing that I am personally very fond of is listening. Listen to your managers, listen to business people, listen to teachers, listen to customers. Absorb speech patterns, behavioural signals, and try to be a person who values the exchange of information rather than meeting goals.
What’s your biggest storytelling mistake to date, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest mistake is always better kept undisclosed :))) – but I can tell you what I learned from it.
You always have to assume that you’ve already been breached.
Your emails, your chats, your video and voice calls exposed. If none of the above frightens you by its content being publicly displayed to everyone to see, then go ahead and keep doing what you are doing right now.