Meet #umbsocial speaker – Mark Traphagen

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Stone Temple CEO Eric Enge and me on stage doing Here’s Why Live at the State of Search conference last fall.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

After a brief career in sales in my 20s, I went into teaching (English at the middle and high school levels), eventually becoming a school administrator. While at grad school about 15 years ago I got a job in a bookstore where I was asked to take them online. Through that experience, the digital marketing bug bit me, and I’ve never looked back. I love where my work has taken me, but the best thing in my life is my two amazing daughters and six grandkids.

When did you start to work in social media?

Social media started to become a thing while I was developing and marketing the online store for that campus bookstore, and it seemed natural to me to make use of it to keep in touch with our customers. I feel like my first social media experience, however, was in the comment section of blogs. It’s hard to believe now, but that’s where a great deal of online discussion used to take place. I would discover prominent bloggers who wrote about the books we sold and enter into the discussions in their comments. I was commenting as the store, but I never pushed sales. Instead, I would try to contribute useful things to the discussions. I found that many people did end up checking out our store as a result, and so when social media emerged, I already knew some best ways to market there.

How does a typical workday of you look like?

I think a lot of marketers would say what I’m going to say: there is no typical day! But some things I do regularly include daily engagement on all our social channels, creating content for our own site as well as a number of industry sites I write for, preparing conference presentations, and working with our data and marketing team to develop and publicize new data studies, which is the heart of our content marketing efforts. I also serve on the management team of our agency, so part of my role is helping to guide and grow the company.

Do you have a role model in social media. Someone who inspires you?

Too many to mention! One would be Rand Fishkin (@randfish on Twitter), the founder of Moz SEO software. Rand taught me the value of being authentic and transparent, and also how powerful it is on social media if you’re truly passionate about your topics. Another is Annie Cushing (@anniecushing on Twitter), an analytics expert. I try to emulate how hard she works to bring real value to her audience. People who follow her always learn something new.

What is the hardest thing about social media?

Time. It takes time to do social media right. There’s no shortcut around that. I love the new responsibilities I’ve gained in my job, but a part of me always misses those days when I had more time to be more engaging.

What do you see as some up-and-coming trend in social media?

The most effective social marketers I follow are embracing what Marketing Prof’s Ann Handley calls the slow content movement. That is, since their time is limited, they are spending more time developing fewer pieces of content (or new posts), but making sure each one they post is truly kick-butt great. And then they devote more time to actively engaging with their audience.

Can you name us a brand or company that you admire for their great social media strategy/execution?

One I’d highlight is JetBlue. They get the value of having an “always on” experience for their customers on social media. I’m always amazed and pleased by how quickly I get a response when I mention them online, even if my post isn’t a question or complaint. I’ll be on a JetBlue flight and tweet something like, “Flight attendant Brad is cracking me up on @JetBlue flight 377 today!” and a minute later I’ll get a reply from JetBlue like, “We know, right? But don’t get him into dad joke mode!” It makes the brand human, personal, and makes me glad I do business with them. How do they pull it off? They trained a huge army of work-from-home people who monitor and respond to their social channels. That cuts down on expense while giving them the capacity to be real time with their customers.

Did you make any social media mistakes in the past or is there anything you would avoid in future?

I’d be more thoughtful and intentional about the purpose and branding of our various social media accounts. On some networks we have both a company page and the personal profiles of our founder and myself. Many people follow all three, so I need to come up with a way to differentiate them more.

To be successful in social media, you need to ….?

Love it so much that it always seems like a hobby rather than work. That kind of passion for it is necessary, as it can be very taxing. Almost nothing lasts on social; every day you have to provide new value or fall off the map. That can be exhausting unless you’re a person who relishes creative challenges and human interaction.

What is your favorite book and why?

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. No other book has affected my thinking more deeply. Carse is a religious scholar who was intrigued by game theory. His book explains that everything in life is playing out one of two kinds of games. Finite games are any interactions where the goal is to bring the transaction to an end, and for it to end with clear winners and losers. On the other hand, in infinite games, the goal is to keep the game going as long as possible, rather to determine ultimate winners or losers. Infinite games always lead to more benefit for more “players,” and so they are to be preferred. In my marketing, I seek to create infinite game situations between brands and customers.

What is your favorite quote?

“There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.” – Seneca

What is your favorite movie and why?

Chariots of Fire. It’s a strong reminder that ambition should always be fueled and limited by conviction.

Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

For fun, I play bluegrass mandolin, and do competitive storytelling.

Where can we find more about you and you work? On our blog at, and my regular social media columns for Marketing Land ( and Search Engine Journal ( I am also the creator, producer, and co-star of our weekly digital marketing video series, Here’s Why (

Mark Traphagen (@marktraphagen) is 
Senior Director of Brand Evangelism at Stone Temple Consulting

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