The Social Founder: Interview with Will Critchlow of Distilled

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Will Critchlow

Co-founder of Distilled

Will Critchlow is a rare, undisputed SEO expert and co-founder of Distilled, one of the world’s top SEO agencies (like that anchor text there, Will?). Distilled has grown from two people in a front room watching Test Match Cricket to 48 people in offices in London, Seattle and New York.

Everyone interviews Will about SEO subjects. This is going to be different. We want to ask Will about how he and his team have used social media to grow Distilled into the SEO powerhouse it is today.

On Twitter: @willcritchlow      On LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/willcritchlow


You’re the founder of a growing business. How much of your time do you personally spend reaching out to your network in social media – and on which platforms?

I clearly spend quite a bit of time on social media – I’m approaching my 10,000th tweet. I spend relatively little time doing anything structured to represent Distilled – though it is an area where it’s hard to draw a line between work and non-work (welcome to the life of a founder).

The most deliberate activity I participate in directly for Distilled is on LinkedIn where I deliberately reach out to people I’d like to hire and connect to influential people in the industry – especially in cities where we hold conferences. I probably only spend half an hour here or there doing this.

I view LinkedIn as almost exclusively business, Twitter as a strange hybrid of personal and business, Facebook as almost entirely personal and use G+ mainly for colleagues and family (though with a growing public element). I also have a tumblr account – but I use it more as a blogging platform than true social media.

Up until maybe six months ago, I was more hands-on behind many of the Distilled social presences and spent a few minutes each day responding and pro-actively driving. These days those tasks are increasingly shared across the teams.

“I clearly spend quite a bit of time on social media – I’m approaching my 10,000th tweet.”

Which social platforms does the Distilled team find most valuable for growing a B2B service business like Distilled?

We have the most powerful presence on Twitter – across a combination of personal and business accounts. This is the platform that currently drives the most traffic and things like ticket sales for our conferences. G+ is catching up fast – though probably due to our industry.

LinkedIn has been very useful for pro-active outreach to individuals and groups.

Do you assign different people different social tasks – like Jane does Facebook, Bob does LinkedIn – or do you let everyone do their own thing out there?

To date it has been relatively unstructured – our most powerful accounts are personal accounts of individuals. The various company accounts are increasing in structure – currently shared between our conferences team and marketing.

Does Distilled use social media for customer service and support or is it mainly a sales & marketing medium? (If yes, how?)

Yes – not so much for consulting where clients have a direct contact already – but certainly when people are buying conference tickets or having technical issues with the website. This tends to be a case simply of replying to tweets @distilled – this seems to be the medium our customers typically use to reach out. It’s handled by the conference or technical team depending on the question.

You’ve been out there in social media for years. What is it really good for and where is it over-rated? How has it helped Distilled grow?

It’s been superb for shaping our perception. We’ve always been very open about allowing our whole team to represent the brand online. This has led to a very close match between our internal culture and external perception.

I would say it’s been best for growing our permission assets (blog subscribers, email subscribers etc. – which are definitely sales channels) and for recruitment. We already know a lot of the people we hire before they’re hired because we’ve met them online.

It’s least effective as a direct sales channel. While we do sell tickets from things we tweet, it’s at a much lower conversion rate when we’re trying to make it the last touch.

“Social media is best for growing our permission assets.”

Obviously, SEO plays a big role in Distilled’s own marketing efforts. What role does social media play in your SEO strategy? Is it just another vector for promoting content?

I would say it is primarily about that but it’s becoming increasingly important in its own right. Given the industry we work in, it’s increasingly important for example that our pages have been +1’d by people who appear in our prospects’ circles.

Due to the B2B nature of our products and services – and their typically long purchase cycles – we typically don’t convert from search engines on the first touch. Most of our SEO is content marketing that reaches decision-makers early in the funnel when they’re learning or researching. We convert them from there into a permission asset such as an email list and typically make the sale months later.

“We typically don’t convert from search engines on the first touch.”

With Distilled in three locations now, do you use any social collaboration tools to share knowledge and keep projects moving?

We use a plethora of social collaboration tools – even our project management tool (trello.com) is becoming increasingly social. We use:

  • G+ for internal “social media” – it helps us share interesting things and discover the internal experts and evangelists in different areas
  • Salesforce (and Chatter) for CRM and in the sales team. They find the “passive sharing” of Chatter enables them to stay up to speed on the pipeline
  • Google Apps – including Google Docs for collaborative editing and GChat for text, voice and video

What role does CRM play in your business development? Do you integrate social into your CRM?

We have been a Salesforce customer for years. Our sales team couldn’t operate without CRM – although we are only just starting to reap the rewards of integrating the marketing funnel and use the social elements. We just rolled out a pilot Chatter Plus license outside the sales team to see what opportunities lie in wider integration across the whole team.

How do you monitor Distilled’s social media performance?

We do monitor social media performance – though fairly informally – we track some metrics on a Geckoboard (geckoboard.com) that is shared across offices and track key metrics in Google Analytics including financial metrics for ticket sales.

At the time of writing, Distilled has 5700 followers on Twitter and you’ve got 8600 for your own personal account. Why is it important to have both? Do you use them differently?

It’s important that we run an official @distilled account so that people can subscribe for announcements and the like and know where to turn for support. We have not yet cracked the difficult task of making the company account properly human – and most of us prefer to spend most of our time sharing and chatting as ourselves (myself included).

We are looking to improve our use of the @distilled account but right now it’s mainly broadcast or responses to direct questions. I use my personal account for sharing links I find interesting, chatting to friends and generally talking about anything that’s on my mind. If the tools came along to let me manage them well, I could easily see myself using G+ more than Twitter in the next 6-12 months.

“I could easily see myself using G+ more than Twitter in the next 6-12 months.”

You’ve got 1300 ‘Likes’ on the Distilled Facebook page as of today. What’s it good for?

Facebook is good for discussion and for its integration – people are always logged in to Facebook and so share blog posts using like buttons etc.

We also sometimes run Facebook advertising around the time of conferences.

You’ve got 306 followers of your Distilled company page on LinkedIn. How do you use this page and is it effective?

We are just in the process of sprucing that page up a little. I would say our LinkedIn presence / activity is 50% recruiting channel and 50% for conference attendees right now.

You’ve opened a LinkLove attendee networking group on LinkedIn for your LinkLove 2012 event in London. What’s the idea?

It’s primarily that we want our attendees to be able to network effectively with each other at the actual event. We think that’ll be easier if they’ve hung out online first. There is also a knowledge-sharing part –- our mission of discovering and sharing internet marketing knowledge involves gathering like-minded individuals together both on- and offline.

If you could only use a single social media platform for the entire Distilled business, which would it be and why?

Right this second, Twitter – because we have the deepest penetration there and it has the most activity among our immediate targets.

I think G+ might supersede it in effectiveness in the next 6-12 months (partly due to the specific industry we work in) and I’m personally a big fan of G+.

If you could give a CEO who’s new to social one piece of advice, what would it be?

Relax and be human – but don’t forget that you aren’t just talking to your mates. Behave the way you’d like to be seen at an informal but professional gathering and you’ll be fine.

“Relax and be human – but don’t forget that you aren’t just talking to your mates.”

Last one: favourite whisky? I’m guessing Lagavullin 16 here.

Actually, I’m afraid that’s not even my favourite Islay. If I could have three, I’d choose:

  • Any Caol Ila or Ardbeg for my peat hit
  • Springbank Cambeltown – the 10 y.o. for day-to-day and the 21 y.o. for special occasions
  • Glenlivet 1968 for the most special of special occasions (my wife gave me a bottle on our wedding day)

If you made me pick one standard bottling I’d probably go for the regular Ardbeg.

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