Zena Weist Interview

Zena’s joining a full line-up of speakers in this month’s Social Fresh Tampa conference.  In my interview with her, she stresses the 1-to-1 relationship of social media and a little more “doing” and less “trying” by the brand owners.


Your Background

JohnWeist, ZenaWeist & ZachCobb

JohnWeist, ZenaWeist & ZachCobbphoto credit: westsidestudiokc.com

Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as H&R Block’s Social Media Director.

Zena Weist: Direct marketing has been something I’ve been drawn to since college. I enjoyed advertising, which was my emphasis, but I craved that back and forth brand discussion with customers. When I was working on my MBA in direct marketing, I was taking a Henry Bloch entrepreneurial course where I met with a digital start-up CEO. His company was selling bulk computer components on discussion boards (this was before the web and mass use of email). Yes, I’m old.

When I saw the back and forth dialogue via the internet, I was hooked. The digital start-up hired me. My first online marketing role had me dive into newsgroups and forums back in 1994. We rolled out a web site in late fall of 1994. I knew the web was my professional home. I thrive on the 1:1 interaction.

My first exposure to a velvet-roped online community was with Hallmark in 2004. Blogger outreach started in 2006 for me. I began developing the first social media roadmap for my company, Embarq, a spin-off of Sprint, in 2007. I was hired by H&R Block in January, 2010. The Social Media Director role was newly created by the CMO.

Agency – Client

Mark Regan: You’ve been on both the agency and client side of online marketing, how would you compare the two relative to social media adoption/implementation?

Zena Weist: In general, on the adoption/implementation front I think agencies and clients are both in the early growth stage of social media. Before you say, “but Zena get your head out of the Tampa sand,” please give me a paragraph or two to explain.

There are brand and agency social media examples we hold up as best in class. They just aren’t the norm, they are the exception. So now how can we all help each other power forward through to shift social media methods from “sitting at the kids table to moving up to the adult table.”

For me, the agency should already be integrating social media into any marketing or communications project from the onset. I’d like to see all agencies move away from bolting on social media tactics after the pitch is fully baked. What I am seeing that is working really well is when the agency plays that much needed third-party-social-media- strategy-advocate role. They help their clients build their social media roadmap for incorporating social media tools into all customer touchpoints. A majority of what I’m seeing from agencies is integrating social media into marketing communication plans. To me this is still fairly project specific and I’m looking forward to the industry maturing with more and more strategic consulting and long-term planning.
From my experience, client side social media has to be more holistic to succeed. The brand needs to weave social media methods into business processes, not bolt-on social media in a “toe-dipping, let’s try this out” approach. Given consumers’ expectations, for brands there is no try in social, there’s only do. Let’s help each other do social business well together. Let’s lift each other up. (And yes, I’m a huge Yoda fan.)

Stakeholders

Mark Regan: How have you approached the ROI-focused stakeholders who discount social media as not worth the investment?

Zena Weist: In order to get my peers’ and my executives’ attention, I have to speak their ROI language and use their metrics or I won’t be taken seriously. My team has acquisition, share of voice, brand awareness and impression goals just like our traditional marketing and corporate communication teams do.

Competition

Mark Regan: I imagine that H&R Block’s main competitors are local, private tax professionals more than other multi-location businesses. Does size give you an advantage on the social web or is it a liability?

Zena Weist: In this case, I think size doesn’t really matter. What matters is if you are meeting customer expectations online. Are you listening, responding and sharing WHERE your customers/prospects are online? If you aren’t, you aren’t meeting customer expectation and they will be vocal about their disappointment and seek out your competition.

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: Bonus: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Zena Weist: Ok, my favorite public community right now is Quora. I’m addicted to it. I’m more of a lurker than anything right now. I’m trying to move into more of a contributor-role but I catch myself spending hours (at night) reading up on social trends, tech news and my personal interests.

Mark Regan: Bonus: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Zena Weist: I ❤ Tampa and I’m not just saying that because Social Fresh is in Tampa. I try to get there at least every other year. The vibe is relaxed and fun. My family loves the friendly folks, warm weather and beaches. This quick trip, I’m hoping to get a chance to go to the ocean for a bit and enjoy the warm weather as I’m landlocked and freezing in Kansas City.

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Zena! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more about you and connect with you?

Zena Weist: Zena (@ZenaWeist) is an iWorkingmom who’s passionate about her four fun-loving kids, one adorable husband, customer advocacy, autism awareness, craft beers, red wine and all things chocolate; therefore she’s into running as well :-). Zena blogs a bit about all this at Nothing but socNET and she is a founding member of the Kansas City Chapter of the Social Media Club.

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