Dennis Yu is the Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder at Blitzmetrics, a social media analytics company. Blitzmetrics provides its clients with Facebook analytics, Pinterest analytics, Youtube analytics, Twitter analytics, etc. Dennis has helped brands grow and measure their Facebook presence and is an internationally recognized lecturer in Facebook marketing.
I wanted to find out more about the man behind the analytics and lecturing. Along the way I gained a lot of gold nuggets of advice about entrepreneurship, marketing and Facebook which I believe many can learn from so I trust you will enjoy this interview.
Who & where was the Dennis Yu as a teenager?
I was running as many 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons as I could find. I ran my first marathon at age 14 in just over 3 hours and got hooked. I found I had a high tolerance for pain, which allowed me to beat folks who were more physically gifted. I wasn’t fast enough or skilled enough to play football or soccer.
Entrepreneurship is like a marathon. There’s not much glamour in the hard work and seemingly impossible challenges to keep things going. Those teenage years taught me a lot about perseverance.
Your educational background is Finance & Economics. How do you find this helps with what you do now?
School directly didn’t help much, as most people will admit. But I chose Finance and Economics because I had a curiosity for why certain things cost what they cost. I didn’t speak much English as a youngster, so I found math to be a way to communicate.
And that eventually turned into competing in math contests, learning to build financial models, working with the databases that ran American Airlines, and running the internal analytics team at Yahoo!.
There’s something to be said about being able to talk conceptually about business, as opposed to being able to mathematically model out customer segmentation rules, website conversion traffic, or any system of rules.
Math, as a beautiful thing, can describe nearly anything– from the likelihood of people to not wear seatbelts to whether you will find love. I spent a few years at Yahoo! studying the behaviour of people on Yahoo! Personals, the dating site- more on that another day!
Finance and economics also naturally led me to programming, when you get into econometrics and working with large, multi-dimensional data sets. When I was at American Airlines, I got tired of asking the IT people to run queries for me. They took too long and I didn’t want to wait in the queue. So I learned how to write JCL and SQL myself.
You studied at London School of Economics. California to London – why study so far from home?
Home is wherever you are and whatever you make it. I didn’t really have many friends or a loving family to come home to. I really liked to learn, so this was the best place in the world to learn about economics. I enjoyed the international experience, which really puts being an American in perspective.
I went to boarding school on the East Coast, which was already thousands of miles from my home in Los Angeles. So going a few hours by plane further was not a big deal. And working at the airline after college seemed natural.
I’ve probably never been in one place more than 10 days for the last 20 years, until I found a home in Minneapolis. So now we’ve got so many friends in one place and we get to do math all day! Just kidding, but not really.
When and how did you start to get focused on Facebook marketing?
I’ve never been a Facebook-focused person, any more than someone who really wants to learn about a particular topic really likes books. It’s not that they love the books.
Likewise, I’ve been fascinated by playing with the world’s largest data systems. The SABRE system, owned by the American Airlines parent company, was the biggest non-government system out there. Yahoo! was the largest search engine while I was still there, so I had the opportunity to analyze some outrageous behaviour on the web.
Facebook is the next extension. Just consider how much data they collect on users and also make available to advertisers. It’s not that we want to spy on people or be creepy, but to truly understand who the best customers are of a business, what content will cause them to convert, and how to assemble a system that will drive business results.
Back when we started marketing on Facebook in 2007, there was limited competition. There wasn’t even a newsfeed.
There wasn’t an ads manager, API, insights tool, app development companies, or any of the current ecosystem players. The marketing automation companies were still auto-responders and still largely are, as they haven’t actually integrated social yet into message delivery sequences.
What do you think are the main reasons why some businesses fail to use Facebook successfully?
We could spend hours on just this one.
But suffice it to say that most aren’t following the viral cycle – to start with quantifiable business goals, ensure they have content that addresses these goals, tie in their audiences to this content, and to then amplify via Facebook’s system.
If they miss any one of the steps in this sequence, their Facebook marketing programs fall apart. Some folks randomly get it right out of sheer luck, while others intuitively understand how logical (not magical) this really is.
If you believe success on Facebook comes from buying tools, hiring witch doctors, or chanting voodoo spells, then there are armies of peddlers who’d like to sell you weight loss supplements.
Without these 4 components I mentioned above, you’re just not going to make it. It’s like wishing that 2 + 3 equals 18 or that gravity doesn’t apply to you. It just won’t work.
Most businesses fail tactically because they have unrealistic, immediate expectations on Facebook. It’s not to say we can’t drive measurable ROI – but it does take time to nurture success, in the same way you’d nurture and tend a vegetable garden over many months.
If you don’t have the content or existing successful marketing programs to duplicate into Facebook, you’ll be fighting uphill. Social is for amplifying what you already have – the content that works against the audiences you bring into Facebook (email, web, offline, etc…)
- Become a disciple of inbound marketing. Don’t just read about it. Write, interact, and network to produce truly helpful content. Don’t outsource it. You can’t automate it. Be THE pro in your area and people can’t ignore you. Look at how Alex Houg became one of the top guys in the measurement of Facebook ROI and tuning Facebook ads for performance.
- Start building your list. Can’t afford Infusionsoft or Marketo? Fine, start with MailChimp or a lame WordPress plug-in. No list means you can’t build momentum.
- The two steps above are to build content and build audience. What does that have to do with Facebook marketing? Now you post your best content onto Facebook and import all your audiences into Facebook. You tie your website, email, and social together via custom audiences. Look into this and you will be forever changed.
- Once you have these first 3 items done, you can start to run ads. If you run ads before you have it, you’ll leak out all your traffic. Unless you are using social to collect emails, you have no way of continuing your nurturing relationships into conversion paths via email and your site. And you can’t measure ROI either, which means you can’t justify a penny of this until you do.
- Last step is to influence the media. Share your direct experience and knowledge in such a transparent way that people will reshare it. Screenshots, process steps, your best techniques—share it all. Don’t worry about your secret methods, unless you’re in an affiliate space or are governed by legal restrictions. I’m not a lawyer.
These above techniques work well for start-ups who don’t have any money and can’t hire a fancy agency (who probably isn’t doing this themselves or can’t do it). A dollar a day is all you need. Really.
Your issue is going to be time. And that’s followed by crappy content. So you better practice, practice, and practice. Let your click-through and conversion rates be the honest judge of your performance, not what your good friends tell you.
You’re a self described “Data Geek”. Which do you prefer – lecturing or crunching data and why?
I find that teaching actually reinforces my knowledge. Yes, writing articles like this forces me to a higher level of clarity. That’s why I write a lot and speak a lot. It’s often the result of something I’ve learned that I’d like to get down onto paper to be able to then discuss and refine with others.
And I’ve discovered that the more campaign experience and optimizations I’ve performed, the more I can write. Because content marketing or thought leadership is about sharing direct experience (screenshots and methods), if you’re not crunching data, you don’t have first-hand experience.
Relaying what someone else had to say may work for a certain group of curators. But you should be known for your personal experience. That’s why we like to work with clients and UNTERNS that are deeply passionate about something and are willing to share.
You have produced a model for Social ROI measuring influence. Please explain more about this & why the decision to teach it for free to students?
Yes, this is the Viral Cycle we touched on earlier. We have boiled down a lot of headache over the years to share what we know provably works and will continue to work, even as Facebook changes all the time.
There’s no magic—go check it out and validate that it’s mechanically solid. Download the guides and read the articles at alexhoug.com and insidefacebook.com/author/alexhoug. It’s free, except for the cost of your time.
Yes, we are a business that has to generate more revenues than expenses to be economically viable. So giving away training to students who have graduated high school but are still under 23 years old may seem to have a catch.
Our company, led by our 20 year CEO, Alex Houg, exists to create jobs for young adults. We see the gap, mainly in the United States, between what the school books teach and the experience that business owners require.
So we provide this direct work experience for these UNTERNS. They certify themselves via our 15 level system, while implementing QuickStart packages according to our process.
The businesses win, since they’re getting a proven model with students that have their passion matched to their commercial interest. Folks who love basketball will work for the NBA, for example. If the student loves a particular type of food, TV show, or consumer product, we’re likely to have a client in that area.
We’ve been fortunate to find this connection between the education system, students, and businesses. We exist not to make money, but to use proceeds completely for this mission as a primary objective.
And anyone who wants to participate, we welcome them in this movement.
Student, teacher, business owner, media contact, parent, interested observer—we want to work together with you.
What is next on the agenda for Dennis Yu?
I’m here to support them and all the UNTERNS who want to portage from being students to modern marketers. So my role as CTO is to build tools to serve them, automating the grunt-work behind ads optimization, reporting, and manual stuff.
Let them shine by serving companies that produce products/services that cater to their hobbies, such that they can be paid for their passion. Let’s train up these folks to help small business owners everywhere, tapping into a labor force not utilized.
If anyone wants to help, they can reach me on Facebook at fb.com/dennisyu.
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