Twitter pro reveals the secret to social media success

Doug Ulman, CEO of Livestrong, believes that finding more friends and clients online means listening to what they have to say

Doug Ulman (Photo credit: Studio Adigital)
Doug Ulman (Photo credit: Studio Adigital)

The way to reach people online is to “be real” and listen, Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman — who has built a 1-million-strong Twitter following — said during a visit to Israel this week.

Social media might be technologically complicated but are actually quite traditional in their essence, Ulman said, and using them successfully requires “a combination of information, dialog, and conviction.”

“We don’t regard it primarily as a marketing tool, but as a stimulator of dialogue. People want to share authentic content, to share their story,” he told The Times of Israel.

Ulman was in Israel to participate in the ROI Global Summit, held this week in Jerusalem. The summit is the annual event of the ROI Community, which seeks to build a a global network of Jewish innovators to foster new approaches to dealing with issues in Jewish communal life. (The acronym stands for “return on investment.”) Ulman was the keynote speaker at the event, which brought together young Jewish entrepreneurs from more than 40 countries who are using modern technology and innovation to enhance Jewish life in their communities and worldwide.

Ulman’s Twitter account — @livestrongceo — has over 1 million followers. Livestrong, his organization, was founded by Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France cyclist and cancer survivor,  to promote better health and help for cancer victims.

The ROI Summit, now in its seventh year, features numerous Israeli contributors talking about what attendees can learn from Israel’s start-up success. Among those speaking will be social media wizard Lior Zoref, who gave the first-ever crowd-sourced TEDtalk in February; Jerusalem Global Group CEO Dr. Shlomo Kalish; Jerusalem YMCA CEO Forsan Hussein; “Start-Up Nation” co-author Saul Singer; and former Israel ambassador to the United States and Syria expert Itamar Rabinovich. In addition, there will be a global brainstorming session, where participants will generate ideas and initiatives to present to a panel which will include high-tech start-up guru Yossi Vardi and Azrieli Group vice chair Danna Azrieli.

For those entrepreneurs, whatever their field, social media will play an increasingly important role. “Listening to your audience is a good way to start and to get your audience involved,” Ulman said.

The relationship an organization builds with clients, customers, or supporters pays off, he said: By enabling them to have influence, an organization builds loyalty, and once a client is on board the organization can update them with new information, and eventually sell them a product or get them to commit to a cause.

“You are building something with them, and because of this they end up caring about what you are doing, and are willing to show their support,” Ulman said.

This approach certainly works for Ulman and Livestrong, but will it work for, say, a typical Israeli start-up? The answer is yes, at least based on the comments by a variety of entrepreneurs at a recent event sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum in Israel, which holds periodic events aimed at helping entrepreneurs build their businesses. At a recent event titled “Building the New Media Start-up,” speakers from successful Israeli start-ups like Magisto, TabTale, MyThings, and others discussed their successful use of social media to build a base of followers among consumers.

The bottom line was identical to Ulman’s message: If you want to succeed in business using social media – and, according to every single speaker, there was no way to succeed today without social media – “you’ve got to be real,” as Lior Asulin of Magisto said.

“You’ve got to be in constant touch with your users. It’s the only way to know what’s working and what isn’t,” he said.

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