Photo courtesy of Shama Kabani.
Written by: Jennifer Smith
If anyone can speak to how fast things can move in the world of social media, it’s Shama Kabani.
Soon after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in 2008 with a master’s in organizational communication, the now 27-year-old tech entrepreneur started her own company, The Marketing Zen Group. What started as a consulting company specializing in social media marketing fast became a full-service web-marketing firm, and Kabani herself went from a recent graduate to a CEO, best-selling author, international speaker, and full-fledged web and television personality.
From writing her master’s thesis on Twitter to writing her first book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue, Shama Kabani’s story has followed the meteoric rise of social media and its increased influence in our lives. Publications such as Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times have looked to her story as a shining example of how young entrepreneurs can make their own path.
BreakThru Radio sat down with the renowned social media expert to ask for her thoughts on entrepreneurship and the importance of sharing your story when it comes to social media marketing.
BreakThru Radio: Starting off, in 2008 you did your masters thesis at the University of Texas at Austin on Twitter. What was that thesis on?
Shama Kabani: It was really interesting because it looked at a few aspects of Twitter. The major question essentially was why do people use Twitter? What is the underlying factor? And then specifically, I was looking at how Twitter users perceive time.
BTR: And this was back when Twitter had only 2,000 members, never mind the 2 million it has today.
SK: That’s right. So when I got started on Twitter, it had just a few thousands users. It was really young as a site, and I remember I would wear the t-shirt with the blue bird on it and people would just say, “Is that a cartoon?” And of course now you see it on CNN and all the channels and everyone says, “Tweet us!”
BTR: Did you anticipate its success back then?
SK: I believe I did. When I was looking at this, I thought, “This has the potential to really change how we work.” They’re saying now, “news doesn’t break, it tweets.” I believe that. I saw it then, and I thought it was going to have a huge impact. It was good to see it going from the early adopters to public usage.
BTR: You started your company, The Marketing Zen Group, soon after you graduated, what drove you to that decision?
SK: The Marketing Zen Group is a full-service, sub-marketing firm that I started right out of school. When I got out, I was so passionate about social media. I’m thinking that this stuff is going to change the world. So I’m going to these big consulting companies saying, “I would love to work with you. This is what I want to do.” And they just looked at me and said, “Facebook’s a fad. What are you talking about? Social media is the stuff my kid uses. Twitter what?”
I don’t think they understood the underlying concept of how people were communicating … how this massive change was occurring. And when that happened, I realized there’s something beautiful about being young and having doors slammed in your face and that means you can start your own thing. You have very little to lose.
BTR: You’ve mentioned storytelling as an essential skill of cultivating an effective social media marketing campaign. In what ways have you at Zen media incorporated storytelling into the work you do?
SK: I feel like we incorporate it in everything that we do using different mediums. For much of it, I am the face of the company. As CEO, I feel like one of my chief responsibilities is to provide value and to be that storyteller. So this is part of our story. How we started [and] where we’re going. The fact that we’re a virtual company. Everything we do, from the books that I write to the blog that we have, we feel like the story that we’re telling is really so many bits and pieces of everything and everyone who is a part of our company. In lots of ways, we also see ourselves as the storytellers for our clients.
BTR: How would you say you create a story in a world where the attention span is so short?
SK: There are no short cuts. You have to be very personable. You have to be very human, and I think that really does help you stand out. To me, an essence of the story is it’s very human at its core, and it’s not automated. It’s not a machine. It’s a person or a group sharing a beginning, middle, and an end so I think that practice makes you a better and better storyteller.
For more of this interview with Shama Kabani, tune into the latest episode of BreakThru Radio’s brand new current events podcast, Third Eye Weekly, debuting today.