With 15 years experience as a “ big data geek”, Jason founded Liquid Wireless in 2008 on the savvy foresight that mobile marketing was just about to explode — and brands would soon be looking for experts to help them reach mobile consumers. Today, Liquid Wireless employs 23 (and growing so fast!) and is a part of direct marketing giant Publishers Clearing House. They promote app downloads to over 15 MM mobile game players who delight in the chance to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes every month.
Jason earned his MBA from The Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and holds a BS in Computer Engineering from Tufts University. Jason optimizes his free time around spending time outside with his wife Carrie and their three children, Luca, Anna and Marco.
Being all alone on Facebook, intimidating Twitter-speak, and building companies on social from the ground up
As with most of my interviews, what you’ll read here is a greatly condensed version of our conversation.
What was your first experience with social media?
“I’ve been in the Internet development business for the last 14 years so I’ve always watched different websites and social media networks as they’ve come about and tried to learn about them for my profession. I’m also personally interested in them. The first social media site that I remember being exposed to was Friendster. So, I used that. It was a little strange for me though because my friends who were active on it were all single and dating and using it a lot for that purpose. I had had a long-term girlfriend at that point, so there really wasn’t as much use for me. I was living in Boston and I was the right age for Friendster at that time, but the dating aspect of it wasn’t useful for me, so instead I would just kind of watch it — similar to what I did with MySpace — and I used both from more of a professional standpoint so, I could be sure I knew how all the features worked.”
“Then I went to Dartmouth to grad school in 2003. In 2004 I joined Facebook while it was still restricted to Ivy League schools. So, I was an early user of it. However, at that point, as a grad student, my friends weren’t interested in using Facebook. They didn’t really have a need for it. They were in their late-twenties, and probably not very tech-savvy. They were more finance-type guys. So, I found Facebook personally very interesting but what was strange for me as a user was that my friends weren’t really using it. All of the people I was close with weren’t sharing content. It would have been a very different experience for me personally if my friends had been using it. So, in some ways I just came a little too late to that party. I was a little too old and in a different life situation than a lot of the users at that time. If I had been an undergrad then I know a lot of my friends would have joined and it would have been a very different situation.”
“So, I go onto Facebook pretty early but I wasn’t that active because there wasn’t a lot for me to do. There weren’t people to share with so it was a bit of a strange experience, but still very interesting to me. Even afterwards, as Facebook was really starting to grow, my friends to this day — many of my close friends — don’t use it. A lot of them are in very regulated businesses, like financial services, so they’re not using it personally and many of the companies they work for try to restrict the amount that they use it. Also, many of them are at the point in their careers where they are trying to make good impressions so they’re very careful about what kind of information is out there about them on the Internet. So, still to this day, a good chunk of my friends don’t use social media at all. That makes for somewhat of a different experience for me.”
In 2007 I made a change in my career and got focused on mobile. I joined a company called mocospace, which was an early pioneer in mobile social networks. So, at that point in 2007, social networking was a wide-open field. You had companies like highfive and bebo.com that were still very legitimate competitors to Facebook. And, Facebook hadn’t won that race yet. At all. At the time I joined mocospace, it was bigger than Twitter. I remember watching Twitter. I joined seven years ago, so I was an early user. I found a lot better connection with Twitter personally. For me, Twitter was a great way to stay connected to the larger Internet community. Especially on a professional level.”
“I personally enjoy consuming content on Twitter and it’s a great way to share certain kinds of content that I really like. I’m kind of a data geek so I’ll share interesting stats that I come across or read about. I really enjoy it. I know, as a new user, the ‘Twitter-speak’ can be slightly intimidating. It can be hard to figure out the ‘rules’ and how to communicate properly. Like, when should you retweet (RT)? When should you direct a conversation at another user (@reply -or- DM)? When should you use a hashtag (#)? I think Twitter has become a little more daunting that way, especially for the new user. For me, Twitter felt natural at first. But later, as more people joined and specialized in communicating on it, it became more daunting for me. I took a bit of a break from using it for a while. My wife and I had three small children and I just didn’t have time for anything. Now, very recently, I’ve been trying to get back to using it more frequently. I was at Twitter headquarters a couple of weeks ago and I figured that was the right place to re-announce myself.”
“The one that I never really thought of as a social network for the longest time, which has actually been the biggest in my life, is LinkedIn. It’s only recently that I began thinking of it as a social network. But, I have more friends on LinkedIn. I have more activity on LinkedIn. From a business standpoint it’s a very powerful tool. I know that Liquid Wireless uses it for any number of things. From finding potential partners to potential employees, and even to validate and verify people we meet. In this industry now, if you don’t have a strong LinkedIn profile, it’s a red flag on a professional level.”
“LinkedIn is definitely far more business- and professional-friendly. What I’ve recently come to really notice — and I think they’ve made a lot of enhancements to their product to encourage this — is the ability to share and distribute content. It’s similar to how a Facebook feed or Twitter stream works.”
What do you like about social media?
“For me personally, I have this career that’s focused on high-tech and Portland has a somewhat limited high-tech scene. Social media, this tool, allows me to stay connected to the broader Internet professional community. So, I can connect via Twitter and LinkedIn to my friends in San Fransisco, LA, and NYC. Social media is very liberating in that way. I really like that aspect.”
“From a business standpoint, I think the thing I like the most is that it’s a strong tool to reinforce good behavior. If a customer is happy and we’ve done something well, social media can really help to amplify that message. Whereas it might have gone completely unnoticed in the past.”
What do you dislike about social media?
“What I dislike a little bit — and this is almost the corollary of what I just mentioned — is that it’s such a strong megaphone, and there is no kind of test or limit to who has that megaphone. So, I think there are lots of users who speak out on issues that they’re ill-informed on. That they’re not experts on. And, people listen. So, you could just have a large social media following and make a medical claim, or a claim about a product, or a legal claim or something, and people listen as if it’s fact. Social media can sometimes act as judge and jury and there are no checks. And, at the times when it’s been revealed that something has been stated that’s incorrect, there are not usually any strong messages going out to reverse what has been said. So, it can be very scary when a negative and inaccurate message about your business gets propelled.”
“In order to be an active participant in social media it takes quite a bit of time. Between following it and producing content for it and having to focus on it, it can be really consuming. So, when I had very small children, for instance, it wasn’t one of the things, in my list of things I needed to do in a day, that I could get to. I just didn’t have time, and it can be very distracting. So, I was an early adopter of Twitter and probably could have built up a decent following, but now I have to go back, and it’s going to be a lot of work in order to build up the following I’d like to have, because I had to take that time off of it.”
What would it be like for you to disconnect from social media for six months?
“It was easy to disconnect from Twitter, which I largely view as kind of a professional tool, and now I’m trying to connect back and that’s a little challenging.”
“Now, with Facebook I use it purely as a personal tool. I don’t use it at all for business purposes. Honestly, I don’t know if I get a ton of personal enjoyment out of using it today, but I feel a need to be connected and check in there. One strange feeling I’ve had is, I almost feel like accomplishments or other things that I don’t distribute on Facebook aren’t recorded in history. Even fun activities I’ve done — I went dune buggy racing a couple of months ago and it was really fun — I meant to post it on Facebook so everyone could know that I did this fun thing. I never posted it. And, then it felt like it almost never happened.”
“My wife is a very active user of Facebook. We haven’t had any of those traditional baby books or anything else where you record memories. But, she’s recorded a great deal of interesting moments on Facebook. One of the things I always get anxious about is, will that still be there or will it be kind of lost into the ether? I really want to export all of that information and put it into a book. That timeline of information … we don’t have anything else like that. It’s one thing for us personally as the adults, but for our kids, I want them to have that. It’s really interesting to record. I don’t know what we’d do without it from that standpoint. It’s also a great way to share all of this stuff with our extended families.”
“Some of our employees, they’ll friend my wife because she’s got all of the interesting content and I’ve got very limited content on Facebook. If you want better insight into my family, you’d definitely want to follow her.”
If you could only use three words to describe social media, what would they be?
“Sharing. Everything. Everywhere.”
It’s interesting because as a business that fits well with us. We’re a very open company. I try to go to great lengths to make sure everyone here understands exactly what we’re doing. So, that definitely fits. I try to answer questions very openly and honestly. It eliminates rumors. It can get difficult though when you start crossing different audiences. For instance, what about your personal life should be shared in a business context? Or, more simply, what do different audiences even find interesting? For example, I’m really involved in ‘big data.’ So, there are some big data geeks out there that would find some topics very interesting. One challenge I had on Twitter was that some of my college friends would just rail on me asking, ‘what are these really geeky things you’re talking about?'”
Is there a person or brand that you think uses social media effectively?
“It’s always exciting to watch when a company does integrate all of the pieces well. And, the one that I experienced personally last week was Warby Parker. I ordered a pair of glasses from them. It was neat because the product itself and their offering is so well designed … and, then just at the right moment, when I was kind of most excited about it, they pop up the opportunity, and make it easy, for me to share my experience. It’s really, really powerful. It reinforces this well-designed product, and they can also acquire new consumers through it. Through me deliberately, and happily, sharing it. So, that to me is really hopeful. And, I hope that it will cause us to have more companies like Warby Parker — companies that offer great products and help consumers to ‘vote’ for that.”
“It’s strange how, for a lot of businesses, social media is really kind of an afterthought. Or, the last thought. They still think of anything else — direct mail, TV, and now they’re getting into mobile — and social is still the most frightening. But, some of these new companies, like Warby Parker, are built on social from the ground up. In some ways, if you build that way, you probably have a bigger advantage.”
I want to thank Jason for taking the time to talk with me about his opinions on, and experience with, social media.