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Interview with Shana Bull – Creating Relationships and Storytelling is How You Win – Episode #44

“No one’s talking about how more brands should be having more fun on social media.”

Shana Bull is a best-selling children’s book author, freelance writer, and digital marketing educator based in the Bay Area. She is passionate about low-alcohol wines, elaborate cheese boards, and traveling on food adventures with her husband and redheaded son (the co-author of their children’s book – Randall the Blue Spider Goes Surfing).

With over 12 years of social media marketing under her belt, she had a lot to share on the pod!

In this episode we talk about Shana’s writing process, how she created her first children’s book, the importance of finding a mentor, how to get into creating Instagram Reels and TikTok videos, why you need to outsource the tasks you don’t want to do, and more!


Full Episode Transcript:


Kenny Soto  0:00  

Yes. I can never get used to how loud her voices okay. We are now recording and five or 321 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto’s Digital Marketing podcast. My guest today is Shana bull Shanna, like banana Hashanah. How are you today?


Shana Bull  0:21  

I’m doing pretty good. How are you doing?


Kenny Soto  0:23  

I’m doing great. So, before recording, I gave you a little backstory about the podcast. And I like to ask this question to all of my guests just so that the audience can know more about your backstory, and we can get more context on your career. So my first question for you is, how did you get into marketing?


Shana Bull  0:44  

You know what, that is a great question. So I have always been that weird kid that liked commercials. So when I was a kid growing up in the 80s, I loved cereal commercials, the Tony the Tiger, the tricks, the rabbit, the snap, crackle and pop all of those, I just absolutely loved them. And I wanted to create characters. For cereal. When I grew up, I didn’t know what that was called. Turns out, it was called advertising.


But I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So after high school, I made almost every job I had into a marketing job. So I worked for Starbucks for four and a half years. And I was in charge of doing the retail shelves and helping with local charities that we worked with stuff like that. So even though my day to day job was literally making coffee, I made it into kind of a marketing job that I was learning also in college when I was living in San Diego. 


So I would take the skills that I would learn from my PR or marketing jobs back in the day before social media was even a thing. So I would take those skills, and I would put them into my day to day life working at Starbucks, I also worked as a one of those people that asked if you want to take a survey in the mall. I don’t know if they have those anymore. But literally, I was one of those people that said, Do you want to take a survey, and people would run away from me. I quickly realized that was not for me. But I was a supervisor in charge of the people that said that. So market research was always fun. So I literally created my marketing job kind of just, I picked and choose there. What I wanted to do with my life from an early age.


Kenny Soto  2:49  

Now I’ve done some research myself on your career. And based on what I’ve seen, I would consider you as an avid writer. So my next question is, what is your writing process like? And how does it change based on the projects you’re working on?


Shana Bull  3:08  

I love that. So I have been a writer and a storyteller my entire life. I wanted to be a teacher for a little while also, I mean, I did love marketing, but I went into kind of a wanting to be an English teacher for a little while during college. And I’ve always written in journals. And back in 2008, I had a blog on WordPress, because that was just kind of what people did. And I worked at a marketing agency. And they wanted me to kind of get to know this new technology of blogging. And so I started a blog where I wrote about things that were going on in my life. 


And I think that was very important to me to talk about things that I cared about. and I were I lived in wine country, about an hour north of San Francisco. And so things that I wrote about happened to be wine related, because those were the events that I was going to just because that’s where I lived. I didn’t really love wine at the time, I loved the experience. And that’s what I wrote about. And then I became a wine blogger. And I was one of the only ones that was writing about the experience of wine versus the the tannins and the taste and the smell and all of that. That stuff that a lot of people were writing about back in back in the day. 


And so what I love about writing and how my process changes based on what I’m writing about, is whatever I’m interested in, I write about and I pitch to. I’m a freelance writer so I pitch to different publications, whatever is really I’m really excited about and most of the time that involves food or experiences here Glee in the Bay Area, but also it kind of was writing about a sorry, hold on. No worries, it was all. I also ended up writing a children’s book that I co wrote with my son. 


And I took that from our experience hanging out in Long Beach. And we we just kind of wrote a fun story together. So my process really is writing about things that I care about. And it it comes across when, when you’re really passionate about something it it can be seen in the work that you do. Whether you’re sharing that content on social media, or a blog or video, just day to day life. It’s really obvious when you’re passionate about something.


Kenny Soto  5:55  

I want to dive deeper into the story of Randall, the blue spider go surfing, so can you tell the audience how that idea even came to be?


Shana Bull  6:05  

So I’ve been a marketer my whole life. And I always wanted to be an author, just like I wanted to be a teacher. I like had that in the back of my mind. But I never really pursued it. And a few years ago, I was with my two year old at the time, and we were at the beach in Long Beach, and he saw surfers. And he was asking questions. He was a curious little two year old like he he was already talking and like it just rambling on about whatever came into his head. He’s also a storyteller. 


And so I actually recorded what he was saying. And I was asking him questions, and we ended up writing this really, I thought, cute children’s book. And I literally sat on it, it was in my notes app on my phone for three years. And then last summer, when the pandemic hit, I ended up getting finding out I had cancer. And I was bedridden for about a month and a half after radiation and oral chemotherapy. 


And I literally couldn’t work at all, I had such brain fog from the chemo pills, that I wasn’t able to work at all I wasn’t able to write. For any publications, I wasn’t able to do classes that I was normally doing nothing except lay in bed and watch TV, and take lots of naps. But I was able to connect with a publisher who does a hybrid model of publishing. So instead of having a publisher, and they pay you see up front, and then they they get all the money for the books. This is a way that I’m able to get royalties from the book for ever. 


And it’s kind of self publishing with help. And so I talked to her and we published and found or we found a illustrator, and we published the book. So now I get to say I’m a best selling children’s book author with with my son, who’s now five years old. And it’s just been such a fun process.


Kenny Soto  8:28  

That is both a powerful and encouraging story. I’m glad that you told it. Yeah.


Shana Bull  8:33  

And I will say at the end of the day, I found out that my tumor was gone a week before the book came out. Wow. It’s also a happy story. It literally the book wouldn’t have come out if it wasn’t for my cancer, which obviously I don’t want to have cancer not sucked. I can say that with a laugh now. But I wouldn’t have taken a step back from my day to day job if it wasn’t for being forced to step back.


Kenny Soto  9:07  

Well, I let me just catch my bearings here. What were some of the challenges in marketing the book


Shana Bull  9:18  

that it’s so I am a marketer who has marketed and helped other brands tell their story. So when it came to telling my own story, it was a whole different ballgame. Like I forgot everything I’ve learned, I swear I needed help, like just tell like reminding myself to post on social media. But then once I actually created a game plan it, it made everything a little bit easier.


But for a while I was just kind of doing everything on the fly, which is literally the thing that I tell my clients not to do. And so I was sitting They’re going, oh, I need to post something on social media today. Let me think about this, and then just throwing something up there without any real thought behind it. And then once I took a step back and went, Okay, what would you tell your clients, you would tell them to write everything and plan ahead and create content a month ahead of time. 


Okay, I can do that. I know that that’s the way that social media works. If you’re doing it for marketing, you have to have a game plan and a call to action. And. And that’s the only way that it really does work. Otherwise, it’s just putting crap up there, and hoping it sticks. And so that was one of the biggest problems that I had, with the kind of difference between telling other people’s story and then telling my own. 


But what I did love about telling my own story is that I knew it. Like from the back of my hand, I can, I can tell the story of how random the blue spider goes, surfing, got started over and over again. And that’s what I tell my clients, like you know your story. So you have to find new ways of telling it over and over again, even if it feels redundant to you, your customers, especially new customers haven’t heard it yet. So now that story, through video through pictures through podcasts like this. 


And so, yeah, I was able to do that. And then I’ve been able to tell my story about cancer, you know, talking about my adorable little two year old who co wrote the book by just rambling about being nervous, and spider and how he would be so nervous if people were watching him go surfing. And so it’s been fun telling this story over and over again,


Kenny Soto  12:02  

more on the topic of having to relearn what’s the best way for marketers to continue their education in 2021.


Shana Bull  12:14  

Honestly, one of the best ways is finding a mentor. Even if that person doesn’t realize that they are a mentor, having someone to look up to via podcasts or articles, or even now I’m getting a lot of inspiration from Instagram rails, from people that I watch, and I follow. 


And so we know that digital marketing is an ongoing, ever changing landscape of, of tools, and there’s always something new to learn. I’ve been in social media marketing for 12 years. So when I first started out, it was literally I was teaching classes on how to connect with people on Twitter and Facebook. There were no images, there were no videos, there were no brand pages, no Instagram, or Tiktok or clubhouse. It was literally just visit how you find people and connect with them. 


And it was about relationships. And then everything else kind of came into play. But at the end of the day, I still talk to people about creating relationships. That’s how you learn and that’s how you get ahead. To be honest. It’s it’s sometimes not what you know, it’s who you know, it is also important to know things obviously don’t do not get me wrong. But for me, how I’d been able to sell the book and become a best selling author within two days on Amazon, I was a best selling new new release author because of the connections that I’ve made and kept throughout the last 12 years.


Kenny Soto  14:10  

The answer to this next question in may just be Instagram reels, but it could be something else. What are some social media trends that you’re seeing this year that aren’t being discussed enough?


Shana Bull  14:25  

Um, I mean, Instagram Rails is being discussed at length I think right now because Instagram recently came out and said, Hey, everybody, video is where we are moving. We are no longer just a video or a sorry. Instagram has said we are no longer just a image sharing platform. Instagram wants to compete with Tik Tok Instagram wants to compete with YouTube. 


And so they are are really focused on Instagram reels, Instagram Live messages, and then Instagram, TV. So those are the four areas that literally the head of Instagram hold people to concentrate on. And so right now, at least in my world, a lot of people are talking about that. And so one of the things I’m trying to do with my customers in my community, is encourage them to show their face and be present within Instagram, or Tiktok, or wherever they want to be, really, because it’s, it’s not where I think they should be. It’s where their customers are. 


So if their customers are on tick tock, go to tick tock, show your face do videos, you don’t have to necessarily dance. No one’s no one’s telling them go do that. But show off your products and services and have fun. I think that no one’s talking about how brands should be having more fun on social media. That’s what I think


Kenny Soto  16:06  

I would definitely add to that. Personally, I’ve been doing some Instagram videos for my startup. And at first, I was a little hesitant and nervous myself. During the first video was such a project, I didn’t know it was going to take me an hour just to complete it. But now I’m up to at least 11 videos. And at this point, I would say the easiest way to start is just go on Instagram reels. Look at what other people are sharing. 


And the moment you laugh or giggle, just copy that sound, and put the the in video copy if you will, into whatever your business is doing. So for example, I’m in FinTech. So the Instagram reels that I look for are funny. And I just changed a copy. So it’s related to personal finance. So that’s just some little tidbit that I would like to share there as well. My next question, yeah,


Shana Bull  17:00  

that I mean, no, that that really, that’s it, you know, so many people right now I’m finding are so afraid because they, they compare themselves to other people. And you can take inspiration from what other people are doing. And especially with Instagram reels or Tik Tok, you can see what you can see what the, the music or the the original sound, and you can go look at every what everybody else is doing. And you can specialize it and think about how it could make sense for your brand. You can change a few things. Exactly. Yeah.


Kenny Soto  17:42  

What are some common mistakes that you seen your clients and students make when trying to grow their own Instagram accounts specifically, before they seek your guidance and take your lessons.


Shana Bull 17:56  

They aren’t even sure where to start. To be honest, a lot of people are so overwhelmed because they think they have to do at all. And so my advice is always to start off slow and pick where your customers are. Most of most of my cousin’s most of my personal clients are alcohol or food brands. And so Instagram is really it. Tick tock is a little too young for a lot of alcohol brands. 


Shana Bull  18:31  

So Instagram is where they should be. And they should be focusing their time. And so I tell them, you know, get to know your audience on one platform. Before you go out to other platforms. You don’t have to be on clubhouse, or tick tock or even Twitter, especially if you are a local brand that only caters to your you know, region. You don’t need to be on Twitter if that if you only talk to people that are within 25 miles from your brick and mortar store. What I always find get people to do is like and where I was going with that. Are you able to stop and start.


Kenny Soto  19:23  

So you were you’re talking about you don’t necessarily need to branch out you can focus on one specific channel.


Shana Bull  19:31  

Yeah. So I always recommend showing your face that is one thing that a lot of people are hesitant about doing and when when you pick which brands to work with whether they are b2c or b2b, you’re picking based on relationships. So being able to show your face or show the people behind the brand that helps create that relationship with the customer. And I think that is so important that a lot of people don’t even even think about


Kenny Soto  20:07  

Shana, what would you say are two or three hard or soft skills that you’ve had to leverage throughout your entire career up to today.


Shana Bull  20:21  

Soft skills are I hate that name because it, it, they sound almost inferior. But soft skills are relationship building, it is empathy, it is how to connect with other people and kind of understand where they come from. And in marketing, that is the most important, you have to understand that if you own a business, most likely you are not the target audience, you have to get to know who those people are, and understand their pain points and what they want, where they live, all of that. And then the connections, and relationships and engagement are so much more important than a pretty picture on social media,


Kenny Soto  21:13  

or any number of KPIs that you’re trying to target.


Shana Bull  21:16  

Exactly. When we come when we talk about hard skills. To be honest, the the role of a digital marketer is there’s so much involved, we’re being asked to be graphic designers, video people, customer service. Everything marketers, data analysts, all of the above, it is wild, how much how many different avenues digital marketers have to look at. So find what you’re really good at and what you love doing. 


Shana Bull  21:57  

Sometimes those are the same, sometimes they are different. But focus on that and kind of build your niche within that. And I think that’s what I’ve done. Throughout my career. I have built my niche within hospitality, wine, food, and small businesses. And I don’t necessarily talk to a lot of other brands. Because that’s what I love. And that’s that’s I really specialized in that because I got to know those brands and what their pain points are. And so that’s that’s where I end up have focused my skills.


Kenny Soto  22:37  

Before I asked my last question, I think it’s very timely that you mentioned that only because I just finished rereading a blog post by Scott Adams who is the cartoonist for the famous and old, somewhat old comic called Dilbert, where he talks about the career stack or the skill stack. I don’t recall it correctly. So I’ll put it in the show notes for everyone who’s listening right now. 


And he essentially says that you don’t need to be the top 1% in one specific skill. And specifically with digital marketers, you can be the top 10 or 15%, and a combination of two to three skills. And that will also help you stand out even more so than if you’re just in the top 1% of one skill. So you don’t necessarily need to pigeonhole yourself, find what you’re good at, as Shanna just mentioned, and see what you love and see how you can make at least a list of three skills that you can leverage. 


Now, with that being said, my last question for you Shana is hypothetical. If you could go back 10 years using a time machine with the knowledge you have right now? How would you get to where you are today? Even faster?


Shana Bull  23:52  

I like that question. Because where I am today is based on the relationships that I made 10 years ago. And so I would, I would focus even more on relationship building, going to events, keeping up with people on social media, and being kind of strategic about who I was connecting with. But also, I would outsource some of my business way sooner. So when I became a writer, I was doing it all I was pitching publications, I was researching. I was writing the article I was editing, and then I was finding images. 


And that took up a lot of time. And in fact, I hated the editing part. Like I can write all day long. I love writing that is one of my passions, but then going back and editing my work, I hated that. And that actually took me away from wanting to do it more. And so about five years ago when my son was born, I hired an editor to help me with basically anything that I write. So email marketing, blog posts, my book, I mean, she helps even edit the 17 page, little children’s book, um, and then other stuff that I was doing. And that that kind of took part of my, like, mental energy away from the part of my business that I hated. 


And so I was able to focus on the part that I loved. And then I was able to grow my business even more. So being able to outsource isn’t, isn’t as scary as you think it is. I found her on Upwork and I just pay her a little bit. And she she’s able to take the part of my business that I hate and, and just, she can do way quicker than I can too. So I would have looked at outsourcing some of the things that I hate the most, and that take up the most of my time. So that would be my suggestion to people,


Kenny Soto  26:10  

relationships and outsourcing. Wonderful. Absolutely those


Shana Bull  26:13  

I mean, those are what my company has been built on.


Kenny Soto  26:17  

Shana, if anyone wants to find and connect with you online, where can they find you?


Shana Bull  26:23  

I’m pretty easy to find. Shanna. SHANAB you And then on Twitter and Instagram, I’m known as Shaarei which is my in a previous life. I was Shana Ray, before I got married, and I got on Twitter back in 2007 ashtray, because I thought Twitter was stupid. And that was an inside joke at my old marketing agency. I literally just could have had the handle Shana, but I didn’t. And so schrager is where I’m known online. So you can just find me pretty easily by googling Shana ball or Cherie Ray.


Kenny Soto  27:12  

Thank you so much for your time today, Shana, and thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. And as always, I hope you have a great week. Bye.


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