Jason Brower joined LaFleur as the company’s first full-time social media specialist in March of 2018. Before linking up with LaFleur, Jason earned a business degree from Grand Valley State University and then worked for two local minor league sports teams, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the West Michigan Whitecaps. While working with the Whitecaps, Jason carved out his role as a social media professional, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jason sat down with us for a few minutes to talk about how he came to love social media, his recent experience attending the social media industry’s biggest marketing conference, and who he’s rooting for as the March Madness field narrows.
LaFleur: So, you’re the first real dedicated social media person we’ve had. Before you came in, it was sort of a hot potato job — whoever was available took it on. Do you think that’s true at a lot of organizations until they get to a certain stage?
Jason Brower: Yeah, definitely. That’s actually how I got started. I began my career with the West Michigan Whitecaps, a minor-league baseball team here in Grand Rapids. And I was working in their advertising department as a sales assistant, doing advertising fulfillment.
I started looking for next steps as to where my career was going, and at that point, in 2012 or so, social media was still kind of building up, so I picked it up kind of part-time, which — definitely, that’s what I see with a lot of organizations. Someone takes it on in addition to their existing role, and that’s how it starts.
So I did that, was posting on social for the Whitecaps and doing in-game tweets, and after about three years, it turned into a full-time position. So they created that position and I was the first one to hold it.
LF: So what drew you to social media? Had you worked with that in a professional capacity before that, or just used it for personal stuff?
JB: Yeah, really just for personal stuff. I mean, at this point, in 2012, businesses were really just getting into social. Most people still looked at it as an interpersonal thing. At that point, there were no business Facebook pages — they just had profiles.
LF: I kind of forgot about that. That seems awkward now.
JB: It was. All these people would be trying to follow you on Facebook, and you’d have to add them as friends.
But yeah, I was drawn to the creative side of social and being able to interact with people one-on-one in real time.
LF: You just came back from Social Media Marketing World 2018 in San Diego, so I’m sure you heard lots of stuff about where social is going while you were there. What social media trends are you most excited about or interested in?
JB: The biggest takeaway for me from that event — and they had a keynote on this, plus like three other speakers talking about it — was the rise in the use of chatbots. So, using Facebook Messenger for more stuff on the marketing side, and using automated chatbots to facilitate that process. So you’re creating bots that will answer common questions when people come to your page, or you’ll deliver content that’s similar to an email marketing campaign, except executed in Messenger.
LF: And I assume the goal is to set it up so a human can take over for the bot seamlessly, right?
JB: Yeah, exactly. Most of the chatbot platforms, you can jump right in if you see a question come up that needs attention, or you can have it deliver emails to your team if someone fills out a form with the chatbot. So it should be very smooth.
LF: One of the challenges we sometimes have here at LaFleur — and I’m sure you’ve already been thinking about this plenty — is that we work with businesses like healthcare companies and law firms that don’t necessarily have the relationship with people on social that more consumer-facing brands do. I mean, it’s harder to get the average person to engage with a personal injury law firm on social than, say, a tech device or fashion label. So how do you address that as a social media professional?
JB: I think the biggest thing for any company, including the types of companies we work with, is just being personable and genuine. You need to be the kind of presence that people want to interact with, regardless of what type of business you have.
So sometimes it’s just a matter of having specific posts with question-based calls-to-action that get people to respond and interact with you — as in, “Hey, what do you think about this blog post topic?” Other times, it’s just being more relatable and not trying to sell yourself all the time. So that can be as simple as just posting updates from around the office and sort of letting people look behind the scenes. Letting people know that there really is a person behind the social presence can go a long way.
And part of it is also just being responsive. When people comment on your post, they want to hear back from you, and yet so many companies don’t do that. That’s why people go to social media — to interact with others.
LF: So I know you’ve been working in Grand Rapids for quite a while. Did you grow up here?
JB: I did. I grew up in Wyoming, which is a small town just south of Grand Rapids. I went to high school in Wyoming and then went to college at Grand Valley State University here in town. I’ve lived in probably about a 30-mile radius of the city for my entire life.
LF: You know, I remember reading that Immanuel Kant did that. So you don’t necessarily have to travel a lot to have an interesting life.
JB: Right. And I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, so that keeps me and my wife busy as well.
LF: Ah, okay. Well, based on what my increasing number of friends with kids have told me, it takes about a year just to get your bearings.
JB: Yeah. I always tell people that between six months to a year, they start being a person. That’s when it starts to get fun.
LF: So what do you do when you manage to carve out some time for yourself?
JB: Sports is a big thing for me — both playing and watching them. I played volleyball in college and I still play weekly in the winter. I’m a big Duke basketball fan, so March Madness is always a big time for me. Hopefully they win it all.
LF: Is that a family thing, to root for Duke?
JB: Not really. I think I was four when I started liking Duke. They beat Michigan in the Final Four, and my whole family liked Michigan, so I guess at that young age, I was like, “If this team beat my family’s favorite team, they must be even better!”
LF: I appreciate your younger self’s highly calculated approach to fandom.
JB: Other than that, my wife and I like to get out and walk our yellow lab, Jackson, and we try and get out to try new restaurants when we can.
LF: Sounds lovely. All right, last question: What’s your favorite social platform? Either for personal use or professional — your pick.
JB: I think I’d have to go with Twitter.
LF: Yeah, I like Twitter as well. Less drama than Facebook.
JB: Right, yeah. I like the interactions with people. I actually run a Twitter chat for Grand Rapids social media professionals called GR Social Chat on Wednesday nights. So I’ve grown that for about two years, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people. You can meet people from all over the world on Twitter, so it’s been cool to use that platform to bounce ideas around and get to know people.
LF: How did you feel when they changed the Twitter character limit recently?
JB: I was for it. I still think you should try to keep your content on Twitter short. Your tweets should still probably be 140 characters or less in most cases. But every once in a while, it’s nice to have those extra characters when you need them.