Nina Hale

A conversation with Nina Hale, Founder and CEO of Nina Hale Inc., Search & Social Marketing

Nina Hale shared some great insights at our woman’s leadership panel. In an effort to learn more about her career and business philosophy I sat down with Nina for an interview. Our conversation ranged from her background to what it takes to run one of the most well known SEO firms here in the Twin Cities.

Garrio Harrison: Lets start at the beginning. How did your career get started?

Nina Hale: I was surfing the prototype web via coupler modems as early as 1983, and a radio regular as early as 1978 (“Nina’s poetry corner”). Imagine a message to the IBM developers in Poughkeepsie NY saying “who wants to chat with a 16 year old girl in Minnesota?” It was, to say the least, fun. In college I studied urban folklore and popular culture, and my first job out of college was working for Larry Lamb at his computer animation firm. I worked at commercial radio stations, became a journeyman upholsterer, and was a PA on film shoots.

By the late 90’s I got an MBA (this was before you could spin folklore as storytelling) and was wholly focused on internet marketing. I worked at large corporations and digital agencies focusing on eCommerce, email, banner advertising, and affiliate marketing. I had my first search engine marketing project for Motorola in 2001. In late 2005 I founded Nina Hale, Inc. and we’re now at 35 employees and have worked on fantastic projects for over 100 clients.

Garrio: What is your current role and day to day responsibilities?

Nina: Strategy, culture and new business.

Strategy: I’m mainly focused on the strategic direction of digital marketing, especially on what produces ROI online. My main task is to see the smoke on the horizon and know what is going to be hot in digital marketing, and how all these elements will work together. Frequently there is a new online development, or a new way of targeting people that has a brief golden period before everyone jumps in. It’s my job to recognize those, and ensure that the agency is helping our clients to take advantage of these moments.

Culture: We’re in a competitive industry where there still are still not many people who are really good at SEM / SEO / Social Media / Analytics. I want the best people to want to come here, and to stay here, plus I want to work with nice people. So I’m focused on making this a fun, supportive, and challenging place to work, where people can advance their careers, and now that we are an ESOP, to substantially share in the financial success of the company.

New Business: I’m good at connecting the dots across a strategic continuum and helping clients to develop a path to success. I like meeting new clients to learn about their goals and challenges, and then putting together the strategic recommendations for how we can help them, and then keep them as clients. But I also have some long term clients who I really love spending as much time as I can with, integrating with the team who’s working day-to-day on their accounts. I actually hate asking people for money, but I love coming up with successful ideas.

Garrio: How has the convergence of search and social impacted the way ROI gets quantified?

Nina: This is big stuff! Search algorithms have always relied heavily on how relevant other people think a website is for a specific topic. It’s like an election: once you have a perfect candidate, it’s the votes that wins the race.

We know that certain types of activities on social networks will directly impact your SEO rankings on search engines. So we’ll create engaging, sharable content for social media that is also designed for SEO growth. Thus a portion of social media and community management can be reliably measured for goals that come from search engines – not just from the social communities. This can make a huge difference in measuring the total value of social media.

Garrio: Where do you see search heading in the next five years?

Nina: I’ve been talking a lot about voice recognition for a few years now. It’s still not perfect, but it’s getting better, and even more exciting is that it’s becoming much smarter in a responsive, predictive way – mainly referred to as natural language processing (“Google, get me home” “Do I need an umbrella today?”). As more people grow accustomed to voice searches, to wearable devices, and as video content becomes searchable, voice recognition will become increasingly important to open up new channels and repositories of information.

Search always has been and will continue to be more than search engines. People look for suggestions from friends, they want a plumber who has great reviews, they want to see the funniest cat video (ok, I want to see the funniest cat video), they want to find a bar, a new career, a new love, and heartbreakingly “please help me find any new treatment for Parkinsons.” People go deep on websites when it’s the right content, and people don’t trust certain forms of ads or search results.

My biggest focus in 2014 is microtargeting, and the ability to recognize and efficiently advertise to very specific segments of the population who will be the most responsive to your message.

Garrio: What can agencies and clients do to adapt to the new digital landscape?

Nina: Partner with us! We love providing these services to agencies.

But really, the most important thing in digital these days is that nothing is tactical anymore, even plain old Google AdWords. Marketers need to look at the entire set of digital opportunities and understand how they tie together. The amount of amplification that can happen online when you align your approach is quite extraordinary.

Garrio: What are some of the lessons you have learned throughout your career?

Nina: 1 .Don’t put off something you don’t want to do. Speed is a crucial element in change management. 2. Listen to your gut. If you think something is the wrong fit, it probably is. 3. Someone who calls themselves a visionary probably isn’t. 4. Business Karma is incredibly important. You have to do the right thing, and things will work out. 5. I’ve never met anyone who really succeeded in advertising without working their ass off. 6. BE NICE TO EVERYONE (except the jerks, just avoid them). 7. Care about what you do, and about your results. Seems pretty obvious, but I think a lot of people don’t really care. 8. Why aren’t you measuring your campaigns success? (and impressions don’t cut it).