When Greg Galant got on Twitter in early 2007, it was in the name of research. Then the host of podcast Venture Voice, he set up @gregory – back when first names were still available – after an interview with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. “When I first signed up I didn’t get it,” says Galant of the social media platform. “I didn’t want to use my photo, so I uploaded a photo I took on eastern Long Island of the Flanders duck.”
Today, Galant is a prolific tweeter, having logged nearly 10,500 posts and attracted more than 7,600 followers. While his options on Twitter have changed, his photo hasn’t. He keeps the big duck “to remind myself that I didn’t see it coming.”
Galant’s company, Sawhorse Media, develops products that simplify social media, such as the journalist platform Muck Rack and the sixth annual Shorty Awards, an event that recognizes individuals and organizations doing worthy – and entertaining – things on the social web. Last year more than 2 million people tweeted their nominations for the annual celebration of wit that’s featured stars like Jimmy Kimmel and Ricky Gervais.
Entrepreneur spoke with Galant, a former CNN.com producer, about how social media makes us better communicators.
Entrepreneur: How do you describe what you do… in 140 characters?
Galant: I make the social web easier to use. The Shorty Awards helps people find the right people to follow, and Muck Rack connects companies to journalists.
Entrepreneur: You weren’t always a Twitter devotee but you created the Shorty Awards. Why the change of heart?
Galant: After I got on Twitter I was first skeptical. Then months and months later, I had people following me, and I started following people. What struck me was unlike most social media, it wasn’t just about posting to your friends. It was about creating content for a wider audience of people. I kept finding people doing great stuff on wide topics, but there was no way to know who to follow. We said let’s crowd source it and have awards.
Entrepreneur: What’s your typical social media activity routine? Are you tweeting every day?
Galant: The number of posts a day is all determined by how interesting my day is. If nothing interesting happens, I’ll go a day without tweeting at all. Other days I’ll post a whole bunch. Twitter is definitely my primary tool. On Twitter there’s an expectation that someone is following because, hopefully, they are interested in what I have to say, versus Facebook where maybe people following me because I went to high school with them. I’ll maybe post there once a week.
Entrepreneur: That raises an interesting point of separating your personal and professional persona on social media.
Galant: When I started I found it was more possible to separate the two, and I did. As social media is evolving, I find I just get more fluid. I’m conscious of what I post publicly but I don’t mind showing some personality or making a wry joke on Twitter. For entrepreneurs, there’s some degree where you can’t afford to separate it too much. Your company is a reflection of you, and you’re a reflection of your company. If you weren’t your real self as CEO then you are kind of diminishing yourself to such a small role.
Entrepreneur: Is it important to be consistent across platforms, or is it possible to compartmentalize?
Galant: It’s good to have consistency in who you are but it might change what you talk about, in the same way if you meet someone in a conference room versus meeting for drinks. The conversation will be different. Social media is like that. You bring your personality to these platforms, but the context affects what you say. I’ve seen people blindly post the exact same thing to Facebook and Twitter, but I think that’s a real shame when people do that. Each platform has its own nuances and its own language.
Entrepreneur: How important is it for company leaders to be on social media?
Galant: If you are a CEO, your job is about communicating – to your employees, your customers, the market. There is no higher-leverage function than written communication. That’s something you can do once and have many people see. It always blows my mind with CEOs say they’re too busy to do social media. You would never hear them say they’re too busy for investor presentation or speak at a conference.
Entrepreneur: For you personally, how has it helped you in your role?
Galant: Marketing has always benefitted from brevity, from Nike’s Just Do It to Apple’s Think Different. Oftentimes I’ll write out tweet and I’ll find it’s 200 characters. I’ll hack away at it and get it down without using a lot of acronyms. I usually find by the time I’m done, the 140 version is stronger. I find that actively figuring out how to communicate in short, memorable ways has been valuable to me
Entrepreneur: Do you think social media has shown a spotlight on the art of language?
Galant: I think it has in a big way. Prior to social media, the average person wouldn’t write a lot publicly, or maybe didn’t write at all. For businesses, most communication before was in the form of a press release or brochure, and most of them were really awful.
Entrepreneur: In an interview at last year’s Shorty Awards comedian Jim Gaffigan joked that it was important to recognize “people who engage in narcissistic behavior on the internet.” How do people promote themselves on social media without seeming like narcissists?
Galant: It’s not about writing about you. It’s thinking about how you can be interesting, what you have to say about the world, what unique ideas can you contribute. That’s a point we’re trying to get out with the Shorty Awards. Just like anything else, you can do it well or you can do it badly. The humble brag (@humblebrag) doesn’t hurt either.
This interview has been edited and condensed.