Saturday, September 25, 2010
Interview with Erika Napoletano: Writer, Social Media and Branding Strategist, and Entrepreneur
Erika Napoletano is the Head Redhead at Readhead Writing, a Denver-based online strategies firm. A writer, professional snarketeer and named by Social Mouths as one of their 7 Examples of Kickass Personal Branding, her unfiltered content delivers unpopular thoughts and blunt advice daily to a rapidly growing audience. You can follow her on Twitter @RedheadWriting if you dare and check out her highly interactive Facebook fan page. Free mimosas on Sundays.
One of my all time favorites, meet Erika Napoletano
Will: One of the reasons I was so interested in interviewing you is because you seem not to give a ____ about what people say or how you might offend some people’s sensitivities. I find that to be a rare quality. I know that I couldn’t do it. I have this condition in which I like to eat and have a roof over my head. So I am careful not to go too far with my opinions.
On that note, who is Erika “Redhead Writing” Napoletano? Why have you chosen to go all in? You definitely don’t shy away from playing outside the corporate handbook.
Erika: There’s no other way to go other than “all in.” I used to be a pretty decent poker player and running a business has many parallels to sitting down and playing a game. Reading behaviors and decisions, asking questions, pushing buttons. Listening. When you go all in, you’re forcing your audience to make a decision: do you want to be here or not? I want the folks who want to be there. I know the audience I’m unpopular with and I don’t try to serve them.
As far as me? Well, people often say that when they meet me, I’m exactly how they envisioned me…and more. It’s the “more” part that’s the biggest compliment.
Will: What attracted you to writing and social media? How are you using social media to advance your personal brand?
Erika: I’ve always been a writer, yet for some reason, I found every damn profession under the sun to keep me from doing that. So I quit those things and decided: this is what I want to do. And I’m doing it. Social media was baptism by fire. I fell into a Twitter account and then found myself presented as the “social media expert” (gag) at an agency I worked for a few years ago. I figured that I should learn what this stuff does and to be honest – I fell in love with the medium.
And my brand is all about social media. Sharing, linking, connecting. I’ll be completely honest: my brand would be nothing without social media. More importantly, however, I wouldn’t be growing at the pace I am without having taking the time to understand how to use it to drive conversations, build relationships and bring value to my clients’ businesses in the process.
Will: Your website Readhead Writing is a wild ride of the professional to the provocative. Take me through the planning of what content will be posted on your site. Do you have a line you won’t cross? And what in the dickens is “The Bitch Slap?”
Erika: I’m a stream-of-consciousness writer. That means it’s rare for me to hash-out something in advance. I’m inspired by words, people and ideas (and many times, my readers). I post 3 to 5 days per week and don’t post when I can’t come up with anything I feel is decent read.
The biggest source of inspiration for my posts are my own experiences: successes and screwups alike. That’s what guides my content. My posts are a blend of personal and professional, and I think that’s one of the reasons my readers keep coming back – they get to see and experience the humanity behind the trolls that run around in my head and inspire me to write.
And a Bitch Slap…well, those are the “shake the baby” moments. They target behavior and the overall goal is to shake people up and move them forward. They drive a lot of conversation and comments and there’s kind of a running joke to the effect of, “Yes, Mistress! May I have another?!”
Will: What is the inspiration behind your writing? That piece on your site Titled: Blow Jobs and Reassurance: A Girl’s Guide to World Peace caught me completely off guard. That was unexpected even from you.
Erika: I used to separate my business-related posts and personal posts on two separate blogs: Redheaded Fury and Redhead Writing. In early 2010, I made the decision to merge all of my posts into a single site and it’s proved one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The post you mention is another one of those I-say-what-other-people-thing moments. My best writing comes from conversations and this particular piece stemmed from a one with a girlfriend who said something to the effect that she felt her husband would be just as happy if she gave him a new BBQ grill as with a blow job. And probably ask for a blow job again. I ran with it.
Because let’s face it: sometimes we need to cave to our urges. We go through life trying to keep our urges reined-in and that, my friend, is exhausting. Go forth, get laid. Great relationships are about communication and understanding that sometimes our partners don’t want to “talk about it.” I just opted to use blow jobs to illustrate the concept. I also used to write an op-ed column called Dead Redhead for a site called ToyWithMe. You might not want to pull up that site at work, but I got to take on some interested sexual and political issues like gay marriage. It was great fun and they have some incredibly funny ladies writing over there!
Will: On several occasions you have mentioned that there are companies you won’t work with. What is the process like for determining whether or not you’re going to be a good fit with a client?
Erika: It’s usually as simple as a discovery call. When I can get a feel for a client – their situation, expectations and style – I’ll know if we’re going to be a fit. I’m fortunate that a significant portion of my new business comes on referral, so my alliances know in advance if a client will or won’t be a fit. They’re pretty much pre-qualified by the time they get to me in many instances.
People get ME when they hire my company. My writers and researchers are like me and we all gel. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to build a business filled with talented people who view and embrace my “all in” approach.
Will: I saw you in an interview in which you stated “You were planning on leaving the SEO writing stuff to concrete on being a brand and social media consultant.” Do you still feel that way? And what are clients going to get from you that they won’t from someone else?
Erika: The SEO copywriting is an art. Over time, I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp on how to not only show a brand’s personality, but make the search engines recognize. Like any business owner, I had to figure out what would allow me to scale my business in the direction I wanted it to go. That means I have to find the best combination of my time versus revenue – and that means I should focus on consulting and strategy. I’m fortunate to have some fantastically talented writers working with me, and there’s no greater joy I could get than teaching them to do what I’ve come to love and giving them a new way to go out and earn more work by having those skills in their arsenal.
Will: Those who have heard you present or read any of your writing knows you as this ballsy chick. What were you like in high school?
Erika: The ballsy chick. But then again, I was also a big ‘ol nerd. Summa Cum Laude, 9th in a class of 360, National Honor Society…and a goth chick. Through the miracle that is Facebook, quite a few people I went to school with read my columns. It’s going to make my 20-year high school reunion a hoot.
Will: What do you think the attraction is for people who are fans of yours?
Erika: The response I get more often than not is that people like to live vicariously through my writing. I say what they won’t, can’t…and the other part of that is that people know I respond. If you leave me a comment, I leave you one back. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my readers and I do my best to thank them. They’re my life line and I want them to know they can come to my site and say whatever’s on their mind. Agree, disagree, agree to disagree – it all lends to a great dialogue. And I have to tell you – the comments and discussions on my blog between my readers are oftentimes more interesting than anything I could ever write!
Will: I have always wanted to try this in an interview, and you are the perfect person to give it go. You may not know this but I have an undergraduate degree in Film Production. I love movies, and one of my favorite TV shows is The Actor’s Studio. And if you’ve seen the show, you know that the host, James Lipton asks his guest a final set of questions, which he borrowed from Bernard Pivot. That is how I want to end this interview.
Will: What is your favorite word?
Will: What is your least favorite word?
Will: What turns you on?
Will: What turns you off?
Erika: Monster trucks
Will: What sound or noise do you love?
Erika: Rain – anywhere, anytime
Will: What sound or noise do you hate?
Erika: Young girls squealing at a celebrity.
Will: What is your favorite curse word?
Will: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Erika: Mountain guide
Will: What profession would you not like to do?
Erika: I would not make a great maid.
Will:*If Fresca didn’t exist, what would be your beverage of choice?
Erika: HAH! Since Fresca is only an occasional indulgence, I have to admit I’m a big tea drinker. My friend Cali gave me a tea set that I can use with loose-leaf tea and I’m addicted.
*This question is my own and doesn't come from James Lipton or Bernard Pivot.