An Interview with Drew Bennett of BenSpark.com
Posted on February 23, 2010 by Tim Schroeder
Drew Bennett, better known as ‘Ben’ or ‘BenSpark’, has become one of the most well-known bloggers in the industry through his Photo-A-Day blog, BenSpark.com. I had the pleasure of meeting Drew at several industry events where we discussed everything from blogging to Drew’s new social media course, and his photography newsletter Behind the Lens.
An Interview With BenSpark
How did you get started in the industry?
In 1995 I taught myself HTML and created a website on my college’s network. I quickly ran out of space and made the IT department very upset with me. From there I worked as the college webmaster and then with an independent web design company. But I didn’t actually start blogging until 2003 with my girlfriend (now wife) Allison. We named the blog BenSpark because my last name is Bennett and hers was Sparks. I think Allison posted about 10 times and I posted much more. 2003 and 2004 were spotty at best, but I tried to post regularly. I really hit my stride in 2005 when I decided to take and post a Photo-A-Day and my purpose for blogging was solidified. Each and every day I took a photo and posted it. Sometimes with commentary and sometimes without. In 2006 Allison saw Ted Murphy on one of those morning TV shows and told me that I could make money from my blog. I joined PayPerPost in the early days and through that I was hooked. I started making some extra income which I funnel back into my blog to upgrade hosting and buying my own domain name benspark.com. I also bought cameras and equipment to enhance my ability to take more photos. In 2007 I attended the first Blog World Expo as well as Postiecon and I got a chance to talk to a large group of bloggers. There I became much more involved in the blogging community.
Is social media your main business, or just an extension of your main online efforts?
Social media is compliment to my blogging efforts. New posts go right to Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook. I respond to every comment, tweet and facebook wall post because I feel that builds a stronger community. I love engaging in conversations with people online.
What is your favorite social network?
It is a tie between Facebook and Twitter. Twitter is great for sharing fun things, but Facebook allows people to get into the conversation and be able to say more than 140 characters.
Why do you think it has more value than the others?
I think that Facebook is better because through it you can funnel all of your other social networks into one place. This way people who are not following your Friendfeed could still see updates, or if you share something on Google Reader, it can also go directly to Facebook.
When did you get started in social media?
I got started in social media in 2006 or early 2007 with Twitter. Although I think I was on MySpace earlier than that, I can’t remember.
Why do you think people consider you an expert in the field?
I don’t think that people consider me an expert in the field although they do ask me many questions. I have a decent following of fantastic people and I have rubbed elbows with some of blogging’s elite. I just find that if I offer to help people I get more positive response from everyone.
Who do you consider a social media expert, and why?
I consider Ted Murphy a Social Media expert because he went from zero to hero on Twitter in record time. Ted know how to promote himself and keep people engaged. Of course, Chris Brogan is an expert and one of the most prolific Twitter users I have ever seen.
Do you think sponsored conversations have their place in the industry (Paid posts, SponsoredTweets)?
I do think that sponsored conversations do have their place in the industry. I have participated in a lot of these and I love them. Not only do I make money from it, but I also engage an incredible new audience with each of these. The ones that work best for me are the contests for fun products. I love writing about a product that I receive and then can give away. I’ve gone out on my own to contact companies and do contests with them directly. This has worked very well for me over the years.
How do you balance professional v. personal?
My blog is a very personal one. I put out my real self. When you meet me in person you will already know me pretty well if you are a reader of my blog. For my professional life, I say as little as possible because I do not want to reveal much about my 9 – 5 job. I want to leave that job behind but the security of it is very important to this small family. I am the single earner of the family. I want my wife to be able to spend as much time as possible with our daughter Eva. Many a blog post has been written while we are on the couch watching shows on the DVR.
Do you make money directly from your social media efforts?
Yes, I participate in Sponsored Tweets, Sponsored Conversations and some affiliate marketing.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
Christian Slater. I really like him and my favorite movie is Pump up the Volume. I would love to do a blog like that pirate radio show.
OK, now who would REALLY play you?
Is where you are now where you thought you’d be…10 years ago? A month ago? Why/ why not?
No. I never realized where social media would take me. I’ve worked on a movie, won contests for vacations and spoken in front of my peers at many social media events. I never thought I’d be flying all over the place meeting so many people that I knew only from their online presence.
Explain social media so a child would understand it.
Imagine a playground with 5 children on it. Eva knows Sally and tells her that she just got a new Barbie and Sally would really enjoy it. Sally knows Jen and Ellen. Sally tells those girls about Eva’s Barbie. Jen tells Eva that the Barbie is sweet and she has it, too. Eva becomes friends with Jen because of that connection. Jen likes Eva and she introduces Eva to Ellen. Ellen likes Eva and introduces her to Nancy who is over on the swings. Suddenly Eva has 3 new friends because of word of mouth.
Is it about quality or quantity? Do I want more followers or more RTs? Lots of connections on LinkedIn or a few excellent recommendations?
It is certainly about quality. I have a ton of followers but there are quite a few core people that I interact with every day. If someone follows me and then does nothing, no RTs or no messages then do you think I will interact with them? Probably not. But, when someone RTs one of my tweets or responds to it, then I will look for them to more messages and will want to interact.
What services do you use to monitor the social media stream?
I use Tweetdeck, Google Reader and that is about it to monitor.
If you reached a certain level of success, would you ever have someone manage your social media accounts for you? Why/why not (ie Barack Obama)?
I would not have anyone manage my social media because then I would not be real at all.
Do you think celebrities belong on Twitter?
Yeah I think that they should but it pisses me off that they don’t follow their fans. With tools like lists and Tweetdeck they can filter out the people that they really want to listen to but if they followed their followers, then I’d actually feel like they cared somewhat.
Provide the best social media tip you can think of in 40 characters or less.
Be Real, Be Nice and Be There.
Thanks for doing the interview with eMonetized, Drew! For additional tips and stories from BenSpark, here’s a full list of his blogs and resources:
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