Interview: Michelle Blanc Speaks of her Digital and Marketing Visions

Honoured by Yahoo! for her marketing skills, described as one of Montreal 2.0 essentials and owner of the most influencial Québec Twitter account, Michelle Blanc requires no introduction. Social media queen, she rarely waffles or sugarcoats. Today she indulges us with several minutes of her time to speak about her vision of the Digital, but also to advise us on online strategies.

You have recently been at the root of a manifest for a Digital Québec. You mention the need to create two governmentally supported public offices, that of a the Digital Office and the National Digital Counsel. What roles would companies and SMBs in the IT field take?

SMBs and their leaders could certainly take a consultant role. However, the fact of the matter is that the Digital question oversteps the business industry. Therefore, digital companies are not the Digital.

I see it more like a social lever that touches as much education, health, transportation, commerce, etc. For example, we heard about Google Cars: automobiles that would drive themselves automatically and would completely revolutionize the transportation sector. While in Estonia we are teaching mandatory programming to certain students, here, we are still arguing if the Digital is worthwhile.

The history behind electricity resembles that of the Digital. Originally, only a few companies would share parts of the market. An oligopoly hung over the industry. Then, visionaries saw more than just a tool. Among those, René Lévesque lead the nationalization of resources.

Unfortunately, this perception is not shared within the political milieu. While remote training would allow a young person from Chicoutimi to studiy at MIT (Massachussets Institute of Technology) without moving, the recent Quebec Education Summit made no mention whatsoever on the importance of the Digital when it came to the future of education. Also, I have had a recent argument with François Legault that claimed that the Digital was only a tool. If Lévesque would have had the same perception of electricity, we would not have Hydro-Québec today, a québécois flagship that makes international envy.

Numbers are evocative. Worldwide, the Digital has a larger financial impact than that of energy and agriculture put together. Closer to home, in the province of Québec, this sector represents 40 000 jobs with 25 billion dollar benefits. In comparison, tourism has its own ministry with 10 billion dollar benefits.

In general, what do you think of the Digital presence in Québec and Canadian SMBs?

Local SMBs should immediately reinforce their digital presence. Every month, between 40 to 60% of the money spent by Canadian consumers goes outside the country. That is without counting the remaining 60% that is often directed to large divisions of the big american players. Let’s remember that is really Amazon USA.

Those that tell themselves that a digital presence is useless because they do not sell their products online, please note that 85% of industrial buyers will shop the specifities of products online before making a product order.

As a social media specialist, what advice would you give to SMBs that wish to reinforce their presence on social media and improve the online conversation with their customers? Should the corporate blog be the first measure to adopt?

Most definitely! I keep on repeating this to my customers on my site: the blog is social media king. Facebook is not the panacea: only 10% of your fans see your updates. You don’t control your space and your page could be deleted anytime for no reason at all. And don’t tell me that Facebook is 1 billion users. The web is in fact 2,5 billion internet users.

You have met countless challenges throughout your life, whether personal or professional. If you have one advice to give to any entrepreneur that is starting up, what would you say?

Are you passionate? Apply yourself to that passion. You can say that are good, or you can prove it. If you can prove it, you don’t need to say it. Take my site: I do not have a products and services page. However, for the past 5 years I have received numerous calls and I do not solicit anyone, nor do I make any publicity. I do pull marketing. I simply prove that I am good.

To those who say that my case is different since I am star, note that I started from nothing. I had no readers, no fans, no followers. My blog allowed me to reach this stardom.

And to the foul-mouthed that say that my reputation stems from my sex change, go ahead and do the same, then!

What was the greatest professional moment of your career, all jobs considered?

I was greatly touched by the honours made by MarketingMag that recognized me as the French-Canadian internet marketing guru, in two full pages of their magazine. Also being the recipient of the Webcomm Innovation-Vision personality prize.

In your opinion, what is the greatest quality of an entrepreneur?


The first 3 years are quite difficult, or rather they are years of financial scarcity.

You sometimes denounce the abundance of so-called experts in marketing, web ranking, social media, etc. Do you think that the creation of a professional order could be the solution?

Yes, but that would be very hard to mark out. The problem is that social media is still something rather new. It would be very hard to establish clear criteria. An engineer could be as competent as someone with a marketing doctorate. Everything depends of the professional’s experience.

What, then, would be the difference between these social media experts?

Take me, for example. You know what the difference between me that has an hourly rate of 300$ and an expert that asks for 100$?

My customers are people that have no time to waste and prefer paying for a couple of hours of quality rather than hundreds of hours for cheap. You know why? Because it’s better to orient your business immediately in the right direction than realizing afterwords that you took the wrong expert, and that you now need to start over again. Not only is this costly in financial terms, it is also costly in time. That is crucial for any company.

Everything is a about perception. In another life, I sold fireproof fabric for vertical blinds. They were made out of high quality material. A high-end product. But I was in an emerging and not well known market. Other fabrics would be sold for 20 cents the yard when my high quality product detailed at a dollar a yard. Customers had to realize that it was best to choose the quality product instead of having to purchase multiple times the same low grade product because they had to be replaced.

The same thing applies online. How many people pretend they can reinforce your online presence for $50/month. They will add a few words in your meta content. Clients will find you when they look for the name of your company. So f***ing what? Those people would have found you either way. What you want is to attract new customers.

You are unquestionably unpretentious and completely transparent. On your blog, you often highlight certain blunders in public relations made by certain companies. In summary, what advice cold you give to companies in regards to corporate transparency?

Transparency is to only tell the truth. That does not mean that you should say everything. For example, I have many prestigious customers that I cannot name.

Traditional public relations are quite different than those of the digital. Take for example the case of the listeriosis crisis at Maple Leaf Foods. In regards to public relations norms, they followed the rule book to the letter. However, they forgot the Web. When you searched for Listeriosis on Google, you would stumble upon the lawyers site that made the class action lawsuit. Not a single Maple Leaf page would result in the first Google pages.

Thank you very much Michelle Blanc for according this interview. You can read her blog here.

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