Two years ago, Jason Sadler launched a new type of social media service: I Wear Your Shirt, a marketing company that lets businesses purchase days for him to wear their branded T-shirts. Known as the "human billboard," Sadler spends his hours in sponsored apparel promoting the firms using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Ustream. Sound odd? Not to companies such as Gowalla and Zappos, which have helped Sadler earn big bucks. I Wear Your Shirt has sold all of its slots for the rest of 2010 and most of 2011—meaning if you want to get on Sadler's shirt, you'll have to wait in line for a couple of years.
We spoke with Sadler, a former marketing professional, to get his take on social media for our Influence Project.
Fast Company: How do you measure influence through social media?
Jason Sadler: Companies need to get over the standard question: How many eyeballs did you get? I would rather 100 engaged connections than 10,000 eyeballs, because those eyeball aren't going to do anything for you. I could walk through Times Square, and thousands of people will walk by me in ten minutes. If I'm wearing a T-shirt with a company logo, is anybody going to look at that stuff? No.
I think social media is too young to figure out how you can dive through all these people. The biggest connectors to me are the things that take time to do. It doesn't take any time to Like or to follow someone. You can buy those things. If you want 100 Likes, I can buy them on eBay for ten cents. You have to have engaged audience in order for them to consume content.
You've worked with a new company almost every single day. How are these brands using social media?
Now it's about hiring a full-time person to represent your brand online. Companies ask: should we just pay someone else to talk about this for us? And I say no, you're representing your brand. We work with Kayak.com. They are proof of how a huge company that does so much is still answering what's coming through to them. If you ask a question to Jen, who handles Kayak's Twitter page, she'll answer within about 15 minutes. It's amazing. She becomes someone you know, someone you can rely on.
How do companies best use Twitter?
For big brands, people know your name. So you have the opportunity to have people say, I had a conversation with Doritos or Frito-Lay today online. I had a conversation with Nissan online. That goes so far because it means so much to people to have that connection.
It may have just been their intern, answering tweets for $11 an hour. But that's huge for people because it creates that brand connection. People are going to tell their friends, I had a question about my Altima and Nissan answered. You can't walk into a dealership and do that—people are just going to sell you stuff. With social media, you're really just trying to converse with your customers.
What brand is most taking advantage of social media?
Conan O'Brien, if you can count him as a brand. What Conan is doing is amazing. He's literally taken a complete failure, a complete screw-up in a big mishap, and turned it around to make something amazingly positive. He's a real person. He wants to engage, so he's doing YouTube responses now. Fans can ask him questions on his Facebook page and he'll answer them. He's promoting his live tour through Twitter and through his Web site. TBS is just going to ride the coat-tails of it because he's going to continue to get more and more popular. I love what Old Spice is doing too, but what Conan is doing is just amazing.