Social Skills

When Andy Hersam graduated from Ithaca College in 1986, computers were big clunky boxes that stayed on desktops and processed simple programs. The Internet was still in its infancy, and marketing followed a prescribed and standardized technique.

 “It was like bowling,” he says. “Throwing the ball down the lane and trying to get the largest number of impressions possible.”

Twenty-six years later, computers fit in pockets, the Internet connects the world, and the world of business communications and marketing has changed dramatically. And Hersam is a client partner for Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, working with financial services partners like JP Morgan Chase and Mastercard to help them develop marketing strategies for the social networking site.

Hersam’s rise through the marketing world began immediately following graduation, selling ads for leading outdoor lifestyle publications including Ski, Yachting, and Golf Magazine, landing eventually at Condé Nast in corporate advertising.

“I have no writing talent,” he jokes. “But I like to sell things. That was my way to get into publishing.”

In 2003, Hersam became publisher of Runner’s World. While developing the magazine’s online presence, his team noticed something surprising: the Runner’s World forums were receiving the vast majority of the site’s traffic.

“As a result, we began to develop a much more advanced site, so we could have one-on-one contact with our readers,” he says. “But more importantly, it offered a platform for runners to talk to other runners.”

Hersam says he found the traffic on the forum fascinating and a precursor to what social media would become. “It’s a community of people, so they’re not just talking about one thing,” he says. “The common thread is running and endurance sports. These people became ‘friends.’ Before there were tweet-ups, forum-ites were meeting at races.”

The ability of social media to bring people with common interests together is what drew Hersam to Facebook. “I knew I wanted to get into social [media], and I had the opportunity to kick the tires on a couple of different investments,” he says. “But the most intriguing company was Facebook. It’s an incredibly impressive organization: It’s an impressive platform that keeps revolving and reiterating. It’s a highly charged, high-paced environment, which I love. It’s super entrepreneurial. We only have 3,500 employees, but we’re reaching a billion people. There’s tremendous growth potential.”

Hersam describes the daily traffic on Facebook as “like having the Super Bowl three times a day.” Given the size of the leading social media company, Hersam says that Facebook is actively changing the way businesses and consumers connect, often changing businesses entirely.

Last year, a project created by the marketing offices of American Express, which was dubbed Small Business Saturday, used Facebook to encourage shoppers to support local businesses during the holiday season, particularly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Following the campaign, participating retailers saw a growth of 27 percent from the previous year.

Hersam says the manner in which advertisers use social media is what makes campaigns like the one for Small Business Saturday successful. “Ads on Facebook need to be lightweight,” he explains. “Ads on Facebook need to talk like your friends would talk. This was so authentic to American Express—it was a really warm message, a really cool idea—and it just clicked to the point where Congress has now designated the Saturday following Thanksgiving to be Small Business Saturday.”

The success of these and other campaigns is what Hersam finds rewarding about his work. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always been able to help someone’s business in a big way,” he says. “It might have been smaller when I was in the endurance [sport] place, but if I can help someone like Brooks Running Shoes meet its goal of becoming a billion dollar brand, then that’s awesome.”