Mfon Akpan is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Methodist University. He’s also the author of ten books and three audiobooks on business, technology, and innovation. We talk about virtual reality’s influence on today’s businesses, why social media is crucial for business success, and the Eisenberg Earned Media Value Index.
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Build Your Social Capital with Mfon Akpan
Our guest is Mfon Akpan. Normally I have entrepreneurs, but today I have a college professor who’s got some really interesting stuff for us. So, his name Mfon Akpan. He is also the author of 10 books and 3 audio books on business, innovation, technology, including the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality. So, without further ado, welcome to the show, Mfon.
I’m excited to be here, Steve. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks so much for having me.
It’s great to have you. It’s great to have you. You’ve got lots of good information for us, so let’s dive in, so tell me a little bit about your journey. I mean, how did you become a college professor and how did you end up writing books and on technology and business? Tell me about your binding road.
Okay, great. Well, I’ll start with the professor part and that’s a great question. I took the non-traditional route to becoming a professor. I spent about nine years working in finance. And then I taught classes part-time as an adjunct. And then I moved into becoming a full-time business faculty back home in Chicago. Then I moved to another university, Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. And now I’m here at home at Methodist University in North Carolina.
The second part is, I think you mentioned about the books and really a lot of that is, I say my wife and COVID, my wife and COVID. And the reason I say that is initially around the time when I had the manuscript for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I mean, to virtual reality, I’m calling it the movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality. Initially, my strategy to market the book was what they call a one-to-one or one-to-many.
And what I mean by that is at that time, I had just given my first TEDx talk on virtual reality, was getting a lot of calls to do speaking, to do public speaking and different events. And the book was going to be there as a one-to-oneor one-to-many.In other words, I could sell the book while I’m giving talks. Or as part of the agreement for me to come there, they purchased books of that nature, so it was one-to-one, one-to-many, and COVID hit. You know, COVID-19.
So, we had lockdown. So, on these in-person events, they came to a halt. And I was talking to my wife and she knew I had a colleague, a former colleague in Chicago who had a, he started a published company, Biograph LLC. He’s like, well, why don’t you send it to Aaron and have him look at it, see what he thinks about the manuscript. So, I did that. Aaron loved it. I was like, hey, let’s publish it, let’s put it out, so then there was a pivot from that one-to-one to one-to-many, now moving into actually publishing, moving into audio books, moving into selling e-books, and more of an online presence.
So, actually it was really falling up. So COVID-19 helped in that sense because I was thinking about just selling a few thousand books here and there where I’m traveling. And then now it’s moved into another level of things where it’s global. So, selling online, went in, making deals, publishing, also releasing audio books and it’s really grown. So, it’s been a great, great process.
Awesome. So COVID was a disruptor in your life and it pushed you to a higher level.
It’s very typical. And I’ve seen a lot of companies who actually improved, grew, they broke through last year and this year because of COVID. So, what are your books about? I know that one of them is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality, which we’re going to dig in in a minute. But what are the other books about?
Really, the common thread, that was a good question. So, the common thread, number one, is on technology and skills. So, the through line with the books that focus on technology is to, and they’re geared toward educators, mainly higher education professionals. However, business owners can benefit from it as well. The idea is, okay, we’re in this world, technology is moving very fast. How do we, what things do we need to do and what steps and skills, really goes into skills do we need to have in order to educate the students that we have today?
Because if you’re a university professor, you’ve got a freshman, they’re not going to be out into the work world until four or five years later. So you’re preparing them not for today, but for four or five years later. So what things can you do to best prepare them as they move forward? How can business owners tie into this? Well, again, they have employees. How can you prepare your employees, your business for the next five years as things are rapidly advancing? So some of those skills are very transferable.
So that deals on the technology side of the media that I’ve put out. On the other side, they’re really short reads that tie into forms of business or various accounting topics. And those books came about where I saw a need from mentoring students, also business owners who had questions about, let’s say, how does an LLC work? Okay. Well, you can go and research it, but what happens, we live in a great age where we’ve got the internet, we’ve got access to everything, but sometimes it’s over information.
How does this apply to me? What are the important things that I need to know? Because I can go online, I can watch videos, I can see different things on it, but what can I pull from it? What are the key things? So the other books that you see on the LLC, SOLPROP, how to start a business, these break down key things that you need to know about an LLC or the different forms of business or business in general, 10 minutes, you can use it as a reference, you have it there, you can go back and look at it and it’ll help you as a guidepost on where you need to go if you’re looking for different information.Virtual reality, along with artificial intelligence and robotics, is a technology that impacts our daily lives. Understanding its role and implementing it is key, especially for educators and business owners. Click To Tweet
Ok, so let’s talk about one of your books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to Virtual Reality. I like the other book as well. So, tell me about the what is the premise of this book and where do you see virtual? Why is virtual reality important?
Really, that’s a good question. So, what prompted me, there were two things that prompted me to write that book. The first was I was at a conference, an accounting conference, and the keynote speaker was talking about how there’s a certain software, you know, he met with employers who are hiring these accounting students. And he asked them, what do you need these students to know so you can get them jobs? He said, they need to know this particular software. So, he said, okay.
He went and made a class around this software. And lo and behold, all of those students, they’re getting hired. So, I said, wow, you know, that is great. That’s not something at that time where I was working, I could do, right? However, I could do something. That’s the key. So there is something that I could do. So, it prompted me, I knew I couldn’t do that, didn’t have the money, didn’t have the things. So, the first thing, there are other professors in the same situation.
Hey, I want to have this technology, I want to have this software, we don’t have the budget, what can I do? So that was one answer with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality. Second thing is I’m passionate about virtual reality. The technology, it’s up there with augmented reality, I mean, with artificial intelligence, robotics, you got VR, and it’s something that we use it really, and a lot of times we use it every day and we may not know it. We’re on Zoom. If you put on the filters, that’s augmented reality, right?
So, these technologies, they touch us every day. We may not know it. Key thing is, how does this impact business? How can you get students involved in it? And when I gave, you know, I gave a ton of presentations, ton of talks about it, the question a lot of professors were asking me, okay, well, this is great, but why should I do that? Why and how? So, it’s really answering that why and how question, right, with this book. So, I had to do it. So, the through line with that and how it can tie into business owners is that, okay, you don’t have the money.
Not everyone has the money. Let’s say you don’t have the money to buy the equipment. What can you do? So I break down steps. You can have, okay. Use lower level technology. Technology doesn’t cost that much. It’s not a zero-sum game. So many people say, well, oh, I don’t have the money to buy this software license or to buy this hardware. Okay, there’s other hardware. The key thing is you get the exposure for your students, employees, they get some type of skill from it. May not be as the same level as if they have that software, but here’s the caveat, that’s okay. Why is that okay? Technology is moving.Technology is not a zero-sum game. Even with limited resources, exposure to lower-level technology can provide valuable skills that are transferable as technology evolves. Click To Tweet
Software is changing so fast. It breaks down to skills. So then it ties back into that exposure. So the software we were talking about is that was at the conference, Microsoft Power BI, which is great. Okay. Before you have Excel, you have Power BI, you’ve got Tableau, you have Abacus. So these things, and there’s going to be something else. But once you get the skill and understanding of how Power BI or one of these software works, it’s easier for you to maneuver to another technology that’s going to come up later on. So that answers that. It gives practical steps that you can use to implement virtual reality technology, which can pass through to other hardware or software or even processes that you like to implement in the classroom or in the business.
So, what kind of applications are there? So, let’s say I’m a business owner, I run a service business, professional service business. for me to even look at virtual reality and try to use it as a competitive advantage. How can it give me a competitive advantage?
Well, you can look for ways that it could give you a cost savings. So, you can find ways where it can give you cost savings.
Give me an example. How can it save me costs?
Oh, okay. So I’ll give you a use case. I’ll give you two use cases. This ties into, it’s broader, so it’s XR technology. So I’m going to give you a use case of Microsoft HoloLens. So Microsoft HoloLens is what they call a mixed reality, fits in that family. These are glasses, it’s a wearable computer. So it can, let’s say for example, you’ve got an engineering company. Let’s say you’ve got 12 engineers. You want to save costs. Okay, you’ve got 12 engineers. Let’s say you’re able to now hire one engineer and have him manage 11 associates with the HoloLens. lens. So you have one engineer in the office, he’s able to go and look and see what these other associates, again, they’re associates, they’re not engineers, he can tell them what to do and guide them on how to finish the projects and assignments.
Is it without having to be there?
Without having to be there. So that’s number one use case. Second use case is a company of Rochester, New York, COVID-19, boom, boom for Viewics, viewics, similar, they’re a competitor to Microsoft as far as the hollow lens. Their glasses are a lot smaller. During COVID-19, you’ve got doctors. So hospitals are concerned that doctors will contract COVID. So you’ll have doctors watching what residents are doing with the Viewics glasses. So they do their rounds. So instead of the doctor being there in the hospital and potentially catching COVID or being exposed to it, he’s following the residents with the viewics glasses.
Yeah, that’s pretty cool.
Well, I’m going to give a couple more. Speaking on Viewics, they also signed a deal with Verizon for 5G. Verizon’s going to provide 5G for ambulances. So now what will happen, those EMTs, those ambulance drivers will have the glasses. So when they pick up someone that is in a really bad state, I’ll just say that, the doctor can see what’s going on and start treatment before they get to the hospital.: So that’s another.
That’s very relevant for me because my daughter is a volunteer ambulance EMT person and she drives ambulances as well. So I’ll share it with her. So that’s great. So VR is basically here to stay. It’s an opportunity for us to leverage for cost-saving, perhaps for providing services to people that otherwise they would not enjoy. What other technologies are important that are emerging and you see, like, they’re going to be a trendsetter going forward?
Well, I would say one area that is very, very important, And I guess when you say trendsetter, it’s going to be with us in different forms. I would say it’s the social media. I think for business owners, it is key to understand how it works. Not to understand everything, but understand how it works and how it can impact your particular business. I think that is very, very key today and moving forward, especially if you look at the generational trends.
So you look at Gen Z, you look at millennials, you look at what they’re using, and then you look at their population numbers and you see how these are going to be shifting as we age and we move forward. So you need to understand, okay, well, I may have these Gen Xers and millennials, they’re on Facebook and Instagram, but I’ve got these Gen Zs who are on Instagram, they’re not on Facebook, but they’re on TikTok for right now, which is, but there’s going to be something else. So understanding how that works and where people are and how these platforms can impact your particular business, I think that is, it’s critical, critical skill to have.
So why do you feel social media is so critical and what do people need to understand about it?
Word of mouth, word of mouth, people trust word of mouth. And where are you getting word of mouth right now? Social media. People trust word of mouth overall. So, so understanding that you, you, you know, word of mouth, I worked in finance, we call it referrals, is word of mouth, and this comes from social media. And that number of impact of word of mouth from social media is only increasing.
Is there a way to measure how effective someone with social media is, is it just the number of likes or there is something more comprehensive which takes into account perhaps the posts, the blogs, videos? Is there a way to measure the impact and the word of mouth effect of someone’s presence?
It is. There’s even, EMV, Eisenberg Earned Media Value Index, or the Social Media Index, where they take a measure, they cover, they have TikTok, was it Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and they put a dollar value for the likes and shares that you receive, and what they call earned media, word of mouth is another name for it, but it’s the technical term is earned media. Before that, now what’s difficult to measure is sentiment. Meaning what people, you know, how people feel about your product or service, that’s difficult to measure. But you can get the assessment of the impact as far as numbers by using the Eisenberg EMV. So, yes.
And okay, so is this like a paid resource that’s available on the internet? The Eisenberg?
Yeah, definitely. You have to pay the Eisenberg group to, that’s one of their key products. Definitely, you have to pay for access to it.
So how does it work? So let’s say I’m, you know, I’m marketing my business and I want to make sure that I’m spending my dollars in the right place that I invest my time and I hire people to help me on social media. So how does that, tell me a little bit about how this index works and what it measures and how it portrays my progress?
That’s a good question. It’s a very technical question because it depends on what is your focus with a particular campaign and also on your business. So I’ll give an overview. So if you think about social media, it can be broken down into three areas. You got paid media. So paid media, these are your sponsored posts. So these are the posts you’re paying to be promoted. So that’s paid media. Then you have owned media. Owned media, these are the posts that you make on your social media account. So if you’re a business, you’ve got an Instagram account and you make a post on that, that’s owned media.
Now, if you sponsor that post, if you pay, you know, Facebook, Instagram to advertise it, you know, that’s paid media. Earned media are the likes and the shares and the, again, the sentiment is the comments that are done by those outside of your company. So that ties into that word of mouth. So you’re getting a lot of shares, people are sharing your content, people are liking it, so they’re engaging with it, that builds that up. Now how this can get, when you said technical, how it can get technical is that it depends on, let’s say what your goal is.
Typically, when you talk about earned media, the goal is to find out what the ROI is, the return on investment. You want to get a value on that, right? So a lot of my work or research in this area is tied to a specific area of this. And the specific area ties around corporate or business giving. Okay. So you have your business, your business, let’s say $10,000, but you’re going to post that. You’re going to post it. So now people are going to talk about it.
So you want to find out, okay, what is my earned media valuation from that donation? Why is that important? So now you get a net. Well, what does that matter? Well, now you realize, okay, I spent $10,000 and gave these t-shirts away. However, I was able to get so many likes, so many shares from a social media post discussing this, right? And this can transfer outside of social media to even, let’s say, a news. It’s on the news. It’s on the broadcast news. There’s a value to that.
So now really, because I donated these 10,000 t-shirts, I’ve gotten a mention on the news on channel seven. That would have cost me $3,000. Now I’ve gotten so many likes and shares, that would have, and the index helps you to understand these numbers. Wow, that would have cost me $5,000 to actually get that many likes and shares on my social media posts. So what’s the net of it? So that’s 8,000, I spent 10, so it’s really 2,000. So this is where this ties in and it becomes valuable. Do you, as would I suggest as a business owner, you need to understand it at that level? Maybe not, probably not. But do you need to understand it? Yes, I think that’s important.
The other thing is, do you need to understand, do you need to have a PhD in TikTok or in Instagram or in Facebook? No, in my opinion, no. Why? Because it’s going to keep changing. It’s going to keep changing and eventually there’s going to be something else. Do you need to know about the something else? Yes. Do you need to know the demographic? Who’s on? What age group? What market is on TikTok? What market is on Instagram? Yes. Why is that important? Because you need to know your target market for your business and where they are.
If they’re on Instagram, you need to understand Instagram and be on Instagram. If they’re not on TikTok, you don’t need to be on TikTok. However, you need to understand that, okay, what are these age ranges? Because maybe, you know what, in the next three years, some of my customers, you know, maybe my customer is 30 years old. Okay, they’re going to age out. Maybe I need to start thinking about it. But my focus should be, It may be 90% of my time on Instagram, 10% on TikTok. And then the other thing I think that ties into this, besides understanding owned, paid, and earned media, just understanding skills around how they work, the basic functions, the stories, and how they engage.
Again, you don’t have to be an expert at it, but you should understand it. You should understand it where people are going and what they’re looking at. I think that’s very important because many of these platforms, I mean, they work the same. Like, was it a week ago, TikTok, they’ve increased their video time to three minutes. Instagram has changed their algorithm to be more video-based. So, those are things you should, I think, as a business, you should know and understand where to go, because that can impact what type of content you’re putting out on certain platforms.
So, it’s less valuable than if they leverage that impact that they have on the likes and the forwards or whatever it is. But definitely, it’s kind of a, it’s an intangible for me, at least, I don’t understand. I know that it has some importance, but what exactly I don’t know. David Ogilvie famously said that half of my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half. So I feel a little bit like that about social media, that, okay, I’m putting some time in there and some people mention it, but does it directly create business for me? Is there a person I can pinpoint that they came to me because they saw me on social media, or someone vouched for me on social media? It’s very hard to put the finger on it, right?
You’re right. It is, it is. And what it comes down to is building what they call social capital. So you’re building social capital around your brand. So you’re absolutely right. How can you pinpoint it? That’s a challenge to do. However, you do know you’re building this social capital, which will in turn lead to something good as far as sales and things down the road. Yes, exactly. That’s a good point. That is a challenge.Social capital, the intangible value of your brand built through social media, plays a crucial role. While it's challenging to pinpoint its direct impact, it contributes to long-term success, creating a positive brand image. Click To Tweet
Is there a ratio of how to share your investment into short-term, tactical steps as opposed to longer-term social capital? It’s kind of a brand building thing, right? Brand building is a long-term return on it. This is what I learned when I was at college, that you’ve got the long-term, which is building a great brand, and then the short-term is you have to generate leads for your business so that you can convert them to sales and you create cash flow.
There has to be a balance because if it’s all brand and you starve, then you’re not going to live to actually reap the harvest of that great brand that you’re building. But if you’re not building the brand, it’s only technical, then you’re just going to fizzle out at some point, and going to spin your wheels and not get to the next level. So, is there a rule of thumb of how much of your marketing investment should go into social media brand building, and how much should be more lead generation?
That’s a good question. So, when you first mentioned that, the first thing that came to mind were what they call funnels. I don’t know if you heard of the concept of funnels, how you want to drive traffic. So, then I think to answer your question, it comes down to how you want to design your whole process and what is your end goal? Is it conversion in terms of sales? Are you looking for leads? How are you going to get those leads? And from what platforms are you going to use to drive that traffic to generate those leads? And in those situations, you can measure effectiveness of your engagement and your funnel by conversions.
So, if it’s lead generation, you’re driving traffic, let’s say from your Instagram to your website for people to sign up. Okay, how many leads did you get from certain campaigns that you’ve created? If it’s conversion, how many sales have you garnered from that traffic flow, from that promotion? And then if it’s done correctly, you can have a little bit of both. You can have some building some awareness as well as the conversion. But again, it comes down to what is your, in my opinion, your end goal. What are you looking to do? And then how you design it and put it together to implement that.
So maybe the conversion can be so the ROI on the lead generation can be measured because I just look at my conversion, how many messages I put out and how many leads I got and what they converted to and what was my margin on it. Whereas on the Eisenberg EMV measure, I can measure my social capital build up in my brand through the social media, right?
So, I think, yes, but I think it’s a little bit off. So, you got to realize what you’re talking about as far as your campaigns as you control, that’s what you’re controlling. When you talk about the Eisenberg and you talk about the earned media, this is outside of your control. This is what people are doing outside of your, you know, your paid and your own posts. This is what people are clicking and liking on that you’re not pushing. So, they want to mess with you.
Well, I am pushing because I’m creating a content that’s likable, right? And I can fine tune my content creation, I can invest my time into coming up with content that is the kind of content that people tend to like. And it is maybe not generating leads, but it’s building my social capital, it’s building my brand and my platform. So very, very interesting. So our time is kind of coming to an end. If people would like to learn a little bit more and fun about your books, about your video, you have videos, I think you have a TED talk as well, or actually multiple TED talks. If people would like to find out more about you, connect with you, where should they go?
They can go to my website www.mfonakpan.com or email me at makpan@Methodist.edu. I’m always happy to hear from you, have a conversation and help in any way that I can.
That’s awesome. Well, definitely reach out to Mfon. He’s a treasure trove of knowledge about technology and innovation around business, around education, communication. Definitely reach out. I recommend you reach out to him. He’s also on LinkedIn. You can find him there too. And for those of you listening, I hope you enjoyed this show. This was kind of a little bit out of the ordinary.
I’m sure he’s not an entrepreneur that you normally have on the show, but I thought that because of his ideas, his concepts around technology, about social media and social capital would really be interesting for you guys. So, if you like the show, please subscribe on YouTube, rate and review on Apple podcast and stay tuned next week because I’ll have another interesting, most likely entrepreneur, 99% sure entrepreneur on the show was going to share with you their management blueprint. Thanks, Mfon for coming. Really enjoyed having you on the show and hope to stay in touch.
Yes, thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It’s been great, thank you.
- Pinnacle: Five Principles that Take Your Business to the Top of the Mountain
- Mfon’s LinkedIn Page
- Mfon’s Website
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality
- Mfon’s TEDx Talk
- Steve Preda’s Book: Buyable
- Complete the Buyability Assessment for Your Business