Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Experts in the Industry: Shawn Morton (58 of 45)

What can I say about Shawn Morton except that he's a funny guy. A SMART and funny guy. One of my favorites from my 2009 SXSW experience. He's also a senior consultant for social media at Nationwide Insurance -- not an insignificant task given the current economic environment. In spite of all that, Shawn handles himself gracefully on Twitter and in person.

To that end, enjoy Shawn's answers to the five Experts in the Industry questions:

In one sentence, please describe what you do and why you’re good at it.
Wow, you know it will be tough for me to answer anything with just one sentence, but I’ll give it a shot. I am helping Nationwide Insurance become more connected to our customers, prospective customers, agents and employees using my experience in building web communities and aligning social tools with business objectives.

How did you get into the world of online community, social media or social marketing?
I started working with online communities in 1999 when I joined the team at I was fortunate enough to be paired up with Bill Johnston (who was featured at #43 in this series) for a couple of years as we built and grew a thriving community for IT professionals. I worked on (and consulted with other sites within CNET Networks) for a total of 9 years. During that time, we developed one of the largest IT communities on the web.

For the last two years I was with CNET, I also built one of the first lifestreaming services,, in my spare time.

In July of 2008, I relocated to Columbus to lead social media at Nationwide Insurance.

If you had $10 million to invest in one company and one company only based on their use of “social,” which company would it be and why?
If I can't keep the money to fund social initiatives at Nationwide, I think I would invest it in They understand the importance of putting your customers first in everything you do. The transparency and responsiveness that they've demonstrated using Twitter further reinforces their brand promise.

Which business leader, politician or public figure do you most respect?
There are so many people in the social media space that I admire, so it will be difficult to pick just one. I think Tony Hseih and Gary Vaynerchuk, who couldn’t be more different personality-wise, both really get the power that social media has to provide an exceptional, personalized customer experience. That is part of our strategy for using social media at Nationwide, so both of those guys serve as an inspiration in that regard.

Would you join a toothpaste community?
I think insurance and toothpaste have a lot in common when it comes to interest and enthusiasm. At Nationwide, we are doing a lot of things to get people interested in engaging with us online that don't focus primarily on insurance.

First, we are using a variety of services (Radian6, Google alerts and blog search, Twitter search, etc.) to listen and respond to what customers are saying about us. Over time, we want social media users to know that they can reach out to us on their platform of choice. We think this will help us provide a better overall customer experience.

Second, we are establishing presences on the leading social sites (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube) and posting content from Nationwide events and sponsorships. So instead of trying to establish an insurance-focused community, we are engaging customers and prospective customers around their areas of passion. These include our relationships with the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ohio State athletics and The State of the Black Union.

Freeform – here’s where you can riff on anyone or anything – good or bad. Or just share a pearl of wisdom.
A lot of people ask me how a big company can get started in social media. I think the best thing any company can do is to start listening to the conversations that are already taking place about them on the web. Whether they are on personal blogs, discussion boards, Twitter or sites like Epinions, you have to start paying attention. Not all companies are ready to start participating, but if you start listening, you'll get a better sense of the opportunities you have to use social media to respond and interact with your customers online.

Photo Credit: Jim Storer


  1. Wait, I didn't realize Shawn and Bill Johnston knew each other?!? ;-). Shawn, I am so thrilled to have met you at SXSW.

    Aaron, thanks again for this awesome #45in45 series. I'm really enjoying it.

    Heather | @heatherjstrout

  2. Shawn,

    I had such a blast meeting you at SXSW, too. I can't wait until the next time we have a chance to connect. Wait! I heard there's this social media thing that might help...

    Hope to chat again soon, and yay Aaron for highlighting such an awesome guy.


  3. Heather & Amber, it was great meeting both of you as well.

  4. Shawn - I think Aaron should have used your "sad" photo from the same series.

    Heather - When I figured out the Shawn/Bill connection I had the same reaction. And then when you throw in Todd Earwood it was like "yeah, Louisville!!!"

    Jim | @jimstorer