With almost everyone and everything online, showing up on people’s searches has become harder and harder to achieve. Get rid of any negative content that keeps people from finding you in this episode with Founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology, Sameer Somal. Here, Sameer imparts with us his secrets and tips for your own digital makeover that will help you build, monitor, and repair your digital presence and reputation. He takes us across his origin story along with some of his experiences in helping PR firms out from their negative image. On his success, Sameer also shares the characteristics that helped him become fearless around rejection and how he helps girls with persistence, empathy, and confidence in India through Girl Power Talk.
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Digital Makeover: Build, Repair, And Monitor Your Digital Presence With Sameer Somal
I am honored to have someone I call a friend as a guest on the show. His name is Sameer Somal and he is the CEO and Cofounder of Blue Ocean Global Technology. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences on online reputation management, search engine optimization, relationship capital and ethics. Fundamental to his work at Blue Ocean Global Technology, Sameer leads collaboration with an exclusive group of PR, law, digital marketing, and web development agency partners. He helps clients build, monitor and repair their digital presence. I call him the guy-you-go-to when you need a digital makeover. He’s a published writer and an internet defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors continuing legal education programs. He proudly serves on the board of the CFA Institute Seminar for Global Investors. He is also involved with something called Girl Power Talk. Sameer, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. The honor is all mine.
One of my favorite questions to ask my guest is your story of origin. You can take us back to your childhood, when you were going to college. How did you become such an expert in digital makeovers? Did you always know you were interested in tech?
First and foremost with respect to origins, it’s like Dr. Benjamin Franklin aphorism, “Diligence is the mother of good luck.” Having some experience in helping growth companies as a middle-market investment banker and a steward of capital for financial advisors and their best clients, I didn’t want to be held back by those resources and founding a financial services firm. I thought, “Adam Smith, the wealth of nations. The one thing that changes everything on the curve is a technology and we are experiencing something extraordinary.” How can I make sure that those resources are an asset rather than a constraint? I went to try to find some great partners so that I would have a digital reputation i.e. web development, SEO content, social media resources for myself. In spending much time there, I forged some great partnerships which led to the formation of Blue Ocean Global Technology.
You went to school at Georgetown University and focused on business. You have many initials after your name. Would you walk us through the CFA, CFP and CAIA for those who may not know what all those mean?
Some call that alphabet soup. It’s funny because a lot of times I’ve dropped those initials and designations. I get the executive director or CEO of those associations calling me, asking me why I drop them. I’ve left them on there. CFA, which is by far the most prominent. It’s considered the gold standard. It’s a graduate program in finance where you take three exams. The first offered twice a year, the second offered once a year, and the third offered once a year. That’s considered the equivalent to a top ten MBA in many respects. I am incredibly blessed to have many lifelong friends throughout the CFA community, which is global.'Diligence is the mother of good luck' – Benjamin Franklin Click To Tweet
There are 150-plus member societies across the globe of CFA charter holders. They represent some of the most prominent people in private equity, venture capital, investment banking, and financial services. I come to the table in a technology business as not having a technical background, which gives me a unique perspective because my goal, John, is always to understand how I can be a person of value. To see where a business wants to go and how we can help them get there. I make sure that a lot of the folks that I’m fortunate to collaborate with our deep expertise, technically speaking. I’m there to make sure that I help governments, companies and individuals get on the right seat, bus, highway to the right destination, digitally speaking.
CFA is a Chartered Financial Analyst. There are a whole lot of stringent requirements about making sure that you don’t use it as a noun and etc. CFA is a valued organization. CFP is Certified Financial Planner and I’ve been blessed to have a career in financial services and served on the committee that helps govern the education of financial professionals. I would say that financial background has been an asset because there’s such a wide dispersion of competence in digital marketing and SEO. When you understand that people are dedicating important resources to this area and they want results, some financial and certainly is helpful.
The final one is CAIA which almost sounds like an architect to me.
The CAIA is the Charter Alternative Investment Association which currently has a CEO named Bill Kelly who is a great friend. Everybody has alternative investments or most people reading may have an investment portfolio where you have stocks, bonds, cash, and then you have the sliver called alternatives which are made up of the real estate, hedge funds, commodities and those are asset classes that don’t behave like a bond or a stock. When you add them to your portfolio, you get more diversification and a better risk-adjusted profile.
I wanted people to understand your depth of knowledge so that you didn’t decide you’re going to start Blue Ocean in a vacuum because you had all this incredible experience. Most entrepreneurs that are reading, I keep reiterating the importance to say be able to have an elevated pitch of, “Here’s who I help and what problems I solve.” When I have had conversations with you and looked at your website, you help a lot of different companies. They tend to fall under professional services, correct me if I’ wrong. That is lawyers, the financial industry and also PR agencies that need help with this digital reputation. I want to get a sense from you, if you wouldn’t mind, tell us a story of a law firm that has come to you saying, “We’re having trouble with our digital reputation. We might need to have you help us fix it.” How you do that?
One example would be easy. There’s a disgruntled client who maybe did something wrong. Lawyers gave their best effort. They were still found guilty. Now the client is genuinely upset about it and has got an ax to grind. They’re going out there creating false profiles, leaving negative reviews and going on to blog forums even publishing articles about how this law firm is false, defamatory, somebody you can’t trust and addressing that. A lot of times, people are busy that they don’t check their digital presence. A client walks in and asks a lead partner, “Is everything okay?” “What do you mean? Have you looked online lately?” They see their Google ratings. When you google the firm, its 2.4 and that sends a message to someone in the first impression that, “Should I be contacting this firm? Let me look up a few others.” Addressing that and understanding the layers that somebody has posted negativity and then finding out a medium for solving that. In a couple of particular cases, a lot of times suing somebody for internet defamation who’s a past client will result in more negative documentation on the internet.Don't focus on what others perception of you is, just become the best. Click To Tweet
You’re adding fuel to the fire by defending yourself. Sometimes you were called in as an expert witness. I think people are always fascinated when we see things on television or in movies like, “This is a forensics expert or this is a handwriting expert.” You have a unique niche of an expert witness. A lot of things they try to settle out off-court especially as you said it doesn’t generate more negative context for search. What is it you do when you take the stand that allows people to say, “Take me on that little journey, I’ve never met an expert witness on this?”
Lawyers say I’m the perfect expert witness. I’ll tell you why. I didn’t know this but there are people out there that are professional expert witnesses. They don’t necessarily have a business and their business is being an expert witness. I got a call from a major law firm in New York and they said, “Sameer, we’re interviewing five different firms to be an expert witness and you’re the last one. We think you might be the best.” I’m like, “I’ve never been an expert witness, so I think you’re mistaken.” They’re like, “Exactly because you do the work to solve digital reputation repair issues and you make sure that reputations are rehabilitated. You speak on how a company or individual builds, monitors and repairs a digital presence. You’d be great. By the way, we looked up your Google reviews.” At that time, we had 80 five-star reviews. They were like, “The other firms don’t look as good.” They explain that their client was getting sued for internet defamation. To make the long story short, there was a large medical organization. Somebody who’d been fired and somebody wasn’t happy about it, there were accusations. The client of the law firm was getting sued for several million dollars.
They said, “That’s how much it’s going to cost to fix the reputation. Sameer, what do you think about that because there were fifteen or so negative links out there?” I assessed how much it would cost to fix it relative to that figure that the plaintiff was giving him several million dollars. I had several of the negative articles removed and they didn’t even consider having them removed. I was able to drop that figure significantly to several hundred thousand low-end range there and have them negotiate from a more favorable point. That’s how I became an expert witness and gave deposition testimony on that. It allows me to relate to lawyers more because I’m not an attorney although I am a little bit of a legal expert on the nuances of libel, slander, and digital reputation.
This might be one of my all-time favorite stories of origin. I’ve heard hundreds of them because you’re walking your talk. For everyone who’s reading out there, if I’m going to say I can help you get a great digital reputation and do a digital makeover. Someone like Sameer is walking his talk. You can see that across all areas of your life and on everything you’re involved with is this integrity. They went and checked your own Google reviews. It’s like going to someone who has a bad haircut and they want to cut your hair. You’re like, “I don’t think so,” or an overweight fitness trainer. You’re like, “I don’t think you’re walking your own talk here.”
That’s the big a-ha that I get from that story. No matter what industry you’re in, if you’re reading this about how can this apply to me, whatever I’m offering, whoever I’m helping, whatever problem I’m solving, I better have been in those shoes and I better be solving this problem for myself first in a way that gives me this credibility. When I am in this bake-off beauty contest, shoot-out, whatever you want to call it, when they’re looking at other people because everyone gets in those situations and ended in the industry. That’s where I love helping people windows is you’re not desperate to get it, you’re like, “I’ve never done this before. I may not be the best choice.”
Automatically, you’re pulling away coming from a place of desperation or neediness. Like in dating, that makes you attractive. You start giving solutions that people don’t even know exists such as in this particular story. You can get some of these negative reviews removed. You don’t have to fight them all or push them all down. That is an a-ha way for people to start going, “All right.” How did you do this for PR firms because that’s a different story but a lot of similarities? PR firms I’m sure have disgruntled end-clients and employees and everything else like every industry. Tell us an example of a PR firm that you’re working with now. How did they find you? What problem are you solving for them?Anybody who's been successful in business that doesn't admit to their mistakes and failures isn't telling the truth. Click To Tweet
Through some of the client relationships and to take back some of the things that you said. My dad taught me, “Sameer, there are two ways you can go about life. One, you can create the perception that you are something and spend all your energy there. Two, you can become it. If you take the latter, the perception will be created the right way if you do it genuinely. That’s what we try to do one client at a time. That’s why we’re incredibly thoughtful about who we take on because our reputation is at stake. We don’t want to be known as the people that will fix every negative thing out there or we get those situations as well.
That’s one of my favorite lines is who you say no to is as important as who you say yes to. Especially as an entrepreneur and who you’re going to work with and don’t try to be all things to everybody. You clearly got these riches in the niches of if you’re in professional services, legal, PR, financial services, accountants, whatever it is, we know your industry and we know how to solve this. If we look at a lot of PR firms, it’s ironic because that’s their job, “Fix this problem. The company has had some negative press. Get good press.” How do you handle being uninvited to host the Oscars and Kevin Hart’s case? WeWork has been struggling with their brand. How do you help a PR firm not only with their own brand PR for digital makeover, but sometimes you told me that PR firms call you their secret weapon that you could be a resource for them to help them with their clients.
First and foremost, anybody who’s been successful in business that doesn’t admit to their mistakes and failures isn’t telling the truth. In starting Blue Ocean Global Technology, we tried to be all things to all people on the digital front. We realize that we’re spending way too much time trying to create content for clients. There’s an entire industry out there that has media relationships, that’s good at that. Why are we getting lost in creating content when we are good at the technical work, optimizing a website, making sure that we control the first twenty entries on certain keywords and long-tail keywords for a particular organization?
I started to do a little bit of market research. I found that a lot of PR firms, not wanting to necessarily admit it, but they do a lot of spray and pray for clients because they’re used to traditional media. They’re great at putting out solid digital assets that are going to represent their clients, but you’re not sure how it works. When something happens that’s a crisis, they’re going to say, “We’ve got to control the conversation like this. Here’s what we’re our response is going to be. Let’s put out a bunch of content.” They haven’t necessarily had the team in place that has experience on how to make sure all the T’s and I’s in terms of H1, H2, H3 tags, image all, its meta descriptions. All those things are put together so the content rank. I realized that I would love to be able to work with PR firms that have great media relationships.
Put our technical to work to make them more effective. I started calling some of the bigger PR firms and we made some great partnerships and some of those are on NDA. One of the best PR firms that we work with is Levick Communications based in Washington DC. Richard Levick is an industry pioneer, a thought leader. He’s an attorney. He’s clients include the Catholic Church. I was a little star-struck. I admire Richard and read about him and spent a lot of time studying him. I called him once, left a voice message, called him again. He ended up calling me back one evening at 7:30, which is justifiable to answer your phone whenever you can. That was the first phone call that he had a meeting with. This was a few years ago and we had lunch. That’s resulted in such a mutually beneficial partnership. I’ve learned so much from Richard and while we’ve built a great collaboration that is expansive, most importantly, I value relationships and he’s a dear friend.
When I speak to sales teams especially people that are between 25 and 40 something, they’re not keen on cold calling. They’re like, “I wish I could text people.” I’ll reach out on LinkedIn if I’m trying to grow the business or learn to hunt but this concept of you picking up the phone and calling someone and leaving a message resulted in that person doing it. It’s a whole concept of it. If everyone’s shouting and you whisper, if you zig when everyone else is zagging, and if no one’s calling anybody anymore and you’re one of the few phone calls, voicemails they get that week, it helps you stand out. This concept that I want to tap into for people to get a sense of who-you are characteristic-wise, there’s something about you that is fearless, especially as it comes as around rejection. Is that a part of your personality? How did you get that confidence? Everyone’s always interested in that life lesson that they could learn from you.Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. Click To Tweet
Thank you, John, for the kind words. I’ve worked incredibly hard to be efficient and productive on the phone. Some of the audience members might be thinking, “I’m better in person than on the phone.” As am I. There’s no more effective way. I’ve studied businesses that had been built by one person on a telephone. In this day and age where people want to text, they want to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and social media. No one is picking up the phone. In fact, when I speak about building relationship capital and digital presence, I talk about it somewhat innovate the call. I spent a lot of time on the phone when I had my previous life at Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and I cold call a lot of people. Even to this day, I try every day to call some new people. It doesn’t always work. I don’t always get the time. I enjoy the notion of being able to expand my network and opportunity set by reaching out. “Our fears are more dangerous than are dangerous.” That was Lucius Seneca’s quote, the Roman writers 2,000 years ago.
We have many shared passions including the love of knowledge and learning. I’ve approached cold calling like, “Every call to me isn’t cold. It’s warm.” The person doesn’t know me yet. They also have dealt with a few degenerates and people that lack a little emotional intelligence in calling them. They’re going to be pleased when they realize that Sameer is calling, recognizing that they’re busy, wanted to introduce himself, set up a time that’s more appropriate. That conversation can turn into 50 minutes if they have time. Be mindful that it may not be appropriate. I’ve done and I venture to say me and you will be doing this together, getting on stage and calling people that we don’t know and saying hello and having some fun with it. I do think that it is a way to change your luck. Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle, Abraham Lincoln. If you spend two hours a day calling, reaching new people and you fail. You’re going to be successful eventually because you’re going to get better at it. It’s going to teach you how to truly represent yourself effectively without someone knowing how awesome Sameer is in person.
Every cold call can be warm if you have the mindset. That leads me to my next question. This passion you have not for helping people with their digital makeover, their reputation, and speaking to big audiences about this topic. People forget, they’ll go, “If I have a warm introduction referral then I don’t need to have a good digital reputation.” That’s not the case whether you’re selling real estate, financial services, law, people are still going to look you up online and see what your site looks like. Is it easy to navigate? What else is being said about you? You don’t want that to be the speed bump. That’s what you’re eliminating in my mind on the road to getting a new client. Whether it’s a cold call or through a referral, having a negative digital presence is a huge speed bump that you get rid of.
If you visualize a speed bump being the bump getting smaller and smaller so that after working with you, people have a smooth ride to getting that new client. That sales funnel no matter how it started that you eliminate that speed bump, that’s a great visual for people to grasp what it is there you do. You and your wife have decided to not just make a difference in businesses who need help getting over the speed bumps. Girl Power Talk is helping young women get rid of the speed bumps that they might face who are in India. Do you like that transition there?
One of the things about having a conversation with a polymath like yourself who has many interests and things that they’re good at is I feel like I’m the one interviewing you here on this subject. I genuinely mean that. To answer your question about referrals, the point that I would make for our readers is many years ago, your best client has their best friend at a cocktail party and is raving about your business. They’re likely going to call you. They’re definitely going to Google you. If they don’t find positive information, conversely. If they find something that’s negative, it could be someone with the same name as you. It could be something that happened several years ago that is gone but there’s still some record of it, they’re going to think twice. That’s the difference. Sometimes people can be penny-wise, pound foolish. I’ll give you a great example.
I know someone who’s in real estate who was referred to me by a law firm, she’s in Manhattan. She sold a condo to a wealthy woman who bought this condo and then a few months later another building got put up right in front of it. She was unhappy about it. She needed to take that out on somebody and she took it out on this poor, sweet real estate agent. She had two articles published about how this real estate agent is a fraudster. It isn’t true. I looked at the whole situation. She tried to file charges, they were dismissed. There’s no record of anything negative legal-wise. This woman keeps coming back to me saying, “Let’s fix it.” That’s a lot of work and effort to be able to take down articles in New York posts. She’s come back to me four times ready to move forward, keeps asking for clarity. I compose this new encyclopedia email about why she should be doing this. Every time I say to her, “If you had two people that would have sold their property with you, one of them would have paid for the work that we’re going to end up doing.” Sometimes people hold on to that.Try to give without remembering and receive without forgetting. Click To Tweet
If I was to describe you, you do what I do. I consider myself a Sherpa helping people climb Mount Everest. They can try to climb the mountain by themselves, they’ll get lost and they’ll get frustrated. They won’t figure out why they keep coming in second when they pitch to win a new client because they’re not telling stories. The same thing with this, they’re like, “I’ll figure out how to do my own. I’ll fix the search problem myself.” Not knowing a clue about coding or never having done it for anybody else. They waste all of their time as opposed to focusing their genius time, which is you’re a real estate agent, “Let me fix your reputation so you get another sale and that will pay for this.” Some are like, “No. I’m going to waste all my time and I’m losing clients left and right.”
If you need a Sherpa to get you up the mountain of digital reputation and smooth down that speed bump, Sameer is the guy. Blue Ocean Technology was ranked the number one SEO firm in New York. That doesn’t happen by accident. There’s another walking the talk example. Before I let you go, I know it’s near and dear to you and what you and your wife are doing, it’s powerful. How does all this connect to helping girls with persistence and empathy and confidence in India?
Girl Power Talk is a labor of love. I’ve always been passionate about the fact that there are 500 million people under the age of 26 in India. It’s the demographic dividend. It used to be like, “People are sending work to India.” I remind entrepreneurs when they find out and I tell them upfront, “We have offices in India that IBM has 200,000 employees. That’s a blue-chip American company.” It’s the small and medium-sized business, it’s a disadvantage. I’ve always been passionate about equal opportunities for women. It always pains me a little bit the way there is a double standard.
I love the Sheryl Sandberg point that if a man is an alpha, an A-player, crushes people and does well like, “Go get them, boy. You are awesome.” A woman who’s an A-player and an alpha, she’s a witch. To me, that is true. When you think about this double standard in a country like India and it’s about impact with young people. Girl Power Talk is global. We started in India because there is a gargantuan need for education and opportunities. It breaks my heart, John. People work hard in India. Their parents make them study seven days a week. They go to college, graduate school to get a job reconciling credit cards in Delhi. That’s considered a success whereas Girl Power Talk in many ways is the root system to Blue Ocean Global Technology. We provide opportunities to young women and men who are young because we can’t undo the bad habits they’ve been taught elsewhere.
We want people when they’re 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. We want to find brilliant minds. We make them go to GirlPowerTalk.com. Apply now and fill out those 26 questions. We get to understand how someone thinks about the Eleanor Roosevelt line, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” What does that mean to them? We need to find the dreamers and the people that have invested in it. Girl Power Talk represents and is a voice over time of inspiration for young people and people of disabilities like acid attack survivors that I spend a bunch of time with. My friend, Bobby Henebry, who I know is now a mutual friend and playing music with them. How can we inspire? It’s more than inspire and create content. We provide direct opportunities for young people to change the course of their life and work directly with myself and other leaders. It’s something that’s at a nascent point. The last qualifying factor on why is that everyone wants to think about impact and purpose, people that are doing good in this world.
If I write a great article about reputation or there’s a video about it on Facebook, my friend’s wife doesn’t know me, but she needs that reputation video. She might be like, “That’s smart. That’s a cool guy.” She’s not going to take that video and send it to every single person she knows. If she sees an organization that is truly making a difference and is a meritocracy and is disproportionately focused on women because there’ve been many situations where they’re not then, “If we can do that the right way, John, one brick, one person at a time, we can build an incredible foundation. One day we can have an incredible building before I leave this earth.”Some people are poor, all they have is money. Click To Tweet
What a great legacy to leave. The concept that this Girl Power Talk becomes the root for Blue Ocean Technology is smart because a lot of companies are realizing there’s such a challenge for managing young people who have bad habits. They don’t have structure. They don’t like to show up to work on time. They’re not used to having to deal with stress or getting a negative review of their performance because they haven’t had any of those muscles exercised. They’ve been pampered too much for, “The real world.” If Girl Power Talk can find those dreamers, give them the skills. Not only do they become the root organist system for Blue Ocean Technology but everywhere around the world that’s looking for good talent. One of the things I know that you do when people say, “I know I need a digital makeover. I need to improve my SEO. I would need what shows up to be great.” One of the first things is you do a website analysis. It’s like a doctor doing a little checkup. I’m like, “Let’s see where we are. Can you walk? What hurts? What’s not working?” I’m comparing you to a doctor here and your website analysis being like, “Let’s get some basic physical information.” Tell us what that process looks like for people who might be interested in taking the next step in hiring you for that.
First off, you mentioned SEO expert, John, and that’s like a dirty word. Every time I’m speaking, I always say that like, “Isn’t SEO a dirty word?” Everyone has had a bad experience. You feel like with someone who claims they’re doing SEO that doesn’t feel the results because the Google algorithm is constantly evolving. Unless you have technical scientists and engineers working all the time, you’re not evolving to Google birth that came out that’s focused on long-tail keywords. Google now, when you search for a long tail, they’re not looking for the direct answer. They’re looking for an entire website that can justify the fact that this answer is good. It’s incredibly smart. I’m the first person and this is one of the greatest compliments that I try to get, if I could every week, definitely at least every month where people say, “Sameer, you’re the first person I’m talking to that’s in digital marketing, digital reputation, SEO that isn’t trying to sell me the kitchen sink.” In fact, most times I’m telling people, “Stop spending all this money, let’s fix your website because that’s the foundation. You’re trying to spend all this money on ad words and organic content.”
You’re driving people back to a website that isn’t optimized on Android, but it is on IOS for instance. I always say, “Fix the website. Make sure that foundation is air-tight then build around that so you’re driving people back to an engaging platform.” We do a lot of website analysis, optimization, and technical work on websites as a foundation for many of our PR partners. We do these analysis reports and its part of much bigger engagements. I’m a big fan of you, personally and professionally speaking. Any friend, any audience member of John Livesay’s show can reach out to me and I’ll have my team do that technical analysis for their website. I’m happy to. You have a great community. I feel fortunate that we were introduced and have become friends.
I feel the same way. Thank you for that generous offer, Sameer. We’re going to have everyone go to BlueOceanGlobalTech.com for people who want to explore this amazing opportunity to do an analysis of what your current website is. It makes no sense to drive traffic to something that’s not optimized and engaging people. You’re throwing money into the air and he’s going to make sure that your foundation is strong like everything else he does. He walks his own talk. He knows how to help people like you who all need a digital makeover in one way or another. Sameer, thanks. Any last thought or great quote you want to leave us with?
First off, thank you, John. I would say that I try to give without remembering and receive without forgetting. What brings you and me together is the fact that we’re givers and we figured out quickly that me and you have spent a lot of time giving to people. It’s always fun to meet people and I genuinely value relationships. Some people are poor, all they have is money. If I can make some great new friends through this show, which I always try to do every time I do a speaking engagement on shows, I’ll consider this a huge win. To the audience, feel free to reach out to me and not think that we have to work together and do business together in order for us to build a meaningful relationship.
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