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Be Human. Be fearless.

Nathan Allen Pertile shook up a room full of social media marketing pros at the annual Social Shake-Up conference in Atlanta with his story. Fearless marketing seems to have come to him easily, now. He’s had to learn the hard way that he was always “good at marketing, he was just selling the wrong product.” Those lessons earned him more than one felony before he found his way to earning money as an online marketing coach. His journey from felon to social influencer is inspiring. If you’ve been procrastinating starting a business or getting your website launched, keep reading.

He challenged everyone to build our own dream slow and steady, day by day, including people working for big companies, like me: “While making someone else their fortune, make your own, because at the end of the day, we’re all disposable.”  When I heard that, I knew I had to meet him.

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Fearless Marketing Means Being More Human on Social Media

Drive is all you need to start a business. To succeed, you have to attract and retain customers. With technology being more and more accessible, there is one secret to Nathan’s success we can all learn from. Be fearless and human.

Nathan approached Twitter very differently than most. He seized Twitter’s ability to reach the unreachable, rather than a way to broadcast every gripe or meme he encountered. Today he has millions of Twitter followers, he was featured on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, and is on more than one list of most-successful influencers. By consistently responding to followers and making real friendships, Nathan has developed a tribe and a successful multi-million dollar digital agency. Real human engagement on a medium crowded with bots, automation and people shouting at each other really makes you stand out.

Nathan’s rise to fame started with one fearless tweet to LL Cool J. Watch how I spontaneously applied a similar fearless tactic at the end of his keynote and ended up becoming one of his friends.

Nathan’s fearless tweet got him the gig with LL Cool J and today his agency boasts clients who are practically household words–Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Paula Abdul, to name-drop a few.

Like Nathan, I’m known for being fearless. While live broadcasting his keynote at the conference, I got a crazy idea to shake up or disrupt the Shake-Up show, and went for it. There was only time for one question. I didn’t hesitate. I spontaneously challenged Nathan to join me in the lounge to eat insects on a live video broadcast. That’s right, I asked “will you eat bugs with me?”

The idea came from a conference I’d been to the week before. My friend, social media influencer Madalyn Sklar got me a pass to help her broadcast a panel on social media that she moderated at Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit. The theme of the event was ‘fearless marketing’ and one of the challenges was to eat insects. Of course, I did it. They didn’t taste bad. It was perfect “Instagram fodder” as I called it.

Marketing Conference Relay is Born

I ended up with some extra “ant wafers’ after the event and brought them with me to my next conference, the Social Shake-Up. I had the idea of extending the challenge, like a relay race, or ‘marketing conference relay’ using the hashtag #mktgConfRelay. People from one conference would find folks at the next one, more connections would be made, and more fun social posts would result. So I challenged Nathan to “eat ants” with me on live video. It worked! Luckily Nathan was truly fearless and agreed to the challenge. He and I were joined by Aidan Lukomnik‏, who had responded to the challenge I posted on Twitter & Instagram earlier that day.

The three of us headed upstairs to the lounge and ate ants. We finished with a round of emoji-themed gumballs that the Social Shake-Up provided. Watch below for the surprising results. The moment was also captured by local Atlanta photographer Cindy Brown of, who took the amazing feature photo on this post — highly recommended. It was an epic, bonding experience, and I hope to continue this game of relay when I have another string of conferences. I even got another new friend, Phil Mershon, to take on the challenge and tag Carlos Gil at the next conference they were headed to.

The Ant Challenge: Will You Eat Bugs?

What Did the Fearless Marketing Ant Challenge Accomplish?

Well, I learned a few lessons, made new friends, and made history at the Social Shake-Up.

Lesson 1: Being fearless will help you stand out and can get the attention of influential people.

Lesson 2: If you are going to broadcast a social media influencer who has a large following on one social network, use that platform. I spontaneously switched to Instagram instead of Twitter. During his keynote, Nathan mentioned how annoyed he was that Instagram wouldn’t respond to his request for direct coordination on influential client projects. Nathan has millions of followers on Twitter, but only a few thousand on Instagram. As a result, the video wasn’t seen by many people, until now.

Lesson 3: Being consistently spontaneous can be part of your brand. I suck at broadcasting regularly, and through this am learning to ‘lean in’ to my natural spontaneous nature. That can be disruptive in a world where everyone else is scheduling regular shows.

Nathan and I bonded through the experience and went out with Brian Fanzo, Shawn Kallet and other speakers from the event for a night of some local Atlanta hip-hop that I will never forget. And we’re all friends. I can’t wait to see where that takes us. Let me know in the comments or on social media if you want to join me in playing these fearless marketing challenges at your next conference.