In March 2016, Digivizer invited three Australian social leaders to a round-table discussion to talk to Digivizer CEO Emma Lo Russo.
The topic? How they look for value from the social web, and how they drive value from it.
The discussion was broad, ranging from engaging with influencers using social, to reorganizing sales organizations to become social.
But two themes were common to all:
The participants were:
The conversation was facilitated by Alan Smith, Head of Customer Engagement at Digivizer.
Alan Smith: Let’s start the discussion by talking about how disruptive, and productive, the social web is, and whether both effects go hand in hand.
Danielle Uskovic: I think it’s been both. I don’t think you can separate the two, they do tend to go hand in hand. If you look at people using Twitter, for example, back in 2009 when I first started in social, it was more of a novelty. Today you can see people making big inroads into a business by using Twitter in ways much more strategic than we did back then. And when something new hits any organization, disruption isn’t far behind.
“I’m fascinated by how disruptive forces evolve into productive ones. The disruption will come I think from virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, so the social web is only part of a bigger picture, for sure. I suspect those who say Moore’s Law no longer applies are right: the pace of change and take-up of connectedness now outpace Moore’s Law.”
Danielle Uskovic, Lenovo
Daryn Vanstone: For me it’s certainly been both. On the projects I’ve run, designed to introduce social selling to organizations, introducing social has been disruptive because it’s been as much about change management as adopting new social techniques, which is disruptive by definition. But we were also able to demonstrate productive benefits because we could demonstrate, with data, the business case for change, even to a management team that was initially sceptical. We could demonstrate that the productive benefits outweighed the disruptive side-effects.
Danielle Cerin: I think in business, social is seen as disruptive but should in fact be regarded as productive. Even if management is committed to adopting social in some way, there is in reality so much that needs to change inside any organization as a consequence that it does end up being, and being regarded as, disruptive. You need to change people’s perceptions, you need to change the way you do things, you need to make investment in IT, you need to change the way you create content. And all these things are disruptive. But it’s worth it because social gives you that instant connection with customers, which is so important in business.
Emma Lo Russo: I think it’s been disruptive for brands who have gone early, but they have seen early benefits too. There are some brands doing some interesting things, particularly those which see social as an integrated part of their lead nurture programs and consider it as another channel where customers are. The real-time nature of social is very disruptive, and certainly disrupts the earlier, older model of marketing and engaging. What we have found is that it’s highly segmented, around passion points rather than demographics. And you have to be sure how social fits in the path to purchase.
Danielle Uskovic: I’m fascinated by how disruptive forces evolve into productive ones. The disruption will come I think from virtual reality, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, so the social web is only part of a bigger picture, for sure. I suspect those who say that Moore’s Law no longer applies are right: the pace of change and take-up of connectedness now outpace Moore’s Law. I think it’s an interesting time to be alive!
Alan Smith: Senior management always plays a role in endorsing change when major changes are being considered in organizations, and I assume data and results are important in these discussions.
Danielle Cerin: You really do have to research, get hold of your data, before you can convince a senior management team to consider social. I don’t think this is necessarily unusual. All they have are their initial opinions and, perhaps, personal experiences, which always influence perceptions. You really do have to prove that customers are on social, are there with frequency, and you have to demonstrate (not just convince) management that you do know what you’re talking about.
Introducing social on a special budget is a common experience, to test prototype thinking and systems and programs. From there, you then need to provide data to underpin the insights.
My experience is that, even with results and data coming in, especially when running a content sharing and engagement program, questions about the relevance and benefits linger.
Danielle Uskovic: I agree that the engagement process with senior management starts with a personal commitment to social, but you always have to move quickly into a real business case. I realized I could connect with influencers, and it changed my view of what was happening in the social web, and changed my views on how business would be conducted. I made the case to my CEO, arguing strongly that we had to get into social marketing, and do so with some sense of strategy, before our competitors. Looking back, convincing him was easy, but it started as a project for me as well, to do in my own time! I still had a day job, but I was passionate about the concept and about growing the community using these new media.
Daryn Vanstone: Evidence, having data, really is key, and being able to demonstrate benefits rather than having opinions is crucial, so while the benefits of social and an understanding of social can be mixed, the evidence carries the day.
When we first talked to senior management about the hypotheses of the role of the social web, we were met with blank stares. As soon as we proved that social could deliver, we were in good shape.
Even as we were seeking to prove the business cases around social selling, the business case around reducing costs of recruitment, as one example, again carried the day. There was some irony in that, but I think it shows that the social web will increasingly permeate businesses, perhaps in unexpected places. That employment brand of social, for example, was responsible for a complete change of attitude.
Emma Lo Russo: At Digivizer we get almost all our business through social, and only through social. It gives me the ability to talk and engage and share and be accessible, to form contacts and engagements with individuals for whom I can work out some degree of social relevance. So yes, I practise what I preach, but I do so because we have something new to offer and that’s where our prospects are.
Danielle Cerin: Tying social to business challenges or objectives is key, and accelerates acceptance, which of course makes sense. If you can make the case for engagement, you can create an environment that will work. Competitive pressure can also be very useful!
Daryn Vanstone: It’s a combination of individual experiences, attitudes to change, across different companies and markets. Some individuals (and companies) invest and grow, others are more Neolithic in their attitudes, albeit because they have yet to see the evidence. So we always come back to evidence and proof. And even an increase in revenue or market share of as little as 3-4% is worth having in my view, and I think planned social engagement can deliver that type of improvement.
Alan Smith: It’s always interesting to consider how the social web changes the way marketing teams frame their stories, and how it influences businesses.
Daryn Vanstone: Social stops you talking at customers and forces you to engage properly with customers, which is hugely important, engaging in conversations they are having, not focusing on what you want to tell them. Business must shout about brands less and less.
And you can improve your alignment around brand messaging, going through that understanding around aligning brands with needs, built on understanding audiences by listening through social, and having a long-term view. Social lets organizations become customer-centric in a way that actually means something, and which is certainly the objective of anyone in marketing and business development.
Danielle Uskovic: Go back to 2009: we used social media then to create an online community and to then engage with that community, using it to create new marketing methods. Fast forward to today, we’ve gone much further, we use it for everything – B2B, B2C, and all our marketing channels.
Danielle Cerin: We are making progress but there’s still a way to go in seeing the wholesale acceptance of social as an essential part of the marketing mix, particularly in B2B, especially in specialist sectors such as the pharmaceutical sector, which is bound by legislation and regulation.
And defining what success looks like is essential. Success differs for every business. Having a real definition for success is important, pivotal, built on engagement of content, reach, and using data for analysis and ensuring we know that we are succeeding.
“Defining what success looks like is essential. Success differs for every business. Having a real definition for success is important, pivotal, built on engagement of content, reach, and using data for analysis and ensuring we know that we are succeeding.”
Danielle Cerin, Janssen, Johnson and Johnson
Emma Lo Russo: Social isn’t one country or group. Social, like countries and regions, is made up of many parts, all made up of individuals. And it will be different for every single context – for every brand, and for every person all those brands want to talk with. What works for company A is not the right strategy for company B. All the social platforms have a role, but every channel is different.
The important thing is always work back from the customer, be where they are, demonstrate value and engage on their terms.
Daryn Vanstone: I think insights now underpin much of what we do in social. Content is based around understanding conversations. We also seek to deliver something new and valuable, always to answer the challenge from people in the market: ‘tell me something I didn’t know’, replacing the historic approach of talking about product.
So the conversation, certainly its perspective, has shifted 180 degrees. The proof is in the conversations our customers have back with us, and when you can hear the phrases and terms, stories and discussions you’ve put out to market through social echoed back to you, you know that you have cut through. More importantly you know that your messages resonate with customers and the market.
“Social will be different for every single context – for every brand, and for every person all those brands want to talk with. What works for company A is not the right strategy for company B. All the social platforms have a role, but every channel is different. The important thing is always to work back from the customer and be where they are, demonstrate value and engage on their terms.”
Emma Lo Russo, Digivizer
Alan Smith: The social web is perhaps defined by its dynamic nature. It’s interesting to consider where it will next take us all.
Danielle Uskovic: I think the pace of change in social and digital is phenomenal. As marketers we need always to stay ahead. We also need to see how it affects technology. For us tech is at the core of what we do and these new media make a profound difference to everything we do. In the past 12 months I’ve seen marketers moving away from traditional marketing to these new opportunities and techniques. And Asia continues to come online and into social. One example I saw in the market recently talked about new configurations of mini-satellites designed to connect even more people to the Internet, providing affordable and accessible coverage to every square inch of the planet. When that happens, businesses will change significantly again. So we may, in fact, not yet have seen the end of this rapid pace of change, by a long stretch.
Emma Lo Russo: Today the marketing mix is so fragmented, with people searching social on YouTube and any number of alternative other media sources. They go where what they want is located, and they no longer go to one single source. It’s the reality of the digital and mass-personalization era in which we live.
Social and digital actually make it easier than previously to know where people are, what matters to them, who matters to them, whether they looked at your material, whether they’ve purchased.
Alan Smith: Being socially aware of course means being equally aware of the potential dangers of being social, and in balancing that risk against the rewards.
Daryn Vanstone: I think we’re all aware of some of the risks associated with going social with messages with content that is inappropriate or offensive, but those risks are minimized with good planning and good policies that bring together empowerment, permission, accountability and appropriate approvals when required.
Danielle Cerin: When the opportunity is there to connect with customers, to create new networks, it’s one you need to take. But not at any cost, and in the pharma sector in particular, we have to ensure that all communication with the general public is in accordance with the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct. Specifically, prescription products must not be advertised or promoted to the general public.
Danielle Uskovic: The main danger I see is in the growth of the hackers, the people who want to cause harm. The more connected you are, the more vulnerable you are. I absolutely see this myself. As the custodians of this new technology we should educate our children and others on the benefits and also the pitfalls of technology, and ensure they don’t underestimate both.
Emma Lo Russo: You can see issues earlier, and real-time monitoring gives you a better chance to respond faster. Of course, the velocity of escalation has increased markedly, but for those active in social it’s an opportunity to deal with opportunities or problems very quickly. Organizations learn that there being social means being in the moment, that sometimes things can go awry, but that you can engage and redeem yourself in the moment as well. I see a lot of businesses mistaking their personal fear for business social threats, thinking that the risks are higher than they are in reality
Alan Smith: True innovation goes far beyond automating what already exists, and social is increasingly the catalyst for meaningful innovation.
Danielle Uskovic: Social is now front and centre. I’d have loved it had it been front and centre back in 2009! But it is now the case. It’s all social, social, social. And you get a lot of social media experts who don’t practise what they preach. If you come to me and claim to be a social leader and only have five followers, I will disagree. And I don’t want to do business with you.
It’s more about the digital disruption around us that interests and attracts me, about organizations using digital and social to create an advantage.
And you know you’ve cut through when the leadership team take part.
Daryn Vanstone: Changing the focus of what you deliver in marketing in social requires you to be more visual, and changes the way you talk with, and not at customers, changes. And this can be challenging, not least because video content, for example, is more expensive.
“I think insights now underpin much of what we do in social. Content is based around understanding conversations. We also seek to deliver something new and valuable… replacing the historic approach of talking about product. The proof is in the conversations our customers have back with us, when stories and discussions you’ve put out to market are echoed back to you.”
Daryn Vanstone, Civica
The skills dynamics change markedly! But we have no option. The evidence proves that customers prefer certain types of content, so that’s where we need to go and play and be active and be leaders. We do face new challenges and opportunities with content creation and development and deployment, and new balances to strike around speed of delivery, quality, longevity and tone. We all have to create more content, faster, that talks in customers’ terms, knowing that it will remain on the social web forever, knowing that attention spans are shorter.
And I think there are challenges there around altering company standards and cultures around content quality and content control. In the social world, I think a lighter touch is perhaps a simple fact of life.
Social has certainly changed our understanding of what customer collateral should be and what’s acceptable to customers. And that’s built on evidence, not hearsay. It’s my firm belief that people delivering different styles of content are getting better results.
Danielle Cerin: It’s interesting that we have patients, users of our products, very active on the social web around the world, talking about how our medication affects them, including the side-effects, broadcasting entire experiences, and engaging communities interested in shared conditions, the treatments, and the consequences. The balance for us is to consider how to be part of that conversation, knowing that we have that obligation to investigate any claims made by others. So it’s a very sensitive, and highly regulated engagement model, but it’s certainly not a simple socialization of what we currently have in place.
Emma Lo Russo: What’s changed for us is that, five years ago, I had to explain what the social web was to marketing managers, three years ago I had to explain what the return on investment in participating on the social web was to general managers and CEOs, and today I’m having discussions with boards about how to embed the social web across organizations.
Alan Smith: It’s interesting to compare the approaches of smaller and larger organizations to their use of social. You’ve all cut your social teeth at larger organizations, and I’m interested in your views on how that experience can play out in smaller ones.
Daryn Vanstone: I do think big companies do have an advantage in being able to deploy more resources on new initiatives, and of course this applies to budgets as well.
Challenges come from other angles though, in large companies I think, when you’re attempting to introduce new practices and new thinking alongside established programs and systems, and the very real need to continue marketing and selling as you go.
Danielle Cerin: I think the opportunities, and changes that embracing social leads to, are the same for any size of company. Internal systems and stakeholders are significantly affected. Marketers and customer managers start to do things differently. Social adds an extra dimension to what we need and want to deliver, including with the sales teams, using social as a tool. And companies of any size can connect with customers in different ways.
Emma Lo Russo: That’s something we’ve seen very clearly, that social is relevant to companies of any size. People are digital and social, they run their business and life from their mobile technology. You need to flip the thinking – don’t expect them to come to you, expect to have to go to them. Social gives you the right timing. You need to fit around them. And this forces everything: you must have the right content, in their context, not yours. You have to earn the right to return with an offer later, once they’ve seen value.
Alan Smith: Thank you, everyone, for sharing your insights.