From Silicon Roundabout to the world over breakfast (just one event from #smwldn)

This content is 13 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last week was Social Media Week and, here in the UK, there were several events to mark the occasion (using the Twitter hashtag #smwldn). I was pretty late to the party and I’m sure I missed some events that could have been incredibly useful but I did get along to one event, looking at the implications of using social media to take a brand into a global marketplace.

Chaired by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) at The Design Council, and chaired by Dr Aleks Kratoski (@aleksk), UKTI’s New Media Sector Champion but also well known for her broadcasting work with the BBC and the Guardian, the event took the form of a panel discussion with:

It’s difficult to distill a panel discussion into a blog post, so I’ll concentrate on some of the key points that I picked up in the event. It’s important to comment that these are my notes – they are not direct quotes (and any additions in [ ] are my personal views, provided to add context).

  • WT-W: Twitter helped Moonfruit to move into the United States.
  • AC: Nokia and many other brands find themselves in the same situation – social is evolving and they’re still discovering.
  • MC: Microsoft has engaged in social media for about five years, initially via blogs and forums but use has exploded with Twitter and Facebook – platforms that enable bigger networks. Microsoft doesn’t sell much 1:1 but relies on partner network – social media has allowed communication with customers. It’s important to enthuse the passion and to do so it’s necessary to understand rich media, mobile, gaming (wherever the audience is) and use that data to make products better and more fulfilling.
  • WT-W: Facebook, Twitter and others are platforms upon which others can build a business – they have fundamentally changed how technology businesses work – and can affect others too.
  • AK: Web 2.0 is doing for the web what it should really have done to connect people in the first place.
  • AC: Social media presents an opportunity to rewrite the rules. New technology can appear and revolutionise the marketplace in a heartbeat (e.g. the Apple iPhone) [and organisations need to be agile in order to respond – somewhat ironic coming on the day of press coverage re: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s (@selop) “burning platform” memo]
  • AK: It sounds like the answer is to leverage other platforms rather than creating new?
  • MC: Blogs play a huge part in Microsoft’s social media strategy – as does Windows Live – so it’s not a conscious decision not to create their own platform, more that it’s necessary to invest effort into communicating on a platform where people are already working. Remember though that email is still a social platform – albeit private. Same for instant messaging. There are open and closed networks – digital marketing needs to be involved in them all.
  • AC: Some businesses think people should pay to come – or that they own the brand. Ultimately community is the brand. This can this make you reactive rather than proactive, but it’s just as important to experiment and learn. Some mistakes will be made along the way but if organisations understand consumer sentiment (listen via various platforms) and use this insight in product development it can be turned to an advantage. Social media has a massive part to play in this – even labs need to be more transparent and open – become part of society to understand what’s coming next.
  • WT-W: Distribution is key – how can people hear about a product without spending millions on marketing (which is also imprecise)? You have to use social media to understand how it works (Twitter is an example) – and have to learn to use it properly – you can’t just throw out a message. Moonfruit ran a competition but the community started to take the mickey out of the brand (what’s that? A gay astronaut!), in doing so, they built brand awareness. It can be tough for big companies to let go of their brand but Moonfruit found it got them a lot of coverage, they rose in the Google ranks, and enjoyed massive returns as a result – they could not have paid for that type of coverage. Maybe they got lucky but what have they learned? Respect social media – look after you Twitter followers, hire a community manager – and make Twitter and Facebook an extension of any internal communities. Moonfruit is using Zendesk to tie channels together so users can search across wider social networks.
  • MC: Microsoft is looking to expand its communities into Asia – breaking out of the English language. Using analytics (it’s important to measure) they can see how to expand. Often, there are parts of an organisation that says “We want to get onto Twitter and Facebook!” and the next question should be “Why?”. Often the answer is “Because everyone else is” and it’s necessary to have a plan? (not just to start using these platforms). Brands need to understand their goals, research their audience, know the way that people access information, etc. and tailor, rather than just reworking existing United States-based templates! Also be careful about picking and choosing appropriate networks – and taking baby steps to learn as you go. Play with your own (personal) account and then apply that experience to the company.
  • AK: In the far east, it’s necessary to deal with linguistics as well as specialist social networks compared with India, where people jump on to existing, established English-speaking networks such as Facebook, etc.
  • MC: Linguistics are even important in Europe – whilst the Dutch will RT English with a localised view, the French will not!
  • AC: Brands will embrace global messaging (generally in English) but need to work on their corporate policy for conversations at a local level. Campaigns need to give a reason to want to engage with them – just as at a dinner party, you need an interesting menu [and sparking conversation]. Although internationalisation is an important element, it’s necessary to consider the global view.
  • WT-W: The UK is leading in entrepreneurial design – and Apple has shown [globally] that a good design and user interface [arguable] will appeal to consumers. The iPad paradigm shift has opened technology to both young and old. The Chinese come to the UK to learn how to design, then they go back to China and emulate using the skills they have learned.
  • AC: Due to its location and geography, Great Britain as an island is a barometer for change. Nokia looks closely at its own business and the wider industry in the UK and finds that it’s possible to see trends coming and go quickly, compared with the US, where things stick around a while and take a different form. British people also tend to be forthcoming with a straightforward, honest response.
  • MC: Microsoft Advertising has been helped by being London based, driving global strategy in a US-based company (enforcing that it’s not just about the United States).

Moving on to the questions from the audience:

  • MC: [On the question of companies that still think they can control who comes to them on social media?] Try to get a feel for what people like, read listen and learn – they will leave comments! It’s a two-way conversation so, taking the dinner analogy, you can suggest menu and a venue but can’t control the conversation. You can plan for it though: react; turn negative into positive through a reply/response. Take baby steps – don’t dive in too deep too soon. Demonstrate success at each step on the journey.
  • WT-W: You can’t gag social media – the more you try, the more it happens – so have an open conversation. An example is Nokia’s Stephen Elop talking about the white elephant in the room – taking the leaked memo and reacting. [at this point the Nokia Exec looked confused – he should learn to check social media before going on stage in a panel presentation!]. It’s OK to say “We’re sorry, this is what happened, this is what we’re doing about it, and this is how you can talk to us” (e.g. when Moonfruit suffered a service outage).
  • MC: [On ensuring that the whole company is “on the same page” and engaging in the same way] Microsoft has mechanisms internally to alert/escalate? There are also guidelines from their legal team but ultimately it boils down to two words: Be smart.
  • AC: [When asked don’t leaks make organisations more secretive?] Social media is not about building stronger walls – be proud that people are interested!
  • MC: [On how to value an investment in employing people to take a message to a global audience in a downturn] Getting into markets in a downturn amounts to piggybacking the competition when we come out the other side… it’s valuable because all digital – conversation is out there – we’re all on social media and know the ways and means to discover, reading about other customer experiences and using to our advantage. Ultimately, it’s about driving traffic back to your own properties (from social networks back to websites) – driving sales, generating revenue – but not about locking people in to a particular platform.
  • AC: [On how to incorporate social media into a large organisation’s crisis/incident management strategy?] Social media provides more opportunities to expand awareness – you can apply a policy for social behaviour but everyone is a social expert in their own right. Nokia has seen sales teams creating their own profiles and starting conversations with customers – this is impossible to manage on a local level but can be encouraged. [I disagree – organisations need to make a clear separation between official and unofficial channels but I think the point here was really about global vs. local (in country) accounts.]

Until now, the conversation had felt a little business-to-consumer (B2C) focused and I was interested in social media from a business-to-business (B2B) context but, thankfully, the last question (asked by someone else) was the one I had been waiting to ask!

  • WT-W: [On the question of B2B vs. B2C use of social media and what works well?] The company profile is still important – the more known the company is, the more PR it gets and the Easier it is to do deals. But building real relationships is key – B2B is still conducted in person – although you can make touch points/build reputation on social media.
  • MC: Don’t get freaked out by low numbers – start with a plan and expect 100s, 1000s visitors not millions – B2B brands can’t compare with Starbucks or Zappos. Indeed, low numbers allow organisations to focus on their audience in a market where even one sale could be significant. Spend time on developing relationships, talking about each others’ businesses and translating to find niche relationships and make them fruitful.
  • AC: There is both opportunity and danger in how best to support social media in a B2B context. Social CRM is an important aspect but data is freely available and unregulated. Different countries may have different reactions and this will affect the communications strategy.

In all, this was an interesting discussion but I really felt it just scraped the surface: it was a bit light on hard advice; and concentrated more on the experience of the three organisations on the panel. Still, at least it gave me a chance to verify that the steps my own organisation is making are taking us in the right direction!

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