Social Business Q&A: 10 Questions with Augie Ray

by contributor on April 4, 2012 in Social Media

One of life’s unspoken disappointments is this: Rarely do we know the extent of the difference we make in one another’s lives.

We stumble across an article, catch the tail end of a conversation, receive a kind word from someone special, notice a tweet in passing … and something about it sticks. Maybe it inspires, or perhaps it irritates. But it calcifies, until we do something about it. And that’s one of the ways change happens.

For me, Augie Ray, the executive director of community and collaboration at USAA, is one of those “silent” change agents. When my career began to take a new shape, it was his reports (when he was an analyst at Forrester Research) and writing on “Experience: The Blog” that, unbeknownst to him, helped me clarify what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it, and how I wanted to do it. His perspective was business first – never social for the sake of social. His voice was accessible, as if he was concurrently teaching and learning. In other words, something about his writing … calcified.

We are always thrilled to interview smart, insightful people on our blog. But being able to bring to you a discussion with someone who has made a difference in my career is a pleasure of a higher order. Readers, meet my friend Augie.

 

1. What’s the difference between social media and social business?

I view social media as a medium, and in this medium you can do a variety of things–service, business intelligence, marketing, commerce, etc. My definition of social business is that it is a new form of business–new products, services and business models enabled by social behaviors and technology and the widespread availability of individual data. Consumers bypass traditional channels and providers and conduct business peer-to-peer, creating a new wave of disintermediation and reintermediation.

I see Social Commerce relating to Social Business in the same way E-Commerce related to E-Business. The former was merely the act of transacting sales on the web while the latter was bringing the benefits of the web to every corner of the enterprise. Today, we see some early experiments at failed social commerce or F-commerce, but the future belongs to robust strategies that bring social changes to more than just buying and selling of goods. We can already see nascent social business, with the rise of car sharing, place sharing and peer-to-peer lending. If the people we know today as consumers begin to consume less and share more, this will bring profound changes to many industries and business models.

 

2. Who are some of your “role models” – marketers that are leading the way in social business?

I think automakers have done some very interesting things to build social directly into their products. Scott Monty at Ford was a leader at bringing new social media marketing tactics to an old industry, but now we see social moving past being marketing strategy and actually altering people’s relationship with their car.

Another example is Spotify. While folks might’ve been surprised at how companies like Spotify brought frictionless sharing to the product experience, now that people have learned what to expect from it, you have to respect how the act of listening to music is being changed by integrating social into the product.

The best examples of social business are, not surprisingly, the startups. In the peer-to-peer lending space, you see LendingClub and Prosper growing 100% or more annually, even though their business model is not legal in all states. AirBNB claims they have 100,000 listings in 19,000 cities and towns in 192 countries and seems to be growing nicely. Cars are being shared on Wheelz and RelayRides, and the latter’s deal with GM and OnStar is the sort of thing that I expect will bring some nice results in the years to come.

 

3. If you could convince companies to do one thing differently when it comes to their social media marketing efforts, what would it be?

In 2008, the challenge was getting companies to even take social media seriously. In 2009, the challenge was to get companies to start listening and responding on Facebook and Twitter. In 2010, the challenge was to get companies to stop obsessing about ROI and begin to embrace social as a necessary communication and reputation management tactics. The challenge of 2011 was to get resources aligned to the growth of the social channel. And now in 2012, I think socially mature companies realize that social must move beyond the Marketing and Corporate Communications departments, but many others do not recognize this yet. This is the year when I think every portion of the enterprise should begin to have a strategy for how it will use social media technologies for internal collaboration, customer service, product development, business intelligence, marketing, risk management, commerce and more. Today, I think social is trapped inside marketing and serving only marketing goals in too many organizations.

 

4. At this year’s SXSW I spoke on a panel called “The State of Social Marketing.” During the Q&A discussion, what struck me was how difficult it is for social media marketers to convince their CEOs that just because a new social network may have launched, it doesn’t mean the brand has to be present overnight. Do you have any advice for social media leaders who are struggling to “elevate” the conversation for their executive team?

The easy answer is to provide the same sort of research and customer data as in other channels. You don’t advertise where your customers and prospects aren’t, and you don’t build service applications and strategies for channels your customers do not frequent. Why would we build social strategies on platforms where consumers are not socializing?

Of course, presence isn’t enough–we also have to look at consumer expectations, available strategies and the purposes of different social networks. For example, I’m sure we’ll find couple interesting marketing uses for financial services on Pinterest, but this platform is much better aligned to media, entertainment, retail and style brands than to banks or insurance companies.

Combining presence, expectations and purpose can yield results. It just isn’t smart to go rushing into new social networks unless a brand is truly an early adopter and doesn’t mind experimentation with some failure.

As for elevating the conversation with the C-suite, I think one of the best ways to do this is a method many tend to avoid: Embrace the risks. Communicating to executives that social brings risks–reputation, compliance, legal, information security and financial–is a way of getting attention, justifying resources, and elevating dialog. Of course, merely listing risks will do more harm than good, which is why the strategies to mitigate risks are important. For example, for the CEO who is hesitant to embrace social, it can be helpful to demonstrate how reputation risks occur regardless of brand presence, and the solution to attacking this problem is to build a positive brand presence, earn fans and engage advocates.

 

5. … what about advice for CEOs when it comes to communicating with their social media person or team?

First, CEOs need to make sure they understand social is a medium and not a strategy. This is important, because asking  the ROI of social makes about as much sense as asking the ROI of telephone or postal mail. You don’t measure the ROI of channels–you measure the ROI of tactics and strategies.

Next, the CEO should take time to understand the channel. Ask for an education in the practical aspects of Facebook and Twitter. Spend some time monitoring consumer posts and watching your community managers at work in social channels. And I urge CEOs to get help setting up a Facebook account with all the appropriate privacy settings–merely having the Facebook experience with a few close friends and family members can begin to change a CEO’s perspective and understanding of the way the world is changing.

Perhaps the best thing a CEO can do when communicating with their social media team is to spend time directly with social media team members. Make sure the communications around social don’t merely happen via spreadsheets, and don’t rely on layers of organizational structure to pass the messages up and down. Social technologies and behaviors are going to change every aspect of the organizations in the years to come, so it is a worthwhile use of time for the C-suite to get acquainted with the organizations’ social media professionals.

 

6. Is social marketing a vertical or horizontal function?

I think social media marketing is a vertical function, but social media is a horizontal function. Again, with social being a channel in which companies can do everything from engage influencers to find job candidates to provide customer service to sell goods and services, social has to go horizontal throughout the enterprise.

 

7. I run content marketing at Eloqua. Social strategy is, for us anyway, a component of content strategy. In your opinion, what’s the difference between content marketing and social media marketing?

Content marketing and social media marketing are two circles in a venn diagram. They overlap but are different. Content strategy focuses on how to get people inside and outside the enterprise to create content, while social media strategy focuses on how to get people sharing opinions and information. Content strategy, to me, seems to involve a deeper level of content creation while social strategy is about Likes, tweets, ratings, and quick sharing.

I go back the Forrester Technographics that I used so often when I was an analyst. Creators are the top of the technographic ladder–these behaviors are the most engaged, creating the content that others consume in social media. People with creator behaviors have something to say, the means to say it and are less concerned about privacy. Lower in the technographics ladder are two behavior categories that are more common–Conversationalists who post frequently to social networks and Joiners who maintain profiles on social networks. There are more people with these behaviors, they have smaller but more trusted networks, and they tend to share frequently–they aren’t creating a huge amount of content, but their sharing spreads the word and is more trusted among the people they know personally.

 

8. If a company sees social strategy as tantamount to buying a bunch of fans or followers, what should they do next to make their program more strategic?

Buying email subscribers destroyed some early email marketing programs, and buying fans and followers will do the same to some social media marketing programs. In an age where real engagement matters and Facebook’s EdgeRank is the difference between being heard and talking to yourself, it is shocking to me that some brands still collect fans that don’t matter.

Perhaps the best way for marketers who have been buying fans to up their games is to reset their metrics. Fan counts are a means to an end and not the end itself. If all a company does is focus on fan growth, then it is easy to see why they turn to shallow tactics that deliver meaningless fans. Better metrics are the ones that count meaningful engagement, brand reputation improvements and financial outcomes. If a company doubles the size of its fan based but doesn’t improve engagement and sharing, then it has truly accomplished nothing.

9. You are one of the voices that has influenced me most in my career. What advice would you give to people just starting out in this profession?

That is a very kind thing of you to say, Joe! I think the best advice I can give to people starting in their careers is to commit to constant and ongoing education. Change continues to accelerate, and the things we know today will be useless and outdated in five to ten years. People who didn’t get digital and web technologies got pushed out of the way, and today people who don’t get social are facing the same obsolescence. Professionals today cannot wait for their employers to set direction and provide training–staying up to date takes personal time and commitment. Thankfully, the tools to keep up to date have never been more powerful–Zite, Flipboard, Twitter lists, blogs and forums can be the difference between a career that lags and one that leads.

As I look to the future, I see a lot of reasons for optimism but also some reasons for fear. For the last two centuries, ever more powerful machines have put people out of work, but most of these jobs were labor intensive–farm workers, manufacturing and the like. In the past fifteen years, technology has affected even knowledge workers, replacing onerous manual tasks and jobs associated with photo editing, video production, audio recording, communication and data analysis.

One only has to look at the latest crop of mobile apps or IBM’s Newton  to see that technology will continue to replace jobs–customer service jobs will decrease, bank branches will close and physical retail will continue to be challenged by the continued growth of ecommerce. People who stand at counters serving people will be replaced by self-service kiosks, and many who answer phones and provide answers to customer questions will lose jobs to mobile applications, peer-to-peer service and artificial intelligence.

In ten or twenty years, I think people won’t merely be competing for jobs against neighbors or people on the other side of the globe but also against more powerful computers and applications. If this sounds frightening, well then perhaps it will help some folks appreciate the imperative to commit to constant education and growth. From farm workers to auto workers to administrative assistants to videographers, we’ve seen what happens when technology improves and overtakes the capabilities and productivity of workers’ skills. Nowadays, failing to keep pace in skills and knowledge is a conscious choice to accept long-term career and financial risk.

 

10. I suspect there are many CEOs who are “suffering in silence” when it comes to social marketing. They know their organizations should be doing something more than just tweeting or updating their Facebook status, but they aren’t sure what that “something” is. What advice would you give to a CEO who is trying to make sense of this whole social media movement? 

I actually think that’s not a difficult question–return to basics. When faced with new technologies and behaviors, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Instead, focus on the mission of the company, the core audience and the strategies that have been set. Rather than figure out what to do in social media, ask how social media can fit into what you’re already doing. Forrester’s POST approach can seem painfully simple, but it’s a great reminder to start with people, objectives and strategies, and leave technology and tactics for the end.

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