Facebook and Twitter accounts, along with other social media, are considered essential tools when setting up a new business — kind of like fax machines were around 30 years ago, says social media strategist Ramon De Leon, a scheduled speaker at LeWeb in Paris. But when you ask people why, the majority struggle to respond, saying either “just because,” or “everybody has one” or they simply shrug their shoulders.
If you asked the same question about a fax machine in pre-Internet days the reasons for having one were obvious: it was an alternative to sending something through the mail, documents could be signed and faxed back immediately, it cut overnight courier or bike messenger costs. The reasons and expectations were clear.
“The answer for social media needs to be as specific as for the fax machine was 20 or 30 years ago,” De Leon says. “‘I need to have this so I can encourage — or create a platform where I can encourage — conversations about our product, conversations about our brand; provide people with an avenue where they can express their love or concerns about our products or services. That’s what I want to use this tool for,” he says. “That’s what people need to answer,” says De Leon, “Otherwise you’re just going to have more dashboards that you’re trying to figure out.”
A survey of 130 businesses conducted by the U.S.’s Altimeter Group in late 2012 illustrates the lack of clarity. There is still a huge disconnect between companies’ social media strategies and the way businesses are run (see the accompanying graphic). In the survey some 48% of top executives said they were not informed about or engaged with the firm’s social media strategy; 52% said the company did not have a detailed road map for what the social media strategy should do — or not do — in the next year; 66% said they did not have clear metrics that associate social activities with business outcomes; and 73% said employees were not aware of or trained on how to use social media in both their jobs and personal lives in ways that will positively impact the organization.
While others have struggled to come to grips with social media and what it means for their business’s bottom lines, De Leon has proved a natural. He rose from delivering pizzas for Domino’s Pizza in Chicago to pioneering the brand’s e-commerce and social media strategy. He helped build six Chicago pizza restaurants into a $7-million-per-year franchise business and is credited with a 50% increase in sales from the time he took over the marketing message in 2000 — with seven out of ten orders coming through digital channels, compared with 40% on average across the U.S.
De Leon, who left Domino’s in November to join Rise Interactive as the Chicago-based digital marketing agency’s senior social media strategist, will speak on the main stage at LeWeb this year, while other social media marketing gurus will be featured during a separate “brands track,” which will focus on winning social media strategies from renowned brands, as well as tips on how they use the Web and technology to create innovative products and user experiences.
Tutorials are needed because digital — and the social web in particular — is transforming marketing. In a survey released earlier this year by Adobe, 76% of marketers said their jobs had changed more in 24 months than in the past 50 years. Amid this change brands are racing to harness the new opportunities for engagement, even if they are struggling to pinpoint the exact return on investment. Against this backdrop, De Leon has emerged as a social media soothsayer showing how brands can balance big data with instinct.
“Always remember we’re dealing with a human being,” De Leon says. “We can’t have a computer, we can’t have statistics, we can’t have an app trying to dictate what we should be doing.”
The biggest misconception among executives, he says, is that social media is something totally different from standard operating procedures. Take customer service: if a customer had a complaint in the Printemps department store in Paris or Macy’s in Chicago, there would be a procedure for everything, De Leon says.
“If we take that same scenario and make it social — so someone has that negative experience, they have the heated words, they leave the place of business and now they post it on the brand’s Facebook wall, they post on Twitter, or they go on review sites and start sharing their negative experience. What makes it even worse is if the brand has outsourced their social voice, their social monitoring, now you have even another layer of people scratching their heads.”
Decision makers need to realize they should react as they would inside their store, he says. “Follow the same protocol and say this person brought this very serious concern, posted it on our wall, let’s just reach out to them and apologize and let them know their voice has been heard and then escalate it just the same way you would if the person was standing in front of you on the floor of your business.”
De Leon should know: his ability to transform customer complaints into long-lasting relationships and his experience of fighting “social media fire with social media water” have been turned into business school case studies. For example, in 2009, when two Domino’s employees in North Carolina posted a video of themselves making a pizza with cheese they’d put up their noses, Domino’s headquarters and the local franchise had no idea of how to react. De Leon, however, immediately made his own video response saying how completely unacceptable the offending video was and followed up online with commenters. Bloggers and social media posts applauded his openness. Nationally Domino’s sales fell and the North Carolina franchise shut down, but at De Leon’s stores, sales were up during the period. “Once the message gets heard, if it comes from the heart, it will get shared,” De Leon says.
Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is crucial to any successful social media strategy, he explains, and adding the power of visual storytelling through video or photos is invaluable to brands. To introduce the Domino’s Pizza Tracker app, which allows customers to monitor the progress of their order from the oven to their door, De Leon shot a series of videos showing how the app could solve real-life problems like being able to order on public transit on your way home or knowing when to meet a driver in your building lobby. “That’s when it comes from the heart because you’re incorporating empathy,” he says.
Similarly at LEGO, a brand that is often cited as a social media leader, the foundation of its social media strategy is to “listen and focus on the human element,” says Lars Silberbauer, LEGO’s global director of social media.
“There are two needs that are extremely important. It’s not just to do with LEGO — it’s basic human nature — we want to play together. We also want to show off what we created to other people, so we want the peer recognition.”
Like building bricks, each interaction in social media should build on another, Silberbauer says. “It should not be that there’s one campaign, then it’s on and off. It’s more like building a continuous long-term engagement,” he adds. “We are all about creating connections and then building those relationships. It’s not an overnight thing, it’s a long-term thing. It crosses generations.”
Brands also need to acknowledge that social media conversations about them will take place with or without their participation. “It’s not an option that’s up to the brand,” says Silberbauer, whose brand’s popularity on social media is due not only to company-led campaigns but also to viral fan-generated content that racks up millions more views. “Your brand is already on social media anyway. You can only choose as a brand if you want to be there or not. And if you’re not there someone else will represent you.”
With social media, the nature of the relationship between brands and consumers hasn’t changed, but the location has, says Mathias Westphal, global brand director for Absolut Vodka.
“For a long time, fans of the brand would tear print ads out of a magazine and put them on their walls, ” he says. “Now, its about creating the kind of interesting content that they want to put on their Facebook wall instead. The main idea of creating something interesting that is an expression of our brand hasn’t changed, however, the places that our fans share their love of the brand has.”
Moving into social media to be with Absolut’s target market was essential, he says. “Since a large part of this target grew up as digital natives, we knew that the old model of placing our ads on the back of magazines wouldn’t work anymore, therefore our media strategy took a very close look at where and how millennials consume media, and put the focus there.”
Following the customers is what first led De Leon into the world of e-commerce and social media. His stores served Northwestern University and he wanted to keep up with students’ changing behavior. Over the years, he defined three metrics to measure the success of his social media efforts.
None of them were likes, fans or followers. “Those inflated numbers are absolutely meaningless because they’re not going to be something that your banker is going to ask you when you go fill out an application for a loan,” he says.
“For any business you want to sell more, you want to spend less to sell more and my third one is ‘Am I having fun?’,” he says. “Number three was almost a gimmee because I was having a lot of fun.” That’s a message that lots of big companies should take to heart: mixing social media and marketing can help the bottom line but it is also about making everybody — including the customer and those that work for the brand — motivated and happy.