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Part 3: John Bell on getting the timing right to launch your social media strategy

When John Bell, head of the global 360° Digital Influence team – Ogilvy’s global social media marketing and communications practice, was in Sydney in June, Ogilvy PR’s Heather Jacobs caught up with him to talk about social media.

Following is the final post in a three-part series on how brands can get started in social media, measure its impact, how Australia compares to the rest of the world when it comes to social media and the challenge of finding social media experts who also understand marketing and communications.

Q: How do brands know they are ready to go to market with their social media program?

John Bell: In markets where social media hasn’t necessarily created a huge momentum, and Australia might be this way, the biggest challenge for communications and marketing professionals is timing. When do I get involved? When does it become essential that I do something?  When will my involvement and investment in social media be critical to my business compared to what I’m investing in now?

Those who have benefitted the most from social media are those who haven’t started too early, but early enough to get experience with it and start to understand inside their organisation how to manage their social network presence to be of the greatest benefit and create more two-way conversations between customers and stakeholders. It’s not like you can study up on it and then one day pull the trigger.

Research by The McKenzie Institute found that 20 per cent of brands using social media for marketing communication purposes across the enterprise are reaping 80 per cent of the benefit which leaves a lot of brands scratching their head and saying, “Does this do anything?”

I think that 20 per cent are the brands with the most experience and the most resources and commitment to social media. It’s the minority of brands right now who are applying social media to their business and feel confident and understand how it’s positively impacting them. I think this year in many markets, Australia included, we’re going to see brands that have been dabbling, start to get truly committed.

Question: How does Australia compare to some of the other markets you have experienced?

John Bell: The adoption curve has been tremendous with the growth in brands using social media for professional reasons skyrocketing. For a relatively small country of twenty million people, connectivity is fairly strong, there a lot of the conditions for marketplace readiness, including the growing use of smartphones, and strong levels of broadband connectivity, although I’ve heard there are some issues about the speed of the broadband. There’s a lot of experimentation occurring in Australia right now and I see a lot of companies hungry to move from experimentation to meaningful operationalizing. How can we get more out of it?

Question: This joke was doing the rounds on Twitter recently: “My boss found me asleep under my desk and was going to fire me, but I said I was planking so he made me vice president of social media”. Are jokes like this a reflection of the reputation that anyone can be an expert in social media?

John Bell: That’s probably happened all too often with companies investing some kind of key token staff hires for people who showed an aptitude in this space. They then realise they have no marketing communication skills, and can do nothing besides introducing them to Foursquare, etc.

Now a lot of brands are looking for people with the right blend of serious marketing communication skills and expertise in social media.

The next generation does come in with an advantage because of their intuitive personal knowledge of the space, but to expect them to go launch a multinational social media based marketing program a day after graduation is not realistic.

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