CEO Forum Interview.
ceoforum.com.au: How did you personally get involved with social media?
Mark Bilton: I saw social media happening all around me with Facebook and other applications. Initially I had no strong personal interest in it, but I did recognise that the whole world was adopting it. Over time I have become quite used to it, and have truly integrated it into both my business and my personal life. I like the Wikipedia definition of social networking, which is “the blending of media and social interaction for the co-creation of value”, and I have certainly found that to be the case in my own experience.
ceoforum.com.au: Outside of the technology and entertainment industries, social media does not, it appears to have been widely adopted by many CEOs so far. Most CEOs seem to confine their external communications in particular to traditional media like newspapers and industry speaking events.
MB: Right. I saw one study last year that surveyed the top 50 CEOs in the world, of whom only 19 were on Facebook, 6 on Linkedin, and only 2 had a blog or were on Twitter. Any marketer will tell you that someone else’s advocacy can be the single biggest motivator to buy, and with the billions of conversations taking place on the internet we should not be missing out. Most of us are ‘baby boomers’, who may not have grown up with technology, but we need to understand how it works.
ceoforum.com.au: What are the benefits for CEOs of getting involved in social media?
MB: One key reason to get involved is to build a brand, both for the company and for ourselves. It is also important to mingle and influence – everybody in your company is having online conversations so you might as well be part of them. There is a real element of “listen and learn”, and we have a wonderful opportunity to understand our customers in a way we never have before.
As well as these professional and business benefits, CEOs can benefit in a personal way in the same way many other people do, by connecting with others who have similar interests right around the world, whether it be sport, causes, or any other passion that falls outside a purely personal or business context.
ceoforum.com.au: Some CEOs might like to get involved with social media, but are unsure how to begin. How did you approach this task?
MB: Simply diving into social media entails a lot of risks. Before I began, I asked a few basic questions such as who my audience was, and what I was trying to achieve. I wanted to put a bit of a strategy around how I was going to engage.
The first step is to decide what media you want to engage with. I thought about my engagement in terms of four areas, which reflected the four main tools – Blogging, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter – all of which I use. I use Facebook almost entirely for personal purposes, and restrict access to it to people I know.
I also have a public Twitter which is mainly business orientated, but does have some personal content. LinkedIn is the tool I use most in a professional capacity – I have about 600 connections in that, and it is a wonderful way of connecting with people all around the world who have similar business interests. I have a regular internal CEO blog that is restricted to staff where I discuss things that are going on inside the company, and a business oriented public profile blog.
Once you have decided what media to engage with, you then need to ask yourself how active you want, or need, to be in each medium. I blog once a week within Hagemeyer, tweet 2 to 5 times a day, and am on Facebook 2–5 times a week. Linkedin is purely business for me so if something specific happens of a reasonable magnitude I will post it on there, which might be only a couple of times a month.
You also need to get set up to easily access your social media. I have it set up on my iPad, my Blackberry, and my home desktop. Automation is also useful. I use SocialOomph which takes a feeds from my blogs and automatically posts it on a Facebook group, and Twitter. I really recommend Tweetdeck, a tool that allows you to arrange all your social media feeds on a single page so when you make a comment you can click on where you want to post it. You can also see all your mentions, all your direct messages, and everything else that is going on.
Once again it takes a little while to set this all up but once you have, the main job is done and the productivity that you can get out of these tools is enormous.
ceoforum.com.au: How have you using social media in the company?
MB: I got involved with Hagemeyer just over a year ago. It was then a fairly traditional kind of company, so introducing social media was an interesting exercise. When I arrived nobody was allowed to go onto Facebook at work and everything was really locked down, but I would much rather deal with the ensuing chaos that comes from giving people a bit more freedom and the few individuals who might take advantage of that rather than dumb down the whole organisation by barring all access.
We are now using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter around some of the brands and are redoing our web site. Social media is also playing an important part in our marketing activities, such as brand launches. We have also introduced Yammer, an internal collaboration tool that is very simple to use, highly intuitive, and a great way for teams to communicate with each other and keep track of what is happening. We have just appointed Ruby Rose as brand ambassador for JVC (Editor’s note: JVC is one of Hagemeyer’s brands). We will be using her online presence to promote the JVC brand and arrange a new concept “pop up festival” based on a JVC bus called “Bustival”.
ceoforum.com.au: What organisational benefits have you gained from introducing social media?
MB: The group interactions and freedom were part of the cultural change and of bringing a more contemporary feel to the business. We also have a rolling 90 day strategic planning process based on ten goals which are online, and people can blog against the different milestones so in this way there is an internal contribution from staff around our strategic outcomes. So we have captured social media in a number of ways, starting at entry level to make it part of the way we work.
ceoforum.com.au: What did you find most useful to getting social media tools used within the company (or did people take to them easily)?
MB: The younger people took it as a sign of understanding and it helped open up communication in the business. The more senior staff, who were less familiar, were a bit more sceptical, but I am endeavouring to demonstrate the behaviour, rather than impose a new way of communicating.
ceoforum.com.au: Is there anything that, with 20/20 hindsight, you would do differently, either in your own personal use of social media and how you introduced it into the company?
MB: I would speed up the social media component of the brand profiles. It takes a while to implement and embed and we still have a long way to go.
The automation tools and separation of different media for different audiences has taken a long time to work out and was a bit of a learning curve.
The best way to learn the importance of social media is to jump in, but have a plan, understand what you want to achieve, but do jump in!
ceoforum.com.au: Do you see any downsides to using social media within, and outside the company?
MB: In the same way same you shouldn’t drink and drive, nor should you “Tipple and Tweet”, or “Tweet Angry” because you can do a lot of damage. Once you post something it is out there and that is it. Anybody can read anything you have written, any time and you can’t get it back so the thought process about what you want to communicate is critical.
Confidentiality and protecting IP is a really interesting question, and one that we are still working through. I don’t really have an answer for this, but I am very aware of it. I become less and less concerned about people knowing what we do and how we do it, and there are probably only a few really key things around intellectual property that we have to contain. I am coming to the conclusion that it is better to have an open environment with a lot of communication, and deal with the relatively small amount of chaos that might bring with it.
ceoforum.com.au: What tips do you have for CEOs who are thinking to get involved with social media, be it for personal reasons, professional reasons, or both?
MB: The reputation and profile of you and your company, and everything associated with you, will be talked about on the internet, so you might as well be involved to at least try and shape that conversation but you can’t spend too much time on it. My goal was to be really engaged with all these forms of social media in ten minutes a day. It took a while to set everything up but now ten minutes is all it takes to get the job done.
As an overriding comment, for me the golden rule in all this is authenticity in all that you communicate, and in whatever media you use.