By Adam Woods, marketingmagazine.co.uk, Friday, 15 July 2011 10:00AM
Marketing's love affair with social media shows no signs of waning. In an era where marketers are being judged on their influence as well as the effectiveness of their campaigns, smart marketers are dedicating an increasing amount of time and effort to developing their presence on social networks.
Few marketing directors would dispute the importance of Twitter and Facebook, or the potential importance of tomorrow's as-yet-unknown phenomenon-in-waiting, and social media is climbing the generations. According to website tracking service Pingdom, last year, the average age of Facebook users was 38 and the Twitter average was 39.
However, all this doesn't necessarily mean that every high-profile marketer maintains a similarly high profile online. In fact, committed and transparent social activity among marketing directors remains reasonably rare, prompting some to wonder whether senior figures truly grasp the scale of the opportunity.
Of course, few of them fail to engage at some level. A LinkedIn profile is more or less standard issue for even the most elevated executives nowadays, with Facebook also commonly used, though typically for personal communications. It's the particularly public forum of Twitter, however, that would seem to be the acid test of engagement.
Babs Rangaiah, Unilever vice-president, global media innovation, is an enthusiastic online networker, with 2627 followers on Twitter. He tweeted a story on 26 June about how Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader are attributing scores to individuals based on the impact of their social media pronouncements.
So, if effective online networking is a measure of influence, shouldn't all senior marketers be as vocal as Rangaiah? Reasonably frequent tweeters such as former BA global marketing chief, Kerris Bright, Brother UK sales and marketing director, Phil Jones, and former Kodak chief marketing officer, Jeffrey Hayzlett, are an exception rather than a rule.
Others may be lurking or participating under a pseudonym; but is that in the proper spirit? Ross Taylor, chief digital officer at integrated communications agency TMW, thinks not.
'Any marketing director must understand the potential impact of social media on marketing, communications, the way they structure their organisation, the way they listen to their customers, and their prospects,' he says.
'If you have a marketing director who has 42 connections on LinkedIn, doesn't blog, doesn't tweet, and keeps his Facebook private, you have to ask, well, does he get it?'
Robin Grant, managing director of social media agency We Are Social, takes a similar line, though he believes the limited public statements of marketing directors online may not be reflective of their familiarity with social media.
'Social media is part of today's marketing environment, and I think it is hard for marketing directors to make judgements about budget allocation and the merits of various campaigns without some experience themselves,' he says.
'But I think there are a lot of marketing directors who use these networks from a consumption point of view. That is the pattern of consumer use as well - most people do a lot more consuming of social media than contributing to it.'
There is no doubt that, until recently, only the most digitally connected of senior marketers would have felt any social network to be worth much of their time, never mind their budget.
'It wasn't long ago that most marketing directors assumed Twitter was for a geeky few,' says James Kirkham, co-owner and managing director of digital strategy agency Holler. 'Same with Facebook; same with any emerging social platforms.'
Even now, he adds, many marketers hold to the belief that social networks are populated largely by inane teenagers. However, as Kirkham points out, that picture doesn't take account, for instance, of the many women who are known to enjoy multiplayer games online. 'It's those kind of stats that are utterly surprising to a lot of marketing directors,' he notes.
The rise of the 'social web' is far from complete, and in the future, the ongoing arc of social media will likely be traced by applications and networks that don't yet exist. However, it has undoubtedly attracted many brand marketers, if not necessarily the most senior ones.
'The digital teams and brand managers get it, and they are excited about it,' says Taylor. 'But part of the work I always have to do is take the senior management team on an educational journey to convince them these things are a worthwhile way to spend money.'
Aviva chief marketing officer Amanda Mackenzie is the only marketer in the top 20 of Marketing's Power 100 who can readily be found sharing her thoughts through Twitter. She tweets because she believes her job requires it, though she passes no judgement on those who don't.
'I think everyone has to do what is right for their market or product or consumer,' says Mackenzie. 'If their consumers are doing this stuff and being influenced by it, then you need to be learning about it yourself. But you don't necessarily need to learn by doing it; you can learn by being told what's happening.'
It is perhaps understandable that senior staff in PR-conscious public companies might rather steer clear of the opportunity to chatter candidly in public.
Brother's Phil Jones, a committed user of LinkedIn and Twitter and a blogger, confirms that he sees few of his contemporaries doing the same, but he believes they shouldn't be scared.
'Of course, there are always risks, but you just have to have guidelines in place,' he says. 'I have a piece of paper on my desk that says things like: "remember who is following me", "quality not quantity" and "make them relevant". Provided you have basic guidelines and your head screwed on, you are not going to score any major own goals.'
If the full spread of social media might seem like an intimidating and time-consuming tangle for neophytes, a common theme among those who do partake is just how little of their time it swallows up.
'All of this stuff is free, and it's all very quick to set up,' says First Direct head of marketing and HSBC head of direct marketing Paul Say, who embraces all the social media he can get his hands on and ties it together with the microblogging platform Tumblr. 'That is great for joining it all up and helping to choose which social groups you want to talk to.'
In a socially connected digital climate, there is something social media can do for just about anyone, whether it's keeping in touch with family or helping you find a job. However, Kirkham understands that senior marketing professionals may never be the most visible social media characters.
'Marketing directors are incredibly busy people,' he says. 'I don't think they need to be hammering it all day long. I'm sure there are people who are crowbarred onto it, poor things, because their establishment insists on it. That's not really in anyone's interests.'
Kerris Bright, former head of global marketing, British Airways
Philip Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide product marketing, Apple
Phil Jones, sales and marketing director, Brother UK
Babs Rangaiah, vice-president, global media innovation, Unilever
Amanda Mackenzie, chief marketing officer, Aviva
Obi Felten, head of consumer marketing, Google EMEA
Randi Zuckerberg, marketing director, Facebook
Bonin Bough, director of digital and social media, PepsiCo
Paul Say, head of marketing, First Direct, head of direct marketing, HSBC
Sarah Owen, head of marketing, Channel 4
I don't use Facebook, but I use LinkedIn regularly.
The three platforms that dominate my life are LinkedIn, Twitter and WordPress, because I have two Twitter streams and I write blogs on business and cycling.
People totally under-estimate what a tool like LinkedIn is capable of.
As a business, we use it to run closed community groups, and I use it personally to enhance my network and create opportunities. I also use it to recruit staff. I am recruiting for a position at the moment, and I have set up nine interviews without ever involving a recruitment consultant.
Another use for LinkedIn is to track competitors. By acting like the CIA, it is amazing what you can uncover about people that you know.
I reckon I can guess immediately when someone is about to hand in their resignation, just by seeing who is connecting with whom.
Do I enjoy Twitter? I'm not sure. I think I'm too busy learning about it. I started because I wanted to learn, and the simplest way to learn is to have a go.
The thing about social media is that it is experimental, to some extent, for everybody. I try to do something every day, but only if something moves me. I'm not going to write rubbish.
It wouldn't be my natural state of grace to be tweeting, but the fact is, it's clearly happening a lot around us. From a reputation management point of view, it is vital, because things could be being said about your company that are not what you would hope to hear. Also, more of our people are willing to get on there, take those tweets onto email, and help solve those customer problems.
I am on Facebook, but very much for personal use. I think I would be quite hard to find, although a customer did send a problem to my Facebook inbox. I replied and said that this is actually my home space, but here is my email, and I was chuffed that we were able to help her out.
Facebook works for me because it has a mass appeal; there are enough of my friends on there to make it a viable one-stop shop. The introduction of external email in the messaging centre of Facebook means that the owners are clearly well aware of its potential ability to make non-social email redundant.
On the other hand, the scale of Facebook has led me, like many others, to adopt LinkedIn as a way of separating work and play. That's another platform that stands up as a viable portable contacts book only if enough people adopt it.
I do have a fair number of friends who have rejected Facebook, not least my girlfriend.
I understand their privacy concerns, but then they sneak on to other people's accounts to see what's going on. It has clearly captured a particular fascination.
I think it's going to be interesting to see how Facebook's vision of the social internet unfolds, and if it is significantly deflected by public distaste for the behaviourally adaptive web experience.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk