social employeesAs we think about social media, social business and social employees, how will great companies use their employees to get ahead in the Future of Marketing?

In our previous interviews, we’ve discussed the future of Digital MarketingPersonal BrandingContent BrandsCustomer BrandsCreativityBig DataCustomer ExperienceThought Leadership, the Future of Search, the Science of Marketing and many more…

Today’s interview is with Cheryl Burgess (@ckburgess) who along with her husband  Mark Burgess (@mnburgess), has co-founded Blue Focus Marketing, and are also about to release their book on Social Employees . . .

Tell us: who is Cheryl Burgess?

Cheryl burgess on social employeesLet’s start with the future.  I am the co-author of the forthcoming book The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work – Success Lessons from IBM, AT&T, Dell, Cisco, Adobe, Southwest Airlines, Acxiom, and Domo, due in late summer 2013 via McGraw-Hill.  Blue Focus Marketing co-founder Mark Burgess and I wrote this book after we realized that the current discussion on social business and social branding was heavy on rhetoric and prognostication but alarmingly light on actual real-world examples for other businesses to follow.  While many other books have written on either social business or social branding, few combined these topics to explore the real-world success stories of major brands.

Blue Focus Marketing is a social branding consultancy that helps brands become social.  We provide education, training and strategic marketing services including employee branding, content marketing and integrated marketing (what we call Brand Choreography) to drive brand value.  We help unlock the power of Social Employee Empowerment (SEE) or as we call it our blueSEE approach to building your brand from the inside out.

In 2012, Blue Focus Marketing won Marketing Sherpa’s Reader’s Choice Award for “Best Social Media Marketing Blog.”  I am also the four-time winner of the Twitter Shorty Award in Marketing, and have been recognized by Fast Company and Huffington Post for my contributions to the social business, social branding, and marketing community.  Recently I contributed to Wharton’s Future of Advertising 2020 Project, where I was asked to examine current trends in the marketplace and project them into the future.  I also post regularly for the AT&T Networking and Exchange Blog as an external expert blogger.

Tell me about a tough or interesting challenge you/your team faces

The biggest challenge many marketers face today is how to engage and empower their employees to ignite their brands and drive brand value.  This is quite a sizable challenge, but for the brands willing to rise to the task, the rewards are equally great.

Today’s businesses need to understand that social technologies aren’t barriers to productivity, but portals to connectivity.  To do this, brands need to expand their definition of social media to include the many innovative enterprise systems—such as Salesforce’s Chatter or IBM’s Connections—and learn to harness those platforms to improve internal communication.  If a company can do this, it will have taken the first step in a process of building a culture of social employees.

How are you approaching that challenge and what results or achievements has that approach helped you to gain?

The current challenge facing businesses today is this: you can’t communicate externally unless you communicate internally.  Sounds simple, right?  But, unfortunately, business culture over the last 30 years (or even longer) has tended to prize cutthroat competitiveness and information hoarding as workers attempted to climb over each other in order to get to the top.

So how do we change this?  How do we build cultures where transparent internal communication and information sharing is prized above all else?

Real culture change must come from all levels of the organization, but it must be driven and modeled by the executives in the C-Suite.  Successful organizations in the new business climate have dynamic, engaging social executives who know exactly how to fuel and empower their employees and show them what it means to be social.  Executives must understand that “do as I say, not as I do” won’t cut it among today’s workers.  If they expect their employees to adopt new social habits, they must lead the way and model those habits first.

Of course, modeling good behaviors alone won’t be enough.  Brands must also empower their employees by not only providing them with the tools they need to thrive, but also by giving them the necessary training to really get how social technology affects business practices.  As Michael Brenner points out in my book, The Social Employee, these kinds of oversight and programs may require new champions of change within the organization.  Many companies are introducing new job roles such as Chief Content Officer or Social Business Manager to help coordinate social activities throughout the enterprise.  With proper training through an incentivized, challenging rewards system, employees will feel empowered to change their own destinies.

One of the brands that really gets it, and which we describe in The Social Employee, is Adobe.  Through the company’s Center of Excellence and the skillful leadership of Social Media Director Maria Poveromo, Adobe has implemented a system of “guardrails,” which it uses to help guide—but never dictate—the way employees conduct themselves through social media channels, whether externally or internally.  Adobe invests in the social success of its employees from the beginning, and in so doing has been able to build a thriving culture of workers who are perfectly positioned to adapt to the constantly changing business landscape.

All of this leads to a culture of empowerment.  As we explain in our book, the social employee must have the tools, training, and confidence necessary to act as brand ambassadors on behalf of their company.  If employees are made to second-guess their actions, or if they feel that everything they do must first be approved by a higher-up, then the company as a whole will become a lumbering, inefficient dinosaur in an era where customers expect quick, human responses to their inquiries.  Put your employees in the driver’s seat, give them the freedom to act on your brand’s behalf, and reap the benefits of the social employee.

Prediction for the Future of Marketing

The marketers that will win in the future are the ones who are laying the foundation today.  The question for many, however, is how they can properly lay that foundation in a time when rapid change seems to be the only constant.  Instead of trying to define exactly what the future might look like in terms of tools and toys, and instead of trying to pinpoint which trends will have legs and which ones will prove to be fads, marketers and brands must prepare for the one true inevitability: disruption.

As we explain in The Social Employee, the only thing we can rely on in today’s dynamic landscape is change.  The wonderful thing about change is that it’s disruptive.  It forces us to challenge our fundamental assumptions and ask how we can better engage our consumer base.  If your marketing strategy is not built around the idea of disruption, then every time the landscape changes your firm will be scrambling to catch up.

However, if you’re a champion of change then your firm will drive disruptive innovation.  You’ll barely flinch when the marketing environment changes because you will have built change directly into your business model.

And this is why firms must start planning today, so that they’ll never be caught napping in the futures.  The potential rewards are great, but marketers must have a plan in place in order to maximize their opportunities and minimize the risks.

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Now it’s your turn: Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

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About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Vice President of Global Marketing for SAP where he leads content strategy and serves as the managing editor of the company’s award-winning Business Innovation thought leadership blog site. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

11 Comments

  1. Shannon Lutz said…

    Great post! I love the bit about “do as I say, not as I do” just not cutting it anymore. I couldn’t agree more with many of your points. If you want to build a truly engaged community you first need to start internally and make sure everyone is being a brand ambassador for the greater good of the companies social rep.

  2. Elizabeth said…

    Cheryl – thanks for your article. It’s great to see that you call out some great Jive customers above – Adobe, Cisco and McGraw-Hill – who have been leading the way in transforming their teams and driving real business value with social business technology. However, I think we all need to be aligned on how we’re defining “social business” as it’s getting conflated with “enterprise social networks” and “social marketing”, which I believe is inherently flawed. Nilofer Merchant gets closer when she defines “social business 2.0″ in her article – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/02/what_we_talk_about_when_we_tal.html; however, I think we need to be really crisp when speaking within marketing to make the distinction amongst social media, social marketing and social business. Social business is really about a strategic focus and leveraging social tools to align internal employees, agencies, vendors and ultimately customers and partners. Whereas social media and social marketing are tactical and communication channels. As McKinsey Global Institute argues, there’s $900B-$1.3T of value to unlock using social business technology, so let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to definitions. We don’t want to sell this opportunity short.

    • Hi Elizabeth

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for an excellent response!

      The social business space has its share of buzzwords. We do risk confusing the marketplace by not clearly defining the terms. Great point about importance of gaining alignment across employees, vendors, agencies, etc. Agree the opportunity is significant ($900B to $1.3T) so we need to be up to the challenge.

      Cheers,

      Cheryl

  3. Javier von Westphalen said…

    Great post Cheryl and congratulations on your upcoming book. Love the your quote “social technologies aren’t barriers to productivity, but portals to connectivity”. The way Maketing is changing require us to think in term of a continuos dialogue internally and externally vs a promotional flight. You pinpoint ways to address this implementation challenge. Looking forward to your book.

  4. Juan said…

    I’m curious how you think this can apply to political campaigns. If we view them as finite start-ups I think this could be a great help.

  5. Goran Maric said…

    Today people are so addicted to social media networks and that is why I think that social media marketing will only be even more popular then now! That is the real future! :)

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