Nov 09, 2020

Collaborate for Social Strategy Success

Julie Atherton photo

byJulie Atherton

Posted on Nov 09, 2020

You've created a fabulous social media strategy for your business or client - how do you get buy-in for your ideas and business processes to make them actually happen and get social media success?  In this podcast episode, host Will Francis chats with Social Media expert Julie Atherton on how collaborating with others is the key to social strategy implementation. 

Julie is the author of the book Social Media Strategy, an excellent resource covering all aspects of social media in clear form. Podcast listeners can avail of a special discount code for the book, listen to the end and you'll hear her share it! 

" There are a lot of ways that we can challenge what we mean by success. And if we don't challenge it at the outset of strategy creation, what happens is you finish the project and everyone goes, "Well, I don't even know why we're doing that. And no, that wasn't really what I wanted to get out of it." So, even though you've hit every metric, nobody's happy because it wasn't really what was wanted. "
- Julie Atherton


Collaborate for Social Media Success Transcript

Will: [00:00:00] Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute, giving you insights from industry experts to supercharge your marketing skills. Today, it's the modern mindset where we explore those soft skills that are so vital to develop in your career. And this episode is all about strategy implementation through co-collaboration. In other words, making your marketing strategy actually work for your organization or your clients. I'm Will Francis, and today I'm talking to [00:00:30] Julie Atherton, a digital marketer with 30 years of experience working with global brands including Nissan, AXA, Deloitte, ASOS, and many more. Julie's book, "Social Media Strategy: A Practical Guide to Social Media Marketing and Customer Engagement", was published in 2019 and it's widely referred to by industry and academia alike. So, having literally wrote the book on the subject, I'm looking to learn how we can implement a social media strategy successfully. Julie, [00:01:00] welcome back to the podcast.

Julie: Hi. Really great to be here. Thanks for asking me.

Will: Oh, it's great. Good to have you on. And this is a really important subject that I know our listeners will, if they work in marketing already, will struggle with and if they don't work in marketing yet, well, they're going to struggle with. So, we talked on a previous episode about creating a social media strategy. And I can say from my experience that in reality, the implementation, that's where [00:01:30] the bigger challenge lies, you know. So, particularly with a client, that process can be a minefield and it can leave you with that sinking feeling that all your hard work creating a social media strategy might not ultimately reach its potential. So, later, we'll get into the details of how our listeners can drive better implementation, hopefully giving them lots of tips from our hard-won experience. But first of all, I'd love to hear your thoughts, just generally on the challenge of implementation. [00:02:00]

Julie: Yeah. So, I think one of the biggest challenge I think for an organization in implementing any strategy is often, there is a lack of understanding on exactly what that strategy is trying to do and how those objectives will be measured. And I think that's because often, the strategy creation process is a black box [00:02:30], and not enough people are asked to input into that and to share their experiences and ideas. And also, the strategy itself may not actually be linked to the most important objectives of the organization. Say, we're doing a social media strategy. If a social media strategy is created in isolation within a social media team, it may not integrate effectively [00:03:00] with the rest of the business, businesses' marketing strategy in the way that it needs to, and it may not be clear how that social media strategy is impacting on the core organizational objectives. So, if an organization is trying to increase market share or drive, you know, lifetime value, long-term lifetime value, or [00:03:30] increase sales, and a social media strategy's been created to increase the number of followers and improve engagement, there's no comprehension in the business about what that social media strategy is trying to do or achieve. And therefore, nobody really understands what it's doing and why.

Will: Why does it sometimes seem hard once you think all the hard work's done because you've created this strategy that makes total sense and then you try and implement it with a client or within your [00:04:00] organization and you find out that actually, there's various levels of resistance around the business to it and there's various reasons why the strategy just doesn't quite fit in. It doesn't quite screw on to all the other moving parts of the machine. Why is that?

Julie: So, the reason I think for that is I think that we often aren't very clear about who owns what in terms of that strategy [00:04:30] delivery. So, who's the owner? Who's the person who's actually going to be responsible for executing it and what actually are we going to prioritize? You know, what are the important bits that we have to do, and what are the bits that are the nice to haves that have alongside that? And so, I think what we need to be clear about when we're implementing a strategy is our own personal impact on that [00:05:00] as individuals within the organization and where we've got control to use our own personal judgment and where we haven't so that if we're clear about what the goals are, if we've got a very good roadmap, and we've got clear roles and responsibilities, then actually, when I'm executing that strategy, I will feel confident enough to interpret that and flex that in the moment to make it work better.

If I don't [00:05:30] understand that strategy, I don't know what my role is and I don't know where my responsibilities lie, then I will either do things so mechanically. And so, you know, step one, step two, step three that there's no imagination and I won't be taking advantage of the opportunities or I'll just won't have the buy-in, the enthusiasm, or the interest in making it work. And it will just be done in a very [00:06:00] half-hearted way. And so, when I get pushback from department A or department B, I won't really understand how to be able to explain to them what the positive benefits are and to actually push that through. So, I think that's my challenge really. I think people just don't own it. I don't feel like it's theirs.

Will: You mean the people trying to implement it or the people that it's being presented to in the business? They just feel like it's been foisted upon them and they don't really feel [00:06:30] like they were ever a part of creating that and they don't really feel like it's theirs to be, you know, gotten behind, bought into.

Julie: Well, generally, there's a hierarchy, isn't it? So, the person who's writing the strategy or signing off that strategy is generally more senior within the organization. And if we do all of the work at that level, they might not know anything about how to actually execute and, you know, write the content, [00:07:00] what the challenges are with doing things that's, you know, they might not actually understand the complexities of delivery to the detailed level that the person who's implementing that strategy does. And so, if we don't involve the person who's implementing it as well as the person who's writing or signing off that strategy, then when it comes to delivery, the problems of implementation arrive at the delivery stage, rather than being baked in as part of the creation [00:07:30] of that strategy stage. So, if you involve a wider spectrum of people in that creation, you actually are creating a strategy that's executable with the resources that you have, and that's bought into by the people who are going to execute it, rather than it just being done at that more senior level.

Will: Yeah.

Julie: I suppose that's the challenge I think is that, you know, there's a disconnect between delivery and [00:08:00] the person signing it off. And that's within the marketing team, but also goes across the organization because if you're writing a marketing or social strategy, it doesn't just affect the marketing team. It affects the sales team. It affects the customer service team. It affects the product development team. So, actually, if you were to include a wider spectrum across the organization as well in creating that strategy, [00:08:30] you would, by definition, create a strategy that's more easily implementable because some of the problems in implementation will have been identified in that discussion initially. But also, you're probably gonna create a better strategy because you'll get ideas from those people that will input into the strategy, which will make it more creative and more relevant.

Will: Yeah. I mean, it feels [00:09:00] like we're saying that the architects need to talk to the bricklayers as they're drawing up their plans is essentially, kind of, what we're saying. I think that's true. I mean, I think where I've struggled with that, I mean, one of the first pieces of strategy work I did was for a national newspaper in the UK and went in as the consultants and was hired by the head of digital who was quite new and I think people were just getting used to him being around. Then he brings in these kind of social strategists, [00:09:30] me and my business partner, and we start creating strategy and we wanted to put social at the heart of everything they did, their monetization efforts, their journalism reporting, content. And, you know, so, it did bleed into all areas of the business.

And whilst I think, you know, I think it went well in the end, there was an awful lot of winning over of skeptical people to do there that we weren't some, sort of, flash in the pan, you know, fad sellers [00:10:00] who just, sort of, you know, got on our mate to pay us some money to bring us in kind of thing. And I think that's something, a pattern that I've seen repeat, again and again, is that there's just a lot of winning over people to get them to understand that this, you know, this is something we're gonna have to put at the heart of your business, and it's not gonna necessarily show you up or, you know, show you up as being stupid, or old fashioned, or a dinosaur. It's gonna help you and it's gonna be something that's quite fun and exciting and creative, [00:10:30] and there'll be creative opportunities for you. And it's giving people that sense, isn't it? Because otherwise, it's just something that's foisted upon them that pushing a dinner that they don't wanna eat and they don't even know what's in it at them, you know.

Julie: I think as well. I think it's a really good point that you've made there because in social media, I think that's even more dangerous. And the reason it's more difficult is because there's a lot of fear of the unknown. So, many people, [00:11:00] yeah, they might have their own, like, Facebook or Instagram account that, you know, and go on YouTube and stuff in their personal lives, but as soon as they are being expected to do it from a work perspective, they become very, very anxious about how to behave, and what to write, and what they can and cannot do. And if they're not confident in social and then they're being asked to do it from a work point of view to execute that strategy. [00:11:30]

So, typical example would be a sales force. So, you know, a lot of sales forces are really brilliant at face-to-face networking, using the phone, you know, maybe they use email as part of their armory, but they've got this kind of whole, sort of, sales process they're really, really confident with. And then if you say to them, "Well, actually, LinkedIn is a fantastic addition to that armory if you are sales toolkit," they're like, [00:12:00] "Oh, well, no, I don't think LinkedIn is the right place to be making sales," or they feel very un-confident in that area because they don't know how to behave in that environment. And so, what we've got to give them is not only the strategy itself but the confidence and the toolkit to be able to use that, to deliver that strategy and recognize where that experience isn't, you know, expertise isn't there.

So, when... [00:12:30] I was part of a digital agency and we actually created our own social media strategy for the agency for our B2B purposes. And we did that with a variety of staff across the business. It allowed as a, sort of, learning opportunity. And when we got to the point where we want to execute it, we realized that it needed the senior management team and the board to be able to use LinkedIn effectively. [00:13:00] And we found there was only probably three members of that team who were currently using LinkedIn effectively. There were lots of people who were on it but they weren't using it in the way that we needed them to use it. So, we had to go through a training process, you know, optimizing their profiles, teaching them the kinda techniques that we wanted them to use, and providing them with the right kind of content that would enable them to be effective people within the LinkedIn environment for our business [00:13:30] rather than just being on LinkedIn for their own purposes and, you know, chatting to some of their friends that they knew there.

Will: Yeah. Now, I get that. Okay. So, let's say our listeners have created their social media strategy. They've been tasked with that either internally in the business they work in, or for a client that they're working for. So, they've got this gorgeous 100-page PowerPoint presentation, supporting documentation, the works. Have you got any [00:14:00] tips on how someone can go about successfully, kinda, getting buy-in for the ideas, the processes that they want to introduce to that business, and ultimately, implement for social media success?

Julie: So, first of all, I would recommend that you don't have a 100-page document.

Will: That's where I've been going wrong.

Julie: So, I normally, I would say maximum 20 PowerPoint slides with not much on [00:14:30] them. So, that would be how... I think you need something very short, and clear, and succinct, which delivers exactly what you need to do. So, these are our objectives, this is how we're gonna measure it, this is the insight we've got, our audience, you know, how are we gonna position ourselves, and this is a laydown plan. So, you know, very, very simple. I think is what I would go with because people get very confused if there's too much information. [00:15:00] And I think my key thing is what and where are the inputs that went in there in the beginning. And so, when you're creating that strategy, try and cast that web, that net widely. So, try and involve people from across the organization, customers and people within the team that are going to execute it, and be clear about what their role is. They're not writing a [00:15:30] strategy, but you want to make sure that their voice is heard and is used in that strategy. And there's lots of great techniques, seven questions, for example, that enable you to get that, to capture those insights in that voice. And then, you know, you'll use all your other tools that you're gonna use to create strategy.

But I think if you've demonstrated that that's been done and you play back how you've used that, you are much more [00:16:00] likely to get some buy-in across the business for delivery. And then as I say, make sure people have the skills and the confidence that they can deliver it and give them an opportunity to voice where they think they may need support in that and put that in place in some form or other. So, that would be my core recommendations. I think if you then empower people to then [00:16:30] deliver that with the support, they surprise you in their ability to do it better than you had to and rather than what we're talking about, which is so often, we feel disappointed that they haven't done it as well as we imagined. And I think that's been my core learning I think over years. I mean, that's my skill set. You know, I'm a strategist. So, I've done it badly. I've done it [00:17:00] brilliantly I hope, but you know, you probably learn more from the ones that didn't go so well than you learn from the ones that went really, really well. And I think it is about that, you know, when I work with my clients, I only really work in this co-creation way. And part of the delivery is this touchpoint afterwards to [00:17:30] ensure people feel they've got that support in the execution. So, they've got someone they can go to, and talk to, and just ask while they're doing that execution, as well as being involved in the creation.

Will: It's as much your job to guide a client to finding the answers. You know, it's not just your job to provide all the answers and all the what to do. It's partly about guiding the client there as well and getting them to be part of that because they will, like you say, they will find things [00:18:00] and they will come up with things creatively that are better than you could have done.

Julie: And they know their business. They know their brand. They know the other competing challenges they have within their organization for people's time, and effort, and energy. So, I spent the first part of my career actually working client-side for a global publisher. And so, I, kind of, remember that, you know, it was when you were in an agency environment or a consultancy environment, it's very easy to think that the work [00:18:30] that you're doing is the most important thing that's happening in their day. And actually, it's probably the least important thing that's happening in their day. And, you know, they've got all these other challenges within the organization that you will not really know. You know, you can ask, you can ask, you can get a feel for what the politics are, you can, you know, read all the documents, you can go to meetings about the, you know, about what their overarching vision is and all those kind of things, read their brand guidelines, [00:19:00] but you're not in their business.

And the advantage of you not being in their business is you can think laterally, think differently, bring a challenge and a different perspective and a fresh outlook and hold a mirror for them to really interrogate what they're trying to do. So, you bring huge advantages, but if you don't let them bring their knowledge, experience, understanding, and [00:19:30] uncertainties into that process, into that strategy development process, then when they have to execute it, all of those things come out at that stage. And that's too late because you could have taken those into consideration in the strategy creation itself.

Will: Yeah. That's very true. I think, you know, some extra elements I've noticed from my experience. I don't know if it's just me. I think there's a big human element too. I think part of it for me has been making sure [00:20:00] I get in front of people that are gonna be involved, get them to know me, and get them to, you know, get beyond me just being some person who emails them or, you know, be some remote entity because by getting in front of people and talking to people, they just get to like you. And I think that's really important. And I think that the more that you get you yourself, your ideas, and your strategy in front of people together, the more they can get behind it because they want to be part of what you're doing because they trust you and they feel like they know that your intentions are good because [00:20:30] they've looked you in the eye and chatted to you and in some cases, perhaps even been for a drink in the pub with you, whatever, you know, and whatever, however, you feel it's appropriate.

I mean, what I've found as well when you go into create a social media strategy, one of the initial phases is, kind of, an audit phase. And I see fear. I see a lot of fear when you go into particularly a client. So, they're all new people and they're seeing you, and you're talking about you're gonna audit their social. And you see the fear that they're gonna be pulled up on why they haven't been doing things as optimally [00:21:00] as possible. And you have to reassure people that that's okay. That's why we're here. You've been too busy to do things as optimally as possible and no one's gonna be pulled up or made to look stupid. We're just here to help improve what you're doing and bring that external perspective and bring external skills and lift everyone up actually, and not bring anyone down.

Julie: I co-agree with that enough actually. So, I don't actually call it an audit phase because I think the word audit has a... [00:21:30] it sounds like you're being marked, you know, and assessed. So, I call it insight and immersion, which is about how do we drive insight from what's been happening today and how do we really immerse ourselves in what your priorities and your challenges are and who you are as a brand and who your customers are and all of those kind of things. So, I think sometimes we just need to think about exactly what you're saying [00:22:00] what language do we use to talk about what we're doing and how do we make sure, exactly as you said, that we're really approachable and people feel like they can tell us any, you know, the things that might not be great to hear, but if they felt that they can trust us, you know, I used to run quite large planning and strategy teams. Planners and strategists are kind of egomaniacs a lot of the time and they think they really are the cleverest person in the room.

And, you know, [00:22:30] one of the things that's really important for them is to how do they become more humble? How do they make sure they really listening, actively listening to consumers, customers, prospects? How are they actively listening to the client, the business, to the, you know, where are they really making sure not only they've got the most brilliant ideas, but actually that those brilliant ideas and strategies are executable within the confines and constructs of the business [00:23:00] they're working with? And if you can't do the latter of those, then it doesn't matter how great that strategy is. It's never gonna work or be done in the way that you imagined and everyone will just end up feeling frustrated.

Will: Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast. We've used the word strategy probably a hundred times in the last half hour. It is a thing. It's an actual thing. And a lot of people are still a bit in the dark as to what it actually is. I mean, what do you think as a way that you can explain in an audio podcast without visuals, [00:24:00] what do you think is a good format for a strategy to take, you know, specifically in terms of documentation structure presentation?

Julie: So, yeah. So, as I say, ultimately, you will do loads and loads of work to come up with the final strategy. There'll be lots of reading, and research, and background work that's done. But importantly, I think you, you need to be able to condense that down into the key elements [00:24:30] and keep it quite short, and succinct, and evidenced, but, you know, as to why you think it is what it is, the strategy is what it is. So, I would say, you know, probably 20 slides, PowerPoint slides would be a good way to demonstrate that strategy because by its very nature, rather than it being a Word document, it [00:25:00] makes it be more succinct because you're bullet pointing what you're trying to do, and you're keeping it quite short, and some sort of visuals that are within there are usually good to help with that.

And then I would break it down, you know, what are the objectives? How are we going to measure this? Over what time period is it going to happen? And what are the insights that created a strategy from an audience perspective, from a brand perspective, you know, [00:25:30] where and what are the key insights that have generated that, and then how are we going to execute that? So, you know, what is the positioning that we're gonna take and the campaigns that we're gonna run? So, I think that would be for me because what a strategy is is a roadmap. It's saying we're currently here and we need to get to here and these are the elements that we need to do. This is what we need to do in order to get there and this is why I've chosen [00:26:00] these things. And that why is really important. So, that's the insights, the reasons why you're doing it, those insights that you've driven out.

Will: Yeah. And I think that the pressure to simplify it for me is driven by the fact that I learned early on that no one goes back and looks at this stuff. Almost no one anyway. You know, no one, kind of, has a quiet lunch hour and thinks, "I might go and have a breeze through that social media strategy that the guys presented last week." So, I think it's really important to understand [00:26:30] that and make what you say easily memorable. Even using mnemonics in, you know, certain situations. I mean, one example is that, you know, in social strategies before where I've outlined tone of voice for a brand, one thing I've done is encapsulated that as a well-known celebrity. You know, we've done all this huge amount of work, and brainstorming, and keywords on whiteboards. But ultimately, people won't remember that. They won't remember all these statements do's and don'ts. They may not know and ever go and look at them. [00:27:00] So, it's easy to boil it down and go, "You sound like someone like Graham Norton in the U.K. or Jay Leno in the U.S. or something," and then people go, "Okay, yeah, I get that. I get how witty I should be. I get how human and conversational I should be. I get what my next tweet should sound like and what have you." And that's just one example, but I think that unless it's memorable, it's unlikely that people are gonna go back and review this stuff. So, succinctness is so important.

Julie: Yeah. And I think [00:27:30] when we're trying to create, you know, brand guidelines are a great, you know, you're talking about tone of voice, but, you know, we think about brand guidelines, which would include that tone of voice. You know, in social, often we are flexing how we normally behave as a brand because of those different environments that we're in. So, when we get to execution, you know, on LinkedIn and on Twitter, we will have a slightly different tone of voice because of the environment [00:28:00] that we're in. You don't speak in the same way, you don't, you know, the formality is slightly different versus informality. So, actually, some of these challenges that people aren't sure about how they should behave in these channels, we need to flesh that out. We need to talk about, well, why would you, you know, rather than it just being a written down list, actually, you ask people to explore, you know, well, why would they be different in that space or should they be different in that space? [00:28:30] And then they can, kind of, understand it then. They kind of feel it rather than exactly in the way they say about the celebrity. You then feel what the execution needs to be, not just know what the execution needs to be.

And I think that, you know, that clarity and that simplification is really important at every stage because you're right, people don't go back and read or... And although you might feel really clever that you've written a really long document [00:29:00] that everyone thinks, "Wow, that's amazing," actually, if it's simpler, and clearer, and shorter, and people can just get it, then it's much better. So, you know, that's why I love things like, you know, in content strategy, the Hero, Hub, Hygiene model that Google have, you know, you've got these, you've got the big idea, you've got the smaller bits, the smaller contacts that are, you know, continuously keeping that [00:29:30] momentum going and then you've got your always-on content, the hygiene content that's just there all the time that people find when they need it. So, you've broken down. You can see how you would write your strategy, making sure that you built it around those three things. You've got clarity going through the whole strategy and it's really simple and everyone can understand it. They know which bit they're working on.

Will: And following on from that, you know, so, yeah, you've got this beautifully, [00:30:00] succinct, clear strategy. To what extent should it remain flexible? When should we review it? How much can it change and flex depending on your learnings as you go?

Julie: So, I think that's really important actually that you have a built-in review and as you describe it, sort of, flexing of that strategy, but we need it to be done in a, [00:30:30] kind of, measured way. So, generally, what I would do with a social media strategy is we would set up at the beginning what our core plan is and a three-monthly cycle is generally a good place to be depending on what sector you're in and, you know, where you are in, kind of, the brand lifestyle or product lifestyle - it might change. [00:31:00] But, you know, if we use a three-month example, so, quarterly example. On a quarterly basis, I would be doing a full review of what's been going on with that strategy, looking at the core objectives, how they're meeting our business and brand objectives, how we're meeting our campaign objectives, and what are the levers that are working, you know, what types of content and things that are working that we can maneuver.

So I would be doing full review every quarter and maybe doing [00:31:30] new content ideation and putting down a top-level laydown path for the next quarter on a quarterly basis. So that's a, kind of, rolling program. But as campaigns are running, as we're executing those, there are these levers that we can pull on an hourly, daily, post-by-post basis, you know. [00:32:00] So, we should have analysts that are reviewing the core levers at least weekly to be able to maneuver and manipulate that. You know, we wouldn't send out an email campaign to 100% of our volume in one go. We would test, you know, subject line, images, time of day, day of week, you know, all of these things and then on a small volume, and then we would roll out the [00:32:30] optimum version of that to everybody.

Well, that's the same in social, you know. We need to be looking at what content's working? Is video better than images? You know, if we change our call-to-action, what effect does that have? If we, you know, if we change the day, or week, or time of day that we go out, what effect does that have? And so, although we've got objectives for each campaign, as we're executing it we should be building in [00:33:00] this flexing. But it's flexing within the parameters of making that campaign work so that we can then get to the end of that period and review the whole thing and see what we can learn from that to then build into the optimization of the next piece of activity.

Will: Yeah.

Julie: So, I think, you know, we have an annual plan, then those quarterly, sort of, enhancements based on results today, and then the individual [00:33:30] monitoring of the execution of particular campaigns. And you can only do all that if you agree right up front what your dashboards are. So, I would say three levels of dashboard. So, what are the KPIs I'm looking at a business level? So, the overall strategy, what's the impact of what I'm doing having on the overall annual strategy? Then what am I looking at as a manager level, sort of the things that are the [00:34:00] core successes of each campaign, which is really a quarterly building up to those quarterly reviews? And then what are the levers I'm pulling at an analyst level that are the daily tweaking and maneuvering to optimize the activity that I'm doing? And that's the way that I would look at execution and there'll be different owners of those three levels. And each part will feed into the other, but there should be a clear, [00:34:30] sort of, linking between them and clear accountability for each of them as well.

Will: Yes. And thinking about KPIs and objectives, how do you go about setting expectations and aligning those with the KPIs and the objectives that you set in your strategy?

Julie: On most channels, it's really, really easy to measure ROI and often for a business that becomes a core metric or measure the number of [00:35:00] leads or the number of sales. Sometimes in social, it's not as easy to do that because you have social media teams that talk about engagement and followers. And they don't really articulate very well across the rest of the business. So, I think it's really important to make sure that whatever metric you're using within, say, a social strategy that you have translated that metric’s effect [00:35:30] on the core business objectives. So, if a C-suite is talking about brand value, and brand recall, and all of these kind of things, then, you know, how does your sentiment analysis or how does your reach have an impact on those things and how are you measuring that impact so that you're part of that conversation even though you're doing it in a different way? Because it will be [00:36:00] fundamentally important to those things. But if you haven't joined those dots up, when your board-level C-suite are talking about those issues, they won't be considering the measurable impact that social has on those activities. And therefore, it's more difficult for you to get budget and all of those kinds of things for the things you need to do.

Will: Yeah. I recently saw Gary Vaynerchuk, the very famous social media marketing expert say, "Asking [00:36:30] what the ROI on social media is is like asking what the ROI on your mom is." And what he's getting at there is that there will always be some element of social media that you just cannot tie back to those business metrics. And that it is a part of your brand marketing that, you know, ultimately, every pound or minute [00:37:00] spent, every dollar or minute spent on social just can't be tracked all the way through to a business results, which is a sale.

Julie: I think it can be done in some ways though. You don't need to look at the absolute minutiae of what's going on. So, for instance, you know, if you've got a certain net promoter score, maybe - net promoter score is often a very core metric for a lot of brands that they use to determine, [00:37:30] you know, so, this is how likely somebody is to recommend you - you can track your net promoter score or your brand recall score, you know, through the standard analysis that you use to measure that across the business. And you can track that based on the level of social media activity you have alongside that and see if there's an impact or improvement when you're, you know, getting [00:38:00] positive and high engagement within social, whether those things go up or down.

So, you can see that whether there's some, you know, relationship, it may not be a direct relationship, but you can monitor whether it's a direct relationship or not. So, there are things that you can do there. There are things that you can do by identifying, you know, sometimes social can be a place which identifies problems or issues for your brand [00:38:30] that you're facing, and you wouldn't know about them to the same extent if you weren't in social. So, you take a brand like McDonald's who I think it started in Brazil, but it's around the world now. They realized that people were really unhappy with McDonald's. They made lots of disparaging comments about McDonald's saying that they put things, put beaks in their nuggets and, you know, things… where did that [00:39:00] beak come from and all this kind of stuff. So, really, really negative comments. And they found this on social. All this stuff was coming out in social media.

They said, "Oh God, there's all this negative sentiment about us as a brand and we really believe that we're a great organization and we use really high-quality products and ingredients. And so how are we gonna get around this?" So what they actually did was they used the insight from social to generate frequently asked questions, and then they created really lovely [00:39:30] content that they put on their website, in their social feeds, used to answer these questions in a non-defensive way, and actually have influencers who would go and visit chicken nugget factories and things like that to transform the opinion that people have of McDonald's. And so, you know, some of the things... so that has had a fundamental positive impact on McDonald's around the world. But you can't measure on this campaign, [00:40:00] you know: “it did this”. But actually, it has changed people's attitude to McDonald's, which has driven an increase in sales, which has driven an increase in lifetime value.

And the third area where I think we can have more transparency is, you know, this dark social, where we think the, sort of, probably up to 80% of sharing is hidden from brands. But there are lots of things that we can do, you know, using short bitly codes, using branded links... [00:40:30]

Will: And you're talking, just to be clear, about in dark social, you're talking about the non-public arenas such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Telegram, TikTok, Discord.

Julie: Yeah. And people doing things like copying and pasting a link and sticking in an email, you know, which you don't actually see. So, there are lots of things that we can do that bring transparency to that journey and so, we can measure it, [00:41:00] you know, by having codes that we can measure. I mean, I with my clients, we do use different links, different codes for different types of content. So we can see where that content ends up and think, "Oh, actually, you know, it might start in social, but it's ended up here." So, you know, so, we can track it that way. So I think there are lots of things we can do to have more transparency. I think it's wrong to say you can't measure ROI. [00:41:30] You certainly can. Lots of channels have, you know, purchase impactful which is very easy to measure ROI. And I think we can measure the impact that social is having on our brand, and our brand reputation, and our net promoter score if we put those, you know, if we agree how we're gonna do that upfront when we do the strategy.

Will: Yes. Well, that's true. And I suppose [00:42:00] the final question I really want to ask you is how do you know when a strategy is actually working?

Julie: I think a strategy may not always achieve the objectives that you've set out for it at the beginning in terms of, you know, the goals that you have. You know, often I'll set very challenging targets in organizations. So, you know, we're gonna have 20% growth year on year and I want you to write me a strategy of how to do that, but you haven't got any more money in order to do [00:42:30] that. So, you'll write the strategy to do that in the best possible way that you can. And you'll have metrics in there that will assess how well you're doing against those targets. So, obviously, if you hit all those metrics, then your strategy is working.

But I think in every strategy that you write, I would recommend that you also identify the things you want to learn that will provide you with a better foundation for the next campaign or the next piece of [00:43:00] work that you do, the next strategy that you do. And therefore, even if you don't hit the overall targets, if you've learned some significant information along the way that will improve the activity that you're doing in the future, I think that will also be a success. So, I think those two elements are both equally important. And sometimes we don't try and do the learning, [00:43:30] but actually, we need to invest a little bit of time and effort in things that we're gonna learn. So, that's having some testing in there as well as some rollout activity and it's being aware of what the next opportunity might be.

So, I'm a big follower of trends and also thinking about what the current meta trends are that will affect us in the future. So, in social, you touched on that where you talked about privacy. That's been a meta trend that's been going on [00:44:00] for some time. I don't think it's played out yet. And we need to be very aware of how people are moving more and more into informal content and private social conversations, smaller groups rather than these big public environments. And therefore, as a brand, where is it right for us to be in that public space? And where is it right for us to be engaging in that private space? And we should be trying out some of those [00:44:30] private spaces if not using some of those private spaces now to be able to continue to be effective because things are always changing, you know. Who knows what's gonna happen with TikTok over the next few months? And certainly, although Facebook is as big as it ever was, our behaviors in there have completely changed. So, we need to be really ready for that next step. And if we haven’t really got our learning in there, [00:45:00] the strategy isn't really a complete success, I don't think, even if you hit all the targets.

Will: Yeah. I like that. That's a really good point about valuing the learning that comes out of this activity. And so, it's something that you never really see, but it should be put in the strategy from the outset that this is one of the pieces of business value we will derive from this strategy. It's not all gonna be about driving sales and growing our audience. We're [00:45:30] actually gonna learn something and we're gonna actually measure that, you know, how much learning and insight do we get out of this that drives value in the business in the long-term? Which so, I think that's something that's definitely worth considering and putting in our strategies alongside those more obvious business metrics.

Julie: Yeah. So, one of the things I do when I'm agreeing objectives in this co-creation approach that I have is I never ask one person to tell me what their [00:46:00] objectives are. So, I'll get everyone to individually give me what their vision for success is, what they want to achieve from it. And then we will discuss as a team what our priorities are. And it's really interesting because if you don't do that, what you end up with is the most senior person in the room says what they want, which is sales, you know, generally.

Will: Yeah.

Julie: And then nobody else feels like they can then have a voice to disagree with what they think. So, you never really get a discussion [00:46:30] about it. But actually, very often that you end it with a different prioritization of objectives and they might not be what the originally the most senior person thought they wanted to achieve if you open up that discussion on what they really want to get out of this at the beginning and have a bit of a managed conversation about that. And everyone, kind of, explores that in a safe way by being able to share [00:47:00] their views, you know, anonymously before anyone else, before that discussion. So, yeah. So, there's a lot of ways that we can challenge what we mean by success. And if we don't challenge it at the outset of strategy creation, what happens is you finish the project and everyone goes, "Oh, yeah. Well, I don't even know why we're doing that. And no, that wasn't really what I wanted to get out of it." And then you, kind of, like, [00:47:30] even though you've hit every metric, nobody's happy because it wasn't really what was wanted.

Will: That's a really good point. You know, if you ask people around the business what they would like to get out of a new and more effective social media strategy, you'd get a range of answers, not just more customers, more sales.

Julie: Yeah. And getting new customers is a really, really expensive thing to do. You know, they're so expensive. And actually, if we can drive more value from existing customers [00:48:00] or encourage existing customers to become advocates on our behalf and refer us on our behalf, then, you know, we will have a probably a much more sustainable revenue model and we'll also have a much more, you know, much more committed, kind of, customer base or their lifetime value might be better. And I think also, [00:48:30] you know, taking some of those customers on the journey that we're going on as a brand, as an organization can help us evolve as a business.

So, for instance, one of my favorite brands and organizations is The Guardian. And I've been a Guardian reader of my entire adult life. And I have the app and, you know, so, I'm a subscriber to The Guardian. [00:49:00] So, The Guardian newspaper. So, they changed their business model from being you pay to see content like most newspapers and publishing organizations do, to a voluntary contribution to support the values that The Guardian stands for. And now, they've got a subscription model and they've got all sorts of add-on services that you can pay for as well on top [00:49:30] of that. When they first did it, everyone just was like, "This is madness. This will never work, never, ever work." That brand is so strong around the world with the people who read The Guardian and the belief in what they stood for as an organization was so strong that they managed to do that. And they made the people who was giving them some, you know, donations or deciding to subscribe feel like they were part of The Guardian. You were [00:50:00] not just reading the newspaper, you were supporting independent journalism. And suddenly, you've changed the whole relationship between the reader and the journalist between the organization and its followers.

And that is a fundamental understanding and not short-term sales, but in long-term brand value and in a real commitment to building a relationship [00:50:30] with its readership and the results have been phenomenal. They've gone into profit, you know, which is pretty hard to do in journalism, you know, in the newspaper world. I know they had a real backlash when they did it, but I really believe that, you know, that was a strategy that understood what the long-term goal was, was prepared to take a short-term hit for that and to stay true to a belief, but built on, you know, [00:51:00] on bringing with them, not only their journalists and, you know, their investment, their charitable trust, but building that investment trust in them and also their customer base, you know. They really, you know, did a good job. It's really interesting and now, they've got a subscription model, which, of course, is much more sustainable than a piecemeal content purchase model there was before.

Will: People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And [00:51:30] if you just sell on the whats, you're commoditizing, and you're just in the, you know, the example of a newspaper, you're just pumping out content, seeing if people want it. But if you actually find the people that share your values and beliefs and take them on the mission with you, you have a long-term loyal band of followers who will do anything for you and will tell all their friends on and offline why [00:52:00] they should too. So, yeah. It's an interesting example.

Julie, well, I'm aware that time ticks on and we have run out of time, I'm afraid. I've absolutely loved talking to you about this stuff because I feel like I've learned so much myself and I'm sure our listeners have as well. And it's stuff that people really need to hear, and think about, and engage with because it's, you know, the idea of implementing a strategy successfully [00:52:30] is just as important as the fun part of creating it all. So, thanks for all your insights on that. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.

Julie: Thank you. I've enjoyed coming.

Will: Oh, that's great. Thanks. Now, before I let you go, do tell our listeners where they can find you and follow you online and where they can get your book.

Julie: Okay. So, I'm on LinkedIn or on Twitter @JulieAthertonSW. My website is [00:53:00] And you can find my book at Kogan Page, which is and if you use the code FMKSMS20, you can get 20% off.

Will: Wow. That's fantastic. Thank you very much. It takes pride of place on my office shelf. So, thanks. Well, thank you very much, Julie, and all the best, and I really appreciate your time and sharing your knowledge.

Julie: Thank you. Bye.

Will: If you enjoyed this episode, please leave [00:53:30] us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Myself and all the team at the DMI would really, really appreciate that and it would help us get the podcast to more people hoping to learn more about digital marketing. So, thanks again for listening, take care, and I will see you soon.

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Julie Atherton

Julie is an award-winning digital strategist, with over 30 years’ experience. Having worked both agency and client-side, she has a wealth of knowledge on delivering marketing, brand and business strategy across almost every sector. In 2016, Julie set up Small Wonder. Drawing on her past experience, she now supports a wide range of businesses, from global brands, to educational organisations and social enterprises.She is the author of the book, Social Media Strategy which was a top read chosen by Thinkers360. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.