Greg Tan: The key ingredient for business success in social.

By Roger Christie

Greg Tan is Manager, Global Digital Governance at PepsiCo in the US, having left Australian shores (and Propel) just over twelve months ago. Given his global remit, this Expert Series interview focuses on Greg’s personal insights on aligning stakeholders across multiple markets to drive progress via social and digital technologies.

Roger Christie (RC): Thanks for making time, Greg. To set the scene with our readers, you’ve just hopped off a conference call with a group of your PepsiCo colleagues as part of a global technology rollout you’re managing. What a change that must be from the single market conversations you were having while here in Australia…

Greg Tan (GT): Absolutely. Things are certainly more complicated when you factor in local market nuances and needs, let alone the cultural and language differences of a global group of stakeholders.

RC: And that is why I was so keen to chat with you for the Expert Series and get your perspective on what works best when the context is so much more complex. The majority of practitioners here face challenges articulating the value of social to just one or maybe two stakeholder groups if they’re operating trans-Tasman. How do you begin to approach the complexities of a global audience?

GT: The principles remain the same, I think. Prioritise relationships first, and understand what the local market’s needs (or your stakeholder teams’) are before deciding how you approach it. A once-size-fits-all approach never works. The other thing I’ve had to remember is that selling is much more powerful than preaching. Practitioners often deeply understand the benefit of digital or social, but wielding a heavy-handed stick of ‘they should know by now’ only makes it harder to get the job done.

RC: From your experience, what single factor contributes most towards getting business buy-in: strength of relationships; organisational alignment; or business case evidence? What gets people on side, and does it differ from market to market?

GT: 100% strength of relationship, every time. You need the trifecta to get anything done, but there’s no point even starting without a strong relationship to start with. I can only speak from my experience, but I don’t think it’s ever differed from market-to-market. Whether you’re forging a direct relationship with the primary stakeholder on your own, or working out who their influencers are — it’s a critical step to the success of any project. Pursuing a business case or even working out organisational alignment early will absolutely get you started. But without strong relationships with primary stakeholders, you will never realise the momentum and long-term success you’re looking for in social.

RC: So, if you were talking to an Australian social lead today, knowing what you now know, how would you advise them to make the case for social? What steps would you take?

GT: I think I’ve been very guilty of leaning heavily on building a business case in the past, and shopping it around as a ‘leverage stick’ to get organisational alignment. If I had my time again, I think I would spend a lot more time understanding what other internal teams or stakeholders are trying to achieve, well before I went in to tell them what they could be doing differently, or what they’re missing out on.

Many stakeholders are already facing increasing pressures to stay afloat in an increasingly challenging atmosphere. The last thing they need is one more person telling them what else they should be doing. My advice would be to take your time, and look for the right moment. Look for opportunities to resolve existing problems first. Build the relationship by showing how you can make their lives better, and then you make your case.

RC: Why do you think we — Australian organisations — struggle to have these conversations? What skills or competencies are we lacking, either at a practitioner or leadership level — or both — when compared with what you’ve seen in the US?

GT: I don’t think it’s just Australian organisations that are struggling to have these conversations. From what I’ve seen, it’s a challenge that very few have surmounted! Where I’ve seen success is when there bottom-up and top-down appetite to change ways of working. Having it only happen in one direction results in frustration and mismanaged expectations. Couple this with variances in industry maturity across the globe…it’s definitely a challenge that I would say the majority of organisations are going to have to continue working through for a while yet.

RC: I suppose that’s encouraging in one sense. In fact, I’ve been at a few industry events and conferences recently where there almost seems to be air of ‘paralysis’ among practitioners. There’s just so much responsibility and scope connected to ‘social’: from channels; to tools and technology; to marketing campaigns; measurement; paid media; risk management; and governance. And businesses want answers yesterday without really investing the time and resources to get things right.

Who do social leads need in their corner, or what do you recommend they have in their toolkit when tackling the breadth of ‘social’?

GT: I think trying to do too much too soon is a recipe for disaster. A lot of this ‘paralysis’ — and I say this knowing that I’m very guilty of this — is entirely self-wrought. In many — dare I say most — organisations, it is the social lead that knows the most about social; about what it can do, what it can’t do, where it’s come from and where it’s going. It’s all about creating a phased plan and a strategy, aligning it with leadership — and, ‘#protip’, a handful of trusted senior stakeholders — and then sticking to the plan.

Of course, strategies can and should change over time, but there needs to be a clear explanation of what projects will be delivered, what outcomes can be expected, and at what pace. I’m not saying to cop-out, only that social leads need to be strategic and hedge their bets — focus resources on what social can deliver for the business, not what everyone else is doing.

RC: What about leaders? In your experiences, what separates the leaders of organisations who see best results from social initiatives and investments, and those who miss the mark?

GT: In my experiences, the best leaders are those that trust their people, and those that are legitimately curious at the state of the industry. They don’t need to be experts, and they don’t need to entirely understand what you’re doing — they just need to understand what you’re trying to do, what it’s supposed to deliver, and how they can help you get there.

RC: Thanks so much for your perspective, Greg — no doubt others will be encouraged by your advice.

This was the fifth interview in Propel’s Expert Series featuring Greg Tan — Manager, Global Digital Governance at PepsiCo. Greg can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn if you would like to follow up any topics raised in his interview. The Expert Series will continue soon, and aims to showcase the breadth of business opportunities and value available to organisations by focusing on social capabilities, not social media channels. If you have an interviewee recommendation, please contact our Managing Director, Roger.