Michelle Tucker: The role of social in digital transformation.

By Roger Christie

Michelle Tucker is the former CMO of Oneflare — an online marketplace that connects customers with more than 90,000 businesses across 150 service categories — and current Director at Digimi — a marketing and digital strategy consultancy. In an age of digital transformation, Michelle discusses the role of social to guide perspective, long-term planning, and the need to understand ‘why’ before making key business decisions.

Roger Christie (RC): Thanks for talking with us today, Michelle. I’m really looking forward to this conversation, as you represent such a key stakeholder group in the successful adoption of social capabilities — Marketing. As the traditional custodians of ‘social’, I firmly believe there is no other business stakeholder better placed to drive future business success in this area. No pressure!

But, seriously, do you think Australian organisations have got the most out of their social investments to date?

Michelle Tucker (MT): We haven’t even started to unlock the potential of social as a tool to use across organisations. Like most data and digital platforms in general, we are only going to be limited by our own imagination for problem solving. The comprehensive level of APIs literally means if we want it we can create it. It’s not new news that we can use bots to respond to consumer questions and make product suggestions, but it’s still pretty incredible that social can increase customer service efficiency and drive revenue.

Of course, as a set of channels social is about communications, engagement and now an incredible sales and lead generating channel, but it’s also useful for improving customer service and product innovation.

It makes good business sense, considering the investment in social — both regarding time and people hours — for organisations to more effectively use social across all departments. By doing so, reducing costs and increasing human output, we can start to build strong cases for total digital transformation, which we know delivers significant increases in revenue.

RC: What do you think ‘social’ actually means to most CMOs in Australia? We’ve talked about McKinsey research around digital literacy at a board and exec level previously — do you feel there may be similar limitations here? And, if so, why?

MT: I’d be a fool to try to articulate what social means to all CMOs… I may never be asked out for a wine again! My version of the truth is that each marketing leader evaluates every marketing and communications channel based on their audiences. The value of that channel depends on how effectively they can communicate with, listen to and share information with audiences.

I believe that almost all marketing leaders see the value of social — broader than their own profession — but are often not empowered to lead a more organisational-wide or operational projects like social integration.

The role of the CMO, Marketing Director or Head of Digital is a tough one: we know that as the professional tasked with driving consumer engagement and revenue growth, we need to be ahead of the curve in terms of new channels that our audiences are using and we need to adopt and innovate quickly. However, this also means that we have to sell-in new ideas to our peers, other leaders and other teams — thus being an internal advocate, if you will. This means we need to gain group wide buy-in to drive change. It would be better to already have an openness to new technology adoption across all departments so that most of the time usually spent on the sell-in can be spent creating innovative ways of engaging and delighting customers.

RC: What role does Marketing play in extending social capabilities beyond core marketing disciplines? Or is it more of a leadership responsibility to drive development of capabilities beyond social media marketing?

MT: It depends on the company structure. Should the organisation have a CDO or Head of Digital, they would be drivers of the social integration project and the marketing team would be a key stakeholder with responsibility to advocate to other leaders.

However, if there is no digital team, the responsibility largely rests on the shoulders of marketeers, though it should well be shared across customer service, sales, marketing and IT. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for most organisations to inculcate social across internal teams, whether it’s a lack of confidence or an unwillingness to change because it’s not a commercial imperative right now. But using social as a technology, in addition to a communications channel, will save long-term time and effort.

RC: It’s an interesting point you make, and I wonder if these structural barriers create a culture of perpetual test-and-learn? Do you think leadership teams are really committing to exploring the role of social in their organisations or simply looking for a quick fix?

MT: There’s a lot of talk about digital transformation, but so few organisations are really nailing it — at speed. There is great opportunity and low hanging fruit across consumer engagement, product delivery and process improvement through digital. Social enables a somewhat faster and easier way to embrace digital, by being a foundation for change. Test-and-learns are absolutely useful, but can often be used as a crutch for not undertaking large scale investment into digital, innovation or new technology.

Social integration is comprehensive and isn’t a quick fix and the need for a transformation isn’t going away, so the sooner we move on from small burst test-and-learns and invest in changing the way we operate, the faster we can integrate and use social and technology more effectively.

RC: Education really is key here, isn’t it? Do you think many still see social — or what it represents as this ‘new way’ of doing things — as a threat rather than opportunity?

MT: As you suggest, this isn’t a function of social — this is a function of newness. And newness can always be seen a threat. Newness undermines the way something has always been done and many of us don’t respond well to surprises or change! So, the role of the CMO or CDO is to help educate the wider business of the opportunity. And with the help of forward thinking CEOs and other leaders, organisational digital transformation is possible.

RC: How can CMOs, or other senior leads responsible for generating value from social, begin to change perceptions around social away from that of a broadcast channel and towards a source of valuable customer intelligence?

MT: Including the data from social into reports that are shared with the executive team will help. Talking to key social metrics and their implications on revenue also makes sense. It sounds simple, but just changing the language can help others see the value of social. Bringing in external specialists can help too — it becomes more scalable when a third party is able to work at pace to integrate social into a large organisation.

RC: And finally, for those reporting into CMOs, or for CMOs themselves seeking to present the value of investing in social capabilities, how would you advise people build a compelling proposition? What data or measures should they use to ensure social is seen as more than a broadcast channel?

MT: To build the proposition, a group-wide collection of pains and problems matched with a map of associated gains that social brings is useful. This means interviewing key stakeholders on what areas of their business are problematic. It can be time consuming, but absolutely worth it to deliver value to the organisation and alleviate existing problems.

Of course, with any technology integration, the key is ensuring it’s future proof and solves future problems that haven’t yet been identified. In many cases the organisation will grow into the technology capability from a communications, service and data point of view. As we mentioned at the start, we are only limited by our imagination for what we do with social.

RC: Thanks, Michelle — really appreciate your advice, as I’m sure others will too.

This was the sixth interview in Propel’s Expert Series featuring Michelle Tucker — Former CMO at OneFlare. Michelle can be found on LinkedIn if you would like to follow up any topics raised in her 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.