Bian Salins has driven social media approaches to more areas of business operations, in more businesses than you, almost certainly. That breadth of experience makes for some different perspectives on the challenges marketers and brands face.
A journalist by background, Salins embraced digital early. Starting at Rediff.com, India’s first online venture, blogging and live chat was at the core of engaging with their audience. From there she moved on to become Features Editor at Elle India: “In both roles the key was understanding what content drove a conversation and which platforms were best to do that on. It taught me a lot about what people do and don’t care about.”
From there Salins moved to the UK and made the move into digital marketing. She could see the digital explosion and saw the opportunity for businesses to be an enabler of conversations with their customers. The immediacy of that move was almost by accident though. Having joined BT Business, they set up a social networking platform for SMBs. BT was selling a whole range of products to SMBs, from web hosting to developing, so their was a huge opportunity to create a community around that. As its Editor, what Salins helped ensure was that it wasn’t just BT using it to access their customers. She fostered an online environment where those businesses could talk to each other, a pioneering approach at the time.
That’s where Salins fell in love with social media and what it could achieve: “My role wasn’t just about running that platform, but about educating some incredibly inspiring people about what social media could do for them. Facebook and Twitter were both very new back then. That was the best experience I had on social because what we saw was a real coming together of like minds. Not just with ourselves and our customers, but customers talking to each other. New business were even born out of that community.”
From there she went on lead the BT Care and then BT consumer social strategy – and learned a lesson she still practices and preaches today: “Rather than try to do everything, focus on the one thing that is affecting your business the most. It will make the most impact and stop you getting distracted by things that don’t matter.”
She also learnt about the important relationship between culture and driving a successful digital and social strategy. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or how senior you are, no one person can lead it. In the social environment you need to think on your feet and it’s dangerous to rely on just one person to direct that. Too many brands are going through this ridiculous methodology of getting approvals on everything and do thing by committee. The social world is fast and you don’t have the luxury of this. Everyone has to be a leader in their own right.”
Again Salins was looking ahead and saw the transition in the way people consume content, which aligned with her move to Now TV, part of BSkyB. It was becoming about the content, not the brand per-se. Brand loyalties were becoming fickle and feedback on whether that content was good or bad instant. Salins explains: Our customers had an incredible amount of loyalty but to the content being produced, not a particular brand itself. And you knew if you’d got it wrong but it was a great and very quick way of learning what worked. Take Game of Thrones. If you put out bad content they hate you, if it’s great they love you!”
After that Salins become a consultant for a couple of years and widened her focus around how digital marketing linked to physical world and the impact it could make. That set her up for her current role at TSB, which is established on bricks and mortar. And she’s still learning and pushing another industry forward. The highly regulated nature of financial services throws up it’s own challenges but she’s focused on putting conversations with the customer first.
When it comes to the wider industry she’s still looking at what will allow digital marketing to grow and fulfil its potential: “One of my main frustrations is that digital marketing – and social media in particular – still seems to take a back seat when it comes to marketing. Marketers don’t view it with the same intensity so it becomes more of an afterthought. We need more integrated marketing around the customers needs. The whole battle between traditional and digital marketing is detracting from that. It should be about having one message and articulating in the most effective way across many channels to get the best result.”
She’s also noted the increasing role of messaging and the challenge for businesses to adapt to that: “It’s not the future, it’s the now. The problem is we’ve been saying for years that communication has become more public and social data is a real opportunity for us. But now it’s becoming a lot more private again. We need to change our culture and mindset and to move with the times. But no one has quite worked out how. It’s not going away either, Facebook is putting a big focus on messaging and you shouldn’t underestimate the power it has to shift the landscape.
Data is still a huge opportunity though, as Salins is fully aware: “We do a deep dive every quarter on our social data. It’s been a great way into other parts of the business because we know have data that’s relevant for them. Actionable insights is the key success factor.” But she notes the lack of skills to really do what’s required: use data to tell a story where you can put the findings into action. There she believes is the future of digital marketing – one that brings in other parts of a business to show how everything works together. So if you’re a data analyst who can use the numbers to tell a story it might be worth saying hello…
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