Five minutes with Penny Wilson
In an age where social media output can make or break brand reputation, the ability to personalise digital output is a key brand touchpoint. Penny Wilson, chief marketing officer at Hootsuite, discusses the importance of social having a ‘human touch.’
What is your role at Hootsuite?
I’m the chief marketing officer. I have a fairly unique opportunity at Hootsuite which would be different perhaps from your traditional role. I’m very customer-centred marketer and so I have not just the traditional marketing communications teams, but I also have the customer support team and all the self-serve business. So, I get to see that whole customer journey from beginning to end.
Is ‘fake news’ impacting Hootsuite as it manifests across social media? Is there anything Hootsuite specifically is doing, or you as CMO is doing, to try and alleviate its impact?
Because we’re in the social industry, there’s a split – there’s tools we provide our customers with to help them. I think it’s just recommending some of the ways they can best listen and monitor for fake news and keep them aware of what the networks themselves are doing to help them. So, we do a lot in education and training and making sure customers are aware of whatever issues are out there – people look at us to be the social leader in the industry and really industry what’s current for them.
In terms of brands, which does Hootsuite work with? Is it a two-way growth relationship?
We have 15m people who use our technology, in many countries and many languages. But as far as here in the UK specifically, Legal and General is an example of financial services company, we’re quite strong in financial services. City, University of London – higher education is a big vertical for us. Hootsuite is used for student enrolment, they use it a lot of times for advocacy, for raising funds for the university. So there’s different ways that they can use social and we work with whoever their social champion is, they want to use their employee advocacy tools, they can use that to get better awareness. In turn, that typically drives growth for Hootsuite too. What we’re seeing is that social is beyond the social team that a company would typically have, they’re across the organisation, whether that be a sales organisation or a customer support organisation, or if they’re an HR organisation that’s using social – it does help us, so we can expand the platform and still give the org the opportunity to manage and control it from one central source.
How do you ensure Hootsuite brings the ‘human touch’ to social?
We see ourselves as being the champions to power human connection. And that for a marketer is such a huge opportunity because it gives you that opportunity for a one-on-one conversation that you could never have in any other medium. Marketing was typically a send, and now it’s a receive – and I thin receiving is such an important part of social that people sometimes forget. The opportunity to listen and then respond in a relevant way is huge for a brand.
Is the idea of ‘human touch’ something that’s quite recent for you in your career? Is it a new way of looking at marketing?
For me, yes, absolutely. There is no other medium that’s ever been able to provide me with that one-on-one connection, unless it was 1800 number and somebody else is on the other end when you dial in. Social is primarily one of the main reasons I joined Hootsuite, because it’s not just a marketing tool, it’s really a customer engagement tool – and you really get a chance to see that. I feel like I do have this customer support organisation and the digital side of it, I get to see that whole journey that a customer takes with us and that gives you a lot. You become more relevant to them, you give them the things they’re looking for, you start to understand what kind of things are important to them – if they wanted information on fake news, you could probably deliver that directly to them. And that expectation of real time, and everyone has device with them at all times, you’re on 24 hours a day.
Have you got any predictions for how the relationship between social and brands might change in the coming months? Do you have any expectations for the future of social media personalisation?
There’s a lot of changes happening, I think video’s going to play a larger and larger role. I think social video is going to be growing, we see a lot of shifting from a customer acquisition perspective, from search into social. I think that social commerce is also a new promise for the industry, the context and the way you can buy directly off Pinterest and Facebook is changing – it’s exciting to see how early adopters will utilise that functionality as well. And what we talked about earlier, how social is moving outside of the social team. It’s an opportunity for a whole workforce to really get connected with the customers.
What challenges or opportunities do you predict might arise in the social arena over the next year?
I think organic reach is declining, we all know that, so paid reach is important, we all know that’s a challenge but it’s also an opportunity. More companies, even at the CEO level, are seeing the opportunities of social and helping them drive their thought leadership in the industry, so I think there’s more investment in social and more important for people in this industry to be able to prove results and be able to buy it into the worth of the company. In terms of tracking, it’s moving away from vanity metrics such as likes and shares and as social ads and people are having to put more money into spending, there’s now going to be the pressure of proving that the money we put in is actually going through to sale. I think the whole idea of likes has gone. And sometimes you can share content where they can’t track content, so WhatsApp, or any chat app, could be seen as a challenge – Snapchat would be the same. But also, it’s trying it into your efficiency metrics as an organisation, tying it into your brand awareness metrics, and that’s definitely important to focus on making sure companies can do that.
It’s that combination of real time social and mobile that give companies the opportunity to really communicate with their customers, across whatever touchpoints and across their whole organisation. If you can make the customer experience consistent, that's important - a lot of time companies don’t offer a consistent experience, depending on which way a customer approaches a company, but social offers that opportunity. It creates those memorable customer moments and is really the way of the future because you do have that human-to-human connection.