Damien Cummings on what marketers are getting right and wrong in social media

Damien CummingsDamien Cummings is one of the region’s most high-profile social media marketers. He left Samsung, where he was regional marketing director for social media and digital, in September, and is starting a new role at another consumer electronics and lifestyle brand in the new year.

In this interview, he talks to Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about the hype surrounding social media “experts”, the brilliance of Snapchat, what Singapore Airlines should do to socialise its brand, and why media and PR agencies have the upper hand over creative agencies in the fight for social media budgets.

What’s the most common mistake marketers are making in social media?

The biggest mistake marketers are making in social media is not truly understanding what it is.

Social media is about two things: First, it’s a conversation, not a platform. Second, it’s about driving advocacy.

The conversations people want are with other people not brands. In fact, 40 per cent of social media interactions are customer service-related (up to 70 per cent for telcos and banks), so why do marketers persist in pushing marketing messages via a Facebook page or Twitter account when customers just want their problem solved? Or to talk to a real person about something related to the product or service? It’s frustrating to see so many marketers getting this basic aspect of social media so wrong.

What’s been the biggest story to impact social media in Asia this year?

Social media is fundamentally about local stories (and conversations), but it’s also where stories are amplified, so the biggest stories are the ones with strong local resonance. On the positive side of things, social media has played a critical role in responding to tragedies like the super typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines. For example, the #RescuePH hashtag was a rallying force used to coordinate which areas needed the most help and support.

On the negative side of things, there are many terrible examples of social media fails. The most recent of which is the Justine Sacco saga [the former corporate communications executive at InterActive Corp was fired for tweeting as she was heading for Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”], which serves as an excellent reminder that you always need to think before you Tweet.

As a social media expert, how important is your own personal profile?

Personal profile and branding is important for any professional in the 21st century. I think there’s been a lot of hype about people working in social media to build a personal brand but many people in the industry are facing the personal brand vs. professional brand dilemma, where employers are struggling to deal with employees who have a high profile.

New policies on public speaking, blog posts and social networking are being written reactively as a new breed of employee brings with them a high profile, a public following and their own opinions expressed through social media. What’s important though, is not to get too caught up in the public persona and ensure you’re getting on with the job. Fame and public presence is fine but it’s important to be known for what you’ve done (your achievements), not just who you are (your large social media following).

Every sort of agency, from media to PR, is fighting over social media. Which discipline do you feel has the upper hand?

There are winners and losers in the agency fight over social media. You really need to understand what social media is though. For me, the aspects of social business (the evolution of simple social media) that will drive business results are driving advocacy, social CRM, social selling and social customer service/community management.

Marketers are now at the point where they understand how to do content marketing, develop an editorial plan and manage a Facebook page. Now marketers need specific help in: driving advocacy, something best done by agencies that can cultivate and manage a relationship (PR agencies); community management, which is best done either in-house or by a PR agency; social CRM, which is best managed by a direct response agency that has a thorough understanding of data and digital marketing principals; and social selling, which is a real grey area right now for agencies.

My bet is that media agencies get a larger slice of pie, as they control the budgets in social for big brands. The other big winner will be PR agencies if they understand their role in driving advocacy, and get over the idea of doing one-off events and truly understand how to run a long-term program.

The big losers are creative agencies, who really don’t seem to have any idea of how to run social programs beyond a short campaign or product launch period.

You mentioned that roughly 40 per cent of queries on social media are customer service related. What does that tell you about how brands should approach social?

One of my favourite things to ask marketers is “why does someone visit your Facebook page?” And even “Have YOU visited your Facebook page?”. The sad reality is that most marketers don’t really understand the core reason that customers visit a Facebook page or Twitter account.

It’s because customers have broken their product, or want to buy it. Customers want help (or to complain) or they want some sort of social discount or experience (their “Like” is the entry into a CRM or loyalty program).

What this tells me is almost every brand is doing social media marketing wrong – because instead of addressing these two issues, they instead focus on providing a stream of useless marketing content. It’s a vomit of marketing collateral that customers are at best ignoring.

This marketing activity seems to be working because it’s driving vanity metrics such as increasing Likes or follows, and this weird metric called engagement.

But the reality is that running competitions, asking people to fill in a blank in a sentence or publishing product brochures is creating mindless interactions and what I like to call a “graveyard of Likes” – a one-off interaction that leads to a like, but you’ll never hear back from that person.

My suggestion is that scale back all corporate social network pages such as Facebook and Twitter to hardcore customer service channels. For marketing, create new platforms, ideally largely unbranded, around the “passion points” of the brand where marketing material fits more comfortably.

Singapore Airlines has recently appointed an agency to handle its social media activities for the first time. If you had this brief, what would you recommend SIA do first?

I love Singapore Airlines, they are the best airline in the world. They also provide an excellent experience and great customer service – but only when you get on the plane. Before that, it’s a terrible experience online.

My advice is to first fix the Singapore Airlines website – make it the best self-service experience for booking or redeeming tickets it can be. Second, take social media seriously. Singapore Airlines is a premium airline and should have a robust social listening and engagement program in place (perhaps inspired by Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center in Austin, Texas), a strong on-ground community management presence with empowered staff, and take a leaf out of the upstarts like AirAsia who are really nailing social media marketing.

Which brand in Asia do you feel best understands social media and in what way do they ‘get it’?

Despite the recent changes, I’d still say Samsung [which restructured its marketing department in Southeast Asia in September] is doing a great job in social media. They have a very forward thinking structure for community management, working with both Leo Burnett and Cheil Worldwide across 47 countries. Rarely do you see a brand have dedicated teams in place and service level targets for customer service issues. Samsung also top the global ad spend charts with Twitter and Facebook, and that’s leading to some great business results.

Other Asian brands I’ve been impressed with are Chinese tech sensation Xiaomi, low-cost airlines AirAsia and Scoot, as well as SingTel for dealing with a huge volume of customer service issues via their Facebook.

What do you think of Snap chat? Is it a viable marketing medium?

Snapchat is a stroke of brilliance. Right now it’s being used by early adopters and friends who love sharing dodgy and fun moments. But imagine using Snapchat for sneak previews, coupons or limited-time offers? There’s not a “right” form of marketing yet but there is great potential. The challenge for Snapchat is that the technology doesn’t have a high barrier to entry and you’re now seeing competition in the form of Instagram Direct.

What’s your view on why spend on mobile marketing is so small in Asia? I’ve heard it’s because the big media agencies don’t make the margins on mobile campaigns that they would on traditional media?

It’s because Asia Pacific marketers don’t really see beyond mobile advertising. Advertising on a mobile device interrupts your experience, offers limited creative options and is still evolving. The best form of mobile marketing isn’t found in the media spend, but in developing great apps and excellent content that is device agnostic. So for me the mobile marketing spend is small because content marketing and App development is not captured in the ad spend figures, it’s more of a creative/production spend through a creative agency.

You won’t be short of job offers now that you’ve left Samsung. What sort of job do you want to move into?

Yes, I’m starting a new role in 2014. I’ll be leading a regional marketing function for a consumer electronics and lifestyle brand – I’ll be able to talk more about this in January.


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