Ashley Friedlein

CEO and Co-founder, Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is CEO of Econsultancy, the digital marketing research house, training company, event organiser and community. Econsultancy’s work is hugely influential across digital marketing, reaching over 100,000 members all over the world. Ashley is an author, thought leader and frequent speaker on all things digital. This guys gets it.

What were the biggest changes for social-driven businesses in 2011?

   

There were many specific, tactical developments, like the arrival of Google+, but probably the key developments were the increased employment of individuals or teams specifically dedicated to social -- and a big improvement in businesses' ability to understand the value of social.

What social channels or platforms are growing and which do you think will decrease in importance?

   

Quora made a big splash in 2011 but since seems to have faded. Twitter continues to grow as an effective way of disseminating content, in particular news. LinkedIn steadily makes inroads in the B2B market as it always has. Facebook is huge and getting bigger but showing some possible signs of plateauing, or a slower rate of growth.

Google+ is the new kid on the block with a good start but too early to call on overall success. And all of the previous are really mostly relevant for the UK and US. The answer would be very different for, say, China.

   

"Facebook is… showing some possible signs of plateauing."

Ashley Friedlein

   

For me the interesting trend is a possible refocus back to *onsite* social media rather than *offsite* social media. Pre-Facebook we all talked about online community building within our own sites - bulletin boards, comments, and the like. With Facebook et al we all focused on offsite social platforms. I think now we'll see a refocus on making our own sites more social once again, having learned some of the lessons from the external social platforms.

   

"The interesting trend is a possible refocus back to *onsite* social media rather than *offsite* social media."

Ashley Friedlein

What has been the big surprise in 2011 for social-powered business?

   

No obvious surprises spring to mind from 2011. For me a 'surprise' of sorts was that, whilst social is very important for us, it's importance and value are still massively dwarfed by the value of search engine referrals despite our customers being very internet savvy and social.

What has been the biggest disappointment or over-hype?

   

Quora seemed to be a bit of a firework, burning brightly briefly but then fading away. The danger with social is if some businesses believe that social alone will somehow fix their broken business model, value proposition or culture. If anything, social just makes more transparent your strengths and weaknesses.

   

"Social just makes more transparent your strengths and weaknesses."

Ashley Friedlein

What smaller companies have demonstrated the power of social business over the last few years?

   

I still think NakedWines is a fantastic example of a truly ‘social business’ through and through. It doesn't just do "social media", or just use social in its marketing or customer service. The entire business model is suffused with social. We blogged about it here and interviewed Rowan Gormley here.

What's the next big thing for social business?

   

I think the focus will, and should, shift from social being mostly about sales and marketing with a view to increase awareness and get new customers to social being about customer service and loyalty.

For Econsultancy more than 50% of social-referred visitors are existing customers, and 95% of the sales we get from social-referred visitors are from existing customers. So we see social mainly as a way of engaging existing customers and keeping them happy.

The other area of big development will be social being used internally within companies to help foster collaboration, innovation and efficiency.

   

"We see social mainly as a way of engaging existing customers and keeping them happy."

Ashley Friedlein

What role do you think CRM will play in the social business of tomorrow?

   

I think the key thing to consider is the relationship between 'social' and 'CRM' is the underlying data and systems.

Clearly social has the ability to bring unique new behavioural and attitudinal data points to existing CRM; the opportunity is that this data will be more effective for improving targeting and personalisation than 'traditional' profiles and segmentation have been. What happens when you can add the fact that someone 'Likes' your brand on Facebook, or follows you on Twitter, to your CRM system?

However, CRM will have to become a lot more agile, a lot more real time, a lot less expensive and a lot more content focused than how it might currently be perceived for it to thrive in the world of digital and social.

How can a company inject social media into its culture?

   

Trust its employees to do the right thing more of the time. Empower employees by removing red tape and providing the right tools. Hire some social media experts to show people how it's done. Evangelise and train internally.

   

"Hire some social media experts to show people how it's done."

Ashley Friedlein

Is there a downside to social media in business? What are the risks?

   

It takes a lot more time than most people realise. And time is money. If people are spending time on social media what aren't they doing instead? Also, as I said earlier, social makes everything more transparent so if you're fundamentally not a good business (poor product, poor value, bad reputation, poor service etc.) then social will expose that.

   

"Social takes a lot more time than most people realise. And time is money."

Ashley Friedlein

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