Reaching out to the communities – a talk with David Armano.

David Armano lives and breathes network economy and all things digital that can change the way we connect. As Executive Vice President, Global Innovation & Integration for Edelman Digital, one would expect nothing less from a man whose invigorating keynote speech moved hearts and minds as Community Conference 2011 kicked off in style on May 10th in Copenhagen. Oh, he even makes his own to-die-for graphic slides to accompany his presentation.

Billede fra dagen, venligst udlånt af SeismonautArmano

Catching up with the very likable and knowledgeable David Armano is no easy feat, even though his views on communities and social networking are easy to find and follow, whether online or throughout his killer keynotes. But in person he’s naturally in demand throughout the conference. He’s not one to shy away from a challenge, though, such as singing along to Danish classic ‘Svantes Lykkelige Dag’ – but he does draw the line at some of the Danish-speaking tracks, and thus I get the pleasure of his company face to face, as the last two tracks get into full swing at the venue.

Has it been worth the jetlag getting to the conference?
It’s been worth the trip, definitely. Copenhagen is beautiful. And the participants are interesting. I talked to a guy from Lego and they’re passionate about being a social company. They’re figuring out how to benefit from communities as an organization, which is something that’s consistent with their brand value. All their employees are going out there, it’s really a connective workforce. I think a lot more organizations are going to go that way. They are not shy to engage themselves, and we’re going to see more of that.

It’s also a challenge, because you can’t control it. That’s why you need guidelines; tools for reinforcing good behavior while ignoring bad. Merely listening and monitoring is not an option for companies anymore. You need to do more. And you need to decide, what you want out of connecting. Does it help the business? How to steer conversations? How do you make sure that customers are benefiting?  It takes time. Even frontrunners are just getting there. Up until quite recently Lego didn’t even run their Facebook page, a Lego fan did.

Are brand communities valuable in a Facebook world?
Absolutely. Marketing is very reactive to people’s attention. Companies decide ‘we have to be there’, but then they realize they have no control of what people share and say or the platform. Facebook changes constantly. Followers can create a crisis using a megaphone you gave them. Connecting is bigger and broader than they thought.

And the way companies reach out has shifted.Digital agencies have made a lot of money creating micro-sites – which are not as attractive nowadays. That’s why strategy is so important. Some companies take the debate back to corporate, such as American Express Open Forum, which is brilliant, but you still have to be relevant on Facebook as well, use it as an embassy. I’ve seen brands try to replicate what they do on Twitter on Facebook. But it’s not a channel. It’s a separate ecosystem.

Let’s talk social capital vs. ‘show me the money’ – what’s your two cents on ROI?
Many of the things we’ve talked about today haven’t been about sales. You can save money by being so plugged in to the needs and conversations of your customers, that you prevent a crisis…and how are you going to ROI that? Like Dell, some of these companies may be getting into this because they’ve had to recalibrate.

Is getting people to be tribal or evangelical about you still the ultimate goal?
Sometimes it’s not about the brand, but about a topic in your category. It’s not about getting them to say something good about your organization or brand, but about staying relevant to them. There’s a limit and communities are a long-term investment. There are benefits if you do it the right way. But this, connecting and reaching out and giving your customers more, is not going to reverse. Just like globalization, you can’t roll back network economy. But you have to be aware when the attention shifts to stay relevant.

What is the way forward and what is hype, when it comes being social?
My bias is ‘humanizing business’. Which is not all that sexy, actually. Everyone is dipping their toes, but perhaps not realizing that this goes beyond advertising. It’s no longer human to technology interaction, but human to human. It is disruptive, mass messaging is not acceptable. Not delivering value is not acceptable.

My peers look at social business planning with marketing eyes, just looking at it from one silo – but its multiple silos! It changes organizations, for instance I think that Best Buy’s Twelpforce customer service is a glimpse into the future. But first and foremost it’s about people, process, platform, in that order. People first. The demand is the shift in how people spend their time and where they’re at.  Companies get feedback through these channels, not the phone. So – do you invest in phone support or social media? You connect differently. Audiences are fragmented. In terms of what to avoid…it’s good to pay attention to everything. But some things are ahead of their time. Empire Avenue will probably take off, but not be huge – I look at the anthropology aspects – what can we learn from this to use somewhere else? I suspend judgment and analyze.

Services like that attract very active people and my theory is that if you’re going to join Empire Avenue, you’re going to be hyperactive. If I’m a brand and I get 100 people investing in me in there – that cuts out a lot of work. You have to look at it from a different perspective. Focus on getting the right people.

Tak til Seismonaut og især Christian Schwarz Laustsen, der gjorde det muligt for mig at interviewe David og deltage i Community Conference 2011.

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