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Beyond the Numbers: Interview with Zaheer Nooruddin

Jessica Jacobs

In this week’s “Beyond the Numbers,” we continue our jetsetting to chat with Zaheer Nooruddin in Singapore. Zaheer is the Vice President of Digital & Social Media at Waggener Edstrom’s APAC division*. He’s also authored numerous publications, including The Social Media MBA and Content Matters: Exploring the Business Impact of Content Marketing in Asia-Pacific. In the interview, Zaheer talks about how businesses should be using social as a means of real-time intelligence for businesses and to identify macro trends.

You can find the complete interview archive here.

How does your organization define social media marketing, and how does it fit into the larger digital marketing picture?

Social media marketing for us is a mind-set more than another digital platform (like web or mobile) – or even another set of channels. Social media marketing means using opportunities to socialize brand content and engagement. As most of the internet is now a social space – think of every new site and most web sites, not to mention all social sites! – it is about giving customers reasons to connect and be part of a dialogue, a co-created conversation around a topic or theme that a brand wants to be a part of, add value to, and knows. In this way Social fits into the larger digital marketing landscape – not as an “add-on” – but as a mind-set. And for this reason it is very hard for many marketers to understand and to truly leverage in their programs.

How have you seen social media greatly impact your business?

The impact to our business as an integrated, global marketing-communication agency has been phenomenal and fundamental. As an agency leader, there is not a single other development that has caused such a shift in how we do our work for clients – in communications and marketing – and in how clients view our value and the value of their own work. Social media connects everything. Nothing is possible in marketing today without social media as an underlying layer – from engagement to analytics and developing the right audience insight.

When is social media data most critical to your efforts: During the planning process; while you’re executing a campaign, so you can change course or allocate more resources; or afterwards, to measure your success?

Social media data is critical across the entire marketing-communications journey or process for a company. It starts with developing insights through audience, competitor and opportunity research that social makes possible in an unprecedented fashion. It continues with listening and optimization programs and campaigns in real-time. And using social as a key facet of customer care and service in addition or as a replacement even, to other service channels such as call centers and digital FAQs. And finally there is the huge need for better measurement that Social media offers many opportunities and important data points in. So, social media data is critical at every stage, it is not a nice to have in marketing and communications today – it is a must have.

What’s more valuable, competitive intelligence on brands within your industry, or being able to look at the efforts from brands in other verticals?

Most brands are interested in viewing competitive intelligence within their own immediate competitive landscape, that is, within their own vertical. That said, looking at marketing best practice rather than sector best practice is important too – as sectors and verticals can learn from each other. Marketing and communications is a universal language. It is about customers, humans. Not trying to learn from across the spectrum is a mistake that too many brand marketers and communicators make today.

Social media channels are increasingly moving to where paid content is promoted more than organic content. How do you feel about this, and how has it affected your social strategy?

As a marketer this is not ideal since consumers prefer organic outreach and engagement – not paid advertising. More nuanced and authentic forms of advertising and getting messages across will be key to making the new approach work for brand engagement. Sponsored content and Native advertising are two innovative forms of advertising that have been tested – to mixed results – to support paid media solutions within the social sphere. This is a major disruption to how social works, what makes it important as a source of real and spontaneous engagement between brands and their audiences. But, it was inevitable as certain social channels like Facebook and Twitter reach scale and maturity and need to monetize their platforms. I just wish that the modes of the distribution of content that these platforms have developed – even if paid for by brands – was more subtle and less intrusive. The paid model within social channels needs to continue to evolve, otherwise I am afraid it will create problems for brands who will move away from social as a way to engage. Marketers were just beginning to understand the value of social. This move towards paid within social does not help matters at this stage in its evolution and in how marketers understand its value to their businesses. The move happened too early – but it’s happened and now we must deal with it.

What do you see as the single most disruptive force coming to the world of social media marketing?

I think the opportunity within analytics and insight for businesses is the greatest force that social brings. Now that the web and mobile has been largely “socialized” and that paid solutions are forcing their way into social media, I believe that the opportunity for engagement is less obvious for brands, but that the opportunity for using social as a means of real-time intelligence for businesses – around innovation, macro and micro trends, consumer sentiment, corporate issues and crisis management, employee and talent engagement – are key. As technologies around social intelligence – like Unmetric – continue to develop their offerings, and to show the industry what’s possible with real-time smart data that empowers better business decision-making and marketing optimization, this single most disruptive force to the world of social media marketing – and all marketing – will become clear to marketers the world over. Integrating social media intelligence into organizational and brand intelligence will be key – so social intelligence technologies must focus on their ability to easily integrate.

What are the social media metrics you don’t have access to today but would like to be able to leverage in the future?

I think all the important metrics are available. If anything I believe that too many metrics are available today. I look forward to a point in time when it’s less about metrics and more about meaning. Bringing business and marketing insight forward, rather than merely metrics – or at minimum making it easy for marketers to more quickly glean insight from the data that surround them, will be the golden egg that social media intelligence must lay. And soon!

* Updated 6/12 – Zaheer is now the Head of Digital Innovation, Asia at Golin.

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