Conquering the challenges of social media at scale

Jeremy Epstein

“Marketing infrastructure.” Not too many years ago, that might have been nominated as an oxymoron, right up there with a deafening silence, sweet sorrow, and jumbo shrimp.

But now, that’s where some of the most interesting developments in marketing are happening. Marketing operations is on the rise. Process is “the new black” in data-driven marketing.

Even social media marketing, when it’s tackled at scale, is in many ways an infrastructure challenge. It’s one thing when you’re responding to 50 inbounds per day. It’s another when you’re handling 5,000.

So pointed out today’s interviewee, Jeremy Epstein, VP of marketing at the enterprise social software company Sprinklr.

Sprinklr’s credentials on this subject are first rate. Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter Group wrote that Sprinklr is the most capable for large enterprises. Econsultancy gave Sprinklr two consecutive “top-right” rankings. Forrester Research’s Nate Elliott said that Sprinklr has the most powerful technology on the market.

So it was great to get Jeremy’s perspective on the following questions about the evolution of marketing, technology, and social.

Can you tell us a little about your background and your current role at Sprinklr?

After six years at Microsoft building community-driven marketing engines, I started and ran an international marketing consulting firm serving clients like Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, and other F50 companies. We specialized in helping teams adapt their marketing efforts to the new realities brought about in behavior due to the arrival of social technologies.

About 1.5 years ago, I was recruited to become VP of Marketing at Sprinklr. My responsibilities run the gamut from content marketing, influencer relations, public relations, analyst relations, branding, event marketing, and more. My favorite part is connecting with our clients and future clients any chance I get — these are the true innovators who are helping the world’s largest, most social brands evolve and it’s great to hear how they do it.

It’s been a great ride thus far, working with social leaders like Intel, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, DuPont, 1-800-Flowers.com, Virgin America, and 270 others.

What have been some of the most exciting developments in social media management over the past year? What do you see in the year ahead?

Sprinklr has always exclusively focused on the world’s largest brands. Over 80% of our clients have more than $1 billion in revenue, so we see development in that area, as opposed to SMB or SOHO.

That being said, there are a few areas that have gotten me fired up:

First, the importance of infrastructure. The leading-edge organizations recognize that social extends well beyond marketing alone. It touches every single part of the enterprise, and for a marketer to effectively do her job, she must:

  • Have a unified profile of the social customer regardless of the network (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Sina Weibo) to deliver a consistent brand experience.
  • Have the ability to engage and measure campaign effectiveness across channels to determine business impact.
  • See an entire conversation history with a social customer, irrespective of the team or function that previously engaged, in order to make every interaction have additive value.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is: a brand cannot make this happen without an enterprise social infrastructure to address collaboration management, conversation management, campaign management, community management, and content management. The good news is that we’re starting to see CMOs partner and engage more holistically with other leaders to make this happen. We’re seeing the marketing leaders who understand integration and infrastructure start to make their mark.

We’re seeing the marketing leaders who understand integration and infrastructure start to make their mark.

Second, getting ready to scale. Simply put, things are different at scale. We all know this, but as it relates to managing social, think about this:

When you have 50 inbounds per day, your question is, “How do I see all of them in one place and answer them?”

However, when you have 5,000 per day, it’s not about adding more and more people. If you’re really successful, you’ll have more engagement than you can handle. So, when you get to that level, your question becomes, “WHICH of these inbounds must we answer, and which can we safely ignore?”

This goes to the heart of the marketing technologist, right?

To make this work, a marketer is going to need things like natural language processing for message scoring and automatic rules, filters, and actions to help guide a message to the right person/team in the organization (be it PR, legal, high-net-worth individuals, etc.). There’s an element of programming here, as you have to think through scenarios and model them in order to code the system to operate as desired.

There’s an element of programming here, as you have to think through scenarios and model them in order to code the system.

It’s exciting to see marketers embrace these types of technologies and evolve their approaches to have somewhat of a programmer ethos.

For a great example of “thinking different at scale,” see this example of how Microsoft did it.

Third, legacy system integration. Enterprises have long seen the need to connect existing infrastructures (such as CRM and ERP) with social. In our view, social is a turbo-booster for existing legacy systems. What’s happening is that forward-thinking marketers are getting past comments, shares, and clicks to measure impact. There’s a growing demand to connect social data with existing data, in order to ascertain the impact of social on the business.

What’s particularly exciting is how marketing teams are preparing for the day this happens. They are:

  • Profiling social customers using the same taxonomy at the enterprise and brand level as they use in existing CRM systems.
  • Handling social assets (video, pictures, etc.) in the same way they manage existing content management systems.
  • Creating databases that mirror customer care systems for issue tracking and resolution.

We’re seeing a demand for this type of flexibility in a social relationship infrastructure so that the power of social to serve as a “turbo boost” for the enterprise can be realized.

At a time when there’s been a flurry of consolidation in marketing technology, what are some of the advantages and challenges of Sprinklr being an independent software platform?

Ah, an easy one.

Look, without context about the nature of the relationship that a brand has with an individual… at best, you’re simply not going to be as effective as you can be. At worst, you’ll do some serious damage to the brand.

You can’t just look at how an individual responded to a tweet, for example, and not know that it was the same person who submitted an entry for your contest via your Facebook app. Or know that the person is an influencer. Who lives in Boston. Who has an outstanding customer service issue.

It’s just not acceptable.

Large brands have to have full visibility into conversation history. Marketing needs to know if someone has engaged with customer care, for example.

For enterprises to be effective in social, they require an infrastructure that was originally designed to maintain that context across channels, business functions, and business divisions. They need a way to measure campaign and content effectiveness. They require integrated collaboration among functions and a way to view community from a singular view. This simply does not happen when a large company buys a number of technologies that were not designed to work together. That type of “Frankenstein” approach isn’t effective.

This simply does not happen when a large company buys a number of technologies that were not designed to work together. That type of “Frankenstein” approach isn’t effective.

The key is agility, particularly as new channels come on. Either you have an architecture that allows for innovation at the speed of social, or you are going to be constrained by the parameters of a duct-tape approach — no matter how big the name of the company that sold it to you.

How should marketing organizations balance governance with responsiveness in social media management?

Great question.

This is something that is important to all our clients, but in particular to the numerous banking, insurance, and other regulated industries that we serve. There are a number of areas, but let’s focus on a few of them.

First, federated social governance. One log-in across the platform that manages all access for employees to social properties. In that way, you can’t access a site natively (security risk), and you can’t access sites for which you aren’t authorized. What’s more, when the employee leaves, with one click, you turn off access enterprise-wide. No risks from passwords in spreadsheets.

Second, roles and permissions. When you configure Sprinklr for your organization, you build out specific roles (e.g. community manager) and permissions (e.g. posting only in Europe). Then, as new people come on board, you don’t have to go line by line, rather you assign a person to a role with a specific set of permissions. Then, combined with great social media training (see Intel and Dell for great examples of this), you provide people with flexibility but within constraints.

Third, corporate control with local flexibility. We have one client who has built over 100 social apps using the Sprinklr platform. When you build that many apps, corporate isn’t in a position to monitor every single implementation. However, they can set up guidelines such as “use an image here” or “use copy here,” etc.

The creation of templates — be it social apps or messaging guidelines (as in the case of crisis management) — means that corporate has the ability to “lock down” certain areas. But at the same time, they’re giving the local or regional teams latitude to make the smart adjustments they need.

Fourth, tiered approvals. There are obviously scenarios where an individual cannot make the call on his or her own. Much time is wasted today in large organizations trying to find out, or figure out, who the right approver is. When you build in tiered approvals, you have programmed the workflow beforehand.

Much time is wasted today in large organizations trying to find out, or figure out, who the right approver is.

This gives you as much agility as can be had in a large environment where multiple people are involved. However, with things like audit trail reporting and SLA reporting, you are able to rapidly respond/engage and, at the same time, hold various parts of the organization responsible for signing off. This way, the brand can be social, agile, and responsible all at the same time.

Fifth, automated workflow. Say you get a tweet from a mega-influencer, but it’s buried within the tweet stream from your largest event. You may not want your front-line community manager to handle that one. So instead, you have a series of filters, actions, and rules which identify the influencer; recognize that the tweet may be positive or negative; and then, automatically route it to your influencer relations team or your high-value customer team or whatever is required.

In this way, you can be responsive, while making sure it is the right people who are making the call.

What are some of the broader changes you’ve seen in marketing management and culture, whether influenced by social media or other trends?

First, greater partnerships with other functional heads. Social transcends silos. It touches every part of the business. As a result, marketing teams are increasingly looking to partner with customer care and other parts of the omni-channel/multi-touchpoint world in order to provide more holistic and engaging customer experiences.

Second, an emerging class of marketing technologists. Yes, I know it’s the name of your blog, but that doesn’t mean ­­you’re wrong. We’re definitely seeing an increased level of sophistication among many marketing teams in terms of understanding how the technology works, not just how it behaves. Take a look at people like Richard Margetic at Dell, Alex Schott at Entergy, Brian Rice at SAP, or Rob Krin at Castrol. These guys get it.

We’re definitely seeing an increased level of sophistication among many marketing teams in terms of understanding how the technology works, not just how it behaves.

Third, move from content storage to content dissemination. We’re starting to see more and more brands focus on how to discover and disseminate the best content in and throughout the organization. Most traditional CMS solutions are all about storage. In social, particularly with some of the recent changes to Facebook’s newsfeed, the challenge is “how do we find the best performing asset and push that to the right people in the company to help them meet their goals?” Social Asset Management is becoming increasingly important to address this — particularly when it is tied to performance metrics.

If you could offer one key piece of advice to a CMO about social media management, what would it be?

Stop thinking of it as social media management. All media is social. It’s about social relationships with your customers, which must maintain context across the multi-channel, multi-function, and multi-division experiences they have with your brand.

Stop thinking of it as social media management. All media is social. It’s about social relationships with your customers.

The next wave isn’t about managing social media. It’s about having the infrastructure in place to meet the expectations of the socially-empowered, mobile customer at every touchpoint.

The wagon trails of social have been worn, now it’s time for superhighways.

Thanks, Jeremy!

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