This week we sat down with Sofie Sandell to chat about how her career in digital marketing and social media developed, what her thoughts are on the current state of digital and where she sees the future going. Sofie has had a long and interesting career as a social media advocate, speaker and digital marketing guru. Her most recent publication, Digital Leadership sets to reinvigorate social media and creativity in the workplace as necessary characteristics for leaders in digital marketing today. A passionate digital marketer and regular TEDx speaker, Sofie has a gift for spreading her message and making sure people listen up when it comes to the tenets of digital leadership.
How did you get started in digital marketing?
Sofie: I started back in Sweden, where I’m from. In 2002 there was the Volvo ocean sailing race, and that year we had a Swedish winner. One of the sailing clubs was organising a talk with the captain of the winning boat, and he was someone that I really admired. Before his talk, the club didn’t put the talk on the website but sent it to a random email list of people that they knew. I got really annoyed with that because I felt that I missed a great opportunity to meet him again. I complained a little bit to the people on the board, and they said, ‘well you can do it then'. So that’s when I started learning about website management.
I believe information empowers people and when you see what you can do and how you can do it, then you might actually take more action than you would if people were hiding away information.
I started to manage a part of that website, and this was when social media was starting. I belonged then to a Swedish social media network called Shortcut, which was a mix between LinkedIn and Facebook.
In 2008 I became President of Junior Chamber International (JCI) here in London and we had an awful website. So we set up some strategies when I started, and we decided we were going to build a new website and have better email newsletters. I think I wrote 48 newsletters that year, so I know a lot about newsletter editing now!
Then Facebook started to be very public, everybody started to join LinkedIn around 2007/8 but everyone was debating which network to join and how many was too much. But gradually everyone realised that if you wanted to be connected to people in your life, you had to belong to several networks. I got a question a few days ago about which network professionals need to be in. I think you should to be on LinkedIn or any relevant professional career websites, of which there are many in different parts of the world, and I think professionals should be on Twitter because you are likely to go to events and meet people. You may not be tweeting every five minutes, but it’s useful when you’d like to connect with people.
I delivered training to people who were on my board on a volunteer basis. When there was an opening in my company for a new position as a social media manager, I got that job.
When would you say social media for business became really big or important? Where was that turning point?
Sofie: Five years ago I would say. You can argue forever what social media is and what it stands for. Take internet chatting for instance, that's social media too. I’ve defined it as using digital tools to communicate, but it’s about using two way communication or many way communication and including people.
What projects are you currently working on, and how does a typical day look like for you?
Sofie: Well I’m running my own business now and I just published my own book two months ago. A typical week is teaching at university as I am managing three courses there. At the moment I am teaching digital marketing, what to do with digital strategies etc. and I’m a professional speaker about leadership, creativity and social media. I also do training, so I work as a sub-contractor for a company, helping them with specific social media training for businesses.
I hear you're already working on a new book. So is the focus going to be not the place where leadership, creativity and social media meet but more how you use typical leadership in the workplace?
Sofie: Yes, and it's focusing on 'Digital Leadership in Action'. I’m planning to have different themes, for instance one on healthcare, one for new businesses and one for more traditional industries. I’m sure you know about the businesses in the UK that have denied what’s going on in social media. They denied it for such a long time and then they went bust.
Growing up in Sweden, I often heard in the news that there were companies going bust and they had to make hundreds of people redundant. That was my daily news, and I was very aware of the consequences.
These businesses were not adjusting themselves to what was going on in the world. And then you ended up with hundreds of people made redundant. I saw this happening in a heavily industrial city like my own, with Volvo and their headquarters and SKF, just because businesses wouldn't adopt the latest technology, and couldn't satisfy their customers. And if you’re not satisfying your customers, surprisingly enough, they're going to leave you and go somewhere else. And I think that’s dangerous, really dangerous.
Tell me a little more about how to go about getting executive buy-in? How about for those C-levels who don't fully understand social media?
Sofie: I think it depends on how people on the C-level see themselves in the system; if they're quite hungry for new information, that's good. I think that if you are on the board of directors, you need to look at the competencies that you have there so that you have at least a few people who know about technology, who can help the business move forward.
Otherwise, there's a risk because you’re going to make poor decisions. I’ve been a preacher for technology and social media for many years. You meet people who say 'eh, doesn’t matter', and the thing is, they might be quite savvy themselves, but they’re arrogant attitude is not inspiring for other people.
Like I met a guy who is very influential this week - he is definitely one of the top influencers in the industry - and he was so arrogant about the digital change. I’m pretty sure he knows a lot about technology. But his reply was that the digital change is just there, it's not his core business function. Of course I know it’s a support function for your business, I understand that it’s not a core function. But, you have to think about it on a broader basis, and how to implement it, which he didn’t want to tell me.
There are a lot of things to great digital leadership; it’s about attracting great people, picking the right projects, having a good idea of where you want to go and a proper evaluation process.
When I’m speaking, I often ask businesses, 'do you have processes for how to plan new ideas'? I often speak to people on a senior level and quite often they don’t. Some of them do and these are the businesses that are sure whatever’s happening they’re going to be alert. They will continue to listen, they will continue to be receptive to new ideas. And that’s necessary.
The first time you do anything, it’s quite scary. The first time you drove a car, it was most likely not comfortable. And it’s the same with many of the digital tools. It’s not comfortable for the first time.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Sofie: Three or four years ago, I was pitching a new TV program to both BBC and Channel 4, which they never took up. It was about leadership and creativity. So I started to write a blog about the topic, and I wrote a few posts about it. Up until this point, I had been training businesses in social media creativity for quite a few years, developed hundreds of powerpoint slides, with lots of information on them. I had also been speaking and had lots of information. I think it was the 24th of November last year, and I went to a friend’s book launch. And when I left that book launch, I said to myself, ok, if she, with a full time job can write such a beautiful children’s book, then I can write a book too.
This was on a Wednesday; on the Friday, I bought an audio recorder. I recorded ten chapters. And I noted, I have done many speeches in the past, I know a good speech is about 1000 words. I thought I could get together at least ten chapters in this way. I had quite a lot of these files, and there was a lot of file organizing. I then sent them off to a transcriber, she worked over night, and I got them back the next morning. And then I did lots of editing of course because the spoken word is a bit different to the written word. And then I took bits and pieces from my blog and put that together, and then I wrote a little bit more. I sent it off to a publishing consultant who was helping me copyedit. We then had a meeting and he said 'Sofie, this is about leadership, this is about digital, your book title is going to be digital leadership'. And I thought 'yes, it's totally about digital leadership'. That was January, and since then I’ve just been talking about digital leadership.
My business is called Social Media Impact. I called it that because I don’t think social media is so much about getting attention through a big campaign as it is having a big influence and whether you have a meaningful message. I think it’s almost everyone’s dream to get something to go viral, but it’s not how we should judge things. So that’s how I came up with the book. I think this is something that many authors have in common. It wasn’t a choice to do it or not to do it, because I had to get it out of me.
Where do you think digital marketing is going?
Sofie: This is my customer perspective - as customers, we are more and more picky. I think businesses need to shape up their image and trustworthiness. That’s something you can do with online marketing and social media. Businesses need to look at these two acticities deeper because then you get a better product. I definitely think we are going to be more video orientated. I’ve said that for years but now I actually see it. It’s about getting better skills and developing better content. Images are going to be better and more important.
A lecture by the Chief Information Officer at Lego gave some examples of really bad information technology and systems. In the past when they employed someone, they had to do a lot of training, give them a thick manual, always watching them in the beginning. And then they started to think, things should be more simple so that you don’t need any training. Things that are very simple for a lot of people, that don't need training to do, are what keep things moving. And that’s what I see with apps on mobile phones, I see that with websites, I see that with what we would prefer to do online. No one wants to sit and wait around for a hundred years.
Do you think social media leadership is going to become even more important in the coming year?
Sofie: Brands won't have that long of a time to do beta testing; they will have to get it better quicker so users can better understand it. I think Twitter, for instance, is quite intuitive. And writing a blog is not complicated. I’m also following some of my friends who work in London in the silicon roundabout, who are having some interesting discussions. People really like to collaborate and do things together and I see that in all different kinds of groups. Collaboration is something that people are much more aware about. And I also believe, as I said, that video is going to be improved. Photos I think are going to be even more important.
With businesses it all comes down to what’s your voice online. I talk to lots of business owners about that. What do you believe in? What kind of stuff can you say as a brand? If you don’t know that, you’re going to be insecure when you say something online and you hold yourself back. Brands that really know what they stand for online and talk about it loudly, do it much better, and people are going to buy because they know them better.
For young companies it’s important because they need to attract investors, who are much more likely to invest if they know what a company does and who they do it for. This is maybe not a trend but when we are looking at trends, we are gonna be looking a lot more at their social media. For instance today, I was updating my Facebook and saw an invitation for a taste experience in West London. I googled the restaurant and I didn’t go to the website first; I went to the Twitter account first and check them out. Then I clicked to their website link but it didn't work so I tweeted and told them to update the link that’s on their Twitter account. A few hundred people might click on that link everyday. I don’t know if they have seen it yet. If something hasn’t been updated since December 2012, you're going to ask, 'what’s going on? Are they not doing business any longer?'