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CMO 2.0 Conversation with Eran Barak, SVP of Marketing and Community Strategy at Thomson Reuters

eran-barakMy CMO 2.0 Conversation with Eran Barak, the SVP of Marketing and Community Strategy at Thomson Reuters was a good way to restart the series.

Eran has been involved with social technologies for a very long time, dating back to the precursor of ICQ (sold to AOL) when he was in college. He joined Thomson Reuters in 2004, just about the time when blogs and podcasts were becoming very popular – turning everyone into a content creator, and potentially a competitor. He quickly realized that social media was a great way to interpret content – and not just a way to syndicate/filter user generated content. Using the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” game show analogy, Eran described how social media allows financial analysts to now have three lifelines instead of one – call on experts, call on people they trust, or rely on the crowd to analyze situations.

It’s very clear that for Thomson Reuters, Social Media is all about the social and not about media – an interesting perspective coming from a company with deep media roots. They use social media to connect their customers with one another, and not to try to raise awareness about their company in the markets they operate in.

At Thomson Reuters they take the social seriously,  applying lessons learned from the wold of epidemiology and sociology to their sales and marketing processes. Specifically they leverage the friendship paradox to penetrate accounts and to make their marketing messages go viral. The friendship paradox says that if you recommend a friend, that person will be more connected (i.e., have more friends) than yourself. So by having their sales people ask prospects to recommend others within their organization that they should talk to, they get closer to the center of decision making than by navigating through the traditional hierarchies. Thinking about the social in business outside of social media is a trend that we increasingly see happen within successful organizations. Humans have always been social, but for some reason we leave our social being at the front door of our companies. Bringing that back in business the way Thomson Reuters does it with their sales force is a powerful business driver.

The two “must have” criteria for the social to succeed in financial related businesses, according to Eran, are trust (knowing that the person you are talking to is indeed who she claims to be) and security of the interaction between people (knowing that what I am talking about and sharing will only go to who I want it to go to).

We also talked about risks associated with social media and how it is better to deal with them by educating people and make them risk intelligent rather than developing policies and rule books to try to control every possible risk contingency.

Every industry is faced with accelerating change, but the ones in which Thomson Reuters operate are seeing their core foundations shift. The innovator’s dilemma is not just a periodic occurrence, it’s a constant. Eran talked about how you innovate in an environment like that – by hiring really smart people, allow them to do crazy things, and by developing a sound acquisition strategy. At Thomson Reuters, they also leverage social media to crowdsource business and product ideas with customers.

We wrapped up the conversation by talking about the fundamental changes that are happening in marketing. What is important to Thomson Reuters’ marketing is making sure that they develop content that travels among their customers and prospects. Eran truly believes that the messages that you put out in the marketplace need to be short and simple – so people can remember them and repeat them in conversations. You need to be able to distill your value proposition to one or two sentences. If you want to turn your customers into word of mouth engines, the story needs to be so unique and compelling that people want to tell their friends. If they don’t retell your story, your marketing dollar stops with the few people that are listening to you. Spending on traditional, old school advertising and marketing programs is something Eran really cannot wrap his head around in this day and age. Marketing needs to embrace simplicity and differentiate on the basis of emotion.

Eran, who truly deserves the CMO 2.0 title,  ended the conversation with some final and very valuable words of wisdom for fellow marketers – when thinking of social media, don’t start with social media (e.g., we need a Twitter feed or a Facebook page). Think through what your strategy is and then see if you can leverage social media as part of that, and ask yourself whether you can develop a message that is compelling to the point that people will want to retell it to all their friends.

In a lot of ways not all that different from what we say in our book The Hyper-Social Organization: find you tribes and what makes them tick, and engage them where they hang out.

Other things we discussed include:

  • Social media in heavily regulated markets
  • The importance of having social media policies that are encouraging rather than discouraging
  • How you keep a good balance between providing high quality professional content and being a curator for user-generated content and how to use social filtering to deal with the increasing “infobesity”

As usual, you can listen to the podcast on the CMO 2.0 Conversation blog.

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