ABOUT MY GUEST
In today’s conversation, I speak with César Christoforidis, the Senior Vice-President of Global Partnerships & Strategy at Emplifi (previously known as SocialBakers), where he spearheads the partner growth strategy and manages strategic relationships with Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok, and Linkedin.
With a passion for new technologies and helping humanity to cultivate a healthy mix of human/tech solutions to improve our everyday lives, César’s work also focusses on how we might build strong, sustainable and helpful communities.
Having led a team of digital consultants as Sales Director UK & EMEA for Experian Hitwise, one of the world’s leading online marketing intelligence solutions, César’s 15 years of experience in digital and software solutions spans everything from Social Media, Live Shopping, eCommerce and Influencer marketing, to Affiliate Marketing, PPC, Display, Messaging, and Email.
Recorded on 15th February 2021.
Produced by Caro C. Written & recorded by Nathalie Nahai © 2021.
Nathalie: César, it’s a real pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for joining me.
César: I thank you for inviting me.
Nathalie: You’re In the UK in lockdown, and I’m in Barcelona under pretty strict restrictions. This conversation is going to go out in September of this year. So from your perspective what do you think is happening in the global human psyche right now? What might your prediction be for where we’ll be in September?
César: Yes. Oh, boy. I mean, I can really only use a bit of self-reflection. I guess being part of a global company you get a lot of insight into how the rest of the folks are feeling in different territories. So I’ll start with my thoughts on how the psyche could be right now, probably more from a business perspective. I feel right now obviously, there’s an enormous amount of frustration, and that’s being caused by several factors. In a sound byte, economical factors. Obviously people losing their jobs, or being put on long furloughs. There’s still this cap of uncertainty. I just feel that things can’t happen fast enough. It feels like now everybody’s kind of waiting in line to get a vaccine and try and switch their lives around.
But even that seems to be quite slow. I think the only leaders right now are Israel now, right? They’re the ones that have really shone in terms of getting this out. It is bringing I guess, some prosperity and some confidence into the markets. From a business perspective, I think that, the companies that traditionally haven’t invested big in digital have been forced to last year. What it’s done is actually quite phenomenal. If you look at the amount of IPOs due in 2021, it’s staggering. So we’re going to see a lot of innovation. With that I think it also gives people a lot of confidence that there will be new opportunities for them. So this level of uncertainty that they’re not able to go back into the workplace, is suddenly opening new doors for them.
So I think 2021 will open up phenomenal amount of new opportunities. People will be able to retrain, but it’s a mixed bag. Personally for us, being part of a tech company it wasn’t a particularly bad year, 2020 for us. I mean we even sold the company, which is testament of how much the data was valued. So maybe a little bit bias from my side because it wasn’t a bad year at all. I mean, we saw a surge of larger investments done by our clients in this space. But that wasn’t the case in all verticals so we’re quite lucky in that respect?
Nathalie: Actually the digital side, anyone who is able to work virtually or who is working with data probably has quite a boost in terms of what they’re able to accomplish this year and the transition online. And people becoming much more fluent in technologies that maybe they’d previously been resisting. Can you describe a bit for those of us who don’t know what your company is and what you do?
César: Yes well, SocialBakers right now in this state is a social marketing suite. What it allows companies to do is to use our technology to plan, to deploy, to measure. Now with the recent acquisition and allows you to continue to care for those customers. So it predominantly works with the strongest social media networks, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so forth. It’s really there to empower brands to be smarter. Small things but actually quite big, when you think about our spaces being able to understand when your audiences are online. So it helps you to publish at the right time. It allows you to really listen to what they’re saying so you can change all of your content so it can be relevant.
Being in an attention economy is extremely expensive for brands to be communicating at the wrong time and with the wrong message, because these networks will penalize you. They will actually get you to pay more when your content is not resonating with the audiences. So it really is designed to make brands smarter. Now SocialBakers is moving into another phase, which is the care element because as you know this industry is now moving more into a customer experience orientated emphasis. That’s the way that we have to move. I think if we want to keep any level of loyalty you now have to provide an exceptional experience in that journey to those clients.
Nathalie: It’s interesting what you’re saying about the need for care, for an experience to be something which is a bit more enriching. So I think one of the things that we’ve seen especially with all the crisis and tumult, when you look at social channels and all of the different themes, and topics, and debates that are being had, corporate reputation is becoming increasingly important. Is this something that you’ve also seen in your work at SocialBakers in terms of what you’re picking up?
César: Well us, we have internalized that and we have gone through great lengths to be more diverse, to be more inclusive, and to bring onboard more transparency than ever. In terms of what our clients are telling us is that they very much want that to be portrayed in the public eye. Then for us, obviously it’s important to empower them to make sure that all the communication that they’re sending out to the general public, to the consumer is being perceived in that way. So what’s interesting is that a recent interview with Bill Gates done by Zanny Minton Beddoes, from The Economist… I mean, her first question, he came out with and he said that, “The main challenge now is for corporations to try and look good versus the actual making an impact.” So it’s very easy to try and look good, but the consumers are not stupid. They’ll give you their honest opinion, whether it’s actually making an impact or not.
Nathalie: I guess that whole thing with digital communication or marketing or advertising of any kind, it really now plays such a vital role in conveying not just the values of a business and managing brand perception, but also communicating the reality of what the brand is doing. So when you see on the one hand, people using the right words, but they’re falling prey to woke washing and virtue signaling, that lands really badly. Compared to those who are able to take a stand on any number of issues and do it with integrity, and do it with an action plan, and with proof. What are some of the greatest pitfalls do you feel that companies need to avoid when they’re communicating what they’re doing across social channels?
César: Yes, we have seen some unfortunate examples of large global corporations just being part of this way without giving it any real thought. Then what’s happened is that they’re just doing it for the sake of it with no real purpose, or no real structure behind it. The consumers catch wind of it and they hijack it, and they persecute a brand and say, “Look, you’re just saying this for the hell of it. This is just another way for you to profiteer.” So I think the pitfall are don’t just do it because you have to do it with a meaningful message. Almost like going back to the core of why the business started in its infancy. This is why we’re seeing a lot of the CEOs becoming more activists, it’s really becoming their job top-down to deliver this message. The most successful messages around sustainability or corporate responsibility have been the ones that have been driven from the CEOs.
Nathalie: Yeah. Really being kind of the pioneers in our own field about causes that they care about. I know a lot of people feel quite cynical and for good reason, but I think you can tell when someone is genuinely passionate about a specific action or cause that they want to take on. Actually SocialBakers, you guys recently released a fascinating index of sustainability on social media, which is a study that focuses on analyzing the importance of communicating about sustainability across social channels, and how this can improve brand perception and corporate reputation. What are some of the key trends that you observed in this study that you guys conducted?
César: Well, the trends are that the number of communications are on the increase across the board. So it’s a good indicator that people are really taking it in their stride, and making it very much part of… Not just the corporate communications, but where you have a global holding with multiple brands, it has now become the brands brief… I guess, to also incorporate some of what the whole company’s doing towards something that’s plausible, a real cause. It’s coming away from just corporate comms, it’s now also becoming the job of the brands, because at the end of the day they have the power to reach, whereas if you go on a corporate page of a company they only have a small followership. So you do have to recruit the real brands, the ones that the consumers engage with on a day-to-day to be those ambassadors of your work that you’re doing with corporate governance.
Are there any in particular that you think of as really exciting success stories?
César: There’s a few verticals I want to point out. So fashion, I believe has been pioneering in this simply because if they don’t they’ll be dead basically. Because of how they need to change people’s minds. Obviously Patagonia has been around for ages was one that really comes to mind. Another one which I just loved is the Lacoste Endangered Species Campaign. I mean, it is brilliant because they will only print that number of publishers that correspond to the remaining number of that specie. So it makes-
Nathalie: Oh wow.
César: Yeah, it makes the consumer very inquisitive. It makes them really understand. To go and search for, “Well what is that number? So how many of these publishers will be available?” But it’s not just about that. Obviously, the sales then go and then they are redeployed into good cause to keep those species alive. In drinks company, we’ve seen InBev do some amazing campaigns globally and locally. So that’s another large manufacturer that’s worth mentioning. Coca-Cola’s also suffered, I guess, quite a lot of backlash with the contamination of water. They’ve done a phenomenal job to turn that around in their recent campaigns, and their fight to become part of this new green economy. There’s big food manufacturers like Grupo Bimbo, largest bakery on the planet. The great thing about that company is they are not just focusing on packaging. They’re also investing in a whole new fleet of electric delivery, automotives, complete green energy within the next five years. So I think that there’s a lot of them around the world, but I think those are the ones that I’ve carefully followed.
Nathalie: I think when you see some of the really massive companies like Grupo Bimbo, like Coca-Cola take stock and say, “Actually, no, we are going to choose to do something.”, it adds to the momentum. It creates additional pressure and movement to encourage other players. Whether that’s people in politics or other heads of other industries to actually make similar changes. But I want to ask a little bit more about the fascinating report that you guys did because you talk about these four main categories, the four C’s, which explore care, conscience, campaigns, and charity. Can you tell us about the four dimensions that these relate to and what they mean?
César: Yeah, of course. I mean first of all, I want to give credit to Claire Davenport. She very much inspired me to create this index. She’s obviously CEO of Notonthehighstreet. She presented in an event a couple of years ago, and she talked about the emerging consumer and how they’re going to stand for four C’s. So I didn’t pluck these out of the air they’re very much a brainchild of Claire Davenport. Yeah, so what we’ve designed is four dimensions. Like you say, they are really to measure when a brand is communicating under a specific dimension. So if we start off with care and what care covers, this is very much looking at communication where a company is consciously making investments on reducing the environmental impact for example. All the types of investments that they’re making around typical things like renewable energy for instance.
When a brand is being conscious we see that the type of communication is very much geared towards healthy eating, wellbeing, driving innovation, social justice, and responsible consumption. So conscious it’s a behavior that you see quite a lot with FMCG food companies. Charitable is quite self-explanatory and this is something that a lot of brands can partake in, but it’s looking at what corporations do in terms of donations to worthy causes, contribution to scholarships, grants, and an ethical innovation.
Then lastly, but definitely not least this when a brand is seen as a real campaigner. I think this is going to probably be the most interesting because it looks at how a company’s building in a sustainability around sexual diversity, and also the eradication of corruption. Which unfortunately still very much exists in the world. Ethical marketing, and also promoting what a great place it is to work in because of what they stand for. So the real sense of transparency around brands that have real campaigners. So those are the kinds of the four dimensions. We’ve built this system and algorithm, which detects automatically the type of posts on social media, and then compartmentalize as them under each of these dimensions so that we can start measuring them on the index.
Nathalie: That’s so interesting. Do you find that there are certain dimensions that show up more in specific industries? I’m thinking maybe we’re thinking about the environment that, that would come up in particular in FMCG, for instance? Or do you find that you tend to get a mix of all four categories in whatever industry you’re looking at?
César: Yeah. What we have seen is that on the Cartesian diagram, when a brand has set out what they want to communicate it’s very, very different to what the consumer perceives. What we see is that the perception definitely is, as you pointed out very much goes back into care and consciousness. So that’s where we see a lot of the communication now kind of congregating on the index. If you asked me what verticals, I mean it’s a mixed bag. We see a lot of financial institutions there, and a HSBC, Coca-Cola Santander, Kellogg’s. Those are the companies that you would typically see gravitate towards being more conscious, and a lot more caring in the eyes of the consumer. What is quite interesting is actually where those posts started, which were actually on the other almost entirely different objective. But this is why the index is very much in its place to help brands understand what they’ve communicated has actually been perceived the way it’s designed to. Or if the consumers have understood them differently. Which has happened in many cases.
Nathalie: I guess that kind of difference between what you believe that you’re communicating, and how it’s perceived and received by the consumer or by the general public that’s the key thing. Do you think that there’s a specific set of mistakes that people make in thinking “Well, okay. It’s like the curse of knowledge”, because you have more knowledge and context you imagine everyone else does too. Do you think there are certain assumptions or mistakes that people make when they’re… I don’t know the CMO of a big brand, and they think, “Well, why aren’t people getting this?”
César: Yeah. I mean, it’s a number of factors. Sometimes it could be in a very practical factors, is that they’ve chosen the wrong brand to carry out a message, or they’ve solely relied on the community under their corporate profile to carry a message that was never going to touch the audience where they were looking for those receptors. So I think it boils down to not well-thought-out execution, and just going back to the basics of marketing. It’s just making sure that you’re targeting the right audience with the right message. Yeah. Which is actually quite good because it’s easy to fix. Right?
Nathalie: From the reports, what are some of the best practices brands can use to better communicate sustainability initiatives that they’re engaged in on social media?
César: Yeah. So best practices is obviously not to bombard, not to only use LinkedIn. There’s only a limited number of your real consumers under that community. So it’s great to see lots of rigor on your LinkedIn newsfeed. But those aren’t really the people that you need to convince. That ordinary day-to-day are not going to be in LinkedIn. So my biggest advice is that the CEO has to be an activist together with the corporate communications team. It has to be very much led from the top-down. If you are a company that do have business-to-consumer business model, is to use the brands to carry those messages. It’s going to be important it’s not just to help the CEO deliver a message about all this great investment that they’re making in transforming processes to be more greener but it’s actually the consumer. What we’ve seen is that the Centennials, Millennials, Gen Z, whatever you want to call them, they would much rather trade an experience for material gain. This is what we’re seeing.
So it doesn’t just have to be a good thing that you’re doing for the company, it needs to become the backbone of why it is that people should use your services, or want to buy products from you. So I think best practices is that climate changes is staring us in the face. You will see a lot of activists, and you will see a lot of campaigns now with this at his core of its communications strategy.
Nathalie: Yeah. It’s interesting because one of the fascinating ideas I recently encountered when interviewing Alex Edmonds, who is professor of finance at London Business School. Was that for a brand to have positive impacts it doesn’t to be all things to all people, because it’s very easy when you think about all of the different problems we face. That we have to take a stand on absolutely everything. He was saying, so for instance, if I think of a brand that I particularly like, like BrewDog, which has a beer brand. If it’s within your power to make your production lines and your packaging methods carbon negative… Which for them it happened that it was, and they recently achieved this. Then it’s a great area to focus one’s attention on.
But if that particular strategy isn’t within your power if you can’t make that kind of change, then Alex suggested focusing on what’s in our hand to give. So what can I actually do that is coherent with my values that I can enact change in. So whether that’s reducing food waste, or whether that’s like Grupo Limbo, creating a fleet of electric only cars, and by doing that spreading the adoption of those sorts of vehicles, helping to support the supply chains that create them, then that can be a really solid contributing factor towards making the entire system, whatever industry you’re in, more sustainable. So what advice might you give to businesses wishing to do good?
César: Well the professor put it quite well. I mean, if you’re an automotive, when are you going to stop using steel? It becomes difficult but obviously, how are automotive becoming more carbon neutral, right? Is the buzz word floating around now around this screen premium, I would suggest look for other avenues. On the index we look at how you can contribute to charitable causes. How you can still change your organization to be more inclusive to offset some of the things that are beyond your control. because it just wouldn’t be any other way to produce this service.
It’s similar to what the airline’s going to be challenged with. I mean when are you going to change the jet engine to not consume any fossil fuels. But in the meantime, they can turn their focus on being more inclusive. I think that it’s all not lost. I mean if your industry is I guess it’s propped up by the use of raw materials, I think you can still make an impact and it changed by looking at ways to be charitable. Also, being a great campaigner of creating an amazing place to work in.
Nathalie: Yeah, I think that’s the thing that all of the different steps that we take to move into a positive direction, it adds up. So in recent years I think these sort of trends have been accelerated with the pandemic. But in recent years there’s been a lot more interest in and debate around the balance between purpose and profit. Do you also see this trend reflected in a social marketing data you’re working with at SocialBakers?
César: Ah, that’s a difficult one to think about. I mean, give me an idea.
Nathalie: Sure. So some of the books I’ve been reading around… Okay, we’re going slightly off the beaten track here. But I’ve been reading some interesting books on ritual, and on the secularization of society. And how in the absence of external structures like religion or specific practices, which previously would have given society certain kinds of meanings and ways to bond together and finding purpose, we’ve kind of lost a loss of that. Which I think is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that we’re seeking that sense of purpose and deeper meaning elsewhere. I think when we look at some of the data around consumer behaviors, especially in younger folk… As you mentioned early with Centennials, Millennials, Gen Z, et cetera. That a lot of younger cohorts in particular, one of the reasons they’re looking for experiences rather than material gains is because they want to feel the sense of… And I include myself within this. We want to feel the sense of aliveness, of meaning, of connectedness that maybe has been a bit thin on the ground in our generations.
So when people talk about balancing purpose and profits, I think not only is it about giving customers experiences that feel meaningful, that feel enriching, that are aligned with their values. There’s also some interesting stuff around the kinds of businesses and companies that people want to work for. So if I come and work for a Grupo Bimbo, and I feel like I’m playing an exciting role in a company that’s going to change the way in which supply chains work for instance, or the green vehicles. That gives an extra reason to be excited about working there. It gives an extra layer of purpose. So it’s kind of through that lens that I’m asking the question.
César: We have done a couple of webinars sessions on… It’s helping all of these brands go back to the very beginning of why it was created, and the values and so forth. But we have seen the trends move towards wellbeing. So it’s interesting that you talk about the spirituality, and connection, and what these pockets of young consumers are looking for. What we have seen is there’s been a huge surge in wellbeing. That’s primarily owed to the fact that people have been locked down. A lot of us have had to turn to either an online coach or someone to give us a bit of sanity. So I would say that in the future companies will probably want to offer wellbeing very much as a package of your employment benefits, which is something that not everybody has included.
By that it could be Yoga, it could be exercise, it could be anything, but I think that we’re going to see there’s a lot. Especially around the workplace, I think that we’re going to see even office space transform into something which has a lot more wellbeing associated around it. I think that we’re going to incorporate exercise more rigorously into work ethics. I think all of these things do make you feel alive, do make you feel more connected with each other. This is the trend we’ve seen because obviously we can listen and we can look at some of the biggest trending conversations by these particular audiences around the world.
Nathalie: Kind of curious to see if there are any smaller conversations that are perhaps unexpected that don’t get mentioned because obviously there’s the pandemic and climate change to talk about. Any other smaller conversations that you think are emerging themes that will be important with the future of work. Because obviously, if I think about the ways in which we might rebuild and design how we work… Whether that’s some kind of hybrid, chimera type beast, like a virtual physical hybrid. I have ideas about that. Everyone has sort of projections that they might like to see come to fruition and concerns about what that might look like. Are there any small conversations that you’re seeing at the sidelines that give you a sense of what people’s concerns or hopes are around what the future of work could be?
César: I think it’s around balance. Aside from exercise and keeping healthy it’s the consumption trends of what to eat and what to start preparing for yourself. I think it’s always been a topic, a hot topic. But what we’ve seen is that people are seeking to be more practical and welly prepare. Now that they can’t just run down and grab a sandwich from Pret and be back at their desk within five minutes. That’s no longer a reality, that really isn’t. So what we’re seeing is that people are searching for quick and healthy recipes. I think this is a huge opportunity especially, in food manufacturing where recipes are going to be even more important. Some of the technology that, that we’re looking at now, which might interest you Nathalie, is live commerce.
So it’s something that is really trending at the moment in Asia, and will see it really just popping a lot in Europe and in North America. And the opportunity there is that you can now shop live from an influencer. Whereas, before influencers kind of skirted around the subject of selling. But now I think you will be able to log on to let’s say, I like eating De Cecco Pasta. They could have a chef cooking but you will be able to buy those ingredients in real time, if you like what you see. The trend now in live shopping is actually, believe it or not in the luxury and beauty market. Where a lot of the brands like L’Oreal are getting an influencer to do a makeup session. In real time you can use the hashtag to be delivered all of those goods that they’re using during-
Nathalie: That’s bonkers.
César: …during that makeup session. But it’s going that way. It’s live. It’s very much live commerce. There’s an amazing company that we’re looking at, at the moment it’s called Go InStore. It’s also an opportunity to redeploy a lot of your workforce that used to work behind the counter in a shop. You redeploy them on either a one-to-one basis via video, or one-to-many. Which is the live commerce model which I was talking to you about. But it’s definitely up, in that the numbers that I’ve seen in terms of sales via this technology is staggering. So you can see why Mark Zuckerberg is in a hurry to set up the infrastructure for WhatsApp and Instagram, so that people can do a lot more live shopping. The real pioneers in this are the Chinese, where they’ve been doing this probably a year or two ago with their on WeChat. So I think if anybody does want to look at what’s coming up for us next, you only just need to look in one direction and you can see what we will be copying from, from the Chinese.
Nathalie: That’s super intriguing. It’s funny, isn’t it? Because often we don’t look beyond our own Western shores and actually, there’s such exciting stuff happening if you just look a little bit further.
Nathalie: So I’m going to kind of take this conversation down to a slightly different direction. Looking at how we can create more interesting virtual experiences and events. Because SocialBakers has been running fantastic conferences for a good while now. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying these firsthand. In 2020 you took SocialBakers Engage online, which created a fantastic compelling virtual experience. I thought it was really well executed. From a virtual events perspective, what do you feel are some of the most important things that made it successful? What are some of the things that you think we need to avoid to make sure that virtual experiences don’t suck?
César: Yeah. Well, I think timing always comes into play. I mean, our Engage was very much centered towards the back end of the year, which gave us a lot of time to collect information and to make some predictions. So I would say that predicting the future is always a hot topic. Bringing in things around customer experience really helped us, because we know that this is where the biggest investments are going to take place now from a CMO survey that eMarketer did. So I think it’s just picking all the things that we’re probably been discussed already to be executed the following year. But just bringing them forward into discussion in forum where we can all agree and listen to people’s expectations, and people’s thoughts of how they need to plan for 2021.
So I think it’s also keeping it very real and making sure that people understand that we’re all still very much in a learning curve, and that there are some of us that have had the luxury to make some mistakes. Because you do have to have a certain amount of resources to make mistakes and go back to the drawing board and execute them properly. So we’re lucky that we have clients that have the resources to make those mistakes and come back and tell us, this is what to avoid. The backbone of engages is really to empower people to share best practices, and to create a community. Because I think that’s the most important thing is just to be helpful to one another, despite what industry you’re in, or whether you’re competitor or not.
Nathalie: Yeah. Especially now sharing that knowledge is such an important thing to be able to do. It’s a generous act, I think, which we’re definitely a need of. Looking ahead, this is again another going back into the big questions before we close. If you personally had to choose one thing that you felt was absolutely key to the long-term success and resilience of a business, what would that thing be?
César: Oh, it’s experience. Without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve just seen it. We’ve lived through it personally through our own cycle, our own customer life cycle. But I think now more than ever you just need to invest in the best experience for your clients, for your customers, because I think that’s where the loyalty stands. I think people will be prepared to pay premium whether that’s a green premium, because things that are good for this earth will be a little bit more expensive at first, before they become cheaper. But also in terms of the experience that you give somebody when you have that first touchpoint on them to have a healthy balance between artificial intelligence. From our perspective between, how much you let a bot do versus a human.
I think the key is in a powerful listening engine that gives you those right signals of when it is time for a human to take over the conversation. That all adds up to having a great experience. That’s kind of my big prediction of where I think people will be investing a lot of their time in. In order to grow, but also to preserve some of the loyalty that they’ve built over the years.
Nathalie: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think that kind of quality of experience is something that obviously we can all pay attention to, regardless of whether we’re in products or services or a mix of both. So before we close out the final two questions I want to ask you.
Nathalie: Kind of I guess more on a personal note, but it also connects in with the work that you do with data, and with social communication, and corporate reputation brands. If I asked you what kind of world do you want to build, where might you begin to answer that?
César: Yes, I want to build a world that’s connected again, but not talking about being able to message somebody on Messenger. But I think connected in terms of very much having a regard of their place in the world, their social background, or the challenges that they have and be respectful of those things. I think a world that comes away from material gain, and is a true believer of investing not to be the best in the world to becoming the best for the world. So I think that would be my best ethos of building a new world especially with the technology.
Nathalie: I love that answer. What one thing would you suggest that we can do maybe to help us move in that direction?
César: A good starting block is to maybe stop and listen a lot more. I think that we have been I guess split, not just between two screens anymore, but in many cases it’s four or five. I think it’s probably time to stop and take account of the things that are really, really close to you because they end up being the most important to you at the end. I would maybe just slow down a little bit and maybe just intake more of what’s in front of you and not intake 10%, 20% of 10 things in front of you.