Big Think Interview With Bonin Bough
Bonin Bough is the Director of Social Media at PepsiCo. He was previously the EVP and Director of Weber Shandwick's global interactive, social and emerging media practice, and was the founding member and SVP at Ruder Finn Interactive. His work has won a number of awards including a Webby, a Stevie, a Golden Pencil, a Sabre, a Big Apple, an AdTech, a Com Arts and a SxSW Viewers Choice award.
Question: What are the biggest challenges to doing social media the right way?
Bonin Bough: I think the toughest thing is, is stepping back away from your... I guess the sense that the organization would usually like to put out - which is messages, messages, messages – and stepping back and actually adding value, value, value. And then, you know, a good friend of mine talks about “How do we move from ads to apps?” So how do we move from advertising to people to providing services that they actually use. And conceptually, not that we're going to move all of our dollars into creating apps, but conceptually, how do we do that? I think that's tough. I think we have done I think a lot of things in the right way, I think some things in the wrong way, but the biggest thing is that we've learned and we've evolved.
So I think some of the biggest challenges are getting outside of your comfort zone, challenging your existing realities, and opening yourself up for innovation. So, a lot of the stuff that we've done, like our participation at digital events and the bringing of our entire teams down there from across the organization; legal, procurement, R & D, everybody to experience kind of what's the new thinking in the spaces, opened us up to this interesting curiosity around digital. We also have employees that blog internally around from all of these events so that the whole organization is sharing it – all the way to stuff like we're doing with PepsiCo Ten, which is opening ourselves up to partner and help that incubation process or that innovation process with emerging technology. So I think that's the toughest thing – open yourself up, challenge your existing realities, and don't be afraid to fail. You know, failure is a positive learning experience at best.
Question: Why is social media important for B2B companies?
Bonin Bough: I think B2B companies oddly have almost an even better opportunity because a lot of the stuff that they're selling either has a service component around it or additional information that's needed from folks in that space, so those kind of – even if you look at the deep tech community. The deep tech community was driving social media well before even the CPG's got into the game, and that's because there were a lot of questions on “How do I connect this diode?” or “If this chip isn't working, what's the...” you know. And so that fosters… so I think there's a lot of opportunity for all companies – different types. I think there might be, in some very small cases, a company that couldn't benefit from social media. But I think you have to weigh what the ultimate benefits are and identify where the real opportunity is. I think a lot of CBG companies – one of the biggest opportunities is they’re connecting with the folks that already love your brand and providing platforms for them to continue to bring their passions to life.
Question: What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made when it comes to social media?
Bonin Bough: Not going fast enough. No, I think the biggest mistakes we've made, I think we've... I think underestimating the resource requirements to have consistent conversation, but I think quickly we adjusted to that. And I think you see the scale of the programs that we're operating with require very large amounts of internal as well as external partner resources, but resources nevertheless. And so I think it's tough to say that that was a mistake as much as it was more of a learning experience that we quickly corrected moving forward.
But you know what's great about an organization our size is that you have every single person across the organization interested in bringing to life programs in the space, but you also have a huge opportunity to share knowledge. One of my biggest roles operating at a PepsiCo level is; how do we share knowledge? How do we lift and shift from one place to the other? How do we make sure that every single person is reading from or learning from what other people are doing across the organization? So I think that's been a big asset in our core, and we try very hard from social circle calls, to platforms, to Wiki's, to share... we try very hard to share those learnings from place to place.
Question: What advice do you have for startups looking to establish their social networking presence?
Bonin Bough: Look, the rule book is open, and you can write the rules whatever you want. So if you don't have the means to have a person on Twitter 24/7, then don't do it that way. Why is it follow Friday only happens on Friday? Why don't you just take...? Here's the two hours where we're going to talk to our community because that's all the resources that we can have. But we realize that building that community will lead to more sales, which ultimately will lead to three hours, and then four hours.
What's interesting is to see the community know that they're participating potentially – I'm just riffing – but to see the community see that they're actually potentially participating and bringing another hour of resources on board because they're actually purchasing or buying or engaging with your technology more. I think it's “How do you become creative around the resources that you have but also making sure that you're using the technology to drive the means or to drive the means or to drive the end at which you need to.
And I tell that to my team all the time, like – and when you see stuff that we do, like we have a Zeitgeist app, which tracks and provides data visualization of our conversation. It's a measurement platform by which we use across a lot of other places in the organization. But as an app, that app is only live when we're at physical events, and it's fine. We let the world know that that's the only time they're gonna see it. You can go there and see recent data, but the only time you're gonna see vibrancy there is when we're at these digital events. Now it might change later on, but we don't have the means to just—or just show these data visualizations for... So my point is, creativity, I think will go a long way to overcoming the means. But I don't know. Does that work? What do you think?
Question: How do you focus on building an audience on Facebook or Twitter and scaling it?
Bonin Bough: Community organizing is hard work. I guess if you do it well you can become president. But, I think community building is hard work, and I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from some of the early pioneers like Guy Kawasaki building a community around - I still... I was like... I used to go to Mac user groups, but him building a community around email, around an email newsletter... or what the video game guys have done with building a community around video games – communities that are so vibrant that they can drop a video game into it and turn it into a billion-dollar blockbuster because they know who the alpha dogs are there. I think that that's the same kind of thing that you face when going into Facebook and Twitter.
On the fact of scale, I think that it's an interesting combination between using media dollars or techniques that are gonna get you reach in terms of eyeballs on your communities as well as finding what the right participation in that community or with that community is. It doesn't have to be conversation. I think that we as marketers right now are so nervous—or communicators—are so nervous about these channels that we haven't gone to experimentation, like … Some of the things that we've been talking about are just better giveaways on Twitter, or more promotion inside of our Facebook communities, a combination of digital... There's so much experimentation that we can do, and I think we have done a good job at that on some of our platforms, and on scaling I think there's a lot of other folks that have done really good jobs at that. I think the Starbucks folks, who are good friends of ours, have done a really great job at just wide-scale experimentation in the community – also tracking and measuring it.
So I think that's the other thing that we are dong well is that we look at “What's organic growth look like? What does fall-off look like? When we do X, Y, and Z how much of a burst does it have?” I think it's a combo... it's care and feeding, but you also need to have people who are dedicated to it because those are the people who learn how the community ebbs and flows. And who are the folks that are the major contributors. That's the skill set that I think still organizations – this community management thing – still organizations are just at the beginning of learning. Dell has, I think, done a really good on the forefront of doing that. We announced 'Mission Control,' which is the Gatorade mission control room – a glass room in the center of the marketing floor that tracks real-time data visualizations of conversation. But more importantly than that is that is there's a team of people in there that are dedicated to building these communities and learning how these communities operate and move. I think that's how you bring it to scale.
And the other piece I think that we haven't gotten to yet is the integration into all the rest of our marketing platforms. Why isn't our traditional ad saying “Hey, connect with us at Facebook.com or on Twitter?” You've seen and you see that organizations now are doing some of that stuff, but also even more than just the tagging of the back of the spot – providing what the value is. At our Facebook you will find an opportunity to connect with nutritionists - or whatever it is – and actually integrating it into what we're doing on all fronts. And that's when we're gonna see the scale come out because at the end of the day, Facebook is a big platform, but if you think of a company like PepsiCo – we're so big, we sell so many products every day – no platform is scaled. It's up to us to scale these things with the resources that we're using in all the places that we're using it if we truly believe there's a benefit behind community, which we do.
Question: How do you deliver deep connections with the social networks you create?
Bonin Bough: I think those deep connections are to continue to fulfill on the relationship that you've built, so it's one thing to get them there – it's another thing to keep them there. In some respects, for example on our corporate Facebook page, we have built an expectation that you're gonna hear some corporate news, you're gonna hear some stuff about brands, but what you're also gonna hear is quality information from the live events that we participate in. And that's... you can see our traffic spike or our usage pattern spike when we're delivering our recaps and on-the-spot information from those events.
And so I think really those deeper connections come from – and, again those deeper connections don't have to be somebody who is going to connect with you every single day. For us, it's telling people straight up and down, “Here's what you're gonna receive, and here's the times when we think you might want to be the most engaged because we're gonna be the most engaged with the community.” And we've seen folks come back, and back, and back... I think, talk about and highlight to us or speak back to us telling us that they're excited – those moments when we're on there, engaged. I think it's a clear promise of what you're gonna deliver – and then deliver on that. It's like any relationship, right? I guess, in a lot of respects. Like here's one: “Are you gonna be there for me? Yes or no?”
Question: Should business leaders be on Twitter?
Bonin Bough: If they want to do it, then they should do it. If they don't want to participate on Twitter, and they would rather participate on Facebook – whatever you feel comfortable or interested in... You look at a guy like Tony from Zappos – I mean, wow! How amazing has he been in terms of paving the path for forward-thinking CEO's on these type of platforms. But even more than that, what he's done to drive his business and the reputation. I think that we fail sometimes to realize how much reputation actually drives profitability of business; participation in purchase... reputation is so huge. These are huge reputational platforms for us, so I think once you start looking at it that way; I think it becomes a lot more advantageous potentially for CEO's. But I think it all boils down to, are you the type of CEO that's gonna be happy participating in this and find it a joy versus a must-do? That's the last thing you want is ...ugh... I can imagine how - I get a lot of emails. I can only imagine. And then you have to, if you're not passionate about it, have to check that too? That's not fun.
Question: What was PepsiCo’s social media strategy when you arrived?
Bonin Bough: So I arrived at PepsiCo, so I'm just saying it's not just necessarily Pepsi. Look, it's a rare opportunity to have the chance to work with such amazing communicators and marketers, and I feel very blessed, again, to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants. I mean, this was an organization... Pepsi, specifically, under John Vail's leadership built one of the first websites for a consumer packaged goods company. I mean it's crazy to even think that. It's an 18-20 year lineage of amazing digital programming, or initiatives.
Part of it – the first big piece, I think, was how do we think about what the next evolution looks like, and how do we do that in partnership with all the folks that are already – have been at this organization or at this organization. So that was the first step. The real big strategy was less about “What's the big strategy?” and more about what are the small wins? How do we prove ourselves in two places? How do we prove ourselves internal to the organization that these are viable platforms and then proven successes that can be blown out. And I talk about this, start small, be big, you know at the end of the day. I think that that's crucial as well as, how do we prove ourselves to the communities?
And I think, honestly, as crazy as it sounds, the first part of that community that we have to prove ourselves were to the folks that are the experts, or whatever you want to say. Those folks that are the most critical about what companies are doing because we wanted to get their feedback and tell them we were open for collaboration. A lot of those things started with like a south by southwest. We didn't go there about being flashy, and we still to this day... I've been to the event; I met my girlfriend there six, seven years ago. I don't even know if it's six years. Don't tell her I said, I didn't know. It holds a personal thing to me, but I also remember what it was like for those six years going there and... the point is we tried to go there, earn our way there, and provide a lot of value there, and I think that that's what we've done in this space overall is just continue to earn all of the participation and collaboration that we have from the folks in the space. That was part of the... and then at the same time we did that internally, which was earn a reason to believe in a lot of these channels.
Now having said that, it hasn't been that hard because the organization in general is just one of the most innovative organizations that I've had a chance to work with across even when I was on the agency side and so very open to innovation and change. I think a lot of people don't realize is how innovative food and beverage companies have to be in the first place in terms of product creation, package design, marketing – you name it. So what's the difference between applying that same innovation strategy, which is hopefully we'll talk a little bit more about PepsiCo Ten – what we do in PepsiCo Ten, which is the same innovation that has driven the organization. Well, these are just new channels that we're gonna talk to consumers in. Why wouldn't we be innovative? Why wouldn't we be at the front of that and taking risks like we do in our business in general?
Question: Why did you decide to focus on “refresh” instead of other marketing efforts?
Bonin Bough: Well, I think it wasn't a focus on one thing. In part, what it was, was focused efforts around driving the messages that 'refresh' was trying to deliver, which was this sense of optimism and the fact that we were backing the passions of our consumers and helping them refresh their communities. I think that that was important to deliver that message in the way that we did, and a lot of it in earned and digital media – in part because it was really about having a conversation. There was a whole mechanism of voting, campaigning, and all those pieces of which I'm sure the audience knows. It was important to deliver those messages in the channels because it was about having these conversations with people and asking them. Ultimately, we were asking people, “How would you refresh your world? What...?” So, when you see all the dialogue that happens – it's an amazing campaign – when you see all the dialogue that happens continuously around the channels, in the space in general, you can – you get this- and we – even more than that, let’s go off digital.
When you talk to the people who are participating – I was at an event, somebody came up to me, and they had a pocket full of stickers that they were sticking around that was telling people to go vote for their program on 'refresh.' Or the head of media, Seth Kaufman, who partnered with us on PepsiCo Ten, talks about a postcard he got in the mail, which was from a person who was running a 'refresh' program. And when we talk to them, we talk to the folks and how passionate they are about the chance to bring their idea to life. That changes you as an individual and makes you realize how great it is to be a part of a program like that. So I wouldn't say it was about focusing necessarily on one thing from a brand perspective, although that was the DNA of our major push. It was more about focusing on getting that message out there in a credible way, in a way that would resonate with consumers and that would continue to show them that we're aligned with their passion.
Question: What does it mean to create a movement instead of a moment?
Bonin Bough: It's about sharing – having a shared vision or reason with them that is gonna carry on over time, and I think that's what you've seen. So every single month you have a thousand new people who are out there campaigning for their idea, and that's very powerful. Again, the same exact story that I told... so ultimately, I think what we've created is a movement of people driving to do good with inside their community. And that's really what we were going after.
Again, I think it's amazing when you see – we have an employee who—well, one internally... right ...global language project, and they won a 50K grant. And just to show you the passion that they had. First, I got the emails every single day: vote, vote, vote, vote, vote... so I can imagine what all of the other Americans around the country are. And it was exciting to get that email and also exciting to know... because she would tell us where they were and where they think they were in the rankings, what, you know, “Hey, continue to vote for me.” It's interesting because she's now convening a bunch of other Pepsi winner or 'refresh' and Chase grant winners together to have a conversation about how to build strategies around participating in these types of events. She's so passionate about bringing the success that they've had to other organizations. So I think that – Look, if that's not a movement, I really don't – I mean, I don't know what is, then. What can I say?
Recorded June 18, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown
A conversation with the Global Director of Digital and Social Media for PepsiCo.
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