Pivot Preview: Social Business

an interview with
Danna Vetter Vice President of Consumer Strategy, Aramark

In my recent MediaPost article, I argued that social media is a ripe avocado whilst social business is guacamole, taking something that is good already and transforming it something that is truly amazing. While the analogy seemed to hold up and allowed me to showcase IBM’s updated platform that helps companies make “guacamole,” it didn’t provide an inside look at how B2B brands are approaching social business.

To redress that shortcoming, here is my recent interview with Danna Vetter, VP of Consumer Strategy at Aramark.  Danna does a particularly good job explaining how Aramark moved social from being a tactic to a business strategy.   And by the way, Danna will be presenting next week at the Pivot Conference in NYC.

Drew: First, can you explain to the uninitiated what Aramark does?
ARAMARK provides food, facility, and uniform services for a number of verticals, including sports arenas and stadiums, hospitals, colleges, universities and schools, and businesses around the world.

Drew: What does it mean to become a social business?  
To be a social business, you have to integrate your business processes with social technology. To take that further, one could argue that a truly social business has leveraged social technology, tools and channels to fundamentally change the way they do business.

Drew:  Has Aramark become a “social business?” And if so, can you talk a bit about the journey?
We’re not there yet but we’re working toward it. We’re still early on our journey, but we’ve recognized the importance of getting there and have made some great progress.

The reality was that social was happening all around our company (and with our consumers and clients) whether we were actively involved from a corporate perspective or not. Like most companies, our first steps were removing the fear of social for our executives and business leaders. So we brought the right stakeholders to the table and created the kinds of governance, strategy, and framework to ensure people were actively involved and comfortable with the process. We needed to make sure social was no longer a tactic, but a business strategy.

We trained the organization on the importance of why ARAMARK was leveraging social. And for our active social users, we gave them the proper training and resources to operate within their social strategies. We also created listening frameworks that helped identify, route, and respond to social conversations. This has all helped us limit risk and enable new technologies that we needed to be using.  And by creating a connected environment, it also set up our employees to communicate and collaborate in ways that they weren’t before.

Drew:  Where in the organization did the impetus to become a social business come from?
It started with our consumers. The table has been turned and consumers are driving how and where they will be serviced, they expect the companies and brands they interact with to be active in social. To promote, listen and react when they speak up. As a consumer strategy team, we were able to identify this and escalate the need and urgency to take part in these social conversations.

Drew: As VP, Consumer Strategy are you part of the marketing department?  If not, how important is having a broader purview than marketing in order to implement a social business transformation?  
At ARAMARK, marketing lives within each line of business. What’s unique about my team is that we sit in a corporate function that helps accelerate consumer strategies across all of our businesses. This setup allowed for my team to be the catalyst for the social business vision, but we couldn’t do it alone. The reality is that we worked, and continue to work with individuals in all of our businesses and functional areas (including HR, Legal, Corporate Communications, Privacy and others) to move us forward in the journey. This cross-functional team and effort is essential in moving the social business vision forward at a company as large and complex as our organization.

Drew:  Have you been able to link your efforts to become a social business to any tangible goals like customer satisfaction or sales?   
We are still in the beginning of finding ways to link those goals to bottom line results. We have had some great wins in terms of leveraging our listening framework to identify consumer issues and connect them to the right people across the organization – and eventually to solutions. We also have some success in terms of using social channels for marketing and promotions, but we’re often in a situation where we’re trying to connect online promotion with offline action. To be honest, it’s just hard to track that type of interaction. We’re working on it, and I don’t think we’re the only company facing that challenge. Right now, we are trying to focus our active users on building our networks, engaging with our audiences, and listening.

Drew: What advice would give to a friend in your role at another company about the social business journey?
Be patient and stay aware. It is not an overnight project. Just when you feel like you have won over everyone needed, there’s a whole other set of people you have to win over.

Social and digital technologies are making leaps every single day. You need to adapt and evolve what that means for your company as well as your strategies. Make hard decisions and be ready to change them tomorrow.

Finally, find the right people. Every organization has people who are passionate about social media from a personal perspective. Find those people and put them to work.

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