#da12social‬ Is Europe ready to strategically leverage Social Media for business? – Interview with Axel Schultze @AxelS

Is Europe ready to strategically leverage Social Media for business?
Interview with Axel Schultze @AxelS

Original posy by Elza Confluencemedia

In 4 weeks time, 30 strategists, 250 volunteers created 1,000+ pages of crowd sourced research and 1 strategy proposal for the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012 of the EU Commission. Yesterday I had the privilege to talk to the man that initiated this group of highly qualified volunteers; Axel Schultze.

Axel Schultze, CEO of Social Media Software company XeeMe, Palo Alto, California – Chairman of the Social Media Academy, Palo Alto and active social media practitioner since 2003.

As part of the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012 of the EU Commission, you created a Digital Agenda Strategy Team. Can you tell me more about your motives to create this team? When and how did you come up with this idea?

The EU commission invited me to do an opening keynote at the Digital Agenda Assembly conference at the 21st of June in Brussels. I reviewed the European situation and realized not only is Europe 4 years behind the US but also not ready to strategically leverage Social Media for business. I proposed to the EU Commission to develop an open strategy to stimulate small and medium business to create growth and to compete on a global market. The scope is huge, so we need a clearly defined strategy to go after that objective. But as an experienced strategist I know it is possible. My motive is to make Europe a more stable and better place to live and work.

Very high goals: sustainable growth, additional jobs and being able to compete in a global market. In the meanwhile we see the news that Europe is struggling to keep their (financial) heads above the water. Do you think Social Media can ‘save’ Europe business wise?

If you look at the struggle Europe is in, there is a difference in what the press is saying and global reality. A large part of the EU, northern countries are economically very strong compared to US and Latin American countries. All in all, we see a rather strong Europe. We are always challenged around the globe. Even when disaster strikes there will be a way to create business.

There are various aspects of growth. If you look at the shoe industry, in Italy and Spain, the leather industry is big. However, both Italy and Spain are struggling. On a global scope, DC Shoesin California, has 8 million fans talking about their shoes on Facebook only. Falco is an Italian shoe factory which is not present on social media at all. Both companies target young people – but the US one is clearly ahead of the European one. If we can stimulate the Italian and Spanish shoe industry online, people don’t need to order shoes from the US.

Then there is the Fascino Group Guangzhou Shoes Manufacturer from China who is a very potential competitive risk. These shoes are not known in Europe because Chinese companies don’t allow Facebook in their marketing strategy. Renren.com is a chinese social network and they are present there. As soon as Fascino is able to deal with western social media platforms, they will come to Europe over-night. Whilst Falco is still not present at all and doesn’t even know how to deal with it. We need to prepare our local businesses. If businesses like Falco are not present other than through old fashioned business concepts, they will not be competitive. And the shoe industry is only one example.

The US and China are big countries with a lot of people speaking the same language. In Italy and Germany almost all television broadcasts are synchronised into their respective languages. Young people can only learn English from music channels, online and a bit from school. What about this language barrier?

Look at the kids in Europe. There are 230 million Facebook users who talk to friends in their native language but also to friends around the world in English. The common language has become English. As such we are initially focusing on those groups of people and businesses who are open minded, have typically a better financial position, and thus are more able to buy the products. They will lead the track and the slow mover will follow.

What if the Euro falls, what strategy will be needed for Social Media and business?

Companies who feel they have no time for Social Media need to learn that it is not a nice-to-have or fancy marketing play but a strategic tool to grow the business. The whole focus of our particular social media initiative is to help grow a business through widening the potential market – which today means more export. Whether the euro falls or not, business will need to continue selling their wares. And if they can’t locally right now, they can find consumers in other parts of Europe or the world.

The US economy almost collapsed 4 years ago. The US grocery brand Whole Foods was known as expensive. In that crisis even rich people saved money but Whole Foods grew. They understood they had to be as human as possible. Albertsons groceries was 10 times bigger at that time but closed more than half of their operation and almost vanished away, others even went out of business because they did not act on the opportunities to get closer to their respective marketswhich is one of the key advantages of social media. (read more about Whole Foods Social Media strategy on Mashable).

Zappos is an online shoe dealer. They had a hard time selling shoes online because people want to try shoes on. They started to send 10 pairs of shoes to fit on and let customers send the ones back that didn’t fit.  In a few years time Zappos grew to a 1 billion business. They recognized that social media is not about fancy, but about building relationships with as much consumers as possible. The prejudice that you can only talk to a few customers in so much time is not true when you apply social media as a business relation tool and not as a spam tool.

What is it exactly that your group is working on, what the European Digital Strategy is in need of? What is this groups added value?

This group has worked through thousands of pages of research. The real work is to make sense out of this information, to distill it. We focus on the 3 biggest industries in the countries. We look at the perception of social media in European countries, at obstacles, rules & regulations and what business owners think of social media. We need to know where they are and identify the opportunities. If we would be pure data junkies, we would see construction work is important because it is big in all countries. But knowing construction is very local, we rather focus on industry segments with a sustainable impact on a country’s economy. The most notable effect for businesses in this situation in Europe is to grow outside their country. We won’t be able to come up with that objective without knowing what is going on in the respective countries. Now, going forward, we cannot continue doing this for the next 4 years for free. We need to find funds and hope to get funding from various sources. And we will look for resources to execute this project in the next couple of years.

What outcome do you hope to present in Brussels.

We developed an execution plan where we hope to assemble a team for the entire project. We would like to see country specific teams and funding to get them going. We build a 3 tier engagement model, where we conduct an awareness campaign with sponsoring from industry leaders to fund this campaign. We recognized the need for profound education for business leaders, business teams as well as consultants and that will be the first problem we need to solve.

On the 20th of June we will reconvene with the team on how we will go forward. We will install more country teams where we get educated resources. We hope to reach 7-10 countries for the remainder of the DA 12. Cutting through the noise is the biggest challenge for all groups on the Agenda. I believe our group demonstrated that we are well able to cut through that noise.

Elza Xeeme 

Stimulating growth and business revenue through social media – Stimulating growth and business revenue through social media #da12social

At DG INFSO, we are impressed with the drive and enthusiasm of a project being managed from a variety of independent social media experts throughout Europe in the run-up to the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012. (#da12social)

We asked Axel Schultze, leader of the project to tell us what he is aiming to achieve:

The overarching objective of the project is to stimulate small and medium size businesses and innovative start-ups across the EU leveraging social media to create a sustainable growth, additional jobs and being able to compete in a global market. Specifically we want to double the number of businesses, who grew their revenue and added new jobs by leveraging social media, year over year till 2016.

We seek new ways for a more stable European Union and like to make business leaders and entrepreneurs aware of the opportunities Social Media holds and help them to apply it in a professional and pleasant way.The first few steps of the current DA12 Social project were orchestrated with smart, highly skilled and very motivated people. With nearly no administrative overhead and a leadership style of the social media age, executives, manager, business development people and social media consultants worked all hands on deck together. Autonomous work groups achieved in only two weeks what traditional consulting teams hardly complete in several months.

This is an ambitious project – how long will it take?

The project life span is expected to be from fall 2012 until end of 2016. Teams in every EU country will work with country officials, collaborate with chambers of commerce and related government groups to help SMEs leverage social media to thrive. The teams will be between 10 and 100 people working in the respective industries or geographies by country  – making it a total of approximately 500 engaged mostly part time people in the project. Funds will be sought from many sources, possibly in part from sponsoring industry leaders. We will build a scalable finance model to ensure relative success by 2016 – meaning even if underfunded we will demonstrate partial success.

So what does success look like?

Success is if any of the team members can motivate 25 companies each quarter to leverage social media to grow their export and hire additional employees to do so. Over the course of the next 4 years success is if the team of 500 was able to help 200,000 companies across Europe to grow plus 200,000 who basically learned on their own. If those companies hire just 5 additional people, we created 2 million additional jobs.”


Social Media as a DA platform – #da12social

Like any other initiative in the private or public sector, the Digital Agenda Europe and its eight different topics have the same challenge to overcome: getting to the right audience and spark an engagement – in this case even across Europe. (#da12social)

The commonalities between all topics are striking similar: How to create awareness? How to provide information and updates to an interested audience? How to get enough feedback and crowd source ideas? How to collaborate with a diverse group of people across geographies and time zones? And finally how to share progress and success with the relevant and interested population?

Social media as a platform

Social Media is basically the platform to provide those services and support those concepts. While Social Media is one of the silos within the Digital Agenda, it is predicated to also act as a platform for the other #DA12 topics including Convergent Media Platforms, High Speed Connections, E-Commerce, Data, Cloud Computing, Security or Innovation & Entrepreneurs.

There is no reason why the Social Media group should have the highest level of awareness, other than they use the media for their own activities. Innovation & Entrepreneurship is a very strategic topic for the EU, yet the participation is very low.

It is advisable to provide a Social Media overlay service for all Digital Agenda disciplines to raise awareness and address more people ensuring that relevant and highly skilled experts join the respective initiative.

Action list:

1) Ensure that every DA group has at least one experienced social media practitioner as one of the first functions right when a new DA meeting is planned.

2) Provide coordination services and platforms from the EU to be able to execute a social media initiative. I.e. suggestions for collaboration such as Facebook, sharing images such as Pinterest, easily accessible blogs such as WordPress, presence tools to get everything on one place such as XeeMe. http://xeeme.com/da12social

3) Providing some education for the respective teams to be able to leverage the social web for crowd sourcing, research, collaboration etc.

4) Assist with and request unified social media monitoring to be able to measure progress and success and share that with the public.


Top 15 Social Media Rules for Business Leader


Rule #1 Connections

If you hate to read about people walking their dog, eating pizza or making you rich in 3 weeks:

You are connected with, or are following the wrong people.

What you read is who you connected with

Rule #2 Time Management

If you are not sure how much time you should spend in social networks? Don’t spend any time at all.

Invest time in your most relevant contacts. If they happen to be in the social web – be where they are.

Invest time in relevant people not platforms

Rule #3 Social

Social media is a interwoven combination of

a) the relationship aspects between individuals to build, maintain and expand connections, learn and teach faster, inspire and get inspired, and get more done – personally or business wise – in connection with others (social).

b) networks, platforms, tools and technologies (media)

That means social media is definitely NOT a channel or a new marketing tool to get your message out. Spamming and hard core selling would be counterproductive for everybody. Social media is a new state of mind not a new way to express old thinking.

Focus on ‘social’ – not ‘media’

Rule #4 Cross Functional

We are all customers of somebody else, whether we make a personal or a business purchase. As such we are all interested in getting better products or services whether we talk about B2B or B2C.

Businesses can create one of the biggest values for themselves AND their customers when customers suggest improvements, help other customers to get more out of a product and directly or indirectly make recommendations. But that value can only be created if the teams inside those companies provide the necessary ways to inspire those conversations and receive those suggestions and act on them.

Create a mutual business value across all departments

Rule #5 Purpose

Social media contains unparalleled wealth of opportunities for businesses to build better products or services based on customer interaction, improve the customer experience, reduce cost of operations and customer acquisition cost and solve company specific business challenges in collaboration with their customers.

Lack of a strategy to take those opportunities and degrading social media to marketing campaigns are the biggest mistakes businesses make in their engagement.

Think of purpose driven strategic Social Media engagements

Rule #6 Making Friends

The lines between personal and business use get more and more blurry.

The day we do business primarily with business friends and help friends to advance in their business – those lines are gone. Top executives know that business between business friends are the most successful. Social media helps making trustful business friends on all levels within an organization.

Don’t build walls between personal friends and business friends

Rule #7 Networking

Understand the NCP Model. The larger your Network the farther your reach. Contribution is the fuel for the relationship with your network. Sharing content or provide comments are some of the key contributions to spark an engagement. Participation from your Network in your Contribution is the currency of the social web.

If you have great content but nobody is interested, your social engagement will be limited. If you have great content but only a few to share it with, your engagement will be limited. If you have a huge network and massive contribution but no participation, your effort in the social web was apparently of no value.

If you contribute relevant content  to a huge network and recognize a great participation, you know that you are on the right track, you know you gain influence and you see the return of your investment.

Think NCP: Network – Contribution – Participation

Rule #8 Tolerance

The social web is a virtual world, across all cultures, religions, political structures, and national laws.

People have the right to say anything and share anything. If you are offended, disconnect from the person who offends you – but don’t judge him or her just because that person is different and has a different way of doing things. What may be unlawful  in your country, maybe an accepted behavior somewhere else. What was an accepted behavior in your culture just 100 years ago maybe even unlawful today. (See rule #1).

Be most tolerant and respectful

Rule #9 Social Ownership

A company can’t be successful with social media if just a few people, or agency engages in the social web and the rest of the company does business as usual (See rule #4). If a team has no interest in the relationship to customers – a relationship cannot be delegated.

Own your relationships

Rule #10 Efficiency

Unlike in the old marketing world where your target audience was an anonymous and faceless mass of  target groups, titles, demographics and territories that you addressed with equally anonymous ‘penetration’ techniques – in the new world you are actually engaging with human beings who have a name, a face, a need and are ready to socially engage. Unlike in the old sales world where it took hours and days to arrange for a meeting plus hours of traveling and typically an hour of a meeting, an engagement in the social web may take only a few minutes. It won’t replace the face to face relationship but it not only accelerates processes, it also allows a person to handle 10 times as many relationships as before and ten times as many interactions than before.

Engage with significantly more people in less time

Rule #11 Assessment

Before you start any engagement make an assessment.

Have a clear picture about where your customers are in the social web and what is on top of their mind. Know what your business partners doing and how they engage. Know where and how your own team is currently engaged. Know everything about your competition because the social web is an open book that tells you everything.

Know where your entire market is

Rule #12 Social Assets

Relationships in general and social media in particular are like investments turning into assets.

You have to put something in before you get something out.

Treat Social Media like an asset

Rule #13 Privacy

You post and engage publicly to gain exposure and get more feedback than through any private interaction. Everything you share is public. The level of privacy is determined by what you share – not by what network you use. Keeping things private is neither the purpose nor the functionality of social media.

You are the only one who determines the level of privacy

Rule #14 Reputation

Building your social network, contributing to that network and gaining your network’s participation is a process resulting in reputation and trust. It takes months if not years to develop a decent reputation in that world. Building reputation in the social web is like the land grab in the physical world. While the land is limited by physical availability the reputation is limited by the attention span of the global audience. If you don’t have a computer yet, you can still buy one. If you never used the Internet you can simply buy access. But if you have no presence and reputation in the social web, you can’t buy it (See rule #12).

You can’t buy a social reputation – you will need to build and earn it.

Rule #15 Competitive Advantage

Ultimately Social Media can create one of the most significant competitive advantages for any business. And since relationships are fragile most businesses won’t brag about what they do and how they do it. It’s not necessarily to keep it as a business secret but it’s actually the customers turn to brag about their influence into a company. Take any ‘Social Media success story’ with a grain of salt if presented by a consultant or agency or the company itself.

Create a competitive advantage but don’t brag about it.

Judge social media based on your own experience

At any given time in history new innovations have been rejected for the same four specific reasons: 1) It is not secure, 2) It has no value, 3) It will cost businesses too much money and 4) It is just a hype and will go away. Whether it was the introduction of automobiles, supermarkets, airplanes, computers, cell phones or any other technology.

Social media is no different, even though over 1 billion people are using it already. The only way to find out is to make your own experience and decide wisely and with an open mind.



Three Tier Engagement Model

While we keep you updated with progress of the project, we also share the techniques and methods we are using to actually be able to manage such a project.

In order to manage this kind of  ‘mega projects’  we created a three tier engagement model that should help all of us engage, be able to work with extreme team sizes and still professionally and timely execute.

1) Strategy Group

A highly engaged and focused team for assessment and strategy development. The team are mostly certified social media strategists or highly experienced social media consultants. The current group is 34 people and we will selectively add more in the future. This group won’t be much more than 100. To join this group, please help us understand your skill set and share it with us in 10 answers :) http://surveymonkey.com/s/da12social-t1

Continue reading “Three Tier Engagement Model”

Online Engagement Digital Agenda Assembly 2012

(11/05/2012) #DA12 More than 450 members are now discussing on the online discussion platform which Neelie Kroes launched on 19 April. Outcomes of this debate, and the feedback which we pick up from other platforms, will contribute to the next meeting of the Digital Agenda Assembly (Brussels, 21-22 June, plenary programme recently update online) and to the review of the Digital Agenda for Europe (to be adopted later in the year). Continue reading “Online Engagement Digital Agenda Assembly 2012”

The Digital Agenda EU Project

This project is to help the EU Commission and the EU in general to help business leaders within the EU to understand, adopt and leverage Social Media with the intention to more successfully grow their respective businesses.

Enabling 25,000 medium size businesses and innovative start-ups across Europe to leverage social media to create a sustainable growth, additional jobs and an becoming a poster child for other businesses in Social Media adoption by the end of 2016 – We will further fine tune this objective on our workshop at the EU meeting in Brussels. Continue reading “The Digital Agenda EU Project”