How to increase ROI using social strategies by Randy Hlavac from Northwestern University

Randy Hlavac is a lecturer in the Medill IMC department and teaches Digital, Social and Mobile Marketing. He teaches his classes to use the most sophisticated social monitoring and management systems while building actual social and mobile marketing strategies for companies throughout the world. Hlavac is also a faculty advisor for Vitamin IMC and is the director of the Medill IMC OmniChannel Initiative, which trains students to market in a real-time world.

Outside of Northwestern, Hlavac is the CEO of Marketing Synergy, Inc., a consulting company dedicated to helping organizations improve their strategic and tactical marketing programs using the advanced analytics necessary to market in today’s real-time engagement world. He is also the author of “Social IMC: Social Strategies with Bottom-Line ROI,” a book recently published that provides CEOs and CMOs with strategies and development methodologies to manage social investment with business metrics.

Hlavac is a member of IBM’s Academic Initiative, and has been selected by IBM to discuss social marketing strategies at IBM eCommerce, Big Data and other IBM summits. Randy also speaks on marketing topics at conferences and summits throughout the world.

Source: Medill website


So, want to know how to increase ROI using social strategies? Randy talk about it in this EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW followed by a VIDEO from Medill.

1) What happened that made you decide to shift your career towards to e-Marketing after teaching music for 5 years?

Randy-Hlavac-750x1125​Actually, music and the field I entered – database analytics – are very similar.  I had done what I wanted to do in music and decided to get my MBA and work in marketing – something I was always interested in.  In grad school, I got to do a great deal of statistical analytics and really liked it.  I started my career at Mutual of Omaha in charge of their “think tank” for their direct marketing unit, worked then for TRW Target Marketing Services [now Equifax] and Metromail [now Experian]
An interesting side note.  In talking with a number of heads of analytics firms, they echo my findings…that people with fine arts degrees make the best analysts.  The best employees I every had in analytics were professional ballroom dancers, players in rock bands, and artists.  I think our ability to thing of the whole [like the orchestra’s concerto] combined with the minutely detailed [I have to play my part right and at the right volume, pitch, etc] makes them ideal for analytics projects.  To be successful, you have to see the whole but be fastidious in the detail to make it work.
2) How did you build the knowledge you have today? What are the business experiences that led you to this point in your career? 
​A couple of things really shaped my career.  First, I always attempted to position myself between two expert areas.  For example, when I started my career at Mutual of Omaha, I was adept at talking to marketers about their business goals and needs and then translating them into research projects or database projects to make it happen.  I could talk marketing to the marketers and tech to the programming managers.  It is a skill I use today – everyday.  I can teach social marketing but I can also talk to IBM about how to best develop their social monitoring systems to appeal to marketers.  Understanding both sides is a skill that is highly sought after.
Another key thing is I am always searching for the new idea.  Back when social was just starting, I realized it was a new and innovative way to market and engage audiences.  I began to really examine the industry focusing on those who were growing market share & profits using social strategies.  That lead to the writing of my book – Social IMC – and in developing my DiSoMo [Digital, social & mobile marketing] course.
Finally, I take time to really develop my professional networks….something I teach my students to do at Northwestern and in our upcoming Social Marketing Specialization with Coursera [].  Everything is changing so fast in business today, you need a healthy network of experts in diverse fields to find the new trends.  In my graduate DiSoMo class, I have experts in Big Data, Social Analytics, Infographics, Gamification and a host of other topics speak to my class.  Each one was identified and developed using Twitter.  I am not afraid to ask the social cloud for expertise and it always comes through.  As I tell my classes – Today, it is not what you know but who you know in your professional network that will make you a success.  I teach it but I also live it.
3) Nowadays that we can reach anyone through social media, including those that we would never be able to meet in person, what are the recommendation you give to our readers when approaching these people online?
We use a systematic approach to develop a relationship with a professional online.  The steps are:
  1. ​Identify the professional or the influencer using a tool like
  2. Use LinkedIn and Google+ to find professional communities they are also involved in
  3. Begin following them on Twitter and on LinkedIn
  4. When the publish something you like, immediate retweet it.  If the do it in a social community, immediately add a VERY positive comment
  5. After a couple of weeks, reach out to them through Twitter and tell them you really like their articles.  
  6. When you publish something in their area of expertise, tell them about it and ask them to comment on it [don’t ask them to retweet it…if they like it, they know what to do]
  7. Don’t be afraid after having a relationship over time to ask them to review and comment on your article BEFORE you publish it.  It shows them you value their opinion.
Some don’ts:
  1. Don’t be confrontational.  They are the experts.  You aren’t.  It is like “wack a mole”  If you confront them, they will pound you down. 
  2. Don’t be controversial.  If they are saying something you disagree with, stop following them.  There are other experts.
  3. Don’t ask for favors too early.  In my class, a mantra we discuss every week is “Give to Get”  If you want to get to be an expert or an influencer, Give support to the current influencers.  Give them respect and you will get support when you need it.
4) According to a statistic research our attention span dropped drastically in the past decade, and it is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Having this in mind, how do you suggest to grab the attention of our target audience?
​It’s not grabbing their attention.  It is being relevant to them.  Today, communities are where people discuss the topics they are passionate about or that are triggering them to action.  What they seek is someone who can help them.  In today’s world, we are inundated by content.  It is everywhere.  What we need is someone to filter through the content and focus us on the “great stuff”.  In my class, we call it “Filter and focus”.  That is what you should be.  Focus me on the great content – regardless of whether you develop it – and help me understand its importance to me.  If you look at the great social experts, 85% of the content they publish is from others.  Filter the onslaught of content and focus me on what I need to know to prosper.  Do that and you are my hero.
5) You recently published “Social IMC: Social Strategies with Bottom-Line ROI.” How one-to-one marketing can change the dynamic of business interactions?
​Today, you need to understand the mission of communities and adapt your marketing to their needs.  In my class, we identify there are two types of social communities people seek.  Passion communities are where we engage about the things we love.  In those communities, we seek the newest trend, new information [gossip] and new items in our passion areas.  In them, we want to engage in peer to peer discussions and seek experts who can let us express our opinions.  Check out to see a great consumer passion community.
Trigger events like graduating from college, buying your first car, having a baby, retiring or helping in a flood cause us to move to action.  However, unlike a passion community, we want to find experts who have “walked the walk” before.  We don’t want to hear from peers and they are as clueless as we are.  We want experts & tools to help us achieve our mission.
In my class and in my book Social IMC, we really examine the differences in these two types of communities and explore how to best engage with them.  Today, you need to help communities…not talk about your products and services to really impact your high value / high opportunity markets.
randy book
6) For many years companies were doing an only one-way communication when producing online content. Now that you can use analytics and know so much more about your audience in a two-way interaction, how it can actually increase the return on investment?
​It not just analytics, it is Big Data.  I am Director of the OmniChannel Initiative – a joint project with IBM.  What we are exploring is the cutting edge of marketing where big data and real-time marketing opportunities intersect.  Today, marketers are using war rooms to engage with prospects in real-time using social monitoring and high speed marketing systems.  Systems like the IBM Silverpop systems can also run automated marketing programs which sense people as they engage on the company’s social and websites, observe what they do and don’t do, compare it with your persona and automatically determine what to do or not do;  highly relevant, real-time, personalized marketing is the result.  This is where we are heading.
7) I know you have been working for 8 years to give us this gift that is your book. How did you gather all the data for your book?
​It started with a simple question.  I was teaching my graduate Integrated Marketing class a decade ago and a grad student who worked at Crate & Barrel asked me “Professor, I understand the potential of social and we have thousands of followers on Facebook.  However, when I try to justify staff, my CFO asks me – what is the ROI of social engagement and I don’t have an answer.  Professor, how do you develop the ROI of social?”  It was a great question and one I couldn’t answer.
In doing some preliminary research, I found that 80% of all businesses investing in social were doing so on faith.  The hope it would produce returns.  Rather than focus on the 80%, I focused on the 20% and looked at social programs around the world that were producing measurable ROI from their social programs.  I talked to CEOs and CMOs to learn how they build their programs, how the tracked and measured them and the limitations they found.
From those talks, I developed the 3 social strategies I present in my book.  None were mine but were a compilation of how it is being done today.  Once again, having a network to guide me was the key to success.
8) Network is important, but some are more interested in getting the most amount of followers they can. So, I found interesting when you say build customers not followers. What are your thoughts about this?

I was asked to speak at a Bloomberg seminar several months ago.  After I arrived in New York and getting to my hotel, I decided to go to the bar, have a glass of wine and watch the Blackhawks in the playoffs.  As I sat there, a man sat down next to me and began watching the game.  During a break, he introduced himself and told me he worked for Bloomberg.  When he learned I taught social marketing he asked me this question.  He said “part of my compensation is based on the number of followers I have on Twitter.  How can I get a large number of followers?  I need it to get a raise”.  I said “that’s easy.   Just go online for a few days and tweet that you are great friends with Justin Bieber.  You will have hundreds of thousands of followers in no time.  Of course, once they find out you are lying they will talk bad about you but your employer will see you have thousands of followers and, if that is the only criteria, you will get a huge raise”.

The point is I am never concerned about how many followers I have…just the quality of them.  In my class, we talk about the importance of the influencer.  These are bloggers and others who have expertise in a area and have thousands of followers.  They are good at “filter and focus”.  Those are the people I want to follow and have them follow me.  This amplifies my message to the exact target market I want to impact.  It is quality not quantity I use as my measure of success.

9)  For those who are going to read your book after this conversation, just to warm up their reading, what are the 3 key social strategies they need to have in mind in order to build a holistic and integrated relationship?

​There are three strategies in the book.  They are:

  1. ​Social Engagement – this is an anonymous relationship centered on one or more social sites…like Facebook.  You cannot track it to sales because you really don’t know the people individually.  It is the strategy the 80% use
  2. Nurture Marketing – This uses social to place highly relevant content behind a registration wall.  The content is developed to appeal to a specific target market at a specific point in the product purchase cycle.  It is database driven and does link to sales
  3. Social IMC – This strategy builds private virtual communities run by your company.  It allows you to take control of a community, shield them from the competition and build a one to one relationship helping the community achieve its goals.
The last 2 have bottom-line ROI metrics and should be the staple of all types of businesses.  More and more businesses are adapting these types of social strategies.
10) How long do you think it is going to take for business in their majority finally take this step further, from nurturing towards to IMC?
​Many are doing it now.  Some will never see the advantage and will likely perish in the near term.  Today, consumers control the marketplace and they want personalized, relevant content at any time, any where and on any media they are using.  Companies that don’t understand social communities, how they work and how to engage them will likely have a difficult time as social merges with mobile to form the engagement media of the future.
However, it isn’t just moving from one to the other.  In my book. I discuss that all 3 strategies are important to an organization.  Engagement marketing is great for the 80% who produce 20% of your revenue.  You can target content and deliver it through Facebook, Twitter, PInterest, LinkedIn and other social networking media.
Nurture strategies are great when you want to develop a sales and marketing relationship.  This strategy is designed to move an individual from prospect to customer and should be used when that is your goal.
Social IMC is designed to engage a high value community for the long term.  It positions your organization as the “go to” company when the community members are ready to buy.
Today, you need all 3 strategies to best engage the different markets you want to develop.
Thanks for asking me these interesting and engaging questions.  I enjoyed it!
To hear more from Randy, take a look in this short video provided by Medill – NorthWestern University. It is part of our Content Strategy MOOC, free on Coursera!
 Thank YOU Randy for the interview!!

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