Toronto-based Volterra Consulting is a management consultancy specializing in Emerging Technologies in the Internet, Wireless and Social Media sectors.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Andrew, thank you for answering my questions. As a starter, tell us a little bit about you.
Andrew Jenkins: I am someone who has taken the path less travelled. I completed a degree in economics but then went on to complete a degree in film production and an MBA. I like to think that I have the left and right brain thinking covered, bringing creativity and business skills together.
My early work experience was in retail and then I moved into film and television. Building on my retail background and with the help of a friend from film school, I founded an online e-commerce company selling apparel in 1995. That gave me my start in technology where I have remained for the last 15+ years.
I draw on those diverse experiences regularly because most social media strategies include some or all of them.
CM: When and why did you decide to create Volterra Consulting?
AJ: I started the company almost four years ago. I had wanted to get into strategy consulting since I had finished my MBA but ended up in a strategy role in wireless for one of Canada’s largest telecoms. After I left the telecom, I joined a project being led by a former colleague of mine and that was all I needed to get the business rolling. I have been consulting ever since with a focus on strategy.
CM: With what kind of companies do you usually work?
AJ: To date, the majority of my clients have been B2B. They are either technology companies wanting to understand where social media might fit or companies whose businesses are being impacted by technology and they need to respond as part of their strategy.
Some of them have been companies with sales channels and my background in channel development has been especially helpful. The channels need social media marketing support as well as support to raise awareness with the end customers who buy from their channel partners.
I have also done a couple of projects for non-profits and academic institutions. They are both facing dramatic changes in their respective areas and I have helped my clients identify where they should focus their efforts when it comes to social media and what benefits they can expect to derive.
CM: In one of your articles, you mention that social media “is not about tools. It is about culture. The sooner more organizations come to that realization, the fewer failed social media initiatives there will be.” How do you work with companies to trigger that realization?
I describe it as taking the management consulting approach to social media where, if possible, I conduct an organizational assessment. This involves interviewing key staff and stakeholders such as customers and partners. By doing so, I am able to identify who will provide early support for the strategy, the required tools and activities and who will potentially be an impediment when it comes time for execution. If someone looks like they might stand in the way then I dig a little deeper to learn what reservations they have and design a change management approach to help get them onboard. By showcasing some early successes that build incrementally, I can prove that the approach works to those who did not initially believe. They need to convince themselves and draw their own conclusions because only then will they truly be supportive.
Sometimes senior management will dictate that the organization will be adopting social media and so staff might feel like it is being thrust upon them without any consultation. Roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities change with an organization’s adoption of social media. When the strategy is initially presented, I take my client through my findings and I show them where the support will most likely come from and where there are risks. They then need to take ownership by properly addressing the changes to the roles, responsibilities, and compensation models of their staff. By doing so, staff feel respected and consulted.
CM: North American and European businesses alike have used your services. Have you noticed differences between these two cultures and in the way they ‘do’ social media?
AJ: I have worked with companies in the US, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands.
The US are aggressive but in a good way. They tend to be willing to take risks and run with an idea.
Canada is a highly connected country in terms of Internet usage and social networks but Canadian businesses still seem to be more cautious in their adoption of social media. I saw the same cautiousness with respect to e-commerce in Canada in the late nineties. The US was at least three years ahead then but now Canada seems to be at a tipping point where companies recognize that they cannot ignore social media anymore. They need to at least have a stated position.
The UK, in some instances, is more connected than Canada when it comes to some of the top social networks and that connectedness is reflected in the way they think. I did a research project on social networks three years ago for a client in the UK. That’s a long time ago in Internet time but they were already convinced that social networks were changing the ways we communicated, collaborated, and shared information.
We also have to remember that only three years ago MySpace was bigger than Facebook, Twitter was in its infancy, and LinkedIn had yet to experience its growth spurt due to the recession. Look at how much change has occurred in such a short time. What do the next three years have in store for us? Will Google+ or a yet unnamed company become a major competitor? Time will tell.
Finally, one of the most represented countries per capita on social networks is The Netherlands. For example, LinkedIn beta tests new features and services there because of how networked or connected they are. A lot can be learned from them and I certainly have been enriched by my collaborations there.
CM: What are some of the most basic steps a company should take before launching a social media campaign?
1. Design a social media strategy to complement the overall corporate strategy rather than exist on its own
2. Be very clear with objectives, how to measure them, who will be accountable, and track progess
3. Assume that not everything will work. It is so new that it is still a bit of trial and error, so allow for failure but give yourself some slack to adjust your strategy. The strategy should not be treated as an event but rather as an ongoing process that gets refined based on market forces and the degree of customer engagement
CM: How can people get in touch with you?
CM: Any last words?
Right now, we tend to talk about social media separately from the other activities that an organization is involved in. In the near future, I do not think that we will talk about social media distinctly separate. In time, companies will have integrated social media into their day-to-day operations just like email and marketing through the company website.
That is why I tend to focus on the operationalization of social media or the establishment of a social media foundation within the organization rather than just campaigns. When campaigns end, it is important to have a social media foundation so that any successes from the campaigns, like new fans or followers, continue to be nurtured for the long-term health of the community.
Finally, I think that social media and community building require a lot of effort and companies need to understand the level of commitment needed. You cannot build a community and then forget about it because, if you do, you will never get the people back.