Jim Rudden is the marketer of marketers. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing, the CMO for social media marketing powerhouse Spredfast has seen the discipline go through several phases—from gut instinct to a hyper-focus on data—and watched social media enter into the playing field.
Within this rapidly-evolving digital landscape, social media is finding itself at an inflection point. We sat down with Jim to get his take on what social media means to companies—especially at the enterprise level—and where he sees the biggest opportunities for businesses to grow their audience.
Let’s start off by talking about Spredfast. It’s been around for a decade now. How is it positioning itself in the market?
Our mission is to connect businesses to the people that they care about most. Everything we do is focused on how companies can use social to make better connections with consumers and customers. We have built a platform and company designed to meet the needs of larger organizations in verticals where social is really prevalent, because that’s where the consumers are. We’re set up to help them deal with the complexity and challenges that enterprises have.
And are enterprises embracing the idea of social media?
Steve Jobs gave a great speech to the Aspen Institute in 1984. He argued that it takes society a while to really understand what the true potential of any new media is. His example was television. For the first 10 years, it was basically radio with pictures. Then we figured out that we could send cameras out to live events, and suddenly you could entertain people in a way that had never been done before.
Ten years into social media, I think we’re in the same situation. Early on, it was treated like other digital media. It was all about impressions. I think we’re evolving to a different place now. We’re going back to the roots of media: connecting people. I think that’s the evolution that we’re seeing in the market as a whole. It’s a channel where consumers are interacting unlike any other.
We’re at the beginning of crafting this new narrative, but the concept is at the end of the beginning. It feels like we’re at the end of the hype and we’re transitioning into what social media is really going to be for businesses.
What do you think are the main markers of that evolution?
There are three forces, I think, that are moving social media to the next phase for businesses:
The first is how social is really going to become a valued channel in the enterprise. It’s been difficult to quantify its value up to this point, but businesses are going to have to start looking at that.
The second is that we’re really waking up to the risks that exist within social media. Social is a one-to-one connection medium. From a brand perspective, you’re truly onstage, interacting with individuals.
Being able to manage that in a very secure way is now on the docket. Companies are asking themselves, “Do we have a good governance structure around social?”
Third, we’ve now seen that social can be used for good or bad. It can have a positive impact in our lives, or it can have a negative impact at a very personal level.
There’s an opportunity now for the social ecosystem to shape the medium in a positive direction—to tilt towards building community, delivering and encouraging positivity—and at the same time, encouraging open debate.
At the end of the day, brands want to be where there is positivity. It’s not just societally good. It’s good for business as well. I think that’s a really big theme moving forward. How is this making society better, and what’s a brand’s role within that?
Do you think brands see a responsibility to put positivity out there, or do you think it’s more of an opportunity for them?
Brands definitely see it as an opportunity. But I would say that the more socially-conscious brands already think of it as a responsibility and are leveraging platforms within that context.
That’s what’s fascinating about it. You’re not just seeing the brands that you would expect to step forward—like Facebook and Whole Foods who are talking about things like marriage equality—but you’re seeing brands you wouldn’t expect using social media to speak out on behalf of DACA and workforce issues.
Here at Spredfast, we believe we have an imperative to use our voice to drive the social media discourse in a positive direction.
On the opportunity side, there’s an opportunity to reshape people’s perceptions of your brand. They may have old concepts of who you are, and storytelling within this context is really a way to bring people along on your narrative.
For example, GE, a business that’s one of the oldest and most respected engineering organizations in the U.S., is doing fascinating things with wind farms. They’ve been doing a great job reframing how people think about their business.
On the flip side, what do you think is the biggest mistake that business leaders are making with social media?
Not recognizing the data opportunity they have with social. They’re not leveraging the data that social provides them. They’re thinking of it as something they can check off their list, but they’re not recognizing that they can get deep insights shared willingly by an audience of hundreds of millions of people.
They’ve never had access to direct interaction with consumers at that scale before. There’s data there that can inform so many things.
In your role as a CMO, what data do you need to do your job well?
There are two sets of data that I need. The first is data that helps explain the impact of marketing on the overall goals of the organization. I need data around leads and contribution to pipeline. I need to be able to confirm to the broader organization that marketing is making its contribution.
The other set I need is data that supports creation and ideation. Part of our job in marketing is to evolve the brand and evolve the message. There are many narratives and stories that go along with that and having data behind it helps substantiate our hunches and our ideas. Is there really an audience out there on mobile? What about this channel? Is it an audience that’s relevant to us?
All of that data supports our ideation and our creation. It gives us confidence to evolve into new channels, new stories, and new markets. It supports our goal to continuously evolve the brand.
What should the relationship between a CMO and CEO look like? And what does it look like in reality?
One of my jobs as the CMO is to bring market context to the CEO on a regular basis. He or she often won’t have time to do that. It’s really important to remember that CEO’s walk from a finance meeting to a customer meeting to a sales meeting to an R&D meeting. They’re switching context all the time.
As a leader, your job is to give them context. Give them a simple narrative, and have the data to double down on your analysis. So I may go to my CEO and say, “Here are the three trends that are happening with our customers. Try bringing them up in conversations with customers next time you’re talking to them.”
The most valuable companies in the world are valuable because of their brand, not their products. It’s the asset that’s most durable.
Most industries, however, don’t understand the power of the brand. You need to connect your CEO into the ethos of brand evolution and into building a brand platform that brings long-term value for the business.
Who are some leaders that you admire? Who should we paying attention to?
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Michelle Obama last year at our customer conference and I’m fascinated to watch her second act. I think she is an astounding example of somebody leading through influence and aspiration, always tilting the conversation towards the possible, not the impossible.
Change happens from people that move forward with their idea and their energy pulls you along with them. I’m so excited to see her second act, because I know it’s going to be even better than the first.
I also look to Kris Tompkins, the longtime CEO of Patagonia. Her husband was Doug Tompkins, who was the founder of The North Face. They gifted 10 million acres of park lands in Chile to the government to help create one of the biggest natural reserves in the world. I think that’s a great example of how you can, as a corporate leader, take a stand and use the wealth you’ve built up for good, for generations to come.
As a company, Patagonia is constantly thinking about the impact of the products they sell. One percent of everything they do goes back to the planet. They created the market for organic wool to replace the impact of products manufactured with synthetics, and they make their jackets out of recycled plastics.
On top of that, they’ll tell you not to continually buy their products. If you bought a jacket last year, you don’t need to buy another one this year. That’s a fascinating consumer message.
How do you relax when you’re not in the office?
I’m happiest when I feel like I’m learning. I’m at a time in my life where I have the opportunity to make time to learn new things.
My kind-of-guilty pleasure is that I hire professionals to teach me what they do well. I have a really great guitar teacher, and every week we just sit and practice and talk about music theory. I’ve been doing it for five years, and I’m better at guitar for it. I’m not some virtuoso, but that’s not the goal. I’m just really interested in learning how things work.
It’s the same with fitness. I have a really great coach who teaches me about what we’re doing as we do it. To me, learning is relaxing, and I think the ability to hire a professional to guide me through that learning process is money well spent.
It’s easier than ever to learn everything on your own. But to constantly YouTube this, and aggregate the data on that, is a cognitive overload, versus being able to almost go back to the classroom and just absorb and understand.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been in social media since pretty close to the start of its takeoff for businesses, and I think we’re evolving to a place now where we’re really starting to see what that’s going to look like in the future. I’m really inspired by the move towards positivity in social media, and I want to have an impact on that if I can.